Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/6506/msi-fm2a85xag65-review-know-your-platform
MSI FM2-A85XA-G65 Review: Know Your Platformby Ian Cutress on December 11, 2012 1:21 AM EST
The A85X chipset and FM2 socket is supposedly here to stay for Trinity plus one more generation. As a result, AMD needs to make sure that the platform is right so that the new processors can slot straight in (whenever that may be). While they may have missed the ship on PCIe 3.0 (despite AMD pioneering it on the GPU side), we do get a tasty array of eight SATA 6 Gbps ports from the chipset with RAID 5 support and a promise that the integrated graphics part of the APU is powerful. In the next installment of our series of FM2/Trinity motherboard reviews, MSI sent us their top line motherboard to test. The FM2-A85XA-G65, while a rather lengthy classification, is a full sized ATX motherboard using the FM2 chipset in an MSI Military Class black and blue theme. At a mid-pack price of $100, MSI gives us the full eight FM2 SATA 6 Gbps ports, 5 fan headers, a full array of video outputs, and special features such as voltage read points and an OC Genie button.
MSI FM2-A85XA-G65 Overview
Unlike the ASUS and ASRock FM2 motherboards we have reviewed so far, MSI takes the stance on A85X a little differently. The major difference is the PCIe slot arrangement, which forgoes the extra PCIe 2.0 x4 from the chipset found on the previous boards. Instead we get more PCIe x1 slots and PCI slots, suitable for any array of add-in card alongside a GPU or two.
The MSI FM2-A85XA-G65 sits in the price bracket at $100, which officially qualifies for the lower end of the FM2 spectrum on Newegg (~$80-$140). On top of the basic functionality that A85X provides (eight SATA 6 Gbps, four USB 3.0), the board has a Realtek ALC892 audio codec, Realtek 8111E audio, up to 2-way CrossfireX compatibility, five fan headers, the full array of video outputs, power/reset buttons, the OC Genie button and voltage read points. These final two distinguish the MSI board from other implementations in the FM2 arena, allowing users to apply a one button overclock (compared to ASRock which requires a button press and ASUS which is a switch), or monitor the voltage points using easy connections.
In terms of design, the heatsinks are relatively large for the power delivery, and in comparison to the ASRock, the board itself looks relatively clean in terms of traces and transistors. This I believe is down to efficiency in design rather than a lack of design. One potentially confusing point in the MSI board however is the placement of the USB 3.0 port in the middle of the board. In this location it lends itself to either a front panel or rear panel implementation, but could easily be blocked by large GPUs with back plates. It is an interesting location, different to what we have seen in the past.
While in the box is nothing special (a standard inclusion for a $100 product), MSI have a strong aesthetic BIOS design and software package that is varied and easy to use. Rather than being rough around the edges, there are obvious areas of improvement – but seemingly less so than some other vendor implementations of the same functionality.
Performance-wise, the MSI seems to drag its heels in our CPU benchmarking suite. As it turns out, the latest BIOS at the time of testing does not seem to apply turbo multipliers correctly. In the BIOS we have a ‘Turbo Frequency’ at 4.0 GHz and ‘Max Turbo Frequency’ at 4.2 GHz (for the A10-5800K) – my own tests could only push the board to 4.0GHz in single thread load. As a result, the OC Genie auto OC options do not push the system as hard, and in single threaded benchmarks the MSI board lags behind - it also looks like the DPC Latency could be affected as well. I have notified MSI about this issue, and no doubt in time it will be resolved. To be fair across all reviews, I use the latest BIOS at the time of putting the board on the test bed, and these are the results I got with the 1.30 BIOS. It should also be noted that the board is a little slower to POST than most (16.75 seconds), and had problems waking from S3 with the keyboard or mouse on default settings.
The MSI has some tough competition and does not really pull itself away from the rest of the pack unless you want easy-to-use physical read points or a nice system of additional software to deal with. When the results are placed side by side with the cheaper $95 ASRock FM2A85X Extreme6, the performance scales are in favor of the ASRock, leaving the MSI as a choice only if you are really gunning for an MSI build.
Each of the motherboard manufacturers have a part of their company zeitgeist which is geared towards colors for their products. ASUS use a white to blue scheme for channel boards, red and black for ROG; Gigabyte use a light blue to white on their channel range, green and black for the gaming series then orange and black for the OC boards; ASRock use black and gold for the main range then red/black for Fatal1ty and yellow/black for OC. Given that the MSI logo is blue, blue is bound to feature, and the FM2-A85XA-G65 takes the black and blue very seriously, with everything except the SATA ports using this color scheme – it goes fairly well given the relatively tidy PCB not being covered in silver transistors or traces like some other manufacturers’ products.
The socket is the typical large AMD socket, and MSI push right up to the AMD recommended distance with their power heatsinks and memory slots. The board has five fan headers, three of which are within easy reach from the socket – one to the right of the VRM heatsink, another to the top right of the board, and a third just above the first PCIe x1 slot. The other two fan headers on board are towards the bottom – one can be found below the SATA ports (and could be blocked by a second GPU), and the other is below the bottom PCI slot.
I would like to point out the ‘cleanliness’ of this MSI board compared to some others. Take a look at the top left compared to the ASRock FM2A85X Extreme6:
Left to Right: MSI, ASRock
The MSI board uses less components and seems highly organized, hence my use of the ‘cleanliness’ word. Having less components means a few things – there is less to go wrong, the motherboard can be produced quicker, and sometimes it overclocks better (from empirical experience). On the flip side, asking other manufacturers about component numbers and placement will usually get the response ‘those components are required’ and could be part of a larger plan for stability based on power delivery or component choice. One could suggest the difference between the two above could be indicative of hardware choices (power delivery phases, IO panel considerations), but it seems more of a feature across the range of certain vendors. By actually speaking with MSI gives us an inkling towards some of the suggestions as to why the difference occurs across vendors – around the board on the right’s components is a white box, used when the machine is placing the components. The MSI board does not use that system, and thus does not need to use the white box and space everything out. An interesting concept put into practice.
Back to the MSI FM2-A85XA-G65, and on the right hand side of the motherboard, we have plenty of functionality to point out. At the top we have an OC Genie button (for a one button overclock), and power/reset buttons. On many other motherboards this combination usually comes with a two-digit debug LED for debugging, but unfortunately not here. Instead we get voltage read-points (which require no soldering) for the extreme enthusiast. Below the 24-pin ATX power connector are our eight SATA 6 Gbps ports in white, with six of them facing out of the motherboard and two facing up. These final two SATA ports (and the fan header below it) are at risk from being covered by a large device in the second PCIe slot.
The chipset heatsink is comparatively slightly smaller than some other motherboards we have seen, but nearby are two interesting design choices. Firstly, the USB 3.0 port is found directly in the middle of the board. This would be to presumably cater for both rear bracket usage and front panel connections – but while it compromises for both it is not ideal for either situation. As an added warning, users of dual GPU setups and cards with backplates may make the USB 3.0 header unusable. You could argue that an FM2/Trinity user would not have dual cards with backplates (or tri-slot cards) as the CPU would not provide enough grunt, making this placement OK, but it is an interesting discussion point. The second design choice to note is a ClearCMOS button to the right of the PCI slots. This small red dot would be obscured by a large GPU, but I am glad it is in a different location to the power/reset buttons and a different shape/size to avoid confusion.
The PCIe slots are separated such that the most extreme of gaming setups on this FM2 board can still use a PCIe x1 or two, and perhaps a PCI slot with dual-length GPUs. I reckon if I was designing a dual PCIe slot board like this, this would be one layout under consideration in a final product – the other one would probably be swapping the last PCIe x1 with the first or last PCI slot, or integrating a PCIe x4 from the chipset.
On the bottom of the board we have our front audio header, a fan header, a TPM header, three USB 2.0 headers (one capable of ‘Super Charging’) and our front panel headers. Perhaps annoyingly the locations for the pins are not put on the PCB for the front panel header, but there is an M-Connector in the box to make this job easier – place the case connections on the M-Connector, then the M-Connector into the board. A similar system is in place on some competitors’ boards.
The rear IO does not offer too much deviation from what a standard FM2/Trinity setup would be expected to have. From left to right we get a combination PS/2 port, four USB 2.0, a Realtek 8111E GbE NIC, VGA output, DVI-D, HDMI, DisplayPort, an optical SPDIF output, two USB 3.0 and audio jacks. It would be interesting to find out what proportion of home users actually use each of the video outputs, and whether there would be any merit in reducing some of them to conversion connectors or rotating them 90 degrees.
Four DDR3 DIMM slots supporting up to 64 GB
Dual Channel, 1066-1866MHz
|Onboard LAN||Realtek 8111E|
|Onboard Audio||Realtek ALC892|
2 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (x16/- or x8/x8)
3 x PCIe 2.0 x1
2 x PCI
|Onboard SATA/RAID||8 x SATA 6 Gbps, Supporting RAID 0, 1, 5, 10|
4 x USB 3.0 (Chipset) [2 back panel, 2 onboard]
10 x USB 2.0 (Chipset) [4 back panel, 6 onboard]
8 x SATA 6 Gbps
1 x USB 3.0 Header
3 x USB 2.0 Headers
1 x ClearCMOS jumper
5 x Fan Headers
1 x Front Panel Audio Header
OC Genie Button
Clear CMOS Button
1 x 24-pin ATX Power Connector
1 x 8-pin CPU Power Connector
1 x CPU (4-pin)
4 x SYS (3 x 4-pin, 1 x 3-pin)
1 x PS/2 Combination Port
4 x USB 2.0
2 x USB 3.0
1 x Realtek GbE NIC
Optical S/PDIF Output
|Warranty Period||3 Years|
Our old friend the Realtek NIC/Audio combination is back. This time we get a Realtek ALC892 and 8111E, which as previously mentioned is usually sold as a combination discount to motherboard manufacturers. For a motherboard at $100 or less, it is hard to expect anything less. This MSI board is actually one of very few I have in to test that use all eight SATA 6 Gbps on board – normally one gets partitioned off for eSATA duty. Despite this, I still reckon that the placement of the final two ports on the board could have been better coordinated. More than likely MSI did not find a good enough deal on a 4x2 plastic SATA array for a board, but they had plenty of 3x2 in house – then pricing up a 1x2 was more expensive than 2x1. These sorts of decisions are made day by day in terms of pricing in order to bring costs down, hence why some of the lower tier manufacturers use 8x1 on their products, and the top tier manufacturers make enough motherboards that a 3x2 or 4x2 is cost effective.
MSI FM2-A85XA-G65 BIOS
In the land of the evolving BIOS, one everlasting memory of MSI will stick with me always – the propensity for MSI to include games in the BIOS. Back on the initial launch of graphical interface BIOSes (UEFIs) on the P67 chipset, MSI’s initial design was to offer a series of options using colors, but also to include a section involving simple games like Breakout, Pairs, and some Snake derivative. While a baffling situation for any reviewer to be in, it did point out the obvious nature of what a graphical BIOS should be – interactive, appealing and easy to use. As a technical exercise, the games did their job, but the games were clearly not going to stay.
Since then, MSI have taken two steps forward is aesthetics, but two steps back in accessibility and design. What we have had since X79 is literally a ‘winning’ design – technically the third place in an internal competition at MSI to design the next BIOS (those that came first and second were apparently not suitable for implementation). This BIOS is great for information – at the front screen we get vital information that should be in any BIOS: the motherboard and BIOS version, the CPU and CPU speed, the memory count and speed, and the CPU temperature. We also have access to some secondary important characteristics such as boot order, time and date.
The downside in the BIOS lies in the selection of options. Choosing a menu on the side of the BIOS merely gives a textual list of all there is to offer. It does not embrace the spirit of interaction, and when faced with a wall of text (such as the OC menu), it is not pleasing to decipher. To use a baseball analogy, the MSI system is neither a hit nor a strike out/pop-fly – I see it more as a 4-ball walk: enough to get to first base and potential to develop, but could do better.
The options available in the BIOS seem to come from two different sides of the development team. In the Settings Menu we get access to several sub-menus, each relating to their corresponding target – USB Configuration, Hardware Monitor, Power Management et al. In the OC menu however, as shown above, we are presented with the aforementioned wall of text. Each option is on a new line, and no separation between the CPU options, the OCP options, the LLC options, the memory options, and so on. Not only this, some of the options could be construed as confusing at first glance (such as Digital Compensation Level, which may well be VDroop, LLC, or some other term) unless you are completely au fait with MSI terminology. The BIOS does not offer any assistance in learning what each of these commands mean, or whether an extreme overclocker needs 0% or 100% for a particular command as different manufacturers have different interpretations. I would instigate a redesign if I got hold of this BIOS code.
It should also be noted that specific to this BIOS, we can only select up to DDR3-2133. Any increase over this memory speed will also require some BCLK adjustment.
Being a motherboard, controlling the fans is important. Our fans are controlled through the Fintek SuperIO chip – on the MSI FM2-A85XA-G65 this gives our CPU and SYS fan headers two different types of option. The CPU header is a ‘Smart’ target, which allows us to specify a simple gradient between two optimal temperatures. The SYS fan headers in comparison are limited in their speed range, leaving it with a fixed RPM.
Most of the options in this BIOS are no different than options in other vendors’ BIOSes – AHCI is enabled by default for example. There are no automatic overclocking options except ‘OC Genie II mode’, clickable at the top. In the Utilities menu we can activate a BIOS update via a USB stick, or offer a Live Update via the internet if a suitable network configuration is supported.
On top of all the features, there are areas where this BIOS can be improved. A lot of users, myself included, will thoroughly abuse the S3 ‘Sleep’ functionality of Windows, allowing for a quick boot back into the OS. Normally this allows the user to click the mouse or type on the keyboard to turn the PC back on. Unfortunately with this MSI board, the only way to get out of the sleep modes is to press the power button itself.
MSI FM2-A85XA-G65 Software
If the BIOS section of a motherboard is currently focusing on interaction, the software side of the package should be focusing on consolidation. When it comes to software, we do not need separate software for the fan controls, for the Ethernet options, for the overclock options, for the power options, and so on. Having everything in one interface reduces cluttering icons on the desktop and start menu in exchange for one or two extra clicks on an interface. It is true that some companies do not care at all for their software, leaving it blank or not updated in several years – MSI have a somewhat mixed approach to the software system.
Starting with the installation disk, while there are no instructions as to what to do, the main command is the ‘Total Installer’ in each menu. For the drivers, we can get everything installed at the click of a button after an options menu comes up for users to deselect unwanted drivers. Similarly for software, except as per our normal testing we disable any installed anti-virus or firewall included in the package.
MSI split their software package across multiple programs in an attempt to cover all the bases.
MSI Control Center
If any piece of the software package sounded like sitting in the Captain’s chair of the Enterprise, then the Control Center has the name down to a tee. Control Center gives several menus including Overclocking, the OC Genie, Green Power (includes fan controls), recording and mobile control.
The overclocking part of CC gives the user access to the basic clock and voltage controls for the CPU, and the voltage controls for the memory. These options are also paired with detailed screens about the features of the motherboard, the CPU and the memory as shown above. If a change is unable to be completed in the OS, the software requests a system reboot to make the change.
The OC Genie part of CC is the automatic overclocking center of the motherboard. One click of it being enabled and the next boot will offer a default overclock based on the system at hand. Rather than the probing OC solution used by ASUS’ Extreme mode or Gigabyte’s Auto Tuning, this calls up a table of reasonably safe OC settings based on the hardware used and implements it. While it may not be the best overclock possible from the kit the user has, it does provide a one button OC.
The Green Power option is one I find particularly interesting, as shown below:
Here we get a basic two point gradient for the fan in terms of temperature against RPM. Whether this is the true fan RPM as a function of the fan profile, or as a PWM value it is unsure. There is no active testing of the fan profiles, so one would assume it works on the assumption that 0-5% power is ~0 RPM and the RPM value raises linearly with power (i.e. the wrong way to assume fan profiles). Nevertheless, I like the fact that the software plots the current fan speed as a function of time – this allows the user to see the course the fan takes based on load. What would be good is if this bit of software also had an option to apply load to allow the user to see the differentiation.
The recording section is a rather well laid out bit of software that automatically plots any temperature sensor, fan sensor, voltage or CPU utilization against time, along with options to define warning limitations.
The Mobile Control menu is something we are seeing more of from the motherboard manufacturers – letting users adjust settings on the fly via their mobile device or tablet.
MSI are a big fan of link aggregation – i.e. using two compatible NICs to act as a single connection. While this will not speed up your internet speed, it may allow a user to speed up file transfer over a network when dealing with two hosts, or if the machine is on a 10 GbE network. There are clearly possibilities in the SOHO NAS arena, although with the FM2-A85XA-G65 we are limited to a single Realtek NIC to begin with. Users wanting to take advantage of Teaming Genie will need to purchase a PCIe NIC add-in card.
Live Update 5
Every motherboard in this modern area should be bundled with software that allows it to check with online servers for updates. It seems a simple idea in principle – allow the users to have the best up-to-date experience with their hardware to take advantage of updates. This has become the de-facto standard in the graphics card area, with both AMD and NVIDIA building in update systems for their drivers - but yet very few motherboard manufacturers actually do this. MSI do, in the form of Live Update 5.
This software does a scan of the local drivers, the BIOS on the motherboard, and software present. It correlates this to the online database at MSI, and then offers potential downloads. All the options can be downloaded and installed at the click of a button under Total Installer, making the processes almost painless. The only malady with this approach is that MSI fail to tell the user how big these updates are going to be – meaning if you have to download 150 MB of audio codec, you will only be able to tell with guess work. A minor update will make Live Update 5.1 a little easier to handle.
In order to get the best of MSI software, we have the option to install MSI Suite. This gives the user a small drop down menu on the desktop filled with MSI relevant icons to the other software installed. It is a neat idea, if a little invasive on normal usage. The best bit is that it essentially keeps tabs on Live Update for you, telling when updates are available. There are perhaps better ways to offer these options, but it is something that no other manufacturer is doing.
Are you fed up of the basic Windows image viewer? No, me neither. Though MSI have decided it needs a bit of an upgrade, and provide users with Easy Viewer as shown below.
There are basic options for rotation, resizing, brightness and so forth. Personally I actually use FastStone Image Viewer (one of the benchmarks in our testing methodology) which does this a lot better and is a free download.
Most motherboard manufacturers are aware that the BIOS is actually a seldom used interface in the majority of systems. While enthusiasts are likely to go around and probe the options, or the odd gamer wanting a bit more performance, the majority of users will not know that it exists. I would only just about trust my father or brother to modify their BIOSes correctly, but only because they have been trained.
MSI have decided it is time to bring the BIOS to the user, rather than the other way around. By having some official looking software that can alter the BIOS options, as well as look like the BIOS, it can offer the potential to feel safer than modifying the BIOS directly. Enthusiasts may disagree, but MSI is not targeting enthusiasts with Click BIOS – they are targeting people like my father or brother.
Other software included in the disk comes by the name of Super-Charger (quick USB charging utility) and Network Genie (the Realtek NIC management software with an MSI skin).
MSI FM2-A85XA-G65 In The Box
It could be argued that for $100 and a full sized motherboard, there should not be much in the motherboard box if the board is high on features. The contrary could also be applied – given the presence of eight SATA ports on the motherboard, surely we should have a bunch of SATA cables and extras to sweeten the deal. MSI err on the side of the former for the FM2-A85XA-G65:
Four SATA Cables, Locking
I am quite surprised to see more than two SATA cables, and rather enjoy having four in the box. The M-Connectors are MSI’s ‘easy’ way to attach case cables to the motherboard, and the V-Check cables allow users to test the motherboard voltages a little easier.
MSI FM2-A85XA-G65 Overclocking.
Experience with MSI FM2-A85XA-G65:
Given the issues with the BIOS applying a 4.0 GHz maximum turbo mode in the OS, the OC Genie should have had more headroom to work with when applied. This is unfortunately not the case, with the three ways of applying OC Genie all giving different results – some failing, and others not providing the full speed as expected.
Manual overclocking via the BIOS is easy enough, adjusting voltages, multipliers and so forth. One point of contention could be the automatic Load Line Calibration settings. For example, on some of my overclock testing, the voltage applied by the CPU would be 0.1 volts higher than my setting in the BIOS. This lead to overheating at 4.6 GHz of one part of the system as everything else was left on automatic.
Our standard overclocking methodology is as follows. We select the automatic overclock options and test for stability with PovRay and OCCT to simulate high-end workloads. These stability tests aim to catch any immediate causes for memory or CPU errors.
For manual overclocks, based on the information gathered from previous testing, starts off at a nominal voltage and CPU multiplier, and the multiplier is increased until the stability tests are failed. The CPU voltage is increased gradually until the stability tests are passed, and the process repeated until the motherboard reduces the multiplier automatically (due to safety protocol) or the CPU temperature reaches a stupidly high level (100ºC+). Our test bed is not in a case, which should push overclocks higher with fresher (cooler) air.
MSI performs automatic overclocking via the OC Genie system. Rather than a series of stability tests, OC Genie seems to call up a table of overclocks depending on the system and apply an OC profile. There are three ways to apply OC Genie – via the switch on board, via MSI Suite, and via the Control Center software. Each one in turn gives the following results:
Using the onboard OC Genie button, the system applied a 5% overclock by pushing the BCLK to 105 MHz at kept the multiplier at 40x. No adjustments to the memory were made, but this setting failed our OCCT test.
Using the MSI Suite OC Genie button made no difference to any setting on board. This of course was stable, being a pure default scenario.
Using the Control Center OC Genie button restarted the system and gave a 39x multiplier and 105 MHz BCLK. While still less than the 4.2 GHz we were expecting, this setting was stable and gave 1.464 volts at load.
This is practically a poor showing by OC Genie. What it should have done is apply the max turbo clock by default as a starting point and worked from there if the user wishes to be more aggressive.
Following our standard methodology for FM2/A85X, I started the processor at a 44x multiplier and a fixed 1.400 volts in the BIOS. The Load Line Calibration was left on automatic for the duration of the testing. The results are as follows:
The 44x multiplier setting was stable at a minimum of 1.500 volts set in the BIOS. This gave a load voltage of 1.576 volts during OCCT in Windows.
The 45x multiplier setting was stable at a minimum of 1.575 volts set in the BIOS. This gave a load voltage of 1.672 volts during OCCT in Windows.
The 46x multiplier setting seemed stable at 1.625 volts (load voltage of 1.712 volts), however it was noted that CPU-Z declocked during OCCT to 1.4 GHz every now and again. This was confirmed by PovRay which achieved a result lower than it would have done at stock settings.
Many thanks to...
We must thank the following companies for kindly donating hardware for our test bed:
OCZ for donating the 1250W Gold Power Supply and USB testing SSD
Micron for donating our SATA testing SSD
G.Skill for donating our memory kits
ASUS for donating AMD GPUs and some IO Testing kit
ECS for donating NVIDIA GPUs
Rosewill for donating the 500W Platinum Power Supply
AMD Trinity A10-4800K APU
2 Modules, 4 Threads, 3.8 GHz (4.2 GHz Turbo)
ASUS F2A85-V Pro
ASRock FM2A85X Extreme6
|Cooling||ThermalRight Copper TRUE|
OCZ 1250W Gold ZX Series
Rosewill SilentNight 500W Platinum PSU
|Memory||G.Skill TridentX 4x4 GB DDR3-2400 9-11-11 Kit|
|Memory Settings||2133 9-11-11|
ASUS HD7970 3GB
ECS GTX 580 1536MB
NVIDIA Drivers 296.10 WHQL
|Hard Drive||Corsair Force GT 60 GB (CSSD-F60GBGT-BK)|
|Optical Drive||LG GH22NS50|
|Case||Open Test Bed - DimasTech V2.5 Easy|
|Operating System||Windows 7 64-bit|
|SATA Testing||Micron RealSSD C300 256GB|
|USB 2/3 Testing||OCZ Vertex 3 240GB with SATA->USB Adaptor|
Power consumption was tested on the system as a whole with a wall meter connected to the OCZ 1250W power supply, while in a dual 7970 GPU configuration. This power supply is Gold rated, and as I am in the UK on a 230-240 V supply, leads to ~75% efficiency > 50W, and 90%+ efficiency at 250W, which is suitable for both idle and multi-GPU loading. This method of power reading allows us to compare the power management of the UEFI and the board to supply components with power under load, and includes typical PSU losses due to efficiency. These are the real world values that consumers may expect from a typical system (minus the monitor) using this motherboard.
Power Consumption on the MSI in comparison to the other A85X boards tested seems to be better during loaded scenarios, but higher at idle.
Windows 7 POST Time
Different motherboards have different POST sequences before an operating system is initialized. A lot of this is dependent on the board itself, and POST boot time is determined by the controllers on board (and the sequence of how those extras are organized). As part of our testing, we are now going to look at the POST Boot Time - this is the time from pressing the ON button on the computer to when Windows 7 starts loading. (We discount Windows loading as it is highly variable given Windows specific features.) These results are subject to human error, so please allow +/- 1 second in these results.
It has been a short while since we tested an MSI board in its POST timings, and unfortunately the MSI FM2 motherboard takes the longest out of all our FM2 testing. The motherboards we have tested that take longer are often well equipped for from lower tier manufacturers. The fact that disabling controllers increases the boot time is a little strange as well.
Rightmark Audio Analyzer 6.2.5
In part due to reader requests, we are pleased to include Rightmark Audio Analyzer results in our benchmark suite. The premise behind Rightmark:AA is to test the input and output of the audio system to determine noise levels, range, harmonic distortion, stereo crosstalk and so forth. Rightmark:AA should indicate how well the sound system is built and isolated from electrical interference (either internally or externally). For this test we connect the Line Out to the Line In using a short six inch 3.5mm to 3.5mm high-quality jack, turn the OS volume to 100%, and run the Rightmark default test suite at 48 kHz, 96 kHz and 192 kHz. For brevity, we show the Dynamic Range and THD + Noise results.
USB 3.0 Backup
For this benchmark, we run CrystalDiskMark to determine the ideal sequential read and write speeds for the USB port using our 240 GB OCZ Vertex3 SSD with a SATA 6 Gbps to USB 3.0 converter. Then we transfer a set size of files from the SSD to the USB drive using DiskBench, which monitors the time taken to transfer. The files transferred are a 1.52 GB set of 2867 files across 320 folders – 95% of these files are small typical website files, and the rest (90% of the size) are the videos used in the Video Conversion test.
In terms of USB 2.0 performance, the MSI FM2-A85XA-G65 seems to rule the roost compared to other FM2 boards. This could be down to default BIOS options at the expense of the S3 sleep resume.
Again, the MSI takes the lead in our chipset USB 3.0 testing.
Deferred Procedure Call latency is a way in which Windows handles interrupt servicing. In order to wait for a processor to acknowledge the request, the system will queue all interrupt requests by priority. Critical interrupts will be handled as soon as possible, whereas lesser priority requests, such as audio, will be further down the line. So if the audio device requires data, it will have to wait until the request is processed before the buffer is filled. If the device drivers of higher priority components in a system are poorly implemented, this can cause delays in request scheduling and process time, resulting in an empty audio buffer – this leads to characteristic audible pauses, pops and clicks. Having a bigger buffer and correctly implemented system drivers obviously helps in this regard. The DPC latency checker measures how much time is processing DPCs from driver invocation – the lower the value will result in better audio transfer at smaller buffer sizes. Results are measured in microseconds and taken as the peak latency while cycling through a series of short HD videos - less than 500 microseconds usually gets the green light, but the lower the better.
The results from our DPC test are a little startling – the MSI board regularly hit above 200 microseconds and above in our testing, dipping between 100-300 regularly. This is ultimately a poor performance compared to the ideal. If a motherboard gets results like this, then often a priority change in the BIOS can be a cure and results on later BIOSes could vary.
3D Movement Algorithm Test
The algorithms in 3DPM employ both uniform random number generation or normal distribution random number generation, and vary in various amounts of trigonometric operations, conditional statements, generation and rejection, fused operations, etc. The benchmark runs through six algorithms for a specified number of particles and steps, and calculates the speed of each algorithm, then sums them all for a final score. This is an example of a real world situation that a computational scientist may find themselves in, rather than a pure synthetic benchmark. The benchmark is also parallel between particles simulated, and we test the single thread performance as well as the multi-threaded performance.
As mentioned earlier in the review, for whatever reason on this MSI motherboard and BIOS I could not verify that the maximum turbo bin was ever used. As a result, the single threaded performance on this board is lower than that of the other FM2 motherboards tested. (It should also be pointed out that the single threaded performance of the Phenom II X6-1100T trounces any Bulldozer derived silicon.)
Due to the floating point nature of the benchmark, every Bulldozer derived processor seems to perform badly against the competition. That being said, we can see a difference in the FM2 boards we have tested – and the MSI board comes at the bottom of the FM2 pile.
WinRAR x64 3.93 - link
With 64-bit WinRAR, we compress the set of files used in the USB speed tests. WinRAR x64 3.93 attempts to use multithreading when possible, and provides as a good test for when a system has variable threaded load. If a system has multiple speeds to invoke at different loading, the switching between those speeds will determine how well the system will do.
Despite the results of the previous tests, the MSI comes top of our WinRAR test.
FastStone Image Viewer 4.2 - link
FastStone Image Viewer is a free piece of software I have been using for quite a few years now. It allows quick viewing of flat images, as well as resizing, changing color depth, adding simple text or simple filters. It also has a bulk image conversion tool, which we use here. The software currently operates only in single-thread mode, which should change in later versions of the software. For this test, we convert a series of 170 files, of various resolutions, dimensions and types (of a total size of 163MB), all to the .gif format of 640x480 dimensions.
To reinforce the problems relating to the Turbo mode implementation, the single-threaded FastStone benchmark on the MSI performs 3.9% slower than the fastest FM2 board.
Xilisoft Video Converter
With XVC, users can convert any type of normal video to any compatible format for smartphones, tablets and other devices. By default, it uses all available threads on the system, and in the presence of appropriate graphics cards, can utilize CUDA for NVIDIA GPUs as well as AMD APP for AMD GPUs. For this test, we use a set of 32 HD videos, each lasting 30 seconds, and convert them from 1080p to an iPod H.264 video format using just the CPU. The time taken to convert these videos gives us our result.
As Xilisoft uses integer operations for video conversion, our Piledriver based CPU can stretch its legs and try and use everything at its disposal. Despite this, the MSI board performs seven seconds slower than the ASRock motherboard.
x264 HD Benchmark
The x264 HD Benchmark uses a common HD encoding tool to process an HD MPEG2 source at 1280x720 at 3963 Kbps. This test represents a standardized result which can be compared across other reviews, and is dependant on both CPU power and memory speed. The benchmark performs a 2-pass encode, and the results shown are the average of each pass performed four times.
Metro2033 is a DX11 benchmark that challenges every system that tries to run it at any high-end settings. Developed by 4A Games and released in March 2010, we use the inbuilt DirectX 11 Frontline benchmark to test the hardware at 2560x1440 with full graphical settings. Results are given as the average frame rate from 4 runs.
Dirt 3 is a rallying video game and the third in the Dirt series of the Colin McRae Rally series, developed and published by Codemasters. Using the in game benchmark, Dirt 3 is run at 2560x1440 with Ultra graphical settings. Results are reported as the average frame rate across four runs.
The gaming benchmarks put the MSI as the most average performer of the FM2 boards we have tested.
When looking at a motherboard for the first time, my initial thoughts tend towards two areas. Firstly, does it look like it would be a good performer – there is a certain level of confidence that comes from a positive aesthetic perspective, and if it looks like a dump it would probably act like one. The second thought is usually geared towards the PCIe layout, and I imagine trying to place two GPUs and a sound card (either PCI or PCIe x1). Some manufacturers have an odd way of designing this layout, optimizing it for build time rather than usability. Thankfully though, MSI does sort of reasonable on both accounts.
Visually the board is sleek and seems uncluttered compared to most motherboards, despite the features on board. We get access to power/reset buttons, easy access voltage read points, a full eight SATA ports, five fan headers, the full array of video outputs and that all important PCIe layout for two GPUs + one or two extra devices. In contrast, we do not get a two-digit debug LED, the memory slots are not single latched, the USB 3.0 port is in an odd place in the middle of the board, two of the SATA ports could be blocked by a second GPU, and there are no extra controllers for functionality.
On the hardware side we get a Realtek audio/NIC combo with the ALC892 and 8111E respectively. Previous A85X motherboards tested at AnandTech use a total of three full-length PCIe slots whereas the MSI uses two to optimize usage scenarios with PCI and PCIe x1 slots.
The BIOS design is good in giving the important information, albeit the wall of options in the OC menu could take some getting used to. The fan controls are basic at best, and the automatic OC control leaves a lot to be desired when pushing the performance of a Trinity system. Manual overclocking performance with automatic LLC was not spectacular either.
One of the best bits of the MSI motherboard is the software, with the Live Update software making sure the system is up to date, and the Control Center for all things information, detection and control. The Click BIOS system is great to introduce users to the BIOS while still being in the comfort of a full operating system.
Due to the ‘bug’ in the BIOS relating to top turbo speed and actually getting it to initiate, there are aspects to the performance where the MSI may have spent more time fine tuning or developing a different aspect of implementation. Despite this, multi-threaded performance seems to be fine. The system could be better in terms of DPC Latency (329 microseconds, ideally should be under 200) and time to POST (16.75 seconds), relating back to fine tuning. I should point out that improvements could come with a later BIOS than what was tested here.
At $100, the MSI FM2-A85XA-G65 actually falls on the cheaper end of the range of FM2/A85X motherboards available. The MSI has some tough competition and does not really pull itself away from the rest of the pack unless you want easy-to-use physical read points or a nice system of additional software to deal with. When the results are placed side by side with some of the cheaper FM2 boards we have tested, the performance/price scales are often in favor of the competition, leaving the MSI as a choice if you are really gunning for an MSI build.
Addendum 11/12/2012: Based on the findings in this review, MSI have released a BIOS update to v1.4 which should fix the turbo core issue. The issue was related to the default choice of the C6 state in BIOS 1.3 which was disabled. It should be enabled in BIOS v1.4, or users of the 1.3 BIOS can manually change the BIOS option to get the stock performance back on track. We will hopefully release a news update with the latest benchmark results in due course.