We have already tested over half a dozen mainboards for AMD’s new Bulldozer processors. Coming from different developers, they are all top-of-the-line products featuring the most advanced Socket AM3+ chipset: AMD 990FX + AMD SB950. However, buying such a mainboard makes sense only if you are really going to use all of its capabilities, particularly the opportunity to build fast multi-GPU graphics subsystems. AMD’s 9 series chipsets have the same specs except for the number of PCI Express 2.0 lanes and their management. The senior chipset model allows using two graphics cards in full-speed PCI Express 2.0 x16 mode or four cards in x8 mode each. The midrange model supports two graphics cards simultaneously, both in x8 mode, whereas the junior model can work with one graphics card in x16 mode and does not allow to split those 16 lanes up.
So if you plan to run no more than one graphics card, you may want to choose a mainboard with one of the less advanced AMD chipsets, i.e. AMD 990X or AMD 970. You won't lose anything in functionality but can save some money.
Well, we used to reason in the same way when we tested mainboards with AMD’s 8 series chipsets, but regular mainboards turned out to be inferior to flagship models both in features and in overclockability then, the only exception being Gigabyte's products. We are not that optimistic now. Talking about specific brands, ASUS mainboards seem to be the best choice for AMD's Bulldozer CPUs, especially in terms of overclocking. Therefore, we are going to check out the capabilities of the midrange (AMD 990X) and junior (AMD 970) chipsets using M5A99X EVO and M5A97 EVO mainboards, respectively. We'll compare them with each other as well as with earlier-tested mainboards based on the senior chipset for the Socket AM3+ platform.
Packaging and Accessories
The two mainboards come in almost identical standard-sized boxes. You can find a picture of the product, a brief list of its technical characteristics and a description of its features on the back of the box.
The mainboard is placed in an antistatic pack. It's separated from the rest of the box contents with a cardboard partition. The accessories to the ASUS M5A99X EVO include the following:
- Four SATA cables with L-shaped metal connector locks;
- A flexible bridge for two-way Nvidia SLI graphics configurations;
- I/O Shield for the back panel;
- “Asus Q-Connector” set including adapters for easy connection of the system case front panel buttons and indicators and a USB port;
- User manual;
- DVD disk with software and drivers;
- “Powered by Asus” sticker for the system case.
The M5A97 EVO comes with the same accessories with one exception. There is no bridge for connecting two graphics cards because the mainboard’s chipset doesn’t allow splitting PCI Express lanes up between multiple graphics slots.