Gigabyte 990FXA-UD5 Motherboard Review

Author: Carl Poirier
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Thursday, May 3rd, 2012
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/gigabyte_990fxa-ud5/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

The AMD Bulldozer architecture has seen great overclocking numbers since its launch. Here at Neoseeker, the FX-8150 reached 4.74GHz with the ASUS Crosshair V Formula when cooling was adequate. That board was provided in the review kit at launch, and was most likely selected because it was, in some way better, than competing offerings. Looking at the previous AM3 motherboards, one may wonder if all the available options in the UEFI for adjusting the power regulation circuitry parameters were going to be the norm for the AM3+ offerings. However, is such a circuitry as high-end and as optimized as needed to get the most out of the AMD FX line of processors?

Today, Neoseeker is taking a look at another offering from a different manufacturer, the Gigabyte 990FXA-UD5. Despite it being a board for the high-end spectrum of the market, it's quite a bit cheaper than the Crosshair V Formula. It will be interesting to see how it fares on the overclocking front.

Specifications
CPU Support for AMD AM3+ FX™
Support for AMD AM3 Phenom™ II/Athlon™ Processors
Hyper Transport Bus 5200MT/s
Chipset Northbridge: AMD 990FX
Southbridge: AMD SB950
Memory 4 x 1.5V DDR3 DIMM sockets supporting up to 32 GB of system memory
Dual channel memory architecture
Support for DDR3 2000(O.C.)/1866/1600/1333/1066 MHz memory modules
Audio Realtek ALC889 codec
High Definition Audio
2/4/5.1/7.1-channel
Support for Dolby Home Theater
Support for S/PDIF Out
LAN 1 x Realtek RTL8111E chip (10/100/1000 Mbit)
Expansion Slots 2 x PCI Express x16 slots, running at x16 (PCIEX16_1, PCIEX16_2)
1 x PCI Express x16 slots, running at x8 (PCIEX8)
2 x PCI Express x16 slots, running at x4 (PCIEX4_1, PCIEX4_2)
1 x PCI Express x1 slot
1 x PCI slot
Multi-Graphics Technology Support for 2-Way/3-Way AMD CrossFireX™ and NVIDIA SLI™ technology
Storage Interface South Bridge:
- 6 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors (SATA3_0~SATA3_5) supporting up to 6 SATA 6Gb/s devices
Support for SATA RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID5, RAID 10 and JBOD
2 x Marvell 88SE9172 chips:
- 2 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors (GSATA3_6, GSATA3_7) supporting up to 2 SATA 6Gb/s devices
- 2 x eSATA 6Gb/s connectors on the back panel supporting up to 2 SATA 6Gb/s devices
- Support for RAID 0 and RAID 1
USB South Bridge:
- Up to 14 USB 2.0/1.1 ports (8 ports on the back panel, 6 ports available through the internal USB headers)
2 x Etron EJ168 chips:
- Up to 4 USB 3.0/2.0 ports (2 ports on the back panel, 2 ports available through the internal USB header)
IEEE 1394 VIA VT6308 chip:
- Up to 2 IEEE 1394a ports (1 port on the back panel, 1 port available through the internal IEEE 1394a header)
Internal I/O Connectors 1 x 24-pin ATX main power connector
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V power connector
8 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
1 x CPU fan header
2 x system fan headers
1 x power fan header
1 x front panel header
1 x front panel audio header
1 x S/PDIF Out header
3 x USB 2.0/1.1 headers
1 x USB 3.0/2.0 header
1 x IEEE 1394a header
1 x serial port header
1 x clearing CMOS jumper
1 x Trusted Platform Module (TPM) header
Back Panel Connectors 1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse port
1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector
1 x IEEE 1394 port
8 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
2 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports
2 x eSATA 6Gb/s connector
1 x RJ-45 port
6 x audio jacks (Center/Subwoofer Speaker Out/Rear Speaker Out/Side Speaker Out/Line In/Line Out/Microphone)
I/O Controller ITE IT8720 chip
H/W Monitoring System voltage detection
CPU/System temperature detection
CPU/System/Power fan speed detection
CPU overheating warning
CPU/System/Power fan fail warning
CPU/System fan speed control
BIOS 2 x 32 Mbit flash
Use of licensed AWARD BIOS
Support for DualBIOS™
PnP 1.0a, DMI 2.0, SM BIOS 2.4, ACPI 1.0b
Unique Features Support for @BIOS
Support for Q-Flash
Support for Xpress BIOS Rescue
Support for Download Center
Support for Xpress Install
Support for Xpress Recovery2
Support for EasyTune
Support for Easy Energy Saver
Support for Smart Recovery
Support for Auto Green
Support for ON/OFF Charge
Support for Cloud OC
Support for 3TB+ Unlock
Support for Q-Share
Bundle Software Norton Internet Security (OEM version)
Operating System Support for Microsoft Windows 7/ Vista/ XP
Form Factor ATX Form Factor; 30.5cm x 24.4cm

Specifications are courtesy of Gigabyte @ http://www.gigabyte.com/products/product-page.aspx?pid=3891#sp

The board is a deep black; contrary to many other PCBs of the same color, it is not offset by traces of brown. In fact, the only elements on that board that are not black or some shade of grey are the blue stripes on the heatsinks. It yields a nice but not too agressive look compared to the tints of blue used in the previous series. The five full length PCI-E slots are also eye-catching. The board is also a tad heavy; it feels quite sturdy probably due to the extra layers of copper, being part of the Ultra Durable technology from Gigabyte.

The black color scheme of the board is even more apparent on the other side, as the steel backplate is also the same color. Here it becomes evident that two expansion slots are only wired at x4 and one at x8. Interestingly, Gigabyte has put three ICs at the back of the board, something not normally seen. They are quite small however and not expected to be an inconvenience.

 

The VRM circuitry is quite imposing. There are eight phases for the CPU core and two phases for the uncore, like the Crosshair V Formula. It is however fed only by an 8-pin power connector and does not have any other connector in extra. Finally, the CPU fan header is the 4-pin type; it can control the fan speed either by PWM for the corresponding connector, or by voltage if the chosen fan has only 3 pins.

On the right are the four DIMM slots. For a configuration in dual-channel, it is recommended to install the sticks in the second and farmost slots to the socket. There is also the ATX power connector, a 3-pin fan header and the battery in that area. The latter is well-positioned here, as access to it won't be hindered by the expansion cards.

The southbridge area is filled up with six SATA 6Gbps connections, another pair of connectors in grey provided by the Gigabyte SATA controller, a USB 3.0 header provided by an Etrontech controller, a TPM header, the usual front panel header, and a 4-pin fan header. Further to the left are three USB 2.0 headers, the front panel audio header, a Firewire header and a serial port header. There is also a fourth fan header, this time of the 3-pin variety.

 

Due to the lack of an IGP, there is plenty of room for lots of USB ports. There are ten of them, of which two are the latest standard. They are accompanied by a multi-purpose PS/2 connector, a Firewire, a Gigabit LAN, an optical audio out, six analog jacks and two eSATA, which bring the total number of SATA connections to ten.

Included with the board is the usual manuals, the driver DVD, four SATA cables, the I/O shield and a little branded sticker. Gigabyte has also included SLI bridges for both 2 and 3-way configurations.

The Gigabyte 990FXA-UD5 will be pit against the ASUS Crosshair V Formula. The two patches for Bulldozer have been applied to the operating system.

Test Setup

 

Benchmarks

 

Overclocking

No magic is required to overclock the Gigabyte board; it's done the same way as all the other AM3 and AM3+ boards. This time however, the expectations were high so right off the bat the processor was set to 4.5GHz via its unlocked multiplier. It happily ran at that clock, so the clock got increased another 100MHz. 4.7GHz proved too much though, so with a reference clock adjustment, it ended up at a stable 4636MHz on the cores. What clearly limited the core clock is the important voltage drop under load, commonly known as vdroop. In fact, the voltage needed to be set higher so that after the drop it would remain sufficient for stability. It's a tad worrying because the higher voltage at idle can effectively work toward damaging the processor. The vdroop is represented in the screenshot below by the maximum and minimum reading in HwMonitor. For overclocking the IMC, the same principle was applied. Finally, it was a matter of finding the right settings that would maximize both frequencies simultaneously.

So here are the final settings used:

It therefore falls short compared to the other board:

A small overclocking session with LN2 had been also planned. Originally, the ASUS Crosshair V Formula was going to be the board of choice due to its better performance with liquid cooling, but it had a small problem and therefore the Gigabyte had a chance to prove what it really is capable of by taking its place. It ended up being able to take a suicide screenshot at 7.587GHz. Considering there is absolutely no binning involved here and a quite ordinary home-made cooling pot was used in comparison to the better ones designed by Aaron Shradin (seen during the AMD Bulldozer Overclocking Demonstration), it's not shabby at all.

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 Gigabyte board leads the memory benchmarks at stock, but falls a bit short in the processor ones. The Crosshair V Formula dominates in every field even with the Gigabyte setup overclocked.

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. The input video is a 1:48 mp4 file coming from the Lord of the Rings, in 1080p. The file is 96MB large and it will be converted to the mkv format.

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

Here the 990FXA-UD5 is slightly behind the Crosshair V Formula in POV-Ray, but Handbrake puts both boards on equal footing. However, the Asus board still wins once both offerings are overclocked.

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

Cinebench 11.5 is another rendering program supporting an insane amount of threads. The image is processed by chunks, each running on a particular thread.

Cinebench mixes things around with the Gigabyte board on top, but 7-Zip brings back the same ranks demonstrated in the previous benchmarks. When it comes to the overclocked score, it's pretty clear now that the rankings are set with regard to which board is going to come out on top.

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

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.

The Gigabyte board nets a win in PCMark 7 as well as HDTune even once it is overclocked, but the difference between it and the Asus board is pretty insignificant.

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

DiRT 2 is a popular driving game in the Colin McRae series. It features a built-in benchmark consisting of displaying a race of computer players using the same view as the gamer would.

The 990FXA-UD5 wins in Far Cry 2, but in DiRT 2 it's the reverse. The overclocked results were as expected at this point.

3DMark 2011 is the latest from Futuremark. It is specifically made for DirectX 11, which allows for a realistic amount of graphical detail. Like Vantage, it has three presets ranging from Entry, suitable for ultraportables, to Extreme which is naturally adapted for top-end gaming rigs.

The Gigabyte 990FX-UD5 seems to have the edge in 3DMark 2011 at stock performance.

Power Consumption

To measure power usage, a Kill A Watt P4400 power meter was used. The following numbers represent the power drain for the entire benchmarking system, not just the video cards themselves. For the 'idle' readings, the power drain while at the OS desktop with no applications running was measured, and for the 'load' benchmarks, the average power consumption was taken while running the OCCT power supply test, stressing both the video card and processor for a couple of minutes.

The Gigabyte board gets beaten on this front, except under load while overclocked. That is to be expected since it does not overclock as high as the Crosshair V Formula; 730W for a single graphics card that isn't even overclocked is pretty wild.

It is now pretty clear that not every board will be able to max out the overclock of the octo-core FX series of processors. The power consumption gets pretty steep beyond a certain point, and even though the Gigabyte 990FXA-UD5 is a solid offering, its power circuitry just can't cut it. The significant voltage drop under load prevented the FX-8150 from exceeding 4636MHz, even under liquid cooling. Looking at the current offerings on the market, not many boards, if any, will be able to keep up with the ASUS Crosshair V Formula that was part of the review kit back when FX launched, where the load line calibration, CPU PWM phase control and voltage switching frequency adjustments have really played in its favor. Gigabyte also has some more work to do when it comes to power consumption.

Nonetheless the 990FXA-UD5 did not hold back in the other fields of comparison. It is robust, it has a neutral yet sharp look and of course has a great feature set. The most notable elements are its five full-length PCI-E slots that still leave enough room for one legacy PCI, front and rear USB 3.0 connections, 2 eSATA 6Gbps connections that add to eight internal SATA ones, a TPM header, its more powerful USB charging ports, Firewire connectors and dual BIOSes.

When it comes to performance, the 990FXA-UD5 seemed to have a small edge in graphics intensive benchmarks, but lost ground in the processor intensive ones. Nothing was really significant however because the same chipset is in question.

Overall, even though the 990FXA-UD5 is in the higher end of the price scale at $180, it is still affordable and has nice features that should please both the enthusiast and the professional alike.

»Neoseeker.com

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