Pricing for motherboards varies wildly. While the performance platforms command a premium, those based on significant integrated graphics performance are considerably cheaper. In fact in 2014 it seems relatively odd to find a mainstream AMD motherboard for more than $150. For example the ASUS A88X-Pro sits at the top of ASUS’ AMD product stack and is only $124. Read on for the full review.

ASUS A88X-Pro Overview

As mentioned in our recent FM2+ coverage, innovation on AMD platforms has somewhat stagnated. The performance from Team Blue means that they get the initial attempts at something awesome from the motherboard manufacturers, and the AMD side of the equation only gets something if the extra R&D cost is minimal. This is what makes an AMD build into a power-play in terms of price/performance rather than feature set. Unless AMD makes a future performance platform, we might never see the likes of the ROG series' OC features on an AMD motherboard again.

ASUS has brought over some hardware component choice and software optimizations from their Intel lines. For the A88X-Pro we get a digital power delivery implementation, followed by Dual Intelligent Processors IV (DIP4) for power saving and turbo implementations. Features like USB BIOS Flashback, MemOK, DirectKey and enhanced audio also copy over.

The main issue with Kaveri from our motherboard reviews so far is the inability for a system to remain stable at stock frequencies while under certain prosumer workloads (video editing, 3D mapping). The A88X-Pro has some extra money spent on the power delivery and heatsink orientation, using R68 chokes and connecting the CPU area with the chipset for extra temperature dissipation.

Unfortunately the forced reboot issue we have seen on other A88X motherboards appeared on the A88X-Pro during our Photoscan benchmark, solved only by an extra fan being placed over the power delivery. I relayed this information back to ASUS, with the benchmark itself, and they have been unable to perform this error that I can consistently show. ASUS has suggested that my review CPU from AMD is from an initial batch of A10-7850K which may have higher-than-retail leakage issues. We are currently investigating this further.

Putting this to one side (as we have done in other reviews), the A88X-Pro is designed to be at the pinnacle of FM2+ motherboard implementations. The performance is better than most of the other FM2+ motherboards we have tested. Alongside the features brought over from the enthusiast platforms mentioned above, we also get a Realtek ALC1150 audio codec, five fan headers, a two-digit debug readout, two eSATA 6 Gbps ports, six USB 3.0 ports, a quartet of IGP video outputs and support for up to 64GB of DRAM (when those 16GB modules are released).

Performance wise, the ASUS A88X-Pro seems to do something a little differently than the other A88X motherboards we have tested – turbo modes seem to last longer and have a direct effect on benchmarks. As a result the A88X-Pro hits the top notes when paired with the A10-7850K in almost all our tests when compared to other A88X reviews. The audio solution also gets some of the best combination Dynamic Range and Noise results out of any previous motherboard tested.

ASUS’ new graphical BIOS from Z87 is used, implementing features such as Last Modified and My Favorites. The software stack revolves around AI Suite 3 with the Dual Intelligent Processors 4 option flanked with USB 3.0 boost, USB BIOS Flashbook, quick charging options, fan controls and power saving modes.

Compared to the $63 MSI motherboard we tested previously at AnandTech, the ASUS comes in at almost double price with good performance numbers, extra features (DIP4, four DIMM slots, Realtek ALC1150) and a more robust BIOS and software package. Whether the A88X-Pro is worth double is more up to the reader, but ASUS is aiming the motherboard at the high end.

Visual Inspection

Speaking of all things golden, ASUS has implemented the same color scheme on the A88X-Pro to that of their 8-series main motherboard line – a dash of mustard yellow and gold on a black PCB:

The socket area gives plenty of room in all directions for air coolers. Although the heatpipe to the bottom of the socket is close, it is also flush against the PCB to not get in the way. The socket area has three fan headers within immediate reach – two four pin to the bottom left of the power delivery heatsink and a four pin below the USB 3.0 connector on the right hand side. There are two other fan headers on board, one four-pin below the SATA ports and another next to the COM header at the bottom of the motherboard.

The top of the motherboard does look very busy in terms of components, and it is worth noting that the DRAM slots are slightly (a couple of mm) lower than usual. This does not interfere with the PCIe lane allocation unless a super large PCIe x1 card is used. The DRAM slots use a double sided-latch mechanism.

At the top of the motherboard is an EPU switch to activate energy saving enhancements automatically at boot. This is the sibling to the TPU switch on the bottom of the motherboard which enables an overclock in a similar fashion. To complement these two switches, ASUS also offers several buttons on board. The one at the top right is the MemOK button which allows memory overclocks to recover the system if the memory settings are too high. Below this next to the SATA ports is the BIOS Flashback button that allows users to update the BIOS via a USB stick without a CPU, DRAM or GPU present. The final button is above the TPU switch and is called DirectKey. When this is pressed when the machine is off, the system will restart straight into the BIOS.

On the right hand side of the motherboard is the USB 3.0 header, powered by the chipset. Below this is a fan header, one of the aforementioned buttons, and the six SATA 6 Gbps ports in the gold/mustard yellow color. The A88X chipset allows for eight SATA 6 Gbps ports, and ASUS put six here with two more on the back panel as eSATA ports. They are all powered by the chipset, which uses a heatsink that is connected to the power delivery to help with keeping the system cool.

Along the bottom of the motherboard we have our front panel headers, four USB 2.0 headers, two digit debug, COM port, fan header and front panel audio header. Note that despite being the high end motherboard in the A88X range, we have not any power or reset buttons, but there is a two digit debug. The DirectKey button on the bottom row almost acts like both, as it also forces the system to shut down when the in the OS.

The PCIe layout is somewhat oddly color coded. ASUS support full sized PCIe devices in an x16 and x8/x8 configuration using the first two x16 sized slots, but they are of different colors. The final slot is a PCIe 2.0 x4 from the chipset, but is colored the same as the PCIe 3.0 x8 slot. Normally the main GPU capable slots are colored the same. The only reason I can deduce from this layout is for NVIDIA GPUs which cannot be in SLI on the A88X platform.

The rear panel features a combination PS/2 port, two USB 2.0 ports, DisplayPort, HDMI, VGA, DVI-D, two eSATA 6 Gbps ports, two USB 3.0 from the chipset, two USB 3.0 from an ASMedia controller, a gigabit Ethernet port from a Realtek controller, and finally audio jacks from a Realtek ALC1150 audio codec.

Board Features

ASUS A88X-Pro
Price Link
Size ATX
CPU Interface FM2+
Chipset AMD A88X (Bolton D4)
Memory Slots Four DDR3 DIMM slots supporting up to 64 GB
Up to Dual Channel, 1333-2400 MHz
Video Outputs D-Sub, 1920x1600 @ 60 Hz
DVI-D, 2560x1600 @ 60 Hz
DisplayPort, 4096x2160 @ 60 Hz
HDMI, 4960x2160 @ 24 Hz or 1920x1200 @ 60 Hz
Onboard LAN Realtek 8111GR
Onboard Audio Realtek ALC1150
Expansion Slots 2 x PCIe 3.0 x16 (x16 or x8/x8)
1 x PCIe 2.0 x4
2 x PCIe 2.0 x1
2 x PCI
Onboard SATA/RAID 6 x SATA 6 Gbps, RAID 0,1,5,10 2 x eSATA 6 Gbps
USB 3.0 4 x USB 3.0 (Chipset) [2 back panel, 2 via header]
2 x USB 3.0 (ASMedia ASM1042) [2 back panel]
Onboard 6 x SATA 6 Gbps
1 x USB 3.0 Header
4 x USB 2.0 Headers
5 x Fan Headers
1 x COM Header
Front Panel Header
Front Audio Header
DirectKey Button
MemOK! Button
USB BIOS Flashback Button
TPU Switch
EPU Switch
Power Connectors 1 x 24-pin ATX
1 x 8-pin CPU
Fan Headers 1 x CPU (4-pin)
4 x CHA (4-pin)
IO Panel 1 x PS/2 Combination Port
D-Sub
DVI-D
HDMI
DisplayPort
2 x eSATA 6 Gbps
4 x USB 3.0
2 x USB 2.0
1 x Realtek NIC
1 x Optical SPDIF Output
Audio Jacks
Warranty Period 3 Years
Product Page Link

ASUS’ extra features (DirectKey, MemOK, BIOS Flashback, TPU, EPU) are all substantial investments in design which may be part of the reason why the A88X-Pro sits up the stack. ASUS is trying to provide enough features and video support (DisplayPort + HDMI) as well as 4-pin headers (five in total), an extra two USB 3.0 ports (ASMedia ASM1042) and the top end Realtek ALC1150 audio codec.

ASUS A88X-Pro BIOS
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  • duploxxx - Tuesday, April 22, 2014 - link

    hmm, lets see in results with mid lvl gpu its actually very close to the intel ones. Other cpu benchmarks are pure synthetic and useless for daily tasks or observations. so yeah you are right there is no usecase for narrow minded people Reply
  • Bucky_Beaver - Tuesday, April 22, 2014 - link

    Hmm so Adobe After Effects are useless for daily tasks or observations? Good to know, I guess.. Reply
  • CHADBOGA - Tuesday, April 22, 2014 - link

    Yeah the best way to judge a CPU's performance, is clearly in a GPU limited benchmark. Reply
  • coburn_c - Tuesday, April 22, 2014 - link

    AMD doesn't care about black processors. erm.. performance... AMD doesn't care about performance processors. So I no longer care about AMD. Sad day but like with an addict you have to draw a tough line. Reply
  • The_Assimilator - Tuesday, April 22, 2014 - link

    There is one feature that might cause someone to buy an AMD system over Intel - namely, 8x SATA3 ports vs's Intel's 6. So what does ASUS do? They go and waste two of those ports on eSATA. Good job ASUS designers, do you know what would be even better? A D-SUB connector in 2014... oh wait. Reply
  • Alexvrb - Wednesday, April 23, 2014 - link

    The eSATA ports are way more useful to me than a couple of extra internal connectors, especially in a pedestrian FM2+ configuration. This isn't meant for a server. There are other FM2+ boards if you are building a NAS or home server. I have never needed that many internal drives on any regular user-facing box (again, not a server). Reply
  • fteoath64 - Thursday, April 24, 2014 - link

    Great points!. Yes, 8 sata internal connectors would be a great way to go as many users would want a home server NAS system. However, here is one opportunity where AMD is missing. Getting into that market with several Kaveri variants that has far more value that Gpu grunt and HSA features. It is power savings and using heterogenous cores. Picture this, a Kaveri with 2 SR cores and 4 puma cores with ability for SR cores to be powered off! And all GCN but one core active at low power (eg 200MHz). This is the NAS mode and should not pull more than 25w TDP. So while gaming, one SR core pushes 4.5Ghz, second SR core doing 3.6Ghz while puma cores running 2.5Ghz doing I/O and caching. We really want dynamic TDP adjustment at the BIOS level to manage the system. Reply
  • abufrejoval - Tuesday, April 22, 2014 - link

    In these days of "device" craze, it's easy to forget what a PC is all about: Expandability!

    And what these boards offer are mainly slots: Lots of usable, unhampered, wide slots, which you can use for everything that fits inside!

    Not just graphics!

    Ok, so you ask: "What's there that still needs to be fit, when everything is already on-board?"

    And I say: "Things to come, things which aren't commodity yet!"

    And since that's my job, evaluating these things for our corporate data centers, that's what I do: Play around with (what used to be) new stuff like FusionIO, 10Gbit Ethernet, GPU compute etc.

    And in that environment I've come to like these AMD APU boards with plenty of wide slots and ports as well as IOMMU support, lots of RAM capacity and mostly even with ECC support.

    I run them in my home lab taking the "goods" like FusionIO SSDs, 10GB NICs etc. temporarily from my corporate test lab to my home lab, where experimenting is often a lot faster, with open cases under my desk instead of rack-mount servers inside the computer room.

    But I also use them to run as ordinary home servers, where 8 SATA ports, plenty of RAM, good-enough CPU and GPU also allow for very flexible yet quiet servers I an afford to run 24x7 on my home power bill.

    They are very, very flexible, which of course also means they aren't perfect at anything: They aren't the lowest power or highest performing systems which I'd need and use in *production*. But when you want "Lego"-like flexibility to try things out, they are really great and very affordable.

    And now I'm ready to start with my griping:

    AFAIK there are none of the stupid (well actually Intel would think them smart...) limitations that Intel's chipsets have on AMD's platform: Where Intel used to give you only 16 usable PCIe lanes off the CPU, but only allowed you to use them for a GPU (early Intel variants shut off on-board graphics if you inserted a PCIe x8 RAID controller into the CPU slot!) AMD never knew such restrictions. On Intel such things as "bifurication", which is nothing but splitting the 16 lanes into two pairs of 8x, are *luxury* you need to pay at least by going to a Z-chipset, or if you actually would like to combine it with VT-D aka IOMMU best with a C-chipset, of course only combinable with server CPUs.

    I'll save you the gory details on the Intel side, most likely you are painfully aware of them anyway.

    But with AMD, AFAIK, these limitations do not exist: You can put plenty of 16x slots on your board and while the total number of lanes is of course also fixed by what the CPU/APU supports, the allocation to slots and integrated devices is pretty flexible: The more cards you actually insert, the lower the number of lanes per slot. On the other hand with PCIe 3.0 even a single lane is rather OK for a 10Gbit NIC.

    Yet I find that with these FM2+ board, which should not suffer the Intel restrictions, those very same restrictions are *replicated*!

    Please correct me if I am wrong, but I believe there is no reason, why you shouldn't be able to buy an FM2+ board with 3x PCIe x16 slots, which should work with 8/8/4 PCIe 3.0 out of the box (perhaps 8/4/4 3.0, which still beats the pants off most entry level Intel offerings): Yet you simply can't have it, unless you go to one of these "Pro" boards.

    On the Intel side, yes the 100% price uplift vs. entry would be "justified" by having to resort to some sort of PLX PCIe bridge, but on AMD?

    On the Intel side, yes, the 3rd slot would be "not recommended" for anything requiring serious bandwidth, because no matter what how many lanes or what speed you'd see at the slot, it would still have to pass through a 4x PCIe 1.0 bottleneck between CPU and what's left of the South Bridge.

    But for an AMD board to down-grade to PCIe 2.0 or even 1.0 on the 3rd slot seems more like "feature emulation" than a technical requirement!

    So why is there this "Pro" price gap, "emulating" a similar gap on the Intel side, *when there is no reason beyond marketing?*

    Of course I understand why ASUS and their fellow competitors are doing this, but could Anandtech kindly expose that nonsense and discreetly step on some toes?

    I don't actually mind paying a little premium to have more usable 16x PCIe slots as well as a generally higher quality motherboard.

    But since my use case isn't trying to emulate an Intel 2011 based gaming rig on the the cheap, I'm not nearly as concerned about overclocking as I am about idle power consumption or plain old stability (and that would include ECC support, please, pretty please!)

    And on these "Pro" motherboards everything screams about "burn but don't melt" not about "cool and will last forever".

    And Anandtech not mentioning power consumption even with a single word, leads me to believe that whoever is using these boards, doesn't have power efficiency on his mind. I've achieved 18Watts on idle desktop using Richmond APUs on ASUS motherboards and I think that's "allright" even if Intel's BayTrail SoCs can scratch 10 Watts off that score. 40+ Watts, however, would signal a resounding "no-go".

    Acceptable power efficiency is *exactly* why I'd by one of these: The ability to replace a DL980 class server for quite a few of my virtualization, solid state storage and SDN experiments, while it delivers a home-server and even a 24x7 desktop including some "shoot-them-up" before signing off.

    Yes it wouldn't be best at anything, but it would a do a darn good job at replacing quite a few "optimal" systems for the things I do: Great value for an affordable price!
    Reply
  • mikato - Wednesday, April 23, 2014 - link

    Wow, I completely agree. Nice comment. I remember getting 2 full x16 PCI express lanes on my motherboard, and plenty of SATA connectors when I built my Phenom II X4 965 machine. I told a couple friends who built Intel and they were surprised. Well, Intel is artificially limiting things for price segmentation power, that's just the way it is. Reply
  • mattgmann - Tuesday, April 22, 2014 - link

    Dear AMD, Intel, Nvidia and to whomever else this may concern.

    Please come up with new naming schemes for your motherboards/chipsets/processors/gpus etc. The practice of enumerating your products very closely to that of your competitors is stupid. And though you may claim it to be coincidence, or just following your historic naming schemes, your are lying.

    It is not a coincidence that Intel offers the Z87, and AMD the A88X. I am too many scotches deep to provide more examples in this rant, but they abound. It's a crappy marketing practice and just a sign of lazy and uncreative work in their respective departments.

    P.S. If any of these companies would like help giving their products creative, attractive names that their intended clientele can relate to, such as "Under the desk dustbox Xtreme", "Mom's basement Earthquake Generator", "Better than apple in an Ironic way (hipster edition)", or perhaps "Extra Core Overcompensator (AMD special)"... Please feel free to contact me, or one of my minions.
    Reply

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