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Motherboard: MSI 990FXA-GD80

Tom's Hardware's 2011 Gift Guide: Part 1, For System Builders
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$194.99
www.msi.com

All you AMD fans wanting to blast through New Year’s with eight cores in your FX-8150/8210 are going to need a suitable platform. Or perhaps you know such a chip is in your future, but you want to get the board now and carry on with your current CPU. Your best way forward is with a flexible product based on the latest AMD chipset (990FX northbridge, SB950 southbridge) with support for socket AM3/AM3+. Several options are available, but few can boast the feature breadth of MSI’s 990FXA-GD80.

Not surprisingly, MSI hits all of the I/O port high notes: 7.1 analog audio, both optical and coax SPDIF, 400 Mb/s FireWire, two USB 3.0, Gigabit Ethernet, four USB 2.0, and two combo eSATA/USB 2.0 ports. MSI specs the onboard audio at 109 dB SNR. We haven’t put this to the test, but, if accurate, this easily puts the motherboard into discrete audio range. Just to the left of the external CMOS reset button, you’ll also find PS/2 ports for the legacy-obsessed. Four 16x PCIe 2.0 slots are interspersed with two 1x PCIe slots and a single PCI slot. You’ll find more USB and 1394 headers on the board as well as six 6 Gb/s SATA ports. Note that MSI includes the latest UEFI BIOS improvements in order to enable 3 TB and greater hard drives to be bootable under 64-bit operating systems.

There’s a lot of bulky heatsinking madness on this unit—so much that MSI opted two screw the fins to the PCB rather than use the typical plastic connectors. (The LEDs that light up to show how many of the eight total power phases are active is a great touch.) Good thing, too, because if you’ve ever enjoyed the one-touch simplicity (and surprisingly good results) from MSI’s OC Genie button, you know that you’ll often want that extra performance pop, and you’ll also want the extra cooling needed to keep things safe and stable.

Cooling is only part of MSI’s answer to stability needs, though. The company uses what it calls Hi-c CAP, which are solid capacitors that incorporate the very temperature-resistant element tantalum. Also check out the row of ten super ferrite chokes (SFCs) along the CPU socket. These use a permeable ferrite core and, according to MSI, run 35 degrees Celsius cooler than traditional chokes.

The 990FXA-GD80 is compatible with both SLI and CrossFireX, plus it’s certified under THX TruStudio Pro. This is a top quality platform from top to bottom and a stunning way to usher in 2012.

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