MSI 890FXA-GD70 Motherboard Review

Author: Carl Poirier
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Monday, June 7th, 2010
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/890fxa-gd70/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

With the recent arrival of the 890FX chipset, shortly after the 890GX, many motherboard manufacturers have profited off the occasion to update their top of the line AMD motherboards. Most importantly, the new chipset, featuring the SB850 southbridge, supports SATA 6Gb/s and AHCI 1.2, which will be useful for the emerging market of solid state drives. This upgrade also requires a more powerful bus between the SB850 and the rest of the system to ensure there is not bottleneck, so that's why new northbridges had to follow.

Although the 890GX has got an IGP upgrade, the 890FX has much less new. The only new part in there is the Input/Output Memory Management Unit (IOMMU). Its purpose is to allow system devices to access virtual memory adressing. Virtual memory adresses are those which processes work with; they are not the real memory adresses. It is the memory controller's duty to convert virtual adresses to physical ones.

One manufactuer that has recently upgraded its top-of-the-line AMD motherboard is MSI. Previously the 790FX-GD70 since March 2009, it now becomes the 890FXA-GD70. The name has not changed much, eh? How about the board itself? This article is made to answer this question. First step is to look at the specifications.

Specifications

Socket AM3
CPU (Max Support) Phenom II
AM3 CPU Ready Y
FSB / Hyper Transport Bus up to 5200MT/s
Chipset AMD® RD890+SB850
DDR2 Memory N/A
DDR3 Memory DDR3 800/1066/1333/1600*/1800*/2133*(OC)
Memory Channel Dual
DIMM Slots 4
Max Memory (GB) 16
PCI-Ex16 5
PCI-E Gen Gen2 (2x16, 2x8, 1x4)
PCI-Ex4 N/A
PCI-Ex1 1
PCI 1
IDE 1
SATAIII 6
SATAII 1
RAID 0/1/5/10
LAN 10/100/1000*2
TPM 1
USB 3.0 ports (Rear) 2
USB 2.0 ports (Rear) 6
Audio ports (Rear) 6+Coaxial SPDIF/Optical SPDIF
Serial ports (Rear) N/A
Parallel ports (Rear) N/A
1394 ports (Rear) N/A
eSATA 1
Display Port N/A
VGA N/A
HDMI N/A
DVI N/A
VGA Share Memory (MB) N/A
DirectX N/A
Form Factor ATX
DrMOS Y
APS Y
Sideport Memory N/A
SLI N/A
3-way SLI N/A
Hybrid SLI N/A
CrossFire Y
Hybrid CrossFire N/A
D-LED2 N/A
Green Power Genie Y

Specifications are courtesy of MSI at http://www.msi.com/index.php?func=prodmbspec&maincat_no=1&cat2_no=&cat3_no=&prod_no=2025

The MSI 890FXA-GD70 has that same killer look as all enthusiast motherboards from the same manufacturer. That is a black printed circuit board paired with blue, black and metallic components. The only things that do not follow this color theme are the six white SATA connectors as well as the processor socket. Not much can be done about the latter, but the former could easily have followed the trend.

This time around, the top of the line AMD mainboard from MSI features five PCI-E x16 slots, allowing for quad-CrossfireX at x8. The fifth slot runs at x4, which can be useful for a plethora of peripherals, if no dual-slot graphics card is installed in the slot above it. There is still one single legacy PCI slot for those who would like to use an older device.

Another interesting thing is the placement of the northbridge, which was first featured on this board's predecessor. This is what allows a quad-CrossfireX configuration using dual-slot graphics cards on the ATX form factor. Many other motherboards, for example the Gigabyte 890FXA-UD7 and the EVGA X58 Classified 4-Way SLI,  use the XL-ATX form factor to get enough room for all four graphics cards. Of course, the case also needs to support eight expansion slots. Overall, layout wise, not much has changed from the previous MSI AMD motherboard flagship; apart from the fifth PCI-E slot mentioned earlier, the new one loses support for floppy disk drives, which makes room for a few more headers. There is also one SATA port that was moved at the back as an eSATA, and that's about it.

At the back, one will find a steel backplate painted black, and discover that all heatsinks are held via metallic screws, and not punny plastic clips.

The voltage regulating circuitry is still a 4+1 phase power design. That is four phases for the CPU cores and one phase for the integrated memory controller. It was seen in the article about the ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 that its 8+2 phase power design reached a better overclock compared to the competition. How will this one react?

The DIMMs are powered via a two-phase power design. All these circuitries will scale down to one if not much power is needed, in order to save power. There are seven LEDs near there indicating the number of active phases; four for the processor cores, one for the memory controller, and two for the DIMMs. The motherboard power connector as well as the CPU fan header are also located in this area.

At the complete bottom, from left to right, there is the front panel audio connector, the SPDIF-out connector, two Firewire headers and three USB 2.0 headers, although only one is shown in the following picture. There is also a 3-pin fan connector above.

Continuing on the right are the CMOS clear jumper and the same buttons originally found on the 790FX-GD70, including the infamous "OC Dail", which allows for real-time tuning of the HT link reference clock. Although this time, they are tactile sensors instead of mechanical buttons, which do work very well. Below the battery are the front panel headers and a Trusted Platform Module connector. There is another 3-pin fan connector as well.

Partially hidden by the PCI-E lever, in the picture, is a serial port connector. There are also the Debug LEDs, which indicate a code that corresponds to which step the board is at during POST and BOOT. In the user manual, there is a table listing these codes and their significations. The header right besides it is not documented in the manual, so it is probably meant for internal use. The other two pins very close to the southbridge heatsink are the chassis intrusion detector.

On the right are the six SATA 6Gb/s as well as the legacy IDE connector. The seventh SATA connector, in blue this time, is provided by the JMicron JMB363 controller. There are also two other 3-pin fan headers in this area, for a total of five. That's one more than most motherboards on the market. Furthermore, the southbridge is powered by a two-phase design, which will also downgrade to only one phase if MSI's Green Power technology is activated

At the back of the board, there are seven USB ports, of which two are 3.0. There is an eSATA/USB combo port as well. The 890FXA-GD70 also features a dual-LAN and a CMOS clear button at the back, which is not very common despite its usefulness. Both PS/2 ports have been conserved, and all the usual audio connectivity is there as well, including the optical and coaxial connectors.

The board's bundle includes many papers. There is a grand total of five guides, ranging from the quick installation guide to the complete user guide and the Control Center software guide. The cables consist of four SATA and an IDE one. There are also two Molex to SATA power connector adapter as well as one USB 2.0 expansion bracket. Finally, the I/O shield, the CrossfireX bridge and quick connectors are also at the rendez-vous.

So what is the MSI Control Center? The next page is all about it.

The MSI Control Center is a utility that lets the user save and activate some overclocking profiles on the go, as well as find out how much power is saved with the Green Power and Active Phase technologies. It can also display all the important information about the system.

There are four different profiles, although they are all customizable. The default profiles will make the base clock vary from 197 to 207MHz. That's right; it goes under 200MHz. In fact, it can go down to 190MHz! That's quite nice.

The memory timings can be modified, too.

It is not really a replacement to AMD Overdrive though, since it does not allow changing the various multipliers.

Next, the OC Genie function can be activated. As from within the BIOS, it will require a system reboot, and upon POST it will find the maximum HT link reference clock, as will be shown in the overclocking section.

Finally, the power savings can be measured in the Green Power section.

The motherboard LEDs indicating the number of active phases can also be enabled or disabled from there.

It is now time to begin testing!

Neoseeker has just upgraded its test setup. It now features an HD 5870 1GB as well as new memory, courtesy of Mushkin, with enhanced timings of 8-8-8-24, still at 1600MHz. For the AMD platform, the motherboard now becomes the ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3, which will be in the comparison against this article's subject.

Test Setup

 

Benchmarks

Overclocking the MSI 890FXA-GD70 was a great experience, even though it did not go as far as other boards. One thing that was particularly great to work with is the very precise HT link reference clock. At stock, it is exactly at 200MHz, unlike both comparison boards which overclock it a bit, around 201MHz. Also, when a particular value is set in the BIOS, the actual value is exactly that, so this time there won't be any need to say something like "Baseclock of 219MHz, resulting in 219.7MHz" in the settings below, as was done in previous articles.

First thing tested was the Auto OC Genie, a feature that can be activated in the BIOS which at next POST will find the maximum HT link reference clock. It has configured the system at 207MHz, bringing the processor at 3519MHz. It's not that great of an increase when similar technologies from other vendors go much higher. ASUS' Turbo Key II is one great example. Of course, ASUS' implementation also raised the core voltage, but it is not really an excuse since Phenom IIs can reach 3800MHz on stock voltages easily.

Now, of course, manual overclocking has yielded much better results. As was said, it was a tad limited compared to other boards though, especially on the memory controller. Around 2600MHz, the latter would require greatly enhanced voltage, which was a tad too much for the cooling solution used at a full blown overclock under full load. Here are the final settings used:

For a visual approach, the overclocks achieved on different motherboards can be represented in a graph.

This program includes benchmarks for most hardware. The CPU arithmetic and multi-core efficiency benchmark will be run as well as memory bandwidth and latency.

For this benchmark, the MSI 890FXA-GD70 has surpassed the ASUS M4A89GTD PRO by a tiny amount in the processor arithmetic test. The memory latency was reported as one nanosecond less than the 790FX board. It did however not fare very well in the memory bandwidth test, where oddly enought it was more than 700MB/s slower than the two other boards. The benchmark was run and run again many times, coming to the same conclusion. The multi-core efficiency was a tad low also. Overclocking yielded great results in every case.

HandBrake is an application that converts sound and video files to other formats. It makes use the many available threads so it can exploit the processor to its full potential.

POV-Ray, for Persistence of Vision Raytracer, is a 3D rendering software that has impressive photo-realistic capabilities.

For both of these tests, the 890FXA-GD70 was the slowest. Video encoding took one second more than the 890GX and 790FX boards, and POV-Ray granted it a mere one point less than the Gigabyte board. Obviously, overclocking yielded great results.

Everyone knows WinRAR, so no need to explain what it is. Neoseeker's custom 100MB, 500MB and 1000MB files will be archived using the greatest compression setting, in the ZIP format.

Cinebench R11.5 is another rendering program. The new rendering scheme used in it is much better than its predecessor one for exploiting all processor cores equally.

WinRAR ran considerably slower on MSI's latest. Cinebench reported it as being halfway in between the 790FX and 890GX boards. Once overclocked, the winner was evident.

HDTune is a benchmarking program for hard drives. Their speed also depends on the chipset so this is why the read speed test is ran.

PCMark resembles a lot to the 3DMark suite from FutureMark, except the fact that it includes many other tests like hard drive speed, memory and processor power, so it is considered as a system benchmark and not just a gaming benchmark.

This time, the MSI mainboard came out on top, with a slightly better burst speed, which exceeded the 180MB/s once overclocked. As for PCMark, the Gigabyte board bites the dust at more than 450 points lower than today's subject, which was in turn surpassed by ASUS' offering. Overclocking allowed it to take the lead, though.

Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack of the original Crysis, at that time well known for requiring the most powerful hardware to play at maxed settings. It uses an enhanced version of the same engine.

Bioshock is a creepy first person shooter. It is the oldest of the games in Neoseeker's benchmarking suite, hence the high FPS.

Both games have ordered the contenders in the same order; that is 790FX board last, the 890FX board second and the 890GX one first. Once overclocked, the 890FXA-GD70 showed a clear lead.

Far Cry 2 is another first person shooter that has been developed by Ubisoft. The story takes place in Africa, where the ultimate goal is to assassinate an arms dealer.

Left 4 Dead is a first-person shooter developed by Valve. It uses the Source Engine. Four survivors must fight against infected people in order to reach a safe area.

This time, the article's subject has finished last. In Left 4 Dead, the difference was clearly measurable, with a difference of more than 10 frames/second. This game's benchmark heavily depends on memory bandwidth, and the synthetic tests reported it to be lower. The tests were run many times, and the results repeated themselves. The ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 dominated the competition, except of course when MSI's latest was overclocked.

Power Consumption

The 890FX chipset did not show any significant advantage under full load. MSI's Active Phase Switching did allow the board to consume 8% less power at idle, where the processor, DIMM and southbridge phases were brought down to one. The ASUS board remained untouched however, with a quite large advantage under full load. However, with the HT link reference clock downclocked to 190MHz, as shown on page two, the system idled another 3W lower, thus beating the M4A89GTD PRO/USB3!

 

Conclusion

The performance of the 890FXA-GD70 was not quite up to the task. Against the ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3, it could only win in one benchmark. That is quite deceiving, but explanable. As was said in the overclocking section, the MSI board is very accurate when it comes to the HT link reference clock. At stock, it will run a nice 200.0MHz, which thus clocks the processor at an exact 3400MHz. What the ASUS and the Gigabyte board do though is overclock that reference clock a bit at stock, around 201MHz. The processor then finds itself clocked at 3415 to 3420MHz. That's enough to give a slight advantage to the competition in benchmarks. So the 890FXA-GD70 should not be punished for this. However there is not only that; the memory bandwidth was reported to be lower than the other boards, which showed up quite a lot in Left 4 Dead. Other benchmarks might have suffered a bit also.

This article's did show however that the new chipsets perform a tad better than the previous generation; while the 890FXA-GD70 was at one test of beating the (slightly overclocked) 790FX board, the 890GX has taken care of it.

The 4+1 phase power design with active switching did allow the board to idle at a lower power consumption, however, even locked at the full 4+1, it seemed to be a tad limiting for overclocking. In fact, it did not even go as far as Gigabyte's own 4+1 phase power design on the 890GPA-UD3H. At least, it was fun to work with, mainly because of the accurate HT link reference clock, as said earlier. Going below the 200MHz mark also allowed for many more possibilities, thanks to the MSI Control Center software.

What really makes the strength of the MSI 890FXA-GD70 is the few little features here and there. First of all, there are the onboard power buttons, the OC Dial and the CMOS clear button at the back, for overclockers. For storage, its extra SATA controller is great for allowing an eSATA port at the back, while still keeping the six SATA 6Gb/s ports provided by the SB850 available for internal storage, including a killer RAID setup. For a nice cooling system, there is a grand total of five fan headers, which is one more than most boards. And finally, there is the PCI-E configuration, allowing for quad-CrossfireX with dual-slot graphics cards. Not many motherboards offer this possibility on the ATX form factor.

Overall, the MSI 890FXA-GD70 is a solid board despite its tiny bit lower performance and overclocking. It will be great for anyone in need of the ultimate gaming setup.

»Neoseeker.com

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