AMD Updates APUs, Athlons & Motherboards

Author: SKYMTL
Date: January 31, 2016
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Motherboard Updates & AM4 Details

In order to keep their platforms up to date with changing connectivity standards, AMDís motherboard partners are in the process of revising some of their key designs. Unfortunately, if you bought a 990FX, 970, A88X or A68H board over the last few months youíll have missed out on some key additions. We will now start seeing M.2 and USB 3.1 (Type-A and Type-C) support rolled into these designs.

It looks like all of the key AM3+ and FM2+ motherboards will be receiving USB 3.1, 3.1 Type-C and M.2 support in one form or another. Many were already announced at CES like the ASUS 970 PRO Gaming / Aura we covered. However, the number of boards that support all three features concurrently can be counted on a single hand so read the specifications of your chosen hardware carefully before assuming it comes with compatibility for every updated storage standard.

One of the best examples of these updatesí capabilities and limitations is the ASRock A88M-G 3.1 which includes USB 3.1 10Gbps Type A+C connectors and M.2 (compatible with SATA and PCI-E based drives) alongside a host of other features. Its USB 3.1 capabilities are handled by an ASMedia 1143 controller and utilize four PCI-E 2.0 lanes for optimal performance.

M.2 compatibility is a bit tricky due to the limitations of AMDís A88X Fusion Controller Hub. This thing is based off an architecture thatís well past its prime, offering just four general purpose Gen2 PCI-E lanes. As such, if an expansion card is installed into the PCI-E_3 x4 slot, the four-lane M.2 expansion capabilities will be completely disabled. The same holds true the other way around; if an M.2 drive is installed, the third PCI-E slot will be inoperable. In addition, since the FCH only supports PCI-E 2.0, storage bandwidth will be capped at 20Gbps which is well short of the theoretical maximum bandwidth of 32Gbps offered on many Z170 boards.

With both USB 3.1 and M.2 requiring bandwidth from the limited FCH, there's the small matter of where ASM1143ís PCI-E lanes originate from since the M.2 slot can completely monopolize what the A88X can provide. Without any additional PCI-E resources on tap, specifications dictate that if the M.2 or x4 PCI-E is in use, there would be a throughput cap on the USB 3.1 interface. Even if ASRock installed a lane multiplier switch, it would still require a single x1 interface to the FCH. Well according to AMD, there's an additional four PCI-E 2.0 lanes from the APU itself which is something that we completely missed in our initial Kaveri review. However, they are indeed there and ready to be used to insure none of the new I/O solutions run into bandwidth limitations.

In their presentation, AMD also included another nugget of information which almost invalidates all of these motherboard updates for future buyers. Instead of supporting three different sockets for their high end processors and APUs, AMDís upcoming architectures code named Summit Ridge (Zen-based CPUs) and Bristol Ridge (APUs) will all be consolidated under a single socket dubbed AM4. This new platform will natively support next-generation storage standards alongside high bandwidth DDR4 memory so the chances of AMDís current offerings being compatible with it are slim at best.

We understand the need to keep a given platform up to date in the face of stiff competition but if you havenít bought an AM3+ or FM2+ motherboard yet, you may want to wait for AM4. It could have the potential to be a game changer but once again, thereís not enough information about the processors or the platform itself for us to make any definitive statements.

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