Not that long ago AMD launched the Phenom II X6; with it they launched the 890FX chipset. This is the top-of-the-line chipset for the AM3 socket. It also rounded out the upper end for AMD. Now they are pushing out their mid-range boards featuring their 880G Northbridge and SB850 Southbridge. These are a lower cost combination that should still offer good performance to any AMD CPU that can fit into the AM3 socket.
Foxconn has sent us the A88GM Deluxe motherboard that features the 880G for us to play around with. This Micro ATX board still contains six SATA 3.0 ports, GBe LAN, 7.1 audio and an integrated Radeon 4250. What makes this even better is that you get all of this for less than $100.
But as this is a budget board, will it handle our high-end testing? We are eager to find out.
The Box and What's Inside
Package and Contents
The box the Foxconn A88GM Deluxe arrives in is functional. It is not overly attractive or compelling, but if you know what you are looking for it would not put you off. It is just like all the other boxes we have received from Foxconn (in fact it is exactly the same with new stickers on it).
The back contains some rudimentary information about Foxconn products, but nothing specific.
In keeping with the budget alignment of the A88GM Deluxe, the accessories included are sparse.
It is an interesting market trend that to make a budget or entry level motherboard you have to make it in the Micro ATX form factor. We have seen this more and more often. While it is true that not everyone follows this, it has become more common over the last few years. The Foxconn A88GM Deluxe is a Micro ATX based product and follows the typical lines on the surface.
Although the A88GM Deluxe is Micro ATX, Foxconn has made sure to give you four full DDR3 slots. They also opted for solid capacitors and solid chokes. The heatsinks are stylized and meant to look good and cool at the same time (we will test this later).
Taking a look at the image below we see that the chokes are not lined up very well. They are in a very crooked line here; we are not sure if this will affect performance in anyway, but it does make us wonder about the precision in their manufacturing process. The 8-Pin Aux power socket is unusually unobstructed. In this shot you can also see a 4-pin fan header at the corner of the AM3 socket mounting bracket. This fan header was difficult to use with our large Hyper 212 as it was almost directly under the heatsink.
The lower "half" of the board contains a single PCIe x1 slot, the obligatory PCIe x16 slot and two PCI 2.0 slots. One of the PCI slots will be useless if you chose to drop a dual height GPU.
Here we find an odd number of SATA 3.0 ports. Instead of the usual six, we find only five. We also get a glimpse of three of the USB 2.0 headers on the board and the small heatsink to keel the SB850 cool.
Taking a look at the I/O ports we find a VGA, DVI, and HDMI port. Now look closely at the DVI Port. It is a DVI-D port, this means that many of the cables that are floating around will not work with it. In fact we had an issue with our KVM, the cables there are both Dual Link DVI-I (capable of both analog and digital) because of the four pins around the single blade it would not fit. We had to use an HDMI to DVI adapter. This was (and is) annoying to put it mildly.
The Foxconn A88GM Deluxe has a fairly decent layout and for a Micro ATX board is pretty clean. We were not happy about the DVI-D connector but, as most things are moving toward digital only we suppose it was only a matter of time before that happened.
BIOS and Overclocking
The BIOS on the Foxconn board is not the most complex. It is simple and in its own way clean. We were a little surprised at the voltage options. Instead of being direct input they were offset only. For many this might be confusing, especially new comers to the overclocking world.
All of your overclocking features are in the Fox Central Control Unit.
In the Intelligent Stepping page we find the controls for the frequencies available on the A88GM Deluxe.
Again the voltage options are not what the average enthusiast or overclocker would want. Offset can be tricky and there are a limited number of options available.
The CPU configuration is pretty easy to grasp.
The Advanced Chipset Features page has all of the memory tweaks including the memory settings for the IGP.
Our overclocking time with the Foxconn A88GM Deluxe was both easy and confusing. For some reason if we pushed the bus over 240 the board would automatically drop the multiplier to 4. Nothing we did would change this. At 241 the system would kick back to a 4x multi. So in the end our final clock was 240x16 for a 3.84GHz OC. The board was perfectly stable at this speed, you would probably be able to run at this speed 24/7 to be honest.
You can see the validation for the Phenom II X6 on the A88GM Deluxe here.
The included overclocking software is not one of our favorites. In fact is it probably one of the cheesiest we have seen. It is limited and not very good at pushing the system.
The auto overclocking functions have multiple warnings about overclocking but in the end only got us to 3.3GHz stable.
As all overclocking results are dependent on the hardware you use, your results may vary. Results of our overclocking tests are included in the performance section with the stock scores.
Important Editor Note: Our maximum overclocking result is the best result we managed in our limited time of testing the motherboard. Due to time constraints we weren't able to tweak the motherboard to the absolute maximum and find the highest possible FSB, as this could take days to find properly. We do however spend at least a few hours overclocking every motherboard to try and find the highest possible overclock in that time frame. You may or may not be able to overclock higher if you spend more time tweaking or as new BIOS updates are released. "Burn-in" time might also come into play if you believe in that.
Test System Setup and Comments
We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment FOXCONN, AMD, Kingston and Cooler Master and Sceptre.
Working with the Foxconn A88GM Deluxe was an interesting thing. When we first started playing with it we had multiple problems running our Phenom II x6. For some reason the board would lock up continuously during the POST. We found that we could work around this by plugging in a keyboard and mouse directly to the system instead of using our KVM.
After we flashed the BIOS to the latest one we managed to get past the KVM + P II x6 issue. The installation of Windows 7 x64 was fast and clean. It was not until we had to deal with the install software that things got messy again. Foxconn has one of the worst install utilities we have worked with. The graphics are eye-watering, and the one step install requires you to install the Chipset drives first.
In general our build experience with the A88GM Deluxe was not terrible, but it should have been better.
Synthetic Tests - Part I
With any system you will want to see a combination of synthetic testing and real-world. Synthetics give you a static, easily repeatable testing method that can be compared across multiple platforms. For our synthetic tests we use Everest Ultimate, Sisoft Sandra, FutureMark's 3DMark Vantage and PCMark Vantage, Cinebench as well as HyperPi. Each of these covers a different aspect of performance or a different angle of a certain type of performance.
Memory is a big part of current system performance. In most systems slow or flakey memory performance will impact almost every type of application you run. To test memory we use a combination of Sisoft Sandra, Everest and HyperPi 0.99.
Version and / or Patch Used: 2010c 1626
Developer Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.net
Product Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.net
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The memory performance on the A88GM Deluxe was good, it was a hair above most of the H55s and H57s we have tested. This is not a bad thing for an AMD board as they typically run just behind the Intel based systems.
Version and / or Patch Used: 5.30.1983
Developer Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Product Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
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Everest Ultimate is a suite of tests and utilities that can be used for system diagnostics and testing. For our purposes here we use their memory bandwidth test and see what the theoretical performance is.
Again the numbers here are not too bad. This is especially considering the price point this board is setup for.
Version and / or Patch Used: 0.99
Developer Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br
Product Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br
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HyperPi is a front end for SuperPi that allows for multiple concurrent instances of SuperPi to be run on each core recognized by the system. It is very dependent on CPU to memory to HDD speed. The faster these components, the faster it is able to figure out the number Pi to the selected length.
For our testing we use the 32M run. This means that each of the four physical and four logical cores for the i7 and the four physical cores of the i5 is trying to calculate the number Pi out to 32 million decimal places. Each "run" is a comparative to ensure accuracy and any stability or performance issues in the loop mentioned above will cause errors in calculation.
The Foxconn with the 1090T onboard did not do that well with HyperPi. This is despite the decent memory performance. Our only thought here is that perhaps the level of cache on the CPU is causing issues with large computations like we find in SuperPi.
Synthetic Tests - Part II
Disk Drive Controller
The system drive controller is an important part of system performance. In most modern boards your drive controller will run off of the PCI-e bus. The PCI-e bus performance can be affected by poor trace layout as well as many other design choices that show up on different boards.
For testing we use Sisoft's Sandra and Everest.
The A88GM Deluxe seems to do pretty good in terms of HDD performance, too. So far things are looking good for the basics.
Everest confirms our Sandra findings. We could see some excellent performance in our more general testing.
Synthetic Tests - Part III
Here is where we dig out the FutureMark tests.
Version and / or Patch Used: 188.8.131.52
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/
Product Homepage: www.futuremark.com
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For overall system performance we use PCMark Vantage. This is run in both x86 and x64 mode to give the best indication of performance.
Ok, now this is odd. The PCMark scores for both X86 and X64 at stock speeds (and with the HD 5870) are at the bottom of the list. It was not until we overclocked the PII X6 that we saw the scores rise.
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.1
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/
Product Homepage: www.futuremark.com
Buy It Here
For synthetic gaming tests we used the industry standard and overlockers bragging tool 3DMark Vantage. This is a test that strives to mimic the impact modern games have on a system. Futuremark went a long way to change from the early days of graphics driven tests to a broader approach including physics, AI and more advanced graphics simulations.
3DMark Vantage uses the DX10 API in addition to having support for PhysX. As we are no longer using an NVIDIA GPU for testing (at least until we can get a GTX 4xx card) you will only see the CPU based PhysX results in the scores. For testing we use the Performance test run.
The 3DMark scores were not exactly what we hoped they would be. Again at stock and even overclocked they are at the bottom of the pile. It is not until we drop in the 5870 that the scores pick up.
Cinebench R11.5 x64
Version and / or Patch Used: R11.5 x64
Developer Homepage: http://www.maxon.net/
Product Homepage: www.maxon.net
Download It Here
Cinebench is a synthetic rendering tool developed by Maxon. Maxon is the same company that developed Cinema4D, another industry leading 3D Animation application. Cinebench R11.5 tests your systems ability to render across a single and multiple CPU cores. It also tests your systems ability to process OpenGL information.
The Cinebench score for the A88GM with the Phenom II X6 is not bad at all. It is not the equivalent of the 890FX scores we have seen, but it is a solid score.
Real-World Tests - Part I
Real-world testing allows us to see how well a product will perform when used in the same manner as it would be in your house or office. It is an important side to performance testing as it can uncover hidden glitches in the way a product performs.
It is especially true when testing a mainboard; there are so many components of a board that have to interact that any problems between parts can cause a failure of the whole.
For real-world testing we use some common applications and functions. We test with LightWave 3D for rendering performance, AutoGK for transcoding from DVD to AVI and two games for gaming testing.
Rendering of 3D Animation is a system intensive endeavor. You need a good CPU, memory and HDD speed to get good rendering times. For our testing we use LightWave 3D. This software from Newtek is an industry standard and has several pre-loaded scenes for us to use.
Version and / or Patch Used: 9.6
Developer Homepage: http://www.newtek.com
Product Homepage: http://www.newtek.com/lightwave/
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Wow, our render scores are excellent here, they are well above the H55s and H57 boards. Of course we are talking about 6 cores Vs 4 threads, but believe it or not, the CPUs are not that far off in price.
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.55
Developer Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk/
Product Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk/
Download It Here
AutoGK stands for Auto Gordian Knot; it is a suite of transcoding tools that are compiled into an easy to install and use utility. It allows you to transcode non-protected DVDs and other media to Xvid or Divx format. For our testing purposes we use a non-DRM restricted movie that is roughly 2 hours in length. This is transcoded to a single Xvid AVI at 100% quality.
The A88GM Deluxe with the Phenom II X6 gives us a good showing here. It is not quite fast enough to overpower the ASUS H57. This is a little concerning especially given the fact that it there is a hexa core CPU under the hood on the A88GM.
Real-World Tests - Part II
Here we have our real gaming tests. Each of the games we chose use multiple cores and GPUs. They are able to stress the system through use of good AI. Both have decent positional audio that adds impact to the sound subsystem of the board. We ran each game through the level or parts listed and recorded frames per second using FRAPS. This brings the whole game into play.
As most IGPs are not meant for high-end gaming we have swapped out one of our First Person Shooters for a more mainstream game. We have also adjusted down the testing resolution from 1920x1200 to 1280x960. In order to keep full measure of the board we return to 1920x1200 when we test the board with our HD 5870.
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0
Timedemo or Level Used: Ten Minutes of Game Play in Sunset Valley
Developer Homepage: http://www.ea.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.thesims3.com/
The SIMS 3 is the third complete edition of this popular game. In it you create a personality for use in a virtual world. The town we chose was Sunset Valley, we created a basic character and off we went. We performed as many actions as we were able to in order to give the board and GPU as much to think about as we could. The settings we used are shown below.
SIMS 3 was not terrible to play. There were more than a few spots that were patchy and the visual quality was not that great. I would not recommend gaming on this board unless you are happy with resolutions at 1024x768 and no effects.
Far Cry 2
Version and / or Patch Used: V1.00
Timedemo or Level Used: Clearing the Safe house through to the Rescue
Developer Homepage: http://www.ubi.com
Product Homepage: http://farcry.us.ubi.com
Far Cry 2 is a large sandbox style game. There are no levels here so as you move about the island you are on you do not have to wait for the "loading" sign to go away. It is mission driven so each mission is what you would normally think of as the next "level".
In the game you take the role of a mercenary who has been sent to kill the Jackal. Unfortunately your malaria kicks in and you end up being found by him. Long story short, you become the errand boy for a local militia leader and run all over the island doing his bidding. The settings we used for testing are shown below.
Well, honestly what did you expect? The scores here are not good, then again these are entry level (or value) based boards. It is no surprise to us that we do not see good gaming at even mid-range resolutions.
My conclusion on gaming is that motherboards with IGPs are not meant for gaming. They are meant for simple graphical presentations. However, as with most boards with an IGP, once you drop in a real GPU you can game and get good results. With the Foxconn A88GM Deluxe this could be a great way to go. The board is inexpensive enough to let you get a good quality GPU and have a decent gaming platform for very little money.
Power Usage, Heat Tests and Final Thoughts
We are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated graphics cards installed. Keep in mind; it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into an AC wall socket).
With a Phenom II X6 on the A88GM Deluxe (a 125 Watt CPU) we actually see pretty decent numbers here. We would have liked to see a little less power draw, but overall it is not too terribly bad.
As a new measure, we are now monitoring the heat generation from the key components on the motherboard; this being the Northbridge, Southbridge (if it contains one) as well as the Mosfets around the CPU. The results are recorded at idle and load during the power consumption tests.
For generated heat the Foxconn A88GM Deluxe was roughly in the middle of the pack without the HD 5870. Once that was dropped in things got much warmer.
So far we have seen some interesting things from Foxconn. Their 890GX motherboard was one of the better ones we played with while their H55 was awful. Here again we are seeing an excellent product from Foxconn with the 880G based A88GM Deluxe.
Of course the board is not going to win you any overclocking records, nor will it cover your gaming needs without the purchase of a discrete GPU. It will run any AMD CPU you throw at it and perform quite well even when compared to the 890GX based boards. With a price of under $100 it could be an excellent base for an inexpensive gaming system or even workstation.
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