|ASUS M4A88TD-V EVO/USB3 Motherboard|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Motherboards|
|Written by Bruce Normann|
|Thursday, 15 July 2010|
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ASUS M4A88TD-V EVO/USB3 Details
One of the coolest features included on this motherboard, and some others based on the AMD 800 series chipset, is the hardware-based solution for unlocking additional cores on Phenom II CPUs. The 700 series chipset included that feature as part of "Advanced Clock Calibration", which involved a peculiar connection between the Southbridge and the CPU that AMD never really disclosed the details for. When AMD pulled the plug on that feature, ASUS and others jumped into the breach and provided their own solution. The switch on the M4A88TD-V EVO/USB3 motherboard could not be more obvious or simple to use. With the system powered down, slide the lever up to unlock the extra cores when you power the system up. The feature stays engaged until you move the switch back. Of course, not all dual or triple or quad core Phenom II chips will unlock successfully, but there is a good chance they will, especially if you goose up the CPU voltage a bit before you try it. In addition to the hardware switch, the feature can also be enabled in BIOS, but you'll end up having to clear the CMOS if the system won't get through POST.
The MemOK! button is helpful in scenarios where the RAM settings in BIOS aren't suited to the DIMMs that are installed, and the system won't boot. There are a couple of possible reasons for this. One, there might be a faulty DIMM that won't meet its specifications. Two, you might be trying out some unmarked DIMMs or ones that you are unfamiliar with. Once you get the system to boot up, you can interrogate their SPD table, but first you need to get it to boot up. Three, you may be overclocking the memory, either intentionally or unintentionally, and the system crashes. You don't want to switch over to all default values in the BIOS and lose all your overclocking settings, so this feature allows you to only change the memory settings on restart. This is a nice "Get out of Jail Free" card; I know I'm supposed to document all my BIOS changes as I go, but sometimes I get lazy or overconfident, or both.
The third switch in the photo above is for a useful new feature that improves on previous implementations. Earlier versions of Turbo Key allowed the user to switch between stored overclock profiles on the fly, using the power switch on the PC case. Good concept, but I think we would all get a little nervous punching in the power button while the system is up and running with a screen full of apps. Turbo Key II takes the same concept, and allows you to designate Hot Key combinations on your keyboard to make the switch. This is a much more convenient and comfortable solution for most users.
The basic functions of the motherboard are taken care of by several support chips. The ITE IT8721 chip provides for the basic I/O functions like Keyboard, Mouse, and front panel controls. The ICS 9LPRS477CKL is the clock generator for most of the auxiliary clocks on the board.
The Realtek RTL8111E onboard NIC supports 10/100/1000 Mb/s Ethernet, and while it may look like an unassuming little chip, it won an award at Computex Taipei in May 2010. "...its RTL8111E Single-Chip Gigabit Ethernet Controller has won a prestigious "Best Choice of COMPUTEX TAIPEI 2010 Award"; an award recognized and given by an evaluation committee comprised of experts from the industry, academia, media, and government. The innovative Realtek RTL8111E is the world's first Single-chip Gigabit Ethernet Controller to implement the power-saving IEEE 802.3az standard (Energy Efficient Ethernet: EEE)."
The Realtek ALC892 is a brand new 10-channel audio codec chip, and there is not much information available for it. Based on the motherboard's published specs, it looks most similar in features to the current ALC899 model. The key features are BD audio layer content protection, and support for 24bit/192kHz BD lossless audio. The VT6330 is a combination controller that integrates an IEEE 1394a interface, and a 1-channel PATA (IDE) host controller for two ATA/ATAPI devices.
The three ICs below are responsible for all the fancy footwork associated with energy management and overclocking. The EPU IC and PEM ASP0910 handle the low-level PWM control of the power MOSFETS and their driver ICs. They are custom ICs built exclusively for ASUS by UPI, and they control the 8 distinct phases of PWM voltage regulation for the CPU and the two phases for the integrated memory controller. This is a true 8+2 design, just like it says on the box! The TurboV chip handles all the high-level application programs like Auto Tuning, TurboV , CPU Level UP and Turbo Key II. Any performance improvements that are not done manually in BIOS are handled by this IC.
The final support chip of note is a NEC D720200F1 IC that provides two ports of USB 3.0 connectivity, and it is hooked up to one of the available PCI Express 2.0 connections on the 880G Northbridge. This avoids some latency issues that may occur if using the PCI Express 2.0 connection on the Southbridge. The last two chips shown below are a simple 2 Amp Ultra Low Dropout Linear Voltage Regulator, and a 3.3V CMOS Quadruple Bus Buffer Gate that allows one of the Logic ICs operating at a 3.3V signal level to communicate with another IC operating at the 5V level. Mundane stuff, I know...
Memory configuration is Dual-Channel, with support for up to 16 GB of DDR3 2000 in overclocking modes. For my testing, I used DDR3 1600 DIMMS, but occasionally overclocked them into the 1700+ MHz range. The DIMM slots are the standard dual-latch units that we're all familiar with. I always thought the new single latch connectors were cheaper, but ASUS is not using them on this board. For most people, who will probably go for a 2 x 2GB stick solution, ASUS recommends in the manual that you use the blue slots for best overclocking performance. If you accidentally put two sticks of memory in the black slots there is no harm, unlike a P55-based motherboard, which won't boot up. The DIMM slots are a little too close to the CPU socket for my taste, but I tend to use monster coolers when I'm trying to wring all the performance I can out of a test system.
Speaking of the trials and tribulations of overclocking, let's look at that next.