Four Socket AM3 motherboards collide

The birth of AMD’s Phenom processor was a difficult one. The first chips debuted at slower clock speeds than expected, and their performance was further crippled by a patch for the infamous TLB erratum. That didn’t give AMD’s new microarchitecture much of a chance against Intel’s mature Core 2 line, which offered better performance, lower power consumption, and a more attractive overall value proposition. No wonder the original Phenoms never made the starting lineup for any of the builds in our regular system guides. Instead, they were relegated to the bench as alternates.

Fortunately for AMD, much has changed in the nearly 18 months since the Phenom’s official launch. The processor’s second coming has arrived, as has a new Socket AM3 designed for DDR3 memory. Aggressive pricing has allowed the Phenom II to deliver surprisingly solid value when compared to its Core 2 rivals. AMD has added new wrinkle in the form of the Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition, too. This triple-core chip runs at 2.8GHz, has an unlocked upper multiplier and loads of apparent overclocking headroom, and sells for an affordable $150.

The X3 720 is such a good value that it’s cracked Intel’s dominance of our mid-range system guide build. Indeed, our latest guide‘s ~$750 Utility Player system features the triple-core Black Edition as our primary recommendation.

In that particular system, we’ve taken advantage of the Phenom II’s backward compatibility with older AM2+ sockets and paired it with a lower-cost DDR2 platform. Socket AM3 is the future for Phenom II, though, and thanks to falling memory prices fueled by Intel’s Core i7 launch, DDR3 has quickly become a reasonable option, even for frugal enthusiasts.

Naturally, running a Phenom II with DDR3 memory requires a motherboard upgrade. Socket AM3 boards have started trickling onto the market, and we’ve thrown a trio from the usual suspects—Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI—into the ring with a wild card from Jetway to see whether we can find the best Socket AM3 platform for a Phenom II build.

Lining up the competition

The four boards we’ve gathered today are based on two different chipsets, both of which come from AMD. Nvidia does have an nForce 980a chipset designed for Socket AM3, but it was launched very quietly and looks to be little more than a repurposed nForce 780a. Shocking, I know. The 980a doesn’t appear to be available on retail motherboards just yet, anyway.

In today’s stable, we have two boards based on the 790GX chipset and another two based on the 790FX. The Asus M4A78T-E and Jetway HA08 opt for the 790GX, which has enough gen-two PCI Express lanes for dual-x8 CrossFire configurations, in addition to an integrated Radeon HD 3300 GPU. This integrated GPU uses the same graphics component as AMD’s 780G chipset, but its core clock speed has been raised to 700MHz and it’s been paired with 128MB of dedicated “Sideport” memory. Both of those factors conspire to improve the integrated Radeon’s performance dramatically, although it still lacks the horsepower to play the latest games with detail levels turned up, even at modest resolutions. Fortunately, the Radeon HD 3300 also features a video decode engine capable of smooth Blu-ray playback, even with a low-end CPU. For more on the 790GX’s integrated GPU and its performance, see our initial review of the chipset.

The 790GX’s graphics component makes it either a flexible jack of all trades or a little confused, depending on your perspective. By contrast, the 790FX is a more focused product. This high-end core logic package does away with the GX’s integrated GPU and adds enough PCI Express lanes to enable dual-x16 CrossFire setups. Gigabyte’s GA-MA790FXT-UD5P takes advantage of these additional PCIe lanes by serving up a pair of full-bandwidth x16 slots. The Asus and Jetway boards have dual x16 slots, too, but they only get eight lanes of bandwidth each when both slots are in use. MSI’s approach is quite different, with the 790FX-GD70 splitting its PCI Express lanes between four physical x16 slots, each of which offers eight lanes of connectivity in a four-way config.


Asus M4A78T-E

Gigabyte GA-MA790FXT-UD5P
Jetway HA08
MSI 790FX-GD70

Chipset
AMD 790GX AMD 790FX AMD 790GX AMD 790FX

DIMM slots
4 240-pin DDR3 4 240-pin DDR3 4 240-pin DDR3 4 240-pin DDR3

Expansion slots
2 PCI Express x16

2 PCI Express x1
2 32-bit/33MHz PCI

2 PCI Express x16
3 PCI Express x1
2 32-bit/33MHz PCI
2 PCI Express x16
2 PCI Express x1
2 32-bit/33MHz PCI
4 PCI Express x16

1 PCI Express x1
2 32-bit/33MHz PCI


Auxiliary storage
NA Gigabyte
GSATA2
NA JMicron JMB322

Networking
Atheros L1E 2 x Realtek RTL8111DL Realtek RTL8111CVC 2 x Realtek RTL8111DL
Audio VIA VT1708S Realtek ALC889A Realtek ALC888 Realtek ALC889
Firewire VIA VT6315N T.I.
TSB43AB23
NA VIA VT6315N
Price



Despite differences in PCIe payload and integrated graphics, the 790GX and FX both share the same SB750 south bridge component. The SB750 has a competitive feature set, with six Serial ATA RAID ports, a dozen USB ports, and an HD audio interface. However, the chip’s storage controller is largely unchanged since the old SB600, and its AHCI support has never quite worked right. In our own testing, we’ve seen that getting ACHI performance to scale effectively via Native Command Queuing incurs a sizable CPU utilization penalty. Perhaps that’s why AMD recommends running the SB750’s storage controller in plain old IDE mode. Of course, IDE mode gives up support not only for command queuing, but for SATA hot plugging, as well.

The Gigabyte and MSI boards bolster the SB750 with auxiliary SATA controllers. Both ultimately use JMicron JMB322 chips, although the UD5P hides its pair behind a “GSATA” chip that’s actually just a Silicon Image controller in disguise.

As the most expensive boards of the bunch, the Gigabyte and MSI models unsurprisingly feature dual Gigabit Ethernet controllers, with two of Realtek’s RTL8111DL GigE chips on each board. Another Realtek networking component—this time the RTL8111CVC—graces the Jetway board. That leaves the Asus as the only one without something from the crab; the M4A78T-E sports a Gigabit controller from Atheros instead.

Realtek’s dominance of the motherboard peripheral market continues on the audio front. Gigabyte and MSI employ versions of the ALC889 codec, although only the former takes advantage of its support for real-time Dolby Digital Live encoding. Jetway taps a lesser ALC888 codec chip, which unlike the 889s, can’t play back lossless Blu-ray audio. This is the first we’ve seen of the VIA VT1708S used by Asus. This chip looks to be a pretty run-of-the-mill 8-channel HD audio codec, and we’ll see how it does in our signal quality tests in a moment.

We’ll look at Firewire performance, too, so don’t worry if you don’t recognize the VT6315N or the TSB43AB23. In fact, perhaps, worry if you do. And note that the Jetway board doesn’t have a Firewire chip at all. That’s to be expected given that it’s the cheapest of the bunch by nearly $30. The Asus board rings up nicely in the middle of the pack at $140, while our 790FX-based Gigabyte and MSI boards square off at $180.

Asus’ M4A78T-E
The joys of simplicity

Manufacturer Asus
Model M4A78T-E
Price (Street)
Availability Now

Over the years, enthusiast-oriented motherboards have become increasingly loaded down with extraneous frills and extras, auxiliary peripherals included. I suppose it’s easy for marketing droids to sell the idea that masses of additional slots, ports, LEDs, and heatpipes add value. But part of me longs for the simplicity of a feature set that’s been stripped of fluff and pared down to the bare essentials.

Asus looks to have taken just such an approach with the M4A78T-E. The board is certainly no slouch in terms of its features or connectivity options, but it doesn’t go overboard, either. Heck, it even looks unassuming, dressed up in brown and blue with nary a piece of flare or unnecessary bling in sight.

The M4A8T-E is hardly the sort of board that grabs your attention. Take a closer look at the details, though, and a number of subtle little touches come into focus. The layout is incredibly spacious, for example. Asus’ engineers haven’t had to squeeze in a multitude of extra onboard components, and it shows.

Those board designers deserve particular props for avoiding a pet peeve of mine: iffy power plug placement. They’ve smartly located the auxiliary 12V power plug—a four-pin jack in this case—along the top edge of the board where cabling won’t break up airflow between the CPU cooler and the rear chassis exhaust. Of course, if you have one of those funky upside-down cases that puts the PSU below the motherboard rather than above it, you’ll probably need an extension cable for the auxiliary 12V line.

AMD-based systems typically put their DIMM slots very close to the CPU socket, and the M4A78T-E is no exception. However, there’s still enough room for Corsair’s taller Dominator DIMMs to play nicely with Scythe’s Ninja CPU cooler, provided you’re not shy about bending a few of the Ninja’s fins. The heatsinks that dot the board’s north bridge chip and power regulation circuitry are low-profile designs that should do a good job of avoiding larger aftermarket coolers. And wouldn’t you know, there isn’t a single heatpipe in sight.

The M4A78T-E feeds its socket with eight power phases for the processor, and it has another for its integrated north bridge component. Of course, not just the number of power phases matters—the key is the cleanliness of the power delivered to the CPU. Remember that a few pages from now when we dip into some rather interesting overclocking results.

We don’t find any clearance issues moving south. The board’s low-profile south bridge heatsink won’t interfere with lengthy graphics cards, and the IDE and Serial ATA ports are nicely out of the way. If you’re wondering where the SB750’s sixth SATA port is, it’s pulling eSATA duty in the rear port cluster.

Asus loads up the M4A78T-E’s expansion slots in pairs, led by a couple of PCI Express x16 slots. Those slots only deliver eight lanes of gen-two connectivity to CrossFire configurations, but thanks to PCIe 2.0’s higher signaling rate, the bandwidth available is equivalent to a true dual-x16 implementation with first-generation PCI Express. Should you pursue a CrossFire setup of the double-wide variety, you’ll still be able to get at one PCI and one PCIe x1 slot, too.

Thanks to the M4A78T-E’s 790GX chipset, though, there’s no strict need to add a discrete graphics card. The board’s integrated Radeon HD 3300 provides HDMI and DVI output ports, alongside a standard VGA connector. Asus also throws in a digital S/PDIF audio output to ride alongside a full complement of analog audio jacks.

The rest of the port cluster fills out as expected, although you don’t get a PS/2 mouse port. Since I can’t think of a single PS/2 mouse that’s still worth using, that’s probably not a big deal. Diehard clickety-clack keyboard fans can still plug vintage models into the PS/2 port provided.

Gigabyte’s GA-MA790FXT-UD5P
Fully loaded

Manufacturer Gigabyte
Model GA-MA790FXT-UD5P
Price (Street)
Availability Now

Unlike Asus’ relatively restrained M4A78T-E, Gigabyte’s GA-MA790FXT-UD5P is lavished with the sort of extras one might expect from a high-end motherboard. It is, in a word, pimped. That’s to be expected from a board that runs about $180 online. Interestingly, though, $180 really isn’t that expensive for a high-end motherboard. That’s small change compared to Core i7 boards, which push upwards of $300. There are plenty of LGA775 mobos selling for north of $200, too, and yet the UD5P is the most expensive Socket AM3 motherboard that Gigabyte makes. I guess that’s what happens when the most expensive Socket AM3 processor sells for only $225.

Like other recent Gigabyte motherboards, the UD5P actually has a reasonable sense of style. The board is a study in blues and white, with brushed and polished metal adding a little industrial flair.

The UD5P’s layout is pretty good, too, although it’s considerably more crowded than the Asus board. Gigabyte has largely managed to avoid problematic clearance issues, and it’s even done a good job of putting the power plugs along the edges of the board where their associated cabling won’t interfere with chassis airflow. The UD5P also has a beefier eight-pin connector for its auxiliary 12V power plug.

As one might expect from Gigabyte’s Socket AM3 flagship, the UD5P is a member of the company’s Ultra Durable 3 line. This tag denotes the board’s use of higher quality capacitors, MOSFETs, and chokes. It also signals the board’s use of a two-ounce copper layer (as opposed to a single ounce) that purportedly lowers impedance and operating temperatures while improving signal quality and stability.

Like the M4A78T-E, the UD5P feeds the CPU cores with eight power phases. However, it one-ups the Asus board by providing the processor’s north bridge component with two power phases instead of just one.

The socket area itself is quite snug, and you’ll run into the same DIMM slot clearance issues as on most Phenom boards. At least Gigabyte has done a good job of keeping its chipset and voltage circuitry heatsinks short enough not to interfere with larger aftermarket coolers that flare out from the socket.

We can follow the UD5P’s heatpipe network from its voltage circuitry heatsink through the north bridge cooler and down to the south bridge. Here we find a second low-profile heatsink topping the board’s GSATA storage controller, and that’s where things get complicated. You see, rather than simply providing four SATA ports, the GSATA chip instead plugs into a couple of JMicron storage controllers, each of which has two SATA ports of its own. The end result is two pairs of SATA ports that can be configured in independent and driver-free RAID 0 and 1 arrays when the GSATA chip is running in IDE mode. Switch the GSATA chip into RAID mode, and you can also roll an effective RAID 10 or 0+1 array with four drives. Or you could just use some of the six SATA ports provided by the SB750 south bridge chip.

In any case, all of the Serial ATA ports are neatly lined up along the edge of the board to provide ample clearance for longer graphics cards. Gigabyte throws in a handy CMOS reset button, in addition to onboard power and reset buttons. However, the CMOS reset switch would be better located in the rear port cluster, where it would be accessible from outside an enclosure.

With over 42 PCI Express 2.0 lanes at its disposal thanks to a 790FX north bridge chip, the UD5P has more than enough connectivity to power a pair of full-bandwidth x16 slots. Gigabyte also throws in a trio of x1 slots and a pair of standard PCI slots. One of each will be blocked by double-wide CrossFire configs, but that still leaves plenty of expansion capacity, especially when you consider the wealth of integrated peripherals already present on the board.

Many of those peripherals are tied to ports in the rear cluster. Here you get a little bit of everything, including two flavors of Firewire and S/PDIF digital audio output. The UD5P is capable of encoding Dolby Digital Live bitstreams on the fly, making it possible to enjoy multi-channel digital output not only in movies, but games as well.

The only thing missing from the UD5P’s port cluster is external Serial ATA connectivity, but Gigabyte includes a more flexible solution in the box in the form of a PCI back plate with a pair of eSATA ports. These back plate ports can be connected to any internal Serial ATA port, enabling users to choose which storage controller runs to the outside of their case. The back plate also includes a four-pin Molex power connector that should come in handy given that the existing eSATA standard doesn’t include provisions for power.

Jetway’s HA08
A little something different

Manufacturer Jetway
Model HA08
Price (Street)
Availability Now

Most of our motherboard coverage these days is dominated by the big three: Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI. That’s not so much a conscious effort on our part as it is a reflection of the fact that those three tend to get their hands on new chipsets first, do the best job of delivering the kinds of features enthusiasts covet, and be the most widely available in North America. Socket AM3 hasn’t brought a wave of new chipsets with it, which has allowed Jetway to introduce the HA08 alongside new AM3 boards from the big three. In fact, the HA08 is already selling at Newegg, for just $110. That makes it about $30 cheaper than the Asus M4A78T-E, despite the fact that both use the same 790GX chipset.

So can Jetway deliver a good enthusiast-oriented motherboard? Well, the HA08 is a part of the company’s premium “Hummer Studio” line, whose logo inexplicably features a horse’s head.

I dunno, maybe it’s a Mustang and there’s an underlying car analogy that I’m missing, perhaps related to live rear axles. More likely, something got lost in translation.

The HA08 isn’t anything particularly special to look at. It certainly lacks the clean aesthetic of the Gigabyte board, instead opting for a more random collection of colors for its expansion ports and slots.

Without a mass of auxiliary peripheral chips and their associated port hardware, the HA08’s layout looks a little sparse. That should have left plenty of room for board designers to place onboard components carefully in order to avoid clearance problems, and they’ve done a reasonably good job. The power plugs, for example, are along the edges of the board right where we like to see them. There’s even an eight-pin plug for the auxiliary 12V connector.

Around its CPU socket, the HA08 leaves just enough room for larger coolers. The north bridge and voltage circuitry heatsinks are short enough not to interfere our massive Ninja processor cooler, and the DIMM slots are just far enough away from the socket to accommodate taller Corsair Dominator memory modules. However, the board supplies the processor with six power phases—fewer than the Asus and Gigabyte boards.

While we’re looking at the HA08 from this angle, note the presence of a 128MB DDR3 memory chip just to the left of the north bridge cooler. This is the board’s dedicated Sideport graphics memory, and as on the Asus board, it runs at an effective 1333MHz. We won’t be testing integrated graphics performance today (for an in-depth look at the 790GX’s graphics chops, see our initial review of the chipset), but with the same chips and clock speeds, the HA08 and M4A78T-E ought to be equivalent on that front.

Jetway commits one of the cardinal sins of motherboard design by arranging the HA08’s Serial ATA ports so that two will be blocked by a double-wide graphics card installed in the top PCIe slot. That still leaves four ports available, but having to deal with a clearance issue that could easily have been avoided is annoying.

Surprisingly, the HA08 is one of only a couple of boards in this round-up to feature a two-digit post code display. These displays are incredibly handy for troubleshooting, and the HA08’s manual conveniently spends several pages cataloging what each of the post codes means. Kudos to Jetway for getting this feature just right.

The HA08’s slot stack is identical to that of the Asus M4A78T-E. Dual PCI Express x16 slots are provided alongside pairs of PCIe x1 and PCI slots, striking a good balance between new and old schools. Unfortunately, Jetway’s approach to lane switching is a little too antiquated. In order to get 16 lanes of bandwidth running to the primary x16 slot, you need to insert an included switch card into the secondary slot, rendering it useless. Most dual-x8 CrossFire implementations are capable of running 16 lanes of bandwidth to the primary x16 slot and one lane to the secondary slot without the need for switch boards that limit expansion options.

Depending on just how closely you pay attention to onboard components, you may or may not have noticed that the HA08 uses solid-state capacitors exclusively. Yes, even Jetway has jumped on that bandwagon, although the company doesn’t make mention of premium electrical components beyond the board’s capacitors.

Don’t expect much in the way of extra comforts in the HA08’s port cluster. While it’s nice to get DVI and HDMI video outputs, there’s no provision for digital audio output over S/PDIF. There are only four USB ports, too, although headers for an additional eight ports are available on the board. Jetway has at least seen fit to include an external Serial ATA port. Some assembly is required, though; to get the external port working, one must run a SATA cable from an internal port just behind the rear cluster down to one of the available SATA ports in the lower right-hand corner of the board.

Motherboard makers aren’t exactly known for their slick software interfaces, but the driver installation screen that popped up when I ran the HA08’s setup utility sets a new standard in ugliness. The setup screen looks like it was pulled from the days of Windows 3.1, and while retro is in these days, the so-called Magic Install utility looks horribly dated. That’s not the sort of thing that instills confidence in one’s motherboard.

MSI’s 790FX-GD70
Anyone for a four-way?

Manufacturer MSI
Model 790FX-GD70
Price (Street)
Availability Now

MSI’s 790FX-GD70 rounds out the quartet of boards we’re looking at today. If your eyes have already glazed over, I don’t blame you. Motherboards may be vital system components, particularly for enthusiasts, but they tend to be a little short on excitement. And by this point in a big round-up, I’m a little short on engaging prose. But indulge me for a moment, because the GD70 has a few unique tricks up its sleeve.

With a $180 street price, the GD70 lines up nicely opposite Gigabyte’s UD5P, which has the same asking price and an identical 790FX chipset. Like the Gigabyte board, MSI’s latest creation also has a mature sense of style. The GD70 looks very sharp indeed, with its black board, black and blue slots and ports, and pewter-colored heatsinks playing nicely off each other.

Thanks to a collection of extra slots, ports, and other widgets, the GD70 is a very busy board. Still, it doesn’t look all that crowded. Perhaps the simple color palette provides a measure of virtual camouflage. But then the board doesn’t feel crowded, either, which is more of a testament to the good job MSI has done with the layout. The GD70 is almost entirely devoid clearance problems—an impressive feat considering its payload of surface-mounted components.

Like all the other boards in this round-up, the GD70 features fancy-pants solid-state capacitors. MSI also says that the board uses higher-quality shielded chokes. Of course, it’s difficult to draw too many conclusions about a motherboard based on the purported nature of its electrical components, much less to make value judgments based on them.

Indeed, simply count electrical components is much easier. Doing that, you’ll notice the GD70’s CPU socket is only tied to five power phases, which is half as many as the Gigabyte board, four less than the Asus, and one fewer than the Jetway. However, I wouldn’t recommend a snap judgment here, either. MSI has a history of using fewer power phases than its competitors, and in many cases, we’ve observed no ill effects. Besides, the GD70 still supports processors up to 140W, just like every other board in this round-up.

Even with only five power phases, the socket area still looks pretty crowded. Note that MSI has moved the 790FX chip from its traditional location in the middle of the board to the left-hand side, just behind the rear port cluster (to the right in the picture above). This relocation allows the 790FX and the voltage regulation circuitry to share a single, low-profile heatsink that offers loads of surface area without interfering with larger CPU coolers.

The GD70 just wouldn’t be a high-end motherboard without a heatpipe, and one snakes down from the board’s primary cooler to a stubby south bridge heatsink. In this corner is a collection of Serial ATA ports, six of which face out from the edge of the board to ensure that cabling doesn’t interfere with gargantuan graphics cards. For what it’s worth, the two blue SATA ports (tied to the auxiliary JMicron controller) will be blocked by longer double-wide graphics cards installed in the second PCIe x16 slot. That’s probably a more sensible trade-off than putting the blue ports along the edge of the board and relocating the IDE port elsewhere.

Onboard buttons have become common on enthusiast-oriented motherboards, and the GD70 has more than any other we’ve tested. The power and reset buttons I understand, even if they’re probably only useful for a tiny subset of actual users. I get the CMOS reset button, too, although I think it should really be in the rear port cluster. Then there’s the GreenPower button, which enables dynamic power phase switching—neat, but probably something you’ll turn on once and never touch again. That leaves us with an overclocking button and an associated dial. Press the button to activate the dial, and when turned, it will increase the system’s base clock speed in increments defined in the BIOS. Right, because when I’m overclocking, I want to open up my case and start digging through the dust that tends to collect near the bottom of the motherboard. I think I’ll stick to far more powerful BIOS clock speed controls and Windows overclocking software, neither of which requires crawling under my desk.

Moving over to the slot stack reveals not two, not three, but four PCI Express x16 slots. The first and third slots have access to 16 lanes of gen-two connectivity each, which nicely spaces out two-way CrossFire configurations. Should you wish to run a three- or four-way CrossFire setup, you’ll have to make do with eight lanes of bandwidth per slot. You may also have problems getting a double-wide card installed in the bottom x16 slot to cooperate with enclosures that typically aren’t designed to have that much open space below the motherboard.

There isn’t much room to spare in the GD70’s port cluster, either. There’s a little bit of everything here, including external Serial ATA connectivity driven by a JMicron JMB362 SATA controller. Digital audio outputs are provided in TOS-Link and coaxial S/PDIF flavors, alongside a full array of analog input and output jacks. Even PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports are included.

A bevy of BIOS options

For overclockers and PC enthusiasts, a good motherboard BIOS needs a sufficiently broad array of tweaking and overclocking options. Surprisingly (for the Jetway, at least), all four of the boards we’ve assembled today have enough tuning options to satiate the vast majority of enthusiasts. Some offer more variables to tune with greater ranges and finer granularity, but if you’re just looking to exploit the “free” overclocking headroom available in most of today’s processors with standard air cooling, any of these boards should do—especially if you’ll be overclocking via a Black Edition CPU’s unlocked upper multiplier.

If you’re curious, we’ve summarized the tuning options made available by each BIOS in a terribly overpopulated table below. Good luck wading through this one.

Asus M4A78T-E Gigabyte GA-MA790FXT-UD5P Jetway HA08 MSI 790FX-GD70
Clock speeds Base: 200-600MHz in
1MHz increments

PCIe:
100-150MHz in 1MHz
increments
DRAM: 800, 1066
,
1333, 1600MHz
GPU: 160-1500MHz in 1MHz increments
Sideport memory:
1066-1700MHz in 30-66MHz increments
CPU/NB: 800-3600MHz
in 200MHz increments
HT: 200-2600MHz in 200MHz increments
Base: 200-500MHz in
1MHz increments

PCIe:
100-200MHz in 1MHz
increments
Base: 190-400MHz in
1MHz increments

PCIe:
90-250MHz in 1MHz
increments
DRAM: 800, 1066
,
1333, 1600MHz
GPU: 150-999MHz in 1MHz increments
Base: 200-600MHz in
1MHz increments

PCIe: 100-150MHz in 1MHz increments

Multipliers CPU: 8X-35X in 0.5X
increments
CPU: 5X-35X in 0.5X
increments
NB: 1X-13X in 1X
increments
CPU: 4X-35X in 0.5X
increments
CPU: 4X-32.5X in 0.5X
increments
NB: 4X-20X in 1X
increments
HT: 1X-13X in 0.5X
increments
Dividers NA DRAM: 1:4-8X in 1.33X increments NA Base:DRAM: 1:2, 1:2.66,
1:3.33, 1:4

Voltages
CPU: 0.8-1.7V in 0.0125V increments

CPU NB: 0.8-1.7V in
0.0125V increments


CPU VDDA: 2.5-2.8V in 0.1V increments

DRAM
: 1.5-2.5V in 0.02V increments
NB:
1.3-1.6V in 0.02V increments

NB 1.8: 1.8-2.0V in 0.02V increments
HT:
1.2-1.5V in 0.02V increments

SB: 1.2-1.35V in
0.015V increments
Sideport memory: 1.5, 1.6V
CPU: -0.6 – +0.6V in
0.025V increments


NB VID: -0.6 – +0.6V in
0.025V increments


DRAM: +0.05-0.75V in
0.025V increments


NB: +0.1-0.3V in 0.01V increments

NB PCIe/PLL: +0.1-0.3V in
0.01V increments


SB/HT: +0.1-0.3V in 0.01V increments
CPU: 0.8-1.55V in 0.025V increments

Core adjust: 5-35% in 5% increments

DRAM
: 1.45-2.01V in 0.04V increments
NB:
1.2-1.3V in 0.05V increments

NB PCIe: 1.2-1.3V in 0.05V increments
CPU: 1.005-1.955V in
0.01-0.02V increments

CPU
VDD: 1.1-1.55V in
0.0125V increments
CPU NB: 0.88-1.83V in 0.01-0.02V increments
CPU
NB VDD: 1.1-1.55V in
0.0125V increments
CPU
PLL: 1.752-3.132V in 0.01-0.05V increments

CPU
DDR PHY: 0.85-1.83V in 0.01-0.05V increments

DRAM: 1.19-2.4V in 0.01V increments

DRAM
ref: 0.534-1.159V in 0.025-0.05V increments

NB: 0.75-1.73V in 0.01-0.05V increments

NB PCIe: 0.75-1.73V in 0.01-0.05V increments


HT: 0.85-1.83V in 0.01-0.05V increments

SB: 0.85-1.83V in
0.01-0.05V increments


Monitoring
Voltage, fan status, and
temperature
Voltage, fan status, and
temperature
Voltage, fan status, and
temperature
Voltage, fan status, and
temperature

Fan speed control
CPU, system CPU CPU CPU, system

Even a brief glance at the table makes a few things quite clear. First and foremost, MSI’s GD70 offers control over a greater number of system voltages than the other boards. It also serves up higher CPU voltage options than the rest of the pack, although even the Jetway board should have a sufficiently high voltage ceiling for air-cooled overclocking.

Our handy BIOS comparison table nicely illustrates the different approaches each BIOS takes to clock speed control, too. Some, like the Asus, allow users to define actual clock speeds. Others prefer using bus multipliers and dividers to modify clocks. I don’t really have a preference for either approach as long as the interfaces are done well, and they generally are here.

Asus’ overclocking interface

There are, of course, a few problems with each BIOS. The Asus, for example, doesn’t display the target CPU clock speed when you change base clock or multiplier values. It’s a little detail, but one we’d like to see added to the mix, especially since the rest of the M4A78T-E’s BIOS is so competent. You can even manually key in voltages, rather than selecting them from a giant list, and the BIOS will settle on the closest value available in its library of options. The Asus BIOS also delvers robust control over the board’s integrated graphics component, allowing the user to adjust GPU and memory clock speeds and even the Sideport memory voltage.

Gigabyte has the best interface, even for memory timings

Gigabyte’s BIOS for the UD5P is generally good, although it’s largely driven by lists of options that you have to scroll through. We much prefer being able to key in values arbitrarily for clock speeds and voltages. The UD5P also lacks support for multiple configuration profiles, which are present in the Asus and MSI boards. However, I think Gigabyte has the best interface of the bunch. All the key tuning options are consolidated in a single screen that provides useful information about not only current settings, but also clock speed targets.

Jetway delivers IGP controls, but falls short elsewhere

Of the four, Jetway’s BIOS is easily the least impressive. In addition to lacking the depth of overclocking and tuning options available on the other boards, at least one of its memory tuning controls doesn’t work properly. The CAS latency is two ticks off—setting 9 in the BIOS actually yields a CAS latency of 7, as reported by CPU-Z in Windows. There are other problems, too. The memory timing controls aren’t easily accessible from the main overclocking screen, and there’s no integrated flashing utility.

MSI’s fan speed controls are, sadly, the most complete

MSI’s BIOS for the GD70 may be the best of the breed overall. It certainly has all the features bases covered, with an integrated flashing tool, support for up to four configuration profiles, and limited control over dynamic power phase scaling. The GD70’s BIOS also features the best fan speed controls of the lot, although they’re still a far cry from what was available from Abit years ago.

I to harp on fan speed controls because they tend to be neglected by motherboard makers seemingly intent on providing more overclocking options than we actually need. The GD70 will let the user set a temperature target and minimum speed for its automatic CPU fan speed control, but system fan speeds are static, with options for 50, 75, or 100%. Asus at least does temperature-based fan speed control for the M4A78T-E’s system fan header, but one can only choose between so-called silent, optimal, and performance profiles for it and the CPU fan. That’s still better than Gigabyte’s BIOS, which only lets the user turn CPU and system fan control on or off. The Jetway board doesn’t offer any speed control for its system fan header, although it does let users define five different fan speed steps for the processor cooler.

Our testing methods

All tests were run three times, and their results were averaged.

Processor Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition
2.8GHz
System bus 2.8GHz HyperTransport

Motherboard


Asus M4A78T-E


Gigabyte GA-MA790FXT-UD5P


Jetway HA08


MSI 790FX-GD70
Bios revision 0801 F4 1.0 1.0

North bridge
AMD 790GX AMD 790FX AMD 7G0GX AMD 7F0GX

South bridge
AMD SB750 AMD SB750 AMD SB750 AMD SB750
Chipset drivers Catalyst 9.2 Catalyst 9.2 Catalyst 9.2 Catalyst 9.2
Memory size 2GB (2 DIMMs) 2GB (2 DIMMs) 2GB (2 DIMMs) 2GB (2 DIMMs)

Memory type


Corsair CM3X1024-1333C9DHX DDR3 SDRAM
at 1333MHz
CAS latency
(CL)
7 7 7 7
RAS to CAS
delay (tRCD)
7 7 7 7
RAS precharge
(tRP)
7 7 7 7
Cycle time
(tRAS)
20 20 20 20
Command rate 1T 1T 1T 1T

Audio codec
VT1708S
with 6.0.1.1560 drivers
ALC889A
with 2.17 drivers
ALC888
with 2.17 drivers
ALC889
with 2.17 drivers
Graphics

Nvidia GeForce GTX 280 1GB
with ForceWare 182.08 drivers
Hard drive
Western Raptor X 150GB
OS

Windows Vista Ultimate x86
with Service Pack 1

All of our test systems were powered by OCZ GameXStream 700W power supply units. Thanks to OCZ for providing these units and our DDR3-1600 DIMMs for our use in testing

Finally, we’d like to thank Western Digital for sending Raptor WD1500ADFD hard drives for our test rigs.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1280×1024 in 32-bit color at an 85Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

Power consumption

We measured system power consumption, sans monitor and speakers, at the wall outlet using a Watts Up Pro power meter. Power consumption was measured at idle and under a load consisting of a multi-threaded Cinebench 10 render running in parallel with the “rthdribl” high dynamic range lighting demo. Results that fall under “No power management” were obtained with Windows Vista running in high-performance mode, while those with power management enabled were taken with Vista in its balanced performance mode.

The GD70’s dynamic power phase switching is only good for about a watt of power saved at the wall socket, and even with this feature enabled, the MSI board’s power consumption is among the highest of the bunch. Gigabyte’s UD5P also has relatively high power draw under load, but its idle power consumption is among the lowest, tied with the M4A78T-E. The Asus board just trails the leader under load, as well, although in that case it’s one watt behind Jetway’s HA08.

Overclocking

AMD’s Black Edition models are easily the most attractive processors in the Phenom II lineup, and they’re the ones we recommend because unlocked multipliers make the chips easy to overclock with just about any motherboard. However, before I dive into our overclocking results, I should address our Phenom II X3’s fourth core. We recently learned that, in some cases, a triple-core Phenom’s otherwise dormant fourth core can be enabled with a simple BIOS switch. For obvious reasons, AMD doesn’t want motherboard makers putting this switch in their BIOSes. But beta and unofficial BIOS releases are often available in overclocking forums and elsewhere, so we decided to give one a shot on the M4A78T-E.

Well, it didn’t work. Our Phenom’s fourth core was apparently disabled for good reason; even with extra voltage, we couldn’t coax it back to life. Some triple-core Phenoms may indeed be perfectly comfortable running with their fourth cores enabled, but that’s certainly not guaranteed.

What does seem to be guaranteed, at least with our particular X3 CPU, is a maximum clock speed of 3.7GHz. We were able to hit that speed by raising the CPU multiplier on each board, and they were all stable when faced with a punishing three-way Prime95 load.

Asus does it without extra voltage

Although all four boards settled on the same maximum stable CPU speed, the M4A78T-E was the only one to get there without an accompanying increase in voltage. We were also able to get the Asus board posting with our Phenom at 3.8GHz, but it consistently crashed on the way to Windows, regardless of how much we fiddled with voltages.

Gigabyte can do 3.7GHz, too

Gigabyte’s UD5P made it all the way up to 3.4GHz without a bump in processor voltage, but 3.6GHz required 1.4V, and 3.7GHz 1.45V to maintain stability. Those voltages are still well within the realm of what’s reasonable, even for modest air cooling.

Jetway ramps up the processor voltage

Like the Gigabyte board, the HA08 made it up to 3.4GHz at its default CPU voltage. 3.7GHz required setting the CPU voltage at 1.4V in the BIOS, but according to CPU-Z, doing so takes the processor all the way up to 1.584V. The system was still stable under load, and the CPU didn’t spontaneously combust.

Still, it seems that Jetway’s BIOS voltage controls are a little off. When the CPU voltage is set to default in the BIOS, CPU-Z shows it as 1.34V. Setting any other CPU voltage in the BIOS yields a CPU-Z reading of 1.58V. AMD’s OverDrive utility shows 1.325V regardless of what’s manually set in the BIOS. You need to disable BIOS-level voltage controls to allow OverDrive to manipulate them directly on the Jetway board, but that doesn’t make things much clearer. For example, setting the CPU voltage at 1.4V in OverDrive again yields 1.58V in CPU-Z.

MSI makes it to 3.7GHz at 1.475V

Overclocking on the GD70 played out much like it did on the Gigabyte board. The MSI mobo sailed up to 3.4GHz with stock voltage and required 1.425V for stability at 3.6GHz. The next jump up to 3.7GHz needed an additional voltage boost up to 1.475V, but the system was perfectly stable with those settings. We briefly flirted with 3.8GHz on the GD70, as well, but couldn’t get that speed stable under load, even with more than 1.5V flowing to the processor.

Memory performance

The Phenom’s integrated memory controller largely takes the motherboard out of the equation when it comes to memory subsystem performance. However, mobo makers do have some freedom when it comes to tuning the CPU’s memory controller.

We’ve done some tuning ourselves, of course, setting our DIMMs to run at 1333MHz with 7-7-7-20-1T timings on each board. That configuration yields nearly identical memory performance from all four. Keep in mind that AMD only guarantees that Phenom II processors can handle 1333MHz memory with one DIMM per channel, though.

Euler3d fluid dynamics

Few folks run fluid dynamics simulations on their desktops, but we’ve found this multi-threaded test to be particularly demanding of memory subsystems, making it a good link between our memory and application performance tests.

With virtually identical memory bandwidth and access latencies across the board, it’s no surprise to see close competition here.

WorldBench

WorldBench uses scripting to step through a series of tasks in common Windows applications. It then produces an overall score. WorldBench also spits out individual results for its component application tests, allowing us to compare performance in each. We’ll look at the overall score, and then we’ll show individual application results alongside the results from some of our own application tests.

Only three points separate the fastest board from the slowest in WorldBench, which isn’t much of a margin. Jetway and MSI tie for the lead, followed by Gigabyte and Asus.

Gaming

The results of our gaming tests are mostly a wash. Sure, the GD70 is slightly quicker with each title. The HA08 also pushes marginally fewer frames than the rest throughout. Overall, though, any of these boards should be able to keep up with anything your graphics card can handle.

Motherboard peripheral performance

Some of the biggest performance differences you’ll find between motherboards come on the peripheral front, where it’s easy to spot where mobo makers have skimped on auxiliary peripheral chips.

Ethernet performance
Throughput (Mbps) CPU utilization (%)

Asus M4A78T-E
937 33.0

Gigabyte GA-MA790FXT-UD5P (1)
937 21.7

Gigabyte GA-MA790FXT-UD5P (2)
940 21.5

Jetway HA08
942 16.7

MSI 790FX-GD70 (1)
942 36.5

MSI 790FX-GD70 (2)
942 37.1

All four boards deliver competitive Gigabit Ethernet throughput, but CPU utilization varies quite a bit from one to the next. The Jetway board uses the fewest CPU cycles of the lot, while the MSI board uses more than the others.

HD Tach
Firewire performance

Read burst

speed (MB/s)


Average read

speed (MB/s)


Average write

speed (MB/s)


CPU utilization

(%)


Asus M4A78T-E
38.6 33.2 17.2 11.3

Gigabyte GA-MA790FXT-UD5P
41.1 35.6 20.4 2.3

MSI 790FX-GD70
39.3 33.7 26.9 8.0

Since the HA08 doesn’t have a Firewire chip, it has to sit out this test. Gigabyte’s UD5P has the best Firewire performance, with fast transfer rates and low CPU utilization. Oddly, even though the Asus and MSI boards use the same VIA VT6315N Firewire chip, they’re 10MB/s apart in the write speed test.

HD Tach
USB performance

Read burst

speed (MB/s)


Average read

speed (MB/s)


Average write

speed (MB/s)


CPU utilization

(%)


Asus M4A78T-E
18.6 13.4 12.5 21.7

Gigabyte GA-MA790FXT-UD5P
28.6 21.9 20.4 4.3

Jetway HA08
28.4 27.5 27.3 9.3

MSI 790FX-GD70
23.3 15.7 14.8 18.3

Even more curious is the fact that USB performance varies so much. All four boards use the same south bridge USB controller, but transfer rates and CPU utilization are all over the map. AMD’s SB750 south bridge chip has never been the most reliable—or the most consistent—but our use of a relatively oddball triple-core processor may also be causing problems for HD Tach.

HD Tach
Serial ATA performance

Read burst

speed (MB/s)


Average read

speed (MB/s)


Average write

speed (MB/s)


CPU utilization

Random access time (ms)

(%)


Asus M4A78T-E
237.6 99.4 74.9 23.7 7.6

Gigabyte GA-MA790FXT-UD5P
(SB750)
159.9 93.0 73.2 14.3 7.5

Gigabyte GA-MA790FXT-UD5P (GSATA)
140.9 103.3 55.4 4.0 7.2

Jetway HA08
243.3 110.5 81.4 6.7 7.2

MSI 790FX-GD70 (SB750)
235.2 110.4 81.5 25.3 7.3

MSI 790FX-GD70 (JMB322)
147.3 82.5 72.1 19.0 7.3

Take the results of our Serial ATA performance tests, for example. Transfer rates and CPU utilization, at least for the SB750, vary more than they should from one board to the next. We also noticed that HD Tach tends to peg CPU utilization at 33% after each test run, even on the Jetway board, whose CPU utilization appears to be very low otherwise.

Perhaps we were foolishly optimistic to test these systems with the SB750 running in AHCI mode, but we expect things like hot-swapping and Native Command Queuing to work on modern motherboards. They’re not exactly bleeding-edge new features, after all. We may have to test exclusively in IDE mode moving forward, and we’ll probably drop the triple-core Phenom in favor of a more traditional quad-core part, which may clean up some of our CPU utilization results.

RightMark Audio
Analyzer audio quality

Overall score

Frequency response

Noise level

Dynamic range

THD

THD + Noise

IMD + Noise

Stereo Crosstalk

IMD at 10kHz

Asus M4A78T-E
4 3 3 4 1 4 4 4 4

Gigabyte GA-MA790FXT-UD5P
5 5 5 5 6 4 6 5 5

Jetway HA08
5 5 4 4 5 3 4 5 5

MSI 790FX-GD70
5 5 5 5 5 3 5 5 5

We used a fresh version of RightMark Audio Analyzer to test combined input and output signal quality with a 24-bit, 192kHz “loopback” test from the front-channel output to the line input on each board. The UD5P has the highest scores, but it’s often tied with the MSI and Jetway boards. The M4A78T-E, on the other hand, has the lowest score in nearly every test. It’s also the only board to use a VIA codec chip. I guess there’s something to Realtek’s dominance of the motherboard audio market, after all.

Conclusions

These motherboards span a $70 range between $110 and $180. That’s the meat of the mid-range market and probably most of the high end, at least for Socket AM3 processors. The GA-MA790FXT-UD5P and the MSI 790FX-GD70 may sell for less than two bills each, but with support for full-bandwidth CrossFire configurations and a wealth of connectivity options and integrated peripherals, they’re about as loaded as Phenom II boards get. I just don’t see myself buying either to pair with a Phenom II, though.

Don’t get me wrong—the UD5P and GD70 are both fine boards. I like the MSI’s four physical x16 slots, and the Gigabyte’s ALC889A codec is the only one of the bunch that can do a SoundStorm impression. However, both are high-end boards for a processor lineup that lacks high-end parts. The Phenom II X3 720 and X4 940 are the only Socket AM3 chips I’d consider recommending, and neither needs a $180 motherboard. The results of our memory performance, games, and application tests make it clear these more expensive motherboards aren’t any faster than their competition. And we’ve yet to see evidence that a dual-x16 CrossFire implementation is any faster than a dual-x8 setup with second-generation PCI Express.

That leaves the Jetway and Asus boards, which are considerably more affordable. The HA08, for example, is just $110. But you get what you pay for. The Jetway’s board’s BIOS definitely needs work, not only to address what appear to be flaky voltage and memory timing controls, but also to add features like an integrated flash utility and support for multiple configuration profiles. Jetway’s board designers need to do a better job avoiding clearance issues, too, and the PCIe switch card needs to go. The HA08 has the performance to be competitive with boards from better-known brands, but it falls short on the sort of features and polish for which I’m willing to pay a little extra.

Asus’ M4A78T-E only costs $30 more than the Jetway, but its BIOS is far more capable, and there are no layout problems to report. What’s more, the Asus board was the best overclocker of the bunch, not because it hit higher speeds, but because it brought our Phenom II up to 3.7GHz without resorting to extra voltage. The M4A78T-E also delivers all the integrated peripherals you’ll need without going overboard or overbudget.

That’s not to say that the M4A78T-E certainly is without flaws. I’m still not sold on the utility of integrated graphics in a mid-range motherboard, and I wish Asus had used a better audio codec. Still, of the four Socket AM3 motherboards we’ve looked at today, the M4A78T-E is the one I’d buy for a Phenom II build.

Comments closed
    • Mr Bill
    • 9 years ago

    I bought the MSI 790FX-GD70. I am using a Phenom II 955 Black Edition Quad core at 3.2GHz (no core overclocking) and 4 sticks of OCZ Platinum 2GB DDR3 2000 (PC3 16000). The system is completely stable at DDR3 1600 with no extra tweeks. However, I had to add directed cooling of the north bridge heat sink to make an NB clock frequency of 2400 completely stable (an hour of AOD stability test with no faults). This is a smoking combination.

    • wiak
    • 10 years ago

    Gigabyte board has a Jmicron controller, atleast according to its driver, heck it has the same chip as msi board ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Manabu
    • 10 years ago

    “I’m still not sold on the utility of integrated graphics in a mid-range motherboard, and I wish Asus had used a better audio codec.”

    Not everyone is an gamer. I was atracted to AMD plataform mainly because that integrated graphics chipset “for free”, that is an good upgrade from my Geforce 6100. I preffer to use the $60 on an better motherboard, or other components, than an graphic card. If the GPGPU hype lives up in the future, I may still buy an good PCI-E GPU more optimized for that.

    So, they got at least one consumer because of that.

    • Mr Bill
    • 10 years ago

    Props for a well done review. Now that the Phenom II X4 955 is out, it would be nice to see the MSI board in that review, or better yet the X4 955 in this review. I disagree that price seems mostly to be the overriding factor. But I’m comparing getting a server board like the TYAN S2915 and a couple of 2.3 GHz Shanghai’s versus say the Phenom II X4 955 and a DDR3 motherboard. Seems to me that the price of the MSI is more than fair considering the better expandability and better peripheral performance. Besides, I could get two of them for what the server would cost and still have change left over. I have this weakness for dual CPU boards. I’ve been using a dual MP 2600 board all this time. Its about time for an upgrade.

    • obarthelemy
    • 10 years ago

    I’m wondering: is the high CPU load for AHCI on the SB750 such a problem with a 3-core CPU ? Should I much care about 30% use of one core, ie 10% use of the 3 cores ?

    • imtheunknown176
    • 10 years ago

    When did gigabyte decide it was a good idea to cover the fins on a heatsink? I’ve noticed that they’ve been doing this recently. You put fins on a heatsink to take advantage of airflow. Sure it probably doesn’t make much of a difference but it still looks dumb.

    • sergeant_skyes
    • 10 years ago

    hey guys i forgot to mention that maybe TR did an error in the last page. phenom 2 940 is not and am3 but an am2+ version . i guess they wanted to mention phenom 2 x810 / x910 or something and they messed up.

    • BeowulfSchaeffer
    • 10 years ago

    I was all excited. I thought it was an article about 4 socket boards, not 4 boards….

    • albundy
    • 10 years ago

    i was going to go for the PII 920 when newegg had it for $134 a week or two ago, but i just could not find a decent motherboard with the layout that i wanted. i’d say 99.9% of the AM2+ and AM3 were all based on the same reference board type. all seemed to have way too many PCI slots and too many legacy connections and no incentives. Some even have a parallel port! lol!

    Right now, i am waiting for the SB800 / RD890 chipset to come out, but am afraid that the pricing might drive me to intel’s x58…yet again.

    • zagortenay
    • 10 years ago

    I don’t understand all the whining about AMD support for AHCI. I have AHCI working flawless with Windows XP on ASUS M3A78-T (SB750) mobo. Does the problem exist for other operating systems? There is not such a problem for XP, if you want to know!

      • Veerappan
      • 10 years ago

      I’ve got AHCI working on my SB700-based Gigabyte 780G motherboard, but from previous articles/comments the feedback that I’ve gotten has always said that the problem isn’t that AHCI doesn’t work at all, but that it does so with abnormally high CPU utilization.

        • Jypster
        • 10 years ago

        What is classed as high CPU useage ?

        640meg file tranfer from a single drive to raid drive setup using onboard controller and the CPU never spiked over 6%. Copying a 1.2gig file back over to the primary drive spiked at 9% to start then quickly dropped to bounce between 2 and 4%. 3.7gig file spiked at 13% to start then dropped to bounce between 2 and 4 again

        Gigabyte DS4H with AHCI enabled under Windows 7

    • zagortenay
    • 10 years ago

    test test test

    • kcarlile
    • 10 years ago

    Nice to see AMD boards that don’t look like toddler toys, like so many seem to have in the AM2/2+ class.

    Pity the SB750 is so iffy (like everyone else said…)

    • bigfootape
    • 10 years ago

    I would have liked a review of the Gigabyte GA-MA790XT-UD4P.

      • RagingDragon
      • 10 years ago

      Yeah, it’d be nice to see how the Gigabyte and MSI boards in same price range as the Asus compare to it.

    • eitje
    • 10 years ago

    Jetway:
    q[

      • Dissonance
      • 10 years ago

      I can tell you that it doesn’t vary much, if at all, with the games and resolutions we tested. However, the fact remains that Jetway’s lane switching solution is far from elegant compared to what else is available.

        • eitje
        • 10 years ago

        That’s true. But I would counter-argue that lane-switching at all might not be necessary.

    • SubSeven
    • 10 years ago

    Does anyone if the Zalman 9500 coolers for AMD work on the AM3 Socket?

      • Danimoth17
      • 10 years ago

      The only difference between AM2 and AM3, in this regard is the number of pins on the socket. The mounting setup is the same, so any heatsink made for AM2 should fit AM3 sockets

        • SubSeven
        • 10 years ago

        Thank you sir! I was hoping that was the case. I picked up the cooler on ebay for a great price about 6months ago and never got around to building a rig. As much as i love my socket 754 Athlon 3400+, I think now might not be such a bad time to upgarde a tad ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Tarx
    • 10 years ago

    The price premium for a 4xPCIex16 is well worth it for those interested in that (e.g. tri/quad display or 3/4 card crossfire or for mega-folding etc.).
    Of course for most people, 2xPCIex16 is all they need.
    I agree that this compares boards from different ranges. Car analogy (I k now we all secretly love them!) would be Porche GT3 vs Chevy camaro. Porche has midrange vehices (e.g. boxster) and Chevy have high range vehicles (e.g. ZR1)
    edit: oops – suppose to be a reply for #27

      • jackaroon
      • 10 years ago

      Well, strictly speaking, 1×16 is what most people need. (or is it 0x16? I guess I shouldn’t worry about it. We know who reads this site)

        • Tarx
        • 10 years ago

        True enough – plus there is also are X2 cards and GTX 295 cards.

    • flip-mode
    • 10 years ago

    One last comment:

    I’m starting to get the upgrade itch. My x2-3600 on a 690G mobo is still doing everything I need, but I am getting the itch none the less. Maybe I’ll save up to upgrade my core components to a DDR3 based platform, wait for the i5 to launch, and pull the trigger when the dust settles. Now having said all of that, I won’t be getting a AMD chipset mobo unless it has fully functional AHCI, so hey, AMD, how bout you get that issue sorted out, finally, please? Cause it’s either i7, i5, or Ph2, and right now your AHCI crappiness is taking the Ph2 out of the running.

      • Meadows
      • 10 years ago

      Word of mouth and blind hope has it that their next chipset is coming and the only news about it will be a new south bridge that people hope will finally be the second coming of Jesus Christ.

      I’m not sure if Core i5 or AMD’s new chipset will come out first, though.

        • flip-mode
        • 10 years ago

        Some solid AHCI is all I need, thanks. I hope it is not the Second Coming cause that will be fire and brimstone and all that nonsense, which would probably make AHCI moot.

          • Meadows
          • 10 years ago

          Well, if either word of mouth or blind hope wins, you’ll get working AHCI and improved USB performance. Personally, I wouldn’t mind that either. Right now I’m using an AMD 790GX board but my crystal ball is already displaying a Phenom II variant upgrade somewhere down the line, for which I’d need the most peppy chipset AMD has to offer.

          That is, unless “advanced clock calibration” is automatic with their new stuff, which might prompt me to consider an nVidia sort of board thing instead.

            • Veerappan
            • 10 years ago

            I don’t have any links at the moment, but I remember that one of the Phenom II reviews I’ve read had mentioned that ACC is un-necessary/automatically-supported in Phenom II chips and it works just fine in motherboards that are based on the older SB700 (which I have). I’m not sure if that translates to nVidia as well, but I’m guessing it does.

            My guess is that it was just some bug in the original Phenom that they ironed out for the Phenom II.

            • Meadows
            • 10 years ago

            That’s actually very good news and makes my crystal ball shine brighter.

    • MadManOriginal
    • 10 years ago

    I guess there’s one other thing that would be good to point out wrt various 790GX and 790FX motherboards. If you do a search on Newegg for those two chipsets you’ll see that the big 3 in this article (not Jetway) offer a range of motherboards – Asus has a few $180 790FX motherboards, Gigabyte has a $130 790GX mobo for example. I understand TR reviews products they are sent and reviewing a range of motherboards is great. It may have been smart of Asus to send their mid-range priced 790GX but these motherboards aren’t exactly direct competitors. It would have been nice to see that mentioned in the article.

    • Freon
    • 10 years ago

    Good review. I completely agree $180 is too much to spend for the target market for the CPUs it supports. I still have yet to spend more than about $140 on a motherboard ever, though I rarely early adopt platforms.

    I can’t say I’m terribly impressed by any of the boards here. Asus seems to have cut corners on cooling, though perhaps I’m overemphasizing the unimportant. Their audio also seems subpar for what we normally expect as well, which is disappointing. I’ve long decided to stop giving Creative Labs money and have been pretty happy to use a “free” Realtek solution. Perhaps I’d never really notice running through even a “premium” $250 set of Logitech computer speakers, though. I hardly do any critical listening on my computer.

    Asus BIOS is good, no surprises. I am also a fan (*groan*) of their closed loop controls for fan speed. The canned modes do a good job of covering basic needs even if you don’t get to exactly define the function. I think I basically have the same thing in my P5Q Pro, which seems like a fairly close analog to this board, minus the iffy Via audio codec and cheap cooling. Only thing I’d wish for is more independent channels with their own temp probes. My board offers only two, one for the CPU using the CPU’s own temp probe, and one for the system temperature. It’d be great to see a 3rd channel with a thermister lead I could tape to one of my hard drives that drove one of the 3pin headers near the front of the board, for instance.

    If only Jetway could use the same BIOS as Asus I think it would be a killer board. I was impressed with how well the cheap board did in the benchmarks. It’s looks like it may still be a contender if you aren’t intending to overclock.

      • flip-mode
      • 10 years ago

      I disagree with the “too expensive” argument. The reason is that there are other options available. i7 mobos were too expensive because they were ALL $300+, it’s not that just one of them was.

      It’s fine for Gigabyte to offer a high-end-ish motherboard to this market, because someone may want a high end mobo and still want a Phenom 2. Meanwhile, everyone else can spend as little as $60 on a mobo that will host an AM3 CPU. So I thought is was a very silly criticism, especially after the “Trio of Affordable Core i7 motherboards” review — so those motherboards, the cheapest of which was $195, were “affordable” and here a motherboard that costs $180 is “too high end”? Whatev.

        • Freon
        • 10 years ago

        “It’s fine for Gigabyte to offer a high-end-ish motherboard to this market, because someone may want a high end mobo and still want a Phenom 2.”

        I don’t understand why. It seems the extra $60 here would be better spent on a faster video card, CPU, more RAM, date night with the SO, etc. There is no major feature there that seems worth the extra dough. Not for a typical user, so excluding some niche feature like dual gigabit. Even then gigabit ethernet cards are hardly $60 a pop. It is certainly a function of the typical cost of the rest of the system, as those with less budget constraints should be looking at an i7 regardless. $60 would be better spent elsewhere. $200 extra would be better spent on an i7.

        I guess I’ve always seen motherboards as a marginal commodity product. It should run with stability, support standard components first, then we can look at fancy overclocking BIOS options, extra ports, whizbang triple gigabit ethernet, etc. While I don’t usually buy the cheapest Foxconn or ECS board, the glitz and glamor of premium boards just doesn’t seem to meet the value proposition when cheaper boards get the core job done fairly well.

          • flip-mode
          • 10 years ago

          q[

      • Veerappan
      • 10 years ago

      r[< It'd be great to see a 3rd channel with a thermister lead I could tape to one of my hard drives that drove one of the 3pin headers near the front of the board, for instance.<]r Check out SpeedFan. It's a windows program that allows you to use the temperature probe built into quite a few hard drives to control a fan's speed. I've got my system set up to monitor the CPU, System, and HD temperatures, and have assigned each fan to be linked to its appropriate set of temperatures. When the HD heats up, the system fan goes faster. When the system heats up, same thing. The CPU fan, however, only monitors the CPU temp. I don't remember if I have the system fan also monitoring the temp on my passively cooled Radeon 4850... but the program is pretty flexible, and you may want to check it out.

    • wikiterra
    • 10 years ago

    You know, I honestly though this was about motherboards with four sockets. Now I’m disappointed. :-/

    • flip-mode
    • 10 years ago

    Very nice review. It was clearly written and covered all the bases.

    I noticed in the overclocking section that overclocking was done only by changing the multiplier. Was it done this way because it is preferable to doing an “FSB” overclock in some way, i.e. does it allow higher clocks or provide the same performance while being easier? Or is it just the fact that it is so easy to OC that way?

    Geoff, I still don’t understand your unease with IGP on midrange and higher boards. Do you have any reasons why it is a bad thing to have?

      • flip-mode
      • 10 years ago

      Bump?

      • Dissonance
      • 10 years ago

      The only Phenoms we’d recommend at this moment are Black Editions because their unlocked upper multipliers makes overclocking easier. We thought it best to tackle the sort of overclocking we recommend folks pursue rather than arbitrarily pushing base clock speeds.

      As for this “unease” of mine, I just don’t see the point of integrated graphics in a mid-range or high-end chipset. The 790GX may offer better gaming performance than a 780G, but neither can hold a candle to even low-end discrete cards.

      If you don’t play games, 780G boards are cheaper, offer the same Blu-ray playback acceleration, and are available in Micro and full ATX flavors. If you do play games, the 790X ditches the IGP and still gives you dual-x8 CrossFire. Plus, you don’t have to worry about VGA, DVI, and HDMI ports consuming backplane real estate that would be better used to provide additional USB ports, audio connectors, and the like.

      Now if you could get an IGP in a mid-range or high-end chipset that actually cooperated with a discrete graphics card via something like Nvidia’s now-defunct HybridPower, that would add compelling value to the package.

        • flip-mode
        • 10 years ago

        That’s fair enough. Backplane space is tight. I suppose that extra USB and other ports could always be put on a bracket. I like the idea of IGP on the whole range of boards because it is inevitable that what is today’s high end board will be tomorrows hand-me-down or secondary or tertiary computer. IGP would be put to good use once a board is “over the hill” and sent to a non-gaming family member or put to use as a server mobo. Those are my only reasons for really liking the feature though, not necessarily because it is actually useful to game on or to play Blu-ray.

        Thanks for the response!

    • MadManOriginal
    • 10 years ago

    I’m kind of curious why the Asus got a recommendation. It seems to be based upon just oc’ing at lower vcore and price? The peripheral performance is weak. Reading the review it seems like either none of these should be recommended or that they should be recommended for different reasons and the buyer can choose their priorities.

      • Gerbil Jedidiah
      • 10 years ago

      I agree that from reading everything but the conclusion it sounded like the Gigabyte was going to take the crown, and that all the boards had something to offer, but he did a good job of saying why he picked the ASUS, so I give him credit for that. That is to say, he didn’t just say go buy ASUS cause it’s better, he stated why he preferred it, so we can either agree or not…

        • MadManOriginal
        • 10 years ago

        Yes, he does cover the pluses and minuses of each very well, as usual for TR articles it’s very well written. The recommendation seems to be a little more ‘What would I (Geoff) buy’ which is fine but that gets automatically changed to ‘TR review winner and recommendation’ by the nature of the article. It doesn’t seem that any of these boards is all around superior to the others, that’s what I was saying, but a recommendation does imply that.

        Perhaps a point-by-point plus and minus for each board as a summary would do a better job of clarifying the differences.

        • Freon
        • 10 years ago

        Yeah ignoring BIOS issues the Jetway looks great, but I can understand why BIOS took precident over the poor peripheral performance of the Asus. And the price issues is evident. $180 on a motherboard for a $180 processor just doesn’t add up. It kinda breaks the value proposition of the Phenom.

    • flip-mode
    • 10 years ago

    Oh, sweet. Off to read.

    • clone
    • 10 years ago

    I was really surprised to see that the Jetway performed so well….. they had it in spades over everyone else in price.

    that the board lacks polish isn’t really a concern to me personally…… once a computer is built and tweaked those settings are done and you live with the system from that point onward so “polish” has virtually no value.

    I’m still leary of Jetway but if they can place well in another motherboard review I’ll take a chance using one in a personal system to see how it works, the integrated Asus audio performance kills it as an option so I’d be going for the Gigabyte 1st.

    good job Jetway with solid USB and serial perf if your company can get a Windows based flash utility going and offer robust bios support to fix issues or simply release a bios that works without issue you’ll get the nod.

      • Cyco-Dude
      • 10 years ago

      really? integrated sound performance is a deal-breaker? lol, i wish someone would come out with a board that /[

        • Meadows
        • 10 years ago

        How is “not having it” a superior option to, say, “having it and turning it off” if you really don’t use it?

          • clone
          • 10 years ago

          back in 98 integrated was bad and cpu cycles were precious, today I’m surprised we have an add in sound market at all…. add in sound accounts for less than 2% of the market and is well past it’s prime.

          my last add in sound card was an audigy 2 and in hindsight I wish my last add in sound card was the SB live 5.1 bought 5 years earlier.

            • Meadows
            • 10 years ago

            I’m not surprised that this market is alive, anyone who is working with audio at least on a hobby-level (or wants high sound quality for the heck of it) will get a sound card. Especially recently, sound cards have received regular improvements comparable to videocards.

            • eitje
            • 10 years ago

            q[

            • Meadows
            • 10 years ago

            Not everyone has digital thingamajigs, nobody who I personally know, for instance.

            • eitje
            • 10 years ago

            WELL THEN.

            Your personal experience and opinions are definitely more relevant than any facts I could put forth about SNR and such.

            • clone
            • 10 years ago

            r[

            • Meadows
            • 10 years ago

            Integrated audio doesn’t have the (probably) necessary ASIO drivers for said hobbies (ASIO4ALL can be buggy and harder to handle), and they may lack either the preferred sampling rates/resolutions, or the quality at those given settings.

            One of the problematic cases: a bad DAC can neuter high treble for example, after which a sound-conscious person would raise treble during production, and on a proper end system, it would strike out at users that the sound was adjusted too high and it’s slicing the eardrums.
            It’s no coincidence that some people prefer using the best of the best to achieve the most detailed sound, hopefully with minimal distortion and no unwanted colour.

    • Tarx
    • 10 years ago

    Nice review!
    Not sure about the conclusion as the ASUS did have some noteable flaws. And it isn’t in the same category as the higher end AM3 ASUS boards like the M4A79T.
    Also for the ASUS, does it have some sort of automatic voltage increase when OCing (like I’ve seen on my older ASUS board)?
    For price, there is also the ASRock M3A790GXH ($115 on newegg)
    Also the DFI LP DK 790FXB looks interesting (3 x PCIex16)

    • Arag0n
    • 10 years ago

    Answer me if im wrong but Jetway was the most consistent board about CPU utilization while testing USB, SATA and Ethernet, without a drop on performance. I really dont know wich is this brand, but, I guess that instead judge by the ugly software or non friendly bios, it’s an awsome board for just 110$. I would get this one instead asus not only for price.

      • Veerappan
      • 10 years ago

      I had a Jetway P4 board a few years back which worked just fine for me until the board died (probably bad capacitors based on every other motherboard that was dying around that time).

      The Jetway board itself worked pretty well for me. The overclocking options were pretty barebones, but the board was stable enough.

      I agree with your other comments as well. The CPU utilization on this board was much better, and the audio quality didn’t suck like the Asus did. I’d consider this board if I didn’t already have a Gigabyte 780G mATX in my system.

      Another way to put it would be that if my house got struck by lightning and my surge protection failed, then I’d probably lean toward the Jetway over the Asus, and I’d outright disqualify any board over $150 when I started shopping.

    • Gerbil Jedidiah
    • 10 years ago

    Nice article! Been waiting for this ever since you mentioned it in the last podcast.

    QQ though, in the conclusion you say, “However, both are high-end boards for a processor lineup that lacks high-end parts. The Phenom II X3 720 and X4 940 are the only Socket AM3 chips I’d consider recommending, and neither needs a $180 motherboard.”

    I don’t think the X4 940 works in an AM3 mobo. It’s AM2+. Or is there another 940 out there I don’t know about?

      • grantmeaname
      • 10 years ago

      I don’t think so… I was wondering that myself.

        • khands
        • 10 years ago

        Nope, you’re both right, the 940 is AM2+ only, we’re wating for the 945 and 955 processors for a decent cached Ph2 Quad-Core that supports DDR3.

    • A_Pickle
    • 10 years ago

    What I don’t understand: Apparently, one of those features that enthusiasts apparently covet, is having dual gigabit ethernet ports. I don’t get it. Why?

    I guess what I’m trying to say is…

    …yes Gigabyte, I would’ve rather you did away with one of those ethernet ports, and simply put eSATA back there…

      • bLaNG
      • 10 years ago

      Probably its the possibility to create much faster networks through link aggregation. Never used it myself, but seemingly you can combine two ports to gain higher speeds.
      If you have a huge file server this can come in handy.

        • MadManOriginal
        • 10 years ago

        I’d like to see an article on network connection aggregation. It’s the only reason to have more than one network connection on a motherboard so seeing what kind of a difference it might make as well as any setup issues would be cool.

          • bLaNG
          • 10 years ago

          me too. from what i read in forums it scales pretty nice, so it might be really worth the effort. but if i’d plan to do something like this, i probably would not go with onbord nics anyway but get two decent pci-nics.

    • Ushio01
    • 10 years ago

    MSI’s board layout is definitely one i want to see repeated preferably with three pci-e x4 instead of pci and pci-e x1.

    • obarthelemy
    • 10 years ago

    Thanks a lot for your review, especially for including I/O performance.

    The very poor results of the Asus board on that fornt pretty much disqualifies it, in my opinion.

    • sergeant_skyes
    • 10 years ago

    well according to the rumors i have herd so far , AMD plans to introduce RD890 and RS 880 chipsets so i guess ill wait for them . according to the rumors i have seen spreading about the specifications of these chipsets they rock and they will be will be out in q2 or q4 of this year. i guess ill wait for it to release and may be by this time 6 core desktop version of istanbul might come out…. guess ill have to wait and watch .

    note:- search TR for the rumors of these chipsets.

      • eofpi
      • 10 years ago

      What little I’ve found on those chipsets indicated that the northbridges would stay the same (possibly an igp upgrade on the 880, but otherwise unchanged from the 790GX). The big change is supposed to be the SB800, which will hopefully have better SATA and USB implementations.

    • Meadows
    • 10 years ago

    Are you sure CPU-Z can read the voltages on the Jetway board correctly? That result seems offly toasty and not something you can keep having in the semi-long term.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 10 years ago

    Note that the Asus board is 100% crab-free, yet has poor CPU utilization and poor audio scores.

    (Geoff constantly slams the Crab)

      • Dissonance
      • 10 years ago

      Realtek has a couple of decent chips in its lineup. The ALC888 is nothing special, but I’ve long been a fan of the ALC889A for its SoundStormesque DDL encoding–it’s as good as HD audio codec chips get. The crab’s networking stuff hasn’t been compelling until recently, when they’ve finally married good throughput with low CPU utilization. As recently as the RTL8111C, Realtek’s CPU utilization for GigE was higher than others.

    • Faceless Clock
    • 10 years ago

    Great timing. I was just thinking today that I might want to get an X3 720 and a AM3 board, but I didn’t know which board to look at…

    • paulWTAMU
    • 10 years ago

    It’s always good to see articles on motherboards. They’re not as sexy as CPUs and GPUs, but they’re pretty damn important ๐Ÿ™‚

    EDIT: is there any chance of TR doing a roundup of the major non-intel IGPs? There’s next to no good info on them.

    • UberGerbil
    • 10 years ago

    Cool. Very timely article, now that the price delta for DDR3 has shrunk so much.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This