Asus' M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 motherboard
Next-gen connectivity with a side of throwback
It might seem odd for an integrated graphics chipset to anchor a mid-range motherboard targeted squarely at PC enthusiasts, but that's what you get with the 890GX. For this market, the chipset's embedded Radeon is best thought of as a backup display adapter or a source of additional monitor outputs rather than as a primary GPU. Even if the Radeon HD 4290 is the fastest IGP around, anyone who wants to enjoy recent games with all their eye candy turned up at reasonable resolutions will be plugging in a discrete graphics card.
Asus' M4A89GTD PRO/USB3, then, is really more of a traditional mid-range motherboard than its video outputs might otherwise suggest. That's a good thing, because over the years, Asus has become pretty proficient at building mid-range enthusiast boards.
The M4A89GTD certainly looks the part of something you might find in an overclocked gaming rig. Asus offsets the dark brown board with a peppering of blue and white slots and ports, and I quite like the understated styling.
Of course, aesthetics won't make or break a motherboard. The layout can, and Asus has done a good job on that front. All of the onboard slots and ports are intelligently organized to avoid clearance conflicts. Users with upside-down enclosures that put the PSU below the motherboard may need extra-long power cables to reach the board's auxiliary 12V power connector, but that's only because the plug is situated next to the top edge of the board, which is our preferred location for traditional enclosures.
Like other mid-range boards, Asus' M4A89GTD covers its north bridge and voltage regulation circuitry with ornatebut not outlandishheatsinks. A single heatpipe links the two coolers, which are short enough to avoid clearance conflicts with most aftermarket cooler designs.
Asus uses an 8+2 power-phase design to feed the AM3 CPU socket. The board can reputedly handle processors with TDP ratings up to 140W, which should allow it to support the fastest Phenom II chips, including perhaps the upcoming Phenom II X6. There's also a core-unlocking switch next to the DIMMs slots that will allow Athlon and Phenom X3 owners to try their luck at enabling the fourth core on their CPUs.
Those with keen eyes will note that Asus' spin on the 890GX features solid-state capacitors throughout. Asus squeezes two-ounce copper layers into the four-layer board, as well.
Rather than employing an auxiliary storage controller to feed additional internal SATA ports, Asus makes do with the six 6Gbps Serial ATA ports offered by the SB850. However, Asus has elected to connect the board's sole IDE port to a JMicron JMB361 storage controller rather than the south bridge. The JMicron chip is also linked to an eSATA port in the rear port cluster.
As you can see, the low-profile south bridge cooler won't interfere with longer graphics cards. The SATA ports are neatly positioned out of the way of double-wide graphics coolers, as well, which is something you don't always see even on high-end motherboards. The mix of edge- and surface-mounted SATA ports should ensure that users with extremely tight enclosures that snug the hard drive bay right up next to the mobo will still be able to connect a collection of drives with ease, too.
The M4A89GTD is stacked with half a dozen expansion slots, including dual PCIe x16 slots, one x4, one x1, and a couple of retro PCI slots. The x4 slot's a nice touch, and I quite like the fact that double-wide CrossFire configs will still leave users with access to it and a standard PCI slot.
The board will automatically split 16 PCIe lanes evenly between its x16 slots when two graphics cards are installed. However, if you want a full 16 lanes of bandwidth running to the primary slot, you have to install an included switch card in the secondary slot. The card takes all of a few seconds to slide into place, which is hardly a hassle. An automatic or BIOS-level switch would have been slicker, though.
The M4A89GTD's port cluster has all the bases covered: DVI, HDMI, eSATA, FireWire, S/PDIF, and USB 3.0. The blue USB ports offer SuperSpeed connectivity via an NEC controller. A VIA chip is tasked with FireWire, while Realtek's new ALC892 codec chip handles audio. Interestingly, Asus employs a Realtek Gigabit Ethernet chip rather than taking advantage of the GigE MAC built into the SB850. We've seen mobo makers snub the built-in GigE offered by Intel's chipsets for years, and it appears AMD is getting the same treatment.
As one might expect from an Asus board, the M4A89GTD's BIOS is packed to the gills with overclocking and tweaking options. Multipliers, clock speeds, memory timings, and voltages can all be adjusted with ease and pushed well beyond reason. All of the voltages and most clock speeds can be keyed in directly rather than selected from a list, which makes trial-and-error tweaking a lot quicker for folks who know what they're doing. For those who don't, the BIOS also sports an auto-overclocking feature that does all the dirty work. Auto-overclocking schemes are relatively new in the motherboard world, and I like that Asus has implemented this one in the BIOS rather than tying it to auxiliary Windows software.
For me, though, the real star of the BIOS is the fan control section. I've long complained that rudimentary fan speed controls were inadequate for enthusiast-oriented motherboards, and Asus has finally taken notice. With the M4A89GTD, the user can set minimum and maximum fan speeds for the CPU and system fans. One can also control the temperatures at which those fans kick into high gear. The low-temperature limit is greyed out, but Asus tells me these fan controls are still a work in progress, so we could see it unlocked eventually. Props to Asus for putting some effort into a section of the BIOS that's been largely ignored by mobo makers for far too long.