Articles: Mainboards
 

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This summer we posted our roundup of Socket AM3 mainboards from the leading mainboard makers, such as ASRock, Asus, Biostar, Gigabyte and MSI. All mainboards were based on the latest chipset consisting of an AMD 890FX North Bridge and SB850 South Bridge. A little earlier we studied the features and functionality of two flagship mainboards from Asus and Gigabyte based on the same chipset. The chipset proved to be really good, and so did most of the tested mainboards. However, the price of these products being around $200 or even higher seems to be way too much. As a result, the overall platform cost doesn’t allow it to compete successfully against an alternative built with an Intel CPU and chipset. However, you really need an AMD 980FX based mainboard only if you are going to use multiple graphics accelerators in a CrossFire configuration: two graphics cards working at full PCI Express 2.0 x16 speed, or four graphics cards working at x8 speed. If you do not have anything like that in mind, then you should be more than happy with an AMD 870 based mainboard, as it will offer the same basic features, but at only half the price! A contemporary multi-functional mainboard for only $100 – could you dream of anything better than that? Today we are going to introduce to you several mainboards like that.

Asus M4A87TD EVO

Asus M4A87TD EVO mainboard is a pretty typical example of an AMD 870 based product. All other mainboards, which we are going to discuss in this roundup, will look almost the same with the exception of two things. One – is the layout for the two memory channels on this mainboard is designed in such a way that the modules will alternate just like on Intel mainboards. On all other boards the memory slots related to the same channel are placed in pairs, close to one another. The second exception is connected with the ATX12V power connector, which is a 4-pin one and not 8-pin like on most mainboards. However, it doesn’t prevent the mainboard from supporting any contemporary AMD Socket AM3 processors with up to 140 W TDP and up to 16 GB of system memory. It is exactly the same as by all other mainboards participating in our today’s roundup.

Just like on other mainboards, there is no additional heatsink over the processor voltage regulator components, despite pretty significant temperature increase under heavy load. There is a heatsink on top of the chipset North Bridge, but it also runs very hot without any additional heatsinks or heatpipes. We used an additional 80 mm fan to cool this area on all boards during our test session. Even a slight additional airflow is more than enough to bring the thermal conditions in this area back to normal.

Asus M4A87TD EVO mainboard is equipped with two PCI Express x16 graphics card slots that work as x16/x4 and belong to the second generation of PCI-E. Moreover, there is one PCI Express 2.0 x1 and three PCI slots for expansion cards. AMD SB 850 South Bridge provides support for six SATA 6 Gbps ports and the additional JMicron JMB361 controller delivers PATA and eSATA support. As for Asus’ exclusive peculiarities, we should point out the “MemOK!” button and “Core Unlocker” switch.

There are the following ports and connectors on the back panel:

  • PS/2 connectors for keyboard and mouse;
  • Optical S/PDIF and six analogue audio-jacks implemented via eight-channel VIA VT1818 codec;
  • IEEE1394 (FireWire) port implemented with VIA VT6308P controller, the second port is available as an onboard pin-connector;
  • eSATA 3 Gbps port delivered by JMicron JMB361 controller;
  • Eight USB ports including a pair of USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors) implemented via NEC D720200F1 controller, another six ports are laid out as onboard pin-connectors;
  • Local network port (network adapter uses Realtek RTL8111E controller).

In nominal mode the board worked flawlessly, but during even the slightest overclocking that doesn’t require any voltage increase, the system didn’t report any errors, but simply shut down. Anyone can be unlucky with the board, but the second Asus M4A87TD EVO sample and even the third one we got behaved exactly the same! Replacing the memory modules didn’t really help the situation, and replacing the power supply unit did eliminate these shut-downs. However, it didn’t have any effect on overclocking: instead of shutting down the system would throw at us BSODs and error messages.

We managed to overclock our test AMD Phenom II X6 1090T Black Edition processor from the nominal 3.2 GHz to 4.1 GHz on AMD 890FX mainboards. However, we have slightly overestimated its potential, to be more exact, the potential of Scythe Mugen 2 CPU cooler we were using for our tests. During the hot summer days we occasionally got single error encounters during our stability tests, that disappeared once AC kicked in. We performed our tests in an open testbed, however, in closed system cases the temperature is always above 30°C, so we decided to lower our overclocking to 4.0 GHz, to make sure that we get closer to what the users will be able to obtain in real life situations. Unfortunately, as we will see later on in this roundup, even this “light” overclocking turned out too much some of the mainboards in our roundup could handle. However, all errors disappeared immediately, once the CPU clock speed dropped to 3.9 GHz. After that all we had to do was find the minimal voltage for stable operation at this frequency.

Asus M4A87TD EVO mainboard behaved completely different. Errors and blue screens kept popping up at 3.9 GHz frequency, 3.8 GHz and even 3.7 GHz. Only when the CPU clock lowered to 3.6 GHz, our system successfully passed the stability tests.

I have to say that in-between several failed attempts to test our Asus M4A87TD EVO mainboard samples we successfully overclocked our CPU on other mainboards with all other system components being exactly the same and no PSU replacement. In particular, we experienced no issues of any kind when we overclocked our processor on Asus M4A89TD Pro/USB3 based on AMD 890FX chipset. It easily overclocked our CPU to the targeted 4 GHz.

The results obtained during performance and power consumption tests run on this mainboard will be used to compare the results of AMD 890FX and AMD 870 based products. As for Asus M4A87TD EVO, we will only be able to assess its performance with the CPU overclocked only to 3.6 GHz. As for power consumption tests, it will not participate in them at all, because this low overclocking was only possible after we had replaced the PSU.

 
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