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ASUS M5A97, M5A99X, and Crosshair V Motherboard Review Roundup

Author: Josh Walrath
Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: Asus

M5A97 EVO

The EVO series from Asus typically provide a few extra features and better overclocking control and headroom.  The M5A97 features the previously mentioned AMD 970/SB950 chipset.  As such it is priced in the lower range of enthusiast motherboards.  The EVO version is retailing for around $119 US.

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The board features 2 x PEG slots, though the second only features 4x PCI-E lanes.  This allows for the system to actually run in Crossfire mode, but I would personally not suggest doing so.  Not only is there significantly less bandwidth available to the second video card, there is an extra jump due to the PCI-E lanes running through the southbridge, then through the northbridge, then onto the CPU.  The primary PEG slot is directly connected to the northbridge.  While the extra latency is not much, it does have a negative overall effect on performance as compared to the 990X and 990FX solutions.  This is also a board that does not support SLI.

Asus did not skimp on this board even though it is aimed at the budget enthusiast.  Nearly everything a user who only wants to use one video card is included.  Power is provided by the redesigned array, but it is slightly different from previous versions.  This is a 6+2 setup rather than the more common 8+2 or 4+1 of the previous generations of boards.  AMD did tweak the power delivery specification for their processors, and these changes have supposedly made it “more efficient”.  Apparently it will also be more responsive to the power needs of the upcoming Bulldozer processors.  This is a DIGI+ power unit, which essentially means that the power is digitally controlled and has more granular adjustments over the phases as well as fast response times to CPU power needs.

USB 3.0 is provided by the ASMedia chip made by Asus.  It powers two external plus as well as provide two more ports for an internal USB 3.0 header.  To use the header though, either a USB 3.0 compliant case (read: very new) or a break-out box with USB 3.0 ports must be installed.  Older USB 2.0 adapters and backplates will not work (nor should they even be attempted to be plugged in) with the USB 3.0 header pins.  Realtek provides the Gig-E and sound duties, and I would consider them adequate for the job.  VIA powers the Firewire/IEEE 1394 ports (one external and one internal header).  A J-Micron SATA 3G chip controls the two E-SATA ports on the back of the board.  Of interest here are the custom ASICs from Asus that power the EPU and TPU processors.  These two chips control the power delivery for the system when running in either Green Power mode (low power, underclocking) as well as high performance mode (greater overclocking headroom and stability).  These two chips can either be activated (separately) through two toggle switches on the board, or in the UEFI BIOS.

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The board itself is well built and nicely laid out.  I found no major issues with clearances or tolerances.  The DIMM slots are still fairly close to the CPU, but that is the case for pretty much every AM3/AM3+ board.  Asus provided a good cooler for the mosfets and the chipset.  During use none of the heatsinks really got very warm.  Next to the DIMM slots is the “Memory-OK” button which resets the memory speeds and timings to very low levels for maximum compatibility if anything goes wrong.

If there was one area where Asus really was ahead of the crowd, it would be their UEFI BIOS implementation.  While others are chugging along and slowly releasing improved versions, Asus had a very smart and snappy solution pretty much right off the bat.  This board does feature the full EUFI implementation, and setting it up is a breeze.  Mouse support is great, there is no lag or performance issues when browsing around the BIOS, and all settings are easily accessed and changed if needed.  All of the major settings (and most minor ones as well) are available in BIOS, and the tweaking that is offered can provide nearly infinite combinations for users interested in getting their hands dirty.  The BIOS also recognizes XMP memory profiles, and when O.C.M.P. is enabled in BIOS, the user can choose which XMP memory profile they want to use from a drop down list for each DIMM.

There are eight USB 2.0 ports on the back, as well as another 6 provided by internal headers.  Again we see the 2 USB 3.0 ports on the back, with the other two provided for on the internal header.  7.1 channel audio ports are available, as well as the single Firewire connection, single PS/2 port, and an optical audio connection.

The board is populated with polymer caps throughout, as well as solid ferrite chokes.  Build quality is very typical Asus, which means that it is good and parts are not falling off.  Solder quality is above average and component placement is just about perfect for such a solution.

The board functions with Asus’ proprietary Ai Suite II, which is the OS environment software which controls the motherboard’s low level hardware settings.  It also provides realtime results in usage and termperature for a variety of components around the board.  I have previously used Ai Suite II and was very impressed by its look, functionality, and usability.

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The bundle included with the board is very minimal.  This is not surprising considering the price point of the product.  Several SATA cables, a standard I/O backplate (not padded/insulated like the higher end Asus models), the manual, and driver CD are all that are included.

There are no fancy buttons or voltage measuring points on this board.  It really is a focused motherboard for the budget market.  This is not to say that it is barren, but it does not have all the bells and whistles of higher end models.  Compare this to a motherboard from 10 years ago, and it looks like even the kitchen sink is included.  I guess we tend to get spoiled that way.

November 10, 2011 | 11:55 AM - Posted by KungFu_Toe (not verified)

You may want to check the UEFI photo at the end of the article. It appears to have the wrong manufacturer.

November 10, 2011 | 12:38 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

You are absolutely correct. That is the new MSI ClickBIOS II. I'm not sure what I was thinking. I will get that swapped out here shortly.

November 10, 2011 | 12:56 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

seems biased to me

the board does not perform much greater then the m5a99x on some or most tests you perfromed it was the same speed
sure you get dual pcie x16 but this is the only benefit i can see
if your not interested in dual x16 then by looking at your benchmarks nobody would buy it

Gold award just because its the so called "top of the line"
did you get paid for this

November 11, 2011 | 10:26 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Nope, not biased. I wasn't paid for it either. Pretty much all AM3+ boards perform the same, as they all are based around the SB850/SB950 southbridge, which controls the majority of all I/O functions. Also, since the memory controller and northbridge is integrated into the CPU, this further lessens the effect of motherboard performance.

What we are essentially looking at in terms of differences in these boards is slightly better overclocking potential on the Crosshair V.  With the V you also get the improved sound due to the THX and Supreme FX II implementations, improved networking due to the Intel controller vs. the cheaper Realtek solutions, full 2 x 16X functionality (which does make a difference in multi-GPU solutions with top end cards), the extra SATA 6G controllers that the previous boards do not have, ROG connect, and a more granular control of the board from a voltage standpoint due to all of the other bell's and whistle's that Asus implemented.

There is no denying that the M5A99X is a very solid and well fleshed out board, but the Crosshair V takes that to a whole 'nother level.  Better cooling, 6 USBB 3.0 connections, pro-belt for voltage monitoring... I could go on and on.  It is a significant upgrade overall from the 990X board.  So yes, I do believe that it deserved the Gold award.  It has packed all of these features into one board, for a decent price (it is cheaper than the Intel based ROG implementations), and all of it works flawlessly and matches the performance of less featured and more focused motherboards.

November 11, 2011 | 11:12 AM - Posted by Tighe (not verified)

I bought this board with the fx 6100 ozc series 3 120gb solid state, 16gb vengeance ram 1tb segate a blueray drive and regular dvd drive with 2 XFX 6950 gpus in crossfire and a h80 water cooler in the Coolermaster scout. I put MSI afterburner on and also use AMD overdrive. I was taught by this com how to overclock the cpu and the gpus in 2 weeks. I have 4.899 for my 6 cores stable and with MSI Kombuster I get 403 fps. I just started learning and I think thats pretty good. I would have to say its the boards ease of use that made that possible. I'm having tons of fun with this. Next is learning to overclock the ram. Please keep up the great work and tell everyone there that frozen Grand Rapids MI listens to your pod casting.

November 12, 2011 | 11:44 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Sounds like a really good overclock!  I wonder if you can unlock those other cores though?  I haven't heard much about doing that, but it was certainly possible in the older Phenom IIs.  Still, 6 cores at 4.9 GHz is gonna give you a pretty good experience.

As for memory overclocking... I would just do the max amount on those particular dimms.  If it is 1600 MHz, then just go for that.  If you can get to 1866 MHz, which is the top supported speed, then that would work too.  Good luck!

November 16, 2011 | 03:48 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Well, you have realy good PC. What was the total cost of the project? Is your power supply 1200 wats? Do you think SDD was smart choise?

href="http://www.digitalloupe.blogspot.com">My Link

November 16, 2011 | 08:38 PM - Posted by Tighe

I have a cooler master pro gold 80+ 1000 watt. I like the snappiness of the ssd though. I've had no probs with it yet and hope not to. But the computer in a whole has taught me I need to get back into school. Some things are learned better in the environment of others around you knowing and learning about the same things, I don't know anyone I can ask questions so I will probably stop trying to mess around with the clocks before I fry this thing. Some people only get to make their dream machine once. I don't want to kill it to fast. Oh the whole project after rebates costs 1200, but I don't know now with the hard drive prices still going up. I got mine for 54 bucks for the 1tb, now maybe 125-150 for the same drive.

November 24, 2011 | 12:16 AM - Posted by Tighe

Mr. Josh, I've been tweeking out the com some more. I bought a sound card for it, slid it in between the 2 graphics cards and hooked it up. The sound card runs fine, SoundBlaster X-FI Titanium Fatality Champion Series. But it looks as though having it plugged in is affecting the crossfire setup with the 2 XFX 6970s. I pulled them and reseated them, and reseated the crossfire bridges. I got my crossfire back but the gpu1 still doesn't do what it used too. I have the M5A97 EVO for my board. Should I take out the sound card? It will only fit on the board in between the 2 cards. Will I have to keep one gpu in the desk drawer and pop it in the com when its time to play or lose the sound card? Your thoughts please, this is pissin me off but I am a real newb. Thanks for the time to read this.

November 27, 2011 | 10:02 PM - Posted by Tighe

Never mind I figured out what I had to do, make sure everything was seated right. LOL

March 10, 2012 | 10:34 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

hello i just got the asus m5a97 evo and when i reformat my hhd i lost the auto tuning in the bios how can fix it

March 17, 2013 | 07:35 PM - Posted by Bronzen (lady) (not verified)

I cannot get this board to accept any of the video cards I have. Any suggestions as to video cards. Thanks

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