AMD 890GX Chipset Review

Author: Carl Poirier
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/890gx/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

It hasn't been a long time since AMD launched the 785G chipset, featuring the integrated ATI Radeon HD 4200. As we have seen, this IGP has many great features packed in it, including DirectX 10.1 support, audio via HDMI and Unified Video Decoding 2. The only thing that left me wanting more is that the older HD3300 at the heart of the 790GX chipset was still stronger than the HD4200 in gaming, due to its 200Mhz higher frequency. I was then wondering that, if the 790GX is an updated 780G, would AMD release an updated HD4200, something along the lines of an 795GX?

Then came the Clarkdale processors from Intel featuring an IGP clocked at 733 or 900MHz, which in our tests proved to perform better than the HD4200 in gaming. A few days later, AMD announced it would soon launch the first of its new series chipset. Today is when we get to see this updated HD4200 I was hoping for; the 890GX houses the HD4290, featuring a 200MHz higher clock. How will it compare to the Clarkdale IGP? Will AMD get back its title of the best IGP all around? My first guess is that this is very probable, since the HD4200, clock-for-clock, is still faster than Clarkdale. But we will find out either way, today.

The 890GX is not much different than its predecessor physically; the IGP has the same 40 unified shaders with a 128bit memory interface, and has the ability to use a 128MB DDR3 sideport memory. What differentiates it though are the PCI-E lanes. Whereas the 785G would only run two PCI-E slots at x16/x4, the new chipset can do x8/x8 so a second video card will not be bottle-necked as much. Of course, if only one video card is installed, it will run at x16. Furthermore, the HD4290 can run in Hybrid CrossfireX mode with the HD5450 videocard. The following picture is that new 890GX northbridge and its sideport memory chip, on the ASUS M4A89GTD PRO /USB3.

The other main difference is the connection between it and the southbridge; the Alink Express bandwidth has been increased from 1 to 2GB/s. This was a smart move since the new SB850 supports SATA III(6Gbps) natively on all of its six ports, which has in turn double the bandwidth of the previous generation. This makes AMD the very first chipset manufacturer to offer this technology without the need for a discrete controller. This is just not comparable to the latest Intel chipsets, which are only equipped of first generation PCI-E x1 connections to connect external controllers, thus bottle-necking the SATA III and USB 3.0 at a low 250MB/s, unless a bridge is used to make up one PCI-E 2.0 from two 1.0 lanes, like on the ASUS P7P55D motherboard.  Back to the SB850, USB 3.0 has not been implemented unfortunately, but AMD did however add two PCI-E 2.0 lanes to the southbridge, so properly implementing a discrete USB 3.0 controller is a kid's game. Therefore, most boards will probably have only two USB 3.0 ports because this is what the controllers provide.

It is also important to note that Mozilla Firefox 3.7 will most probably feature the Direct2D API (the alpha already does). Web pages based on Adobe Flash will be rendered much faster, benefitting from GPUs such as the HD42xx family for hardware-accelerated 2D rendering.

I will mainly focus on HD4290 performance. Of course, I will investigate how it performs compared to its predecessor, but also I will also include Intel's HD graphics scores to see how it compares to that. The benchmarks are going to be adapted to the performance of IGPs, like we did before. Since our article on Clarkdale, ATI has released many updates to its Catalyst video drivers so the HD4200 will see its numbers updated.

Test Setup

AMD Radeon HD4290

Comparison Setups

AMD Radeon HD4200

Intel HD Graphics Media Accelerator

Benchmarks

Overclocking

I used the Gigabyte MA890GPA-UD3H to run the overclocked tests. The HD4290 successfully clocked up to 1120MHz, although I could boot up to 1250MHz. To do that, I increased the northbridge voltage from 1.3 to 1.6V in the BIOS. The sideport memory also went up to 1640MHz, with an extra 0.15V. I used 3DMark06 and Guitar Hero III to ensure stability. I must also mention that I installed a 92mm fan pointing toward the northbridge heatsink to keep it cool. Even then, I could definitely feel the heat. Without a fan, it would probably have hit dangerous thresholds. Unfortunately, I don't have a GPU-z screenshot to show you since support for the HD4290 has not been added yet. A safer overclock would be around 1GHz, on stock voltages.

Power Consumption

At stock, the power consumption of the new chipset is pretty much the same as its predecessor. 5W are well within the variation from board to board. The Intel H55 and Clarkdale processor remains untouched. We do know though that the true quad-core Phenom II X4 965 beats the similarly-priced Clarkdale, from one of our previous analysis, so this is justifiable. Once the IGP, the HT link and the CPU-NB was overclocked, the power consumption reached new heights though.

3DMark06 is the well-known benchmark from FutureMark. It features graphics tests as well as CPU tests. It is going to be run at standard settings so the score is comparable with any other.

The Intel and AMD platform are pretty much on par, with maybe a slim advantage to Intel. Once the HD4290 IGP is overclocked, it just stomps its competitor though.

 

Cinebench 11.5 is a rendering program that features a CPU test optimized for many-core processors, but also an OpenGL test to measure the video card performance. The latter is what I will run on our subject.

When it comes to OpenGL rendering, it looks like the Intel HD Graphics have less on the Radeon, which scales very well with frequency.

Guitar Hero III is the widly popular game featuring a guitar-shaped controller. The player must hit the frets as they pass on the track on the screen. I used Fraps to monitor the fps of the song "Story of my Life" at hard difficulty.

The HD4290 already tops the vertical synchronization at 1280x1024 at stock. Once overclocked, it reaches it at 1600x1200! Intel is just not in the race there.

 

Heroes of Might and Magic V is the fifth of the well known series originally developed by 3DO. The license is now held by Ubisoft and the game has been gifted with much more advanced graphics than the previous ones. Once again, I used Fraps to measure the first five minutes of the first campaign.

At the lowest resolution, it is a tie between the HD 4290 and the Clarkdale IGP. The latter does win at 1600x1200 though, but gets ferociously beaten by the 1120MHz monster.

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.

The HD4290 is once again beaten by the Clarkdale at stock, but not by much. Once again it takes back the lead by a great distance once overclocked.

 

Bioshock is a creepy first person shooter. It is the oldest of the games in our benchmarking suite, so it is not too harsh on the integrated graphics.

Bioshock gave the edge to AMD this time, with one more FPS in both resolution. Like Left 4 Dead, this game was easily playable with a reasonable overclock.

The most popular, free media streaming website now hosts 720p as well as 1080p content, which happens to be quite processor intensive. Fortunately, Flash 10.1 offers GPU acceleration to offload the CPU, so that's why I am looking at CPU usage to measure the IGP performance. During testing, the Core i5-661 hovered around 10% processor usage, providing smooth playback with plenty of room to multitask in the background.

The 890GX platform scored a bit better than its predecessor, with Intel being the worst.

 

Conclusion

The HD4290 is exactly what I was hoping for after testing the 785G chipset. In terms of video performance, it is pretty much equivalent to the Intel IGP found in the Core i5-661. I say Core i5-661 specifically because it has its HD graphics processor clocked at 900MHz, whereas all other Clarkdale based processors have it clocked at a lower 733MHz. We can safely assume that these would be no match for the HD4290. Where our subject really shines compared to Intel is for computation. Both the Flash acceleration and the OpenGL test have put AMD's solution quite a bit ahead, thanks to the highly-parallel architecture that the unified shaders are.

Then comes the other part of the chipset: the southbridge. AMD did an awesome job refreshing its I/O solution. The SB850, packing six SATA 6Gbps connections natively, gives an edge to the AMD platform. Furthermore, integrating two PCI-E 2.0 lanes into the southbridge is an excellent idea since it provides the right interface for motherboard manufactures to add dedicated controllers. I did notice however that both ASUS and Gigabyte placed the NEC USB 3.0 controller closer to the northbridge, meaning that it is most probably connected to it instead, which is fine also. The southbridge lanes just provide another option for motherboard manufactures to be creative! The Alink Express also gets to its third revision, with an increased bandwidth of 2GB/s, so it will not be a bottleneck; everything has been thought. On the other side ot the fence, I just cannot understand why Intel only equipped its newest chipsets with first generation PCI-E lanes only, which might reveal to be a bottleneck for some devices if not implemented correctly. It would have been great to see USB 3.0 integrated in the SB850 as well though, and personally I don't think the extra two USB 2.0 connections, for a total of 14, will make up for it as most motherboards don't even feature 12 USB ports.

One thing I would now like to see on the market is a lower-end southbridge chip, something along the lines of a SB810. If like the SB710, it should feature roughly the same connectivity as its higher-end brother, effectively bringing SATA III to the masses. I think this is the opportunity for AMD to push this technology in pre-built computers one can buy at FutureShop, Best Buy, Staples and others before its competitor. For sure there are going to really cheap 890GX motherboards, but I doubt pre-builts will be based on this chipset.

Overall, the 890GX chipset is a nice refresh for the AMD platform, and it will run the upcoming Phenom II X6 greatly. Many board partners have prepared great motherboards for the enthusiast community, which are already available at the moment you read these lines. Expect to see another article soon in which we will take a closer look to the two motherboards used for testing here as well as a third one from ECS. Stay tuned!

Update 2010/03/08: Many 890GX boards are available since a few days now. The MSI 890GXM-G65 costs as low as $130, which also includes USB 3.0. As for intel, the only motherboard available now that can make use of Clarkdale's IGP and featuring the two new standards is the ASUS P7H57D-V EVO, selling for $200. This is quite a big difference in price. Add to that the extra performance a Phenom II X4 965 has compared to the similarly priced Clarkdale, and we have a winning platform!

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