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

990FX: AMD Leads The Chipset Game

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 ProfessionalAsus Sabertooth990FXECS A990FXM-AGigabyte 990FXA-UD7MSI 990FXA-GD80
WarrantyThree YearsFive 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/x0or x16/x4/x8/x8)3 (x16/x0/x16or x16/x8/x8)6 x(16/x4/x0/x4/x16/x0or x8/x4/x8/x4/x8/x8)4 (x16/x0/x16/x4or 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/s2x JMB362 PCIe2x SATA 3Gb/s 2x eSATA 3Gb/s2x 88SE9128 PCIe 2x eSATA 6Gb/s 1x PATA 133 MB/s2x 88SE9172 PCIe2x SATA 6Gb/s 2x eSATA 6Gb/sJMB362 PCIe2x eSATA 3Gb/s
USB 3.03x EJ168A PCIe2x ASM1042 PCIe2x ASM1042 PCIe2x EJ168A PCIe2x D720200F1 PCIe
IEEE-1394VT6315N PCIe 2x 400 Mb/sVT6308P PCI 2x 400 Mb/sNoneVT6308P PCI 2x 400 Mb/sVT6315N 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
  • timbo1130
    How is this relevant to enthusiast? Bulldozer is out classed by Sandy Bridge I don't care if there are a few less sata ports. If you need to upgrade your better off going with Sandy bridge and z68 or p67 or wait for SB-E and X79.
    Reply
  • julianbautista87
    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.
    Reply
  • mayankleoboy1
    nice thorough review.
    but great chipsets cant offset poor CPU's.
    Reply
  • ellmondo
    let the amd bashing begin...
    Reply
  • _Pez_
    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.
    Reply
  • theuniquegamer
    What about asus 990fx crosshair v formula motherboard?
    Reply
  • frostweaver
    I would wait till next year to decide. I still feel that windows 7 aint optimized for BD.
    Reply
  • Tijok
    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!
    Reply
  • palladin9479
    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.
    Reply
  • ta152h
    What a bunch of pretzel logic we have in this article.
    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.
    Reply