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Five $160 To $240 990FX-Based Socket AM3+ Motherboards

MSI’s three-way SLI and CrossFireX solution risks becoming an also-ran in a market topped by Gigabyte’s four-way alternative. MSI has a trick up its sleeve, though. Priced at only $180, the 990FXA-GD80 is the cheapest product to properly support three-way graphics modes. MSI gets there by automatically switching from x16-x0-x8 transfers to x16-x8-x8 whenever a card is installed in the middle slot, just like the more expensive offering from ECS.

Like ECS, MSI adds a CLR_CMOS button to its I/O panel. Unlike ECS, MSI chooses to conceal this button to reduce the incidence of accidental engagement. The 990FXA-GD80 also lacks ECS' second network port and Bluetooth transceiver, but the sacrifice of a few features was required to maintain this model's low price.

Layout aside, the most closely matched product in a combination of features and price comes from Asus. Yet, while the Sabertooth 990FX requires an eight-slot case to hold three double-slot cards in SLI or CrossFire, the 990FXA-GD80 can fit those same cards into a standard seven-slot case. The 990FXA-GD80 does lose the usefulness of its four-lane slot in this configuration, but the board also has a x1 slot at the top that’s completely missing from its Asus competition.

MSI slides its USB 3.0 header further south along the 990FXA-GD80’s front edge, but avoids collision with graphics cards by facing that connector forward. Case designers have long been making room for SATA cables in this area, so appropriate cases are plentiful.

Remaining layout concerns are trivial and apply to every model in this round-up, such as the bottom-rear corner front-panel audio connector and the close proximity between memory slots and the CPU socket. Both MSI and its competitors require extra-long front-panel cables, along with careful consideration of clearance between oversized CPU coolers and tall memory modules.

The 990FXA-GD80 includes three SLI bridges, the longer one designed to accommodate cross-connector placement for three-way SLI, along with the full set of six SATA cables and a USB 3.0 slot adapter plate.

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