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Review of the budget motherboard Afox A520D4-MA-V2 microATX format based on the AMD A520 chipset

21.12.2023 07:58

We continue to explore available motherboards for popular processors, checking interest in various models from time to time. Despite the release of the 3xxx generation of processors from AMD and the corresponding 5xx series chipsets (X570, B550, A520) for a long time, the popularity of budget motherboards remains high. Even with the release of more modern models, older AM4-based models remain in demand.

Strictly speaking, the main difference between AMD X570, B550 and A520 system chipsets concerns PCIe 4.0 support. The X570 and B550 provide PCIe 4.0 support, while the A520 only works with PCIe 3.0. While Ryzen processors (3000 and 5000 series) have native PCIe 4.0 support and run the X570 and B550 at 4.0 speeds without issue, on motherboards with the A520 chipset the PCIe version is limited to 3.0. That is, the A520 operates entirely only at the PCIe 3.0 level.

The PCIe lanes provided by the chipsets run at 4.0 speeds in the X570, but only 3.0 in the B550 and A520. Also, the connection between the chipset and the Ryzen processor operates at PCIe 4.0 speed in the X570, while the B550 and A520 operate at PCIe 3.0 speed.

In addition to PCIe speed, the B550 and A520 have fewer PCIe lanes and fewer USB ports. Below is a table with the main differences.

Chipset comparison
Chipset modelX570B550A520
Communication between the processor and the chipsetPCIe 4.0 x4PCIe 3.0 x4PCIe 3.0 x4
PCIe version of processorPCIe 4.0PCIe 4.0PCIe 3.0
Distribution of PCIe lanes from the processor1x16 or 2x81x16 or 2x81x16
PCIe version by chipsetPCIe 4.0PCIe 3.0PCIe 3.0
Number of PCIe lanes from chipset16106
Number of preinstalled SATA ports from the chipset442
Number of USB 3.2 Gen2 ports per chipset821
Number of USB 3.2 Gen1 ports per chipset022
Number of USB 2.0 ports per chipset466
Overclocking supportYesYesNo

Please note that in addition to the USB ports provided by the chipsets, Ryzen 3xxx/5xxx processors also include native support for 4 USB 3.2 Gen2 ports. In addition, they have 4 PCIe 4.0 lanes (however, when used with the A520 chipset, the speed is reduced to 3.0) for the M.2 drive.

When comparing the A520 to the X570 and B550, it should be noted that the A520 is not only inferior in PCIe versions, but also does not support 16-lane separation from the processor.

In addition to lower cost, the B550 and A520 chipsets have another advantage over the X570: lower power consumption. This allows the use of relatively simple passive heatsinks on these chips on motherboards.

Now, moving from the characteristics of the chipsets to the consideration of a specific motherboard, today we have the Afox A520D4-MA-V2.

Afox A520D4-MA-V2 comes in a standard box. The kit is located under the board in a separate compartment.

The scope of delivery is minimal: in addition to the traditional SATA cable, there is a drive with software and a “plug” for the block of rear ports.

The software is supplied on a CD-type drive, however, during the board’s journey to the buyer, it still manages to become outdated, so you will have to update it from the manufacturer’s website immediately after purchase.

Form factor

The Mini-ITX form factor measures 170 x 170 mm, microATX up to 244 x 244 mm, ATX up to 305 x 244 mm, and E-ATX up to 305 x 330 mm. The Afox A520D4-MA-V2 motherboard is made in the microATX form factor, measures 244x220 mm, and has 6 mounting holes for installation in the case.

The reverse side is almost empty. The textolite is processed well: at all soldering points the sharp ends are cut off. The “plug” for the rear panel with connectors is included separately.

There is no protective plate (backplate).

Specifications

Traditional table with a list of functional features.

Supported processorsAMD Ryzen 3000/4000/5000 (unofficially — all Ryzen)
CPU socketAM4
ChipsetAMD A520
Memory4 × DDR4, up to 128 GB, up to DDR4-3200, two channels
Audio subsystem1 × Realtek ALC662 (5.1)
Network controllers1 × Realtek RTL8111 Ethernet 1.0 Gbps
Expansion slots1 × PCI Express 3.0 x16 (x16 mode)(CPU)
1 × PCI Express 3.0 x16 (x4 mode)(A520)
1 × PCI Express 3.0 x1 (A520)
Drive connectors2 × SATA 6 Gb/s (A520)
1 × M.2 (CPU, PCIe 3.0 x4/SATA for 2242/2260/2280 format devices)
USB ports4 × USB 2.0: 2 internal headers, each with 2 ports (A520)
2 × USB 3.2 Gen2: 2 Type-A ports (blue) on the rear panel (A520)
2 × USB 3.2 Gen1: 1 internal header with 2 ports (A520 )
2 × USB 3.2 Gen1: 4 Type-A ports (blue) on the rear panel (CPU)
Rear Connectors2 × USB 3.2 Gen1 (Type-A)
2 × USB 3.2 Gen2 (Type-A)
1 × RJ-45
3 mini-jack audio connectors
1 × HDMI 2.0b
1 × d-Sub (VGA)
1 × DVI-D
2 × PS /2
Other internal elements24-pin ATX power connector
1 8-pin EPS12V power connector
1 connector for connecting 2 USB 3.2 Gen1 ports
2 connectors for connecting 4 USB 2.0 ports
3 connectors for connecting 4-pin fans and pumps
1 COM port connector
1 CMOS reset connector
1 audio connector for the front panel of the case
2 connectors for connecting control from the front panel of the case
Form factormicroATX (244×220 mm)

Main functionality: chipset, processor, memory

Scheme of operation of the chipset + processor combination.

Ryzen 3000/5000 processors have a total of 24 I/O lines, including PCIe 4.0. Of these, 4 lanes (in the case of the A520 they switch to PCIe 3.0) are intended for communication with the A520 chipset. Another 16 lanes are used for PCIe video card slots. The remaining 4 lines can be configured by motherboard manufacturers for the following configurations:

  • Operation of one NVMe x4 drive (high-speed PCI-E 4.0)
  • Two SATA x1 ports + 1 NVMe x2 port
  • Two NVMe x2 ports

Ryzen 3000/5000 processors also include native support for 4 USB 3.2 Gen2 ports.

As for the A520 chipset, it has 12 PCIe 3.0 lanes. Of these, 4 are used to communicate with the CPU. There are 8 lines left, 2 of which are occupied by SATA ports. The remaining 6 lines can be freely configured.

The A520 supports 1 USB 3.2 Gen2, 2 USB 3.2 Gen1, and 6 USB 2.0 ports.

Thus, together with Ryzen 3000/5000, the A520 provides:

  • 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes for video cards (from the processor);
  • 4 PCIe 3.0 lanes from the processor + 6 PCIe 3.0 lanes from the chipset, which can be configured with different ports and slot options (depending on the motherboard manufacturer);
  • 2 SATA 6Gb/s ports (from the chipset);
  • 5 USB 3.2 Gen2 ports (4 from the processor, 1 from the chipset);
  • 2 USB 3.2 Gen1 ports (from the chipset);
  • 6 USB 2.0 ports (from the chipset).

As a result: 13 USB ports, 2 SATA ports, 10 free PCIe lanes.

Once again, we must remind you that the Afox motherboard supports AMD Ryzen processors of all generations, made for the AM4 socket (officially only Ryzen 3000/5000).

Once again, we must remind you that the Afox motherboard supports AMD Ryzen processors of all generations, made for the AM4 socket (officially only Ryzen 3000/5000).

The Afox board has 4 DIMM slots for installing memory modules. The board supports unbuffered DDR4 memory (non-ECC), and the maximum memory capacity is 128 GB. If you have two memory modules, it is recommended to install them in the DIMM2/4 slots (black).

The Afox board has 4 DIMM slots for installing memory modules. The board supports unbuffered DDR4 memory (non-ECC), and the maximum memory capacity is 128 GB. If you have two memory modules, it is recommended to install them in the DIMM2/4 slots (black).

The DIMM slots have a metal surround to protect them from damage and electromagnetic interference.

The DIMM slots have a metal surround to protect them from damage and electromagnetic interference.

Peripheral functionality: PCIe, SATA, various “baubles”

Above, we looked at the features of interaction between the A520 chipset and Ryzen processors in this motherboard. Let's take a closer look at how resources and functionality are distributed in this model.

The A520 chipset has 6 PCIe lanes and 2 SATA ports. Various board elements use these lines:

  • PCIe x1_1 slot (1 PCIe 3.0 lane);
  • PCIe x16_2 slot (4 PCIe 3.0 lanes);
  • Realtek RTL8111H (Ethernet 1.0Gb/s) (1 PCIe 3.0 line);
  • SATA 1/2 ports.

Thus, 8 HSIO (High-Speed I/O) were used.

Regarding the operation of processors in this configuration: the processor has 20 PCIe lanes, of which 4 PCIe 4.0 lanes (version 3.0 is used here) are directed to the M.2 port (M2_1). The remaining 16 PCIe 4.0 lanes (version 3.0 is used) go to a single PCIe x16_1 slot without switching options or using multiplexers.

Regarding PCIe slots in general: the board has 3 slots, one PCIe x16 (for video cards or other devices), a PCIe x16_2 slot and a PCIe x1 slot. The PCIe x16_1 slot connected to the CPU is excluded from the switching options. The other two slots, PCIe x16_2 and PCIe x1, are connected to the A520 chipset. The second PCIe x16_2 slot has only 4 PCIe 3.0 lanes.

It should also be noted that the first “processor” PCIe x16 slot has metal protection that prevents physical wear when frequently replacing the video card and protects against electromagnetic interference.

The motherboard allows you to mount a CO of any size.

Next up are storage devices.

In total, the board has 2 Serial ATA 6 Gb/s connectors + 1 slot for drives in the M.2 form factor.

SATA ports are implemented via the A520 chipset and support RAID creation.

The motherboard has 1 slot of the M.2 form factor, working with modules with any interface, supporting module sizes of 2242/2260/2280. It receives data from the CPU (PCIe 3.0)

The M.2_1 slot has no cooling.

Peripheral functionality: USB ports, network interfaces, I/O

Let us repeat: the A520 chipset is capable of implementing no more than 9 USB ports, of which there can be up to 2 USB 3.2 Gen1 ports, 1 USB 3.2 Gen2 port, up to 6 USB 2.0 ports.

We also remember about 6 PCIe lines (+ 2 SATA), which are used to support drives, network and other controllers (I have already shown above what and how 8 out of 8 lines are spent).

So what do we have? There are a total of 10 USB ports on the motherboard:

  • 2 USB 3.2 Gen2 ports: implemented via the CPU and presented on the rear panel with 2 Type-A ports (blue);
  • 4 USB 3.2 Gen1 ports: 2 are implemented via the CPU and are represented on the rear panel by 2 Type-A ports (blue); two more are implemented via the A520 and are represented by an internal connector on the motherboard for 2 ports;
  • 4 USB 2.0/1.1 ports: all implemented via the A520 and represented by two internal connectors on the motherboard (each with 2 ports).

So, 2 dedicated USB 3.2 Gen1 are implemented via the A520 chipset (another 2 Gen1 and 2 USB 3.2 Gen2 are implemented via the CPU).

= 2 high speed ports. Plus 4 dedicated USB 2.0 ports. A total of 6 USB ports are implemented via the A520.

Well, 8 HSIO (PCIe lines and SATA ports) allocated to support other peripherals.

Now about networking matters.

The motherboard is equipped with modest means of communication. There is a Realtek RTL8111 Ethernet controller capable of operating according to the 1.0 Gbit/s standard.

There is no wireless network adapter, and there is also no M.2 (E-key) slot for such devices.

The plug, traditionally placed on the back panel, is supplied separately in the kit.

Audio subsystem

We know that in almost all modern motherboards the audio codec is a product from Realtek, providing audio output at circuits up to 7.1, most recently this has become the ALC4080 with 32-bit / 384 kHz characteristics. Before that, for several years we saw the ALC1220 with simpler characteristics. However, in this case, a very old Realtek ALC662 (5.1) is used.

The audio subsystem is simple: there are no operational amplifiers, no DACs, no “audiophile” capacitors.

The audio path is placed on the corner part of the board and does not intersect with other elements. All audio connectors on the rear panel have the usual color scheme.

S/PDIF is missing.

Power, cooling

To power the board, it has 2 connectors: in addition to the 24-pin ATX, there is also an 8-pin EPS12V.

To power the board, it has 2 connectors: in addition to the 24-pin ATX, there is also an 8-pin EPS12V.

The processor power supply circuit is made according to a 4+1+1 scheme (6 phases in total, 4 on VCore, 1 on SoC and 1 on the graphics core).

The processor power supply circuit is made according to a 4+1+1 scheme (6 phases in total, 4 on VCore, 1 on SoC and 1 on the graphics core).

Each phase channel has a superferrite choke and a set of SM4377/4522 field-effect transistors from Sinopower (up to 50A).

Each phase channel has a superferrite choke and a set of SM4377/4522 field-effect transistors from Sinopower (up to 50A).

The power circuit is controlled by a 6-phase PWM controller Richtek RT3667.

The power circuit is controlled by a 6-phase PWM controller Richtek RT3667.

The power supply for RAM modules has a single-phase circuit.

The power supply for RAM modules has a single-phase circuit.

Now about cooling. It's banal.

The cooling has an A520 chipset and a VRM unit with VCore power phases.

The cooling has an A520 chipset and a VRM unit with VCore power phases.

The remaining VRM power phases, as well as the M.2 slot, do not have cooling.

The remaining VRM power phases, as well as the M.2 slot, do not have cooling.

Backlight

The board has neither built-in backlight nor connectors for connecting external backlight.

Windows software

The manufacturer does not provide its own software.

BIOS Settings

For such low-budget boards, the company uses very simple BIOS/UEFI versions in terms of interface, which do not have the ability to save screenshots, so we will not be able to show all the settings clearly.

To enter the settings when booting the PC, you traditionally need to press the Del or F2 key. We get to the main menu. There is the usual and probably the most basic set of options for managing peripherals (settings for the operation of PCIe, SATA, M.2 slots, USB ports), as well as parameters for the operation of the system chipset itself, etc.

In the monitoring section you can configure the operation of the fan slots.

For obvious reasons, there is no range of overclocking options here.

Performance (and overclocking)

We start everything in default mode. Then we load it with stress tests.

It is clearly seen that, despite the relative weakness of the board’s power supply, we were able to easily auto-overclock the Ryzen 5 Pro 4350 to 4.1 GHz across all cores. And this is under a stressful test load, which practically never happens in life. Of course, the increase from 3.7 GHz to 4.1 GHz will seem to some to be an insignificant increase in frequency, but I would like to emphasize that we are dealing with one of the simplest motherboards available today! For its price this is a very good indicator! And, by the way, the heating of the VRM was still normal, considering that not all power converters had cooling.

Conclusions

Afox A520D4-MA-V2 motherboard is designed for those who are looking for an affordable solution for creating an inexpensive computer. This microATX model provides enough power to moderately overclock mid-range processors, providing an automatic overclocking option without the need for user intervention.

This board has 10 USB ports, including 4 USB 3.2 Gen1 ports and 2 USB 3.2 Gen2 ports. To install a video card, one PCIe 3.0 x16 slot is provided, and there are also PCIe 3.0 x1 and PCIe 3.0 x4 slots. For drives, 1 M.2 slot is available (connected directly to the processor via PCIe 3.0 lines) and 2 SATA ports. There is only one 1 Gbps network controller on board, but there is no M.2 slot for installing an additional wireless controller. There are no options for board lighting.