I have to admit that when AMD released their first generation APU several years ago, I was skeptical of the platform and its longevity in the marketplace. After all, up until that point, integrated graphics were part of the chipset and simply not up to the task of much other than standard 2D and low-res video playback. The fact that AMD diverged from their regular AM2/AM3 desktop socket only made the move seem more incredulous. Motherboard manufacturer support was minimal, with only a few different boards to choose from.
Now the shoe is on the other foot. AMD's support for the desktop AM3 is waning. There appear to be no plans to update their FX line with the newest Steamroller core. They've finally found a niche where AMD fairly trounces Intel and it looks like they're poised to exploit it. Gigabyte offers thirteen different FM2+ motherboards to choose from and other manufacturers are following suit. Judging by the GA-F2A88X-UP4 we've reviewed today, there's no shortage of high-quality and high-performance boards to pick from.
The F2A88X-UP4 is a full-on enthusiast and very overclock-friendly board. If there were any corners cut, they're not readily apparent. Featuring Gigabyte's award-winning Ultra Durable 5 Plus design, the components and cooling used on this board are made to last. There's no shortage of features either, with DualBIOS, Dual Graphics, Two-way CrossFire, 2x Copper PCB and onboard debug LED and quick buttons. There's support for up to DDR3-2400 XMP and AMP profiles with up to 2GB shared, DVI-D HDMI and Display Port output, seven 6GB SATA internal and one eSATA, eight USB 3.0 and ten USB 2.0 ports. The looks aren't too shabby either.
Initially I questioned the usefulness of a full-size ATX board for an APU processor, as it would seem a smaller package would be more desirable. More than half of Gigabyte's FM2+ offerings are micro-ATX or smaller, so there are definitely other choices available. However if AMD is throwing its full weight behind their APU line it only makes sense for motherboard manufacturers to follow suit. In addition to the F2A88X-UP4, Gigabyte also offers their G1.Sniper version of FM2+ board, both of which are ATX size.
Despite initial reports of buggy BIOS and faulty drivers, the only problem I experienced with the F2A88X-UP4 was when it came to overclocking. Then I had to flash the latest beta BIOS F5c in order to see an improvement in graphics scores. Other than that I was able to hit 4.5Ghz/960Mhz on the CPU/iGPU and DDR3-2400 overclock with relative ease. Granted this is pretty late in the game, as the board has been available for five months now one would not expect there to be problems. Remember however that Kaveri released only last month. Gigabyte claims any board you buy today from major online retailers should ship with a BIOS capable of supporting a drop-in Kaveri APU without having to flash a newer version using an older chip first. Speaking of retailers, I found the F2A88X-UP4 available for a little over $100 online. Although there are plenty of smaller, cheaper FM2+ boards available, for the features and design this one has I'd almost expect it to cost more.
OCIA.net awards the Gigabyte GA-F2A88X-UP4 our Gold Seal of Approval.