Despite many attempts by AMD to plant their flag at the top of the mountain, the high-end marketplace is completely dominated by Intel at the moment. However, the actual marketplace, in terms of units shipped, is all about the low-price, good performance, office-spec machines.
Any trip to your local PC emporium will show how the shops take advantage of the lack of knowledge from the average consumer to sell them a £300 PC that's "capable of gaming". Of course Freecell is a game, and so in a lot of ways that's accurate, albeit economical with the truth.
Speaking of economical, welcome to the Gigabyte F2A85XM-D3H, hereafter the D3H. An mATX motherboard that's available for the bargaintastic price of £60. We loved the Z77 D3H when we reviewed it and consider it one of the best value motherboards around. Even with the apparent limitations of the AMD processors, have Gigabyte have pulled another winner out of the bag?
For such a compact motherboard the D3H is actually rich with features for the price-point, including a whopping 8 SATA6 connectors, Gigabit LAN, support for some (for AMD at least) speedy RAM.
|Internal I/O Connectors|
|Back Panel Connectors|
As you'd expect from such a small, and cheap, motherboard the D3H is lacking refinement almost everywhere. It's not to say that it's an ugly thing, but it's utilitarian. Everything is roughly where you'd expect, and does the job it's supposed to. It just does it without any flair or style. Even the SATA ports are vertical.
Despite its compact nature though, Gigabyte have packed a load of connection options onto the little D3H. There isn't much missing that you would expect to find. If you consider this is aimed squarely at the internet/social media/very-light-gaming brigade, then it wants for nothing. We'd love to see a few more USB ports, but you can never have too many of those.
We're mainly running the D3H using the AMD A8-5600K APU. Our early experience with this has shown it to be a very willing performer with some of the best integrated graphics around. We'll test with a HD7770 for our gaming benchmarks, but our main comparisons will be against the earlier Llano A4, and the bIntel i3s on both Sandy and Ivy Bridge.
AMD Trinity A8-5600K
8GB Corsair Dominator
Corsair HX650 PSU
Corsair Force 3 SSD
Windows 7 x64
With a small form-factor system, power consumption is very important. You wouldn't want to run a Crossfire HD7970 setup and only browse the internet or watch films with it as both the planet and your electricity bill would suffer. The D3H/A8 combination is extremely frugal considering how much performance it has, topping out at just over 65W at full load.
Demonstrating how much performance is available the D3H demolishes the AMD A4, and both the cryptography and compression tests are miles better than anything else. Only in the PhotoWorxx and CPU Queen tests are the results close, although it's by no means lagging behind.
Memory bandwidth has been a weak point in the AMD armoury for as long as we can remember. Although the D3H isn't capable of matching the Intel offerings we'd never expect it to be. The big factor is how superior it is to the previous generation of AMD chipsets and processors. A great start.
Similar to the AIDA64 memory results, realistically we're not looking for the A8-5600K and F2A85XM-D3H to match the Intel offerings. However, it's a lot closer than we would have expected, and certainly there is no comparison between the A8 and A4 CPUs.
Given the pricing similarities between the i3-2120 and A8-5600K, and the knowledge that the Intel option has far better memory performance, it's good to see how close the D3H runs the Intel chip. The i3-3220 is only ahead on the productivity, a test that's again reliant upon the memory bandwidth.
PC Mark 7 shows a much greater advantage to the Intel options, and indeed the lowly A4 attains a higher score than our A8/D3H test setup, even if just by a handful of points.
PC Mark Vantage
PC Mark 7
In case you ever doubted the power of the AMD APU when compared to the Intel HD4000 iGPU, CineBench R11.5 dispels any such worries. The CPU scores are nearly identical, but the combination of the Trinity A8-5600K and the Gigabyte F2A85XM-D3H wallops the Intel offerings in the OpenGL benchmark. Nearly triple the performance. Spectacular.
x264 HD Benchmark v5
As the quality of the cameras on our phones becomes ever greater, and the ability to share snippets of our daily lives is easier, then video encoding is a larger part of our lives than it's ever been before. The x264 codec is one of the best around and the D3H performs well in both the first and second pass of the x264 Benchmark.
For our gaming tests we're running the A8/D3H at both resolution and image quality settings we'd expect the kind of purchaser of this setup to run. 1600x900 and choosing the settings just below the top of the relative game should give us a good balance between eye-candy and playability. We're comparing the APU of the A8-5600K, a HD7560D, with the AMD HD7770. The HD7770 is cheap enough to come within the range of the budget conscious. Either option provides a playable experience, and certainly if you're careful with your setting choices then you can have no complaints.
Clearly the D3H with an A8 installed is a vast improvement upon the Llano A4, even if it's not quite the calculating behemoth that is available on the Intel options.
So have AMD finally brought themselves up to the level where they provide a good alternative to an Intel based system, and is the Gigabyte F2A85XM-D3H the motherboard to place at the foundation of the system?
The Trinity/D3H combination is much better than the AMD results of old. We're so used to seeing the AMD offerings continually disappoint that to find a setup that provides a genuine option for the budget conscious is, truth be told, a joy. We all grew up on AMD CPUs here at OC3D, and the lack of competition is bad for companies and consumers. However with the Trinity A8-5600K AMD are back. An £80 CPU that has the guts to perform nearly anything the average user will throw at it can't be sniffed at. Of course in pure benchmark terms the Intel options usually win out, but in use you'll barely notice the difference.
As for the D3H itself, it nicely follows the Z77 D3H by being a compact motherboard offering everything you can reasonably expect for £60. In fact the only area we'd like to see improved is the amount of USB connectors. Just with a Phone, iPod, Camera, headset, USB Stick etc you'll rapidly run out, but this is problem with nearly every motherboard around. Yes we'd have preferred to have horizontal SATA ports for cleanliness, and the lack of heat generated means a lack of good looking heatsinks, but it's £60, and everything is there that you can need. To complain that it's a bit plain looking and lacking any artistic flourishes would be churlish.
Two things are immediately clear from our gaming results. Firstly Unigine clearly stressed the graphical capabilities of your system far harder than the average game would. Benchmarks are always a dangerous guide to real-world performance. Secondly, the Trinity APU is very handy, giving over 30FPS in our games of choice. Finally, paying a little extra for the HD7770 brings solid 60FPS gaming at sensible resolutions and image quality settings.
Considering that you can buy the Gigabyte D3H and the AMD A8-5600K for £140, we think it's one of the best bargains at the moment. Adding a HD7770 transforms the gaming side, but that isn't to say that the AMD APU isn't good quality. It demolishes the Intel HD4000, and will happily chomp through Blu-Ray movies or your average Sims/Farmville/Football Manager games without missing a beat. Even the more demanding titles are playable with some judicious settings choices.
If you're in the market for a motherboard that has a small footprint, a very low power draw, and yet still has enough to handle the tasks of all but the most power-hungry gamer, then we can highly recommend the Gigabyte F2A85XM-D3H. It's a little rough around the edges, and very much a plug-and-play solution rather than a tweakers paradise, but it's still worthy of our OC3D Silver Award, and for that low price our Value For Money Award too.
Thanks to Gigabyte for supplying the F2A85XM-D3H for review. Discuss our findings in the OC3D Forums.