AM3+ Keeps Chugging Along
Consumers cannot say that MSI has not attempted to keep the AM3+ market interesting with a handful of new products based upon that socket. Throughout this past year MSI has released three different products addressing multiple price points and featuresets. The 970 Gaming was the first, the 970 KRAIT introduced USB 3.1 to the socket, and the latest 990FXA-Gaming board provides the most feature rich implementation of the socket plus USB 3.1.
AMD certainly has not done the platform any real favors as of late in terms of new CPUs and architectures to inhabit that particular socket. The last refresh we had was around a year ago with the release of the FX-8370 and 8370e. These are still based on the Piledriver based Vishera core that was introduced three years ago. Unlike the GPU market, the CPU market has certainly not seen the leaps and bounds in overall performance that we had enjoyed in years past.
MSI has taken the now geriatric 990FX (based upon the 890FX chipset released in 2010- I think AMD might have gotten their money out of this particular chipset iteration) and implemented it in a new design that embraces many of the top end features that are desired by enthusiasts. AMD still has a solid following and their products are very competitive from a price/performance standpoint (check out Ryan’s price/perf graphs from his latest Intel CPU review).
The packing material is pretty basic. Just cardboard and no foam. Still, fits nicely and is quite snug.
The idea behind the 990FXA-Gaming is to provide a very feature-rich product that appeals to gamers and enthusiasts. The key is to provide those features at a price point that will not scare away the budget enthusiasts. Just as MSI has done with the 970 Gaming, there were decisions made to keep costs down. We will get into these tradeoffs shortly.
MSI Redefines AM3+ Value
It is no secret that AMD’s AM3+ motherboard ecosystem has languished for the past year or so, with very few examples of new products hitting the scene. This is understandable since AMD has not updated the chipset options for AM3+, and only recently did they release updated processors in the form of the FX-8370 and FX-8370e. It has been two years since the release of the original FX-8350 and another year since the high TDP FX-9000 series of parts. For better or for worse, AMD is pushing their APUs far harder to consumers than the aging AM3+ platform.
MSI has refined their "Gaming" series of products with a distinctive look that catches the eye.
This does not mean that the AM3+ ecosystem is non-viable to both AMD and consumers. While Intel has stayed ahead of AMD in terms of IPC, TDP, and process technology the overall competitiveness of the latest AM3+ parts are still quite good when considering price. Yes, these CPUs will run hotter and pull more power than the Intel parts they are directly competing against, but when we look at the prices of comparable motherboards and the CPUs themselves, AMD still holds a price/performance advantage. The AM3+ processors that feature six and eight cores (3 and 4 modules) are solid performers in a wide variety of applications. The top end eight core products compete well against the latest Intel parts in many gaming scenarios, as well as productivity applications which leverage multiple threads.
When the Vishera based FX processors were initially introduced we saw an influx of new AM3+ designs that would support these new processors, as well as the planned 220 watt TDP variants that would emerge later. From that point on we have only seen a smattering of new products based on AM3+. From all the available roadmaps from AMD that we have seen, we do not expect there to be new products based on Steamroller or Excavator architectures on the AM3+ platform. AMD is relying on their HSA enabled APUs to retain marketshare and hopefully drive new software technologies that will leverage these products. The Future really is Fusion…
MSI is bucking this trend. The company still sees value in the AM3+ market, and they are introducing a new product that looks to more adequately fit the financial realities of that marketplace. We already have high end boards from MSI, ASRock, Asus, and Gigabyte that are feature packed and go for a relatively low price for enthusiast motherboards. On the other end of the spectrum we have barebone motherboards based on even older chipsets (SB710/750 based). In between we often see AMD 970 based boards that offer a tolerable mix of features attached to a low price.
The bundle is fair, but not exciting. It offers the basics to get a user up and running quickly.
The MSI 970 Gaming motherboard is a different beast as compared to the rest of the market. It is a Gaming branded board which offers a host of features that can be considered high end, but at the same time being offered for a price less than $100 US. MSI looks to explore this sweet spot with a motherboard that far outpunches its weight class. This board is a classic balance of price vs. features, but it addresses this balance in a rather unique way. Part of it might be marketing, but a good chunk of it is smart and solid engineering.
AM3+ Last Gasp?
Over the past several years I have reviewed quite a few Asus products. The ones that typically grab my attention are the ROG based units. These are usually the most interesting, over the top, and expensive products in their respective fields. Ryan has reviewed the ROG graphics cards, and they have rarely disappointed. I have typically taken a look at the Crosshair series of boards that support AMD CPUs.
Crosshair usually entails the “best of the best” when it comes to features and power delivery. My first brush with these boards was the Crosshair IV. That particular model was only recently taken out of my primary work machine. It proved itself to be an able performer and lasted for years (even overclocked). The Crosshair IV Extreme featured the Lucid Hydra chip to allow mutli-GPU performance without going to pure SLI or Crossfire. The Crosshair V got rid of Lucid and added official SLI support and it incorporated the Supreme FX II X-Fi audio. All of these boards have some things in common. They are fast, they overclock well, and they are among the most expensive motherboards ever for the AMD platform.
So what is there left to add? The Crosshair V is a very able platform for Bulldozer and Piledriver based parts. AMD is not updating the AM3+ chipsets, so we are left with the same 990FX northbridge and the SB950 southie (both of which are essentially the same as the 890FX/SB850). It should be a simple refresh, right? We had Piledriver released a few months ago and there should be some power and BIOS tweaks that can be implemented and then have a rebranded board. Sounds logical, right? Well, thankfully for us, Asus did not follow that path.
The Asus Crosshair V Formula Z is a fairly radical redesign of the previous generation of products. The amount of extra features, design changes, and power characteristics make it a far different creature than the original Crosshair V. While both share many of the same style features, under the skin this is a very different motherboard. I am rather curious why Asus did not brand this as the “Crosshair VI”. Let’s explore, shall we?
AMD Unleashes the 990FX: Paving the way for Bulldozer
Word of the AMD 990FX chipset first came around the end of last year. Speculation was brisk as to what new features it would bring, and when exactly it would help to usher in the age of Bulldozer to the world. Most thought that it would be a shrink of the then current 890FX, and the new SB950 southbridge would have improvements to the SATA 6G controller, as well as a native USB 3.0 implementation. Today we finally get to see the reality of the situation. It is not groundbreaking, nor is it altogether exciting, but it is certainly interesting.
The 990FX and SB950 chips are identical to the previous 890FX and SB850. They are the same silicon. For those hoping for new technology will be disappointed. But all is not lost! AMD did increase the HyperTransport specification from 3.0 to 3.1, which allows the HT bus to run at 6.4 GTPS as compared to the older 5.2 GTPS. This is in place to allow the upcoming Bulldozer chips to run the northbridge portion of the chip up to 3.2 GHz, and to give the CPU more bandwidth between the different busses on the board (eg. SATA, USB 3.0, and PCI-E connections).
Subject: Motherboards | May 24, 2011 - 09:20 PM | Josh Walrath
Tagged: sb950, msi, amd, am3+, 990fx
AMD’s 900 series chipsets are coming. Not exactly news here. What is news it that we will be seeing them very soon. Details are scarce, but from what all we can gather the 900 series will not be all that different from the 800 series. The SB950 looks to be a tweaked SB850, but with no real new features over the older part. The Northbridge portions should remain relatively unchanged, but again we could see a few tweaks and fixes applied throughout. So in other words, no PCI-E 3.0 here or a significant die shrink.
We have on hand a few “spy shots” for the upcoming MSI 990FXA-GD65. For those who pay attention, this sounds very familiar to the 890FXA-GD65. When we take a look at the snapshots, we will see that the resemblance is more than just the name.