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AMD 790GX: RV610 For Enthusiasts?

The biggest question we were left asking ourselves after getting several days of hands-on time with 790GX was: who is this chipset really aimed toward? Nvidia created 780a SLI — a great idea in concept, were AMD shipping Phenom’s able to compete with Intel’s fastest chips — and then followed up with GeForce 8200/8300, a platform that makes a lot more sense. On the other hand, AMD started out with a home run in 780G and is now vying for the high-end using 790GX. AMD will tell you that 790GX is a mainstream chipset, and it’s only half-right.

Look at the chipset’s biggest additions: ACC, CrossFireX support, and a faster integrated core. The first two are decidedly enthusiast features, and with 790FX boards coming online with SB750 southbridges, we have to imagine that anyone looking into CrossFire would rather enjoy their SB750 with a northbridge better set up for high-end graphics configurations. The 790X chipset would make an even better candidate for the gamer on a budget, since 790X board are even cheaper. But we already checked with AMD and, supposedly, there aren’t any vendors with plans to go 790X/SB750.

At the entry-level, 780G is still a great value on boards priced between $60 and $90, of course giving up overclocking and CrossFire in favor of a lower price tag. You can still add a Radeon HD 3450 and get decent gaming performance from 780G. More than anything, the platform remains a productivity play able to deliver the speed of a quad-core Phenom inexpensively.

AMD’s 790GX touts the flexibility to go integrated-only, Hybrid CrossFireX, or straight CrossFireX for an extra $50 or so dollars. That’s quite a broad audience — perhaps too broad, since it means paying for an integrated GPU. “But wait,” you say. “If you listen to Nvidia, all chipsets should have integrated graphics.” Perhaps, but Nvidia also offers HybridPower for saving energy, even with a couple of power-hungry GPUs installed. AMD’s core logic is missing that interaction, which we think is critical if you hope to sell onboard graphics to high-end buyers.

We suspect that the most likely customers will be the ones right in the middle — not so budget-constrained that the pricier motherboard is a problem, but still reluctant to spend $200 on a Radeon HD 4850. The SB750 is AMD’s real strength here. Otherwise, we’d probably go for the inexpensive 780G with a Radeon HD 3870 or 4850. But with ACC and RAID 5 support wrapped up into AMD’s new southbridge, the company finally has a platform to tie the assets it acquired from ATI into its own processor lineup. Naturally, it helps that the onboard RV610 core is now running at 700 MHz and aided by side-port memory. The main story here is ACC and what AMD is doing to make its processors more attractive in the face of a formidable opponent.

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