Gigabyte's GA-MA790GP-DS4H motherboard
Yet another crossover vehicle
The first 790GX-based motherboard to hit our labs was Gigabyte's GA-MA790GP-DS4H, whose $150 MSRP fits right in line with AMD's expectations for the platform. Unlike most integrated graphics mobos, the DS4H is not a Micro ATX board. It fits into a full ATX form factor that looks very much like any other mid-range desktop motherboard. Rather than simply beefing up existing integrated graphics options, the 790GX looks destined to bring integrated graphics to enthusiast-class ATX designs.
With full ATX real estate to work with, Gigabyte's engineers had plenty of room to squeeze in additional slots and ports that might not have otherwise fit on a smaller footprint. And they've gone to town, with varying levels of success. One of my personal pet peeves is power plug placement, and that's been done quite well. The auxiliary 12V connector is located along the top edge of the board where cabling won't obstruct chassis exhaust airflow. The primary power connector is also located close to the top edge of the board in what is an almost perfect layout for traditional case designs. However, you may need an extension cable or two if you run one of those new-fangled upside-down enclosures.Power is an important part of the 790GX equation in light of the fact that most 780G boards are ill-equipped to handle high-TDP Phenoms. Black Edition chips with unlocked upper multipliers remain the most attractive Phenoms in AMD's lineup, but the X4 9850 and 9950 carry respective TDPs of 125 and 140Wtoo much power for even some mid-range motherboards to handle.
Since AMD recently bumped up Phenom wattages with the 9950, it's no surprise that the company worked closely with motherboard makers to ensure that 790GX boards support 140W processors. A chip that consumes that much power is going to run pretty hot, as well, so it's good that Gigabyte has left plenty of room around the DS4H's CPU socket for gargantuan coolers. We use a Scythe Ninja heatsink to test massive cooler compatibility here in the Benchmarking Sweatshop, and it just fits on the Gigabyte board as long as you use standard-height memory modules. DIMM slot clearance for huge heatsinks is a common problem for Socket AM2 motherboards, likely because motherboard makers strive to maintain short trace lengths between memory modules and the processor's on-die memory controller.
At least there are no clearance issues associated with the onboard heatsinks. The DS4H has a passive north bridge cooler piped up to a substantial VRM heatsink, but neither is obnoxious enough to get in the way.
The chipset's south bridge cooler is an unobtrusive affair, as well; its low-profile design leaves plenty of room for longer graphics cards. However, lengthy double-wide cards can wreak havoc on the board's Serial ATA connectivity. Plug one into the second PCI Express slot, and you'll obscure access to not one, not two, not even three, but all six SATA ports. This is essentially a CrossFire-only issue, since there's no other reason to run a double-wide card in the board's second x16 slot, but it's the sort of problem that someone should have caught long before this board design was finalized.True to the 790GX's CrossFire support, the DS4H comes with a pair of physical PCIe x16 slots capable of running a pair of graphics cards in a dual-x8 lane configuration. This graphics expansion capacity is backed by three PCI Express x1 slots and a couple of standard PCI slots.
While it's fair to note here that the 790GX's CrossFire support is limited to a dual-x8 implementation, the nForce 750a faces a similar dual-x8 SLI limitation and we found that doesn't significantly hamper its performance. I suspect CrossFire will be similarly unfazed by what isthanks to PCIe 2.0's faster signaling rateessentially the same bandwidth you get from a dual-x16 setup with gen-one PCI Express.A trio of graphics outputs dominates the DS4H's port cluster. HDMI makes an appearance, of course, and it's joined by VGA and DVI outputs. Gigabyte also throws in a digital S/PDIF audio output linked to an ALC889A codec chip that can encode Dolby Digital Live bitstreams on the fly. SoundStorm's most coveted feature has taken up residence in a Realtek codec chip; surely that's a sign of the impending apocalypse.
The Gigabyte board's port cluster is otherwise adorned with the usual mix of analog audio, Ethernet, Firewire, and USB ports. We'd like to see more USB connectivity here, especially since there are onboard headers for an additional eight ports. eSATA wouldn't have been a bad idea, either.