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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  • Mathieu Bourgie - Friday, April 06, 2012 - link

    Here's hoping* Reply
  • john21108 - Friday, April 06, 2012 - link

    I read the review and didn't see the FX-6200 getting walked over. The benches were all pretty close; the FX, X4, and the X6 all trading blows. At worse, the FX-6200 performed similar to the X4 980; at best, it would barely beat the X6 1100T.

    The FX looked good to me considering the X6 1100T is going for $240+ on eBay. If building new, is same performance worth an extra $70? Is it an upgrade to an X4 BE or X6, no.
    Reply
  • estarkey7 - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    I am disappointed in this article for a number of reasons, most of all that the preface of this article had very little to do with the content at all. You start off by stating:

    "...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 that being a defining point of this article, where are before and afters? I and everybody else on here already know what Anand did (hell, we read this site multiple times a day!). Why should I give this platform a second look?. Your preface led me to believe that I would see benches of these motherboards before and after firmware revisions or more importantly firmware revisions and Win 7 vs. Win 8 preview.

    It doesn't even make sense to run a full set of benches against motherboards with the same processor at stock speeds, as the differences will surely show in their overclocking potential and feature sets.

    Do you even realize that after reading this article that every single reader of Anandtech.com learned absolutely, positively nothing about Bulldozer vs. Thurban vs. Intelxxx that they didn't already know before they wasted 15 minutes of their time?

    Why not just delete it, and we'll forget you ever wrote it...
    Reply
  • IanCutress - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    The purpose of the review was to look at the motherboards and the differences between them, not the absolute performance of the processors. Hence why this review is listed under the motherboard section rather than the CPU section, and the paragraph you quoted ended with the phrase, with appropriate pauses to create emphasis on, 'a 900-series motherboard'. The initial paragraph created purpose and the fact that there is reason to perhaps own one of these motherboards, generating the context and situation to which they are currently in.

    Anyway, as a regular reader of Anandtech, surely you recognise me as the motherboard reviewer for the past year or more? :)

    Ian
    Reply
  • estarkey7 - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    Ian,

    I let my recent bulldozer system build get the best of me!

    I retract my statement. I believe my attack on you was not reasonable and served no purpose. Although I do disagree with some of the phrasing in the intro paragraph, my post was not warranted and I sincerely apologize.

    Keep up the good work.

    Ed
    Reply
  • Dekkatek - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    I don't know if anyone else noticed this, but there is a galler pic of the ASUS Crosshair board with a 4 video card setup and the 4th card is not physically connected to the motherboard!

    http://www.anandtech.com/Gallery/Album/1843#13
    Reply
  • IanCutress - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    Haha nice catch :) Most of those images are from ASUS' media kit for the board - I think I must have looked at it and thought they were using the ROG Xpander for four-way. Looking at the Xpander page now, it was only ever compatible on the R3E and R3F.

    Ian
    Reply
  • Makaveli - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    When did you need a $1000 extreme edition cpu to be an enthusiast.

    I'm not really sure what point you are trying to make.

    A i7 920 a 2500k or 2600k are all enthusiast cpu that cost less than $400. And all outperform AMD current line up.

    It like you are trying to be like AMD before they launched BD comparing it the 990x and saying look out processor is better and doesn't cost $1000 don't make me laugh.

    If you are gonna troll you better start doing a better job.
    Reply
  • cocoviper - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    $1000? Try any CPU over $240.

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4955/the-bulldozer-r...

    http://leapvine.com/p/1237/Intel%20Core%20i7-2600%...

    CPU price ranges tend to range between $50 and $1000 in the retail market. AMD's fastest solution captures the lowest 25% of this market, leaving 3/4 of the price range, and the range with the best margins, to Intel. We all want AMD to be competitive again like they were in the late 90s/early 2000s but they simply aren't.

    AMD has also officially stated they have no intention to compete in the performance / enthusiast segment. Per Anand:

    "As AMD's client strategy is predominantly built around APUs, the only high-end desktop parts we'll see from AMD are low-end server CPUs. Socket-AM3+ has a future for one more generation and we'll likely see other single-socket, high-end platforms for the desktop. The days of AMD chasing Intel for the high-end desktop market are done though. That war is officially over."

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/5503/understanding-a...
    Reply
  • BaronMatrix - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    Why doesn't anyone use the recommended GPU? If I buy an 8150, it will at least get a 6970 but probably a 7970.

    No wonder I left this "review site" stuff alone. I can't learn anything except that people think there are 50 CPU makers and AMD is the worst.

    Good luck with that.
    Reply

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