Llano motherboards from Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI

Fusion is way past due. Indeed, it took so long for the marriage of AMD and ATI to produce an offspring that combines a CPU and GPU on the same silicon die that Intel popped one out first. The Pineview Atom’s CPU and GPU cores have shared the same silicon since 2009. AMD didn’t release its first Fusion-based Zacate and Ontario processors until early this year, which is right about when Intel unleashed Sandy Bridge, the first CPU/GPU hybrid for real PCs rather than netbooks and ultraportables. More than six months later, Sandy finally has some competition from Llano, Fusion’s second coming.

By now, you’ve no doubt read our coverage of the mobile variant of this Fusion APU, a so-called “accelerated processing unit” in AMD’s hip new lingo for the next generation. You’ve probably also pored over the pages of test results that make up our in-depth look at how Llano fares on the desktop. Hold tight, because there’s even more of this story to tell. Llano comes with a new Socket FM1 and A75 chipset, so it’s hitting the desktop amidst a crowd of fresh motherboards eager to prove their mettle.

While AMD may not be able to claim a true first with Fusion (beyond, perhaps, being the first to combine a CPU with a good GPU), its A75 platform hub is thus far the only core-logic chipset to offer native USB 3.0 connectivity. That capability, combined with a stack of PCI Express 2.0 lanes and six 6Gbps SATA ports, makes the A75 a prime candidate for the budget and small-form-factor motherboards that seem perfectly suited to take advantage of Llano’s strengths.

To get a better sense of the A75’s performance characteristics, we’ve poked and prodded its integrated peripherals. We’ve also thrown a collection of affordable ATX and microATX motherboards—including Asus’ F1A75-V PRO, Gigabyte’s GA-A75M-UD2H, and MSI’s A75MA-G55—into a cage match to see if one can emerge victorious.

Each board has a slightly different take on the budget formula. However, they’re all based on the same A75 Fusion controller hub. Fabbed on an unassuming 65-nm process, this tiny piece of silicon consumes just 7.8W yet packs more cutting-edge peripherals than any other platform hub. Most of you will recognize it as a south-bridge chip.

With modern processors sporting their own graphics cores and north-bridge components, chipsets have been whittled down to single-chip I/O hubs. The A75 is about as modern as they come thanks to its integrated USB 3.0 controller. In addition to ten run-of-the-mill USB 2.0 ports, the chip has four of the SuperSpeed variety. The USB 3.0 ports are handled by separate controller logic that promises substantially higher transfer rates with portable hard drives and docking stations.

AMD gets a gold star for doling out four ports rather than skimping with two. All of the mobos in this round-up (and likely most of the A75-based mobos you’ll find on the market) offer two USB 3.0 ports in the rear cluster and an onboard header that’ll hook up to a case’s front-panel connector for two more. Most auxiliary USB 3.0 controllers offer just two ports, making the A75’s native solution all the more impressive. We’ll see in a moment whether it can match the performance of some of those third-party alternatives.

The A75 is also stacked with third-generation Serial ATA connectivity. Otherwise known as SATA 6Gbps, this standard isn’t new to AMD chipsets; support has been around since the SB850 south bridge, which was available more than a year ago. All half-dozen of the A75’s SATA ports are 6Gbps, a trait of the controller design it shares with the SB850. Intel’s 6-series chipsets, meanwhile, can push SATA speeds to 6Gbps on just two ports out of six.

If you were hoping to build a closet file server with Llano, note that the A75’s RAID support is limited to 0, 1, and 10 arrays. RAID 5 is out despite the fact that it’s supported by the SB850 and surely implemented in software rather than hardware. This parity-infused array type offers redundancy with a much more efficient use of disk capacity than either RAID 1 or 10, so it’s a disappointing loss.

The A75 block diagram. Source: AMD

With competent graphics on the CPU and goodies like USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gbps permeating the chipset, few Llano-based systems will need auxiliary peripheral chips or expansion cards. Nevertheless, the A75 features four PCI Express 2.0 lanes reserved for slots and onboard devices. Four additional PCIe-like lanes are devoted to the link between Llano and the A75. Dubbed UMI, short for unified media interface, this interconnect offers 4GB/s of bidirectional bandwidth (2Gb/s in each direction) between the two chips.

As you can see in the block diagram above, Socket FM1 APUs have their own display interfaces, DDR3 memory controller, and PCIe lanes. Four of those lanes are available for general use, while 16 can be consolidated into a single link for discrete graphics cards. The 16-lane link can be split into a dual-x8 config for CrossFire, if the motherboard supports it, or a pair of Radeons will work together in an asymmetrical PCIe config when the second GPU is connected to the four other PCIe lanes stemming from the APU. Llano’s integrated GPU can also be combined with select graphics cards in a special Dual Graphics CrossFire mode.

Obviously, there’s a lot to say about all the features AMD integrates into the Llano APU. We’re focusing on the chipset and motherboard in this article, but I highly recommend checking out our coverage of the notebook-bound A8-3500M for more on the APU’s architecture. That review explores Llano’s CPU and GPU components in much greater detail than we’ll indulge here.

While the block diagram is still within scrolling distance, there are a few things I want to point out. The APU may be loaded with digital display circuitry, but VGA output gets piped through a digital-to-analog converter located in the chipset. The A75 also keeps around a legacy PCI controller for that Xonar DG sound card you’ve been craving. Most of Intel’s recent chipsets have dropped the old expansion standard completely, forcing motherboard makers to employ secondary silicon just to offer PCI slots.

Finally, I’m going to get an early start on beating the fan-control drum by pointing out that the Llano platform—code-named Lynx, by the way—has some very promising fan-control logic. We’ve heard at least one motherboard maker call both the hardware and software side of AMD’s implementation buggy, though. Perhaps that’s why we haven’t seen it implemented widely. Only one of the boards we’re looking today uses the AMD logic to control the CPU fan.

A range of A75 options

Before taking a closer look at each board, I should pause to introduce them with a little context. The Asus F1A75-V PRO stands out the most, not just because it’s the only one to use the full ATX form factor, but also because it costs $20-30 more than the others. That’s a notable premium when the Llano line tops out with the $135 A8-3850 processor.

  Asus F1A75-V PRO Gigabyte GA-A75M-UD2H MSI A75M-G55
Form factor ATX microATX microATX
Expansion slots 2 PCIe x16 (x16, x4)

2 PCIe x1

3 PCI

2 PCIe x16 (x16, x4)

1 PCIe x1

1 PCI

2 PCIe x16 (x16, x4)

1 PCIe x1

1 PCI

Gigabit Ethernet Realtek RTL8111E Realtek RTL8111E Realtek RTL8111E
Auxiliary SATA ASMedia ASM1061 NA NA
Auxiliary USB 3.0 ASMedia ASM1042 NA NA
Audio Realtek ALC892 Realtek ALC889 Realtek ALC887
FireWire NA VIA VT6308 NA
Warranty length Three years Three years Three years
Price $130 $110 $100

To its credit, the PRO boasts additional USB 3.0 and 6Gbps SATA controllers. FireWire is only available on the Gigabyte GA-A75M-UD2H, which sits in the middle of our three-way throwdown. The UD2H offers a handful of upgrades over the MSI A75M-G55 for only $10 more.

As one might expect from the cheapest board of the lot, the G55’s spec sheet is the most spartan. Keep in mind that the A75 chipset does a nice job of covering the essentials with little need for embellishment, though. MSI adds only a Gigabit Ethernet controller and an audio codec.

Asus’ F1A75-V PRO motherboard

I would be remiss not to preface our inspection of the F1A75-V PRO by explaining that it isn’t the motherboard we had in mind for this round-up. We were hoping for a cheaper microATX model, but this is all Asus had available for us in time for Llano’s desktop launch.

Scoping the PRO does give us an opportunity to see what happens when a budget board has higher aspirations. Asus is hardly the only mobo maker to offer a more expensive A75 model, and it will of course have a full range of Llano options available at multiple price points and in a few different form factors.

From above, the PRO very much looks like something you’d find in an enthusiast’s mid-tower. The form factor is ATX, the colors match, there are dual PCI Express x16 slots, and a heatpipe links the chipset and VRM heatsinks. Asus doesn’t deviate from the playbook, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

That said, I do wonder whether Asus needs to connect the VRM and chipset coolers with a heatpipe. The chipset dissipates less than 8W, so its low-profile cooler should be more than sufficient on its own. The 6+2 phase power circuitry for the APU is likely to suck a lot more juice than the A75. I’m not sure I want any of the associated heat channeled to the chipset heatsink, where it will warm the platform hub lurking below.

Asus claims the PRO’s digital VRMs run cooler than competing designs, so I wouldn’t worry about the A75 combusting under heavy CPU loads. Those VRMs appear to be the only exotic electrical components on the board. The box is even missing the “100% solid cap” logo that graces some of Asus’ more expensive mid-range models.

A quick look at socket clearances reveals little to get in the way of larger aftermarket coolers. The only thing to worry about is the relatively narrow gap between the socket and the DIMM slots. There’s a good chance memory modules with tall heat spreaders will interfere with CPU heatsinks whose fins angle outward from the socket. The PRO isn’t unique in this regard. All three of the boards we’ve gathered have just 20.5 mm of clearance between their sockets and the closest DIMM slots.

Thanks to its larger ATX form factor, the PRO offers more expansion slots than the others. The additional capacity could come in handy for folks looking to run multiple TV tuners in a home-theater PC. I can’t help but think the generous slot stack runs somewhat counter to the impressive level of integration AMD has achieved with its Lynx platform, though. The beauty of the Llano-and-A75 combo is that it doesn’t really need a supporting cast to power a modern PC.

What does one do with a high-end A75 board after adding more expansion slots? Start piling on peripherals, whether they’re needed or not. The blue SATA port in the picture above is linked to a two-port ASMedia controller that supports 6Gbps speeds and also drives the eSATA connector in the rear cluster. ASMedia is an Asus subsidiary, so the motherboard giant probably gets a decent friends-and-family discount. Or maybe it’s a two-for-one deal, because the PRO also features an ASMedia USB 3.0 controller.

The extra USB 3.0 ports show up in the rear cluster, bringing the PRO’s SuperSpeed total to six. Are folks really running enough high-speed USB peripherals to require that many? Surely not. I’d happily trade the extra USB 3.0 connectivity for a FireWire port and the addition of USB power to the eSATA connector.

Llano’s integrated Radeon is easily its most attractive feature, so it’s good to see an array of display output options. Whether you want to connect to an expensive LCD monitor, the TV in your living room, or an old CRT or projector, the PRO is ready.

Switching from eyes to ears, the PRO can fake virtualize surround sound with stereo speakers and headphones. So can all the other mobos in our crosshairs today, but none is capable of encoding surround-sound bitstreams on the fly, limiting multi-channel digital audio output to sources with pre-encoded tracks. This restriction forces gamers who want to enjoy true surround sound to use the analog outs.

I’ve said a lot of very nice things about the UEFI BIOS replacement that Asus seems to have implemented on every new motherboard introduced this year. While that praise is well deserved, I kind of expected the competition to have caught up by now. Not to give anything away, but they haven’t. Asus’ UEFI remains the cream of the crop, not just because it has the slickest graphical user interface, but also because it offers some of the most useful overclocking, tweaking, and fan control options around.

Llano seems unlikely to appeal to overclockers, so we’re going to focus on fan speed controls a little more than usual—even for us. Everyone can appreciate a quiet system, after all. The PRO’s fan controls have a solid foundation in the UEFI, where users can set maximum temperature limits in addition to minimum and maximum fan speeds. Separate controls are available for the CPU and system fan headers, making this the only board of the three to offer temperature-based speed control for a chassis fan.

Not satisfied? Enter Asus’ Fan Xpert software, which comes with a full suite of tweaking, overclocking, and monitoring applications. Fan Xpert lays out each fan’s speed profile on a graph with three reference points—one more than the maximum and minimum settings available in the UEFI. The visual presentation nicely illustrates how aggressively a fan will respond to changes in temperature, and it’d look even better if integrated directly into the UEFI. How ’bout it, Asus?

Gigabyte’s GA-A75M-UD2H motherboard

With a microATX form factor and only modest upgrades to the basic A75 formula, the GA-A75M-UD2H might be the smartest spec of the three. Llano’s real appeal lies in mainstream systems that have historically been crippled by integrated graphics much less powerful than the APU’s embedded Radeon, so there’s no need to bulk up on extras for what amount to budget rigs.

Gigabyte should be applauded for going with a shade of turquoise that has been a staple of its circuit boards for years. While everyone else seems to be content to look the same—including Gigabyte with its higher-end offerings—the UD2H and its A75-based kin dare to be different. This combination of turquoise, light blue, and white has a sort of Mirror’s Edge vibe that plays nicely off the understated grey heatsinks.

The UD2H has a new badge we haven’t seen before: Ultra Durable 3 Classic. This Ultra Durable spin-off harkens back to a simpler era, when it was enough to give motherboards two-ounce copper layers and solid-state capacitors throughout. There’s no mention of unobtainium-core chokes or specialized MOSFETs. If the UD2H had ’em, that fact would be plastered all over the box.

AMD uses the same heatsink retention mechanism for Socket FM1 as it does for the different varieties of Socket AM2 and AM3, affording Llano instant compatibility with a wide range of aftermarket coolers. Part of me wishes AMD had started fresh with an entirely new socket from top to bottom. The problem with the current retention bracket is that it only allows coolers to be rotated 180 degrees rather than in the 90-degree increments enabled by the retention mechanism for Intel sockets. This limitation can be problematic with air-tower designs that are much wider in one horizontal dimension than they are in the other.

On the UD2H, you’re most likely to be bitten by the socket’s lack of flexibility when using memory modules with tall heat spreaders. The DIMM slots and the socket are very close together on all the Llano boards we’ve seen. Each manufacturer has also used a VRM heatsink that is short enough to stay clear of most CPU coolers.

Bucking the trend toward edge-mounted SATA ports, the UD2H boldly wears its five facing up. They’re far enough south not to interfere with longer double-wide graphics cards installed in the top x16 slot, which is the one with all the bandwidth. Rather than relying on an extra chip to supply eSATA connectivity, Gigabyte redirects one of the A75’s ports to the rear cluster. Smart move. Having five internal SATA ports on a mainstream system is plenty.

The eSATA port is unpowered, and not due to a lack of available USB ports to supply the juice. Gigabyte doesn’t take advantage of the A75’s ninth and tenth USB 2.0 ports, which must be sitting in the corner of the chipset writing bad high-school poetry about how they feel so abandoned. The firm does, however, toss in a FireWire port for folks with older video cameras. Count the four display ports—DisplayPort included—and this is the most sensibly equipped port payload of the three boards we’ve lined up.

More than any other big-name motherboard maker, Gigabyte has dragged its feet making the transition to UEFI. The UD2H has a BIOS that looks and feels very much like something from the last decade, highlighting the graphical goodness and mouse support available with the best UEFI implementations. Gigabyte’s BIOS is still easy to navigate, and it lacks the slow-to-load voltage and status screens of the company’s recent 6-series motherboard BIOSes. Relying on ancient BIOS roots does costs the board native support for hard drives larger than 2.19TB, though.

Gigabyte works around the incompatibility with a special BIOS hook that’ll let you install Windows on a 3TB drive. Your Windows partition needs to be on the first 2TB, a limitation that affects the other Llano boards. The remainder is inaccessible until you get into Windows and run the included 3TB+Unlock utility, which makes the extra storage space available in a separate partition. You can get access to all 3TB in a single partition when the drive is run as secondary storage, and then only when it’s configured to use a GUID Partition Table (GPT) instead of the old Master Boot Record (MBR).

Massive hard drives are the sort of thing one might expect to find in a Llano-powered HTPC, and that class of system should be as quiet as possible. Unfortunately, the BIOS’s plentiful and fine-grained overclocking options don’t extend to its fan control functionality. The temperature-based fan intelligence can be turned on or off for the CPU and toggled between modes for three- and four-pin fans, but that’s it.

Some salvation can be found in Windows with Gigabyte’s EasyTune6 software. The app provides a similar graphical display to Asus’ Fan Xpert, but with only two points instead of three. There’s no way to change the speed of the board’s system fan headers through Windows or the BIOS. Gigabyte says it’s using the Lynx platform’s integrated fan-control functionality. If true, the company’s BIOS and software engineers are only scratching the surface of what’s supposed to be possible.

MSI’s A75M-G55 motherboard

At an even $100, MSI’s A75M-G55 perhaps best captures Llano’s appeal for budget PCs. In many respects, the G55 highlights the level playing field AMD has created by integrating so many features into its Lynx platform. All the mobo makers are likely to have a no-frills model just like it.

So, what makes MSI’s unique? Not a whole lot, to be honest. At this end of the spectrum, there isn’t much room for feature differentiation.

MSI is quick to tout the awesomeness of the electrical components that dot the G55’s circuit board. The super ferrite-core chokes are said to be more power-efficient than alternatives, while the solid-state and tantalum-core capacitors are supposed to last more than 100,000 hours. Like all the other boards, though, the G55’s warranty runs out after three years. Do the math, and that works out to just 26,280 hours.

The presence of higher-grade electrical components allows MSI to trot out its Military Class brand, whose name graces the heatsink riding the voltage regulation circuitry. I really dig the heatsink’s angular shape and pewter tone. The black-and-blue color scheme on this and all too many other mobos is boring me to death, however. Good thing few microATX enclosures have windows.

Without elaborate heatsinks ringing the FM1 socket, most aftermarket coolers should install smoothly and not bump into adjacent components. Just keep in mind that the close proximity of the DIMM slots may require standard-height memory modules.

MSI uses the same slot configuration as Gigabyte, allowing double-wide graphics cards to be run alongside both PCI and PCIe expansion cards. Rather than mounting all the SATA ports along the edge, MSI moves a couple inland and faces them upward. The ports are low enough on the board that they shouldn’t interfere with monster graphics cards.

Like the UD2H, the G55 fails to take full advantage of all the USB 2.0 ports offered by the A75 chipset. There are 10 in total, but MSI only backs the board’s four rear-cluster ports with internal headers for four more. Two of the chipset’s USB 2.0 ports are left untouched, and not because there’s any shortage of space in the rear cluster.

This is the barest external port array of the lot. FireWire, eSATA, DisplayPort, and even an S/PDIF digital audio out have all been left on the cutting-room floor. The ports that remain are still sufficient to cover the needs of most systems, and MSI has a few bonus items to help sweeten the deal. If your case doesn’t have a front-panel USB 3.0 connector, the G55 comes bundled with an expansion slot adapter that’ll port the two internal, er, ports to the rear. The Asus and Gigabyte boards list similar adapters as optional accessories (they weren’t included with our samples), but only for their internal USB 2.0 headers. MSI says it’s throwing in an HDMI cable, too. Extra perks are unexpected on a $100 mobo, and these ones are smart additions rather than gimmicks of questionable utility.

MSI should be commended for endowing the G55 with a UEFI rather than a BIOS. The firm also deserves praise for sorting out some of the mouse lag and cursor flickering that has plagued its previous UEFI efforts, though the problems aren’t entirely resolved. The interface design hasn’t received any attention, and it remains difficult to use because variables often must be selected from long lists of options—they can’t be keyed in directly, as was the case with MSI’s old BIOSes. I could excuse the ugliness of the interface if it were at least as responsive and easy to use as Asus’ much prettier GUI.

I’d also be more forgiving if MSI looked like it was making an attempt to improve the basic fan speed controls it’s offered for a few years now. A target temperature and minimum speed can be set for the CPU fan header, but the two system fan headers aren’t governed by any temperature-based intelligence. Instead, they can only be toggled between static speeds of 50%, 75%, and 100%.

The UEFI-level fan controls get little help from MSI’s Control Center software for Windows. This tweaking utility is quite limited on the G55, and its fan control options are more lacking than what’s in the UEFI. MSI’s Afterburner software offers robust fan speed controls for the company’s graphics cards, so it’s disappointing to see the mobo department lagging behind.

Digging into the details

Since you’ve made it this far already, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: the following page isn’t all that interesting. Unless you like seeing BIOS options, board specifications, and system configurations laid out in painstaking detail, you might want to skip ahead to the beginning of our performance results. If you are into that sort of thing, enjoy.

  Asus F1A75-V PRO Gigabyte GA-A75M-UD2H MSI A75M-G55
Clock speeds Base: 90-300MHz

DRAM: 800-1866MHz

Base: 100-500MHz

IGP: 300-2000MHz

Base: 100-124MHz

DRAM: 800-2133MHz

IGP: 400-2000MHz

Multipliers CPU: 8-47X CPU: 8-47X

NB: 5-20X

DRAM:5.33-9.33X

CPU: 16-36X
Voltages CPU: 0.8-1.7V

CPU NB: 0.8-1.55V

DRAM: 1.35-2.3V

SB 1.1: 1.1-1.4V

1.1 SB: 1.1-1.2V

APU 1.2: 1.2-1.8V

VDDA: 2.5-2.8V

CPU: +/- 0.6V

CPU NB: +/- 0.6V

DRAM: 1.025-2.035V

CPU PLL: 2.1-2.9V

DDR VTT: 0.515-1.13V

FCH: 0.625-1.73V

APU VDDP: 0.725-1.73V

CPU: 1.4075-1.9975V

CPU NB: 1.155-1.745V

DRAM: 1.371-2.121V

Fan control Adjustable temp-based CPU, system Temp-based CPU Adjustable temp-based CPU

Manual system 1-2

I’m a little surprised that Asus doesn’t offer GPU clock control via its UEFI. That omission seems likely to be rectified soon, if only for the sake of completeness. Anyone looking to get better gaming performance out of Llano would be better off pairing a Phenom II X4 CPU with a discrete graphics card.

  Asus F1A75-V PRO Gigabyte GA-A75M-UD2H MSI A75M-G55
Form Factor ATX microATX microATX
DIMM slots 4 DDR3-1333 4 DDR3-1333 4 DDR3-1333
Expansion slots 2 PCIe x16 (x16, x4)

2 PCIe x1

3 PCI

2 PCIe x16 (x16, x4)

1 PCIe x1

1 PCI

2 PCIe x16 (x16, x4)

1 PCIe x1

1 PCI

Storage I/O 6 6Gbps SATA RAID

1 6Gbps SATA

5 6Gbps SATA RAID 6 6Gbps SATA RAID
Audio 8-channel HD 8-channel HD 8-channel HD
Ports 1 PS/2 keyboard/mouse

1 VGA

1 DVI

1 HDMI

1 DisplayPort

4 USB 3.0 w/ 2 headers

2 USB 2.0 w/ 8 headers

1 eSATA

1 RJ45

1 analog front out

1 analog bass/center out

1 analog rear out

1 analog surround out

1 analog line in

1 analog mic in

1 optical S/PDIF out

1 VGA

1 DVI

1 HDMI

1 DisplayPort

2 USB 3.0 w/ 2 headers

4 USB 2.0 w/ 4 headers

1 FireWire w/ 1 header

1 RJ45

1 analog front out

1 analog bass/center out

1 analog rear out

1 analog surround out

1 analog line in

1 analog mic in

1 optical S/PDIF out

1 PS/2 keyboard/mouse

1 VGA

1 DVI

1 HDMI

2 USB 3.0 w/ 2 headers

4 USB 2.0 w/ 4 headers

1 RJ45

1 analog front out

1 analog bass/center out

1 analog rear out

1 analog surround out

1 analog line in

1 analog mic in

The spec table makes all the slots and ports we’ve covered on the previous pages easier to compare across our contenders. Surprise, surprise. The biggest and most expensive board of the lot also happens to have the most peripheral ports and expansion slots. Go figure.

Our testing methods

An A8-3850 APU didn’t arrive in the Benchmarking Sweatshop until the very end of last week, so my time with these boards has been limited. Thanks largely to a constant stream of caffeine and snacks, I’ve managed to run all three through our usual mix of performance and power consumption tests against a familiar adversary: the Asus P8H67-I Deluxe motherboard we reviewed yesterday. The Deluxe is based on Intel’s H67 Express chipset, a natural competitor for the A75. We’ve paired it with a Core i3-2100 whose price tag is comparable to that of the A8-3850. Since the whole point of the Lynx platform is Llano’s built-in GPU, we’ve tested with integrated graphics throughout.

We used the following system setups for testing. With few exceptions, all tests were run at least three times, and we reported the median of the scores produced.

Processor Intel Core i3-2100 3.1GHz AMD A8-3850 2.9GHz
Motherboard Asus P8H67-I Deluxe Asus F1A75-V PRO Gigabyte GA-A75M-UD2H MSI A75MA-G55
Bios revision 0502 0703 XXX 1.1B2
Platform hub Intel H67 Express AMD A75 AMD A75 AMD A75
Chipset drivers Chipset: 9.2.0.1025

RST: 10.1

Chipset: 8.862

SATA: 1.2.1.296

Chipset: 8.862

SATA: 1.2.1.296

Chipset: 8.862

SATA: 1.2.1.296

Memory size 8GB (2 DIMMs) 8GB (2 DIMMs) 8GB (2 DIMMs) 8GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair Vengeance DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz Corsair Vengeance DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz Corsair Vengeance DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz Corsair Vengeance DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz
Memory timings 9-9-9-24-1T 9-9-9-24-1T 9-9-9-24-1T 9-9-9-24-1T
Audio Realtek ALC892 with 2.61 drivers Realtek ALC892 with 2.61 drivers Realtek ALC889 with 2.61 drivers Realtek ALC887 with 2.61 drivers
Graphics Integrated Intel HD Graphics 2000 with 15.22.1.64.2361 drivers Integrated Radeon HD 6550D with 8.862 drivers
Hard drive WD Caviar Black 1TB
Power Supply PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750W
OS Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64

We’d like to thank Asus, Corsair, PC Power & Cooling, and Western Digital for helping to outfit our test rigs with some of the finest hardware available. Thanks to each of the motherboard makers for supplying their boards, too, and to Intel and AMD for providing the CPUs.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1280×1024 in 32-bit color at a 60Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

USB 3.0 performance

With USB 3.0 connectivity the defining feature of the A75 chipset, we couldn’t resist tackling it first. We popped a Vertex 2 solid-state drive into a Thermaltake BlacX 5G docking station and ran some tests in HD Tune. To keep things simple, only the results from one A75 board—the F1A75-V PRO, which was the fastest—have been included. The PRO also has a third-party USB 3.0 controller, providing a handy point of comparative reference.

The H67’s lack of native USB 3.0 connectivity is painfully glaring. Although the A75’s native implementation doesn’t quite match the burst rates of the H67 board’s NEC controller, it’s not far off the pace. Remember that the A75 has four SuperSpeed ports, while the NEC controller offers only two.

Different scenario, same story. USB 3.0 maintains its monstrous advantage over the old standard in our sustained transfer rate tests. There’s even trouble for the H67 in USB 2.0 territory. The Intel chipset might be a little faster than the A75’s slowest ports with sustained reads, but it’s 4MB/s behind with writes.

The tables turn somewhat when we measure random access times, which are much quicker on the H67’s USB 2.0 controller than on the equivalent one in the A75. However, the AMD chipset achieves much faster access times with its USB 3.0 controller.

As it has throughout our USB performance tests, the A75’s SuperSpeed implementation closely shadows the discrete solutions from ASMedia and NEC. Being the first chipset to incorporate USB 3.0 ports wouldn’t be as notable an achievement if transfer rates were sluggish.

Serial ATA performance
HD Tune

Serial ATA is next on our list of next-gen peripherals. For these tests, we’ve busted out one of OCZ’s fancy new Vertex 3 SSDs, which looks to be the fastest 6Gbps drive around. Our pre-production unit doesn’t get along with the BlacX enclosure, so we won’t be able to compare our SATA scores to the results of our USB 3.0 tests. We’ve switched Llano boards from the Asus to the Gigabyte because the latter offers better SATA performance. There’s no sense in handicapping the A75 out of the gate.

We saw Intel’s 6Gbps SATA controller outperform the one in AMD’s SB850 when testing the first Sandy Bridge mobos, so this result is expected. The A75 uses the very same SATA controller as its south-bridge predecessor. Even with updated drivers, this controller doesn’t come close to matching the burst performance of the H67, which is 60-70MB/s faster.

That delta shrinks considerably when HD Tune probes average performance across the entire drive. The H67 still has a healthy lead with reads, but it’s only 8MB/s ahead with writes.

To be fair, I should reiterate the fact that all six of the A75’s SATA ports are capable of hitting these speeds. Only two of the H67’s SATA connectors support the 6Gbps standard, while the rest are capped at 3Gbps. Good luck making the case for a budget system with more than a couple of high-speed SSDs, though.

Once again, the A75’s SATA controller proves to be a little bit slower than the H67’s. I do mean a little bit. The differences here amount to one or two fractions of a millisecond and will be all but impossible for end users to detect without benchmark applications like HD Tune.

IOMeter

IOMeter subjects storage devices to an increasing number of concurrent I/O requests. We’ve limited the load to 32 simultaneous requests, which matches the depth of the Serial ATA spec’s Native Command Queue. Once again, we’re testing with a Vertex 3 SSD. I know; the vast majority of Llano systems will have traditional hard drives. Not even a 10k-RPM VelociRaptor is fast enough to stress a 6Gbps SATA controller properly, though.

Nice work, AMD. The A75 matches its Intel rival nearly stride for stride. The H67 has a better kick as the workstation access pattern ramps up, but it’s a close race to the finish.

Although it looks like the A75 demands more CPU resources, comparing CPU utilization across different processor types can be perilous. The A8-3850’s four cores should give it more grunt for IOMeter to exploit, but the benchmark doesn’t coax the CPU out of its low-power state, in which the clock speed drops to just 800MHz.

TR DriveBench

Our final storage performance test simulates disk-intensive multitasking scenarios by playing back traces of real-world disk activity. You can read more about DriveBench on this page of our last big SSD value round-up. We’re using the file copy and virus scan workloads because they’ve proven to be the most challenging. There’s no sense in taking it easy on the A75.

Whoa. The AMD chipset is a lot slower than the H67 Express, and that wasn’t the case when the SB850 faced off against the P67 back in January. We’re using a different SSD this time around. The drivers have been updated on both sides of the fence, too.

SSDs can be finicky, so I should note that we ran DriveBench directly after our IOMeter tests. The drive was in a used state at that point. Since we secure-erased the Vertex before running IOMeter on each platform, the SSD was effectively in the same used state for both the A75 and H67 systems. Oddly, with the A75, the Vertex’s performance was even lower than you see above in the first few file-copy runs after IOMeter. I/O rates rose and stabilized by the third run and remained consistent for three more after that. We have reported those later, stablized scores for the A75. The SSD suffered no such effects when paired with the H67, nor did it get off to a slow start with the virus-scan workload. All these results were consistent when I double-checked them with a second round of storage tests.

For whatever reason, the Vertex 3 is a lot slower in DriveBench on the A75. To put things into perspective, note that a typical 7,200-RPM mechanical hard drive manages less than 700 IO/s with the very same workloads (on an Intel controller).

Memory performance

With the A75’s most important attributes thoroughly examined, we’re going to focus our attention on the motherboards at hand. First, we’ll examine memory performance with bandwidth and latency tests.

Despite using the very same DDR3-1333 DIMMs and 9-9-9-24-1T timings as the Llano offerings, the lone H67 board boasts a lot more memory bandwidth and substantially lower access latencies. Sandy Bridge’s memory controller appears to be better than Llano’s, at least with each solution’s integrated graphics engaged.

There isn’t much difference in memory subsystem performance between the Llano boards. The only exception comes in the latency test, where MSI trails the others by a few nanoseconds.

Application performance

The small collection of applications we use to test motherboards ends up favoring the Llano APU. Metro 2033 runs a lot better on the integrated Radeon than on Intel’s HD Graphics 2000, which can’t take advantage of the game’s DirectX 11 mode. In the other tests, the A8-3850’s four physical cores prove to be more potent than Hyper-Threading on the dual-core i3-2100. This lower rung on the Sandy Bridge ladder lacks AES-NI encryption acceleration, which is why the Llano boards have such a commanding lead in TrueCrypt.

No one board stands out as the fastest among the Socket FM1 crowd. The scores are pretty even throughout, but we’re not finished yet.

Power consumption

We measured system power consumption, sans monitor and speakers, at the wall outlet using a Watts Up Pro power meter. Readings were taken at idle and under a load consisting of a Cinebench 11.5 render alongside the rthdribl HDR lighting demo. We tested with Windows 7’s High Performance and Balanced power plans.

The Asus mobos have handy BIOS switches that enable an advanced power-saving feature dubbed EPU. We’ve seen Gigabyte and MSI implement similar features on more expensive motherboards, but they’re not available with the particular models we have in-house today. Those boards were tested as-is, while the Asus ones were tested with their EPU functionality both enabled and disabled.

As a Mini-ITX board with dual USB 3.0 chips and two separate wireless controllers, the P8H67-I Deluxe is hardly a perfect point of comparison for mostly microATX Llano boards. Nevertheless, it’s hard to ignore a gap in power consumption under load that’s wide enough for Kirstie Alley to squeeze through. The Core i3-2100 is a 65W CPU, while the A8-3850 has a 100W TDP. Looks like the wattage delta between the Asus boards is right on the money.

The F1A75-V PRO is actually a little power-hungry at idle, at least when compared to its Llano brethren. Those extra peripherals come at a price, but Asus’ EPU mojo is good for a 16W drop in power consumption under load. Impressive.

Without tree-hugging optimizations of their own, our Llano systems based on the MSI and Gigabyte boards end up sucking around 130W under load. At least the stripped-down MSI idles as low as 37W, which is good enough to beat our Sandy Bridge system handily.

Motherboard peripheral performance

We’ve already taken a look at some USB and SATA performance numbers for the A75 and H67 Express chipsets. Welcome to peripheral performance testing on steroids—now with bigger tables.

  HD Tune USB 2.0 performance
  Read Write
  Burst (MB/s) Average (MB/s) Random 4KB (ms) Burst (MB/s) Average (MB/s) Random 4KB (ms)
Asus P8H67-I Deluxe 30.8 31.5 0.6 30.9 25.2 0.6
Asus F1A75-V PRO 29.3 29.4 1.3 29.8 29.3 1.3
Gigabyte GA-A75M-UD2H 29.4 29.7 1.3 29.7 22.9 1.3
MSI A75M-G55 28.0 28.0 1.4 28.4 27.8 1.4

I have a hard time saying “USB 2.0” and “performance test” in the same sentence without rolling my eyes. The PRO comes out ahead of the Llano pack, but not by much. The G55 is only a smidgen slower across the board, while the UD2H turns in a surprisingly slow sustained write speed.

  HD Tune USB 3.0 performance
  Read Write
  Burst (MB/s) Average (MB/s) Random 4KB (ms) Burst (MB/s) Average (MB/s) Random 4KB (ms)
Asus P8H67-I Deluxe 181 177 0.13 167 160 0.16
Asus F1A75-V PRO 167 165 0.17 149 157 0.21
Asus F1A75-V PRO (ASMedia) 162 162 0.17 149 160 0.20
Gigabyte GA-A75M-UD2H 178 162 0.16 148 156 0.20
MSI A75M-G55 165 163 0.17 144 154 0.21

With the exception of read burst speeds, which favor the Gigabyte board by more than 10MB/s, the rest of the A75 field is pretty evenly matched when it comes to USB 3.0 performance.

  HD Tune Serial ATA performance – VelociRaptor
  Read Write
  Burst (MB/s) Average (MB/s) Random 4KB (ms) Burst (MB/s) Average (MB/s) Random 4KB (ms)
Asus P8H67-I Deluxe 293 130 7.2 295 123 2.6
Asus F1A75-V PRO 251 130 7.1 251 124 2.5
Asus F1A75-V PRO (ASMedia) 221 130 7.1 221 122 2.5
Gigabyte GA-A75M-UD2H 251 130 7.1 252 123 2.5
MSI A75M-G55 250 130 7.4 251 124 2.4

This is why we didn’t bother running our extended batch of storage tests with a mechanical hard drive. HD Tune doesn’t detect a meaningful difference in sustained transfer rates or access times between the Llano boards and our lone Sandy Bridge representative. The Intel platform offers quicker burst speeds, but that’s about it.

Note that the ASMedia controller on the PRO delivers competitive transfer rates and access times but an even slower burst rate than the A75 chipset. I’d only use that controller if all of the chipset’s SATA ports were occupied.

  HD Tune Serial ATA performance – Vertex 3
  Read Write
  Burst (MB/s) Average (MB/s) Random 4KB (ms) Burst (MB/s) Average (MB/s) Random 4KB (ms)
Asus P8H67-I Deluxe 393 380 0.05 344 260 0.07
Asus F1A75-V PRO 305 309 0.08 289 231 0.10
Asus F1A75-V PRO (ASMedia) 245 246 0.09 231 197 0.11
Gigabyte GA-A75M-UD2H 320 344 0.06 285 252 0.09
MSI A75M-G55 304 305 0.08 265 242 0.14

When we switch gears and pop in a 6Gbps solid-state drive, it’s clear Gigabyte has managed to wring some extra performance from the A75 chipset’s SATA controller. The UD2H tops its direct competition in nearly every test, leaving Asus and MSI to squabble over second best.

  NTttcp Ethernet performance
  Throughput (Mbps) CPU utilization (%)
Asus P8H67-I Deluxe 931 5.9
Asus F1A75-V PRO 943 15.2
Gigabyte GA-A75M-UD2H 931 14.3
MSI A75M-G55 940 16.0

Only 12Mbps separates the fastest Gigabit Ethernet implementation from the slowest. However, the gap in CPU utilization between the Sandy Bridge and Llano systems is quite a bit larger. I think we can chalk this one up to a difference in the aggressiveness of the clock-scaling tech built into the CPUs. The Core i3-2100 seems to hit its maximum clock rate during NTttcp’s throughput test, while the A8-3850 stays at its slowest speed.

  RightMark Audio Analyzer audio quality
  Frequency response Noise level Dynamic range THD THD + Noise IMD + Noise Stereo Crosstalk IMD at 10kHz Overall score
Asus P8H67-I Deluxe 5 4 4 5 3 5 5 5 4
Asus F1A75-V PRO 5 4 4 5 3 5 5 5 4
Gigabyte GA-A75M-UD2H 5 5 5 5 3 5 5 5 5
MSI A75M-G55 5 4 4 5 3 5 5 5 4

According to RightMark Audio Analyzer’s loopback test, which pipes 24-bit, 192kHz audio from a system’s analog speaker output to its line input, Gigabyte does the best job of keeping that signal clean. The UD2H scores slightly higher than the others in a couple of tests—and overall. The difference in analog sound quality between these mobos is going to be difficult to detect with the naked ear. Anyone who makes fidelity a priority would do well to use the digital audio outs or upgrade to a discrete sound card.

Conclusions

Motherboard makers seem intent on giving us less and less time with their wares before each new CPU platform launch. Getting hardware less than a week before the veil of secrecy is pulled makes compiling round-ups like this one difficult, and overclocking was a casualty of the tight timeline. You have my half-hearted apologies. I’d have deprived myself more sleep to play around with overclocking if I thought Llano had much to offer the clock-boosting crowd. This new Fusion APU just doesn’t strike me as the right processor for enthusiasts seeking to push the performance envelope.

Llano was designed with mass-market appeal in mind, and powering mainstream systems is what it does best. The accompanying A75 chipset is an integral part of the overall package thanks to its robust feature set and native USB 3.0 support. AMD’s 6Gbps SATA controller may not be as fast as Intel’s, but you’ll need an SSD to notice the difference, and those will probably be rare in desktops based on this platform. The presence of four USB 3.0 ports is a pretty good consolation prize.

Be careful not to get lured into buying a Socket FM1 motherboard with an A55 chipset. This castrated cousin of the A75 lacks USB 3.0 and 6Gbps SATA, so it deserves less attention than I’ve devoted already.

All of the boards we looked at today use the A75 chipset. Picking a definitive winner among them is difficult, though. Asus has by far the best UEFI and fan speed controls, but the F1A75-V PRO is too big and too expensive to play to Llano’s strengths. A75 boards need extra SATA and USB controllers about as much as Heidi Montag needed bigger implants and more plastic surgery.

The PRO strangely doesn’t include FireWire ports, which pop up on the more affordable Gigabyte GA-A75M-UD2H. This microATX model is a better fit for Llano overall, and it probably represents the best use of the A75 chipset. However, I can’t get behind what looks like a regression in Gigabyte’s already poor BIOS-level fan speed controls. Once again, excessive overclocking options have been given priority over the most basic of tuning options for the CPU and system fans.

MSI’s A75M-G55 offers more meaningful fan controls through a UEFI that can be cumbersome to use. This streamlined board lets the A75 chipset stand largely on its own, saving $10 off the UD2H but omitting features like FireWire and DisplayPort. A lot of Llano systems can probably do without those extras, and they should be able to take advantage of the valuable additions MSI tucks into the box.

If forced to recommend just one board out of the three, I’d put my money toward the G55. The UD2H would be worth the extra $10 if it had better fan speed controls, but they’re too important to do without. Really, I’d prefer to see Asus’ UEFI goodness in action on a cheaper microATX A75 variant of the F1A75M-V PRO—minus all the extraneous peripheral chips, of course.

Comments closed
    • Bauxite
    • 8 years ago

    ATX is a waste for an integrated gpu platform: 1 pci on mATX will barely be used, 3 on ATX is a joke, also less nice case options. I’ve been looking around at the boards for sale already for a proper htpc build.

    Why does the asus mATX board remove displayport 🙁 otherwise it would be just right.

    I’m 95% certain their dvi is single link too. Its not that I want to game on it, but I can’t stand non-native pixels and my monitor is 30″ (though the videos will play on a large 1080p TV via a long hdmi cable, general system maintenance will be at my desk chair not from the couch)

    Gigabyte boards are otherwise nice but I refuse to buy anything stuck in the BIOS world in 2011, its bound to not work with anything in a year or few. (large HDs w/o bad gimmick to use, OS upgrades, newer expansion cards, etc)

    A perfect llano mATX board for me would be a blend of the gigabye and asus: displayport + DL dvi, EFI, 4xUSB3 and powered esata on the back and lastly 8 pin cpu power for stability and more power headroom for possible upgrades.

    Maybe one of the ITX boards will still have displayport and EFI and not suck anywhere else…I can hope

    • flip-mode
    • 8 years ago

    First off, Gigabyte and to a lesser extent MSI get automatic fails for their crappy BIOS / UEFI, for their crappy fan controls, and for their crappy Windows “utilities”.

    And really, Gigabyte – are you kidding me with that BIOS? Whatev, I won’t touch your boards then.

    Asus wins. I’d pay the extra money for that UEFI and for the fan controls. And I’d wait for the mATX version of the board if necessary rather than by what Gigiabyte and MSI are offering.

    But realistically, none of that mattesr much since I’d take the P67 / Z68 and SB over this platform any day, even if it meant spending a more.

    I suppose a pretty terrific case may be able to be made for Llano on a mini ITX mobo for some HTPC action. But for a desktop build it’s not good enough.

    Thanks much Geoff!

      • Krogoth
      • 8 years ago

      What’s with the big push for UEFI support? The only reason that you would “need it” is booting off a partition greater than 2TiB. I don’t see that situation happening with this platform. It is build for Llano a mainstream platform tier platform not some exotic/high-platform with the possibility of having a multi-TB storage system.

        • flip-mode
        • 8 years ago

        Personal preference. I have UEFI on my work machine – an Asus mobo – and I really appreciate it (and the excellent fan controls too).

        What’s more, Llano would arguable make an great choice for an HTPC if you feel AMD’s E-350 is too slow, in which case a 3TB drive full of movies is a possibility.

    • JustAnEngineer
    • 8 years ago

    It seems a very strange choice to compare these Micro-ATX and ATX A75 motherboards to a Mini-ITX H67 motherboard rather than one of the dozens of Micro-ATX H67 or Z68 motherboards.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 8 years ago

    I kinda wish Gigabyte had skipped on Firewire altogether – the VIA firewire chipset is totally substandard in terms of latency and throughput. If they’d integrated a Texas Instruments FW chipset, though…that’d be sweet.

    edit: wow! SATA performance is good. Guess it’s been this way for a while, going back to the 890FX review, but I didn’t notice.

    • swiffer
    • 8 years ago

    [quote<]I'd have deprived myself more sleep to play around with overclocking if I thought Llano had much to offer the clock-boosting crowd. This new Fusion APU just doesn't strike me as the right processor for enthusiasts seeking to push the performance envelope.[/quote<] Given AnandTech's findings when it came to gaming performance of the onboard GPU (FPS improvements of up to 20% across the board), I disagree and feel that tests that make use of DDR3 1866/2000/2133 would be worth the author's time to conduct. This APU scenario would be one of the first times where buying faster memory would do more for a system than essentially giving bragging rights over a 5% improvement in certain memory intensive applications. A flat out 20% improvement in FPS for using DDR3 1866 rather than vanilla DDR3 1333 is statistically significant, and your audience may want to know where the gains start to taper off.

      • Airmantharp
      • 8 years ago

      To be honest, I agree with you in part, but I have to wonder- what adverse affects to newer high frequency RAM kits bring to the table? What about power usage?

      Also, that 20% boost is nice, but wouldn’t the difference in price be better spent on a discrete GPU that is twice as fast?

      I can definitely see faster memory used in mobile semi-gaming platforms, but I wonder if it would be worth it with all factors considered.

        • swiffer
        • 8 years ago

        The difference between generic 2x2GB G.SKILL DDR3 1333 ($34.99) and higher spec’d DDR3 2133 of the same capacity and brand is currently $15 ($49.99) @ Newegg with a promo code. If we’re talking about a potentially >20% increase in GPU performance for $15, it’s worth the money over a discrete GPU in an SFF HTPC setup where there will be some degree of gaming.

        Idle / load power consumption is something that could be investigated as well.

        Edit: Additionally, DDR3 1866 SODIMMs have started to become available for somewhere in the realm of less than wallet theft, so that sort of GPU performance upgrade for a laptop with fewer discrete options would be worth investigating.

        • OneArmedScissor
        • 8 years ago

        “what adverse affects to newer high frequency RAM kits bring to the table? What about power usage?”

        Basically none. DDR3 is pretty much limited to close to standard voltage by certain memory controllers, so nobody is pushing 2.0v or anything ridiculous like that anymore. Hexus tests this every so often, and even between 1.35v and 1.65v modules, the difference isn’t tangible in a desktop. Even low voltage modules will run about 2 GHz now, negating any potential difference from just cranking up clock speed.

        RAM power use matters for server farms, where shaving off 1w per DIMM could mean thousands of watts all together, but that’s why they get the fancy stuff, and we don’t. You may not even see 1w on a desktop, where the variation between available types of DDR3 is very limited.

          • swiffer
          • 8 years ago

          Good to know! Thanks for the heads up on Hexus’ research into this matter.

      • Arag0n
      • 8 years ago

      Agree, I would like to know how the to improve the GPU performance to achieve a better gaming expirience. I would like to have a look about how the system behaves when you try to push the gpu performance to drop the GPU from the buy-list and even a 20% doesn’t does the trick, we need more like 40-50% improvement to make the things differenciable. So I would like to see a memory overclocking and GPU core overclocking review if possible.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 8 years ago

      The more important thing that Anandtech found is that if you crank up the CPU, you lower the thermal limit available to the GPU, and actually lower FPS.

    • DancinJack
    • 8 years ago

    Hope Asus comes out with a mATX board. That form factor is more appealing to me for Llano.

    I wish so much that AMD could figure out peripheral performance. They have always lagged behind Intel chipsets in terms of that stuff.

    e: From the shortbread – [url=http://www.legitreviews.com/article/1644/1/<]Asus mATX A75[/url<]

      • stupido
      • 8 years ago

      I hope more for mini-ITX… 🙂

        • Hattig
        • 8 years ago

        Mini-itx is a good place for Llano to be. I hope for an A75 mini-ITX review soon! Possibly a good time to review a 65W Llano too.

        • obarthelemy
        • 8 years ago

        Same here. I’m currently using asus’ E-350 m-ITX board, and it’s damn nice. Since it doesn’t make sense to pair Llano with a discrete GPU (i3 is better on almost all counts in that scenario), I’m guessing m-ITX makes a lot of sense for LLano.

    • Krogoth
    • 8 years ago

    MediaGX did it first!

      • swaaye
      • 8 years ago

      Only you and I remember it man!

      • yuhong
      • 8 years ago

      Yea, I once mentioned that Transmeta did it before Intel Lynnfield.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This