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MSI 890FXA-GD65 Motherboard Review: The Hardcore Minimalist

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Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: MSI
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It is not what you can add, but what you can successfully take away...

While MSI's original 890FXA-GD70 was a nice success story for the company, they were hoping to have a greater presence in the sub-$150 range of parts. To achieve this while not stepping on the toes of the 880G and 890GX stable of boards, MSI released a more focused board based on the now mature 890FX platform. The 890FXA-GD65 is aimed squarely at the budget enthusiast who asks a lot from their board without having to shell out the big bucks.Have I ever mentioned my fondness for midrange and budget enthusiast products?  I personally feel that it is one of the most interesting places in the market, where manufacturers struggle to pull off unique designs for the lowest price possible.  This is usually a point of extreme innovation where money is certainly an object to be conserved, but users demand a level of functionality and performance that can usually only be attained for much more money.  Being made of money is the problem here.  Most of us simply do not have the budget to buy an extreme motherboard at $300 to $400, a video card for $700, or a processor for $1000 for that matter.  Nope, the real world is a hard and cruel place for those of us without trust funds or a sugar mama (or daddy), or that rare individual with a high paying job who actually works for a living!  You know, guys like Jeremy Hellstrom.

Yeah, you saw right... that's a big "G" in orange on the right side of the box.

While the $179 to $230 area is packed full of AMD 890FX boards from the usual suspects, we see only a handful under the $150 range.  Asrock and Biostar currently offer products under that price point, but a new contender has risen in this very competitive range.  MSI is offering a fully featured 890FX board for a pretty astounding $149 MSRP.  It does not feature the bells and whistles of the higher end 890FXA-GD70, but it does offer all of the performance and the ability to run Crossfire fairly painlessly.  Not only that, but as we move along this review, we can see an area where there is a confluence of design, maturity, and optimization which will directly benefit the end user.

A Game of Tradeoffs

There are few design constraints for a motherboard when money is not an issue and it will end up being a halo type product.  The design can go through several iterations, everything under the sun can be thrown onto the board, and elaborate cooling mechanisms are integrated to ensure stable operation.  Midrange and budget boards are more constrained in terms of design and features.  For the budget side it is perhaps easier.  For example, there is no need to have cooling above and beyond that needed for standard operation, extras like e-SATA ports or a secondary SATA controller do not fit into the price range or the desired capabilities for a budget board.  But the midrange area with an eye on enthusiast type performance is a tough road to travel.

We see a fair bit of accoutrements included in the 890FXA-GD65.  Note that when using the included USB bracket that the amount of USB ports in the back of the computer have reached "un-Godly" amounts.

What features are absolutely necessary?  Can we get away with just the chipset’s SATA controller?  Who uses dual Ethernet anyway?  How can we get away with cheap cooling but still provide a board that can overclock without melting down?  Are power/reset/OC buttons really necessary for this class of products?  Intel Ethernet controller or a Realtek one?  What about Marvell?  These decisions are important from both a user and supplier standpoint.  Certainly, as a user, we want the greatest value for our money, and that usually includes more features.  For a supplier they want to stay in business, but still sell their boards in sufficient quantities to pay for development of said products and production overhead.  Obviously offering a motherboard that has no margin whatsoever is not a smart business move, but also offering a product that has a fat margin that can be undercut easily by competitors’ products will lead to fewer sales as well.

The idea of moving below $150 for a high end chipset is not new, and I mentioned above two of the budget manufacturers have products in that category.  MSI saw an opportunity here to provide a lean, mean motherboard under that price point that will fix some of the flaws of the 890FXA-GD70, and hopefully garner some extra sales in this very tight range of products.  Gone are the heatpiped heatsinks, there is no e-SATA or secondary SATA controller, no dual Ethernet connections, and no fancy buttons or touch pads to power up and overclock.  These parts were not just taken off the current high end design and the PCB left intact, instead MSI went back to the drawing board and has created a new and unique board that should make quite a few users happy when shopping for an enthusiast grade product at a budget price.

 
April 15, 2011 | 06:23 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

i think you need to upgrade your case there josh :P

April 15, 2011 | 07:53 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Yes, it is old. But it still is an average sized ATX case... and dusty. Hey, we are on a budget here!

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April 16, 2011 | 04:40 PM - Posted by Shan (not verified)

OMG! My Chieftec Dragon case! I'm still using mine for the last 7 years! never thought i'd ever see it in this day and age in a PC review! I on the other hand keep mine very clean Josh :P

April 19, 2011 | 09:49 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Yeah, those cases are tanks. Not a perfect design, but I enjoyed using mine for years and years. Fairly roomy in the day and age of not overly large motherboards or graphics cards.

April 18, 2011 | 08:35 AM - Posted by nabokovfan87

If the Graphics card blocks the sata, and the sata are pointed to the right, what does it matter? When you hook things up you do those first and then the card, and when you want to adjust things you take out the card. It isn't the best solution, but it shouldn't make the ports unuseable.

Moreso the issue of heatsink in the way is a bad thing, but you have a 69xx card in there right?

April 19, 2011 | 09:48 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

The card was the HD 5870 I tested it with.

As for them being blocked... while I was doing testing I did plug in another hard drive, and it was amazingly annoying to do without removing the video card. Now, it is likely not often that people will swap out drives, but it is not unheard of to add an an extra optical drive, or swap in a Blu-ray drive, or buy another larger data drive (hey, 2 TB drives are dirt cheap these days). So, it was an annoyance to me.

I agree though, that northbridge chipset heatsink was very poorly thought out.

April 18, 2011 | 10:06 AM - Posted by larry (not verified)

does the msi 890fxa-gd65 support virtualization like hyperv in server 2008

April 27, 2011 | 09:30 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

The 890FX supports IOMMU in hardware. Other than that, all VM support is handled by the CPU. The Phenom II and Athlon II series of processors have robust VM support in hardware.

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