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

Five $160 To $240 990FX-Based Socket AM3+ Motherboards
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Forty-two PCIe lanes give the 990FX a clear connectivity lead over competing Intel chipsets. We compare five class-leading products using AMD's FX-8150 to see which offers the best combination of performance, overclocking, integrated features, and value.

When it comes to the popularity of our stories, CPUs run second only to new graphics cards (which seem to get everyone's blood pumping the fastest). Motherboards fall behind quite a ways. That's a shame though, because the right board is an absolute necessity for connecting processors to GPUs, and every other components inside your machine.

This is where AMD gives a lot of love to its customers, whereas Intel tends to skimp more often. Nowhere is the difference between both company's mainstream parts more evident than in the chipset segment. The 990FX's 42 total PCIe 2.0 lanes provide a lot more potential throughput than Intel's popular Z68 Express, which is limited to 16 lanes from the CPU and a handful more on the Platform Controller Hub.

Of course, a fan of Intel's work could argue against the need for 42 lanes of second-gen PCIe when the 36 native to X58 Express support multi-card graphics configurations just as capably. But such a comparison really isn't necessary. After all, we've known for almost a year that Intel’s lower-cost Sandy Bridge-based part outperform the pricey six-core Gulftown-based processors in many desktop benchmarks, including pretty much every gaming scenario we throw at the two platforms.

And, it just so happens that Intel's mainstream (and multiplier-unlocked) Core i5 and Core i7 chips are more in the same league as AMD's most expensive enthusiast-oriented FX CPU.

The Importance Of PCIe

Gaming is where the Sandy Bridge architecture most easily proves that you don't need a thousand-dollar processor to turn in the best frame rates, and that's in spite of the 16 lanes built into each CPU's die. We've even seen situations where an NF200 bridge soldered down onto a Sandy Bridge-based motherboard enables performance just as compelling as a high-end LGA 1366 configuration. The thing is, a Z68 or P67 platform's 24 total PCIe 2.0 lanes aren't explicitly set aside for graphics cards. They have to handle every device attaching via PCI Express, including network and storage controllers.

We’ve even tested a few "enthusiast-class" Sandy Bridge-based motherboards so loaded with features that simply installing an add-in card forced certain slots or on-board controllers to become disabled. That doesn’t sound like a solution a power user would willingly accept to us.

As of this moment, enthusiasts who need more connectivity than the LGA 1155 platform offers are left to choose between “upgrading” to one of Intel’s older LGA 1366 platforms, paying extra for a motherboard with bandwidth-sharing PCIe bridges, or shifting to a platform with more native PCI Express, a wider range of unlocked processors and prices, several times the reference clock overclocking headroom for locked processors, and a downright respectable chipset: AMD’s high-flying 990FX.

Today we consider a few of the most enthusiast-oriented Bulldozer-compatible motherboards that employ the 990FX northbridge.

990FX Motherboard Features
 ASRock Fatal1ty
990FX Professional
Asus
Sabertooth
990FX
ECS
A990FXM-A
Gigabyte
990FXA-UD7
MSI
990FXA-GD80
WarrantyThree Years
Five YearsThree YearsThree YearsThree Years
PCB Revision1.031.011.01.12.2
ChipsetAMD 990FX/SB950AMD 990FX/SB950AMD 990FX/SB950AMD 990FX/SB950AMD 990FX/SB950
Voltage RegulatorSeven PhasesTen PhasesSeven PhasesTen PhasesTen Phases
BIOSP1.30 (09/08/2011)0810 (09/28/2011)9/26/2011F6 (10/14/2011)V11.5 (09/19/2011)
200.0 MHz RCLK200.9 (+0.45%)200.7 (+0.35%)200.0 (+0.0%)200.9 (+0.45%)200.0 (+0.0%)
Internal Interfaces
PCIe 3.0 x16NoneNoneNoneNoneNone
PCIe 2.0 x163 (x16/x16/x4)4 (x16/x4/x16/x0
or x16/x4/x8/x8)
3 (x16/x0/x16
or x16/x8/x8)
6 x(16/x4/x0/x4/x16/x0
or x8/x4/x8/x4/x8/x8)
4 (x16/x0/x16/x4
or x16/x8/x8/x4)
PCIe x1/x42/01/02/0None (See x16 Above)2/0
Legacy PCI21111
USB 2.02 (4-ports)2 (4-ports)2 (4-ports)3 (6-ports)2 (4-ports)
USB 3.02 (4-ports)1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)
IEEE-139411111
Serial Port11NoneNone1
Parallel PortNoneNoneNoneNoneNone
SATA 6.0 Gb/s66686
SATA 3.0 Gb/sNone2NoneNoneNone
4-Pin Fan25121
3-Pin Fan41224
FP-Audio11111
CD-AudioNoneNoneNoneNoneNone
S/PDIF I/ONoneOutput OnlyOutput OnlyOutput OnlyOutput Only
Power ButtonYesNoYesYesYes
Reset ButtonYesNoYesYesYes
CLR_CMOS ButtonNoNoNoYesNo
Diagnostics PanelNumericNoneNumericNumericNumeric
I/O Panel Connectors
P/S 221112
USB 3.022222
USB 2.061088 (1 shared w/eSATA)6 (2 shared w/eSATA)
IEEE-139411None11
Network21211
eSATA22 (1-powered)22 (1-powered by USB)2 (powered by USB)
CLR_CMOS ButtonYesNoYesNoneYes
Digital Audio OutOptical + CoaxialOpticalOpticalOptical + CoaxialOptical + Coaxial
Digital Audio InNoneNoneNoneNoneNone
Analog Audio66566
Other DevicesNoneNoneBluetooth TransceiverNoneNone
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA6x SATA 6Gb/s6x SATA 6Gb/s6x SATA 6Gb/s6x SATA 6Gb/s6x SATA 6Gb/s
Chipset RAID Modes0, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 10
Add-In SATA88SE9172 PCIe
2x eSATA 6Gb/s
2x JMB362 PCIe
2x SATA 3Gb/s
2x eSATA 3Gb/s
2x 88SE9128 PCIe
2x eSATA 6Gb/s
1x PATA 133 MB/s
2x 88SE9172 PCIe
2x SATA 6Gb/s
2x eSATA 6Gb/s
JMB362 PCIe
2x eSATA 3Gb/s
USB 3.03x EJ168A PCIe2x ASM1042 PCIe2x ASM1042 PCIe2x EJ168A PCIe2x D720200F1 PCIe
IEEE-1394VT6315N PCIe
2x 400 Mb/s
VT6308P PCI
2x 400 Mb/s
NoneVT6308P PCI
2x 400 Mb/s
VT6315N PCIe
2x 400 Mb/s
Gigabit Ethernet
Primary LANBCM57781 PCIeRTL8111E PCIeRTL8111E PCIeRTL8111E PCIeRTL8111E PCIe
Secondary LANBCM57781 PCIeNoneRTL8111E PCIeNoneNone
Audio
HD Audio CodecALC892ALC892ALC892ALC889ALC892
DDL/DTS ConnectNot SpecifiedNot SpecifiedNot SpecifiedNot SpecifiedNot Specified
Display 67 Comments.
Top Comments
  • 14 Hide
    _Pez_ , November 7, 2011 5:09 AM
    Yeah If were to buy this boards would be with a Phenom real 6 core CPU 1100T :D  that is the smartest choice. I think.
  • 14 Hide
    ta152h , November 7, 2011 6:08 AM
    What a bunch of pretzel logic we have in this article.
    Quote:
    Of course, a fan of Intel's work could argue against the need for 42 lanes of second-gen PCIe when the 36 native to X58 Express support multi-card graphics configurations just as capably. But such a comparison really isn't necessary. After all, we've known for almost a year that Intel’s lower-cost Sandy Bridge-based part outperform the pricey six-core Gulftown-based processors in many desktop benchmarks, including pretty much every gaming scenario we throw at the two platforms.


    So, x58 is irrelevant, because SB beats it. Except AMD's offering is somehow relevant even though both x58 and SB beat it. What?????

    If you ignore x58 because SB offers better performance, you ignore anything AMD has because a SB setup offers better performance. If you want 36 or less lanes, x58 still offers better processors than you can hope to get from AMD. Bizarre logic.

    Not that AMD is irrelevant, just the logic is badly flawed.
  • 11 Hide
    ellmondo , November 7, 2011 4:56 AM
    let the amd bashing begin...
Other Comments
  • 2 Hide
    julianbautista87 , November 7, 2011 4:23 AM
    thanks for this article. I was waiting for it since some guy said that the 8150 was performing badly because of the mainboard used, but now I see that that was not correct.
  • 4 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , November 7, 2011 4:36 AM
    nice thorough review.
    but great chipsets cant offset poor CPU's.
  • 11 Hide
    ellmondo , November 7, 2011 4:56 AM
    let the amd bashing begin...
  • 14 Hide
    _Pez_ , November 7, 2011 5:09 AM
    Yeah If were to buy this boards would be with a Phenom real 6 core CPU 1100T :D  that is the smartest choice. I think.
  • 5 Hide
    theuniquegamer , November 7, 2011 5:23 AM
    What about asus 990fx crosshair v formula motherboard?
  • -2 Hide
    frostweaver , November 7, 2011 5:30 AM
    I would wait till next year to decide. I still feel that windows 7 aint optimized for BD.
  • 9 Hide
    Tijok , November 7, 2011 5:34 AM
    First off, thanks for the great article, good to see Tom's is keeping up the top notch quality!

    Secondly, I would really like to see a piece on extreme CFX/SLI configurations on rigs like this. It seems an article with reliable information on this would be beneficial to gaming enthusiasts, IT professionals, and HPC builders alike!

    Hope to see an article along these lines soon!
  • 4 Hide
    palladin9479 , November 7, 2011 5:58 AM
    I bought the Sabertooth during the summer and I can attest to how amazing that board is. It's really nice, lots of features and high quality. I'm running a Phenom II X4 970BE @ 4.3Ghz on water right now. Absolutely wonderful system.
  • 14 Hide
    ta152h , November 7, 2011 6:08 AM
    What a bunch of pretzel logic we have in this article.
    Quote:
    Of course, a fan of Intel's work could argue against the need for 42 lanes of second-gen PCIe when the 36 native to X58 Express support multi-card graphics configurations just as capably. But such a comparison really isn't necessary. After all, we've known for almost a year that Intel’s lower-cost Sandy Bridge-based part outperform the pricey six-core Gulftown-based processors in many desktop benchmarks, including pretty much every gaming scenario we throw at the two platforms.


    So, x58 is irrelevant, because SB beats it. Except AMD's offering is somehow relevant even though both x58 and SB beat it. What?????

    If you ignore x58 because SB offers better performance, you ignore anything AMD has because a SB setup offers better performance. If you want 36 or less lanes, x58 still offers better processors than you can hope to get from AMD. Bizarre logic.

    Not that AMD is irrelevant, just the logic is badly flawed.
  • 6 Hide
    we_san , November 7, 2011 6:32 AM
    Want to know if 990's abundant pci lane give significant benefit over z68 in gpu bottleneck scenario (SLI or crosfire off course).
  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , November 7, 2011 6:32 AM
    TA152HWhat a bunch of pretzel logic we have in this article.So, x58 is irrelevant, because SB beats it. Except AMD's offering is somehow relevant even though both x58 and SB beat it. What????? If you ignore x58 because SB offers better performance, you ignore anything AMD has because a SB setup offers better performance. If you want 36 or less lanes, x58 still offers better processors than you can hope to get from AMD. Bizarre logic. Not that AMD is irrelevant, just the logic is badly flawed.
    That's what it looks like after copy-edit.

    Originally it referred to AMD's insistence of comparing its FX-8150 to the 990X to prove that the FX-8150 had far better value. The original version of the paragraph referred to that comparison method a sham, and THEN referred to the SB vs BD debate. I guess it's neither nice nor necessary to call the 8150/990X price/performance comparison a sham, so the paragraph was altered to improve it's tone :) 
  • 0 Hide
    Device Unknown , November 7, 2011 7:21 AM
    Fantastic guys! I have been researching which mobo to get the last 2 days for our mod... this saved me a lot of trouble. Asus it is :) 
  • 2 Hide
    jdwii , November 7, 2011 7:33 AM
    The Sabertooth is such a good board i love it so much. I even think its the best bang for buck out of the 990FX boards. To bad i could not give such positivism for the Bulldozer.
  • 1 Hide
    masterofevil22 , November 7, 2011 7:51 AM
    Hey, that my board :D  Sabertooth 990FX with 1055t @4.1Ghz on a Noctua D-14. Waitin around for better AM3+ chips..
  • 0 Hide
    kg2010 , November 7, 2011 8:24 AM
    Dear Tom's,

    Please do a Tri-Sli review with 580's in it.

    Compare the 8150 @ $279 vs the 2500K @ $215, who would you recommend?

    Hint: http://www.hardocp.com/article/2011/11/03/amd_fx8150_multigpu_gameplay_performance_review/1
  • 0 Hide
    g00ey , November 7, 2011 9:36 AM
    I have read that the Gigabyte UD5 and UD7 motherboards have vdroop issues due to lack of an LLC unit. There has been a lot of talk about this in different forums with a lot of people getting disappointed about it. When I wrote to the Gigabyte support team they said that they have added the LLC in revision 1.1 of the UD7 motherboard in the review. According to your review you have the rev 1.1 of this motherboard and yet LLC features are missing in the BIOS, so there are still vdroop issues with this motherboard, am I to understand that this is correct?
  • 4 Hide
    tmk221 , November 7, 2011 9:47 AM
    you use radeon hd 6950 while there is radeon 6970 on a picture :) 
  • 0 Hide
    nikorr , November 7, 2011 10:48 AM
    Not bad at all!
  • -3 Hide
    dkraptor , November 7, 2011 11:00 AM
    Hmmm. So where is the most important of them all? Asus Crosshair V Formula?
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