Articles: Mainboards

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Like the two mainboards discussed above, MSI 990FXA-GD80 also comes in a box with a flip-open front cover. However, it is not secured with any Velcro stickers and just hangs there freely. Besides, there is no clear window beneath it, which could reveal part of the mainboard inside. Despite this fact, you can still get a basic idea of the mainboard from a large photograph with all major features and advantages listed next to it.

There are no additional boxes inside: only a thin sheet of cardboard separates the mainboard from numerous accessories:

  • Six SATA cables with L-shaped metal connector locks;
  • Two power-adapters for SATA drives;
  • Three flexible bridges for SLI graphics configurations;
  • Additional rear panel bracket with two USB 3.0 ports;
  • I/O Shield for the back panel;
  • “M-Connector” block including modules for easy connection of the system case front panel buttons and indicators, audio, IEEE1394 and USB 2.0 ports;
  • Reliability certificate indicating the components testing procedures;
  • User manual;
  • A booklet on proprietary software;
  • Individual guide about HDD Backup tool;
  • Colorful poster with mainboard connector layout;
  • A booklet with brief assembly instructions;
  • DVD disk with software and drivers.

Although all three mainboards are similar, the layout of the MSI board differs from the other two. Asus and Gigabyte mainboards have their chipset North Bridge shifted towards the back panel and is practically on the same level as the processor voltage regulator. However, when we take the MSI 990FXA-GD80 mainboards, we see that it is, in fact, in the center of the PCB.

For their processor voltage regulator circuitry MSI uses very high-quality “Military Class II” components, including long-lasting solid-state capacitors, Super Ferrite Chokes with lower operational temperatures and tantalum Hi-c CAPs. From now on they not just give you their word that all the components are of exceptional quality, but also include a special certificate documenting that. The APS (Active Phase Switching) technology allows the mainboard to change the number of active voltage regulator phases dynamically depending on the current CPU utilization and it will be reflected by the row of CPU Phase LEDs. All VRM components that heat up substantially during work are topped with an additional heatsink connected via a heatpipe with the heatsink on the chipset North Bridge. All heatsinks are fastened to the PCB with screws. The connectors for the expansion cards are exactly the same as the ones on Asus mainboard. You can have one or two graphics cards working at full PCI Express 2.0 x16 speed, or three graphics cards working as x16/x8/x8. The fourth connector only has four PCI-E 2.0 lanes available through chipset South Bridge.

The somewhat sloppily made components layout reveals a few unique peculiarities of the MSI 990FXA-GD80 mainboard. Among them are the availability of a COM port and a “horizontal” USB 3.0 connector. The board is equipped with a POST-code indicator, Power On and Reset buttons, and OC Genie button for immediate overclocking. There are no additional drive controllers on the mainboard besides the old JMicron JMB362, which provides support for 3 Gbps eSATA/USB Combo ports on the back panel.

On the back panel of MSI 990FXA-GD80 mainboard you will find the following ports and connectors:

  • PS/2 connectors for keyboard and mouse;
  • Clear CMOS button;
  • Optical and coaxial S/PDIF, and six analogue audio-jacks provided by eight-channel Realtek ALC892 codec;
  • Six USB 2.0 ports (including eSATA/USB Combo), four more USB ports are available as two onboard pin-connectors;
  • IEEE1394 (FireWire) port implemented via VIA VT6315N controller, the second port is available as an onboard pin-connector;
  • Two 3 Gbps eSATA/USB Combo ports implemented via JMicron JMB362 controller;
  • Two USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors) implemented via Renesas (NEC) D720200F1 controller, the second controller like that provides support for two more USB 3.0 ports;
  • Local network port (network adapter is built on Gigabit Realtek RTL8111E controller).

The new processors are supported starting from the BIOS version 11.5 dated September 19, 2011. Unfortunately, unlike two other mainboards discussed today, there was no updated BIOS with AGESA support available on the Micro-Star’s company web-site not only at the time of tests, but even after that, when I was finalizing the article. However, MSI Click BIOS II was pretty convenient to work with and informative.

The “OC” section is one of the largest sections in terms of the number of settings available in it. it contains all options related to overclocking and system fine-tuning. Plus there is the whole bunch of informational parameters reporting the current system status.

It was great to see that there was “HPC Mode” option in the “CPU Features” sub-section. It will prevent the processor clock frequency from dropping to 3.3 GHz under heavy load. However, we were a little upset to see that C1E was disabled by default.

Micro-Star mentions their “OC Genie II” function providing immediate system overclocking as one of their mainboards’ advantages. This technology may be used from the BIOS by selecting the corresponding option or simply by pressing the “OC Genie” button on the mainboard itself. In my opinion, there is nothing supremely unique about being able to lock the CPU frequency at 4 GHz by lowering the memory clock, increasing the voltages and disabling all power-saving technologies at the same time.

During regular overclocking we could only increase the CPU frequency to a relatively low value of 4.3 GHz, because the mainboard was unable to maintain stability at anything higher than that. As for the memory, all latest Micro-Star mainboards didn’t disappoint us and kept the system memory fully operational and stable at 1866 MHz.

Unlike MSI mainboards for Intel processors, all power-saving technologies on MSI 990FXA-GD80 continue working even if you overclock the CPU by changing the voltages. Therefore, in idle mode the processor Vcore and clock multiplier will both be reduced.

Unlike Gigabyte’s mainboard, MSI reports the current CPU and memory frequency during system startup:

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