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ASUS F2A85-M Pro microATX FM2 Motherboard

ASUS F2A85-M Pro microATX FM2 Motherboard

October 25, 2012 by Lawrence Lee

Product
ASUS F2A85-M Pro

FM2 microATX Motherboard
Manufacturer
ASUS
Street Price
US$125

AMD recently launched their Trinity platform with second generation APUs that build on the accomplishments of Llano, which was released just over a year ago. Trinity features new CPU cores based on Piledriver, an evolution of the Bulldozer architecture used in their first FX series chips for socket AM3+, as well as updated graphics hardware that give a nice boost to 3D performance. Trinity offers a bit of everything, strong multi-threaded performance, enough GPU power to get through some games at decent resolutions, and fairly good efficiency, all at a reasonable price.

Price has been absolutely key for AMD's success since the release of Intel's Core 2 architecture which put AMD back into their role as a perennial underdog. It's okay not to have the best performing chips if you can still deliver superior value. They've been smart complementing their processors with similarly affordable motherboard chipsets laden with features while Intel based boards have carried a "tax" so to speak as if it was a privilege to use their CPUs.

Our first FM2 motherboard sample is the ASUS F2A85-M Pro, a microATX model that packs a lot of punch in-terms of features considering the cost. At US$125, it's quite cheap but that price is actually in the upper range for an FM2 board, so you might consider it a high-end board. There is one killer aspect of the F2A85-M Pro that differentiates itself from most of the competition — it's equipped with ASUS' Fan Xpert 2, which we discussed in detail in our ASUS P8Z77-V Pro review. It's a very capable fan control system with a functional and beautiful Windows GUI and it's only been available on a limited and fairly expensive selection of ASUS LGA1155 motherboards.

This board is based on the new A85X chipset which is essentially the same as the previous Llano flagship chipset, A75, except for the addition of two more SATA 6 Gbps ports. For users on a stricter budget the A75/A55 chipsets have been used for FM2; you can find an FM2 board for as little as US$50 if you're willing to live with a very basic feature-set.

ASUS F2A85-M Pro : Specifications

(from the product
web page
)
CPU

AMD Socket FM2 Athlon™/A- Series Processors

Supports CPU up to 4 cores

Supports AMD® Turbo Core 3.0 Technology

Chipset AMD A85X FCH(Hudson D4)
Memory 4 x DIMM, Max. 64GB, DDR3 1866/1600/1333/1066 MHz Non-ECC, Un-buffered Memory

Dual Channel Memory Architecture

Support AMD Memory Profile (AMP) memory

* The Max. 64GB memory capacity can be supported with DIMMs of 16GB (or above). ASUS will update QVL once the DIMMs are available on the market.
Graphic Integrated AMD Radeon™ HD 7000 Series Graphics in A-series APU

Multi-VGA output support : HDMI/DVI/RGB/DisplayPort ports *

- Supports HDMI with max. resolution 1920 x 1080 @ 60 Hz

- Supports DVI with max. resolution 2560 x 1600 @ Hz

- Supports RGB with max. resolution 1920 x 1600 @ 60 Hz

- Supports DisplayPort with max. resolution 4096 x 2160 @ 60 Hz

Maximum shared memory of 2048 MB

AMD® Dual Graphics technology support

Supports DirectX 11
Multi-GPU Support Supports AMD Quad-GPU CrossFireX™ Technology

Supports LucidLogix® Virtu™ MVP Technology *1
Expansion Slots 2 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (x16 or dual x8)

2 x PCIe 2.0 x1
Storage AMD A85X FCH(Hudson D4) chipset :

7 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), gray

1 x eSATA 6Gb/s port(s), red

Support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10, JBOD
LAN Realtek® 8111F, 1 x Gigabit LAN Controller(s)
Audio Realtek® ALC892 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC

- Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel Jack-retasking

Audio Feature :

- Optical S/PDIF out port(s) at back panel
USB Ports ASMedia® USB 3.0 controller : *2

2 x USB 3.0 port(s) (2 at back panel, blue)

AMD A85X FCH(Hudson D4) chipset :

4 x USB 3.0 port(s) (2 at back panel, , 2 at mid-board)

AMD A85X FCH(Hudson D4) chipset :

10 x USB 2.0 port(s) (2 at back panel, , 8 at mid-board)
Internal I/O Ports 1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port(s)

1 x DVI

1 x D-Sub

1 x DisplayPort

1 x HDMI

1 x eSATA

1 x LAN (RJ45) port(s)

4 x USB 3.0

2 x USB 2.0

1 x Optical S/PDIF out

6 x Audio jack(s)
Internal I/O Ports 1 x USB 3.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 2 USB 3.0 port(s) (19-pin)

4 x USB 2.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 8 USB 2.0 port(s)

1 x TPM connector(s)

1 x COM port(s) connector(s)

7 x SATA 6Gb/s connector(s)

1 x CPU Fan connector(s) (4 x -pin)

3 x Chassis Fan connector(s) (4 x -pin)

1 x S/PDIF out header(s)

1 x 24-pin EATX Power connector(s)

1 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power connector(s)

1 x Front panel audio connector(s) (AAFP)

1 x System panel(s)

1 x DirectKey Button(s)

1 x DRCT header(s)

1 x MemOK! button(s)

1 x TPU switch(es)

1 x EPU switch(Es)

1 x USB BIOS Flashback button(s)
Accessories User's manual

ASUS Q-Shield

2 x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s)
Support Disc Drivers, ASUS utilities, ASUS Update, Anti-virus software (OEM version)
Form Factor uATX Form Factor

9.6 inch x 9.6 inch ( 24.4 cm x 24.4 cm )
Note * Refer to http://www.amd.com/us/products/technologies/dual-graphics/Pages/dual-graphics.aspx#3 for the discrete GPUs which support Dual Graphics technology

*1 LucidLogix Virtu MVP supports Windows 7 operating systems.

*2 Supports ASUS USB 3.0 Boost UASP Mode

Much of the F2A85-M Pro's functionality is thanks to the modern graphics chip found in AMD's latest APUs. Trinity is capable of outputting four independent displays simultaneously (all four common display outputs are available on the board) and like Intel's Sandy and Ivy Bridge platform, Lucid's Virtu GPU virtualization software is supported if you prefer discrete graphics but want the integrated graphics to handle specific tasks like video playback. Dual Graphics, the ability to combine the IGP with an HD 6570/6670 in a psuedo-CrossFire configuration to boost 3D performance, is also available. For serious gamers, the board has a pair of PCI Express 16x slots for running a proper CrossFireX array though the slots don't adhere to the latest 3.0 standard. Furthermore, the second PCI Express 16x slot is located at the bottom so not all microATX cases will have room for a second dual or triple slot card.

There are a whopping eight ports connected to AMD's native SATA 6 Gbps controller (RAID 0, 1, 5, 10, and JBOD supported) with seven internal ports and one eSATA connector on the back panel. Gigabit ethernet and 8-channel audio are a given of course, but there's also a secondary ASMedia USB 3.0 controller in addition to the one provided by the chipset.



The box.



Package contents.

While the board is feature-rich, the package is downright barren. There's a manual, driver disc and I/O shield of course, but the only real extra is a pair of locking SATA cables. It's not a lot considering there are seven internal SATA ports. The ever useful Q-Connector for convenient front panel wiring is also noticeably absent.

PHYSICAL DETAILS

The F2A85-M Pro is laid out similarly to recent AMD microATX motherboards. Most of
the connectors are at the edges of the board where they are easily accessed,
though the 8-pin EPS12V connector is in the top left corner; if you have a large third party cooler and a case with a ceiling-mounted power supply, it could be a real pain to connect. There are also no fan headers on the right side of the board so you might require extensions for front-mounted fans with short cables.



The board provides excellent connectivity options. There are seven SATA
6 Gbps ports (the eight is routed to the eSATA connector at the back), two PCI-E 3.0 16x slots (8x/8x in CrossFireX) and four PWM fan headers. The back panel is littered with USB 3.0 connectors so there are an ample number of USB 2.0 headers as well.



As per usual with AMD boards, there isn't a ton of room around the CPU with the DIMM slots positioned very close to socket. There aren't any other obstructions though as the VRM heatsink is fairly short and located on the far side of a column of inductors and capacitors. One possible source of frustration may be the seventh SATA port that isn't placed on its side — a long video card and cooler could easily cover it up.



The heatsinks have varied fin sizes, an unnecessary flourish to make them resemble the cascading levels of an equalizer. The VRM heatsink is fairly petite, only 25 mm tall including the chips it sits atop.



Despite being the hub for most of the board's subsystems, the FCH chip has a fairly diminutive cooler as well.



The back panel is well-stocked with a nice selection of connectors. DisplayPort, HDMI, S/PDIF, USB 3.0 (the four blue ports) and eSATA are all accounted for.

BIOS/UEFI

The F2A85-M Pro features the now standard ASUS EFI BIOS with a graphical user interface and mouse support. It first presents you with a simplified view with a run-down of the clock speeds, etc., but users who want to get your hands dirty will want to enable the advanced menu.





AI Tweaker menu.


BIOS Summary: ASUS F2A85-M Pro
Setting
Options
APU Frequency 90 to 300 MHz (100 MHz default)
Memory Frequency 800, 1600, 1333, 1600, 1866, 2133, 2400 MHz
CPU Voltage (offset) +/- 0.00625 to 0.500 V
CPU Voltage (manual)
0.800 to 1.900 V
VDDNB Offset (offset) +/- 0.00625 to 0.500 V
VDDNB Voltage (manual) 0.800 to 1.750 V
DRAM Voltage 1.35 to 2.135 V
SB 1.1V Voltage 1.10 to 1.40 V (1.10 V default)
1.1VSB Voltage 1.10 to 1.20 V (1.10 V default)
APU1.2V Voltage 1.20 to 1.80 V (1.20 V default)
VDDA Voltage
2.50 to 2.80 V (2.50 V default)
NB VREF Voltage 0.360 to 0.990 V (0.675 V default)
DRAM VREFCA Voltage 0.360 to 0.990 V (0.675 V default)
DRAM VREFDQ Voltage 0.360 to 0.990 V (0.675 V default)
Memory Timing Options Advanced
UMA Frame Buffer Size 32, 64, 128, 256, 512 MB, 1 GB, 2 GB

For those who want even more value out of their FM2 system, ASUS provides a nice set of overclocking options. The base APU frequency can be cranked up to 300 MHz and voltage boosted up to 1.9 V. There's also a flexible array of controls for the chipset and memory.





Monitor menu.

Frankly, we're more excited by the F2A85-M Pro's fan control system than overclocking. The board is equipped with FAN Xpert 2, which allows for independent control of all four PWM fan headers. Each fan can be set to a prescribed setting (Silent, Standard, Turbo) but there's also a manual option where you enter in temperature and fan speed ranges. There are limitations, at least in the BIOS/UEFI, as the three chassis fan controls cannot be run under 60% speed (this might be a precautionary measure to prevent 3-pin fans from turning off if the speed drops to low). In Windows, the FAN Xpert 2 utility provides a more customized experience.

TEST METHODOLOGY

Test Setup:



Test configuration device listing.



Measurement and Analysis Tools

Video Test Suite



1080p | 24fps | ~22 mbps

H.264/MKV: A custom 1080p H.264 encoded clip inside an Matroska container.




1080p | 24fps | ~2.3 mbps

Flash 1080p: The Dark Knight Rises Official Trailer #3, a YouTube HD trailer in 1080p.


Estimating DC Power

The following power efficiency figures were obtained for the
Seasonic SS-400ET used in our test system:

Seasonic SS-400ET Test Results
DC Output (W)
21.2
41.6
60.2
81.9
104.7
124.1
145.2
AC Input (W)
32.0
58.0
78.0
102.0
128.0
150.0
175.0
Efficiency
66.3%
71.7%
77.1%
80.3%
81.8%
82.8%
83.0%

This data is enough to give us a very good estimate of DC demand in our test
system. We extrapolate the DC power output from the measured AC power input
based on this data. We won't go through the math; it's easy enough to figure
out for yourself if you really want to.

Testing Procedures

If available, the latest motherboard BIOS is installed prior to testing. Certain services/features
like Indexing, Superfetch, System Restore, and Windows Defender are disabled
to prevent them from causing spikes in CPU/HDD usage. We also make note if energy
saving features like Cool'n'Quiet/SpeedStep or S3 suspend-to-RAM do not function
properly. If a WiFi adapter is present, it is disabled unless the system lacks wired ethernet.

Our main test procedure is designed to determine the overall system power consumption
at various states (measured using a Seasonic Power Angel). To stress the CPU, we
use either Prime95 (large FFTs setting) or CPUBurn depending on which produces higher system power consumption. After 10~15 minutes of load (when temperatures stabilize), we also measure the hottest points on the external heatsinks using an infrared thermometer. To stress the IGP, we use FurMark, an OpenGL benchmarking and stability testing utility.

Finally, storage subsystems are tested briefly using CrystalDiskMark (1000 MB of 0x00 fill test data) and a Kingston HyperX 3K 120GB solid state drive. For USB and eSATA we use an external eSATA/USB 3.0 dock to connect the drive.

TEST RESULTS

Power Consumption

As we noted in our AMD Trinity review, the new platform is very energy efficient under light load. Paired with an A8-5600K, the F2A85-M Pro had an idle draw of only 22W. Playing a 1080p H.264/MKV video brought that figure up to 27W and a 1080p Flash trailer on YouTube used 30W. It's a noticeable improvement over the Llano/A75 combination.

Synthetic loads using Prime95/CPUBurn and FurMark were also much lower than the Llano configuration but in a real life stress test, video encoding with TMPGEnc, the A8-5600K/F2A85-M Pro pairing only consumed 5W less.

Unfortunately it is difficult to ascertain exactly how much of the energy draw
is generated by the processor alone, as the amount of power pulled from the
AUX/EPS12V connector depends on how board power regulation has been implemented.
On this board, ASUS has gone with an 4+2 power phase design which pulls substantially less power from the 8-pin connector than the Gigabyte A75M-UD2H FM1 (4+1 design) we tested with the Llano APU.

As a proportion of total system draw, the AUX/EPS12V draw on the F2A85-M Pro was approximately 34% less and 8% less on light load and heavy load respectively, compared to the A75M-UD2H.

Cooling

To test the board's cooling, we stressed the CPU for ~15 minutes with Prime95/CPU Burn. Temperatures of the boards' chipset and VRM heatsinks (if applicable) were recorded using a spot thermometer. The highest temperatures were taken for comparison.

Cooling on the F2A85-M Pro is not great, but adequate. The Sandy and Ivy Bridge combinations included above use a bit less power and have larger VRM heatsinks so they run quite cool compared to the FM2 board. It does compare favorably to the A75M-UD2H though probably because the A8-3850 has an insanely high load power draw.

Fan Control

The F2A85-M Pro ships with FAN Xpert 2, ASUS' acclaimed fan control software. While there are plenty of fan control options in the UEFI/BIOS, FAN Xpert 2 expands on this, giving users a thoroughly customized experience. It can control all four fan headers on the F2A85-M Pro but the CPU_FAN header is limited to PWM control only, while the other three work with both 4-pin and 3-pin fans.



SpeedFan screen with correlations inputted.

If your fan control needs aren't specific, there are three preset options available on the main screen. If you prefer the customized route, click on the fan tuning option and wait as the system systematically tests each fan to determine its operable range.



SpeedFan screen with correlations inputted.

After tuning your fans, it determine the controllable range with the minimum value being more or less the equivalent of each individual fan's starting speed, that is the speed it runs at when just enough power is applied to get the fan spinning from a dead stop. For PWM fans, this value is usually fairly low but for 3-pin fans it can be a bit high, as in the case above where the controllable range starts at 56%. In reality, once a fan is spinning, the speed can be lowered below the starting level but ASUS doesn't want to take the chance of having a fan stop spinning and not be able to spin back up again in a timely fashion.

Fan headers can also be renamed and assigned a position on a case diagram to remind you of its physical location. If system is fully assembled and you'd rather not take off the side panel to figure out which fan is which, the application also has the ability to turn off the other fans temporarily for easy identification.



SpeedFan screen with correlations inputted.

Once your fans are tuned you can choose either dynamic or fixed control for every header. In the "Smart Mode" you can adjust the fan speed curve as well as adjust how quickly the fan reacts when revving down or revving up. One feature we'd love to see is the ability to selecting what temperature individual fans respond to but unfortunately the current system only reacts to the CPU temperature.

The lower limit of the controllable range becomes the fan's minimum speed no matter what mode you use. If you're keen on silence, it's best to avoid using high speed 3-pin fans as FAN Xpert 2 might not be able to lower their speeds enough for your liking. We should also note that SpeedFan, which we often use as an alternative to motherboard fan control software, doesn't support this board properly, at least not yet.

Boot Performance

To test boot time we optimize the BIOS menu by setting the hard drive and other delays set to minimum, taking care not to disable common functionality like USB support, POST messages, etc. and measure the time it takes to reach the Windows loading screen (we stop here because this is the point where the O/S drive speed becomes a factor).

The boot process on the F2A85-M Pro is very fast, hitting the Windows loading screen in a little over 10 seconds.

Storage Subsystem Performance

To test storage subsystems we use CrystalDiskMark (1000 MB setting with 0x00 fill test data) and a Kingston HyperX 3K 120GB solid state drive. The drive is connected to an external dock for eSATA and USB 3.0 benchmarking (limited to 3 Gbps and 5 Gbps respectively unfortunately). For comparison, we pit the ASUS F2A85-M Pro against a recent Intel Z77 board, the Gigabyte Z77X-UD3H (paired with an Intel Core i3-2100 processor).

SATA

The A85X SATA controller is limiting in the upper range, unable to hit the very high maximum read/write speeds capable on the latest Intel Sandy/Ivy Bridge boards. However it should be noted that most SSDs rarely exceed 400 MB/s (we used easily compressible data to get the best possible speeds out of our SandForce drive) so you probably won't notice a difference in day-to-day use.

eSATA

In eSATA performance, the F2A85-M Pro was neck-and-neck with the Z77X-UD3H's Marvell-powered eSATA connector. Like most eSATA devices, our dock is limited to a 3 Gbps interface which might have helped equalize the results, whether better or worse for AMD.

USB 3.0

The F2A85-M Pro complicates matters by having a second USB 3.0 controller produced by ASMedia and the USB 3.0 Boost software bundled with ASUS' AI Suite. The speeds we got using the native AMD controller was very disappointing, less than 100 MB/s, in sequential and random 512K read/writes, while the ASMedia controller was better but not very impressive either, topping out at about 150 MB/s in sequential 512K writes. Using the USB 3.0 Boost feature provided a noticeable bump in performance, particularly for the ASMedia controller but it was still slower than eSATA 3 Gbps.

Overall, the Gigabyte Z77 board's USB 3.0 controllers fared similarly to the F2A85-M Pro with USB 3.0 Boost enabled. Intel's native controller also seems to be substantially slower than third party solutions.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The ASUS F2A85-M Pro is packed full of features including the common four video outputs, seven SATA and one eSATA port, two USB 3.0 controllers, two PCI Express 16x slots (though they're not 3.0) and Lucid's Virtu GPU virtualization technology. FAN Xpert 2 is also a big boon, an "X" factor in our opinion, for what is supposed to be a reasonably priced motherboard for a budget platform. Having four, highly configurable fan headers is very handy and should be a highly coveted feature among our readership — we've lamented the fact that it's only been available on high-end LGA1155 motherboards thus far. The board only lacks high-end add-ons like Bluetooth, WiFi, and FireWire.

The F2A85-M Pro is also fairly energy efficient and while the VRM heatsink is a little undersized, it does an adequate job at stock settings. We're not sure how it would hold up with a heavy overclock though. The UEFI/BIOS has all the voltage/frequency/timing options one would expect from an enthusiast class motherboard and the "K" series APUs have unlocked multipliers to make overclocking easier.

As the F2A85-M Pro is the first FM2 board we've tested, we can't say with any confidence whether it's better or worst than any of its direct competitors. What we can say is, like AMD's new APUs, it provides a very well-rounded experience and great value. You won't find an Intel motherboard in the same price range that offers a similar or better feature-set and if you're looking for FAN Xpert 2 (or an equivalent) on any motherboard close to the F2A85-M Pro's US$125 price, you're simply out of luck.

Our thanks to ASUS
for the F2A85-M Pro motherboard sample.

* * *



ASUS F2A85-M Pro
wins the SPCR Editor's Choice

Articles of Related Interest

AMD Trinity: A10-5800K & A8-5600K 2nd Gen APUs

ASUS P8Z77-V Pro: Xpert Fan Control for LGA1155


Intel Core i7-3770 Ivy Bridge CPU


Intel DZ77GA-70K Z77 Motherboard: Waiting for Ivy Bridge

Intel
Sandy Bridge Extreme: Core i7-3960X LGA2011 Processor


AMD
FX-8150 8-Core Bulldozer Processor


* * *

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