Articles: Mainboards

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Testbed Configuration

We carried out our tests on a testbed that included the following components:

  • Mainboard: Biostar TA990FXE ver. 5.0 (BIOS version 99FAD907);
  • AMD FX-8150 CPU (3.6 GHz, Zambezi (Bulldozer), AM3+);
  • 2 x 2048 MB DDR3 SDRAM Patriot Extreme Performance Viper II Sector 5 Series PC3-16000, PVV34G2000LLKB (2000 MHz, 8-8-8-24 timings, 1.65 V voltage);
  • MSI N570GTX-M2D12D5/OC graphics card (Nvidia GeForce GTX 570, GF110, 40 nm, 786/4200 MHz, 320-bit GDDR5 1280 MB);
  • Kingston SSD Now V+ Series (SNVP325-S2, 128 GB);
  • Scythe Mugen 2 Revision B (SCMG-2100) CPU cooler and an additional 80x80 mm fan for cooling of the area around the CPU socket during overclocking experiments;
  • ARCTIC MX-2 thermal interface;
  • CoolerMaster RealPower M850 PSU (RS-850-ESBA);
  • Open testbed built using Antec Skeleton system case.

We used Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64 bit (Microsoft Windows, Version 6.1, Build 7601: Service Pack 1) operating system, Nvidia GeForce Driver 280.26 graphics card driver.

Operational and Overclocking Specifics

The system assembly on Biostar TA990FXE didn’t pose any problems. The only difficulty we had was to find a rotation speed variator for the additional fan. Despite weak retention of the cooling system heatsinks, they all heated up substantially even when the system worked in nominal mode. Therefore, additional cooling was absolutely necessary, though the board is only capable of adjusting the rotation speed of one fan – the processor fan. One of the board’s indisputable advantages is the fact that it has native support for the new Bulldozer processors. It booted immediately with our AMD FX-8150 processor: we didn’t need to search for some old Socket AM3 CPU in order to reflash the BIOS. Unlike other similar mainboards, which have been in the development stage since summer and some of them even since spring, Biostar TA990FXE was released not too long ago. There is one single BIOS version available on the web-site from September 7, 2011. Despite this fact, this BIOS version is current; it supports new processors and contains the latest revision of AGESA codes. So, when you are purchasing a new AMD FX processor for your Biostar TA990FXE, you do not need to worry about compatibility, as they should work perfectly fine together.

Unfortunately, when we discussed the BIOS functionality of this mainboard we pointed out that there was no “HPC Mode” parameter in the BISO options, which should prevent the lowering of the CPU clock frequency under heavy load. It means that you won’t be able to overclock new processors on Biostar TA990FXE. In other words, you will be able to overclock the processor, but you won’t achieve stability, because under heavy loads its frequency will drop to 3.3 GHz, which is even below the nominal values, so any type of stability testing makes absolutely no sense in this case. It was even more surprising to learn that this particular mainboard received an “Overclockers Choice Award” from one Russian web-site. However, since there were no actual photographs f the mainboard or benchmark results of any kind in that “review”, the editor didn’t ever hold Biostar TA990FXE mainboard in his hands. We, however, decided to do whatever it took to succeed at least a little bit and began our overclocking experiments with the automatic CPU overclocking system implemented on Biostar TA990FXE.

There is “OverClock Navigator” option in the “O.N.E.” section of the mainboard BIOS, which is set to “Normal” by default. You can only get full access to the options in this section if this parameter is set to “Manual”. If you set it to “Auto”, you will be able to use “Auto OverClock System” parameter. If it is set to “V6-Tech Engine”, the board increases its base clock to 210 MHz, and for “V8-Tech Engine” the frequency is increased to 215 MHz. the system will be overclocked to its maximum of 220 MHz base clock at “V12-Tech Engine” setting. However, in case of heavy load the processor clock multiplier will still drop to 16.5x, which makes this particular overclocking technique completely useless for the new processors overclocking. Even if we disregard the fact that new processors have an unlocked clock frequency multiplier and therefore are easier to overclock by raising the multiplier, and not the base clock.

The next idea was to use the company’s proprietary “T-Overclocker” utility. It looks like Biostar web-site has been dramatically redesigned this year, although the copyright symbol still indicates 2004-2009 timeframe. Despite this fact, it is still fairly difficult to locate the latest version of their T-Overclocker utility there, which was exactly what happened to us. We had to use the version available on the bundled CD disk. Unlike Biostar TZ68K+, which refused to work with this utility altogether, this time we were lucky and got it working. Although our joy was overrated.

The startup screen of this program displays the basic info about the processor and mainboard. I believe that there should be a CPU logo displayed in the lower right corner instead of the empty rectangle. Then you can check the data on the memory modules, and unlike the mainboard BIOS, this utility can’t read the modules’ X.M.P. profiles. The last tab will let you monitor the current voltages, temperatures and fan rotation speeds. Now let’s dwell on the “OC Tweaker” tab.

Unfortunately, the only things this program allows you to do are to change the base clock frequency and the PCI Express bus frequency. It is even unable to change the processor clock frequency multiplier, so it won’t be able to help us in any way during our overclocking attempts.

In conclusion we checked out the solution proposed by Biostar, according to which disabling “CPB Mode” parameter in the BIOS alongside with all options related to power-saving technologies should prevent processor frequency from dropping under heavy operational load. Unfortunately, it didn’t help and the frequency continued to drop and the only logical outcome resulting from disabling all power-saving technologies was increased to 130 W power idle mode consumption. So, on the one hand it is great that Biostar TA990FXE has native new Bulldozer processors support, but it is very disappointing that this support is, in fact, incomplete, and the mainboard doesn’t allow to fully overclock them.

We described this situation in detail to Biostar guys and even made a few short videos showing dynamically how the board drops the CPU frequency to 3.3 GHz under heavy load. Our efforts weren’t vain and in a few days we received a beta version of the new BIOS with the long-anticipated “High Performance Computing Mode” parameter (“HPC Mode”) in the “CPU Configuration” section of the BIOS.

Armed with this few option we continued our Bulldozer overclocking experiments, but to our regret the results didn’t prove up to our expectations. We were still unable to overclock our AMD FX-8150 processor, but instead we revealed a few more issues with the board. The more you work with a certain mainboard, the more unique things you learn about it. Unfortunately, all these new discoveries were primarily negative in nature.

You need to raise the CPU core voltage in order to overclock the processor. It may seem super easy to just add the necessary value to the defaults in the “over Voltage Configuration” page of the “O.N.E.” section of the BIOS. However, it turned out that “CPU Vcore” parameter supports an increment of 0.05 V, which is way too high for contemporary processors.

However, the “AMD Pstate Configuration” page offers one more option that could help increase the processor core voltage – “Core VID” parameter allows adjusting the Vcore with an acceptable increment of 0.0125 V. However, this parameter alone will not be enough for serious overclocking, so you will need to use both options at the same time, because “Core VID” allows setting the voltage no higher than 1.4 V. there are higher values available, too, but when we selected them the mainboard froze dead on boot-up. Only Clearing CMOS could get it out of that state, which is when we realized that that Clear CMOS jumper is indeed in a very inconvenient spot.

It is hard to remember when was the last time that the location of the Clear CMOS jumper was considered an issue. I think it has never come up, because the jumper on many mainboards has long been replaced with a much more convenient to use button. However, contemporary mainboards rarely need their CMOS to be cleared to begin with. “Watchdog Timer” technology monitors the POST process and in case of a freeze reboots the system in safe mode. Unfortunately, Biostar TA990FXE mainboard doesn’t have a Clear CMOS button. It also doesn’t have the “Watchdog Timer” technology, or maybe it was simply non-operational in these cases. So we had to use the jumper located on the right side of the PCB a little above the battery.

At first glance this location doesn’t strike you as inconvenient. But imaging an assembled system, when the memory modules are to the left of the jumper, the mainboard power connector in to the right and the graphics card is right beneath it. On an open testbed you can easily clear CMOS by disconnecting the power cable first. If you need to do this in a fully assembled system case, then you might also have to remove the memory modules or the graphics card, but most likely all of the above.

Unfortunately, all our efforts were in vain and the board still didn’t let us overclock our test CPU. No matter what frequency we set, there were errors during the stability tests, but in most cases the system would simply hang. The Reset or Power Off buttons didn’t help in getting the board out of the hanging state and we had to completely unplug the power cable, so that it could start again. We started at 4.5 GHz and little by little lowered the frequency to 4.2 GHz. This is when we stopped. AMD FX-8150 processor with only one utilized core is capable of increasing its frequency to 4.2 GHz due to Turbo technology. Even if the mainboard remained stable at lower clock speeds, the overclocked CPU would still be slower than the one working at its nominal speed and such “overclocking” makes absolutely zero practical sense. It is sad but we have to conclude that the current implementation of Biostar TA990FXE is unable to overclock Bulldozer processors.

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