Ever since the launch of the Bulldozer range and 9-series motherboards, the initial reviews of the processors were not encouraging to say the least.  Since then, AMD has decided to pull out of the enthusiast end of the CPU market, to focus in on the mainstream and low power processors.  This is despite the fact that Windows 7 (and Windows 8, natively) is now receiving updates so the operating system can understand the processor architecture a little better, and hopefully boost performance.  This gives a second wind to those owning (or thinking of owning) a Bulldozer based processor, and in turn, a 900-series motherboard.  With the updates in hand, today we are looking at five 990FX boards that may feature on the consumer or system builders’ radar.  This roundup has been on the cards for a long time, but unfortunately has had to be continually pushed back and then retests applied with latest BIOS updates – but as belated as it might be (and as deeply apologetic as I am), here it is!

9-Series Overview

In a trend of compatibility, today’s Bulldozer architecture and Zambezi processors are all wrapped up in our 942-pin AM3+ socket, coupled with either the 990FX, 990X or 970 chipsets.  For all intents and purposes, these chipsets are identical to their 800-series brethren, with two differences: guaranteed support of processors based on the Bulldozer architecture (BIOS update may be required), and SLI licensing for motherboards that can take advantage of multi-GPU setups.

  990FX 990X 970
PCIe Lanes 32 16 16
PCIe Configuration x16/x16
x16/x8/x8
x8/x8/x8/x8
x16 or x8/x8 x16
TDP 19.6 W 14 W 13.6 W
South Bridge SB950 SB950 SB950 or SB920
SATA 6 Gbps
(from South Bridge)
6 6 6
SLI Yes Yes No
CrossFire Yes Yes On a single card

The 990FX chipset is our focus today, which comes with 32 lanes for graphics (usually in x16/x16, x16/x8/x8 or x8/x8/x8/x8 distributions) and is paired up with the SB950 Southbridge.  This Southbridge makes sure that all the motherboards come with six SATA 6 Gbps ports with RAID 0/1/5/10 support and 14 USB 2.0 ports (USB 3.0 comes from controllers) for only another 6 watts of power consumption.

We are still limited to dual channel memory, compared to AMD’s high end server offerings which give quad channel and Intel’s various memory channel designs.  This is partly cost, keeping AMD chipsets relatively cheaper, and design – moving to a larger number of memory channels would require more pins and routes from the CPU, and thus a new CPU socket. 

Speaking of sockets, the AM3+ (or AM3r2) and 942-pin design is still with us for the near future.  The second generation Bulldozer (Bulldozer Enhanced) and FX processors will still be on the same pin layout and 900 series boards will work with them – the processor should merely benefit from a workload throughput increase.  The third generation FX processor, codename Steamroller, is still reported (not confirmed) to use AM3+, meaning that there are still quite a few years left in this platform when taking the AMD route.

By default the 890FX and 990FX HyperTransport 3.0 should enjoy transfer rates of up to 5.2 GT/s, unless you use an appropriate processor when HyperTransport 3.1 kicks in to give a 6.4 GT/s transfer rate. With the 900-series, users now have access to a graphical UEFI BIOS, similar to recent Intel chipsets, and also have full support of 2.2+ TB devices.

With all that in mind, for this article we are testing and reviewing the following products and prices:

$215 - ASUS Crosshair V Formula
$185 - ASUS Sabertooth 990FX
$180 - Gigabyte 990FXA-UD5
$195 - MSI 990FXA-GD80
$130 - Biostar TA990FXE

These boards will be tested with both a previous generation Thuban processor (the X6 1100T) and a high end Bulldozer processor (FX-8150), under AMD’s all-in-one liquid cooling solution (which is made by Asetek, and is essentially their take on the Corsair H80).  With a wide range of price points and feature sets, let us see what they can do, starting with the ASUS Republic of Gamers Crosshair V Formula.

ASUS Crosshair V Formula – Overview and Visual Inspection
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  • mmstick - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    The primary problem with AMD FX is that in order to use the full power of the FPU the program needs to be compiled with FMA4 support, else it is only using half of the FPUs, thus making it a quad core. Secondly, many Windows-based programs are compiled with the Intel C+ compiler, so although the FX may support AVX and many other instructions, the compiled program sees it as a non-Intel CPU so it disables those instruction sets, allowing Intel CPUs to be optimized, and AMD CPUs to remain deoptimized. This is what happens when you are up against someone with the most market share, whom has the ability to dictate what instruction sets they want programmers to use. As well, when people say they are going to buy Intel CPUs instead because they claim AMD didn't make a good processor, why do you think they can't be on top of performance? Without R&D budget there isn't much that can be done, and when you face someone who practically owns a monopoly, that makes it even moreso harder to compete. Reply
  • Omoronovo - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    The IC++ compiler has not done that since 2010 when they were forced to settle their antitrust dispute with AMD. Reply
  • DigitalFreak - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    " This is what happens when you are up against someone with the most market share, whom has the ability to dictate what instruction sets they want programmers to use. As well, when people say they are going to buy Intel CPUs instead because they claim AMD didn't make a good processor, why do you think they can't be on top of performance? Without R&D budget there isn't much that can be done, and when you face someone who practically owns a monopoly, that makes it even moreso harder to compete."

    Waaaaah. It's always someone else's fault.
    Reply
  • anubis44 - Friday, November 09, 2012 - link

    "Waaaaah. It's always someone else's fault."

    Well, sometimes it really IS someone else's fault. If the mafia had it in for you, and cut your brake cables and burnt your house down when you weren't looking, you'd say it's 'someone else's fault' too. Intel's blackmail and threats to suppliers who used AMD processors kinda screwed AMD over just a tad.

    That said, I think now that Jim Keller is back at AMD and head of AMD's CPU division, it won't be too long before AMD is seriously back in the game.
    Reply
  • Monkeysweat - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    I saw them on some of the benchmarks, why didn't you post them along side the AMD benchies for gaming?

    If we are looking at a roundup of the best of what AMD and it's partners have to offer, I'd like to see what the competing team brings to the table,, just leave em stock and even let the AMD ones get overclocked.

    I wouldn't even worry about cherry picking the Intel combos,, just something random.
    Reply
  • Beenthere - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    AMD has not abandoned the highend CPU market. Their focus may be broadening but that does not mean they will discontinue discrete highend desktop CPUs for at least several years. Eventually everyone except a small group will use APUs as they will deliver the best performance/value proposition. Only extremists will bother with a discrete CPU/GPU with higher power consumption, increased heat and little practical benefit for mainstream users. Reply
  • Articuno - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    It's a pretty nice chipset and the lower tier boards are quite cost-effective. Just wish Bulldozer was competitive with Intel, let alone their last gen chips. Reply
  • Mathieu Bourgie - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    Thank you for this article Ian.

    Are there any chance that we'll see a review of the newer FX-6200 CPU or at least have data for it in the CPU bench? Considering that it's 500MHz faster than the model that it's replacing and no major site (or any that I can see) did a review of it, it'd be interesting to see how it performs.

    I'm curious to see if it's a valid alternative, in any way, for $170, vs the Intel Core i5-2300 ($180).

    I don't expect any miracle for gaming performance, but for workstation workloads (Photoshop, video editing and the like), who knows?

    Thanks,
    Mathieu
    Reply
  • cosminmcm - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    There is a review at pcper, a good one. The processor is pretty weak, nothing exciting there. Thuban walks all over it. Reply
  • Mathieu Bourgie - Friday, April 06, 2012 - link

    Thanks, I didn't see that.

    Quite disappointing indeed.

    Here's about that Piledriver or Trinity are more competitive.
    Reply

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