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MSI 990FXA-Gaming Review: SLI, CF, and USB 3.1 for AM3+

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Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: MSI

AM3+ Keeps Chugging Along

Consumers cannot say that MSI has not attempted to keep the AM3+ market interesting with a handful of new products based upon that socket.  Throughout this past year MSI has released three different products addressing multiple price points and featuresets.  The 970 Gaming was the first, the 970 KRAIT introduced USB 3.1 to the socket, and the latest 990FXA-Gaming board provides the most feature rich implementation of the socket plus USB 3.1.

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AMD certainly has not done the platform any real favors as of late in terms of new CPUs and architectures to inhabit that particular socket.  The last refresh we had was around a year ago with the release of the FX-8370 and 8370e.  These are still based on the Piledriver based Vishera core that was introduced three years ago.  Unlike the GPU market, the CPU market has certainly not seen the leaps and bounds in overall performance that we had enjoyed in years past.

MSI has taken the now geriatric 990FX (based upon the 890FX chipset released in 2010- I think AMD might have gotten their money out of this particular chipset iteration) and implemented it in a new design that embraces many of the top end features that are desired by enthusiasts.  AMD still has a solid following and their products are very competitive from a price/performance standpoint (check out Ryan’s price/perf graphs from his latest Intel CPU review).

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The packing material is pretty basic. Just cardboard and no foam. Still, fits nicely and is quite snug.

The idea behind the 990FXA-Gaming is to provide a very feature-rich product that appeals to gamers and enthusiasts.  The key is to provide those features at a price point that will not scare away the budget enthusiasts.  Just as MSI has done with the 970 Gaming, there were decisions made to keep costs down.  We will get into these tradeoffs shortly.

Click here to continue reading the MSI 990FXA Gaming Review!

The 990FXA-Gaming

The MSI Gaming line of motherboards are visually quite appealing while embracing a host of features that should garner a lot of attention from those looking for a higher end experience.  Unlike video cards, users typically hold onto a motherboard for several years.  Add in the fact that AMD has yet to provide a high end replacement for the FX-8350/8370, the replacement cycle for AMD parts is stretched even further.

The first thing we need to discuss here is the price.  The official MSRP of the board is $149.99 US.  This is a little higher than most buyers in this category would want to pay, but it is lower than some of the top end models featuring this chipset and matching the extras provided on the board.  The Asus Crosshair V FZ is in the $229 range, but it does not feature USB 3.1 support.  The latest ASRock 990FX with USB 3.1 is $164.99.  Checking online pricing we see the MSI board often discounted to the $129.99 level.  This is a pretty solid discount considering most of the features on this particular board.

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The bundle is not extensive, but it is better than the bare basics. Not shown here are the SATA cables included. The badge is a nice metal piece and quite solid.

The board looks like it means business.  The black and red gaming motif that MSI has applied to this board matches that of their other Gaming series from both Intel and AMD.  The look is mean and understated.  The red provides a nice accent without being garish.  The red LED line that differentiates the audio portion with the rest of the board is a nice touch that we have seen from a variety of other boards.  The heatsinks are large and well constructed with heatpipes helping to spread out the load between the VRMs, northbridge, and southbridge.

Audio Boost 2 is MSI’s higher end integrated audio implementation.   It physically separates the traces from the rest of the motherboard and gives it separate filtered power and ground layers.  This is aimed at improving signal quality by separating it from the rest of the electrically noisy motherboard.  In theory it should help quite a bit, and is now a common features on many enthusiast class boards.  The board has the Realtek ALC1150 codec under the EMI shield.  MSI ups the ante by surrounding the audio portion with high quality Nichicon audio grade capacitors.  Furthermore MSI also utilizes a pair of headphone amplifiers that power the rear and front audio headers.  In the case of a speaker system being plugged into the back, there is some autosensing going on and it disables the amplification.  MSI implements gold plated connectors for both the mini-jacks in the back and the front audio panel plug.  Rounding everything out is the inclusion of the Creative SoundBlaster Cinema 2 software suite which uses CPU cycles to apply effects and audio processing (if a user desires that particular functionality- it is easily disabled and reconfigured to tastes).

The next feature added to the mix is that of the somewhat controversial Killer Ethernet implementation.  The basis for this is an Atheros Gig-E chip with the Killer software applied on top of the driver.  There are those that do not like the implementation at all, but there are also those who appreciate the extras provided by that software layer (basic QoS, monitoring, etc.).  Users have the option to install the driver only or the entire software suite.  Mileage will obviously vary on that one.  Nevertheless, it is a solid chip and the software is minimally invasive and annoying.

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The board is laid out very nicely and the color scheme is striking, but not garish.

The firmware is based on the latest ClickBIOS 4 which features a nice graphical interface and a huge variety of settings to go through and tweak.  The layout is logical and easy to access, plus the granular ability to tweak settings is impressive.  Fan control is mature and easy to adjust.  The most interesting aspect is that this board appears to natively support DDR-3 2133 memory.  The FX series of chips are only officially support DDR-3 1866 speeds, but somehow MSI has exposed a higher divider.  I was able to run DDR-3 2133 memory while still keeping the base clock at 200 MHz.  I was never able to get a concrete answer out of MSI, but the board ran stable at that setting.

Auto overclocking is another included feature on this board, and it is an easy way to get a few extra MHz out of a CPU.  It does not provide the same results as a user taking the time to thoroughly test and tweak their machine to find the sweet spot in voltage, speed, and overall performance.  The auto setting does raise voltage quite a bit, but the overall overclock is fairly modest and typically takes the 4 GHz FX-8350 to around 4.4 GHz.  A far cry from the 4.8 to 5 GHz results most other users can get to with good cooling and some patience.

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September 2, 2015 | 04:37 PM - Posted by derz

Nice to see AM3+ getting some LOVE.

September 2, 2015 | 04:47 PM - Posted by funandjam

#Joshtekk

that's all I got for now

September 2, 2015 | 06:23 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks, nice review.)

I use this bords, in one of my everyday workstation-pc and "sometimes as a gamer-pc", it runs with an FX 8150 + 16gb 2400MHz and 2*MSI 390X.
"it runs everything with ease, on stock settings"

It´s a very stabile bord, and easy to oc on.

Nice day.)

September 3, 2015 | 07:03 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Ps. When I OC my FX 8150, it runs 4.7GHz (24/7stabile), with one 120mm AIO kit.

Nice day.)

September 3, 2015 | 09:03 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

That's a good little overclock for that particular chip.  I never actually got my hands on that one.  First AM3+ chip I think I reviewed was a 4170 I believe?

September 4, 2015 | 01:42 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The best AM3+ board, that I has stumble upon so far, is still the Asus Formula-Z. (I have tried with a FX 8150, FX 8370E, FX 8370 and FX 9590)
With the FX 8150 on the Z-board, I can reach 4.8GHz 24/7 stable "with tornado-sound", and up to 5GHz non-stable. (I have only tried with a AIO-120P/P for cooling, maybe that´s why.)

September 6, 2015 | 07:30 PM - Posted by Cyclops

Bulldozer is as dead as the dodo.

September 9, 2015 | 03:46 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

POINT OF VIEW.)

February 15, 2016 | 08:50 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I also want to buy MSI 990 fxa gaming motherboard, and I already have amd fx-8150 processor, I want to ask that is it running good with these combinations? Plz reply, it will be appreciated.

September 2, 2015 | 07:51 PM - Posted by Anonymous31276 (not verified)

It's a nice way to clean out all the old am3+ crap left in the warehouse :)

Send it off in style.

September 2, 2015 | 08:17 PM - Posted by razor512

Without good power handling, the board will be a bad choice for anyone on the AM3 platform looking for an upgrade. Due to AMD making a ton of mistakes, the AM3 platform has not really seen anything new. if you have an AMD CPU, you pretty much have to overclock, and it is not uncommon to see voltages as high as 1.55V. A Phenom II x6 1100t overclocked to 4.3GHz at 1.55-1.56V, can easily pull 200-230 watts

An FX8350 at 5GHz will also pull well over 200 watts.

Any attempt to market to users on the AM3 platform, will need a board that caters to achieving the highest possible overclock.

The Phenom II x6 and 8 core FX CPUs form AMD can still offer a great computing experience if overclocked. The Phenom II x6 has a much higher IPC than the FX series, and when overclocked well, they do not bottleneck things too much.

The root of the issue is that unless they can significantly lower their price or use higher quality VRMs, most (if not all) users would rather buy a Gigabyte GA-Z97X-UD3H-BK (good for supporting both new and legacy stuff) and a Core i5 4690K and overclock that. It will be a large upfront cost, but it would also make for a 90+% performance boost for about 2.6 times the cost of this board.

September 3, 2015 | 02:54 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

90% ....science confirmed!

September 4, 2015 | 10:47 AM - Posted by joshjaks

Most people go FX for budget gaming. Even i3s can cost a pretty penny in comparison.

This board is actually great for what it needs to be. If a user is buying a 8350 or even a 9590, then it's far more beneficial to just spend a little extra cash and just go with one of the recent i5s.

Now, if someone were to go for a 6300 or 6350, the VRMs here are plenty to get a nice overclock out of those chips. The board is at a great price point to offer lots of gaming features so that combined with the aforementioned skus, it offers a lot of bang for the buck.

I would still recommend that if someone was looking to upgrade now, that they just wait till next year with Zen, but with the cost this board needed to be at, I don't think MSI could afford to put a larger VRM into it.

August 22, 2016 | 10:07 PM - Posted by Darkside (not verified)

Every single I5 dies in multitasking from every single FX x8 cpu. And that 90% performance boost are some mirages hahah. There are lot informations on internet in multitasking FX8350 can outperform i7 4790K, so don`t speak bullshits inferior fanboy..

September 2, 2015 | 08:57 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

no support for the 9590 kind of kills it...

October 10, 2015 | 08:46 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

you can use the FX-9370 & fx-9590 with bios 1.1 Released 8-6-2015

September 3, 2015 | 07:08 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

But the website says it does support fx 9590 and 9370 but a special thermal is required http://www.msi.com/support/mb/990FXA-GAMING.html#support-cpu

September 4, 2015 | 02:07 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Huh.  I was told, directly, that I should not run a 9590 with this board.  They are correct though that you do need a heavier duty cooling solution for that particular chip.

October 10, 2015 | 08:48 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

on there site says you can use the FX-9370 & fx-9590 with bios 1.1 Released 8-6-2015

October 10, 2015 | 08:58 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

is there going to be an update to the reviews to confirm the chips work ,FX-9370 & fx-9590 with bios 1.1, and also added full support NVMe booting. would love to see the Intel 750 PCIe NVMe to see if it works now. had my eye on the 400gb one as a boot drive... link below where it say World's first AMD motherboard with NVMe support.

http://us.msi.com/news/100110.html

September 4, 2015 | 04:00 PM - Posted by ashleyackley

This is the kind of board you use when your building a show machine. The black PCV is beautiful, the board components look higher end than most, and while the chipset heatsinks are functional but beautiful, the cap with MSI written on it on the bottom WILL get in the way of a full size video card. There will be hell to pay if someone tries to stuff crossfire on here.

September 6, 2015 | 12:20 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

I just put a second, large card on that board in the CF/SLI secondary slot.  The lower heatsink doesn't impede it at all.  In fact, the SATA headers stand higher than the heatsink does.

September 5, 2015 | 12:03 AM - Posted by CFTheDragon (not verified)

Latest BIOS update indicates support for the 220W CPUs.

http://us.msi.com/support/mb/990FXA-GAMING.html#support-cpu

September 6, 2015 | 07:25 PM - Posted by Cyclops

Intel terminated North Bridge in 2011 with Sandy Bridge, eliminating QPI. AMD still has it with the FX series (HT) in 2015. It's just sluggish.

September 7, 2015 | 11:49 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

With a gold-pile who is worth, 100times more then what AMD have, and this is what they can come up with.. Now that´s is just "sluggish"

September 7, 2015 | 12:05 PM - Posted by Cyclops

Hey, buddy. You are everywhere!

September 7, 2015 | 12:33 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Maybe, somebody has a all-seeing eye.)

Nice Day.

September 7, 2015 | 01:47 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

I am extremely curious what the 1090FX was going to be before AMD cancelled it.  HT isn't really holding back the FX platform.  Sure, a couple of cycles of extra latency in there, but nothing huge.  I'm just not entirely sure why AMD didn't refresh the 990FX northbridge with the A88X acting as the south.  In theory that is possible since the A88X communicates via 4x PCI-E.

September 7, 2015 | 02:43 PM - Posted by Cyclops

I wanted to see the 1090FX too but, 990 was a slight revamp of the 890, notable for SLI compatibility integration. I don't see how they would have made 1090FX that interesting, apart from adding PCIe 3.0 support which Intel has had since 2012. Maybe change their weird 38 lane PCIe configuration? We'll never know.

A88X as south bridge sound interesting. I can't, however, find any solid info about the SB950. I know it was a rebadged SB850, but other than that, data is vague. It seems to only have a 2x PCIe connection since even with a multi SSD RAID, it is unable to crack 1 GB/s.

September 9, 2015 | 12:36 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

The 990FX and SB950 communicate through the A-Link Express III connection.  This is a 4x PCI-E 2.0 solution.  The A88X communicates with the APU through a 4x PCI-E 2.0 solution known as UMI.  Unless there is some low-level changes made by AMD, you would think that the A88X could connect to an older generation northbridge?  I've asked AMD a number of times about this, but nobody has ever gotten back to me about the particulars behind the tech.

September 9, 2015 | 08:42 PM - Posted by Cyclops

Well, I was looking at this: http://bit.ly/1OAzsNE

The RAID results seem a bit inconsistent and don't seem to scale well, but that could be down to anything when 6 SSDs are involved.

At any rate, since both SB950 and A88X use the same communication method with the same bandwidth, I don't think it would have been difficult for AMD to make a 990FX refresh with the latter southbridge.

They have shifted focus to Zen though, so for all intents and purposes, AM3+ is at the end of the line.

You know, when they were switching from AM2/AM2+ to AM3, they had to implement both DDR2 and DDR3 controllers on the processor to be backward compatible with older AM2/AM2+ motherboards. From my understanding, Zen is a brand new architecture. They don't have to worry about backwards compatibility (And lets face it, AM3+ is way long in the tooth coming up on it's 4th anniversary), They're going straight for DDR4 on socket AM4 which looks like it will also support their APUs on the same socket. A bit unusual but I like the flexibility of the platform if the rumors are true.

Incidentally, I can't tell from the preliminary die shots if they will be integrating the PCIe controller in the CPU. You've got any info on that?

September 10, 2015 | 02:40 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

I don't have concrete evidence of the PCI-E controller on the CPU, but it would make sense if they did.  I'm pretty sure that they will to simplify design and increase performance.

September 21, 2015 | 06:11 PM - Posted by T3hderk (not verified)

Now, all i would want and love would be a motherboard to have some built in WIFI (ala the AMD nForce 590 of old) and a gol'darned M.2 slot. Why does Intel get all the love?! All serious joking aside, would the processor on an AMD platform be a bottleneck for M.2 or is it just a cost effectiveness thing.

Many thanks,
T3hderk

October 1, 2015 | 11:56 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

See, I can easily tell you guys suck, because my 9590 has been very happy, stable, and @ 5Ghz ever since I updated the BIOS. Be sure to check everything when you make a statement. So, the 990FXA Gaming plays very nicely with the 9 series CPUs.

March 23, 2016 | 10:50 PM - Posted by PaulUK (not verified)

Thats great news! you say it runs at 5ghz? is that overclocked or stock?

January 20, 2016 | 07:15 PM - Posted by Tregarth (not verified)

Hi,
I've got question for fan control - is it possible to lower rpm for fans without pwm (only 3 cables)? I saw that Asus did something really nice with their latest z170 series for skylake cpu's (with adaptation and some fancy software) - is it similar for this motherboard?
Thanks for any hints,
Best Regards,
T.

February 12, 2016 | 10:15 AM - Posted by CrunkPlaya69 (not verified)

Waddup, Playas,

Yo, I gots a question fo y'all. I wanna git dis muthaboard n' SLI it wit two MSI GTX 760 4GB as a budget backup gamin' rig, namsayin? I'mma put an FX8350 in it, y'all. Wut I wanna know is will da two GTX 760 wit dem Twin Frozr fans run just fine on da first two PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots? I gots a small PC case, da Silverstone RVX01. Peace, y'all. West side.

- CrunkPlaya69

P.S. Yea, dis b a series question, y'all.

October 31, 2016 | 01:35 AM - Posted by Uhhhh (not verified)

You asked that in a profoundly stupid premeditated manner. Kill yourself.

February 15, 2016 | 10:23 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

This board with the FX8350 will be a nice upgrade for my BT48 and Q9559 cpu.

January 20, 2017 | 08:57 PM - Posted by emrik henson (not verified)

can it support the intel core i5 processer

January 20, 2017 | 08:58 PM - Posted by emrik henson (not verified)

can it support the intel core i5 processer

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