07/29/2010 | 10:04 AM
You may already know about flagship Socket AM3 mainboards based on the latest AMD chipset (including AMD 890FX North and SB850 South Bridges) from our recent article. We liked both mainboards, ASUS Crosshair IV Formula and Gigabyte GA-890FXA-UD7, because each has very rich functionality and a numerous features. However, both are enthusiast-targeted products and therefore they are pretty expensive, so in many cases, it may be not a reasonable purchase after all. One of the key advantages of AMD processors is their rather low prices, so purchasing an expensive mainboard may negate this advantage if you consider the total cost of the computer. Fortunately, you don’t have to buy a top-end mainboard to enjoy the advantages of AMD 890FX chipset. Today we will take a look at a few mainboards that are functional enough but come at affordable prices and thus target a wider user audience.
These are ASRock 890FX Deluxe3, ASUS M4A89TD Pro and ASUS M4A89TD Pro/USB3, Biostar TA890FXE, Gigabyte GA-890FXA-UD5 and MSI 890FXA-GD70. We want to see what these mainboards can do and which of them are better than others. We will compare their specs, BIOS options, overclockability, performance, and power consumption.
The first impression from ASRock 890FX Deluxe3 was highly positive due to active cooling system on the North Bridge and the CPU voltage regulator. The two heatsinks connected with a heat pipe get help from a small 40x40x10 mm fan. Once we used to be glad that heat pipes could let us get rid of such small and annoyingly buzzing fans, but heatsinks on 890FX-based mainboards get so hot that active cooling is most welcome here.
The fan is rotating at 5200 RPM and, despite such a high speed, is quiet. You can limit its speed to a lower level using the corresponding BIOS options. Of course, a small fan like that cannot cool an overclocked mainboard efficiently however high its speed may be. Therefore, like with the other mainboards in this roundup, we additionally used an 80mm fan to blow at the heatsinks during our test session. On the other hand, a small single fan is quite sufficient for cooling the mainboard in its nominal operation mode.
The two blue PCI Express x16 slots work in full-speed x16 mode whereas the third one in x4 mode. The South Bridge supports six SATA 6 Gbps ports. One of them turns off if you use the back-panel eSATA. Yes, the mainboard’s eSATA supports a data-transfer rate of 6 Gbps. The Biostar mainboard we are going to discuss below has the same capability. ASRock 890FX Deluxe3 features a POST code indicator and glowing Power, Reset and Clear CMOS buttons. It offers floppy drive and COM connectors.
As for additional controllers, there are two SATA 6 Gbps ports provided by a Marvell SE9123 chip but these ports are located somewhat oddly and inconveniently in a bottom left corner of the PCB. A combined VIA VT6330 controller supports two IEEE 1394 ports (one is at the back panel and another is an onboard pin-connector) and two PATA devices. Like on most modern mainboards, USB 3.0 is implemented via NEC D720200F1 controller. However, it is for the first time that we see two such controllers at the same time, offering four USB 3.0 ports on the back panel. Thus, it has a total of 12 USB ports: four USB 3.0 and four USB 2.0 ones on the back panel and another four USB 2.0 ports available in the form of two onboard pin-connectors.
In the mainboard BIOS we can note an original reflashing system called Instant Flash. The attached storage devices are scanned automatically and you only have to pick the necessary firmware version out of the found ones. This is simple and handy and there is no need for a file manager. The utility cannot save the current firmware but other mainboards, e.g. the one from Biostar, have the same downside.
There is no BIOS option to increase the CPU frequency multiplier for the Turbo technology. Instead, the mainboard offers the opportunity to select individual multipliers for each of the CPU cores which is not available with the rest of the tested products. You can save up to three profiles with full BIOS settings. The mainboard offers an automatic CPU overclocking option which can accelerate your CPU by as much as 50% above the default frequency (if the CPU is capable of that), but these operational modes are hardly suitable for long-term use because in this case all processor power-saving technologies are disabled. We were also pleased at first when we found an option called Dync OC. It overclocks the CPU dynamically by up to 20%. MSI was the inventor of this technique: the CPU normally works at its default frequency and only speeds up under high loads when necessary. However, ASRock’s dynamic overclocking seems to be completely different. The Dync OC option simply overclocks the CPU: its frequency is always increased under any load. The only difference from the automatic CPU overclocking is that the CPU and North Bridge voltages are not increased at the same time. We couldn’t detect any changes when we switched from the Auto mode into Optimized or when we loaded Power Saving Setup Default mode.
The Turbo UCC feature can overclock the system a little while keeping all the power-saving technologies intact. You should press the “X” button on your keyboard when starting up your system to enable it. The mainboard will then reboot, overclocking the CPU automatically. In our test, the base clock rate was increased from 200 to 215 MHz. The manufacturer claims the mainboard can unlock disabled CPU cores, but our six-core AMD Phenom II X6 1090T Black Edition has none, so we couldn’t check this out. By the way, every other mainboard in this review can unlock disabled CPU cores, too.
We encountered some problems during CPU overclocking on this mainboard as we could not reach the maximum possible result. We were not successful even when we tried to overclock by increasing the CPU frequency multiplier. After some experiments, we found out that ASRock mainboard needed higher CPU voltage than the other boards, yet it would shut down after some tests at a voltage of 1.5 V. Therefore, we had to limit the CPU voltage to 1.475 V and overclocked the CPU to 3.9 GHz (rather than to 4.1 GHz as on most other mainboards).
So, our impression of the ASRock mainboard remained good only until we began to use it seriously. It comes first on our list according to alphabetic order but we tested it last because our tests were interrupted by various problems. Unfortunately, it has become a common situation with ASRock products recently: when we take an ASRock mainboard for our tests, we often face problems and leave it aside, hoping that those problems will be solved by upcoming BIOS updates. And when an update is released (which is not always the case), we see that nothing has changed substantially and take the mainboard off our testbed again. If we are lucky and can get our hands on another sample of the same mainboard model, we always check whether the problems are typical of the specific unit, but so far this has never been the case, either. Eventually, we have to test it even though the mainboard’s performance may be far from acceptable. From our recent experience it seems that ASRock releases quickly made and unfinished products. Moreover, the company doesn’t try to polish them off later, releasing new unfinished products instead. There are a lot of pretty marketing terms and attractive sounding innovative technologies, but the end-result is often quite disappointing.
M4A89TD Pro and M4A89TD Pro/USB3 mainboards from ASUS are almost the same. They use the same PCB layout and have the same functionality. The only difference is that the USB3 model is equipped with an additional NEC D720200F1 controller to support USB 3.0. We are going to use M4A89TD Pro to discuss their functionality and features.
As opposed to other mainboards in this roundup, ASUS mainboards have only two graphics slots. We don’t think it’s a drawback since most users are going to be perfectly satisfied with that many slots. Besides, ASUS offers the Crosshair IV Formula with four such slots for those who need more. The M4A89TD Pro and M4A89TD Pro/USB3 lack a floppy drive connector, but offer a COM one. Besides six SATA 6 Gbps ports supported by the SB850 South Bridge, there are PATA and eSATA 3 Gbps implemented via JMicron JMB361 chip. The mainboard also has a Realtek RT8111E network controller, an eight-channel Realtek ALC 892 codec, and a VIA VT6315 controller that provides IEEE1394 interface (one port on the back panel and one onboard pin-connector).
We guess we don’t need to describe the BIOS options of ASUS mainboards as we have done that in our earlier reviews. You can check out the basic features in the comparative table below. These ASUS mainboards have all the necessary fine-turning and overclocking options, particularly a very small CPU voltage adjustment increment of only 0.003125 V. ASUS also cares about inexperienced overclockers and provides three different ways to overclock your CPU automatically. First of all, you can select the OC Tuner Utility in the mainboard BIOS and the mainboard will set the most optimal parameters for your configuration by itself. If you are a total newbie in a computer world and are afraid of even entering the BIOS, you can just move the Turbo Key lever on the mainboard to achieve the same effect. And finally, you can enable the automatic overclocking mode in the ASUS TurboV EVO utility.
We were extremely pleased with the outcome: modest overclocking with all the power-saving technologies still working. Curiously enough, we achieved the same CPU frequency with any of these three methods.
Besides these options, ASUS mainboards offer the “D.O.C.P.” (DRAM O.C. Profile) mode in their BIOS. If you select it, the mainboard will adjust the settings to ensure that your system memory is stable at increased frequencies. You can also choose a more aggressive “Extreme Tuning” mode in the ASUS TurboV EVO utility to overclock the CPU a little more. With our CPU, this increased the clock rate from 232 to 245 MHz.
Every mainboard maker offers an exclusive monitoring and overclocking tool and ASUS TurboV EVO utility is quite a good one, with lots of options such as “Turbo Unlocker”. We have noted one downside of AMD Turbo technology in our earlier reviews. To remind you, it increases the CPU’s frequency when some of its cores are idle. For example, when no more than three CPU cores have some work to do, the multiplier of our AMD Phenom II X6 1090T Black Edition is increased from x16 to x18 and the CPU voltage is increased to 1.45 V. However, the thing is that our CPU can work at 3.6 GHz frequency without any additional Vcore increase! Thus, AMD Turbo accelerates the computer but also increases its power consumption and temperature. ASUS TurboV EVO utility helps to correct this drawback to some extent. When you enable “Turbo Unlocker” mode, the multiplier is increased both under partial and full CPU load. For example, when no more than three CPU cores were working, the multiplier of our CPU was set at x19. At higher loads, the multiplier was set at x17.
We have described a number of ways that these ASUS mainboards can automatically accelerate your computer without any special knowledge or skills from the user. However, only during manual configuration adjustment you can achieve the best results possible. We had no problems overclocking our test CPU to its maximum on these mainboards.
Of course, the format of a roundup leaves but little space for describing each mainboard, so we can’t examine the M4A89TD Pro and M4A89TD Pro/USB3 in all detail although they do have a lot of small but handy details such as an indication system, one-side memory module locks, wide levers of the graphics slots to easily uninstall graphics cards, etc. It would take a lot of space just to name the numerous technologies and features implemented in them: Express Gate, Core Unlocker, MemOK!, Fan Xpert, Asus EPU, EZ Flash2, CrashFree BIOS 3… Cutting it short, we liked these ASUS mainboards very much. They are not just easy but a pleasure to deal with. Each will make a solid foundation for a modern computer.
The lack of USB 3.0 in the ASUS M4A89TD Pro might be considered a downside since that interface is rapidly becoming popular, but the availability of the USB3 version proves that ASUS just gives you a wider shopping choice. Notwithstanding the small difference in price, some users may prefer the M4A89TD Pro to avoid paying extra for USB 3.0 they are not going to use.
Biostar TA890FXE is one of the simplest mainboards in this roundup. It is not primitive or limited in some way, and its functionality is similar to that of other testing participants. However, the developer just refrained from installing lots of extra controllers on it in order to make it cheaper.
This mainboard has four PCI Express x16 slots but only two of them are supposed to be used for graphics cards as they work in full-speed x16 mode. The second slot from above will probably be blocked by the graphics card cooler and works in x1 mode only. The bottommost slot is PCIe 2.0 x4. There are no onboard controllers that would add additional Serial ATA ports to the mainboard. The AMB SB850 South Bridge provides six SATA 6 Gbps ports, and five of them are available on the board. The sixth one can be found as eSATA on the mainboard back panel. To support PATA, the mainboard has a combined VIA VT6330 controller which is also responsible for one internal IEEE1394 pin-connector and one IEEE1394 port on the back panel. The mainboard has a Realtek RT8111DL LAN controller and an eight-channel Realtek ALC892 audio codec but lacks USB 3.0. Moreover, it only has 12 out of the 14 USB 2.0 ports provided by the South Bridge: six on the back panel and six in the form of three onboard pin-connectors.
As a result, Biostar TA890FXE is almost as functional as the other mainboards while having a minimum of additional controllers. The lack of USB 3.0 is somewhat disappointing, but the 12 instead of 14 USB 2.0 ports and five SATA ports instead of six can hardly be viewed as drawbacks. Besides, the mainboard features POST-code indicators, glowing Power and Reset buttons, and color coding of the pins for the buttons and indicators of the system case front panel. It can also dynamically change the number of active phases in the CPU voltage regulator depending on the current load (this is called “G.P.U. Phase Control”). The current load level is indicated by a line of LEDs.
We were somewhat disappointed with the BIOS options of this mainboard, though. Like the MSI mainboard, it allows you to enable or disable the technology which dynamically adjusts the number of active CPU voltage regulator phases in the BIOS. However, after we updated the BIOS code with the latest version (from June 29, 2010), that technology turned out to be inactive, so we had to use the previous version instead (from May 6, 2010). Like on the ASRock mainboard, we couldn’t find an option to change the CPU multiplier for the Turbo technology. Although this only works with CPUs that have an unlocked multiplier, such an option helps correct the inherent drawbacks of that technology. Since the CPU voltage grows up anyway, you can increase the multiplier by 1 or 2 so as not to waste the extra power. Besides, the BIOS Setup structure itself is far from perfect. Some parameters pertaining to CPU technologies can be found in the “CPU Configuration” subsection of the “Advanced” section, so, we had to go there occasionally from the “T-Series” section where most of overclocking-related options are.
The Biostar mainboard can report detailed information about memory timings written into a module’s SPD. There is even an integrated memory test and a BIOS update utility available. You can also use the Auto OverClock System to slightly overclock your system automatically.
We couldn’t reach the previously hit CPU frequency of 4.1 GHz on the Biostar mainboard. When we increased the voltage, the power consumption would grow up to 500 W whereas the rest of the testing participants didn’t even reach 400 W during overclocking. Therefore we didn’t dare to undertake any further experiments and returned to the lower voltage level to keep the power consumption within reasonable limits. So, we set the CPU voltage at 1.4 V, which is but 0.1 V over the default value, and overclocked our processor to 3.9 GHz.
It seemed to be all right as even the power-saving technologies were working, lowering the CPU frequency multiplier and voltage in idle mode.
But we must also note that there are two BIOS parameters responsible for the CPU voltage. One is called “Core VID” and you can find it deep in the “CPU FID/VID Control” section. It allows changing the voltage with 0.0125 V increment. The second parameter is called “CPU Vcore” and resides in the “Over-Voltage Configuration” section. Although its increment is rather big (0.05 V), it was enough for our case and we used it to overclock the CPU. But when we later tried to apply the same voltage of 1.4 V using the “Core VID” parameter, the CPU voltage would go down more in idle mode, almost to the same level as in nominal processor mode. Of course, the mainboard consumed considerably less power then, so we used that option during our test session.
Overall, Biostar TA890FXE is a bit of a disappointment. We do understand the manufacturer’s desire to lower the production cost and make their solution more affordable, but unfortunately, they failed to stay within the range of acceptable cuts. Not everyone needs additional SATA ports, it is not necessary to lay out all 14 USB 2.0 ports, although we wish the board supported USB 3.0, - we can live with all that. But the mainboard’s scarily high power consumption in overclocked mode is quite alarming. There must be some flaws in the CPU voltage regulator, so we had to overclock our processor only to 3.9 GHz frequency. However, the total power consumption in this case was as high as that of other mainboards with the CPU overclocked to 4.1 GHz. The BIOS settings are not clear and are not structured logically. Although each such drawback is not crucial by itself, all of them together do not produce a good overall impression.
Gigabyte mainboards can be identified at first sight by a number of distinguishing traits like the blue color of the PCB, the original shape of the heatsinks, labels inside some connectors, and two BIOS chips.
Gigabyte GA-890FXA-UD5 has four graphics card slots, two of which work in full-speed PCI Express 2.0 x16 mode. The third slot is x4 and the fourth is x8. The latter shares 16 PCI Express lanes with the first PCI Express slot, so if you use it, for example to build a 3-way CrossFireX graphics configuration, the speed of the first slot is reduced to x8. There are glowing Power, Reset and Clear CMOS buttons on the mainboard. The latter button is covered with a cap so that you couldn’t press it accidentally.
The back panel has no empty space as is typical of Gigabyte mainboards. Everything is occupied by ports and connectors:
Gigabyte GA-890FXA-UD5 is superior to the rest of the tested mainboards in a number of parameters. For example, it offers legacy interfaces: a FDD connector, one COM and one LPT. Most of the mainboards are equipped with 14 USB ports (which is the number of ports supported by the chipset), and the models from ASRock and Biostar even offer only 12, but the Gigabyte board has as many as 16 of them! The AMD SB850 South Bridge supports 14 USB 2.0 ports and two USB 3.0 ports are provided by an onboard NEC D720200F1 controller. One onboard USB pin-connector is colored white instead of blue. It is designed especially for recharging mobile devices and will be working even if the computer is turned off but not disconnected from the power source. Gigabyte boosted the output power of USB ports back in its “333 Onboard Acceleration” set of technologies and was the first to support the recharging of mobile devices from Apple that require higher electric currents. Today, nearly every mainboard maker offers this feature. GA-890FXA-UD5 also offers the largest number of SATA ports: as many as ten! Six of them (SATA 6 Gbps) are provided by the South Bridge. Two SATA 3 GBps and PATA PORTS are implemented via Gigabyte SATA2 controller, and JMicron JMB362 chip supports the combination eSATA/USB 3 Gbps ports on the back panel.
We have described the BIOS of Gigabyte mainboards a number of times in our reviews. It is user-friendly, informative and offers all necessary setup and overclocking options. Although this Gigabyte mainboard is the only one in this roundup to lack an automatic CPU overclocking feature in its BIOS, we cannot call it a drawback because inexperienced overclockers can try the Windows-based Easy Tune 6 utility which can overclock the system both in manual and automatic modes. The mainboard features an integrated BIOS update tool and can store multiple BIOS profiles. The only problem we can find is that the CPU voltage adjustment increment is too big at 0.025 V. This is bigger than with every other mainboard in this roundup. On the other hand, it is easy and simple to overclock CPUs on Gigabyte mainboards, so we achieved the maximum frequency of our test CPU without any problems.
Thus, Gigabyte GA-890FXA-UD5 looks like a regular and even trivial product at first glance. It does not try to amaze you with some sophisticated features and technologies and does not blind you with lots of LEDs. However, this outward simplicity conceals broad functionality. The mainboard supports legacy interfaces, so you can use it to upgrade an old computer. It offers the maximum number of USB and Serial ATA ports and makes full use of its back panel space. The single issue we could find about it, the big CPU voltage adjustment increment, is not so crucial after all. It doesn’t make overclocking any more difficult. So, GA-890FXA-UD5 is a very good mainboard just like every other contemporary model from Gigabyte.
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.
We have briefly covered the features and functionality of each mainboard in this roundup. You can find their detailed specs on the official manufacturers’ web-sites and in the enclosed manuals. However, for your convenience we have summed up all the boards’ specs in the following table:
As you can see, the boards are generally very similar: all of them can accommodate at least two graphics cards, support eight-channel sound, Gigabit network (Gigabyte and MSI mainboards have two network controllers each) and IEEE1394 (FireWire). All mainboards except Biostar support two USB 3.0 ports implemented using NEC D720200F1 controller, and ASRock mainboards comes with two controllers like that. All boards have external eSATA ports, the ones on ASRock and Biostar solutions offer 6 Gbps connection speed, while Gigabyte and MSI boards have combination ports offering eSATA and USB at the same time (Gigabyte has two of those). The major differences between all mainboards are in the number and operation of the expansion slots as well as their placement on the PCB, the layout of the back panel, additional onboard controllers and slightly different accessories bundles.
The next table sums up the major BIOS functionality of the tested mainboards:
Here the mainboards also have a lot in common. At least all of them have the basic functionality required for overclocking and system fine-tuning. All mainboards come with their own built-in BIOS reflashing tools, all of them can save settings profiles and unlock deactivated processor cores. ASRock and Biostar mainboards stand out among others because they do not allow changing the processor clock frequency multiplier if Turbo mode is on, which could be useful for Black Edition CPUs with an unlocked multiplier. All mainboards reset date and time when you Clear CMOS, although Asus and Gigabyte mainboards for Intel processors know to save the date and time. Overall, there are quite a few differences between the mainboards’ BIOS functionality, each has its own unique advantages and drawbacks.
All mainboards except Gigabyte have tools for automatic processor overclocking. All mainboards leave some important CPU related settings in “CPU Configuration” subsection of the “Advanced” section, except the MSI board. It also has a similar subsection, but it is included within the “Cell Menu” section that contains all other important parameters for system overclocking and fine-tuning, so in the end it is the most convenient implementation. However, MSI mainboard can’t boast convenient adjustment of the memory timings: you have to do it twice – for each memory channel individually. Only Biostar and MSI mainboards allow managing right from the BIOS processor power-saving technologies that dynamically change the number of active voltage phases. Although, this feature is disabled in the new BIOS for the Biostar mainboard. Only Asus and MSI boards allow loading their proprietary Linux-based OS, which is called “Express Gate” by Asus and “Winki” by MSI. Asus and Gigabyte mainboards offer built-in tools for monitoring the status of the local network cable. Asus mainboards as usual do not tell you the nominal processor core voltage, and Biostar board allows you to test whether the system memory is operational.
All performance tests were run on the following test platform:
We used Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate 64 bit (Microsoft Windows, Version 6.1, Build 7600) operating system, ATI Catalyst 10.5 graphics card driver.
As usual, we are going to compare the mainboards speeds in two different modes: in nominal mode and during CPU and memory overclocking. The first mode is interesting because it shows how well the mainboards work with their default settings. It is a known fact that most users do not fine-tune their systems, they simple choose the optimal BIOS settings and do nothing else. That is why we run a round of tests almost without interfering in any way with the default mainboard settings. Here I have to say that all mainboards worked absolutely correctly with our six-core AMD Phenom II X6 1090T Black Edition processor, including power-saving technologies and Turbo mode. However, there were a few differences in the memory operation. Most mainboards set the memory frequency at 1067 MHz with 7-7-7-16-1T timings by default, while Asus mainboards set the timings at 8-8-8-20-1T, and ASRock mainboard – at 7-7-7-16-2T. Since we used the exact same test application and maintained identical testing conditions, we also included the results of Asus Crosshair IV Formula and Gigabyte GA-890FXA-UD7 discussed in our previous article. These are also Socket AM3 mainboards using the same chipset with AMD890FX North Bridge and SB850 South Bridge, but these two boards a little more expensive. The mainboards are listed on the diagrams according to their performance, from the best to the worst.
We started using the recently released Cinebench 11.5 program version. All tests were run five times and the average result of the five runs was taken for the performance charts.
We have been using Fritz Chess Benchmark utility for a long time already and it proved very illustrative. It generated repeated results, the performance in it is scales perfectly depending on the number of involved computational threads.
A small video in x264 HD Benchmark 3.0 is encoded in two passes and then the entire process is repeated four times. The average results of the second pass are displayed on the following diagram:
In the archiving test a 1 GB file is compressed using LZMA2 algorithms, while other compression settings remain at defaults.
Like in the data compression test, the faster 16 million of Pi digits are calculated, the better. This is the only benchmark where the number of processor cores doesn’t really matter, because it creates single-threaded load.
There are good and bad things about complex performance tests. However, 3D Mark Vantage has become extremely popular. The diagram below shows the results after three test runs:
Since we do not overclock graphics in our mainboard reviews, the next diagram shows only CPU test from the 3D Mark Vantage suite.
We use FC2 Benchmark Tool to go over Ranch Small map ten times in 1280x1024 resolution with medium and high image quality settings in DirectX 10.
Resident Evil 5 game also has a built-in performance test. Its peculiarity is that it can really take advantage of multi-core processor architecture. The tests were run in DirectX 10 in 1280x1024 resolution with medium image quality settings. The average of five test runs was taken for further analysis:
As you can see, there is not much difference, even though Asus and ASRock mainboards set higher memory timings: only in 7-zip they fall behind everyone else. We can single out Gigabyte mainboards for being a little better than the competitors in 3DMark, while in gaming tests Gigabyte GA-890FXA-UD7 fell into the very last place. However, the difference is so minimal that it has only theoretical value and no practical effect.
Now let’s see what happens during the tests in overclocked mode when we increased the clock generator frequency. I would like to remind you that most mainboards overclocked our test processor to 4.1 GHz. The memory in this case worked at 1370 MHz with 6-6-6-18-1T timings. ASRock and Biostar mainboards went only as far as 3.9 GHz, but they allowed higher memory frequency of 1627 MHz with the same exact timings.
In most tests we clearly see two groups: those that managed to overclock the processor to the maximum of 4.1 GHz, and those that stopped at 3.9 GHz. However, ASRock and Biostar mainboards do not fall behind the pack in 7-zip, which is quite logical considering that they have memory working at higher speed and it has significant influence on the performance in this application. There is not much difference between these two groups in games and 3DMark, because it is the graphics card performance that matters most here.
We measured power consumption using Extech Power Analyzer 380803 device. This device was connected before the system PSU, i.e. it measured the power consumption of the entire system without the monitor, including the power losses that occur in the PSU itself. When we took the power readings in idle mode, the system was completely idle: there were even no requests sent to the hard drive at that time. We used LinX program to load the CPU. For more illustrative picture we created graphs showing the power consumption growth depending on the increase in CPU utilization as the number of active computational threads in LinX changed in nominal mode as well as during overclocking. The boards are sorted out in alphabetical order on the diagrams below.
Asus mainboards clearly stand out in the nominal mode, as they are the most energy-efficient of all. Note that Asus M4A89TD Pro consumes even a little more under triple-thread load, than it would consume under the maximum load of six threads. There is no mistake here, but yet another piece of evidence proving that AMD Turbo technology is extremely energy-inefficient. The CPU frequency increases, but its Vcore is pushed too high up in this case. As for all other tested mainboards, the power consumption difference between 3- and 6-thread modes is minimal. Just compare these results with what we got during CPU overclocking, when Turbo mode was disabled. The mainboards consume considerably less power under 3-thread load, than they would under maximum load.
Speaking of the power consumption in overclocked mode, we have to point out ASRock and Biostar mainboards. ASRock is not very energy-efficient in idle mode, but under maximum operational load it consumes less power than all others due to less aggressive CPU overclocking. Biostar mainboard is absolutely different: it is the most energy-efficient mainboard in idle mode, but consumes just as much power as all other testing participants even though the CPU was overclocked less. I have to admit that I was a little upset with a slightly higher power consumption of Gigabyte GA-890FXA-UD5 compared to other mainboards participating in this roundup.
I suggest that we start with the mainboards that got the lowest scores in our today’s test session. ASRock 890FX Deluxe3 and Biostar TA890FXE seem to be out of place in this roundup. It is not only because they failed to overclock our test processor to its maximum. It is not the reason but rather the consequence of all sorts of problems they have. There are a few functions in the BIOS of the ASRock mainboard that either do not work at all, or work incorrectly; you must raise the processor Vcore way too aggressively during overclocking, which prevents you from hitting higher frequencies. As for the Biostar mainboard, we were very concerned about its snowballing power consumption under heavy operational loads, which forced us to limit our CPU overclocking. It also has a number of issues in the BIOS, just like the ASRock product. These two mainboards will do just fine in nominal mode, but you shouldn’t count on anything beyond that, really.
Gigabyte GA-890FXA-UD5 is an excellent choice for anyone. There is nothing excessive, everything you need for successful overclocking and system fine-tuning is there. The mainboard supports all legacy interfaces; it has the largest number of USB and Serial ATA ports and has the busiest back panel. Over the past few years Gigabyte mainboards have been making only the most positive impression. Of course, they do have a few drawbacks of their own, but these are mostly minor issues that do not really cause you much trouble. It is a good mainboards with good functionality and predictable behavior. It will undoubtedly satisfy the majority of users.
However, if you are looking for something special, sophisticated and technologically rich, then you should go for Asus M4A89TD Pro/USB3 and MSI 890FXA-GD70. They offer handy technologies for automatic overclocking that work correctly and will be very helpful to commencing overclockers. They also provide additional operating systems and performance-enhancing functions that will also lower the power consumption. It is impossible to name an indisputable leader here, as the boards from both manufacturers are good in their own way, each boasts its own unique advantages.
Speaking of the pricing, we have to remind you that prices differ in various parts of the world, but they are all below $200, staying mostly around $175-$185. The only exception is the mainboard from MSI that is approaching $200 barrier and the mainboard from Biostar that is selling for around $150. In our Asus Crosshair IV Formula and Gigabyte GA-890FXA-UD7 mainboards review we spoke a lot about the prices on mainboards and processors. In fact, we feel that the $200 price tag is a little too much for a Socket AM3 mainboard. Out of all today’s testing participants, only Biostar mainboard seems to have acceptable price, but it is almost the only advantage of this product. If you have no intention to build ATI CrossFire graphics configurations, then maybe you should consider getting an AMD870 based mainboard instead.
Summing up the results if our today’s test session, we are proud to award Asus M4A89TD Pro/USB3 with our Editor’s Choice title. It is an excellent stable and fast mainstream solution with extensive functionality typical of much pricier products.
As for MSI 890FXA-GD70, it receives our Ultimate Innovation title. Although it is a little more expensive than the competitors, it combines almost all the advantages of the other products. And it is only in performance and power consumption that it falls just a little bit behind the leaders.