Since Computex back in June, Gigabyte has been pushing a new power delivery system across parts of its motherboard range.  This involves an integrated circuit to combine power delivery MOSFETs into a small form factor with great heat dissipation, high efficiency and a smaller PCB space – the PowIRStage IC3550 they have been using is rated up to 60A of current each.  This makes sense in the high end spectrum (Z77X-UP7) where power might be needed, or in low airflow situations (mITX) to ensure longevity.  But is it required on a desktop Trinity board?  These things are expensive, which made me wonder if it is a worthwhile investment in a desktop Trinity system.  Read on for the full run-down of the F2A85X-UP4.

 

Gigabyte F2A85X-UP4 Overview

Very rarely does a motherboard ever just ‘work’.  Normally there is a little issue here or there, but looking back on the notes I made while testing, nothing significant came up while testing the Gigabyte F2A85X-UP4.  However, ultimately the goal of a motherboard should be to bring something new to the table – the concept of a board ‘doing everything it should do out of the box’ has to be the standard, not the exception.

The F2A85X-UP4 brings a little more to the Trinity platform than some of its competition.  PowIRStage IR3550 ICs, which we have detailed in previous reviews, are used and for a minor increase in cost we get a fewer phases rated at a higher amperage that due to their design should provide a higher efficiency and run cooler than the previous premium power delivery ICs.  Whether that increased cost is justified on a platform such as Trinity could be debatable, but Gigabyte insist that at least the high end board in each platform should have something similar.  To take credence with the efficiency, the F2A85X-UP4 system draws the least power in our at-the-wall power tests.

Design wise we have enough PCIe slots for three GPUs in CrossFireX (no SLI, not certified), seven SATA 6 Gbps ports on board, a TPM header, DualBIOS methodology, power/reset buttons, a debug LED, the Realtek ALC892 audio codec and a Realtek 8111E NIC.  Two extra USB 3.0 ports are also supplied through an Etron EJ168 controller.

The A85X platform in Gigabyte’s hands uses their 3D-BIOS system, which over the previous year we have detailed almost to excess.  The software on the platform is seemingly limited, with EasyTune6 showing its age and not giving any automatic overclock settings.  In terms of manual overclock, our board performed up to 4.5 GHz on default LLC before voltages required for stability got a little crazy.

In terms of performance, the Gigabyte F2A85X-UP4 sits well with the rest of the pack of FM2/A85X boards we have reviewed so far.  As mentioned previously, the place it really excels seems to be in terms of power usage at idle, during CPU load and during dual GPU gaming.  In the box we get a couple more SATA cables than in other FM2/A85X packages.

For $130 the Gigabyte F2A85X-UP4 is pushing the upper limits in terms of Trinity motherboard pricing, but with the PowIRStage IR3550s being used to increase stability while decreasing power dissipation, it is clear to see why.  While it does not surpass any of the competition (some would argue it is at a lower price:performance ratio), it falls into the category of a rare board that passes my desk without any serious issues, and it should be seriously considered as a reliable purchase.

Visual Inspection

What struck me most about the UP4 over other motherboards is the lack of heatsink covering the power delivery.  In most motherboard designs we typically see a multi-ridged heatsink oriented both above and to the left of the CPU socket area, possibly with a heatpipe connecting down to the chipset heatsink.  On the UP4, due to the ‘UP’ in the name, Gigabyte has used Ultra Durable 5.  To the system builder, this means PowIRStage IR3550 ICs which are reported to reduce VRM temperatures by up to 10-20°C in limited airflow environments over previous high-end solutions.  The additional cost of these ICs (which should in turn give lower RMA rates) is slightly offset by the reduction in cost of the smaller heatsink over something larger, and that these ICs are rated at 60A and thus fewer should be required on board.  But there is still an overall premium from using the upgraded power delivery.

In terms of fan headers this board gets five - all 4-pin.  The CPU fan header is located underneath the power delivery heatsink, and around the socket a SYS fan header is above the power delivery heatsink. Two of the fan headers are next to the 24-pin ATX power connector, and the final one is on the bottom of the board.  Ideally I would have preferred one of the headers moved to where the CPU fan header is to allow for multi-fan setups.  Nonetheless, the socket area is very clean for any manner of large air cooler.

The memory slots unfortunately do not use a single latch system; though to the top right of them we have a large power button in red flanked by two smaller buttons for reset and clear CMOS.  On the right hand side of the board underneath the 24-pin ATX power connector we have a USB 3.0 port powered by the chipset, and six black SATA 6 Gbps ports.  The FM2 chipset supports eight of these ports, so Gigabyte has located the seventh on the bottom of the board at a different angle and the eighth on the IO panel in the form of eSATA.  All the SATA ports support RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10, meaning that this FM2 setup is good for a single OS drive and a 6-drive RAID 5 storage array.  Below the SATA ports are two BIOS chips for Gigabyte’s DualBIOS, and a two-digit debug.

Along the bottom of the board is our usual array of fixtures on a Gigabyte product – a TPM header, a COM header, four USB 2.0 headers (one with quick charging), front panel audio, a front panel header, a fan header and a SATA port.

The PCIe layout is beneficial to dual GPU users with a PCIe x1 sound card – the GPUs can go into the top two full length PCIe lanes and the sound card can go in either the top port or between the cards.  In order we have an x1, x16 (x8 in dual), x1, x1, x8, PCI, x4 (from the chipset).  This final PCIe slot is routed via the chipset, and thus will cause this x4 to have a higher latency than a standard x4 port. 

For the rear IO panel we get a combination PS/2 port, two USB 3.0 from the chipset, a VGA, a DVI-D, an optical S/PDIF output, HDMI, DisplayPort, two USB 2.0, an eSATA 6 Gbps, a Realtek GbE, two USB 3.0 (Etron controller) and standard audio jacks. There is scope for improvement on the F2A85X-UP4 in that the VGA and DVI-D ports can be combined into a single DVI-I.  This would allow the rear IO panel to take advantage of a more esoteric collection of ports.

Board Features

Gigabyte F2A85X-UP4
Price Link
Size ATX
CPU Interface FM2
Chipset AMD A85X
Memory Slots Four DDR3 DIMM slots supporting up to 64 GB
Dual Channel, 1066-1866MHz
Video Outputs D-Sub
DVI-D
HDMI
DisplayPort
Onboard LAN Realtek 8111
Onboard Audio Realtek ALC892
Expansion Slots 2 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (x16/- or x8/x8)
1 x PCIe 2.0 x4
3 x PCIe 2.0 x1
1 x PCI
Onboard SATA/RAID 7 x SATA 6 Gbps, Supporting RAID 0, 1, 5, 10
1 x eSATA 6 Gbps
USB 4 x USB 3.0 Ports (Chipset) [2 back panel, 2 onboard]
2 x USB 3.0 Ports (Etron EJ168) [2 back panel]
10 x USB 2.0 Ports (Chipset) [2 back panel, 8 onboard]
Onboard 7 x SATA 6 Gbps
1 x USB 3.0 Header
4 x USB 2.0 Headers
5 x Fan Headers
1 x COM Header
1 x S/PDIF Output Header
1 x TPM Header
Power/Reset Buttons
Clear CMOS Button
Power Connectors 1 x 24-pin ATX Power Connector
1 x 8-pin CPU Power Connector
Fan Headers 1 x CPU (4-pin)
4 x SYS (4-pin)
IO Panel 1 x PS/2 Combination Port
2 x USB 3.0 (Etron)
2 x USB 3.0 (Chipset)
D-Sub
DVI-D
HDMI
DisplayPort
Optical S/PDIF Output
2 x USB 2.0
1 x eSATA 6 Gbps
1 x Gigabit Ethernet (Realtek)
Audio Jacks
Warranty Period 3 Years
Product Page Link

In order to compensate for using Ultra Durable 5 / IR3550 ICs, in order to meet a price point Gigabyte must rely on the Realtek ALC892 audio and a Realtek 8111 NIC.  For specific applications, we often prefer the Intel NIC or the later version of Realtek audio, even though it comes at cost.

What I would actually like to see is a replacement chip for the iTE SuperIO controller.  This chip is onboard to deal with some of the more legacy components, but it takes up a lot of space on the PCB that could be used for other things.  This chip is either dirt cheap, or there is not a replacement available – but I would suggest that if the Realtek audio chip or Etron USB 3.0 controller is so small, then why is the iTE so large?

Gigabyte F2A85X-UP4 BIOS
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  • ssj3gohan - Friday, December 14, 2012 - link

    It's funny that you should ask, because you're totally right: inside is a miniscule bit of silicon with a - by modern standards - very old-fashioned package. But the reason it's so small is simply legacy and second (and third, and fourth) suppliers. Many companies make these (and have tens of millions in stock laying around, the date code on the SIO chip on one of my july '12 boards reads second week of 2010!) and they are mostly interchangeable between mfgrs. If one runs out of stock or asks a fraction of a cent more, they can shop around at the next corner for a better deal without having to respin the board.

    And also: on any motherboard there is a ridiculous amount of space. ATX boards rarely have better than 40% fill factor, you can fit at least twice as much stuff on there. There is no need to use smaller chips.

    The reason not to ditch these chips at all is because it allows for any sort of high-voltage power/interface stage to be delegated to this cheap external chip. It's a huge pain to build 3.3 or even 5V buffers into a mostly 1.05V chip (i.e. chipsets), especially if they also need to have proper ESD protection circuitry. That's stuff that takes up a lot of expensive silicon area. Just having one chip that interfaces everything high voltage hugely simplifies the design of a motherboard. Note that it's not just legacy parallel/serial port connections, but also LEDs, fan control, measuring voltages and even power conversion interfacing that these chips can do.
    Reply
  • klmccaughey - Sunday, December 30, 2012 - link

    Yup, exactly. They probably have a lot of that silicon not standard transistors / circuitry, but more for voltage and power regulation. It's a bit like a 1/4 inch bolt - industry standard and no need to change it. Reply
  • ssj3gohan - Friday, December 14, 2012 - link

    Haha, I see you responded to the complaints of a couple of people on power consumption (among which I have also had my say in the comments of one of your earlier reviews), but your response is not entirely satisfactory IMO.

    You say that it's the relationship between the numbers that we should look at to get an idea of which is more efficient than the other, but the relationship is not linear and not indicative of what a consumer will get! I build extremely efficient computers (5.4-15W idle, typically) and these absolute differences in power consumption still carry over to low power computers as well: employing a 10W more power hungry motherboard in a 15W computer means my efficiency goes down the drain, whereas on a 150W idle dual-graphics monster PC it doesn't matter one bit. What people need to know is the individual power draw (or losses) of components, not a number that is obfuscated by many, many other uncharacterized components with little or no links to information on their share of the power consumption pie - or influence on power consumption on this particular part!

    Second, I know from my experience with these boards that these power consumption numbers mean not a damned thing without the context of which BIOS/EFI settings you used, as well as how well you installed current drivers and such things. Or even what services are running at the time of measurement. One faulty setting can absolutely ruin power consumption, it's a sad fact of life.

    We, as readers, have absolutely no way of comparing your findings to anyone else, probably not even to your own other reviews. The only way to have robust power consumption figures is to have DC measurements of isolated system components, with known settings (e.g. 'stock bios F1, no modifications, running windows 8 fully idle, no active background services') and verified use states (i.e. 'system running in ACPI C2'). It's a lot to ask all at once, but waving away the extreme nonorthogonality of your measurements is not the direction I want to see the increasingly important segment of power consumption to go.
    Reply
  • Parhel - Friday, December 14, 2012 - link

    How is power consumption becoming "increasingly important" for ATX desktop motherboards? I'm not seeing it. Reply
  • klmccaughey - Sunday, December 30, 2012 - link

    It is important for always on devices. If you are anything like me you have a lot of computer equipment about the house. I had the guy come round to do an Electricity provider switch-over and he did a few measurements and calculation for me. The computer power added up to a hell of a lot more than I expected.

    Energy prices are rising world-wide and there is a big push on in many sectors to get power consumption down and stop wasting so much. Initially I was a bit sceptical, but the more oil/gas goes up each year the more I am taking it seriously.

    If this is to be used as an always on media server or Raid board, I would actually be checking to make sure it isn't a power hog.
    Reply
  • ggathagan - Friday, December 14, 2012 - link

    As you clearly understand, it IS a lot to ask all at once.
    The granularity you desire in this particular area of motherboard testing is well outside of the scope of these reviews, especially when factoring in all of the variables that you mention.
    There are time limitations, both on the part of the reviewer, as well as the part of the manufacturer.

    If you feel this particular arena of testing is so important, might I suggest starting your own site and performing reviews that focus on the details of power consumption you consider to be important?

    Or perhaps you could ask an existing review site if they would be interested in beginning a partnership that would allow you to produce a review addendum that covers these details on the boards that they've reviewed.

    I would think that power efficiency would be of particular interest to sites that focus on HTPC systems or sites that focus on low noise systems.

    Just as Anandtech has branched out over the years with regard to the areas of technology it covers, I can also see reviewing various products with this sort of focus in mind.

    This is especially true as the desire to reduce the size of systems tends to run into limitations due to power consumption and, by extension, heat production.
    Reply
  • ssj3gohan - Friday, December 14, 2012 - link

    I kind of do already have a site on these subjects, although I don't do reviews, rather I push on the extremes of PC power consumption: http://bit.ly/Of2jrH

    On the face of it, I don't actually ask for that much extra testing, I mostly ask for reviewers (in general) to publish materials that show that they understand power consumption completely and have done the things that need to be done to get consistent, comparable results. This basically means understanding power states, measuring power consumption at true steady-state and verifying that all power saving methods are operating as they should. Only then can you get truly comparable power consumption results.

    The bit that is really hard to do is to completely isolate motherboard DC power consumption and losses. I don't expect this to happen anytime soon, but at least the DC power measurement can be done. That alone would be a big, big improvement.

    Even for ATX boards, power consumption is an issue for enough people and is something that has a place in a proper in-depth review. But these power consumption measurements should really mean something, and what I am seeing right now is measurements that can probably go either way depending on what the reviewer did - which is a black box to me.
    Reply
  • Tech-Curious - Friday, December 14, 2012 - link

    Fascinating blog -- and amazing work on those custom builds of yours.

    That said, I think you're more concerned about power efficiency than ... uh, anyone else in the world. And you're probably more knowledgeable about computer power consumption than most anyone who visits this site, including the people who write reviews for it.

    None of which is to say that Anandtech (and similar hardware-review sites) couldn't or shouldn't try to improve their power measurements, but we must acknowledge that the audience for Anand's reviews isn't primarily concerned with power measurements. Power consumption matters, but it isn't the meat and potatoes of the meal here; it's more like a side salad.
    Reply
  • klmccaughey - Sunday, December 30, 2012 - link

    Pwned ;) Reply
  • popej - Friday, December 14, 2012 - link

    Your results for THD+N look bad. Most probably are limited by input quality. Audio input on motherboard usually isn't used for anything more demanding then simple microphone, so its quality isn't important for manufacturer. Would be more interesting to measure output only, using good reference audio card or USB adapter.

    Result dependency on frequency isn't right either. Probably something is wrong in configuration, maybe drivers do poor resampling of audio signal.
    Reply

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