We continue our Motherboard Memory Lane series today with a look at the AMD FM2+ platform, the follow up to the FM2 Socket and its Trinity-based APUs that we considered in last week’s article. Socket FM2+ represents AMD’s third attempt to trying to gain traction in the budget to mid-range desktop PC segment, arriving with a refreshed series of Kaveri-based APUs and an updated FCH (or chipset if you prefer). Let’s push on and take a look at the new platform, the motherboards that were popular in this era and some of the more impressive scores that were submitted to HWBOT.
AMD Socket FM2+: Overview
Where Intel had managed to maintain to a ‘tick-tock’ cadence with its processor launches, AMD enjoyed an odd dance all of its own. The first AMD Accelerated Processor Units (APUs) debuted with FM1 in mid-2011 and featured Llano architecture chips. Then FM2 came along in October 2012 with and Trinity and subsequent Richland architecture APUs which were eventually followed by updated Kabini models on mobile platforms only. FM2+ launched in January 2014 with Kaveri, seeing AMD having one last roll of the dice before the new AM4 socket and the eagerly anticipated Zen architecture made its bow on center stage.
The new FM2+ platform arrived with Kaveri architecture APUs and the promise of improved performance thanks to an updated manufacturing process from Globalfoundries and the integration of Steamroller architecture CPU cores, the third reworking of the Bulldozer architecture. In terms of GPU, the new CPU cores were joined by AMD’s new Hawaii graphics architecture. New FM2+ motherboards also sported the new A88X FCH (Fusion Controller Hub) and crucially, were in fact backwards compatible with previous Trinity and Richland-based FM2 silicon. The new Kaveri APUs could physically fit into an FM2+ socket which differs from FM2 by only two pins. Previous gen Richland and Trinity APUs fit into FM2+, however, Kaveri APUs did not fit into any older FM2 motherboards.
The A88X FCH arrived as the new high-end chipset offering, supplanting previous A75 and A85X offerings from the previous two generations. It was joined at launch by more affordable A55 and A78 FCH options. The major advantage to having a board with an A88X FCH (apart from Kaveri APU compatibility) was support for PCIe Gen 3.0. Coming straight from the APU itself, the new platform offered the same 16 lanes which could be used in configurations of 1x 16, or 2x 8 lanes. It packed the same 4x USB 3.0 ports, 10x USB 2.0 ports and 2x USB 1.1. All 8 SATA ports were 6Gbps compatible and used an AHCI controller upgraded from 1.2 to 1.3. In terms of memory support, Kaveri APUs supported dual-channel DDR3 at data rates of up to 2,133MHz a boost from the previous generation which topped out for most people at DDR3-1866.
Most Popular AMD Socket FM2+ Motherboard, the ASUS Crossblade Ranger
Now let’s take a moment to look at the most popular FM2+ boards used by overclockers on HWBOT. By early 2014 the motherboard market has become largely dominated by four companies, ASUS, GIGABYTE, MSI and ASRock. All four are accounted for in the top ten list below, with ASRock punching notably above their weight and MSI just about clinging on to life in the FM2+ space.
- -ASUS Crossblade Ranger – 28.20%
- -ASRock FM2A88X Extreme6+ – 8.20%
- -MSI A88X-G45 Gaming – 6.90%
- -ASRock FM2A88X+ BTC – 6.90%
- -GIGABYTE F2A88XN-WIFI – 5.76%
- -ASUS A88X-PRO – 5.38%
- -GIGABYTE F2A88XM-D3H – 4.77%
- -ASRock FM2A88X-ITX+ – 4.57%
- -ASUS A88XM-A – 4.21%
- -GIGABYTE G.1 Sniper A88X – 4.11%
Last week we we noted how GIGABYTE had stolen a march on its competitors with an F2A85X-UP4 board that boasted high-end PowIRstage VRM components. We argued that it’s popularity with overclockers may simply have been down to the fact that it was the most high-end FM2 board you could buy. Fast forward a few years and we find that ASUS has had a change of heart regarding AMD’s mid-range platform, producing the first ever APU compatible Republic of Gamers model motherboard. With AMD squarely marketing APUs as being perfect for more affordable gaming PCs, it seems a smart move from ASUS. The flagship Crossblade Ranger board dominates the numbers above, being involved in 28.20% of all FM2+ submissions.
Interestingly the top ten also includes a pair of Mini-ITX form factor boards, perhaps proving the AMD APU platform to be a viable option for smaller media and home theater boxes. GIGABYTE no longer has top spot as it did previously with the FM2 platform, instead we find the company’s most popular offering to be the Mini-ITX form factor F2A88XN-WIFI which was used in 5.76% of all submissions. GIGABYTE’s now defunct gaming brand sits in tenth place with the G1.Sniper A88X, an affordable faux gaming board that was used in 4.11% of submissions.
The ASUS ROG Crossblade Ranger arrived, as ROG boards tend to do, as the FM2+ platform was maturing. Although the overall feature set and package in no way resembles the truly deluxe ROG Extreme motherboard offerings, the Crossblade Ranger remained peerless in the FM2+ arena. The MSI A88X-G45 sits in third on our list with 6.9% of submissions, arriving with a similar prize point, sitting at the top of MSI’s FM2+ product stack. The ASUS ROG branding however helped to make the Crossblade Ranger the overclockers board of choice, as no doubt did its solid VRM design and overall performance.
Here’s what an impressed Mark Campbell wrote for Overclock3D.net back in January 2015:
“The ASUS Crossblade Ranger is now easily the most premium board available on the FM2+ Socket, it is a beautiful motherboard which looks much more expensive than it is at the price tag of £120. It has a great feature set, with 8 SATA Ports 3 PCIe Slots, ASUS’ SupremeFX 2014 audio and a some beefy VRMs power circuitry to ensure you get the most out of your CPU when overclocking.
When ran at stock settings the ASUS Crossblade Ranger was easily the best FM2+ motherboard we have tested, showing a clear advantage over the other FM2+ motherboard in all CPU based tests, when comparing motherboards with our Athlon 860K overclocked to it’s limit of 4.5Ghz this advantage is reduced but the Crossblade still knocks out some impressive scores. In short the Republic of Gamers Crossblade Ranger is the best performing FM2+ motherboard on the market.
Most Popular AMD Socket FM2+ Processor: AMD A10-7850K
AMD’s new Kaveri architecture APUs launched with A6, A8 and A10 options. The flagship model, as you would expect with a mid-range segment, was the most popular. The A10-7850K landed with a retail price of around $170 USD. It packed 4 Steamroller cores clocked at 3.7GHz (boosting to 4GHz), 2x 2MB of L2 cache and 512 R7 Hawaii architecture graphics cores, each clocked at 720MHz. Manufactured by Globalfoundries 28nm process node, Kaveri actually delivered a performance boost while remaining within a lower thermal envelope of 95 watts TDP (compared Richland’s 100W TDP).
Compared with Intel’s Haswell architecture processors, AMD and its FM2+ platform was always destined to be the poor relation in terms of HWBOT love. However a loyal band of AMD enthusiasts certainly had plenty of fun with the AMD Kaveri platform which also enjoyed a slight return to favor of sorts when Godavri-based APUs arrived in 2015, including the higher clocked A10-7870K. In 2016 the A10-7890K was added to the mix with relatively little fanfare. The A10-7850K garnered the most attention and was used in 15.58% of all FM2 submissions. Interestingly, the Richland A10-6800K is second most popular with 12.38%.
The FM2+platform did enjoy a minor renaissance later in life when the AMD Athlon X4 845 came to market. It was one of the first AMD desktop CPUs based on Carrizo, a revamped architecture that featured Excavator cores. The chip offered a revealing glimpse of what AMD had up their sleeves with Bristol Ridge and ultimately Zen. This is what we wrote back in June 2016:
“The fact that Excavator is considerably faster than previous iterations is somewhat overshadowed by the manner in which in wins. The X4 845 is actually locked and can only be overclocked by upping the BCLK to a peak of around 123 MHz, this somewhat limits the potential of the chip in pure clock terms. Regardless, the Excavator cores are delivering in spades with lower clocks, a lower NB frequency and unoptimized slower memory configurations. To quote l0ud_sil3nc3, the current holder of the fastest SuperPI 32M AMD <5 GHz score in the world: “This is the fastest <5Ghz 32M on AMD ever done.... What's crazy is this is pretty close to the all out fastest AMD time done by Roman or HiVizMan‘s at > 8Ghz.”
AMD Socket FM2+: Record Scores
We can now take a look at some of the highest scores posted on HWBOT using AMD’s Socket FM2+ platform.
Reference clock overclocking may not be the most important benchmark in today’s world, however it remains an important way to determine a motherboard’s ability to perform well. The highest reference clock submitted on HWBOT using the AMD FM2+ platform used a GIGABYTE G1.Sniper A88X board. A reference clock of 138.74 MHz was submitted by Czech overclocker froxic who used an AMD A10-7850K under-clocked to 3,607.32MHz (x26).
You can find the submission from froxic here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/2528320_froxic_reference_frequency_g1.sniper_a88x_138.74_mhz
Although raw CPU frequencies are not really treated as true benchmarks today, they are an important performance metric for most overclockers. The highest CPU frequency ever submitted to HWBOT on the FM2+ platform came from DFORDOG from China who pushed a Richland-based AMD A10-7850K to a 6,136.91MHz (+65.86%) using LN2 and an ASRock A88X-G45 Gaming motherboard.
You can find the submission from DFORDOG here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/2508829_dfordog_cpu_frequency_a10_7850k_6136.91_mhz
Finally, we come to the classic SuperPi 32M benchmark, an important benchmark in terms of historical relevance. The fastest SuperPi 32M run submitted on HWBOT on the FM2+ platform was submitted by Aussie overclocker newlife. He managed a run of 9min 35sec 781ms using an AMD Athlon X4 845 clocked at 4,900MHz (+40.00%). This was way faster than any previous AMD SuperPi at the time, an example of the buzz the chip created ahead of Zen.
Here’s a shot of the LN2 cooled rig used by newlife:
Check out the submission from newlife here: http://hwbot.org/submission/3575071_newlife_superpi___32m_athlon_x4_845_9min_35sec_781ms
Thanks for joining us for today’s trip down Motherboard Memory Lane. Return next week when come to the end of our AMD journey, honing in on the current AMD Socket AM4+ platform, plus the motherboards, chips and scores that currently defined it.