After being impressed with Biostar's TZ68A+ motherboard, an entry-level product that near matches high-end capabilities, we contacted Biostar to see what else they had cooking, and a few days later, we found the TA75A+ on our doorstep, ready for action. The TA75A+ is based on AMD's Fusion APU (Accelerated Processing Unit) platform, featuring the A75 "Hudson" chipset, and supporting FM1 socket "Lynx" APUs, both recently released to the market. The Biostar TA75A+, and the matching AMD APUs, aren't intended to be top performance products, but rather seek to raise the baseline of affordable performance, tying in all recent connectivity, plus decent 2D and 3D video acceleration. We strap the TA75A+ into our test station, and put it through the paces.
<th scope="row">CPU SUPPORT:</th>
<td>AMD Vision Socket FM1 Fusion APUs</td>
<th scope="row">POWER DESIGN:</th>
<td>CPU Power: 4+1 phase <br />
Memory Power: 1 Phase <br />
<th scope="row">INTEGRATED GRAPHICS:</th>
<td>AMD Radeon HD 65xxD(via installed CPU)</td>
<td>4 x DIMM, Max. 32 GB, DDR3 1066 to DDR3 2000
<td>Biostar UEFI BIOS with 32 Mb Flash ROM </td>
<td>2 x PCIe 2.0 x16 Slots (x16/x4)<br />
2 x PCI-E x1 2.0 Slots<br />
2 x PCI Slots<br >
<th scope="row">HDD CONNECTIVITY:</th>
<td>6 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s (AMD A75)</td>
<td>Realtek 8111E PCIe Gigabit LAN</td>
<td>10 x USB 2.0 ports (4 at back panel, 6 at front panel)<br />
4 x USB 3.0 ports (2 at back panel, 2 at front panel) <br />
1 x PS/2 Keyboard connector <br />
1 x HDMI port <br />
1 x DVI port <br />
1 x VGA port <br />
1 x mini DisplayPort <br />
1 x RJ45 LAN connector <br />
7 x Audio port with 6 analog audio jacks + 1 Digital port <br />
1x CIR Header
<td>Realtek ALC892 HD CODEC</td>
<th scope="row">FORM FACTOR:</th>
<td>ATX Form Factor( 305mm x 244mm ) </td>
<th scope="row">Biostar FEATURES:</th>
AMD A75 Chipset
With the closing of the second quarter of 2011, AMD launched their latest platform based on Fusion technology, which brings high performance GPU capabilities and CPU functionality together in the same socket, for modest cost. Featuring AMD's first sampling of 32nm technology from Global Foundries, the new APUs from AMD mate with the AMD A75 chipset, which not only features built-in SATA 6 Gb/s drive connectivity, but also USB 3.0, simplifying board design for manufacturers, while allowing greater functionality for the end user.
Toeing up the power consumption at a limit of 100W, the new AMD APUs offer fantastic video performance not seen anywhere else, with a Radeon 6550D GPU nestled right next to a full quad core CPU in the A8 APU models. For those needing a bit more performance, but still focused on budget performance, the addition of specific affordable discrete GPUs, matched in performance to the APU's onboard Radeon cores along with Crossfire functionality, brings the complete platform to incredible performance levels for little cost, setting the stage for the next era of office desktop functionality, while offering enough grunt for a little bit of gaming entertainment, too.
That theme of affordable performance is something Biostar holds dear in their company focus, so it's only natural their products are the first we look at. Pleasantly surprised with the last Biostar product we looked at, we are very eager to play with the TA75A+ too.
The Biostar TA75A+ packaging carries the same theme as other Biostar products, although this time clad in red, denoting an AMD product, while we've already seen their blue boxes for Intel-based products. The simple design carries a few logos for supporting technology on the front, and the rear of the box has several more logos for specific Biostar features.
Lifting the lid on the box reveals the included accessories and manuals first, while we find the board itself in a soft antistatic bag underneath. We immediately noticed that the packaging really matched the board and manual, adding a nice touch that left us excited to get the board up and running.
Being an entry-level product, we weren't expecting too much to be in the box with the TA75A+ board, yet we were impressed to see four SATA 6 Gb/s cables, with the now standard Biostar cable wrap around them, as well as the usual manual, CD, and backplate. It's not much, but the little bit extra in the cable wrap really helps give a good impression. A full listing of the accessories is below:
The Board - Layout
With the board out of the box, the stylized theme of the Biostar TA75A+ really impresses, with the red, black, and white color theme broken here and there with a bit of hardcore metal. The rear of the board is simple and clean, thanks to the impressive connectivity of the AMD A75 chipset, allowing for simplistic board design.
The socket area of the board is quite clean and simple like the rest of the board, with the CPU_FAN1 power header in a non-standard location, at least for us, found below the CPU VRM. The rear of the socket, in contrast to many other boards we've looked at, is almost completely clear of protruding pins that might interfere with aftermarket backplates, with many solder "cooling strips" beneath the CPU VRM to help dissipate heat. The backside of the socket proper is completely filled with components, with not a single empty spot noticed.
With six expansion slots, the Biostar TA75A+ comes with two of everything, PCIe x16, PCIe x1, and PCI all inclusive. The white PCIe x16 slot is connected to the APU with a x16 link, while the red x16 slot is connected to the APU via a x4 link, the perfect pair for an add-on RAID card and a discrete GPU. The four DIMM slots can each be fitted with high density 8 GB DIMMs, while claiming support for up to a 2000 MHz speed.
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We find all of the pin headers for internal expansion along the bottom edge of the board, with the addition of power and reset switches right next to the front panel pin header, making first set-ups a breeze. All of the pin headers, minus the front panel and COM header, are fitted with red plastic bases, really adding to the colored theme of the board, something that we really did not expect from such an inexpensive product. The TA75A+ features three separate fan headers, but only the 4-pin PWM CPU_FAN header can be controlled from within the BIOS and via included software.
On the board's right edge we find six SATA ports, each supporting 6 Gb/s drives. The backplate I/O starts off with a PS/2 port for keyboards and four USB 2.0 ports, quickly followed by a set of HDMI, VGA, and DVI ports driven by the APU's onboard Radeon cores. We also find a set of dual USB 3.0 ports, a six port audio header, and rounding it all out is a single RJ-45 LAN connector.
The board's chipset has a relatively small cooler on it, with a low profile so as to not interfere with expansion cards. Removing the stylized heatsink we find the AMD A75 chipset below, set at a 45-degree angle like AMD's current line of high-performance GPUs.
The Board - A Closer Look
Starting with the board's BIOS chip, we find it sitting in a user-replaceable socket, just under the red SATA ports. Just below that we find a handy dual-digit POST code display, which also serves to display CPU temperature once the POST process has completed.
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The STMicroelectronics VRM controller features an I2C interface, hinting at support for software adjustment once within the OS. As each phase is separately controlled, a series of LEDs just above the socket on the board's edge indicate load levels of each VRM phase, with the intensity of the LED showing load levels. We find the VRM composed of a standard hi/lo triple MOSFET design, with dual input drivers for the CPU phases, while the NB phase gets a slightly different configuration. The DIMM VRM is composed of a single phase, and while we'd prefer to see a more robust design, the low speed memory options available for the FM1 socket should not need anything more.
At this point, the Realtek ALC892 and RTL8111E are some of the most common components for audio and LAN, respectively, and their wide adoption in the market should ensure more than adequate functionality for all users.
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However, the RTM880N PLL controller is not something we see too commonly, an affordable solution from Realtek. The ITE8728F SuperI/O controller, on the other hand, we are more than familiar with, offering user adjustable fan profiles as well as standard voltage and monitoring options. The ASMedia ASM1445 allows automatic assignment of the DVI or HDMI port, switching the voltage levels of the output to the required voltage based on which interface is in use.
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Of course, that leaves us with the cooling. We must say, first of all, the stylized design was not something we expected from Biostar, and definitely makes for an impressive visual statement usually reserved for much more expensive products. The red/black vanity plates added to the heatsinks tie in very well with the red slots and black PCB, while also serving as an aid in convective airflow to help keep things cool. Upon close inspection, both heatsinks make full contact with vital components, and we noted that Biostar had the foresight to add in a couple of extra thermal pads to the VRM heatsink to ensure the input drivers are sufficiently cooled as well.
<th colspan="3">BIOS Options</th>
<th scope="col">Step Size</th>
<th scope="row">CPU BCLK:</th>
<td>100 MHz ... 300 MHz</td>
<th scope="row">PCI-E Frequency:</th>
<td>100 MHz ... 300 MHz</td>
<th scope="row">Memory Dividers:</th>
<td colspan="2"> x5.33 (1066 MHz), x6.66 (1333 MHz), <br />
x8 (1600 MHz), x9.33 (1866 MHz)</td>
<th scope="col">Step Size</th>
<th scope="row">CPU Voltage:</th>
<td>+0.00 V ... +1.45V</td>
<th scope="row">DRAM Voltage:</th>
<td>-0.40 ... +0.45 V</td>
<th scope="row">APU NB Voltage:</th>
<td>+0.00 V ...+ 0.20 V</td>
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Biostar has equipped the TA75A+ with a full UEFI BIOS, with the same layout that we saw in the TZ68A+. The main page has date and time settings, while the "Advanced" page features settings for devices and such normally found here, including PC health monitoring and SmartFan controls, which allows adjustment of only the CPU fan, but has a handy feature that will calibrate its slope according to the speed and type of fan used, something we've never seen before. Once complete it'll offer suggested settings, which can then be input into the appropriate areas. Nice!
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The "Chipset" page of the TA75A+ hold settings for the CPU's internal northbridge as well as the AMD A75 southbridge. We find a few critical options here, including enabling or disabling the onboard GPU.
The "Boot" and "Security" pages are pretty straight forward, containing options to select which device boots first, with a separate option for choosing HDD boot order. "Security" allows you to set passwords for BIOS access, and that's about it.
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Next up is the "meat" of the BIOS, the "O.N.E." page. Inside we find all the options for setting voltages, clock speeds, and memory timings, as well as a specific page for adjusting P-State values. The memory page allows setting timings for each channel individually, a nice thing that allows tweaking to the max. Settings for the memory controller itself are under their own heading, making the individual pages a bit less overwhelming, and easier to navigate.
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The "Memory Insight" page leads to an area that lists information from each stick's SPD table individually, something we've seen on a few other products that really goes a long way to making initial setup fairly painless. We do wish there was a bit more correlation between what you find here, and the settings on the DRAM timing page, but there's more than enough info to get things working perfectly. The "Exit" page has an area for saving BIOS profiles, an added bonus that we were quite glad to see.
Like the TZ68A+, the TA75A+ comes with a handy tool to report issues directly to Biostar, giving them all critical info about system configuration, and installed software. This can lead to quicker response time when issues do arise, so it's nice to see a bit of support like that provided with every board.
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For Windows overclocking, we find the Biostar standard, TOverclocker, which not only allows voltage and clock tweaking, but also listed CPU and memory information to confirm that the changes you make take effect. It's a little bit limited in what you can adjust, but that’s more of a platform issue than something Biostar can address directly. There's also a section for fan speed adjustments, which we found in the BIOS too, so while it's nice, it's just another bonus for those that need it.
There are a couple of other tools provided on the disc, but we found that we ran into the same issues as present on the TZ68A+ that prevented the software from functioning. We have again notified Biostar of the problem, and hope to see an updated version of the software soon.
<th colspan="2">Test System</th>
<td>AMD A8 3850<br />
2.9 GHz, 4 MB Cache</td>
<td>4 GB DDR3 (2x 2 GB) Mushkin 996826</td>
<td>Biostar TA75A+<br />
AMD A75, BIOS ver A75AH617.BST</td>
<th scope="row">Video Card:</th>
<td>Sapphire Radeon HD 6950 2 GB</td>
<td>Western Digital Caviar SE 16 WD5000AAKS 500GB SATA2<br />
Seagate Barracuda LP ST2000DL003 2TB SATA3<br />
iomega eGo BlackBelt 500GB USB3.0</td>
<th scope="row">Power Supply:</th>
<td>Test Bench<br /></td>
<td>Windows 7 64-bit, ATI Catalyst 11.7</td>
Initial setup of the Biostar TA75A+ was pretty easy, plus plug in your devices, APU, and memory, and away you go. Enabling AHCI in BIOS before Windows installation proved to provide no issues, nor a need for a driver disc, which definitely makes that process a bit easier. However, once we got into windows, we found performance to be far less than expected. After a bit of investigation, we found that our memory was operating at just 800 MHz, rather than the platforms maximum default, 1866 Mhz. We did attempt to boot at 1866 MHz but none of the kits we had on hand would work, stopping the POST process with "54" displayed on the dual-digit POST display. We were, however, able to boot at 1600 MHz, so we chose our 1600 MHz Mushkin kit to do our testing with. Of course, it's worth noting that all these memory kits work on other AMD-A75 based boards, so a BIOS update should fix this issue in the near future.
PWM Power Consumption
Since one of our first tasks was to truly verify system stability, while doing so, we measure CPU power consumption. We isolate the power coming through the 8-pin ATX connector using an in-line meter that provides voltage and current readings, as well as total wattage passed through it. While this may not prove to isolate the CPU power draw in all instances, it does serve as a good indicator of board efficiency and effective VRM design.
Although the numbers presented here don't tell us much for AMD APU based platforms just yet, we can see that AMD and Biostar have done a good job here keeping power at acceptable levels, both at idle and load, with the power drawn through the 4-pin CPU header topping out under 80 watts, thanks to the TA75A+ having a VRM that by default, automatically adjusts phase loading for maximum power savings.
CPU Performance Results
Super Pi serves as our memory-focused benchmark, being highly single-threaded. We see the low CPU speed and lack of L3 cache affect performance here a fair bit, but with it being a mainstream platform, this is of little consequence.
wPrime is much more CPU-focused, but memory plays its role as well. Again we see some of our lowest test results, but again, being a synthetic benchmark, the numbers don't always hold the truth.
A new addition to our motherboard benchmarking suite is the built-in benchmark that is part of the WinRAR software suite. WinRAR performance mirrors the results of the other benchmarks, being low compared to the other new platforms, but is hardly that bad that we immediately dismiss the platform.
We employed AIDA64's memory bench to highlight memory bandwidth. We isolate the write performance metric as it serves as a good indicator of overall memory performance. Here we see some of the improvements offered by AMD's new memory controller, offering significant improvements over the AM3 Phenom II chips.
Handbrake is used for encoding testing, where we perform a real-world test by encoding a video file to another format. Again we see some pretty low numbers, but again we see this of no importance, given the platform's intended market.
Cinebench showed low results in both the GPU and CPU tests, and we were a bit disappointed by GPU results, with the platform showing an effect on 3D performance. With the seemingly low default clockspeeds this is something that cannot be avoided, but for a mainstream platform, it's perfectly fine.
3D Performance Results
Once we completed our CPU test suite, we took some time to play some games with the TPU community to get an overall feel for gaming on the TA75A+. After a couple of days we settled in to complete our 3D benchmarking, feeling confident that the Biostar TA75A+ was going to put on a good show. Let's take a look at what numbers the board provided.
The Biostar TA75A+ put on pretty decent results here, allowing the platform to shine a bit.
Our first real-world 3D performance test comes in the form of Civilization 5, using the included benchmark. We let the game recommend us settings, and then disabled V-SYNC and AA to eliminate bottlenecks introduced by the GPU itself. Again, we find the Biostar TA75A+ hanging right along with the high performance products, just a few points below the other results.
Our second real-world 3D performance test comes from CodeMasters, in the form of the "F1 2010" included benchmark. We let the game recommend us settings, which included 8xAA with our newly added HD 6950 2 GB from Sapphire. Here we got a big surprise, with the TA75A+ and accompanying APU beating out the Phenom II and i5 760 results! Maybe there IS more to this platform than meets the eye!
Drive and Audio Performance Results
Our drive and audio testing differs a bit from the rest of our testing, for several reasons. First of all, when it comes to drive performance comparison, differences between the P55 and P67 chipsets do leave the P55 platform with a distinct disadvantage, such that we have excluded those results from our reporting. And finally, with audio, we do not list any numbers except for those reported by the product we are testing in order to provide the most information possible, as each audio CODEC will behave quite differently, and each board does not employ the same CODEC. As such, there is no standard we can use other than the numbers themselves. You can always check our other motherboard reviews in order to make direct comparisons to audio performance.
We've tested each drive interface separately, in order to provide the most complete numbers possible. Employing HDTune Pro for all of the testing, we tested each drive outside of the OS environment, using a separate OS on a separate drive, although we do use drives with a fair amount of data on them to simulate performance in real-world situations. For audio, we've changed how we report the numbers provided, using screenshots from the textual results that RMAA provides.
HDTune Pro (SATA2)
The Biostar TA75A+ gave fairly decent results on the SATA 2 front, within a couple of megabytes of all the other boards.
HDTune Pro (SATA 6 Gb/s)
SATA 6 Gb/s results were also pretty good, although a bit behind the other products we've tested.
HDTune Pro (USB3.0)
In USB 3.0 performance, the Biostar TA75A+ really shines, thanks to the AMD A75 chipset having a USB 3.0 controller built right inside.
RightMark Audio Analyzer
We ended up being surprised by the RightMark Audio results, considering the rest of the results weren't too spectacular. Here, once we had configured the driver properly, we got pretty good results, which we found reflected in what we heard while conducting our usage testing. Quite a few of the numbers are exactly where we expect them to be for a Realtek ALC899 chipset.
Overclocked proved to be fairly fruitless on the TA75A+. With PCIe tied into the CPU bus, going any higher than 109 MHz resulted in many issues that would lead to BSOD's, and the BIOS does not feature an internal divider that kicks in at 133 MHz on the CPU bus, like some other AMD A75 products, leading to very low overclocks. However, given the price of the board compared to those other products, we find this to be of very little issue, but it is a bit disappointing considering the last Biostar board we looked at, the TZ68A+, offered overclocks that mimicked what we saw on some of the much more expensive products. Hopefully future BIOS updates will allow for a bit more, but even if they don't, we still won't let this weigh in too heavily on the final score.
Overclocked Performance Summary
Only small gains are to be had while overclocking, speed-wise, so only modest gains are noticed in wPrime.
SuperPi shows the same as wPrime when overclocked...just a small boost.
Cinebench seems weighted like the synthetics, with the Biostar TA75A+ showing some gains, but not much overall.
CodeMasters' F1 2010, on the other hand, does show some significant gains, most likely due to the increase in CPU speed, but because stock numbers were more than adequate for good performance in this application, the results aren't such that we question the usefulness of overclocking with the Biostar TA75A+.
Value & Conclusion
<table width="100%" cellpadding="5" cellspacing="0" id="result">
<td>After playing with the Biostar TA75A+, we find it a mixed bag of results. The design is really good and efficient, and the color scheme offered is looking fantastically nice on an entry-level product, and a welcome surprise. However, with the early BIOS, and not being able to run 1866 MHz on our memories, our expectations were not met. AMD marks 1866 MHz memory clock speed as "stock" and the integrated graphics chip really needs high memory clocks to perform well. We did try lower memory clock frequencies, and they worked, but it is surprising for a retail product to not be able to meet the minimum requirements. We did try with several memory modules, using some of the most common memory ICs on the market, which many "budget" memory kits contain! With the Biostar TA75A+ not even being able to run stock with our multiple configurations, we're left with no other choice but to give it a significantly reduced score.<br />
The prevailing issues with software updates for the board's BIOS is a big issue, too, as is the yellow SATA cables shipped with a red/black/white board. The audio results are fine, and that probably saves a bit of face here for Biostar. All that said though, the hardware is well designed, but the software side is very underwhelming. Fortunately, software can easily be updated at any time. For running an APU with a discrete VGA like a HD 6670, with an add-in audio card, and maybe a drive controller, this board makes a fantastic base for a custom HTPC, modded window et al included. I could imagine the board being a decent workhorse for specific applications like office/productivity/web browsing and of course as media PC, but the lack of a working 1866MHz divider with some pretty common memory is going to affect performance a fair bit when a discrete VGA is not added. For enthusiast gaming and overclocking you best look elsewhere.</td></tr>
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