Introducing the FM2 Socket & Virgo Platform
Introducing the FM2 Socket & Virgo Platform
One of the major benefits of AMD’s platforms over the years has been their ability to accept new processors as simple drop in upgrades, usually after a simple motherboard BIOS update. Unfortunately, due to a number of reasons –among them a change from 905 to 904 pins and a slightly different power delivery subsystem- Trinity APUs won’t be backwards compatible with older FM1 motherboards. They will instead use a new socket called FM2.
Physically, there isn’t all that much to differentiate one socket from another and the move away from FM1 may tick some longtime AMD customers off but there is a method to this madness. This revised FM2 socket being introduced with the Trinity APUs and new Athlon CPUs boasts forwards compatibility with the next generation APU architecture (presumably Steamroller-based products) which we’ll likely see sometime in 2013. So even though FM1 may not be around anymore, AMD certainly isn’t going through the planned intergenerational obsolescence their competitors typically put forth.
The FM2 family will initially consist of three chipset families, each targeting a different portion of the market through various price points. The performance-oriented A85X sits at the table’s head and will most likely be paired up with A10 APUs while the A75 chipset will likely be the most popular since it offers a good amount of feature and an affordable cost. We should see quite a few mATX and even ITX boards based around an A75 chipset. Meanwhile, the A55 will bring up the rearmost position but it is still fully capable of fulfilling most people’s needs.
The general layout of AMD’s new chipsets don’t differ all that much from the previous generation, particularly on the high end A85X SKU. The Fusion Controller Hub (FCH) is still used as a centralized point for much of the platform’s I/O needs which means everything from SATA ports to HD audio is handled through this single chip solution. AMD has also integrated high speed USB 3.0 ports and SATA 6Gbps into this design which once again reflects the options available on the outgoing A75 FCH.
Connecting the FCH to the APU is the Unified Media Interface (or UMI) which consists of four PCI-E 2.0 lanes for I/O transfers and system management. This results in an interconnect bandwidth of 2 GB/s which is a far cry from the 4.16 GB/s (5.2 GT/s) of other generation’s Northbridge / CPU pathway. However, the high bandwidth of Hypertransport 3.0 between what amounts to a glorified Southbridge and the APU isn’t needed since the FCH doesn’t contain the platform’s x16 PCI-E lanes.
From a chipset perspective, the APU hasn’t received a makeover either since it still houses support for the 16 primary PCI-E lanes, up to 64GB of 1866MHz DDR3 memory and the primary DVI, HDMI and Displayport outputs. AMD has incorporated support for x8 / x8 Crossfire (which wasn’t an option on most Llano motherboards) into the A85X but PCI-E bandwidth has still remained at 2.0 speeds rather than the newer 3.0 spec. For the time being, NVIDIA’s SLI isn’t supported.
There are however some minor changes which should allow these new motherboards to become a bit more adaptable to the current market realities. Naturally, the most notable change is the trio of chipset options replacing the old A75 and A55 duo. This should give consumers additional choices and motherboard manufacturers more leeway for pricing segmentation. Just be sure to pay attention to what socket you’re buying since both A75 and A55 designations have been carried over from the Llano days without anything to distinguish the new from the old.
In the highest end configuration, an additional two SATA 6Gbps ports have been added for a total of eight and RAID 5 compatibility should augment capabilities for multi drive systems. In addition, FIS based switching for the eSATA ports is now supported on both the A75 and A85X.
The A85X may be AMD’s flagship platform for Trinity APUs but the A75 and A55 are still perfectly capable. The A75 incorporates many of the same features as its higher end sibling but goes without Crossfire support and two less SATA 6Gbps boards. Basically, it is a literal mirror image of last generation’s A75 but with an FM2 socket. The A55 meanwhile can be considered the bare-bones configuration which still uses a single PCI-E x16 slot but has SATA 6Gbps, native USB 3.0 and FIS based switching completely removed. The former two features can be added through the use of secondary controller chips but due to the cost involved, don’t expect too many A55 boards to have USB 3.0 or SATA 6Gbps.
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