In the first of a two-part series to revisit the curious enigma that is the AMD Trinity APU, we look at the MSI's much-awaited ITX offering for the FM2 socket. Then, later in the week, we will explore how the setup handles recent blockbusters like Borderlands 2, Hitman Absolution and Far Cry 3.
AMD's Trinity APUs can be described with all sorts of superlatives by supporters and critics alike, but we can all agree that they are priced at ridiculously cheap levels (USD$64.99 for an A4-5300 to $119 for an A10-5800K) relative to the competition, and offer an integrated GPU capable of entry level DX11 gaming that is streets ahead of Ivy Bridge at the same price points. Since there is a considerable CPU bottleneck with multi-GPU setups as we've tested some time ago, it makes a lot of sense to pair Trinity APUs with smaller microATX/ITX sized motherboards to reduce the physical footprint. Enthusiasts have been clamouring for ITX options for their HTPC/Lan Party box builds since the October Trinity launch with the new FM2 socket, and only recently have we seen motherboard manufacturers like MSI, ASRock and Zotac fulfilling that demand.
MSI's take on the FM2 ITX is the FM2-A75IA-E53, based on the recycled A75 Hudson chipset from last year's Llano, which is still endowed with niceties like native USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gb/s support with RAID. There is also a Wifi/Bluetooth module included in the US$89.99 / SGD$188 bundle, which raises its value proposition for a budget HTPC build.
The motherboard layout is fairly straightforward, with most of the connectors situated on the right side with the exception of the 4-pin 12v and HD Audio pinouts. This should help with cable management in a confined space of a typical ITX case. The CPU socket positioning could also handle the Cooler Master Hyper T4 that we've tested last weekend (12cm, installed perpendicular to the ram slots), although one of the heatpipes just missed the nearest standard height memory module.
A single PCIe 2.0 x16 slot is provided for expansion, and if you want to utilize the Dual Graphics/Crossfire functionality with the onboard GPU then you've got to pair it with the older Turks VLIW-5 HD 6670/6570 cards. Still, to get a more tangible improvement in framerates, I would recommend at least a HD 7850 or GTX 650 Ti.
Over at the rear I/O panel, we see all the standard USB 3.0/2.0 , Gigabit LAN (Realtek 8111E) and audio (Realtek ALC887) ports. Display is handled by Analog D-SUB and HDMI, and there is the surprise inclusion of a legacy PS/2 and eSATA connector.
The CPU+NB VRMs are fairly decent for its price bracket, with Tantalum capacitors and ON Semiconductor's PowerPAK MOSFETs being employed in a dual-channel 3+2 phase configuration, and an Intersil ISL62773 controller (datasheet) to take care of things.
This is the part that will disappoint the enthusiast readers – although there are base clock frequency and multiplier adjustments for the CPU and GPU, the FM2-A75IA-E53 lacks adjustable core voltage controls (verified with MSI). This puts an end to any meaningful overclocking, which is pretty ironic/misleading given its emphasis on the product's marketing literature and box design. We will check with MSI again if they have plans to restore this in a future BIOS update since the PWM controller apparently has support for it.
Update 12/11 – Apparently it is possible to adjust the CPU/NB voltage with tools like AMD Overdrive and macci's TCI K2 utility. However any attempt to overvolt the CPU above its default VID will immediately cause the multipliers and base clock to be locked at their stock values, even with throttling mechanisms like CPB/APM switched off.
Fortunately, memory voltage, sub-timings and frequency strap can still be adjusted to alleviate the well-documented memory bottlenecks on the Fusion platform.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where we will we will explore how the setup handles recent blockbusters like Borderlands 2, Hitman Absolution and Far Cry 3!