MSI A88XM GAMING Motherboard and R9 280X TWIN FROZR GAMING Review

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MSI A88XM GAMING Motherboard featuring R9 280X TWIN FROZR GAMING Graphics Card Review

MSI A88XM Gaming and Radeon R9 280X Gaming OC Performance/features Overview

Since they moved to producing APUs AMD have been slowly building a value packed platform, regularly refreshing their technology and enhancing performance and features. The latest Kaveri chips for example have one of the best, if not the best, built in GPUs ever. This makes them ideal for those wanting to build a system on a budget now and then enhance it over time with a discrete GPU. We have seen how Kaveri performs (the A10-7850K here) in the past and today we take that a step further through the above thought.

Our featured products today are from MSIs Gaming range, the Radeon R9 280X Gaming Series with Twin Frozr Cooler and factory overclock mixed with the mATX A88XM Gaming motherboard which packs plenty of enthusiast features into a mainstream priced product, ideal for pairing with AMDs A10-7850K.

The A88XM Gaming

MSI A88XM Gaming boxMSI A88XM Gaming bundle

MSI package their A88XM Gaming board in a fairly compact box which prominently features their Dragon logo as well as noting some key features. Inside we find a reasonably basic bundle which contains SATA cables, I/O Shield, product documentation, software disc, door hanger and case badges.

MSI A88XM Gaming full boardMSI A88XM Gaming PCIe slots

MSI Gaming is all about and black as far as design goes and the FM2+ based A88XM is no different. This passively cooled board looks and feels very high end and despite the mainstream price we get plenty of high end features. That starts with the military class components (Hi-C Cap, Dark Cap, Super Ferrite Chokes) which combine to minimise temps, maximise efficiency and extend lifespan/stability before continuing on with components such as Killer NIC (E2200), a GB LAN port with software tuning. MSI also provide peripheral connectors tuned for gaming and USB ports with higher current than other models to minimise charge time and maximise stability. Also provided is Audio Boost which gives us a Creative powered software suite and specialised audio components which are isolated on the board to minimise interference. Added to this are a 600Ohm headphone amp, gold plated connectors, EMI shielding and Japanese manufactured audio capacitors.

In terms of PCIe slots we get 3.0 spec functionality for the latest GPUs with a second 16x slot to combine two cards for enhanced performance in CrossFire and then between tem are two 1x slots for items such as Wi-Fi adapters. MSI give us 4memory slots in dual channel configuration with support for DDR3-2400 and above in capacities of up to 32GB and continuing the nice features we can see on-board power and reset buttons along with OC Genie switch which instantly adds a manufacturer approved overclock to our system. Enhancing performance without impacting our warranty.

MSI A88XM Gaming SATAMSI A88XM Gaming outputs

Despite the reduced size of the A88XM MSI manage to fit in 8 SATA 3 ports on this board (RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10). Next to them sits a standard 24-pin power connector and flipping round to the other edge of the board we find a nice collection of inputs and outputs. We start with PS/2 and USB 2.0 then move on to 2x USB 3.0, VGA, DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort, Optical out, Killer NIC, 2x USB 3.0, and various 3.5mm audio connectors.

BIOSBIOS
BIOSBIOS
BIOSBIOS

MSI go with a GUI based BIOS with full mouse/keyboard support on the A88XM and on the first screen give us access to key options like one click overclock, boot order and the like. Elsewhere we have plenty of options for tweaking and monitoring our system as well as flashing our BIOS from USB drive and saving profiles.

SoftwareSoftware

When we then get into Windows we can install MSI Command Centre which gives us access to similar functionality and information which is great.

The MSI 280X Gaming OC

MSI R9 280X boxMSI R9 280X bundle

With this being another product from the MSI Gaming range the packaging used here is very similar to the motherboard. Interestingly there is only a very small note on the front of the box of what model this GPU is. Inside we find a reasonable bundle of documentation/software (including MSIs Afterburner Overclocking tool), power cable, CrossFire connector, DVI to VGA adapter and mini-displayport to DisplayPort convertor.

MSI Gaming App

Afterburner

It is also worth noting that as well as an AMD promotion for free games which this product qualifies for, MSI also bundle a 6-month licence for XSplit Gamecaster (until 31/05/2014) and a small app to quickly take advantage of speed or silent operation. That’s not all though as we also get a video capturing tool (Predator) and MSIs Afterburner for overclocking and monitoring.

MSI R9 280X coolerMSI R9 280X PCB
MSI R9 280X powerMSI R9 280X outputs

MSI use a black PCB for their 280X Gaming card and attach a dual fan cooler to the front. This is their Twin Frozr 4. To large fans sit over a block of aluminium fins and passing through these are five heatpipes (which MSI say are twice as effective as the competition) and MSI design the cooler in such a way that airflow is directed better within the heatsink to maximise performance. MSI also install a large metal plate on the PCB for additional heat transfer and stability.

Keeping with the advanced design MSI also add components certified to military standard MIL-STD-810G to maximise the lifespan of the card. For example we get Hi-C capacitors which enhance energy efficiency and Solid Caps with Super Ferrite Core chokes which combine to maximise efficiency and product lifespan.

For power connectors a 6pin+8pin layout is used to assist the PCIe slot in providing the cards 250w of power. Display output wise MSI go with a Dual-Link DVI, HDMI 1.4 and then two mini-DisplayPort connectors. We can take advantage of Eyefinity using these, for example using DVI and HDMI with a single mini-DisplayPort for resolutions such as 5760×1080.

Looking at the key specifications MSI use a core peaking at 1050MHz and 3GB of GDDR5 memory running at 1500MHz (6000MHz). Being based on the Tahiti GPU, for the Stream processors AMD/MSI have gone for a 2048 "core" design and our memory bus is 384-bit. PCIe 3.0, DirectX 11.2 and DirectCompute are all supported on this card as is acceleration of high definition content and the card can output 7.1 audio over HDMI including DTS Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD.

GPUz

Conclusion

View performance figures here

So the A88XM and 280X Gaming are items that MSI hope will take our Kaveri based APU into a new level of features and performance. And overall that would appear to be something they have succeeded in. Just like their higher end boards for other platforms the A88XM has a very good level of build quality and aesthetics and MSI add to this many of the key features we like to see. Plenty of USB 3.0 connectors, loads of SATA ports and despite the compact PCB, a nice selection of PCIe slots which allow us to enhance our system over time. For gamers on a budget the inclusion of Killer NIC software and enhanced audio will help maximise enjoyment without spending extra on standalone components and the red LED lighting around the audio area adds a nice appearance for those who have a case window.

Looking at the 280X we get a solid mid-high end card which continues on the good build quality/components and adds a decent factory overclock but more importantly, low noise high performance cooler. The Twin Frozr kept our GPU under 65°C when gaming while still being near silent and would seem ideal for compact systems which we would build around the A88XM.

Looking at the power use, our system never rose above 300w when gaming and when overclocked using OC Genie we saw a nice boost in CPU performance with minimal power increase (20-30w). It is also worth noting that the system took our 2400MHz memory without issue. We just dropped it in, selected the profile in the BIOS and off it went.

As expected there were no issues with the various aspects of motherboard performance with all areas (PCIe, memory, USB and SATA) all performing around the same level as other platforms and when we moved to gaming the 280X was able to run at 1920×1080 and maximum detail in the likes of Titanfall and Diablo 3 with completely smooth framerates. (Click here to see our full performance results).

So that brings us to value where the 280X retails for £220ish and the A88XM for £85. These are competitive prices (especially the motherboard) so when we factor in the great software bundle, good build quality and decent warranty it makes for a bundle we are happy to recommend.

View performance figures here

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