AMD Athlon II X4 640/X2 260 Processors and the MSI 890GXM-G65 Motherboard Review
The AMD 800 Series and the MSI 890GXM-G65
With the release of the Phenom II X6 processors, AMD finished its introduction of the 800 series of chipsets. These include the 890FX, 890GX, 880G, and 870 series of parts. These northbridges are typically combined with the new SB850 southbridge, which encompass a host of new features as well as the all important SATA 6G support. AMD is attempting to get motherboard manufacturers to include 3rd party USB 3.0 support, and I would say a solid majority of motherboards out there do feature this functionality.
Two examples of AMD's latest 890GX chipset based boards. The MSI 890GXM-G65 (left) and the Gigabyte GA-MA890GDA-UD3H
Southbridge performance has been an issue for AMD’s chipsets, even before they were AMD branded. ATI’s first AMD based chipsets often used a ULi southbridge, because ATI’s first forays into that particular architecture were… pretty miserable performers, not to mention significantly delayed as compared to the northbridges. The SB600 fixed a lot of these issues, but it still was not up to snuff when comparing to Intel’s ICH series of southbridges. SB700 series again gave it a small boost, but not enough to change a lot of people’s minds about AMD’s I/O performance. Finally it seems that AMD has it right with the SB850 (and the not-yet-released SB810). Not only does it add things like an integrated Gig-E networking controller, but it is now comparable in overall throughput, efficiency, and IOPS to the latest Intel southbridges.
The MSI 890GXM-G65
MSI has certainly made a name for themselves in the AMD market. The original Athlon XP support from MSI was pretty good, and there were some very unique products out there. Then they sorta took a break. It was not until the AMD 790FX based K9A2 Platinum came along that AMD enthusiasts took note of what MSI was doing.
MSI has moved away from the fantastical images they previously imbued their boxes with. I personally like the change.
Flash forward a few years and we see that MSI is again at the cutting edge of motherboard design for the AMD market. With the release of the AMD 890GX, MSI took a chance with their design and created the first micro-ATX product to support this chipset. Not only is it the first, but it is still pretty jam packed with features for a micro-ATX format.
Board Features and Layout
Since it is micro-ATX, there are not a lot of things to be done about spacing issues. However, MSI certainly optimized their design to work around a lot of potential problems. The first thing to notice is the two PEG 16X slots that support CrossFire. When one graphics card is inserted, it runs the first PEG slot in 16X mode. When another graphics card is used, it automatically splits the 16X into 2 x 8X. There is a space between the first and second PEG slot, so video cards with dual slot coolers can be used with this board.
A single PCI-E 1X slot and a single PCI slot round out the primary add-on card connections. This can be problematic for some who hope to use a dual slot graphics card with a PCI-E sound card. It is not recommended to use a graphics card in the first PEG slot, and then a non-graphics card or 1X or 4X card in the second. This layout is obviously not optimal, but sacrifices had to be made to fit into a micro-ATX form factor.
The bundle is incredibly basic though.
The 890GXM features the HD 4290 integrated graphics with 128 MB of DDR-3 1333 memory attached to the sideport. The graphics are DX 10.1 compliant, and feature AMD’s full AVIVO HD video playback functionality. The board supports Hybrid CrossFire, which will effectively double integrated performance. While a nice feature, most users will want to spend a little bit more to get full DX 11 support as well as 3 to 4 times the performance by purchasing a single card based on a HD 5500 or HD 5600 GPU. The integrated graphics portion also supports digital audio output through the HDMI port. This is limited to bitstreaming Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS, as well as two channel LPCM. It does not have the ability to bitstream HD audio codecs like DTS Master Audio or Dolby TrueHD.
The board does not feature the DrMOS chips, but rather the standard driver and MOSFETs that have been around for ages. DrMOS integrates the driver and fet chips into one matched package, which does increase overall efficiency, lowers temperatures, and simplifies motherboard design. It is a 4+1 phase power delivery system, and can support processors up to 140 watts TDP. I tested a Phenom II X6 1090T in the board, and it worked perfectly as long as users have BIOS version 1.2 or above.