The 990FX Chipset Arrives: AMD And SLI Rise Again

990FX Boards From Asus And MSI

We received two platforms ahead of today’s roundup. One arrived early from Asus, and the other showed up a little later from MSI. Because we had the Asus board set up and running tests already, that’s the one we used for benchmarking.

Asus Sabertooth 990FX

Asus is estimating that its Sabertooth 990FX will cost $209—the same price, incidentally, as the P8Z68-V Pro motherboard we’re using for comparison.

The board supports up to four GPUs using two cards, or up to three-way CrossFire or three-way SLI. As with the 890FX before it, 990FX feature 42 lanes of second-gen PCI Express, 32 of which can be used on a pair of graphics cards. Technically, the chipset also supports four cards with eight lanes apiece, but Asus doesn’t support that configuration, instead running up to three discrete cards at x16/x8/x8.

Complementing 990FX is AMD’s SB950 southbridge. Contrary to early rumors, this part doesn’t support USB 3.0 (that’ll have to wait until AMD’s first Fusion Controller Hubs debut next month). No, SB950 is, again, identical to its predecessor, which means Asus has to add USB 3.0 through a pair of ASMedia controllers. Fortunately, the AMD southbridge carries over SB850’s six SATA 6Gb/s ports, and all of those are exposed along the board’s bottom-right edge, along with two 3 Gb/s connectors enabled by a JMicron JMB362. A second JMicron controller facilitates two eSATA ports.

Of course, Asus adds its own unique mix of features to the board as well. This platform is shuffled into the TUF series, which emphasizes stability and durability. We’re happy to report that the Sabertooth 990FX did, in fact, operate flawlessly through testing. Should it become part of your next build (rather than a subject on our open-air bench), you’ll be happy to know it features a total of six fan headers, 10 thermal sensors, and a feature Asus calls TUF Thermal Radar, used to identify hot spots and adjust fan performance in response.

MSI 990FXA-GD80

We didn’t have time to run MSI’s 990FXA-GD80 through the same gauntlet as the Asus board, but we still wanted to show off the difference between both platforms. Whereas the Sabertooth’s focus is clearly on reliability and subdued, earthy colors, MSI spices things up with its dark blue/grey/black motif.

From a functionality standpoint, MSI includes most of the same capabilities as Asus—notably three-way SLI and CrossFire support, that black AM3b socket interface, plenty of USB 3.0 connectivity, and six 6 Gb/s SATA ports emanating from the SB950 southbridge.

MSI is short one internal SATA 3Gb/s controller versus Asus’ implementation. However, the 990FXA-GD80 does include onboard power/reset buttons—a feature awkwardly missing from the Sabertooth.

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    Top Comments
  • stingstang
    Tom's, what the hell is this? "At the end of the day, it's the graphics cards which are the bottleneck."
    Did you go about benchmarking graphics cards, or was this a motherboard/cpu comparison? I'm tired of hearing this excuse all the time. We know you have a pair of 6990s and 590s in your shop. Get rid of that stupid bottleneck and DO IT RIGHT!
    25
  • saint19
    I'd keep in mind that this performance review was made it with an AM3 CPU and not with the new generation.
    19
  • Other Comments
  • Marco925
    But! Does it play metro 2033?


    It Does!!!!
    -3
  • Anonymous
    nice to see support for both videocard producers. especialy for nvidia. now you can do amd+nvidia not only amd+ati(amd)
    0
  • nforce4max
    So fast that it sucks your eyeballs into the back of your skull C:
    0
  • stingstang
    Tom's, what the hell is this? "At the end of the day, it's the graphics cards which are the bottleneck."
    Did you go about benchmarking graphics cards, or was this a motherboard/cpu comparison? I'm tired of hearing this excuse all the time. We know you have a pair of 6990s and 590s in your shop. Get rid of that stupid bottleneck and DO IT RIGHT!
    25
  • wishmaster12
    Of couse you guys know their using Nvidia cards.
    -19
  • saint19
    I'd keep in mind that this performance review was made it with an AM3 CPU and not with the new generation.
    19
  • lavitz1125
    Eh, too late too little.
    -11
  • geekapproved
    What performance review? They didn't get to test anything. LOL
    8
  • Yuka
    Thanks for the review, but at lower resolutions we all know that the CPU differences will become clear. So you just proved that if a game is taxing on the GPUs, both solutions are equal and when the graphics card ain't being taxed, CPU differences become apparent... Ok, thanks for proving what we already know once more (not being sarcastic here >_
    -4
  • Yuka
    Uhm... that last comment of mine was cut in half with the missing char of that face... I guess that's an escape char; oh well.

    What is missing said something like:

    ...here "face"), but you said you wanted to test AMD's SLI on their 990FX vs Intel's SLI. So, IMO, you need less graphics horse power: like 2 GTS250's or 2 GTX460's or 2 GTX560's (not ti's) to tax the graphics subsystem and really show the differences. Maybe up the resolution also to really show if there is a difference between AMD's or Intel's SLI.

    Thanks again for the Article, Mr Chris.

    Cheers!
    -10
  • Anonymous
    Useless test without Bulldozers. We already know Phenoms suck against SB. Hopefully Zambezi will be able to compete with SB in games, otherwise I'm ditching them, after 6 years of AMD CPUs in my rig.
    7
  • Sud099
    We all know that SB CPU >> Phenom 2 series.Then how one can compare performance of two platforms while the Sb CPU performance is superior to Phenom2 series...
    1
  • tommysch
    wishmaster12Of couse you guys know their using Nvidia cards.


    Is there any other brand?
    -15
  • nukemaster
    tommyschIs there any other brand?

    S3? :p
    6
  • amk09
    stingstangTom's, what the hell is this? "At the end of the day, it's the graphics cards which are the bottleneck." Did you go about benchmarking graphics cards, or was this a motherboard/cpu comparison? I'm tired of hearing this excuse all the time. We know you have a pair of 6990s and 590s in your shop. Get rid of that stupid bottleneck and DO IT RIGHT!


    I'm quite satisfied with this review. Nobody in their right mind is going to have dual 6990's or 590's and use a phenom II x4 or a i5 2400.

    Although the point you made is absolutely correct, it wouldn't be a very logical review.
    5
  • Onus
    Disappointing. I can clearly see the value of features like Virtu and SRT on the Z68 platform, but the 990FX doesn't offer anything comparable. Well, I've waited this long, another few weeks won't kill me to see if Fusion makes a difference...
    ...Except that July is the month I expect the parasites' efforts to destroy the value of the dollar will start coming to their fruition.
    2
  • cangelini
    stingstangTom's, what the hell is this? "At the end of the day, it's the graphics cards which are the bottleneck." Did you go about benchmarking graphics cards, or was this a motherboard/cpu comparison? I'm tired of hearing this excuse all the time. We know you have a pair of 6990s and 590s in your shop. Get rid of that stupid bottleneck and DO IT RIGHT!


    I don't consider that doing it right. Nobody in their right mind buys an AMD CPU for $180 bucks and then pairs it with two $700 graphics cards. GTX 570s is a realistic choice.
    3
  • bit_user
    Does it really use the same silicon as the 890FX? In that case, what took them so long?!? The whole point of backwards compatibility is lost if you launch on the eve of a new CPU release.

    I was actually just about to buy a 890FX board + Phenom II X4, last year, with plans to upgrade to bulldozer in late 2011. But then came the announcements of incompatibilities and the he-said/she-said rumors of possible compatibility and I just decided to play it safe and wait.

    Well, AMD lost my business, on this one. They could have at least sold me a Phenom X4. While I've been waiting, I've even been looking at the Sandy Bridge Xeons, which also support ECC and are more competitively-priced than previous generations.

    Nice going, guys.
    1
  • wh3resmycar
    i beg to differ. how can 2 gtx570s be a bottleneck in a real world situation? it's not like the world would suddenly turn upside down if they used a 580 instead.

    and no that's not what everybody wants at least with this 990fx "Preview".

    hopefully chris would do a follow up on this article once the dozers comes out.
    3
  • Anonymous
    This is wrong! It should be about 990FX not i5/980. I wanted to know how 990FXA does against 890FXA, not i5 vs Phenom II. That we already know. And why did you include only gaming benchmark? You were afraid that intel might look bad in multimedia benchmarks. Intel a**-kissers!
    -8