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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  • fredisdead - Saturday, April 07, 2012 - link

    The design of bulldozer/ interlagos is aimed at the server market, where it has absolutely smoked intel the last few months.

    That said, these are suspiciously skewed benchmarks. Have a look here for a better representation of how bulldozer really performs.

    http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=article&...

    It's pretty simple really, AMD used the chip real estate to double the number of cores, vs using it on less, but more powerful cores. Seeing that a single bulldozer core appears to have about 80% of the performance of an intel i5 core, looks like a good trade off. For highly threaded applications, its a complete win, and they are doing it on less advanced geometry.
    That said, AMD's main product in the consumer space isn't bulldozer, it's llano, and thats looking like a rather large success too.
    Reply
  • Oscarcharliezulu - Saturday, April 07, 2012 - link

    Nicely written review Ian, was a pleasure to read. I like to hear subjective impressions as well as the facts and figures.

    Looking at an upgrade I thought to support AMD this time around. The boards seem very well featured for the price compared to intel (though they are catching up) and provide good sata3 and USB support. The problem is the BD cpu's run hot, slow and old software won't run well on it compared to older thubans.

    My question- is AMD looking to provide support for more than 4 dimm sockets so we can run large amounts of ram in the future?
    Reply
  • quanta - Tuesday, April 10, 2012 - link

    Ironically, the A70M/A75 'Hudson' chips, which are designed for the non-FX CPU, actually has built-in USB 3 support that even SB950 doesn't have! The 9-series is supposed to be the enthusiast choice, how can AMD dropped the ball even BEFORE it can pick it up? Compare to the CPU that AMD has designed and built, the I/O support chip design is simple, yet AMD can't even get USB 3.0 and PCI Express 3 to at least relieving some performance bottleneck. If AMD can't even get the chip set right, there is no way in silicon hell for AMD to keep its dwindling fan base, at ANY price/performance bracket. Reply
  • primonatron - Thursday, April 12, 2012 - link

    That audio chip on the ASUS ROG motherboard IS a Realtek one. They just allow the installation of a X-Fi utility on top for sound effects.
    You can see the realtek drivers are required on the ASUS website, but an X-Fi utility is also provided.

    Marketing hogwash. :(

    http://www.asus.com/Motherboards/AMD_AM3Plus/Cross...
    Reply
  • cocoviper - Thursday, April 19, 2012 - link

    I'm not defining $240 as the limit for Enthusiast CPUs, I'm saying AMD doesn't have any CPUs that are competitive above that price-point.

    What the category is called is semantics. We could break the entire line into 100 different categories and it wouldn't change the fact that AMD doesn't have any consumer CPUs in the top 3/4 of the market.

    I wasn't quoting Anand like he what he says is law or something, I was noting AMD's strategy day where getting out of the high end market was discussed.

    Don't you believe AMD, and ultimately all of us as consumers are at a disadvantage if AMD's best product is capped at $250 or so, leaving $250-up-to-however much Intel wants to charge all their domain? How would you feel if the Radeon series only had products in the lower 25% of the $0-$700 Videocard market? Does the best Radeon being capped at $175 seem like it would keep Nvidia competitive in performance and price?
    Reply
  • cocoviper - Thursday, April 19, 2012 - link

    Isn't arguing about what price-point defines enthusiast the very definition of semantics? Why don't we just make all processors enthusiast, regardless of price. There AMD and Intel now both make enthusiast processors.

    To return to the point, Intel's enthusiast processors are the only ones occupying the top 3/4 of the market in cost to end customers. Cost is determined by the market; what people will and will not buy. This is why AMD just announced a price cut on the 7000 series to account for the Kepler launch. Competitive performance and prices keep all suppliers in the market in check, and the end consumer benefits.

    The point is AMD is ceding the top 3/4 of the market, and even if they make $200 "enthusiast" processors, Intel is free to charge whatever they like to people that need or want high-end performance. This is bad for all of us, and lame on AMD's part.
    Reply
  • menlg21p - Wednesday, March 20, 2013 - link

    I made a mistake of installing network genie, and it doesn't show up in my programs and features. I cannot uninstall this program. There is no option for execution on startup. So it always starts up on boot. And there is nothing in the directories that pertain to uninstall. Also no online-content about this feature. Ugh, MSI, what are you doing? Why did you suggest this "crap" on my driver disk. REALLY? Reply

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