A Closer Look
Starting with the upper left corner of the board, we see the VRM heat sink covering up the six phase power delivery for the CPU as well as the four pin CPU power header. Four pin headers tend to indicate that the boards are not necessarily going to be these best overclockers out there. Of course, bear in mind that APU’s only go as high as a 100W TDP, so realistically there isn’t much of a need for more than a four pin header anyway. The socket itself (FM2+) is cleanly laid out with very little in the way of interference around it.
The RAM slots are grouped in their usual position, nothing shocking here. The CPU fan header is located in an appropriate spot close to the socket itself, meaning that those short stock heat sink cables will reach comfortably. We might have liked to see a secondary fan header located next to this one, but typically APU users don’t really need much more than a single fan on their heat sinks or they can simply use a splitter cable to run two fans off of a single header. The 24 pin ATX header is also located nicely on the board, allowing the user to make cleaner cable routing through motherboard tray cutouts.
The PCI slots on this motherboard are spaced out nicely and allow the use of a smaller PCI-Ex1 slot in tandem with another PCI-Ex16 card at the same time regardless of configuration. This is thanks in large part to the extra spacing between the PCI-E 3.0 spot and the second PCI-Ex1 slot. Here we can also see two additional PWM fan headers located above the top PCI-E slot, as well as the Puro Hi-Fi solution which we will be taking a closer look at in a bit.
Here we can see the layout of the SATA ports as well as the BIOS chip and the debug LED. Not much else to discuss here… the layout of the SATA ports is evenly spaced and aesthetically pleasing, and the debug LED is easy to read in the event you are diagnosing system issues.
Here we see something else that Biostar emphasizes as a key feature of this motherboard: including the SATA ports, most all of the headers on the motherboard are located along the bottom, making for more sensible cable routing and organization to the various headers. This also keeps most of the cables out of the way of case airflow; though it doesn’t seem like it would be much, in practice this should create a much cleaner case interior. The one set of headers here that we would have liked to change is the USB 2.0 and 3.0 headers. Given current case configurations and the location of cable routing openings, relocating the USB 3.0 header to the location of the 2.0 headers would then enable them to use a 90 degree header for all of these, creating an even cleaner cable arrangement along the bottom. This header zone also includes an on-board power and reset switch, ideal for system testing outside of a case.
Here, as they say, is where the magic happens: this little chunk of silicon and brushed aluminum is the whole reason you should be buying this motherboard in the first place. The Puro Hi-Fi solution embedded onto this board is powered by the Realtek ALC 892 codec, providing up to eight channels of Blu-ray quality surround sound. The blue blocks just above the Puro Hi-Fi aluminum cover are the polypropylene capacitors used for the audio channels; these are chosen in part because it allows Biostar to keep the circuits as short as possible, minimizing signal degradation along the board and maximizing sound quality. If you look just to the right you can see the faint dotted outline of the circuit isolation employed on the board to keep any of the PCI slot’s signals from interfering with sound quality.
Here we see the motherboard powered up, illuminating not only the Puro Hi-Fi logo but also the circuit isolation path in brilliant yet not overly done blue lighting. We say powered up, but we mean “power applied” since the test system isn’t even running in this shot. For some, this could prove to be a bit on the irritating side, but as previously mentioned, if you are looking for this kind of system color configuration then you should love looking at this every single time you sit at your desk. It’s not overpowering enough to cancel out any other system lighting you are using, but not weak enough to be bleached out itself by other lighting. This is a really nice touch here from Biostar, and more proof that if you bought this motherboard for anything other than the audio solution you may have been doing it wrong.
There are no surprises with the rear I/O: four USB 3.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, VGA, DVI, HDMI and Display ports, legacy PS/2 port, audio out channels and a LAN port powered by a Realtek RTL8111G Gigabit LAN controller.
Flipping the motherboard around reveals very clean soldering points with no running or excessive solder application. To the right you can also see a more clearly defined outline of the audio circuit isolation. The back plate is constructed of lightweight durable plastic, and is a proprietary design with threaded nuts inlaid into the rear for the screws which hold the plastic heat shrink tabs onto the front of the board. There is, however, a small issue with this design…
Upon removal of the back plate, we can see that any screws you would use with this would have to be relatively long to reach the nuts at the back of the plate. In theory this design shouldn’t matter too much since most APU users that purchase this board will more than likely not be overclocking or require a different heat sink; however, unless your heat sink comes with its own back plate solution or uses the factory plastic tabs like the OEM heat sink does, then you will be hard pressed to install an aftermarket heat sink here. In our case, we found that a Seidon 120M that we used for system testing was impossible to install with this back plate and required that we use a spare AM3+ back plate in it’s place. Keep this in mind when shopping around for different heat sinks or planning out your system in general.
Remember that we mentioned earlier on in the review that the I/O shield was missing some tabs? The reason for it was an inexplicable alignment issue we had when installing this in our test case: our old Cougar MX500. Since this case has been in our possession we have had several motherboards installed in it, and none have had this kind of odd fitment issue with the I/O shield. We even double checked to see if maybe there was something keeping the motherboard from sitting flush in the back, but nothing was wrong. Looking at the misalignment, it appears as though the issue lies with the top USB ports not sitting on the board properly as the rest of the ports lined up perfectly with the I/O shield. To make proper use of the top USB 2.0 ports we had to bend the tabs out of the way, resulting in them falling off. Ultimately this is a minor quality control issue that hasn’t kept us from using the motherboard, but one that Biostar should pay careful attention to all the same.
Before we get on to system testing, let’s take a look at the BIOS and included software.