MSI 990FXA-Gaming Review: SLI, CF, and USB 3.1 for AM3+
The board supports both CrossFire and SLI. This is not a new feature, but if an enthusiast wants the maximum flexibility for multi-GPU rendering, then this board supports both implementations. The spacing of the two 16X slots provides more than ample room for larger cards that could go past the two slot size limit. The 8X slot is right above the second 16X slot and can be used for newer PCI-E storage devices. I do not believe this board supports NVMe and it is limited to PCI-E 2.0 speeds. Still, the typical 4X implementations for the latest storage solutions will provide plenty of bandwidth, even on this aging platform. With a dual slot video card installed only one of the 1X PCI-E slots is available for use. The single legacy PCI slot is at the bottom for those who wish to use their old, favorite soundcard.
The 6+2 VRM array is disappointing, but not surprising given the price point of this board. There is plenty of room around the CPU for aggressive cooling!
This is MSI’s second AMD based board that supports the new USB 3.1 Type-A standard. The 970 KRAIT was the first, but reviews of this board were few and far between. The Asmedia 1142 chip natively supports PCI-E 3.0, but again this particular implementation relies on the older PCI-E 2.0 support of the 990FX/SB950 chipset. It is still a massive boost from the older USB 2.0 and 3.0 standards. MSI rounds out USB support with 8 USB 2.0 ports on the rear and VIA powered USB 3.0 front panel support.
Previously I mentioned some corners being cut to achieve the price points necessary for this board to be competitive in a shrinking field. This comes from a simpler VRM implementation that features a 6+2 setup as compared to the 8+2 that is common on higher end boards. I would also be curious if this was a 6 layer motherboard design as compared to a higher quality 8 layer board. The VRMs are not rated for 200+ watt chips from AMD, so that eliminates support for the FX-9000 series of products. This is disappointing, but we also must consider the popularity of those chips and their need for higher end cooling. Perhaps not an easy decision to make, but one that they thought worth it for the market this board is addressing.
Another cut is that there is not a secondary SATA controller on the board as others may be wont to include. The SB950 has a total of 6 SATA6G ports which is typically more than enough, but it will likely exclude external SATA ports. I am not heartbroken at this development, as few people likely fill up all 6 ports and very few people use external SATA (I in fact never have).
The southside of town features the I/O connections and the southie heatsink. The USB 3.0 header is down near the bottom, which is not always the typical place for it.
Installation of the board went without a hitch. The post holes lines up without issue, the back I/O plate fit in the Corsair test case without issue, and physically the board is well built and of good quality. The components used throughout are again of the Military Grade 4 series from MSI and everything looks good there. There are plenty of USB 2.0 ports on the back, but the focus is obviously on the 3.1 units. The single PS/2 and USB connectors below it are gold plated and are claimed to be slightly faster for gaming signals. Hard to measure that one, but the idea doesn’t hurt.
The bundle is fairly minimal as can be expected for a budget board. SATA cables, driver installation disk, quick install guide, back panel insert, and a solid manual are the basics. MSI does go a step above by including SATA cable stickers to help in routing and identification, a nice case badge, and a door hanger for those not wishing to be disturbed.
The latest firmware is the only firmware, but if an update is needed then upgrading from within the firmware is simple and straightforward. Flashing the firmware is so much easier and safer than back in the old days (DRDOS anyone?). The BIOS is laid out in usual ClickBIOS 4 fashion. Everything is easily accessible and most any setting can be found and changed easily.
Software and hardware installation went again without a problem. The board was very stable with the FX-8370 that I had installed. I set the memory for 2133 speeds and it again worked without a hitch. The board seemed quick and responsive and the installation of the OS was no problem. This had actually been one of my few truly non-problematic installations I have had. Usually there is some small error or issue to work through, sometimes larger errors. This time it was smooth as silk.
The audio portion is surrounded by a vast array of high quality capacitors. Note as well the demarcation between the audio portion and the rest of the board.
The spacing around the board is another strong point. It allows a good coverage of slots to be able to use, even in multi-GPU configurations. Those still holding onto a PCI soundcard will have to deal with integrated audio if they use the 2nd 16X slot for CF or SLI use. The SATA ports are fairly easy to access even with a long video card in. The onboard headers are all in logical places which again are easy to access. The board is not stuffed to the gills in extras, so space is available to make for a good layout.
Software installation is again quite easy and the disk has a surprising amount of latest drivers already on there. It does not include the latest Win10 drivers, but those are easily accessible at this time and the software suites seem to work without issue.
It is hard not to like the board so far. Spacing is good, installation is easy, and there are plenty of usable features around the board. The only thing dragging it down is the cut down VRMs that do not allow for extreme overclocking or the use of 200+ watt CPUs in the FX-9000 range.
Audio quality is actually a step above what I have experienced from previous Gaming boards from MSI. I have had issues with popping, some odd effects, and not as clear of a sound as one would expect. It seems MSI got this one right and it has the smoothest, most natural sound of the bunch. It matches, if not exceeds, the quality of some of the other units I have tested in the past from Asus and Gigabyte. This is all subjective, but I have commented on the previous models’ issues in those reviews. This board just worked as it was supposed to.