Although not new, the 890FX has been a big deal to AMD fans. With its release AMD finally had a chipset to match their GPUs and CPUs performance. The 890FX is the top dog for AMD. When combined with the SB850 it offers you native SATA 3.0 and much more.
We have played with a couple of the 8xx series chipsets, but so far have not gotten too deep into the 890FX. We have tried it out, but only once. Now we have been able to acquire a second 890FX board; this one is the GIGABYTE GA-890FXA-UD7. As an ultra-durable board it features GIGABYTE's top end components and design. You get SATA 3.0, USB 3.0, Dual LAN ports (both GBe), advanced chipset cooling and much more.
Of course, with a price tag of $246 on NewEgg.com the GA890FXA-UD7 is still less than many high-end P55 boards. So, let's find out if the lower price means lower performance or not.
The Box and What's Inside
Package and Contents
There is a mindset in the world of motherboard manufacturer that says "if it is high-end you have to have a gigantic box". Well, the GA-890FXA-UD7 fits that bill. The box is large and "busy". The large "7" on the front lets you know it is the UD7 series while the rest of the branding tells you the board can charge your "i" accessories while off, you can unlock cores on your AMD CPUs, you can run Quad Crossfire, etc.
The box (like most other high end products) has a front flap that lets you view the product and also gives some extra surface area for more information.
The back has even more PR material spread over it. It is almost overwhelming. There is so much stuffed onto the surface area of the 890FXA-UD7 that is hard to take it all in. One that is repeated over and over is the fact that the 890FXA has USB 3.0, SATA 3.0 and 3x the USB power.
In keeping with the new trend the actual 890FXA-UD7 is in its own box, no simple anti-static bags here.
One additional item that is not a standard fare for a motherboard is the extra cooling fins for the X58 Northbridge. These bolt onto the heatsink and not only help keep the Northbridge cool, but also help with keeping the rest of the board components cool.
The loot that GIGABYTE includes is quite impressive. There is one item that is not shown in the picture above. This is the additional cooling for the chipset; we will cover that in detail in our layout walk around.
The GA-890FXA-UD7 is a very busy board. The ATX form factor has been pushed to the limit to get everything on. There are a full six PCI x16 mechanical slots on the board. Combine this with all the USB, Firewire, fan and other headers and things get a little cramped and cluttered.
Looking at the area around the CPU socket and RAM slots, we find more of the cramped style from the 890FXA. This is not completely a bad thing, though. GB has managed to stuff quite a bit in this area, including a PATA and Floppy port. These are things that many now leave out.
It is also important to recognize that AMD's clinging to the ZIF socket hinders board makers. The need for the large plastic bracket for cooling means less area to put capacitors and chokes etc. GB also moved the power and reset buttons up next to the RAM and 24-pin ATX power connector. This makes them easier to use on the typical test bench.
Take a close look at the image above. You can see just how cramped the board is right here. The average sized hand (fingers) does not fit easily into this small space. It makes attaching the 8-pin Aux ATX power cable something of a pain. The PSU that we use has this connector split so that you can easily use it with 4-pin connectors (as with many PSUs). In this case it was a hindrance and made connecting things a pain.
In the shot above we see the heart of the board level cooling system. This is a combination cooler, though. GB has designed it to work with either water cooling or air.
If you do not have access to, or do not want to use water cooling, you can simply remove the water block from the board.
From there you attach the Silent Pipe 2 cooler. This gives a large surface area to cool down the major heat generating components. There is a small problem, though. If you place a GPU that generates a lot of heat, like a GTX 480 or a HD 5970, the Silent Pipe 2 gets quickly saturated and loses its efficiency.
The Silent Pipe 2 also crowds the primary PCIe x16 slot and renders a fan header useless. But for all that it is still a good option. In this same image we get a clear picture of the six PCIe x16 slots. As we mentioned, not all at x16 electrical; you can see that slots two, three, four and six are only x8 max by the pins inside the slots. This leaves slots one and five as the only x16 electrical slots on the board.
As you might guess, the recommended slots for Quad Crossfire are one, three, five and six. That gives you x8 across the cards from the documentation provided in the manual.
Looking at the opposite side of the board from the peripheral slots, we find the six SATA 3.0 ports, GIGABYTE's G-SATA ports (both SATA II), a pair of diagnostic LEDs and also a clear CMOS button that has a plastic cover over it. This cover prevents accidental pressing, but gets easily covered by any long graphics card put into PCIe slot one.
BIOS and Overclocking
The BIOS on the GA-890FXA-UD7 is the same as other GB motherboards. They all follow the Award layout. For most people buying any of the boards in the UD7 line-up the MB Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T) pages are where it is at.
For our testing we used the F2 version of the BIOS. The reason for the update was a few minor problems with memory and the Phenom II X6 1090T. When using the F1 BIOS the system would reboot randomly during updates, driver installs etc. Once that was past we were able to get in and play around.
On the MIT pages you have a good selection of options for overclocking and tweaking. The new Core Performance option in the BIOS works with the "T" series CPUs from AMD. This allows the board to dynamically increase the speed of half of the CPU cores for better single and dual threaded applications.
The voltage settings are a mix of direct input (although you still have to cycle through them) and offset. It was a little bit of an odd configuration to be perfectly honest.
The DRAM page is the typical one you find on a high-end AMD board. The memory dividers were a little limited, though.
The Advanced BIOS Features have both CPU and system side settings.
The Integrated Peripherals pages gives you the flexibility to tweak or even to shut down all the extras on the board.
On the PC Health Status pages you can set all of the warning options. At the top of the page is a setting for Hardware Thermal Control. We discovered that this was causing a very large issue with our overclocking tests. If you plan to overclock with this board we would recommend disabling this.
When we went to OC the GA-890FXA we ran into a very odd issue. Every time we pushed the bus over 240MHz the system would throttle the CPU back to a x4 multiplier. This would not be a big issue if the board would pull out of that, but no matter what load we put on it the board stayed at x4. We turned off Cool N Quiet and core performance boost and even Core Control to no avail. The system was still cutting back over 240MHz.
Then, looking in the PC Health page we noticed the Hardware Thermal Control setting. We had over looked this before as the CPU was never overheating. We disabled this setting and magically we were over 240MHz.
In the end we were able to hit a stable OC of 4.016GHz (251x16). This is not bad, although it did take us much longer to get to this point than normal.
You can see the validation for the GA-890FXA-UD7 here.
Easy Tune 6
As a part of all of our reviews now we are going to touch on any software based overclocking tools that may be included. With GIGABYTE this is going to be Easy Tune.
Here you can see your system status at a glance as well as overclock the CPU, memory and GPU fairly quickly.
The overclocking functions break down into Easy, Advanced and then Easy Boost. We played around with all three on this board and found them to be decent tools.
The GPU overclocking feature is something of a nice touch, although we did not use it at all during our testing.
The monitor tab is clean, although I wish there were a few more options for monitoring the temperatures and voltages.
As all overclocking results are dependent on the hardware you use, your results may vary. Results of our overclocking tests are included in the performance section with the stock scores.
Important Editor Note: Our maximum overclocking result is the best result we managed in our limited time of testing the motherboard. Due to time constraints we weren't able to tweak the motherboard to the absolute maximum and find the highest possible FSB, as this could take days to find properly. We do however spend at least a few hours overclocking every motherboard to try and find the highest possible overclock in that time frame. You may or may not be able to overclock higher if you spend more time tweaking or as new BIOS updates are released. "Burn-in" time might also come into play if you believe in that.
Test System Setup and Comments
We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: GIGABYTE, AMD, Kingston and Cooler Master and Sceptre.
As we have already mentioned, we had an issue with the BIOS that shipped with our version of the GA-890FXA-UD7. Because of this we had to drop in a lower powered CPU and flash the BIOS to the F2 version. Once this was done we could drop in the Phenom II X6 1090T.
After this little issue things went well until we started overclocking. At that point we ran into the issue we described in the BIOS section. Once we had that sorted we have to say that things settled down for us and the GA-890FXA-UD7 performed well.
Synthetic Tests - Part I
With any system you will want to see a combination of synthetic testing and real-world. Synthetics give you a static, easily repeatable testing method that can be compared across multiple platforms. For our synthetic tests we use Everest Ultimate, Sisoft Sandra, FutureMark's 3DMark Vantage and PCMark Vantage, Cinebench as well as HyperPi. Each of these covers a different aspect of performance or a different angle of a certain type of performance.
Memory is a big part of current system performance. In most systems slow or flakey memory performance will impact almost every type of application you run. To test memory we use a combination of Sisoft Sandra, Everest and HyperPi 0.99.
Version and / or Patch Used: 2010c 1626
Developer Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.net
Product Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.net
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The memory performance here is not bad for an AMD CPU/Chipset. It is still a little on the low side when compared to the P55 chipset.
Version and / or Patch Used: 5.30.1983
Developer Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Product Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
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Everest Ultimate is a suite of tests and utilities that can be used for system diagnostics and testing. For our purposes here we use their memory bandwidth test and see what the theoretical performance is.
More of the same from Everest. We also note the slower cache on the AMD CPU. This will come back to hurt the GA-890FXA against the P55s later, even though it will not be the boards fault.
Version and / or Patch Used: 0.99
Developer Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br
Product Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br
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HyperPi is a front end for SuperPi that allows for multiple concurrent instances of SuperPi to be run on each core recognized by the system. It is very dependent on CPU to memory to HDD speed. The faster these components, the faster it is able to figure out the number Pi to the selected length.
For our testing we use the 32M run. This means that each of the four physical and four logical cores for the i7 and the four physical cores of the i5 is trying to calculate the number Pi out to 32 million decimal places. Each "run" is a comparative to ensure accuracy and any stability or performance issues in the loop mentioned above will cause errors in calculation.
Wow, ok. So the GA-890FXA is quite slow when it comes to HyperPi. Some of this is the CPUs fault; the rest falls squarely on the board. The memory performance is showing here.
Synthetic Tests - Part II
Disk Drive Controller
The system drive controller is an important part of system performance. In most modern boards your drive controller will run off of the PCI-e bus. The PCI-e bus performance can be affected by poor trace layout as well as many other design choices that show up on different boards.
For testing we use Sisoft's Sandra and Everest.
For HDD performance the GA-890FX makes a little bit of a comeback. It is up there with the best of the P55 boards.
Everest shows us slightly higher performance numbers than what we saw with Sandra. But they are within about 2%, so there is nothing out of the ordinary here.
Synthetic Tests - Part III
Here is where we dig out the FutureMark tests.
Version and / or Patch Used: 184.108.40.206
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/
Product Homepage: www.futuremark.com
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For overall system performance we use PCMark Vantage. This is run in both x86 and x64 mode to give the best indication of performance.
With regards to PCMark Vantage the 890FXA did not show us its stuff until we pushed the 1090T to 4GHz. After that it really took off. Unfortunately it was still at the lower end of both of the scales for stock and overclocked performance when compared to the P55 + Core i5/i7 combos.
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.1
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/
Product Homepage: www.futuremark.com
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For synthetic gaming tests we used the industry standard and overlockers bragging tool 3DMark Vantage. This is a test that strives to mimic the impact modern games have on a system. Futuremark went a long way to change from the early days of graphics driven tests to a broader approach including physics, AI and more advanced graphics simulations.
3DMark Vantage uses the DX10 API in addition to having support for PhysX. As we are no longer using an NVIDIA GPU for testing (at least until we can get a GTX 4xx card) you will only see the CPU based PhysX results in the scores. For testing we use the Performance test run.
In 3DMark Vantage the tables seem turned. Here the CPU is not the issue. The board and the GPU are of more importance. The 890FXA finds itself much higher up in the pack for both overclocked and stock tests. It is only slightly above its nearest 890FX competition in the form of the Crosshair IV Formula, but still behind many of the P55 offerings.
Cinebench R11.5 x64
Version and / or Patch Used: R11.5 x64
Developer Homepage: http://www.maxon.net/
Product Homepage: www.maxon.net
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Cinebench is a synthetic rendering tool developed by Maxon. Maxon is the same company that developed Cinema4D, another industry leading 3D Animation application. Cinebench R11.5 tests your systems ability to render across a single and multiple CPU cores. It also tests your systems ability to process OpenGL information.
Well look at this. The 890FXA is ahead of a couple of seriously overclocked Core i5s running on the P55. The 890FXA also holds the very top slot from our overclocking tests.
Real-World Tests - Part I
Real-world testing allows us to see how well a product will perform when used in the same manner as it would be in your house or office. It is an important side to performance testing as it can uncover hidden glitches in the way a product performs.
It is especially true when testing a mainboard; there are so many components of a board that have to interact that any problems between parts can cause a failure of the whole.
For real-world testing we use some common applications and functions. We test with LightWave 3D for rendering performance, AutoGK for transcoding from DVD to AVI and two games for gaming testing.
Rendering of 3D Animation is a system intensive endeavor. You need a good CPU, memory and HDD speed to get good rendering times. For our testing we use LightWave 3D. This software from Newtek is an industry standard and has several pre-loaded scenes for us to use.
Version and / or Patch Used: 9.6
Developer Homepage: http://www.newtek.com
Product Homepage: http://www.newtek.com/lightwave/
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Here we have another impressive showing. It is 2 seconds behind the other 890FX in our group and at the very top over even the 8 thread Xeon + P55 combo when we overclocked it.
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.55
Developer Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk/
Product Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk/
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AutoGK stands for Auto Gordian Knot; it is a suite of transcoding tools that are compiled into an easy to install and use utility. It allows you to transcode non-protected DVDs and other media to Xvid or Divx format. For our testing purposes we use a non-DRM restricted movie that is roughly 2 hours in length. This is transcoded to a single Xvid AVI at 100% quality.
For AutoGK testing we found the GA-890FXA-UD7 to perform quite well. It falls in place just behind the P7P55 WS which had an 8-thread Xeon CPU running, so this is a good showing indeed.
Real-World Tests Part II
Here we have our real gaming tests. Each of the games we chose use multiple cores and GPUs. They are able to stress the system through use of good AI. Both have decent positional audio that adds impact to the sound subsystem of the board. We ran each game through the level or parts listed and recorded frames per second using FRAPS. This brings the whole game into play.
*** A word on gaming as a motherboard test ***
Despite the fact that most games are very GPU limited, we are still noticing HDD and even audio creating issues in gaming performance. Because of this you may see differences in the number of frames rendered per second between different boards. Usually the difference is very small, but occasionally because of bad tracing, poor memory or HDD performance, this difference is significant. The issues are often more prevalent in older versions of DirectX, but can still pop up in DX10 and 11.
Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 (DX9)
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0
Timedemo or Level Used: First combat until the school is cleared
Developer Homepage: http://www.infinityward.com
Product Homepage: http://modernwarfare2.infinityward.com
Most of you know about the game Modern Warfare 2; it caused quite a bit of controversy in the latter half of 2009. The game is a first person shooter with a heavy combat emphasis. It follows the events in the first Modern Warfare very closely and brings back several characters from the original.
As with most games in the Call of Duty franchise, it features a heavy AI load. This is not because of a complex AI routine, but more due to the sheer number of enemies in any given combat situation. It is also our single DX9 based game in our testing suite. Settings are shown below.
The stock 890FX does well when we look at the stock performance. It falls into third place and is behind by only 2 FPS. At this speed, you would not be able to tell the leaders apart. The same thing pops up with the overclocked scores, although the difference here is 4 FPS between the top three.
Far Cry 2 (DX10)
Version and / or Patch Used: V1.00
Timedemo or Level Used: Clearing the Safe house through to the Rescue
Developer Homepage: http://www.ubi.com
Product Homepage: http://farcry.us.ubi.com
Far Cry 2 is a large sandbox style game. There are no levels here so as you move about the island you are on you do not have to wait for the "loading" sign to go away. It is mission driven so each mission is what you would normally think of as the next "level".
In the game you take the role of a mercenary who has been sent to kill the Jackal. Unfortunately your malaria kicks in and you end up being found by him. Long story short, you become the errand boy for a local militia leader and run all over the island doing his bidding. Settings we used for testing are shown below.
The delta for Far Cry 2 is 11 FPS from fastest to slowest. Even the slowest board is well over the 32FPS; that is generally considered to be full motion. In the range of scores the 890FXA shows up at 6 FPS behind the top stock board and again 6 FPS behind the top overclocked board.
Battlefield Bad Company 2 (DX11)
Version and / or Patch Used: V1.00
Timedemo or Level Used: From washing up on the beach to the mine fields.
Developer Homepage: http://www.ea.com/
Product Homepage: http://badcompany2.ea.com/
Battlefield Bad Company is another sequel and also another game "franchise". Bad Company 2 is also our DX11 Shooter game. The game follows a fictitious B company team on a mission to recover a Japanese defector. This puts you back in World War II (at least for the beginning of the game) while the multi-player game is centered on much more modern combat. For our testing we used the single player mode. Settings are shown below.
Not really much to say here. The top boards are all within about 7 FPS of each other. You would not be able to pick the winner out of a line-up at this point.
AMD has been saying that you do not need an expensive system to get good gaming performance (of course, they do not mention the cost of a Radeon HD 58xx GPU). This seems to be true with what we are seeing here on the GIGABYTE GA-890FXA-UD7. It was not the fastest board, but at the frame rates we saw you would not be disappointed by its gaming performance.
Power Usage and Heat Tests
We are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated graphics cards installed. Keep in mind; it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into an AC wall socket).
Surprisingly the 890FXA is a pretty power hungry board. It was not the most greedy, but it was up there.
As a new measure, we are now monitoring the heat generation from the key components on the motherboard; this being the Northbridge, Southbridge (if it contains one) as well as the Mosfets around the CPU. The results are recorded at idle and load during the power consumption tests.
Despite the extra cooling the 890FX Northbridge got quite warm. This was due mostly to the amount of heat that the HD 5870 generates, saturating the Silent Pipe2. We are positive that if we had moved the GPU down (to the other x16 electrical slot) or used water we would have seen much better temps here.
GIGABYE's entry into the 890FX arena is a solid one. It is not the fastest in all cases, but it does well even when pitted against the more expensive Intel P55 boards. The extra features on the board like the six full SATA 3.0 ports add to the value.
The overclocking side of the 890FXA was also excellent. We were able to finally hit 4GHz with our Phenom II x6 1090T. This was a very happy moment as before we had all sorts of trouble getting over 240MHz on the bus. Gaming was in the area it should be, while the option for Quad Crossfire beckons to those that have the money and time to spend on multi-GPU setups. Of course, if you are looking to overclock the GA-890FXA-UD7 and trying to get the highest scores possible, the extra GPUs will help there.
The price tag of $246 at NewEgg.com puts the GA-890FXA-UD7 into the lower bracket when it comes to high-end AMD boards. Overall, even when paired with the HD 5870 and a Phenom II X6 1090T, it is a pretty good deal for the enthusiast or overclocker.
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