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?