The MSI A88XM GAMING is an expensive motherboard compatible with AMD’s FM2+ and FM2 processors from the A-series and Athlon lines. It’s a microATX board, so it should fit into more compact gaming PC builds. Despite its small stature, it’s been intelligently designed and is easy to work with.
This is partly thanks to the board’s relatively large size. Some cheaper microATX boards cut costs by squeezing components into a smaller space, but MSI has taken full advantage of the microATX specification and filled the 244x244mm surface with a generous array of ports and connectors. There’s four DDR3 RAM slots rated for a maximum speed of 2400MHz and a maximum capacity of 32GB, so there’s plenty of room for future expansion if you don’t need that much memory right now.
High-speed USB3 devices are served by four ports at the rear of the board and a further header for connecting up case ports, plus two USB ports at the back and six mid-board headers for the chassis. Six 3.5mm audio jacks are present, and the addition of an optical audio output will appeal to those with high-end audio hardware. You also get a Killer LAN port, which is claimed to prioritise gaming network traffic over other network activity, although we can’t verify this through testing. There are a whopping eight SATA3 connectors, so you’ll have no issues connecting all the storage devices you need.
There are two PCI-E connectors on the board, with one running at x16 speeds and the other at x8. Together they support Nvidia SLI and AMD CrossFireX dual-GPU setups. If you’re trying to cut down costs, however, you may choose not to install a graphics card and instead use the powerful onboard graphics of your FM2+ processor, if you have one. If you do use the onboard graphics, you have the choice of VGA, HDMI, DVI and DisplayPort outputs on the rear of the board. The DisplayPort and HDMI connectors can output at Ultra HD resolutions, although only at a jerky 24Hz.
We tested the onboard Radeon R7 graphics capabilities of our FM2+ benchmark processor, the AMD Kaveri A10-7850K. It managed substantially better results than the Intel HD Graphics 4600 found on our benchmark Intel i5-4670K: 49.9fps in the Dirt Showdown 720p trumped Intel’s usual 27.8fps. AMD recommends you use its Radeon RAM for optimum gaming performance, so we fitted a 2400MHz R9 set of RAM and re-ran the benchmark. It improved frame rates by more than 10%, producing 55.3fps in the Dirt Showdown test. If your budget is tight and you’re not going to be playing particularly challenging games on your PC, this board and a decent AMD Kaveri processor will easily suffice.
Processor performance was in line with what we’d expected from the chip, with the A10-7850K managing an overall score of 57 at base clock speeds. Using MSI’s OC Genie tool, found in the UEFI BIOS, we upped its speed to 4.4GHz, but with a stock AMD heatsink and fan we weren’t able to run our benchmarks without running into overheating problems and subsequent instabilities. Overclocking is encouraged on the A88XM GAMING motherboard, but you’ll need know-how and the right equipment to do it safely.
With generous connectivity and potential for future expansion, the MSI A88XM is a great choice for gamers who play less graphically intensive games such as RTS and MOBA titles. You could feasibly build a competent system with this board and a decent AMD Kaveri processor for under £400, which is certainly not to be sniffed at.