ASUS A88X-PRO Motherboard
By Rafael Coelho on December 5, 2013
The A88X-PRO is a socket FM2+ motherboard from ASUS, based on the most high-end chipset for this new platform, the A88X. It is targeted to the forthcoming FM2+ “Kaveri” APUs, but it is also compatible with socket FM2, second-generation APUs from AMD, codenamed “Trinity.” Let’s see what this motherboard has to offer.
APU is a name that AMD coined for their CPUs with integrated video. They are also known as “A-series,” as models start with the letter “A” (A4, A6, A8, and A10).
AMD launched three chipsets for socket FM2+ platform: A88X, A78, and A68. They are pretty much updated versions of the A85X, A75, and A55 chipsets, but with eight SATA-600 ports instead of six and the support for RAID 5, which is not available on the previous models. A difference between the A85X and the A88X is the support for XHCI 1.0 and Debug Port on the USB 3.0 ports of the A88X, while the A85X supports XHCI 0.96.
Socket FM2 APUs have an embedded PCI Express 3.0 controller, with one PCI Express 3.0 x16 port and four PCI Express 2.0 x1 ports. Second-generation APUs allow the x16 port to be divided into two x8 ports. It is important to understand that this is a feature provided by the processor, not by the chipset. Keep in mind that socket FM2 APUs have a PCI Express 2.0 controller, and therefore PCI Express 3.0 won’t be available if you use a socket FM2 processor on this motherboard.
The ASUS A88X-PRO does not support the Virtu Universal MVP, which allows you to combine the performance of the integrated graphics processor available in the CPU with the performance of any video card installed, a feature that is available on some socket FM2 motherboards.
In Figure 1, you see the ASUS A88X-PRO motherboard, which is based on the ATX form factor (12.0 x 9.6 inches or 305 x 244 mm).
The ASUS A88X-PRO comes with two PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots, one PCI Express 2.0 x16 (that always works at x4 speed), two PCI Express 2.0 x1, and two PCI slots. The PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots share bandwidth, which means that if the second one is unused, the first one works at x16 speed, but if both are populated, they will both work at x8.
You also need to keep in mind that PCI Express 3.0 is only supported if an FM2+ processor is installed. With an FM2 CPU, the slots only support PCI Express 2.0.
The portrayed motherboard supports CrossFireX with up to three video cards.
AMD CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor, not the chipset, that defines what memory technologies you can have and the maximum amount of memory that is possible. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.
The integrated memory controller from socket FM2 processors supports DDR3 memories up to 1,866 MHz. FM2+ CPUs memory specifications are not informed by AMD to date. According to ASUS, the A88X-PRO supports memories up to DDR3-2400.
The ASUS A88X-PRO has four memory sockets. According to the manufacturer, it supports up to 64 GiB if four 16 GiB memory modules are used.
In order to enable the dual-channel mode, you must install four or two identical memory modules. If you are using two modules, you must install them in sockets of the same color if you want the best possible performance.
The AMD A88X chipset is a single-chip solution. This chip supports eight SATA-600 ports with RAID (0, 1, 10, and 5). On the ASUS A88X-PRO, two of them were placed on the rear panel as eSATA-600 ports, leaving six SATA-600 ports available.
The AMD A88X chipset supports 10 USB 2.0 ports and four USB 3.0 ports. The ASUS A88X-PRO offers 10 USB 2.0 ports, two soldered on the rear panel and eight available through four headers located on the motherboard; and six USB 3.0 ports, four located on the motherboard rear panel and two available on a header located on the motherboard. The two extra USB 3.0 ports on the rear panel are provided by an ASMedia ASM1024 chip.
The ASUS A88X-PRO does not have FireWire ports.
This motherboard supports 7.1+2 audio format, i.e., eight channels plus two independent channels for audio streaming. On this motherboard, the audio is generated by the chipset using the Realtek ALC1150 codec, which is an excellent audio codec, providing 115 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog outputs, 104 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs, and up to 192 kHz sampling rate for both inputs and outputs, with 24-bit resolution. These specifications are good even for the user who wants to professionally capture and edit analog audio (e.g., converting LPs to CDs or MP3, converting VHS to DVDs or any other digital format, etc.)
The motherboard also comes with an on-board optical SPDIF output. It also has a header labeled “SPDIF_OUT,” where you can install an adapter to have a coaxial SPDIF output or to connect a cable to older video cards that required a physical connection to have audio on their HDMI outputs.
The analog audio outputs are independent only if you use a 5.1 analog speaker set. If you install a 7.1 analog speaker set, you will need to use the “line in” jack.
The portrayed motherboard has one Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Realtek RTL8111GR chip.
In Figure 6, you can see the motherboard rear panel with a shared keyboard/mouse PS/2 connector, two USB 2.0 ports, HMDI output, DisplayPort output , VGA output, DVI-D output, two eSATA-600 ports, four USB 3.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, an optical SPDIF output, and the analog audio jacks.
The ASUS A88X-PRO has a two-digit POST diagnostic display that shows, through a numeric code, which component is preventing the computer from turning on. In Figure 6, you can see a button called “DirectKey,” which allows you to enter directly into the motherboard setup program, and a “TPU switch,” which improves system performance.
The “MemOK!” button, shown in Figure 7, allows you to test the compatibility of the memory modules that are installed.
In Figure 8, you can see all of the accessories that come with the ASUS A88X-PRO.
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the ASUS A88X-PRO has six phases for the CPU main voltage (VDD or Vcore) and two for the CPU memory controller (VDDNB). Therefore, it uses a “6+2” configuration. The voltage regulator is controlled by an ASUS DIGI+ ASP1107 integrated circuit. Each phase is driven by one NTMFS4C09N and two NTMFS4C06N transistors.
The ASUS A88X-PRO uses 5,000 hour electrolytic capacitors. All coils on this motherboard are high-end ferrite-core models.
If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on the subject.
The ASUS A88X-PRO provides a few overclocking options. Below, we list the most important ones available at the motherboard’s setup:
The main specifications for the ASUS A88X-PRO include:
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this review.
The ASUS A88X-PRO is a good motherboard if you are building a computer with a socket FM2 processor, with the advantage of being compatible with future socket FM2+ APUs.
It has almost only the basic features provided by the chipset (except for two extra USB 3.0 ports), but they (six SATA-600 ports, two eSATA-600 ports, six USB 3.0 ports, and ten USB 2.0 ports) are more than enough for the average user. The diagnostics display is a nice feature, too.
One of the highlights of this motherboard is the high-end audio interface, which uses one of the best codec available at the market. Another one is the presence of VGA, DVI-D, HDMI, and DisplayPort outputs, allowing connection to four monitors with no need of purchasing a video card.
The only minus of the ASUS A88X-PRO is that there are other options on the market with the same features, but at a lower price.