Preview: AMD A75 Motherboards

ASRock A75 Pro4

Fusion Desktops Incoming!

Earlier this month, AMD's Llano APU surfaced on the mobile platform and it certainly looked promising from a mainstream gaming perspective. In case you're still confused about the whole AMD Fusion and APU business, you can read all about the mobile Llano platform in our preview article. It's a handy guide to what's coming up from AMD and it will be especially useful, as the desktop variants of Llano will be popping up in retail very soon.

The short version is that Llano combines a modified 'Phenom II' CPU architecture with Radeon graphics cores in a single die manufactured on AMD's 32nm SOI process. Like Intel's Sandy Bridge, the PCIe and memory controllers are on the APU, but AMD is focusing more on the graphics aspect and these APUs will have superior, DirectX 11 class graphics compared to Intel. AMD will also support a Hybrid CrossFireX technology dubbed Dual Graphics where users can pair the integrated graphics with a suitable discrete Radeon graphics card for better performance.

The desktop platform, which was codenamed Lynx, will consist of the Llano APU along with the supporting chipset/motherboard. This chipset is actually a 'Southbridge' (don't forget that the 'Northbridge' has been subsumed into the processor) or what AMD calls the A75 'Fusion Controller Hub' (FCH). Hence, we'll be calling these A75 motherboards.

Notably, the A75 FCH will provide native USB 3.0 support, along with the SATA 6Gbps support that AMD motherboards have enjoyed since the 800-series. Meanwhile, memory support on these boards is up to DDR3-1866MHz, though this is provided by the integrated memory controller within the APU. The APU also provides for the single PCIe 2.0 x16 slot on these motherboards, with the FCH accounting for the remainder, which generally boils down to a single PCIe 2.0 x4 together with PCI slots.

This is the A75 FCH, which is less than the size of a five-cent coin (Singapore).

At this moment, we can't reveal any performance numbers for a desktop Llano APU, but we can show you some of these A75 motherboards:

ASRock A75 Pro4

ASRock brings us an ATX implementation of the A75 chipset with the Pro4, which comes in mostly blue and white on a dark PCB. It's a fairly typical mainstream design, with ASRock adding some extras in the form of FireWire support and useful buttons for clearing the BIOS, power and reset. The memory frequency support too is now up to 2500MHz for those who don't mind a bit of overclocking, up from the standard 1866MHz.

There are no extra SATA ports besides what's given on the chipset so taking in the fact that there's an eSATA port at the back, there are only five SATA 6Gbps ports left onboard. ASRock has implemented the four USB 3.0 ports from the FCH and they can all be found at the rear panel. HD audio is provided by the very decent and popular Realtek ALC892 CODEC and there's also a Realtek Gigabit LAN controller.

With this chipset seemingly requiring little cooling, there is plenty of space for the APU cooler. We also found the expansion slots to be spaced properly for dual-slot graphics cards if necessary. Layout isn't an issue on this ASRock board.

ASRock's A75 Pro4 is a full ATX offering with enough expansion options for most consumers.

The rear panel is rather packed, with the three display outputs taking up a significant chunk of space. This means there are just six USB ports, of which there are four USB 3.0 ports in blue. ASRock also squeezed in a useful Clear CMOS button along with FireWire and eSATA 6Gbps.

There are only five SATA 6Gbps ports onboard; the sixth is the eSATA at the back. Onboard buttons for power and reset are also present, along with a debugging LED.

There's nothing unusual with the four DIMM slots, which support up to DDR3-2500MHz (overclocked) and up to 32GB in total capacity.

USB 2.0 headers and even a COM connector can be found at the edge of this board.

While there are two PCIe 2.0 x16 slots, only the first PCIe x16 slot has the full 16 lanes of bandwidth. The other is only rated at x4. CrossFireX is however supported, though we won't recommend it given the bandwidth limitations. Of course, there are plenty of PCIe x1 and PCI slots given its ATX form factor.

The new Socket FM1 from AMD uses the same mounting mechanism for the heatsink/fan as current AMD processors, so it's not much of a change from the end-user point of view.

The VIA FireWire controller means that ASRock has covered practically all the current interfaces still in use.