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AMD 990FX/SB950 Release: Asus SABERTOOTH 990FX and the MSI 990FXA-GD80

Author: Josh Walrath
Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: AMD

A New Breed from Old Stock

The previous generation of 890FX motherboards were pretty polished affairs.  Since the 890FX was based on the same 790FX of the generation before, it was not exactly new tech.  The big deal was the SB850 southbridge and its accompanying SATA 6G support.  Not only that, but AMD was pushing for USB 3.0 support in most midrange and high end motherboards supporting these chipsets.  Still, we had some really great boards with the Asus Crosshair IV and MSI 890FXA series.  The Crosshair IV Formula was a great board that I still use to this day.  MSI redefined maximum capabilities with the 890FXA-GD70, as well as hit a homerun with the budget enthusiast with the 890FXA-GD65.

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Like every new board these days, the boxes have a swing out lid which explains the virtues of their product.

Let me get something out of the way before diving in further.  Motherboards are no longer the bland and boring products they used to be.  Sure, there was some differentiation in the old days, and we had more than 2 major chipset manufacturers to compare/contrast with.  But differentiation back in Socket 7, Slot 1, and Slot A days typically meant slightly better overclocking features in the BIOS or via jumpers.  Today’s beasts are entirely different.  Now we only have Intel and AMD producing chipsets for the x86 world (VIA produces their own for their CPUs, but they hold less than 1% for the market as a whole).  Because of this lack of base product differentiation for each respective CPU architecture, the motherboard guys have gone all out in making their products unique from the rest of the crowd.

We see that in full effect today with the two contenders we have in testing today using the just released 990FX chipset.  We also expect a great amount of polish and finish with these boards, since they are so closely based on the previous generation of products.  The only physical change is that of the AM3+ socket and the slightly tweaked power design.  In terms of firmware the latest boards should all support UEFI.  This could be problematic for some.  The legacy BIOS work done for the 890FX boards was highly optimized and mature, though obviously problematic for 2.2TB and larger support.  As hard drives will continue to grow in size, it is important for UEFI to be adopted.  There are also other reasons why we are going to UEFI, but drive size is certainly the biggest one.

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Unlike the SABERTOOTH, the GD80 is packed to the gills in bundled extras.

The two boards we are testing today take two very different turns, especially in relation to their (nearly) shared MSRP.  Asus is introducing us to their new SABERTOOTH series for AMD, which features the TUF motif for design and aesthetics at $209 US.  MSI on the other hand is giving us a slightly more fleshed out product that is very similar to the previous 890FXA-GD70 at a MSRP of $199.

June 2, 2011 | 07:57 AM - Posted by nabokovfan87

Pretty good writeup, the "I'm bored" comments were kind of unwanted, but I wanted to ask something and I am not sure if you noticed it or I missed it when reading.

The MSI board allows the PCI-E x1 slot to be used in addition to dual gpu setups, while the ASUS board covers the PCI-E x1 slot no matter what.

You could use the extra x16 slots if need be, but wouldn't that cut down the PCI-E x16/x16 bandwidth?

That alone sways what board to get for me, despite the asus board being better. I need a PCI-E x1 slot for wireless, here's to hoping MSI fixes the bios and other issues quickly.

EDIT: The asus board only has 6 slots, which is kind of odd.

June 2, 2011 | 01:22 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Generally speaking, and you would have to consult the individual manufactures user manual for the specifics. But particularly on the older (same?) 890FX boards, specifically the MSI890FXA, there are only two true electrically x16 slots.

When running in a x16/x16 configuration, one of the slots is disabled (if memory serves it was the lower most slot), and the middle "x16 size" slot, which is physically only x8 electrically, would only being allowed x4 bandwidth.

Now, if you populate the lower most "disabled" slot (x8 electrically), it will be given x8 bandwidth, and the above true x16 slot would be reduced to a x8 as well, as the lanes on those slots are split. Which is why in a true x16/x16 configuration, it is effectively disabled.

So it is completely dependent on how the manufactures split the lanes on the board, and what slots share those lanes when split. And MOST (not all) manufactures usually give a comprehensive slot population chart to explain how it will work. But on average with a x16/x16 configuration, there will always be one remaining x4 electrically, x16 physically slot.

June 2, 2011 | 08:10 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Usage of the slots and add in cards is obviously going to differ by individual. The MSI board does give slightly more flexibility in that you can use both the PCI slot and 1x PCI-E slot even when in Crossfire or SLI. So yeah, their layout is better overall than the Asus board. Then again the DIMM slots on the MSI board are physically closer to the socket by a decent amount, which is going to cause headaches for some folks.

But in terms of a better overall board in testing, Asus has the edge here.

June 3, 2011 | 11:34 AM - Posted by nabokovfan87

Agreed, definitely wooped them. Hopefully september when the fx is out (rumor) and by then the MSI big bang conquerer/AMD board is out, with something that isn't this bad.

June 3, 2011 | 02:29 AM - Posted by ThorAxe

Unless you must have a 1x PCI-E slot I see no reason to buy the MSI board over the Asus one unless there is a large discrepancy in price.

I have nothing against MSI, heck my backup PC uses a P55-GD65 and a MSI 4870x2 which I'm using to type this message, but I was sorely disappointed by the 990FXA-GD80 given the stellar performance of the 890FXA-GD65.

June 3, 2011 | 11:35 AM - Posted by nabokovfan87

I need one for wireless, so yes, I need one. I am working on trying a powerline setup, but the power in my house isn't the best.

I just don't get why they leave off a slot. The heatsink blocks it, but why not go up with the heatsink, not like anything is going right there.

June 3, 2011 | 07:17 AM - Posted by MikeBeans (not verified)

FYI, MSI Bought(?) Afterburner's from guru3d's RivaTuner. A good utility like that, working for all boards would be welcome.

June 16, 2011 | 12:44 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Hmm I purchased this board and really am not a fan of the BIOS but reading MSI forums it looks like this should be resolved relatively soon.

Overall, the board is working solid and while it may not be perfect, it is not "bad" to the point of not wanting to own one.

June 16, 2011 | 04:26 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

I think a lot of the issues with the board are related to the BIOS in one way or another.  ClickBIOS II is supposed to be a major upgrade, and should feel a whole lot faster than the current one.  I would imagine that overclocking the HTT bus will also show improvements, as well as the random network issues that have been reported for this board by a handful of reviewers.

Glad you are having a good experience with your board though.  You are right, it is far from being a bad board, but it just didn't quite match the level of its predecessors and competition.

June 28, 2011 | 05:25 AM - Posted by fastleo63 (not verified)

I bought the Sabertooth last week.
But I have a problem with AI Suite II. It won't start, generating an APPCRASH on my Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 (x64).
I tried to uninstall it, but it leaves a bunch of entries in registry and two related services still running...

July 6, 2011 | 09:48 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Did you run the installer from the CD, or download it from the Asus website?  I have found that often it is preferable to download that version, as sometimes the ones on the CD are more than a little old and could have poor support with new products.  This is something of an issue with most motherboard manufacturers.

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