Loading...
 

No Food for Thought

ASUS F2A85-M

admin Tuesday May 6, 2014

Last month I bought my first desktop in a decade. Ordering and getting the parts from DirectCanada was already an experience. I expected some surprises as this was my first SATA PC, my first SSD and my first APU. Assembling was fairly uneventful. The parts are:

AMD A10-5700 APU Quad Core Processor Socket FM2 3.4GHZ 4MB 65W Retail Box$128.56
ASUS F2A85-M/CSM mATX FM2 85X FCH DDR3 2PCI-E16 1PCI-E1 1PCI SATA3 DVI HDMI USB3.0 Motherboard$93.75
Samsung 840 Series 120GB 2.5in SATA3 MDX Solid State Disk Flash Drive SSD$99.37
ASUS DRW-24B1ST 24X SATA DVD Writer OEM Black$17.79
Corsair Vengeance CML8GX3M1A1600C10 Low Profile Heatspreader 8GB DDR3-1600 CL10 Single Memory Module$55.33
Corsair CX Series CX430 430W ATX 12V 80 Plus Bronze Power Supply 120mm Fan$42.06


The ASUS F2A85-M/CSM uses a RTL8111F/8168 Ethernet controller and a Realtek ALC887 HDA chip. The A10-5700 uses a Radeon HD 7660D (Northern Islands series).

The first surprise was realizing my HDDs wouldn't fit on the motherboard - there's no IDE on the F2A85-M. Oops :-/

On the first boot, I wondered whether I had forgotten to plug in a fan. But no, the PC was just really quiet. Of course, I don't have any extension card, not even a graphics card, so I just have 3 fans (the PSU's, my case's old 120 mm fan and the CPU's). Even though I use the stock CPU fan, it's generally very silent. Good thing I bought the 65 W A10-5700 rather than the 100 W A10-5800K. The most noisy component was the 120 mm fan, which I set to medium speed. Now the PC is a quite a bit more quiet than I expected (i.e. very quiet). No HDD helps, but this is very satisfying considering that I didn't choose any part specifically to obtain a silent PC. Even with the 4 cores stressed, the PC remains silent.

BIOS-es surely evolved a lot in 10 years. The F2A85-M's BIOS is impressive. The only problem is it wouldn't detect my SSD. It turned out that one of my SATA cables has a partial defect. One of its connectors sometimes fails to connect, even if it is clipped. The other connectors don't have this problem. ASUS is not very generous in its F2A85-M accessories - with only 2 SATA cables, having a faulty one is a little annoying. But well, it may be an isolated case. All I have to do is to push on the connector when I plug it - and avoid touching the cable after.

At this point, I installed Windows 8. That was easy, almost completely bug-free. The driver disc from ASUS is cumbersome (basically forces you to install all of them), but since no extra drivers are needed, this is not a big deal.

With so few problems up to that point, it was time to get to the real thing - Debian. I installed Wheezy (then testing). The install went without issues (see #708019 for details). Even though the installer says the Ethernet card requires non-free firmware, it does not.

The real challenge started when I first booted Debian. Boot messages were horrific and GNOME (installed by error) was unusable. When I got to a tty, I realized there was a pulseaudio/Linux bug. I upgraded to experimental's Linux 3.8 and everything was fixed. You won't want a pure Debian wheezy on an F2A85-M. I don't know when the Linux bug was fixed, but other F2A85-M users should get a Linux version higher than 3.2, perhaps as high as 3.8.

With 3.8, the boot got quiet and GNOME got usable, but the screen resolution remained poor, since X used the generic vesa video driver. As I found out, current Radeon cards require (non-free) firmware to be installed to run with the radeon X driver. After installing firmware-linux-nonfree and rebooting, X automatically chose the radeon driver, which has been working as well as it ever did since. I'm curious to try with a newer radeon driver and mesa, but I already get decent 3D acceleration with the stock driver. Nothing great, but Neverball has fair fluidity. I tested a bit on Windows, and it seems the GPU itself is quite limited, more than I expected. I may decide to buy a graphics card if I want to actually play 3D games.

With the basics right, I went to install Flash and Java support. Java turned out to be already supported - yay! As for Flash, there is a Flash player in development by default, but I opted to install Adobe Flash Player. There were some sound problems remaining. The hardest one caused the Adobe Flash Player plugin for Iceweasel to be quiet, while sound worked everywhere else. I eventually found out that the default sound card is by default an HDMI sound card! Which is apparently not supported in Wheezy (even with radeon.audio=1). For some reason, KDE doesn't use that one, but Adobe Flash Player only tries it and speaker-test uses it too (see #709106).

If you have the same problem and wonder if the cause is the same, you can test by reloading the snd_hda_intel module with a parameter:

modprobe snd_hda_intel index=1,0

The more difficult part is to unload the module so you can [re]load it.

If that works, the permanent workaround I used should work for you, i.e. making the motherboard's card the permanent default by creating an /etc/asound.conf with the following content:

defaults.pcm.card 1


With Debian 9 (Linux 4.9), HDMI audio is now supported.

Sensors

The basics working fine, I tested the components. The motherboard has a sensor, which can be read in the BIOS. The motherboard uses ITE's IT8603E chip, even though ITE does not even acknowledge that chip's existence. As for ASUS, it doesn't even say the F2A85-M uses the IT8603E. But Linux supports it8603 from version 3.14 (Debian 8). Unfortunately, the CPU's temperature is not clear. The it87 module reports a temp1 around 40, which looks like the CPU temperature reported by the BIOS. But CPUID HWMonitor shows a "Package" temperature around 47-62 °C usually, 87 maximum (under Stress testing), as of version 1.34, and, after upgrading to 1.40, between 0 and 37 °C, which is definitely broken, as the PC is inside. Version 1.40 also has a "Cores" reading between 49 and 86 °C, which seems to match version 1.34's Package reading. And, its "CPU" reading varies between 30 and 52 °C. Core Temp, for its part, indicates completely ridiculous temperatures (version 1.11 and 1.14, 2019-07-11). As for the k10temp module, it reports a broken temperature between 0 and 23 degrees. Good luck...

Conclusion

I won't order from DirectCanada again. As for my choice of parts, I do not really regret my choice, but I was expecting better from ASUS, in particular due to the missing specifications of the CPU thermometer. I'm very happy with the silence. The non-free firmware needed by the Radeon HD 7660D is a disappointment.

To summarize, it's easy to get most of the F2A85-M working almost completely on GNU/Linux once you know the issues. From a stock install, you need to:

  • Install firmware for the Radeon HD (previously firmware-linux-nonfree, now firmware-amd-graphics).
  • If you install an old distribution, upgrade to a recent Linux version. Good news: since my install, Linux 4.19+ is now in Debian stable.


After this, everything but sensors should work: USB, SATA, audio output, Ethernet, graphics, ODD writing. Untested: audio recording, eSATA. See the Debian HCL for more details on the devices.

Even though this is a blog post, I'll try to keep this state of things up-to-date, perhaps via comments. Comments from other users are also welcome.