Articles: Mainboards

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This is one of the most technically advanced products in this roundup. You can take any feature of a competitor mainboard, and you will find a similar feature in MSI 890FXA-GD70, enhanced with a number of exclusive innovations. First off, the company is very proud of the high quality of electronic components used on this product. Calling them military-class components, MSI emphasizes their durability, power-efficiency and reliability. The mainboard is cooled by a massive heatsink that covers the chipset North Bridge and the CPU voltage regulator components. It is connected to a small South Bridge heatsink with a heat pipe.

There are five graphics slots on this mainboard. Four of them share their PCI Express 2.0 lanes in pairs. That is, two graphics cards will both work in full-speed PCI Express 2.0 x16 mode, but four cards will have to work in x8/x8/x8/x8 mode. The fifth slot is always PCI Express 2.0 x4. Memory slots with a latch on one side were first implemented on ASUS mainboards, but now you can see them on this MSI model. Gigabyte began to paint labels not only next to the connectors and slots but also inside them, and now MSI products have such handy labels, too. Some time ago ASUS and Gigabyte argued who was the first to implement the dynamic adjustment of the number of active CPU voltage regulator phases depending on load, and whose implementation was better, but MSI is the first to offer a BIOS option to turn such technology on and off without using special-purpose utilities. The current level of load is indicated by a line of LEDs. Besides, you can enable the power-saving Green Power technology by pressing a special button, without even entering the BIOS.

As for the buttons, they seem to be not installed but only labeled. There is only an OC Dial that can be used to increase or lower the base clock rate “on the fly”.


However, the mainboard does have buttons. They are touch-sensitive. As it is not possible to see if such a button is pressed down or not, there is a LED next to each that shines when the appropriate feature is enabled. The single “real” button on MSI 890FXA-GD70 is Clear CMOS; you can find it on the back panel. Besides, the mainboard back panel offers PS/2 connectors for keyboard and mouse, coaxial and optical S/PDIF ports, and six analog audio jacks supported by an eight-channel Realtek ALC889 codec. The combined eSATA/USB 3 Gbps port on the back panel is supported by a JMicron JMB363 controller which is also responsible for PATA and an onboard SATA 3 Gbps port. There are eight USB connectors including the combination eSATA/USB and a couple of USB 3.0 ones (blue) provided by a NEC D720200F1 controller. Six more USB ports can be connected to the three onboard pin-headers. The mainboard also features two LAN connectors based on Gigabit Ethernet Realtek RTL8111DL controllers.

There are also IEEE1394 (FireWire) pin-connectors on board, based on a VIA VT6315N controller, a POST code indicator and control spots to measure the CPU, memory and chipset voltages. The control spots are placed in different locations so as to reduce inaccuracies since the voltages are measured near those places where they are actually applied. The pins for the buttons and indicators of a system case are not color-coded, but that’s not a problem as the mainboard comes with a set of M-Connectors.

The mainboard’s BIOS offers all overclocking and fine-tuning settings you may want. All of them are in the “Cell Menu” section whereas in some other mainboards CPU-related parameters can only be found in the “Advanced BIOS Features” section, which is not convenient. The “OC Genie” function for automatic overclocking may be useful for inexperienced users. The “OC Stepping” technology can help avoid problems as you are starting up your overclocked computer: the mainboard starts up at a specified base frequency, which is lower than desired, and after the OS has booted up, it begins to increase the frequency to the desired level using a user-defined increment. The OC Dial feature we’ve mentioned above can increase or decrease the base clock rate “on the fly” with a specified increment. There is also a BIOS option for turning on and off the Active Phase Switching (APS), which is the dynamic regulation of the number of active CPU voltage regulator phases depending on load. The mainboard can save profiles with BIOS settings. The integrated BIOS update system called M-Flash is not very handy and used to be rather unreliable. The “BIOS Setting Password” section allows you not only to specify an ordinary password, but also turn a flash drive into an access key to your computer.

The mainboard’s BIOS reports a lot of information including the list of technologies supported by the CPU and the timings written into the memory modules’ SPD. And it was with the memory that we had some problems. It was not very convenient to specify the memory timings manually because we had to do that two times for each channel independently. Besides, we found at first that the TRAS parameter could only be set at Auto.

We were ready to benchmark this mainboard with memory settings different from those of the other mainboards in this roundup, but took another look at that parameter. It turned out that we could change it manually, just like any other, but the values were hidden before Auto.

The mainboard easily overclocked our test CPU to its maximum of 4.1 GHz.

We guess you have appreciated the rich functionality of MSI 890FXA-GD70 mainboard. It offers everything you can find in the other mainboards and adds a number of unique features of its own such as OC Dial, OC Stepping, U-Key (using a flash drive as an access key), and touch-sensitive sensor buttons. Its good specs, stable operation in nominal mode and easy overclocking (including OC Genie which is going to help inexperienced users) make this mainboard one of the best offers available. It is not without downsides, but every mainboard has them. And some of the above-described models have much more deficiencies than MSI 890FXA-GD70.

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