Does 790FX + SB750 = High-End Overclocking?

Foxconn A79A-S

Foxconn took a more calculated approach to launching its high-end Spider platform motherboard, waiting for the SB750 to arrive before releasing any 790FX product. That means the A79A-S is an all-new product, and that Foxconn had a very long time to prepare and test its new board, since the earlier southbridge is pin-compatible.

PCI Express 2.0 slots look somewhat more crowded than on the competing Asus product, but looks can be deceiving—both products block off one, and only one, graphics card slot when double-thick graphics coolers are used. Both motherboards are limited to a maximum of three double-slot cards, such as the high-end HD 4870 or four single-slot cards, such as the mid-market HD 4850.

Foxconn’s use of a five-phase voltage regulator might be seen as a potential weakness in light of Asus’ 10-phase design, but our overclocking results are a better indicator of the effect on stability.

Some Windows XP users will be happy to see the rarely used A79A-S floppy connector in a more advantageous location, since these ease installation of the venerable OS on RAID arrays, but the similarly outdated Ultra ATA connector is still found below the motherboard’s center line.

We have mixed feelings about the Serial ATA port orientation. Four forward-facing ports allow long graphics cards to be used without interference, but they may themselves be blocked off by lower-bay hard drive cages on some tower-style cases. The other two ports face outward, allowing installation in tight cases but with the potential to be blocked off by long graphics cards. At least Foxconn has considered both circumstances, and we doubt many users will put long cards into tight cases.

Like its competition, the A79A-S has power and reset buttons near the front of its bottom edge, which are perfect for bench testing. But Foxconn goes one step further by adding a two-digit POST code reader to aid in diagnosing failed overclock attempts (as well as other boot failures). Also notice the removable BIOS IC, a feature that makes bad-flash recovery as easy as plugging in a replacement.

Onboard Devices

Foxconn A79A-S (Revision )
Northbridge AMD 790FX
Southbridge AMD SB750
Voltage Regulator Five Phases
BIOS 080015 (08/21/2008)
200.0 MHz (HT 2000) 200.0 MHz (+0.00%)
Clock Generator ICS 9LPRS918JKLF
Connectors and Interfaces
Onboard 4x PCIe 2.0 x16 (Modes: Two x16 or Four x8)
1x PCIe x1
1x PCI
3x USB 2.0 (2 ports per connector)
1x IEEE-1394 FireWire
1x Floppy
1x Ultra ATA (2 drives)
6x Serial ATA 3.0Gb/s
1x Front Panel Audio
1x CD-Audio In
1x S/P-DIF Out
2x Fan 4 pins (CPU/Chassis)
2x Fan 3 pins (Chassis/Power)
1x Internal Power Button
1x Internal Reset Button
1x CLR_CMOS Button
IO panel 2x PS2 (keyboard and mouse )
2x Digital Audio Out (S/P-DIF optical + coaxial)
6x USB 2.0
1x IEEE-1394 FireWire
2x External SATA
2x RJ-45 Network
6x Analog Audio (7.1 Channel + Mic-In + Line-In)
Mass Storage Controllers
AMD SB750 1x Ultra ATA-133 (2-drives)
6x SATA 3.0Gb/s (RAID 0,1,5,10)
JMicron JMB362 PCIe 2x External SATA 3.0 Gb/s (RAID 0, 1 JBOD)
Network
2x Realtek RTL8111B PCI-E Dual Gigabit LAN Connections
Audio
Realtek ALC888SD HD Audio Codec Eight-Channel (7.1 Surround) Output
FireWire
VIA VT6308P PCI 2x IEEE-1394a (400 Mb/s)

Other than the addition of a second network controller, Foxconn’s A79A-S provides similar onboard features compared to the Asus M3A79-T Deluxe. Foxconn is very proud of its choice in audio codec, as the ALC888SD offers both Dolby Digital Live and DTS Connect. These competing technologies allow live multi-channel sound streams, such as gaming audio, to be encoded in real time to a single digital output.

The A79A-S has twice as many rear-panel eSATA connectors as the M3A79-T Deluxe, but neither motherboard offers an internal connection for adding front-panel eSATA to the third-party controller. Foxconn also has twice as many PS/2 and Network ports as its chief rival.

Two network controllers occupy the center portion of the A79A-S motherboard’s rear edge. A little farther up, JMicron’s tiny JMB362 eSATA controller is found forward of the rear-panel analog audio jacks.

The ALC888SD audio codec is placed very closely to the front-panel audio header, with its shorter trace length likely to reduce headset noise. On the other hand, placing these so far from the rear panel jacks could increase speaker noise. Foxconn still claims a 95db signal-to-noise ratio.

The other problem with having the front-panel audio header in the lower rear corner is that the front-audio cables of some cases simply won’t reach. We could easily blame case manufacturers for this problem, but we’d then question why cables must be so long. We’d like to see motherboard manufacturers move this connector to a more advantageous location.

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  • afrobacon
    very nice review
  • neiroatopelcc
    "Also notice the removable BIOS IC, a feature that makes bad-flash recovery as easy as plugging in a replacement."
    I don't know about you guys, but I haven't had a flash going wrong since a P2B board from the stoneage
  • cangelini
    neiroatopelcc"Also notice the removable BIOS IC, a feature that makes bad-flash recovery as easy as plugging in a replacement."I don't know about you guys, but I haven't had a flash going wrong since a P2B board from the stoneage


    Call it paranoia from a guy who changes BIOSs on an almost daily-basis on one board or another (me, not Thomas, though he does his fair share of updating, too).
  • neiroatopelcc
    Perhaps it's just the luxury of gigabyte's dual bios that makes me not care for removable ic's but I just don't see the relevance. Nobody has an eprom writer for those chips at home anyway, and with prices of many motherboards closing in on what a new chip would cost it's only truely useful for the expensive boards - and if an amd board is expensive, then it's targetted at the wrong people.
  • slomo4sho
    Thanks for the review. As you have stated, only way that AMD can compete with INTEL is to provide better clock speeds on their chips. Intel has shot forward with giant improvements and AMD has been stuck on the side lines. Their 45nm chips are still not on the market and Intel is already making moves to switch to 32nm.

    Sadly, this is going to be tough hill to climb for AMD to become competitive again. I wish them luck though, the consumer is always the winner when corporations compete :)
  • Tropoc
    Im sorry, but this is rubbish:

    Ive got a phenom x4 9950 placed on a ASUS m3a32 mvp deluxe motherboard.

    With stock voltage and stock cooling ive cranked it up to 3.2ghz and it runs perfectly stable. (this was done by only adjusting the multiplier)

    A friend of mine have the same setup as me but an aftermarket cooler (noctua nh-u12p) and hes overclocked it up to 3.4ghz, again running stable.

    On Overclocking forums i read about people cranking this CPU up to 3.6ghz on air (noctua nh-u12p) without any wizardry.

    This test is flawed and im very dissapointed about tomshardware and what i feel is an effortless test of this setup.

    Im an Intel guy myself but at least im honest about intels oponents, and in this case the review should end up with AMD being amazing value for money and that the future is a bit (not alot) brighter for AMD.
  • slomo4sho
    You realize that the Q6600 can also be overclocked to 3.6GHz on air as well without much difficulty? Both processors are at the same price point. The only difference is that the 9950 is AMD's top end chip and the Q6600 is a entry level quad core from Intel...
  • Tropoc
    im aware of that yes, but the problem here is tomshardware not the q6600... why? they didnt get it over 3.12ghz, which frankly is pathetic.

    and the 9950 is cheaper then the q6600 its cheaper then about every intel processor out there (even the dual cores such as e8400 etc).

    Im not saying it is a better processor then what intel has lined up, what im saying is that it is amazing value for money. and much better at overclocking then tomshardware managed to get out of it thats all :D
  • marzzes
    Oh my God, you guys went with a Jetway over a DFI board! Not to mention just one vidio card and a mid range one at that, how about two 4870X2’s??.. I mean isn’t that what we buy these boards for?…….Oh and what kind of memory each board can handle or why didn’t you go with a Thermalright cpu cooler, hell if your going to oc water cooling is the way to go!
    Obviously Tom wasn’t interested in doing this review!……..
  • geckoar
    I got my 9950 running at 2.85 ghz so thir numbers are not too bad. Im running it on a 790FX+SB600 K9A2 mobo. I could go more but my DDR2 800 RAm is holdinmg me back... I guess I should have gotten DDR2 1066 RAM.
    But I game at 1080P res. wiht a 4870 and I get over 30FPS in most of my games At max setting.

    Good Review.
  • neiroatopelcc
    That thing has the third pcie slot in the very last spot making dualslot graphics impossible. And that in turns makes the motherboard useless as it no longer features anything intel can't do with it's x38 or p45 and a faster cpu
  • Crashman
    marzzesOh my God, you guys went with a Jetway over a DFI board!


    Article announced end of September. Submission deadline mid-October. DFI wasn't interested or otherwise didn't respond. DFI's inaction is unfortunate.
  • marzzes
    Article announced end of September. Submission deadline mid-October. DFI wasn't interested or otherwise didn't respond. DFI's inaction is unfortunate.


    If that’s the case one could argue that you guys write for manufacturers and not your readers.
  • Tjik
    I'm also surprised to see DFI excluded, especially since you used DFI in some Intel test some time ago. I would definitely say DFI gives good value for money these days.

    Another point: hasn't AMD quite clearly said it won't be able to compete with Intel high end CPU:s and hence is aiming at giving better value for money in the "mid-priced value market"? Yes I'm even quoting some words of the article, but my point is that because of this it's quite unnecessary to go on about "too little to cure AMD’s ills". Of course the AMD64 era was astonishing since AMD did the unthinkable with resources as big as Intel's pocket-money. To believe though that AMD would be able to over perform time after another is wishful thinking. It's already proven that even with a superior product AMD won't be able to get good enough sales. So if you're really interested in finding the cause of the illness, it's not to be found solely inside AMD's headquarters. Without their inventions I doubt we would have seen the light of anything in the series of Intel Core CPU:s.

    There are several scenarios where I at the moment without hesitation would prefer Intel. If I did more rendering the Core i7 is a clear winner. Besides that even your Core i7 test showed that the 700/750 scales well when running more AMD/ATi graphic cards.

    To choose AMD over Intel isn't stupid, it's just a question of individual computing routines, in some AMD gives great value even beyond the 4-core scenario you mention in the article. When looking through benchmarks it's necessary to evaluate it's impact on your personal computing. In many cases you get a overall figure like "this platform is XX % faster", but the reality is that might be much less because the benchmarks are irrelevant to my computing.

    A long rant - and it's not a rant anyway - to convey a simple message:
    - Intel has a great line up of CPU:s at the moment
    - The above doesn't mean AMD "is ill" or disappointing

    /A formed (with constant relapses!) narrow minded overclocker who found out that there's a lot of more fun computing stuff to do
  • The 9950 is NOT cheaper than the Q6600 -

    9950 = $185 http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819103291

    Q6600 = $180 (OEM) http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819115018

    or $190 (Boxed) http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819115017

    Either way, a five dollar difference is insignificant - they're about the same price.
  • marzzes
    Two thumbs up Tjik.
  • neiroatopelcc
    marzzesArticle announced end of September. Submission deadline mid-October. DFI wasn't interested or otherwise didn't respond. DFI's inaction is unfortunate.If that’s the case one could argue that you guys write for manufacturers and not your readers.


    From where I'm standing it's the other way around really. It's the manufacturers not included that don't care about the readers. Those who sent in boards are those who care about us readers - and dfi appearently isn't one of them at this point. You can't blame toms for that really.
  • jameskangster
    In my opinion, it's just really difficult for AMD to continue to compete effectively against Intel at this rate. Even while Intel is slashing their sales outlook, they are still well funded without having to rely on external investments and loans. Also, their new processor lines based on i7 are very promising with early positive performance reviews. Heck, their current Core 2 architecture isn't even close to their end of useful life cycle. Meanwhile, AMD HAS NOT produced any new performance-competitive CPU SKUs (even price-performance advantage has been losing ground), and they have been LOSING desktop/laptop market share. The only positive product line left for them is in the graphics market, and they actually have gained market share with 48XX series. I think they should focus most if not all of their talents and funding in their graphics technology, and phase out their processor line. Also, I know it's good to have a competitor to Intel, but at what cost to the AMD emplyees and investors? Would you rather have AMD go bankrupt and end up selling their assets to ______ (fill in the blank) or stay in business and use everything they know to continue to improve their strong points?
  • neiroatopelcc
    I'd rather they merge their cpu division with cray or via than surrender to intel. Like any other enthusiast I am using an intel processor, but if they don't have any competition in 3 years time, then nobody will use intel, cause they'd stop developing - they'd become like microsoft's windows division - you can marvel at what they archieved in the past, but can't really appreaciate their current efforts. I don't want to hate intel, but if amd dies its inevitable.
  • Malovane
    About the low overclock, I have to agree with the person who said it was a poor OC attempt. I myself am running a 9850 BE processor at 3.4 ghz stable at 1.4 volts...on air! That's using AMD Overdrive on a 790GX Foxconn board. I've pushed it higher.. just don't like my room to become a sauna. Anandtech got the venerable 9600 BE to 3.2Ghz, and others have pushed the 9850's and 9950's to 3.6ghz on water with little difficulty.

    You should be able to hit 3.1ghz with almost no voltage increase.
  • chaohsiangchen
    On the day which AMD released Opteron 2384 and 8384, we got this failed OC article instead of full coverage of Shanghai processors. Really nice job.
  • jadedgamerx
    I have overclocked and managed both platforms in a multitude of different computing environments from servers to workstations to gaming desktops to clusters. One of the only places I see an issue is the pricing of the 9950 vs the Q6600, most of the time they are right on the money. The Athalon 64 4050e represents one of the things i love about AMD, you can run less than 1 volt on the core voltage and keep things stable for uses such as HTPC's and such, combine it with the 780/790G chipsets and they are the most efficient setups by far and the price is substantially lower than anything from Intel. I would still prefer a Core 2/i7 setup for straight gaming, but you cannot deny the value AMD offers it's customer's in the face of a Tyrant. Not to mention they are willing to hold onto old platforms that are more than sufficient for doing low horsepower tasks at a low price with low power requirements while Intel moves from socket to socket taking the upgrading path away from it's customer's and forcing them to re-engineer their entire setup around new ram, motherboard and cpu all at once. The Intel Atom is a joke, and if someone tries to compare them directly I'll slap them with a mackerel. Compare Xeon prices to Opteron's and the amount of processing power vs power draw. AMD still gives you the best bang for your buck in the enterprise market. AMD is not going to die people, they just need to rethink their business strategy a bit and continue to deliver on performance per dollar. /end rant
  • malveaux
    Why do writers always claim "noticeable increase!" when it's 1 or 2 FPS over the competition and already over the 30fps mark? That's ridiculous. No one would ever notice that. It takes a computer to measure it in milliseconds. *Sigh*