ASUS M5A97, M5A99X, and Crosshair V Motherboard Review Roundup
At first glance the M5A99X EVO is very similar to the previously mentioned M5A97 EVO. This board retails for around $149 US. The overall layout in terms of color and heatsink placement take the eyes away from where the real differences sit. The first obvious change is that of the extra PEG slot. The 990X chipset features either a 1 x 16X slot, or 2 x 8X PEG slots. This is unlike the 970, which cannot split its single 1 x 16X connection. The third PEG slot is a 4X unit electrically, which is powered by the lanes off of the southbridge.
The second big change is that of the SATA ports. All six of the SATA6G connections off of the SB950 southbridge are present, with two other JMicron controllers handling two internal SATA3G headers and the e-SATA connectors (one of which is a fully powered unit). The board also features two ASMedia USB 3.0 controllers; one powers the two external ports, while the other powers the USB 3.0 header mounted on the board. To use this header a compatible case or riser card must be used. These are not backwards compatible with older USB 2.0 cases and expansion brackets.
This board is also part of the first series of products that natively support NVIDIA’s SLI technology. When the 900 series was released some months ago NVIDIA finally licensed SLI for AMD chipsets. Since NVIDIA got out of the chipset business altogether, it made sense to finally offer that ability to companies still making AMD based boards. The board itself is one of the lowest priced offerings for the AM3+ socket architecture that supports both CrossFire and SLI. It is capable of powering 2 x dual GPU cards (either Quad-CrossFire or Quad-SLI). There are two intervening PCI-E 1X slots between the two primary PEG slots, so that should give more than adequate ventilation for even the largest cards (which includes the latest triple slot Asus video cards).
The M5A99X EVO retains the same power circuitry as the previous board. It is a 6+2 power delivery setup and has both the TPU and EPU processors onboard. This again has the Digital VRM design that Asus has implemented across most new motherboard designs. These can be toggled either in the BIOS or with the physical switches on the board. It also has the “Memory OK” button which sets memory timings and speeds to the lowest levels available. The same Realtek and VIA chips power the networking, audio, and Firewire functionality for the board as were present on the M5A97.
The UEFI BIOS is identical to that of the 970 board. It has the same layout and settings of the previous. Nearly everything that could and should be adjusted is present. Even the lower level memory settings which should not be touched are available. The auto-overclocking and O.C.M.P. settings are present and work as advertised. Again I cannot stress how nice it is to be able to read the XMP settings on an AMD based boards. Most high end DIMMs these days have the XMP SPD functionality, and this removes the guess work out of setting correct timings for those who are not comfortable with such things.
The build quality is again excellent with good soldering and an excellent collection of components on the board. Pretty much everyone has gone to solid capacitors rather than risk the issues of power these high current components with electrolytic capacitors which have the unfortunate tendency to sometimes fail under harsh circumstances. Solid ferrite chokes are also in attendance.
The back I/O plate again features the single PS/2 port for either a keyboard or mouse. There are 6 USB 2.0 ports as well as two USB 3.0 ports. The back panel supports up to 7.1 audio with line in and mic in. Rounding out the collection are two e-SATA ports (SATA 3G, one of which is powered), optical SPDIF output, and the lone Firewire port. There are three 3-pin fan headers and two 4-pin units onboard. Fan control is considered “well above average” in terms of granularity of control.
The bundle for the board is much more extensive than that of the M5A97, but that is to be expected for the price point of the product. Four SATA cables, the padded backplate cover, SLI cable, manual, CD, and the removable case pin headers for the motherboard. This obviously is not a huge bundle, but it is more extensive than other budget offerings.
Overall I had no complaints with this board whatsoever. Component tolerances were very good as well as slot placement. The only potential issue would be if the user had two triple slot cards in either CrossFire or SLI and also wanted to use either a PCI or PCI-E 1X card for sound or RAID purposes. A user can get away with having dual slot video cards in CF or SLI and still have the use of the PCI-E 1X and 3rd PEG slot.
The board was identical in overall functionality as the previous product. It booted up with no problems and getting into the BIOS was a breeze. I found that mouse support in the BIOS was excellent, which is a step above some competitors. Auto tuning and power save again work as advertised.
This is a nice step up from the more basic implementations of the 900 series of chipsets. Full CF and SLI support is a big plus for those looking to do multi-GPU on a budget. Connectivity is not an issue as well. There are plenty of USB ports both externally and internally (in the form of headers), along with the new USB 3.0 header support. For the price ($149) it does offer a big step up in terms of SATA support and CF/SLI. This is an excellent board for people wishing to jump into multi-GPU on a budget.