Motherboard: Gigabyte 890FXA-UD5
By: Tony Celeste
If you’re looking for an affordable alternative to Intel’s performance-oriented X58-based motherboards, or if you're simply a devoted customer of all-things AMD, Gigabyte’s 890FXA-UD5 motherboard complements the Phenom II X2 processor we picked for our value-oriented build.
The 890FXA-UD5's Socket AM3 interface supports not only the enthusiast-class Phenom II CPUs, but also more moderately-priced Athlon II processors, though this $190 platform might be overkill for anyone running a more budget-friendly chip not planning to overclock. With that said, you can also go the other way and drop a six-core Phenom II X6 in this board as well. As its name suggests, Gigabyte's platform centers on the AMD 890FX northbridge, laden with 42 PCI Express 2.0 lanes. Four of those lanes are used to provide an exceptionally fast connection to AMD’s SB850 southbridge, the first chipset with integrated support for SATA 6Gb/s, not to mention full software-based RAID 0/1/5/10 support as well.
AMD was the first desktop processor vendor with an integrated memory controller, enabling the fastest possible memory to processor connectivity. Gigabyte's 890FXA-UD5 accommodates AMD's on-die memory circuitry through a quartet of DDR3 DIMM sockets, supporting up to 4 GB of RAM when used with 32-bit operating systems and up to 16 GB of RAM with 64-bit operating systems.
The 890FXA-UD5 includes the expandability you need to future-proof your system. In addition to the SB850's six SATA 6Gb/s ports, a Gigabyte controller adds a pair of 3 Gb/s SATA ports, while a legacy IDE connector takes up to two ATA/133 devices. Though most competing vendors ditched IDE support long ago, the connector could come in useful if you're still rolling old school with an aging optical drive. Plus, a JMicron chip exposes two extra eSATA ports at 3 Gb/s on the board's rear I/O panel. USB-oriented connectivity is also well-handled here. There are eight rear-panel USB 2.0/1.1 ports, six internal USB 2.0/1.1 ports, and two USB 3.0 ports accessible through the back of the 890FXA-UD5. Support for FireWire drives and devices is enabled via two externally-facing IEEE-1394 ports and one internal header.
Of course, Gigabyte's 890FXA-UD5 offers full support for AMD CrossFire graphics technology. Not surprisingly, SLI is a no-show here. Unlike some similarly-priced mainstream Intel boards, which interface with a CPU armed with 16 lanes of PCIe that have to be split up in CrossFire mode, this motherboard has enough connectivity for two cards running at full x16 transfer rates. The -UD5 goes a step further by including additional x16 slots for three-way CrossFire support using dual-slot cards. All told, there are four x16 slots operating at speeds of x4 to x16, depending upon your configuration, plus two x1 slots, and one PCI slot.
Obviously, this is not the only motherboard available with an AMD 890FX northbridge. We specifically chose the 890FXA-UD5 because its relative value, reasonable price tag, and modern features. It's nice to get the SATA 6Gb/s support for future upgrades to SSDs able to move more than 300 MB/s, plus USB 3.0 is a welcome addition after waiting for our 64 GB flash drives to transfer disk images over USB 2.0. Gigabyte's On/Off support for charging iPads/iPhones/iPods, even when the PC is turned off, is a super-convenient addition, too.