When MSI announced the use of the LucidLogix Hydra chip for their Intel P55 series boards it created quite a stir. People thought that this would be the death of the SLI and Crossfire wars. But there was also controversy, as the first retail motherboard to support it was delayed and even the demos shown at CES had some glitches that needed to be sorted out.
Even the results from the market were mixed. Some said it was great, while others did not feel the same. Still, the product was in the market and selling. But again, it was for the Intel side of the house and AMD fans were still stuck with nothing but Crossfire as a multi-GPU option. At least that was the case until this month; MSI has announced their $139.99 (at Newegg) 870A Fuzion motherboard. This board is the first board to allow for a dual NVIDIA option on an AMD based platform. Will this new addition to the AMD market bring in the gamers? It certainly has a great price point; now we hope to find out about its performance, but not all in one spot.
Today we are going to look at the board itself and what it brings to the table without Fuzion. So let's dive in and see what MSI has given you to build your first dual NVIDIA GPU system with an AMD Phenom II x6 at the wheel.
The Box and What's Inside
Package and Contents
The packaging that MSI chose to use for the 870A Fuzion is a mix of industrial and artistic. MSI has found a good balance with this look; they did not abandon all marketing on the front, though. They have placed quite a big logo on it to make sure you know that this is the first ever AMD product to support dual NVIDIA GPUs.
The back of the box returns to what we all are used to from a motherboard. We have all the graphs and mini-ads to sell us the features of the product. Probably the biggest selling feature of the 870A Fuzion is the ability to run a multi-GPU configuration you want.
As you can see, with the Fuzion technology on the board you can run dual Radeon, dual GeForce or a combination of the two. This new tech completely frees up the way you think about graphics performance.
The back of the box is sort of a compilation of everything that is presented on the front along with some additional information that could sway a potential buyer.
Slightly behind Fuzion we find "military class" components. Now, if you have been in the military this might not sound like a good thing as the military always buys from the lowest bidder. In reality it is simply a name put on a level of component that meets a higher standard for performance and longevity. This includes solid caps (which most boards have) and Hi-c Caps. Features like OC Genie and "Unlock CPU Core" round out the offerings on the 870A Fuzion.
The loot inside is fairly typical; you get SATA cables (two white and two black), a few manuals and two driver discs. One of these is for the regular portions of the board while the other is for the Fuzion component.
When I first looked at the 870A Fuzion I thought that it looked a little stark. There is a ton of open space on the board, especially the lower half of the board. But then it occurred to me that this is a good thing as it allows for good air flow and also takes into account the potential for "enthusiast" minded cooling.
Starting off at the top of the board, we see some typical design logic for AMD based systems. The RAM slots are very close together which can hinder some of the higher-end RAM with oversized heat spreaders.
The space around the AM3 socket is very clean. This is where MSI invested the money in those Hi-c CAP (Highly-Conductive Polymerized Capacitors). These parts use a rare metal at their core and provide for excellent heat and electrical properties (one estimate says they can run at 85c for around 16 years). They also can self-heal in the event of problems while their flat size helps keep the area around your CPU and memory clean.
There is an odd feature located near the power regulation components. This is a single USB 3.0 port sticking up right out of the board. I am not sure why this is here, but I think it has something to do with an optional component that I caught a glimpse of. This is a front mounted (3.25-inch bay) single USB3.0 port. I have a feeling that this is where that would plug in. However, if you do not have this optional component, you are left with a limited use USB3.0 port.
In the center (well, the figurative center) of the board rests both the AMD 770 chipset and the Fuzion chip. These are under s fairly stout heatsink that is intended to keep them both very cool. The Fuzion chip (as MSI calls it) is provided by Lucid Logix and is the heart of the dual GPU performance on the 870A Fuzion.
This brings me to an interesting question. If the 870A is powered by a AMD 770 chipset...well, I am sure you can see where I am going with this. It is a little misleading and also explains the reason for only two SATA 3.0 ports (we will talk about that a little later). You also have an extra 6-pin power connector to keep clean power flowing to the two PCIe slots (and to the Fuzion chip I would imagine).
The lower half of the board is also clean with only five slots showing. There are two PCIe x16 slots which are separated by two x1 PCIe slots. These are rounded out by a single PCI 2.0 slot.
The other half of the bottom of the board holds a few other fun items. We find the OC Genie button. This turns on the single step overclocking function available on most MSI motherboards. Next up are the six SATA II ports. Four are at a 90 degree angle while two are mounted in the more traditional way. These two ports are in between two 90 degree angled ports. It makes for an interesting configuration, but can work out to give you a good mix of connections for different case styles.
As you would expect, the ports on the 870A Fuzion are pretty typical. We find the remaining USB 3.0 port, six USB 2.0 ports, a single GBe LAN port and the common audio output options. In all the 870A Fuzion is a clean and well laid out board. We only hope that this attention to design extends into performance.
BIOS and Overclocking
The BIOS on the 870A Fuzion is an AMI BIOS, although it might not look like ones you are familiar with. It looks a lot like an Award BIOS, but rest assured it is an AMI.
The left hand side of the BIOS layout deals with the common or typical features that control the mundane functions of the board. Items like the boot order, integrated peripherals; you know the type of thing. Where you will spend the majority of your time (if you are an overclocker or enthusiast) is in the Cell Menu.
As you can see, there are a ton of options for kicking your AMD CPU into high gear. There are a few sub menus here that give you some additional options, but for the most part they can be left alone as the wrong setting can really hinder performance.
The Advanced DRAM page is another one that can help with stability (and performance), but again can lead to some problems if the wrong settings are played with.
There are also a few more tweaks available on the CPU settings sub-menu under the Advanced tab.
CPU features and supported technologies are also listed out in the Cell Menu (well, one of the sub menus.).
MSI gives you more than a few slots (six to be exact) to store your overclocking settings.
Of course you will need to spend some time on the left side of the BIOS, but more for general functionality than anything.
Overclocking the MSI 870A Fuzion was something of a pain. Although the tools were there and easy to use, the board was picky about settings and voltages. We tried for a 4GHz clock speed but ended up backing into a 3.92GHz clock (245x16). To get this we had to turn off Cool and Quiet as well as push the voltages a little higher than I normally like on an AMD CPU. Still, 3.92GHz is about normal for the Phenom II X6 1090T we normally use.
You can see the validation for the 870A Fuzion here.
OC Genie and Control Center
The OC Genie is supposed to give you a quick overclock with a single push of a button. In our case (with the AMD Phenom II X6 1090T) we saw a 4MHz increase on the bus for an overclock of 3.264GHz; not even enough to make a difference. I am sure that if you use this with another CPU (like an X3 or X4) your results will probably be better, but with the X6 it just was not there.
On the other hand, the included Control Center software has some nice features. Like many Windows based overclocking software, there is a lot you can do, but again there are some things that you cannot. You cannot adjust the memory speed using this utility; to do that you have to head back into the BIOS and adjust it using the multiplier in the Cell Menu.
Still, the MSI Control Center is a good piece of software. Besides overclocking it is able to give you a lot of information about your system and how it is performing.
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
As we mentioned before, this is a test of the 870A motherboard only. We are not looking into Fuzion at this time. In fact, for our testing here we will not install the driver for Fuzion. This will give us an estimate of the board's performance without that in the way. We are working on a follow on that will be released shortly after this that will cover the graphics side of the 870A Fuzion. We want to make sure we cover all aspects of this product in their proper place and format.
Getting back to the board and the installation, we did run into some minor annoyances. The biggest one is the driver DVD-ROM; for some reason there is not a simple installer script that will let you quickly get all the drivers setup. This means you are quite often installing a driver then waiting for the reboot to install the next. With a script the system can stack the installs or just reboot as needed.
Oddly enough, as soon as you click on the utilities page there is a total installer option. It does not seem to deal with the drivers, but with the tools and utilities that are present on the DVD. At least that is how it worked with ours. The utilities you get with the Total Installer do include Live Update 4, the Control Center and i-Charger. These are not bad utilities, but it would be much nicer if the "total" installer did actually install everything, or at least give you options to.
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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How to rate this one; well, considering we are comparing a 770 chipset to an 890, being .2GB/s behind is not bad at all really. With the much faster memory speed during our overclocked run we see things really take off with the 870A Fuzion.
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.
Everest gives us a little more information to work with. We find that the 870A (770 chipset) has good copy speed, but is very slow in terms of write and not that good for read. This will impact our tests like HyperPi, LightWave 3D and Auto GK. It can also impact gaming to a very small extent. Even overclocked to 1622MHz the write speeds are far from where they should be.
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.
At stock speed the 870A Fuzion is a tad slow to calculate the number Pi to 32 million places. This is probably a direct reflection of the memory performance issue we saw above, but it could also be an issue with HDD speed, but we will find that out soon enough.
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.
HDD performance is just a hair behind the SB850 which again is not bad considering the HDD controller on the 870A is an AMD SB710. What is a little concerning is that we see the speed drop off when we overclock the system. That is somewhat worrisome and could represent a stability issue with either drivers or even with memory to HDD to CPU performance. Thankfully SATA 3.0 and USB 3.0 performance is where it should be.
Everest backs up our findings with Sandra including the tendency to drop in performance when overclocked. We find something that could be a pointer, though; performance drops off when reading from the middle and end of the drive. This could be an indication of a problem with the trim firmware in the Corsair Force 120 and the SB710 controller.
Synthetic Tests - Part III
Here is where we dig out the FutureMark tests.
Version and / or Patch Used: 18.104.22.168
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.
The performance numbers here represent an interesting item. Consider that we are comparing (in reality) an AMD 770 chipset against an AMD 890FX and our numbers are very close; at least the x86 test run is. The x64 run is a little farther apart, but still close.
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.
3DMark Vantage was also a close one; comparing a mid-range version of the last generation chipset to the top of the line version of the current gen is an interesting exercise.
Cinebench R11. x64
Version and / or Patch Used: R11.5 x64
Developer Homepage: http://www.maxon.net/
Product Homepage: www.maxon.net
Download It Here
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.
Cinebench was another close race between these two very different chipsets, but it was not that big of a difference to be honest.
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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Not much to say here; the numbers are very close indeed. We have a separation of only 4 seconds at stock speeds and one of 15 when overclocked (due to the HDD slowdowns). Still, it is pretty impressive to see the 770 perform so close to the 890FX.
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.55
Developer Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk/
Product Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk/
Download It Here
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.
The 870A Fuzion is a little slower than the M4A89TD, again probably due to a combination of memory and HDD performance on the 770 chipset. It does manage to perform quite well when we kick the CPU up to 3.9GHz, though.
Real-World Tests Part II
Here we have our real gaming tests. Each of the games we chose uses 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 frame 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.
Modern Warfare 2 is not a problem for the MSI 870A Fuzion. It is right up there with the 890FX again when we look at the minimum frame rate. Even looking at averages it is a close second. The performance here is close enough that you would never know the difference.
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.
Wow once again we see very similar scores when we use the minimum frame rate as our guide. Using the average as the guide, things are a little different, but realistically not by much.
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.
Although the MSI 870A Fuzion is behind in this particular test, it is important to (once again) point out that the difference is 9 FPS from top to bottom for both minimum and average frame rates. Not bad considering the difference in age of the two chipsets used.
The MSI 870A Fuzion with its older 770 + SB710 setup does an excellent job at gaming even when leaving the Fuzion technology out of the picture. I was very surprised to see just how close the 770 is to a board that is setup with an 890FX chispet. It really does call into question what is important in terms of gaming. We saw no problems at all while using the 870A as a gaming platform; the audio was good, the level load times were not excessive. In short, even without Fuzion the 870A can be a great starting point for gaming.
We will be following on to see how dual GPU performance really is on the 870A using all three of the available modes. (A or AMD, N or NVIDIA, and X or mix mode).
Power Usage, Heat Tests and Final Thoughts
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).
The power consumption for the 870A is not bad at all. At stock speeds it pulled between 130 and 131 watts from the wall, while under load it topped out around 297.
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.
Heat was a little bit more of a concern as the heatsink for the Northbridge had to cover the Fuzion chip as well. This pushed the temps up quite a bit (about 4.5C hotter than the 890FX Northbridge on its own).
Although we have not covered the Fuzion aspect of the 870A Fuzion yet, we now have a very good idea of how this motherboard performs at a very basic level. The strengths and weaknesses are visible. We know that HDD performance is a little behind the current SB850 and that stock memory performance is right behind the current 890FX.
With this information in mind, we can now move forward and look at what Fuzion brings to the table. For now we can say that even if Fuzion adds very little, you are getting a very solid platform. The gaming performance was solid, while workstation and productivity performance was also very solid. If you are looking for a low cost motherboard (the 870A Fuzion is only $139.99 at NewEgg.com) to build an AMD based gaming rig or to do some productivity work, then this certainly would be one to watch and that is without even checking out the Fuzion functionality. As soon as we have tested this part of the board we will be certain to get that information out to you. Until now we can say that this is already one capable product.
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