Articles: Mainboards

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AMD has finally launched the long and impatiently anticipated new processors, which we have already reviewed in detail in our article called Bulldozer Has Arrived: AMD FX-8150 Processor Review. Therefore, it is the right time to start checking out new mainboards for AMD3+ processors. In fact, this part of the new platform – the 9xx-series chipset and mainboards based on it – have long been selling in stores and online, since summer to be more exact. The launch of AM3+ processors has been postponed several times, which led to a gap between the availability of mainboards and processors for them. However, it didn’t prevent the new mainboards from selling quite well, because they also support the previous-generation AM3 processors, too. However, they couldn’t really benefit from the new mainboards in any way, because the functionality of the 9th-series chipsets is pretty much identical to that of the 8th-series ones. The only difference of the new chipset family was a few new power management functions specific for AM3+ processors. Taking into account what we have just said, the opposite should also be true: the new processors should, theoretically, be able to work just fine in old mainboards if the mainboard makers release the corresponding BIOS updates for them. However, it is not recommended, specifically because the old chipsets do not fully support all features of the new processors. Therefore, Asus and Gigabyte decided not to implement Bulldozer support in their old mainboards and only ASRock and MSI are going to have it.

The functionality of the new AMD 9xx-series chipsets is practically identical. The only major differences are the number of available PCI Express 2.0 lanes and the way each mainboard shares them. The junior chipset in the lineup, AMD 970, supports only one graphics card working at PCI Express 2.0 x16 speed. If necessary, the manufacturers can use several PCI-E 2.0 lanes in the AMD SB950 South Bridge for the second graphics card. However, it is much easier to use an AMD 990X chipset instead, as it can also have a single graphics card work at the full PCI-E 2.0 x16 speed, but at the same time can split the 16 PCI-E lanes between the two connectors. The top AMD 990FX chipset boasts the most extensive functionality in this aspect, because it can have two graphics cards work at PCI-E 2.0 x16 speed at the same time, or four graphics cards work at x8 speed.

Although we use only one graphics card in our testbed and theoretically could be just fine with an AMD 970 based mainboard, we start our review series dedicated to products on 9xx chipsets with three solutions based on the top AMD 990FX core logic set. The entry- and mainstream level mainboards should be not only functional, but also inexpensive. For this reason they may often feature simplified design, lose some of their functionality, and therefore cannot fully uncover the potential of the new platform. Only the flagship mainboards boast maximum functionality accompanied by a number of unique proprietary features and technologies. Therefore it makes more sense to start reviewing new mainboards with the top models in the family, even though their price is often very high and their functionality is in most cases excessive for the majority of users out there.

Today we are going to talk about three Socket AM3+ mainboards based on a combination of AMD 990FX North Bridge and AMD SB950 South Bridge from the leading mainboard makers. They are Asus Crosshair V Formula, Gigabyte GA-990FXA-UD7 and MSI 990FXA-GD80. We will check out their packaging and accessories, design and functionality, BIOS options, overclocking potential, performance and power consumption.

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