Flagship Mainboards for Bulldozer from Asus, Gigabyte and MSI

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.

by Doors4ever
11/04/2011 | 12:54 PM

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.

Testing Participants

Asus Crosshair V Formula

We are very well familiar with the design and peculiarities of ASUSTeK’s mainboard packaging for the products from the ROG (Republic of Gamers) series. As usual we get a vertical box with a convenient carry-handle, a front flip-cover with a clear window underneath that reveals the mainboard inside. There is a brief list of mainboard features and technical specifications on the inside of the flip-cover and on the back of the box.

There is a separate box with numerous accessories inside:

The mainboard is also packed in a separate box with a clear plastic cover.

The first thing that catches your eye is the powerful cooling system. Three heatsinks on the chipset North Bridge and on the heating components of the processor voltage regulator circuitry are tied together into a single system with a heatpipe. Both heatsinks on the voltage regulator components are additionally enforced with metal backplates on the back side of the PCB. All heatsinks, including the one on the chipset South Bridge, use reliable screw-on retention. There is an additional four-pin power-connector that you can use for the CPU power supply besides the primary ATX12V one. All these extras are totally necessary. High power consumption and heat dissipation of this system required an additional fan for cooling the around-the-socket area even in nominal mode. Crosshair V processor voltage regulator is unique and is called Extreme Engine Digi+. It not only uses high-quality components, but it works using the advantages of analogue and digital approach at the same time. Therefore, it is not only powerful, but also quite energy-efficient and produces higher precision voltages.

The photograph of the mainboard and a components layout scheme reveal an entire range of peculiarities typical of Asus’ mainboards from the ROG series (Republic of Gamers). The memory modules are installed into Q-DIMM slots with a latch-lock only on one side of the slot. Convenient wide latches on the graphics card slots known as Q-Slot will make it easy to remove the card even in a busy system case. There is Probelt contact group a little above the memory DIMM slots. It allows to manually monitor all major voltages with a voltmeter. The mainboard has glowing Power On, Reset and CPU Level UP buttons for automatic processor overclocking. There is also a GO button that allows applying the frequencies, multipliers and voltages saved in the “Go Button File” sub-section of the mainboard BIOS, which means that we can instantly overclock our system to a certain preset level when necessary. If you press this button before you power on the mainboard, MemOK! function will kick in and will allow the mainboard to start successfully even if there are problems with the system memory. Q-Led diodes will help you identify the problem after failed system start, and Voltiminder LED will warn you if any of the voltages have been excessively increased. The mainboard allows connecting up to eight fans and three additional thermal diodes. I really wish they included a few of those with the bundled accessories.

Despite four graphics card slots, the mainboard doesn’t fully utilize the functionality of the AMD 990FX North Bridge. You can have one or two graphics cards working at full PCI Express 2.0 x16 speed, or three graphics cards working at x16/x8/x8. The fourth slot has only four PCI-E 2.0 lanes from the South Bridge at its disposal. Six SATA 6 Gbps ports are provided by AMD SB950, the seventh – by the additional ASMedia ASM1061 controller, and the eighth exists as an eSATA port on the mainboard back panel. Another peculiarity of this mainboard is that it is equipped with three USB 3.0 controllers. Two of them support four USB 3.0 ports on the back panel and the third one is used for one internal onboard pin-connector, which can deliver another two ports.

Here is the complete list of all ports and connectors on the back of our ASUS Crosshair V Formula:

We have already seen Asus EFI BIOS and discussed it in the previous Asus mainboard reviews. It proved to be a pretty successful implementation of the UEFI standard (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface). The new EFI BIOS from Asus looks unusual, but its internal structure and the variety of available settings remind us of the previous versions of Asus BIOS. We really liked it that by default we immediately see feature-rich “Advanced Mode” instead of a simpler “EZ Mode” operational environment.

The first section in the menu is called “Extreme Tweaker”, which contains most of the options related to overclocking and system fine-tuning.

I was a little disappointed that we couldn’t start the system with our AMD FX-8150 processor right away. First we had to update the BIOS version to 0813 using an old AM3 processor, since it was already available for download. Only mainboards with this BIOS version dated October 7, 2011 or newer support new AMD FX processors, which means that all mainboards manufactured before that date will be incompatible with the new CPUs, so keep it in mind.

The nominal operation mode with default settings also didn’t please us too much. By default the mainboard set the memory timings to extremely high values of 9-9-9-24-1T, all power-saving Cool’n’Quiet and C1E technologies were disabled. The nominal frequency of our AMD FX-8150 processor is 3.6 GHz, but even when all cores are utilized, the CPU can increase its clock rate up to 3.9 GHz, and under lower loads – up to 4.2 GHz. These were publicly known facts, but no one could explain why under heavy load the CPU frequency would drop down to 3.3 GHz not only during overclocking, but also in the nominal mode. During our experiments we discovered that enabling “HPC Mode” parameter in the “CPU Configuration” section prevents the frequency from dropping like that. Although, I have to admit that this parameter works in a very unique way. Even when it has been enabled, the processor frequency may still drop, so you will need to cut off all power to prevent this from happening. The opposite is also true. Once we have enabled the “HPC Mode”, we could successfully complete our tests in overclocked mode and there was no frequency drop of any kind. However, when we saved the BIOS settings profile, we suddenly noticed that this parameter got disabled, though the frequency didn’t drop.

AM3+ processors can be easily overclocked due to their unlocked clock frequency multiplier: all you need to do is to increase their multiplier and core voltage. It is very hard to confirm the system stability, because LinX utility refused to do this, so we had to resort to time-consuming tests in Prime95. It is even harder to ensure that the system runs in acceptable thermal conditions, because during overclocking its heat dissipation and power consumption increase dramatically. At first we were shooting for 4.6 GHz frequency, but we interrupted out tests when the thermal diode under the processor socket reported 86°C.

Unfortunately, we can’t use the CPU core temperature readings, because they are reported 15-25°C lower than the readings we take off the thermal diode under the CPU socket, and no one really knows how they differ from the real temperatures. The dependency is non-linear: as the operational load and temperatures increase, the difference reduces. Suppose it drops to 10 or even 5°C. 86 + 5 makes 91°, according to our most reserved estimates. Moreover, it is important to keep in mind that these numbers are taken on an open testbed with additional air-cooling in place. The temperature will obviously reach and even exceed 100° inside a closed system case, and conditions like that are totally unacceptable. Therefore, we had to give up or plan to hit 4.6 GHz mark with our particular processor and our specific cooling system.

We managed to confirm system stability when we overclocked our processor to 4.5 GHz, although it was still working in not the most favorable conditions. According to the diode, the CPU temp reached 80° during our Prime95 tests, the system power consumption increased to 440 W, the heatsinks on the processor voltage regulator components were scorching hot despite the additional fan we had installed right above them – they still heated up to over 60°C.

It may seem like there is not much you can do about it, this is just the way new AMD processors turned out to be, but later when we tested MSI 990FXA-GD80, we discovered that its power consumption in overclocked mode and similar testing conditions was significantly lower. We couldn’t perform a fair direct comparison, because the MSI board was unable to overclock our processor to 4.5 GHz frequency, but it made us go back to more overclocking experiments with our Asus Crosshair V Formula mainboard. One significant difference during overclocking was the fact that MSI mainboard didn’t have functionality that could counteract the processor core voltage drop under heavy load. As for Asus board, you could even set the intensity of this counteraction, which we did: we set the “CPU Load Line Calibration” parameter to “High”, which stood for 50%.

It turned out that enabling this feature does seriously increase the system power consumption. However, if we disable “CPU Load Line Calibration” completely, then we will have to increase the CPU Vcore even more to overclock our processor to the same frequency. With this technology enabled we only added 0.1625 V, while without it we had to increase the CPU Vcore by as much as 0.2375 V, so the end-results were, obviously, ambiguous. Take a look at the system power consumption when the processor is overclocked to 4.5 GHz and compare the results with the enabled and disabled “CPU Load Line Calibration” technology:

In order to ensure that under heavy load the processor has sufficient voltage coming in, we have to raise it above the level we have with the working “CPU Load Line Calibration”. As a result, it becomes excessive in idle mode and under low operational loads, which leads to much higher system power consumption in these modes. However, under heavy loads the power consumption turned out significantly lower, which had a positive effect not only on the electrical, but also on the thermal parameters. Now even during long tests in Prime95 the temperature only hits 72°C, according to the diode under the processor socket, the heatsinks temperature barely exceeded 50°C, and the total system power consumption went beyond 400 W only when we overclocked the system memory at the same time. The mainboard was capable to have the memory work stably at 1867 MHz.

We always overclock our system so that it could be used in this mode for a long time. At the same time we do not try to make our life easier by disabling some of the mainboard features, such as additional controllers, for example. We also do our best to make sure that all processor power-saving technologies stay up and running normally. So, in this case all power-saving technologies were working fine even during overclocking, so the processor Vcore and clock multiplier were dropping in idle mode as they are supposed to.

However, it would be incorrect to assume that the technology preventing the processor core voltage from dropping under heavy load is doing more harm than good and needs to be disabled during overclocking. Yes, disabling “CPU Load Line Calibration” did have a positive effect on system operation when our processor was overclocked to 4.5 GHz, however, we couldn’t overclock our CPU to 4.6 GHz without this technology. To ensure system stability at 4.6 GHz processor clock speed, we had to raise the processor Vcore so much that it started to work against us. Therefore, we decided to enable “CPU Load Line Calibration” technology back on, but this time switch to the “Medium” mode, which is equivalent to only 25%. However, a few minutes into the Prime95 test the increased to 420 W system power consumption forced us to terminate the testing. The barely noticeable 2% performance gain, which is exactly what the system gets from overclocking the processor by additional 100 MHz doesn’t justify the seriously aggravated power and thermal characteristics.

Gigabyte GA-990FXA-UD7

The box with Gigabyte GA-990FXA-UD7 is larger than the regular mainboard boxes in all respects, because of the peculiar internal structure of the packaging they used. We see the exterior box made of thin cardboard that performs decorative and informational functions. It covers another box of thick black cardboard, which the board and included accessories packed carefully in individual boxes inside it. The front flip-cover is attached with Velcro, and once open allows you to see the mainboard inside through a transparent plastic window. Almost all of the space behind the flip-cover and on the back of the box is used for numerous logotypes and diagrams illustrating the major peculiarities of Gigabyte GA-990FXA-UD7.

The bundled accessories are not too numerous and mostly consists of the diverse bridges for multi-card graphics configurations:

The second reason why this particular mainboard packaging is so large is because the Gigabyte GA-990FXA-UD7 mainboard itself is larger than usual and measures 305x263 mm. It is 19 mm wider than the ATX standard and therefore is considered an E-ATX form-factor.

The processor voltage regulator circuitry is built as 8+2 phases. It uses quality highly-integrated components, where two MOSFETs and a control unit are combined into what is known as a single Driver MOSFET chip. All heating components of this circuitry are covered with an additional heatsink and all three heatsinks are secured screwed on to the PCB and are connected together with a heatpipe. Judging by the large number of graphics card bridges included with the mainboard, we can conclude that the board uses the functionality of AMD 990FX chipset to the full extent allowing to use up to four graphics accelerators at the same time. Unfortunately, the system gets so cramped that it may be difficult to remove the card installed into the very top slot, because the connector locks on all the slots are of the traditional regular kind.

Among the mainboard’s additional features we should point out the use of two BIOS chips, a POST-code indicator, glowing Clear CMOS, Power On and Reset buttons. IT was very thoughtful to provide a protective plastic cap on top of the Clear CMOS button, which should prevent accidental presses, however, I think it would make more sense to have it in the back panel. They use very convenience color-coding for the front panel ports and connectors, the marking is made not only on the textolite next to the actual connector, but also inside the connector itself.  There are only four fan connectors onboard, and only two of them are four-pin ones and allow adjusting the rotation speed of the fans connected to them. One of them is for the processor fan, and another one is located in the lower right corner of the mainboard. I don’t think it is the best implementation, because of higher heat dissipation it is the area on the opposite side of the mainboard, around the processor voltage regulator, that requires additional cooling and therefore could use a four-pin fan connector. Besides six SATA 6 Gbps ports provided by AMD SB950 South Bridge, two more SATA 6 Gbps ports are implemented via Marvell 88SE9172 controller. A second controller like that is used for Power eSATA and eSATA/USB Combo ports on the back panel.

Just like on all other Gigabyte mainboards, the back panel on GA-990FXA-UD7 is very busy and has practically no free room left:

Unfortunately, just like on the previously discussed Asus board, we had to reflash the BIOS first using the old AM3 processor. The new processors are supported starting with the BIOS version F4 from August 28, 2011. Upon system start you will see the memory frequency, while the CPU frequency will remain secret.

Like all contemporary mainboards, Gigabyte GA-990FXA-UD7 uses Award microcode based BIOS.

One serious drawback of this mainboard is its persistent disagreement with any changes in its settings. And it does it in a very simple way: doesn’t let you access the BIOS Setup. It doesn’t matter where the USB keyboard is plugged in, how frequently you press the “Del” key or for how long you hold it. The board will either let you into the BIOS or not. It is extremely frustrating, when three-four times in a row you have to load Windows and then reboot again trying to get into the BIOS Setup. I have recently got rid of the PS/2 keyboard, believing I won’t ever need it again. Of course, you can use Touch BIOS utility for Windows to adjust some settings, but it doesn’t have everything the BIOS has.

If you are lucky and you manage to get into the BIOS Setup, you will be happy to see “MB Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T.)” to the first section on the menu. It contains many parameters necessary for successful overclocking and fine-tuning of your system.

Among the familiar parameters there is a mysterious “Turbo CPB”, which should increase processor performance. We have already seen it on other Gigabyte mainboards for Socket AM3 processors, but we didn’t notice any performance increase from enabling it. The same thing happened this time, too. By default the mainboard sets not the best memory timings: 7-7-7-720-2T. The board was unable to make the memory work at 1866 MHz, but everything worked perfectly fine at 1600 MHz with 6-6-6-18-1T timings. However, there is one more mysterious parameter in the “MB Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T.)” section besides the above mentioned “Turbo CPB”. It is called “DRAM E.O.C.P.” (DRAM Easy Over Clock Profile). It allows using the X.M.P. profile if there is one on the memory modules’ SPD, or setting the optimal timings for 1600-2400 MHz memory frequencies automatically. In fact, the mainboard officially supports 1866 MHz maximum memory speed, and higher frequencies are only attainable during overclocking when we increase the base clock. BY the way, you can easily set 2133 MHz memory frequency on the Asus mainboard. Unfortunately, even enabled “DRAM E.O.C.P.” didn’t help he mainboard get the system memory to work at 1866 MHz. moreover, the memory refused to work even at 1600 MHz frequency, although it worked at this speed perfectly fine with enabled “DRAM E.O.C.P.”.

Some settings related to processor technologies didn’t get included into the “MB Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T.)” section and remained in the section called “Advanced BIOS Features”.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t locate the “HPC Mode” parameter or anything similar, which could help us prevent the CPU frequency from dropping to 3.3 GHz under load. As a result, it was impossible to overclock our processor on Gigabyte GA-990FXA-UD7 mainboard at all. It didn’t matter what processor frequency we chose, as it would anyway drop below the nominal under heavy load.

MSI 990FXA-GD80

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:

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:

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 1.1.0.0. 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:

Mainboards Specifications Comparison

The table below contains the specifications of all three testing participants summed up in one place for your convenience:

If we were to say a few words about the major differences between them, we would point out that Asus mainboard doesn’t support IEEE1394 (FireWire), but has three USB 3.0 controllers instead of two, a contact spots area for voltage monitoring, can accommodate three thermal diodes and eight fans supporting rotation speed adjustment. Gigabyte mainboard is the only board in our today’s article that uses the chipset functionality to the fullest extent and supports four-card graphics configurations. Only MSI mainboard ahs an additional SATA 2 controller instead of SATA 3, and it also has support for a COM-port.

Testbed Configuration

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

We used Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64 bit (Microsoft Windows, Version 6.1, Build 7601: Service Pack 1) operating system, Intel Chipset Software Installation Utility version 9.2.0.1030, Nvidia GeForce Driver 280.26 graphics card driver.

Performance Comparison

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 simply 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. The mainboards’ results are sorted out in descending order on the diagrams. I would only like to remind you that Asus mainboard by default set the memory timings at 9-9-9-24-1T, Gigabyte – at 7-7-7-20-2T and only on MSI mainboard we saw the timings from the memory modules SPD – 7-7-7-20-1T.

We used Cinebench 11.5. 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 4.0 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:

We measured the performance in Adobe Photoshop using our own benchmark made from Retouch Artists Photoshop Speed Test that has been creatively modified. It includes typical editing of four 10-megapixel images from a digital photo camera.

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.

Since we do not overclock graphics in our mainboard reviews, the next diagram shows only CPU tests from the 3DMark11 – Physics Score. This score is obtained in a special physics test that emulates the behavior of a complex gaming system working with numerous objects:

We use FC2 Benchmark Tool to go over Ranch Small map ten times in 1920x1080 resolution with 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 1920x1080 resolution with high image quality settings. The average of five test runs was taken for further analysis:

There is hardly any performance difference between related mainboards in the majority of test applications, the boards work at about the same speed throughout the test session. I would only like to point out that Asus mainboard falls behind in archiving tasks, during physical effects calculations and in gaming tests, which is clear indication that the default memory timings are way too high. Gigabyte is not really behind, because it only drops the CPU frequency to 3.3 GHz under heavy load. But, for example, in LinX utility the performance level for this mainboard is always at 30 Gflops, because this is the performance at 3.3 GHz CPU frequency (other mainboards would normally produce about 33 Gflops in identical testing conditions, which is about 10% better.

Gigabyte GA-990FXA-UD7 mainboard didn’t participate in overclocking tests, because it can only lower the CPU frequency below the nominal value. In fact, it is possible to set the CPU frequency in the BIOS above the nominal value, but there is no way to guarantee that the CPU will actually work at the increased frequency and not at the lowered to 3.3 GHz. At least not until they add “HPC Mode” support to their BIOS. As for the other two mainboards, the Hyper-Transport bus frequency on them remained at the nominal 2600 MHz, the North bridge frequency was increased from 2200 to 2400 MHz and the memory frequency – to 1866 MHz. However, Asus mainboard allowed us to overclock our test processor to 4.5 GHz, while on MSI mainboard we had to stop 4.3 GHz that is why it is behind in all tests. The lag is quite noticeable, but not critical, and it never exceeds 4.5%.

Power Consumption

We performed our power consumption measurements using an Extech Power Analyzer 380803. This device is connected before the PSU and measures the power draw of the entire system (without the monitor), including the power loss that occurs in the PSU itself. In the idle mode we start the system up and wait until it stops accessing the hard disk. Then we use LinX to load the CPU. For a more illustrative picture there are graphs that show how the computer’s power consumption grows up depending on the number of active execution threads in LinX. The mainboards are sorted in alphabetical order on the diagrams.

We often point out that on many mainboards certain power-saving technologies are disabled by default. This time we decided to illustrate our discontent with this issue with numbers. We measured the power consumption of test systems in idle mode with default settings and then with all power-saving technologies manually enabled.

On Asus mainboard Cool’n’Quiet and c1E power-saving technologies are disabled that is why it consumes more than others. If we enable them and also enable their proprietary technologies that allow to dynamically change the number of active phases in the processor voltage regulator circuitry, the power consumption drops substantially. The same is true for the MSI board. As for Gigabyte, there is good and bad news. The good news is that all processor power-saving technologies are enabled by default and you don’t need to worry about turning them on manually. The bad news is that you need to install Easy Energy Saver utility in order to be able to use their proprietary power-saving tools, because there is still no option in the BIOS that could allow using them. As a result, we failed to lower the board’s power consumption in idle mode and it became the most energy-hungry of the three, although in the beginning things were completely different.

As for the power consumption under heavy load, we have mentioned many times before that Asus mainboards usually consume more power. However, this time Asus Crosshair V Formula turned out the most energy-efficient in nominal mode.

During overclocking Asus mainboard consumed much more than MSI, which is quite logical since it allowed higher CPU overclocking and therefore required a significant increase in voltages. Gigabyte mainboard is missing on this diagram for the same reasons as before.

Conclusion

I would like to start by stressing that we reviewed the mainboard in alphabetical order, but we would like to draw our conclusions starting from the mainboard by MSI. MSI 990FXA-GD80 disappointed us, as we expected it to perform much more impressively. We were also a little upset with the manufacturer, because they failed to ensure that it comes with the current BIOS version. We were also upset about being unable to get better overclocking results. An additional SATA 2 controller instead of a SATA 3 can hardly be considered a serious drawback, but the COM-port support is hardly a big plus. There is one consolation though: MSI 990FXA-GD80 comes at a lower price than the competition,

The next mainboard on our list, Gigabyte GA-990FXA-UD7, turned out an even bigger disappointment at this point. The parameters you really need are missing in the mainboard BIOS. Instead you have a bunch of parameters you don’t really need, which do not help the CPU and prevent you from increasing the memory clock frequency. It is hard to change anything, because you can’t always access the BIOS. The board is of larger size, which imposes certain compatibility restrictions, but it is still difficult to remove the graphics card. There are only four fan connectors onboard, and there is only one other fan besides the CPU one that allows you to adjust its rotation speed. This mainboard will be good for those who intend to build a four-way graphics configuration. However, if you want to really use this graphics configuration to the utmost of its potential, you will need a high-speed CPU, and the board can only lower its frequency below the nominal.

We do not need to once again list all the advantages of the Asus Crosshair V Formula mainboard to estimate its superiority over the competitors: they are all more than obvious, especially in comparison. We stopped at 4.5 GHz frequency during our overclocking experiments, but that occurred because of our CPU and its cooling system, and not because of the mainboard. I am sure that the mainboard can easily hit higher frequencies. It even tried to work with the memory at 2133 MHz, although it was way beyond the comfort zone for our particular memory modules. Had we used faster memory, I am certain this frequency would have been conquered successfully. A mainboard like that makes you a king. No wonder that AMD selected this particular mainboard to accompany their new CPUs at launch. Yes, the processors turned out not quite what we had expected them to be, but if you made up your mind to go with a Socket AM3+ processor, then it will be very hard to find a better mainboard than Asus Crosshair V Formula. Therefore, we are proud to award this product with our Editor’s Choice title as a great mainboard for computer enthusiasts that allows to unveil full potential of the new AMD processors: