Rating Up Front: 2/5 Stars
Well, I wanted this to be a good review, but sadly..
I bought this board as part of my small Fedora 20 Linux build. Because I intend to learn through this system’s use, it needs to be powerful enough to run modern games with medium-quality settings (installing and executing complex software is the best way to learn how to use an OS, if you ask me; games fit the bill!) but small enough to cost less than $400 (without the monitor). I was doing well, and absolutely giddy over the prospect of an Accelerated Processing Unit (an on-die GPU powerful enough to run BF4? In my day, that’s crazy talk right there!)
The problems began when I found that the DIMM slots for the RAM are placed so close to the processor that an aftermarket heatsink I purchased (CoolerMaster Hyper T4) would not fit. I admit, it’s kinda silly to install a ginormous heatsink like that on a microATX board, but nonetheless, just for the public’s knowledge I’ll put that in here.
After returning the CoolerMaster and settling for the stock heatsink, I noticed my machine was not operating at the level of performance I was expecting (could only hold a solid frame rate at Medium-Low quality at 1600×900 on L4D2 – lame), I checked the BIOS and found my RAM speed was set to 1600 MHz despite it being G.Skill ARES 2133 MHz RAM. I bumped up the frequency and checked the timings (which were correct) and when I restarted, things looked beautiful (TF2 and L4D2 smooth at 1900×1080 and very high settings with 2x AA – unbelievable for an on-die GPU, if you ask me). Unfortunately, after about 5 minutes of play in TF2, the system abruptly shuts down.
I recognize, obviously, that something catastrophic is occurring. Naturally, I think the CPU is overheating, so I use lm_sensors and find that the CPU seems high, but within tolerance (62 C in TF2, where 75C is the max operating temperature for an AMD A10-6800K).
I double-check that my admittedly small PSU (Athena Apollo 300 W) is capable of providing sufficient power, and it is.
After that, I start investigating settings in the UEFI BIOS but find that they are very poorly described in the interface and completely absent from the quick start guide provided with the product. I use my iPhone to acquire a QR Code from within the UEFI BIOS which promises more details regarding the settings, and I am in fact directed to a URL presenting a User’s Manual (which strangely didn’t come with the product). It is, unfortunately, poorly written and often simply restates the name of the setting in its description (i.e., for “CPU Thermal Throttle” it is stated only: “Use this item to enable CPU internal thermal control mechanism to keep the CPU from overheated [sic]. The default value is [Auto].”
Thanks…for that. Nowhere could I find how it derived the maximum operating temperature from my processor (I thought it might be set too low); there doesn’t appear a place to set it.
In going through the guide, I did ,however, locate a page which directed me to ASRock’s site with information about compatible memory modules. Thinking to at least rule that out as a problem (I have G.Skill for goodness’ sake), I go there and to my dismay find that my RAM is not listed as being compatible with the board. In fact, the board only supports 5 models of RAM at 2133 MHz, one of which is a 32 GB pack of 8 GB DIMMs, and the motherboard only supports two DIMMs! (wtf?!) The models listed were either impossible to find, too expensive (one was AMD RAM which, while cool-sounding, was $220 for 8 GB – I think not), or not suited to the board (the 32 GB model, for example).
Given that all instability began with the modification of the incorrectly-detected RAM clock speed, I presume this is the problem and schedule an RMA for the board.
Too bad, kinda my fault for not doing my homework, I guess, but given the importance of high-speed RAM to AMD’s Accelerated Processing Units, it isn’t very nice of the company to advertise high speeds and keep it less well-advertised that they only support a tiny, tiny fraction of the RAM models out there.
So, I’m going to have to say 2/5 stars for this one. It’d probably be fine within its specs, but they are very limiting (particularly for APU owners) and poorly documented (along with the board’s features). The BIOS flash utility which allows for flashing the BIOS over a network connection without using an OS was quite nice, though, I must say.