Closer Look: ASUS A88X-Pro
The ASUS A88X-Pro box pretty much lays out the major features of the motherboard. The front of the box has all the logos telling you about the Dual Intelligent Processors 4 and the 4-way Optimization. Little boxes on the front outline the TPU, EPU, Digi+ VRM, and even the NFC support. More on that later. The back of the box will tell you everything you want to know and more about GPU Boost, ASUS Fan Xpert 2, UEFI EZ Mode, and USB 3.0 Boost. You don’t need to read the back of the box, though. I’ll tell you all about those features.
I’ve noticed a trend with all of the FM2+ motherboards I’ve taken a look at so far. They all come packed with , well, pretty much nothing. The ASUS A88X-Pro is no different. The accessories bundled with the A88X-Pro include four SATA cables, the IO shield, a User Guide, a driver disc, and jumper pin headers. I wondered what happened to the stickers, decals, cable ties, do-not-disturb signs, voltage leads, etc. It’s the little things, guys.
The ASUS A88X-Pro has an interesting black and gold color scheme. Or maybe it is black and yellow, or black and yellow and gold. I can’t quite tell. The heatsinks are clearly meant to be gold and I think the RAM slots and PCI slots are supposed to be gold too, but they aren’t the same color as the heatsinks and they look yellow to me.
That’s ok, though, because the ASUS A88X-Pro has the best heat-dissipation of any of the A88X motherboards I’ve taken a look at so far. Both the chipset and all of the PWM components are covered by heatsinks. The heatsink directly above the APU socket is connected to the heatsink covering the chipset. The chipset heatsink has a very low profile. This is good news for multi-GPU aficionados because it won’t block a video card from being installed in the second full PCI-E slot. The double-stacked, horizontal SATA ports right behind the heatsink might impede longer GPUs, though.
The ASUS A88X-Pro has the dual-channel, color-coded DDR3 slots that support up to 64GB of memory at 2400MHz with a Kaveri APU. The color coding is nice, but nothing you won’t be able to find elsewhere. What is different about the DRAM on the A88X and other ASUS motherboards is the MemOK! Button. If memory compatibility or settings issues are stopping your system from booting, the MemOK! Button tries to set your memory to fail-safe settings so that you get a post and troubleshoot further.
Like the DRAM slots, the PCI slots are color coded. Both PCI-E x1 slots and the first PCI-E x16 slot are yellow (or maybe gold), and the rest are black. That first PCI-E x16 slot will run as a PCI-E 3.0 slot when running an FM2+ APU, or at PCI-E 2.0 with an FM2 APU. There are plenty of ways to run multiple GPUs on the ASUS A88X-Pro. There are three full PCI-E slots. The first runs at x16, if you use two, they run at x8/x8. The third is a PCI-E 2.0 slot that always runs at x4. You can stack GPUs in all of those for 3-way Crossfire. You can also combine discrete GPUs with the on-die GPU in a CrossfireX Configuration. The FM2+ APUs support CFX with R7 or R5 GPUs.
In addition to three full PCI-E and two PCI-E x1 slots, ASUS also included two legacy PCI slots; you know, just in case. I always find these decisions odd. I haven’t used a legacy PCI card in probably about as long as it’s been since I’ve used a PS2 keyboard or mouse. That doesn’t stop them from showing up on my motherboard. I was actually thinking about this the other day because I needed a parallel port to hook up a banner printer and print out a poster. I actually used a PCI-E x1 expansion card to solve my problem. Even though my motherboard had PCI slots, it didn’t have a parallel port. Now, I’m not advocating bringing back parallel ports. I’m glad they’re gone. I just wonder about decisions like PCI ports and PS2 ports.
The A88X chipset supports eight SATA 6Gb/s ports. ASUS uses all eight of them on the A88X-Pro. Two of the eight are on the rear I/O and the other eight sit next to the A88X chip. They are double-stacked and horizontally oriented. Horizontal SATA ports help by allowing you to use them even when you have a long GPU that would cover up vertical ports. The problem with the ones on the A88X-Pro is that double-stacking them makes them stand up just as high as the PCI-E slots, and maybe even a little higher. I was able to install a long GPU on top of the SATA ports, but it rested on top of the ports and, although the GPU worked fine, it wasn’t seated as well as it would have been without the double stack of SATA ports. I am also a fan of at least one vertical SATA port, as horizontal ports are harder to use when messing around inside a case.
The I/O panel on the ASUS A88X-Pro is pretty standard, but there are few nice tricks. The ASUS A88X-Pro starts off with a legacy PS/2 port. Is anybody surprised by this? I can give you a long list of USB keyboards with 64-key rollover. Trust me when I say it’s hard to reach that. Anyway, under that are two USB 2.0 ports. Don’t worry; pretty soon I’m going to be railing against USB 2.0 ports, too.
A88X motherboards have a nifty new setup for onboard video that is a little different than what we are used to. There are four video outputs on the ASUS A88X-Pro, and they can all be used at the same time. There is a DisplayPort over the top of an HDMI port and those two sit beside a VGA and a DVI port. Normally, in a setup like this, the DVI port and the HDMI port couldn’t be used simultaneously, but that is not the case with the Kaveri APUs. You can run four monitors off the onboard graphics. There are some restrictions, and we talked about them in our Kaveri overview. FM2+ APUs also support up to 4K resolutions over HDMI.
The ASUS A88X-Pro I/O panel is home to four USB 3.0 ports, colored blue, and two eSATA ports, colored red. While the eSATA ports run off the chipset, the A88X only supports 4 USB 3.0 ports. Add in the two offered through a front-panel header and we have two too many. The extra two run off the ASMedia ASM1024 chip. The Gigabit Ethernet is controlled by the Realtek RTL8111GR chip. The audio codec also comes from Realtek in the form of the ALC1150, a common yet robust audio codec. The motherboard and the codec support 7.1+2 audio (eight channel audio with two independent channels), although there are only 5 independent out ports and an SPDIF optical out. That means you’ll have to use the line-in to support a 7.1 channel speaker set.
And so, with that out of the way, let’s take a look at what makes the ASUS A88X-Pro different.