ECS A890GXM-A2 Motherboard Review

Author: Carl Poirier
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Monday, June 6th, 2011
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/ecs_a890gxm_a2/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

It's been a little while since Neoseeker has taken a look at a motherboard for AMD's Socket AM3 CPU platform. The 800-series chipsets launched in March 2 of last year, and all the hype has since gone downhill. A bunch of 800-series chipset motherboards were sent to our labs for benchmarking, but unfortunately the ones from ECS didn't impress; the last one that was tested was the ECS A890GXM-A, and it just wasn't so great.

ECS has now revised its 890GX offerings, and is back with the A890GXM-A2. As one can see through the window in the packaging, the motherboard has got a new color scheme, which seems to fit better with the Black Series naming. Brand naming is not going to help overclocking, which its predecessor didn't exactly wow us with. Can the A890GXM-A2 do any better, and actually deserve an award?

 

Specifications
CPU º Socket AM3 socket for AMD Phenom™ II processors
º Support 125W Phenom™ II X6 processors
º High-performance HyperTransport 3.0 CPU Interface
º Support transfer rate up to 5200 mega-transfers per second
º Note: This board supports CPU up to 140W TDP only; you can refer to check your CPU.
Chipset º AMD® 890GX & AMD® SB850
º North Bridge: AMD® 890GX
º South Bridge: AMD® SB850
Graphics º On Chip (AMD 890GX-based with ATI™ Radeon HD4290 graphics )
º Integrated DirectX10.1 graphics processor
º Share Memory: Maximum up to 512MB
º AMD SidePort Memory : DDR3-1333 (64Mx16=128MB)
Memory º Dual-channel DDR3 memory architecture
º 4 x 240-pin DDR3 DIMM socket support up to 32 GB
º Support DDR3 up to 1800(OC)/1600(OC)/1333/1066 DDR3 SDRAM
º *(Due to the DRAM maximum size is 4GB at present, the memory maximum size we have tested is 16GB) 
º *(Due to AMD CPU spec limitation, please refer to Memory QVL for more information)
Due to the operating system limitation, the actual memory size may be less than 4GB for the reservation for system usage under Windows® 32-bit OS.
For Windows® 64-bit OS with 64-bit CPU, there is no such limitation
Expansion Slots º 3 x PCI Express Gen 2.0 x16 slots
º 1 x PCI Express x1 slot
º 1 x PCI slot
º *The second PCIEX16 only support bandwidth x4
Storage º Support by AMD® SB850
    • 5 x Serial ATA 6.0Gb/s devices
    • 1 x eSATA 3Gb/s port
    • RAID0, RAID1, RAID5, RAID 10 configuration
Audio º Realtek ALC892 8-Ch High Definition audio CODEC
º Compliant with HD audio specification
LAN º Dual Realtek 8111DL 10/100/1000 Fast Ethernet Controller
Rear Panel I/O º 1 x D-sub(VGA)
º 1 x HDMI Port
º 1 x DVI Port
º 1 x Display port
º 2 x RJ45 LAN connectors
º 1 x Audio port (Line-in, Line-out, Mic-in)
º 1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector
º 1 x Clear_CMOS button
º 1 x eSATA 3Gb/s port
º 2 x USB 3.0 ports compatible to both USB 3.0 / 2.0 devices
º 4 x USB 2.0 Ports
Internal I/O Connectors º 1 x 24-pin ATX Power Supply connector
º 1 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power Connector
º 1 x 4pin CPU_FAN connectors
º 1 x 3-pin PWR_FAN connector
º 1 x 3-pin SYS_FAN connector
º 1 x Power on button
º 1 x Reset button
º 1 x Speaker header
º 1 x Front panel switch/LED header
º 1 x Front panel audio header
º 1 x SPDIF out header
º 1 x Clear CMOS header
º 1X Power on LED (Green light)
º 1X Stand by LED (Red Light)
º 5 x Serial ATA 6Gb/s connectors
º 4 x USB 2.0 headers support additional 8 USB ports
º 1 x Chassis intrusion header
System BIOS º AMI BIOS with 8Mb SPI Flash ROM
º Supports Plug and Play, STR (S3) / STD (S4) , Hardware monitor, Multi Boot
º Supports ACPI & DMI
º Audio, LAN, can be disabled in BIOS
º F11 hot key for boot up devices option
º Support over-clocking
º Support eJIFFY
º Support Page Up clear CMOS Hotkey
º Support ECS M.I.B III Utility
º CPU voltage adjustable
º Memory voltage adjustable
    • NB Chipset Voltage Adjustable
    • HT Voltage Adjustable
    • External Clock Adjustable
    • Multiple Frequency Adjustable
Form Factor º ATX Size 305mm*244mm

 


The board, with its new trappings, would look well in a case such as the NZXT Phantom. Its heatsinks are adorned with decals that are also well suited to a phantasmal theme.

The backplate is made out of plastic, like many of the motherboards on the market.

An interesting feature is the hardware load indicator feature, right above the heatsink retention bracket. Seven LEDs will act as a gauge to visually show the aforementioned information. Also worth noting is the 8-pin connector used for powering the processor.

The socket and memory slots are standard. Of course, the CPU fan connector is 4-pin, meaning the fan attached to it can be thermally controlled. On the left is the 3-pin "PWR_FAN" connector.

To the bottom right are power and reset buttons, useful for open-air benchmarking. Connectivity from the SB850 southbridge consists of five SATA 6Gbps ports as well as four USB 2.0 headers.

The northbridge meanwhile is located under the same heatsink as the power circuitry. Between it and the retention bracket screw is the 128MB sideport memory for the IGP. There is also a molex power connector.

The back of the board is populated with some interesting tenants. We have Mr. eSATA  running at 6Gbps, the LAN twins and the video team consisting of DisplayPort, HDMI, DVI and VGA. There is also the nifty clear CMOS little guy, the USB family with the two younglings being 3.0, and the audio group composed of five analog people and their digital master.

Finally, included in the package are four SATA cables, an eSATA bracket, the I/O shield, some plastic shields for the video team, the usual manual, installation guide and driver DVD.

Test Setup

 

Benchmarks

Unfortunately, ECS once again disappoints greatly with the overclocking capabilities of this board. First of all, as with the A890GXM-A, the real reference clock was far from the settings in the BIOS. This is very annoying, because when shooting for a particular frequency, it's always a couple of MHz off, often by as much as over 10MHz. The following table illustrates this:

ref
real
ref
real
200
199.6
208
210
201
199.6
209
210
202
199.6
210
210
203
204.6
211
212.5
204
204.6
212
212.5
205
205
213
212.5
206
207.5
214
212.5
207
207.5
215
214.5

That doesn't mean the board cannot be overclocked. In truth not much was expected from today's subject, although considering the test platform consisted of the capable Phenom II X6 1100T, the first settings to be tried were 4.1GHz at 1.45V. The OCCT stress test was started, and after a few minutes, the computer just shut off. Nothing would happen if the power button was pushed. Power cycling the power supply would allow the fans to spin a bit, but nothing more. It was then discovered that the Mushkin 800W PSU was dead. After replacing it with a brand new unit, another 800W from Mushkin, the system booted fine at stock. At first, the PSU looked to be responsible so the overclocked setting were set back, and the same thing happened twice: the computer just shut down and would not restart until the power supply switch was toggled.

This seemed very abnormal as a symptom of failed overclocking. Nevertheless, the overclock was reduced to 4GHz, 1.45V. The ECS board booted into Windows and the OCCT test was started. All of a sudden, some smoke appeared from under the VRM heatsink! So the computer was immediately shut off via the power supply switch. Though the damage was limited by shutting down the machine quickly, after removing the heatsink it was very clear that this ECS board would never boot again:

Obviously, the ECS representative was notified about the issue. The only point brought to the table was that the heatsink used, a Cooler Master V8, doesn't support the Phenom II X6s officially according to the specifications. It is rated however at 180W thermal dissipation power, which is way above the 125W TDP of the processor. Keeping the temperatures in check is basic when it comes to overclocking, so obviously the Neoseeker team knows how. Anyway, a processor overheating wouldn't have caused a fire in the VRM area; according to past experience, the stability of Phenom IIs really begins to suffer over 60oC, so at our set speed, the system would simply have had instability symptoms.

Because of this adventure, Neoseeker will not be able to offer overclocked scores in the following pages.

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.

The charts are easy to analyse; the A890GXM-A finished last everywhere. The only exception is memory latency where it was a tie.

HandBrake is an application that converts sound and video files to other formats. It makes use of  all 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.

It took the ECS board a mere second more than the other boards to encode the 1080P video sample. POV-Ray shows the same tiny performance difference.

7-Zip is a compression program, much like WinRAR, except it is open-source. It features a built-in test, which gives a score for compression and decompression.

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.

The 7-Zip compression and decompression benchmark put the ECS board a little behind once again. Cinebench also saw it place dead last.

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 owes much of 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.

Once again, the scores are very similar to prior benchmark results, with the ASUS board leading by a small margin.

Futuremark's latest 3DMark 2011 is designed for testing DirectX 11 hardware running on Windows 7 and Windows Vista. The benchmark includes six all new tests that make extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading.

Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack of the original Crysis, which at the time of its release was well known for requiring the most powerful hardware to play at maxed settings. Warhead uses an enhanced version of the Crytek engine.

The ECS board took the lead in 3DMark 2011 at the extreme preset settings.

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

DiRT 2 is the most recent driving game in the Colin McRae series. It features a built-in benchmark displaying a race of computer players from the viewpoint of the gamer.

In Far Cry 2, which is heavily bottlenecked by the CPU, the A890GXM-A2 was one FPS slower in all but the largest resolutions. DiRT 2 saw a similar result at 1280x1204.

For these two tests, both boards will run on their integrated HD4290 graphics processor. They both have a DDR3-1333 sideport memory chip.

Street Fighter IV is a game made by Capcom. It has a free benchmarking tool that will be used to test the HD 4200 capabilities. World in Conflict is developed by Massive Entertainment and it also has a benchmarking tool, accessible in the game settings. Both games will be tested at 1280x1024. For World in Conflict, the graphics details will be set as "Very Low", and for Street Fighter IV they will be at the lowest settings.

Street Fighter IV showed a pretty insignificant difference between the boards, while they managed to score a tie in World in Conflict.


Power Consumption

The A890GXM-A2's power consumption was reduced by 3 Watts at idle. Under load however, it could not compete with ASUS' Energy Processing Unit (EPU) and 8+1 phase power design.

 

Conclusion

The A890GXM-A2 was a nice motherboard... before it died. Its onboard DisplayPort and 6Gb/s eSATA are great connectivity options to begin with. Having a third PCI-E x16 running at x4 would also be useful for devices like a solid-state drive. There is the BIOS reset button at the back and the onboard power buttons, useful for overclockers. In other words, it takes the strengths of the A890GXM-A previously reviewed, and adds what is missing: USB 3.0. The controller for this features does take the place of a PCI-E x1 channel though.

As for performance, most benchmarks put it a bit below the ASUS M4A89GTD PRO. Considering the tendency of the ASUS boards to overclock the reference speeds by 1 to 2 MHz at stock, that was to be expected. The A890GXM-A2 does the opposite, though the difference is not as pronounced; as seen in the tables on the overclocking page, it is 0.4MHz below the round number, resulting in a 6.6MHz lower stock frequency. Therefore, the apparent performance difference in the previous graphs are mostly caused by ASUS, but ECS is also to be blamed. That's a very minor quirk that is obviously only measurable in benchmarks though.

Overall, it's too bad that the A890GXM-A2 could not survive Neoseeker's very reasonable overclocking demands, part of the standard testing procedure, because despite the reference clock that is somewhat inaccurate, at $130 it would have been a good offering that's priced competitively for its market.

»Neoseeker.com

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