For new users to the PC industry, or those that migrated towards newer APU platforms, it is worth going back and recalling the AM3+ socket with the 990FX chipset. When the platform was released, it offered several advantages that Intel lacked at the time: a full set of SATA 6 Gbps ports was the main advantage which took Intel another two generations to offer. The chipset, with the right CPU, also offered substantially more PCIe lanes than the mainstream Intel parts which were similarly priced. While the user could have sixteen PCIe 2.0 lanes from an Intel CPU for graphics coupled with eight PCIe 2.0 lanes from the chipset, AMD users had 32 PCIe 2.0 lanes from the CPU for graphics, another six PCIe 2.0 x1 lanes for controllers and four PCIe 2.0 x1 lanes from the chipset. This gave the AMD motherboard manufacturers more bandwidth to add extra ports or adjust their PCIe layout for graphics. Note that this is the latest AMD platform to support SLI, rather than the newer FM1/FM2 platforms that do not.

There are a few limitations on the 990FX chipset worth mentioning. When this motherboard we are testing today was released, PCIe 3.0 was gaining momentum. The only way to add PCIe 3.0 to these motherboards was to integrate a PLX chip between the Northbridge and the GPUs which gave PCIe 3.0 capabilities between the GPUs, but it still limited data transfer between the PLX chip and the CPU to PCIe 2.0. The other limitation was one of cost. AMD platforms have historically been low cost markets, at least for end users, which correlates to a reluctance to expand spending on motherboards. This reduces the market for high end motherboard solutions which might incorporate extra features and controllers, and as a result many AM3+ motherboards were aimed at price/performance rather than feature set.

The ASRock 990FX Extreme9 sits near the top of the stack for feature set, and currently retails for $170. To put that into perspective, we discuss $170 motherboards for Intel’s latest chipsets as a mid-range point rather than the high end.

Also worth noting that because our last 990FX reviews were with the FX-8150 processor, in order to compare to historical data we also used the Extreme9 with the FX-8150 for comparison points.

ASRock 990FX Extreme9 Overview

Visual Inspection

Taking the motherboard out of the box for the first time and there are several items worth noting. Firstly the extended heatsink which covers the 12+2 phase power delivery to the side of the socket and the North Bridge just below the socket. ASRock has placed all the power delivery chokes in a line, and uses a CHIL8328 IC for a digital design. This PWM controller powers 6-8 phases, and thus the system uses multiplexing to get the desired 12 for the CPU voltage.

The socket area has four fan headers within immediate reach – two CPU and one chassis header directly above the socket, and a 3-pin PWR header to the top right of the DRAM slots. The other two fan headers on the motherboard are located at the bottom, one to the left of the 2-digit debug and the other to the right of the power/reset buttons. The socket area uses a low heatsink profile combined with a gap to the DRAM that should allow for large air coolers to be used.

The DRAM slots use double sided latch mechanisms and there is ample space to the first major PCIe slot. At the bottom of the DRAM slots, to the right, are two USB 3.0 headers from an Etron EJ188H controller. At the time this motherboard was made, a chassis may have had one USB 3.0 header, and thus ASRock also includes a USB 3.0 panel in the box.

Underneath this are eight SATA 6 Gbps ports, the top two from an ASMedia ASM1061 controller followed by six from the south bridge. In this situation, with an additional controller, I would have preferred if ASRock had used a different color for the ASMedia ports. Below these is a fan header, the power and reset buttons, and the two-digit debug.

At the bottom of the motherboard is an IEEE1394 header, a COM header, two USB 2.0 headers, an IR header and the front panel headers. Above this is the odd PCIe layout, which combines the 32 PCIe 2.0 lanes from the north bridge with another PCIe 2.0 x4.

The layout is such that the top PCIe slot is an x16, followed by an x1. The second full length slot is a PCIe 2.0 x4, followed by another PCIe 2.0 x16. This slot shares bandwidth with the bottom PCIe slot, whereby if the bottom is populated, they both go to PCIe 2.0 x8. There is also a PCI slot near the bottom.

This means:

Configuration 1: x16/x1/x4/x16/PCI/-
Configuration 2: x16/x1/x4/x8/PCI/x8

Having this layout allows the user to equip the board with three GPUs in the first, third and fourth full length slots. If they are double slot cards, the PCIe 2.0 x4 is left vacant for a sound card, network card, RAID card or other PCIe device. It is worth noting that in terms of audio, ASRock has equipped this motherboard with a Realtek ALC898 codec.

The rear panel uses two PS/2 ports, one for mouse and one for keyboard, followed by a ClearCMOS button and SPDIF outputs. The four blue USB 3.0 ports are powered by another Etron EJ188H controller, and the panel also has four USB 2.0 ports with two eSATA 6 Gbps ports. The IEEE1394 port on the rear is perhaps one of the last consumer oriented motherboard to have this port pre-installed. The Intel NIC on the rear IO might seem a little strange on an AMD motherboard, but this is one of the top line 990FX solutions. The audio jacks round off the set.

Board Features

Board Features
Price US (Newegg)
Size ATX
CPU Interface Socket AM3+
Chipset 990FX + SB950
Memory Slots Four DDR3 DIMM slots supporting up to 32 GB
Up to Dual Channel, 1066-2450 MHz
Video Outputs None
Onboard LAN Intel 82583V
Onboard Audio Realtek ALC898
Expansion Slots 3 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (x16/x16/- or x16/x8/x8)
1 x PCIe 2.0 x4
1 x PCIe 2.0 x1
1 x PCI
Onboard SATA/RAID 6 x SATA 6 Gbps (Chipset), RAID 0,1,5,10
2 x SATA 6 Gbps (ASMedia ASM1061)
USB 3.0 4 x Rear USB 3.0 (Etron EJ188H)
2 x USB 3.0 Headers (Etron EJ188H)
Onboard 8 x SATA 6 Gbps Ports
2 x USB 3.0 Headers
2 x USB 2.0 Headers
6 x Fan Headers
1 x COM Header
Power/Reset Switches
Dr. Debug LED
Front Panel Connector
Front Audio Connector
Power Connectors 1 x 24-pin ATX
1 x 8-pin CPU
Fan Headers 2 x CPU (4-pin, 3-pin)
3 x CHA (4-pin, 2x 3-pin)
1 x PWR (3-pin)
IO Panel 1 x PS/2 Keyboard
1 x PS/2 Mouse
4 x USB 2.0
4 x USB 3.0
2 x eSATA 6 Gbps
1 x IEEE1394
1 x Intel NIC
Clear CMOS Switch
Audio Jacks
Warranty Period 3 Years
Product Page Link

If we were making a high end AMD motherboard for 2014, the extra lanes would be perfect for PCIe storage. Pile on a SATA Express and M.2 x4 slot without losing lanes to other functions. Some native USB 3.0 would be nice, or 3.1 via controllers. PCIe 3.0 support would be a must of course, along with a Realtek ALC1150 or more advanced audio codec. ASRock’s latest motherboards have featured a water-proof/superhydrophobic coating, or small LCD panels to aid in overclocks, which might be something in AMD meets 2014.

AMD’s 5 GHz CPU in Retail: The FX-9590 and ASRock 990FX Extreme9 Review ASRock 990FX Extreme9 BIOS and Software
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  • TiGr1982 - Saturday, August 9, 2014 - link

    I perfectly understand your sarcasm :)
    I guess, it was something like that: AMD did not and does not have the resources and/or desire to invest into pure many-module CPUs beyond Piledriver FX CPU. So, from the engineering standpoint, they stopped there.
    But then the marketing stepped in and said: "We need a faster CPU to brag. Because we aren't developing a new one, can you boost the current one?" And the engineering team said "Yes... Okay...". And they did. :)
    Reply
  • wurizen - Saturday, August 9, 2014 - link

    the fx series does need to go down in watts, which only comes in a die shrink from what i know. but the thing it has going for it are 8 cores, which intel doesn't even have in their consumer or enthusiast cpu's. u have to go xeon to find an intel 8 core cpu. my theory that amd is not updating the fx series or their chipsets is probably due to the backlash of the of fx series. i forgot when the the fx-8150 came out but it was negative. i don't think amd wants to have another repeat of that so amd is putting their cards back in the deck. they're softly announcing this and that about apu's... and hoping the marketing of apu will be enough to garner positive feedback. bring the image back. that is all it is, i think. what the hell is an apu, anyway? oh, it's the future. this is what amd wants ppl to know. but, we know that apu is not the future. it's just a stop gap for amd. it's just a fancy acronym.

    i don't think the low performance of amd fx cpu compared to an intel part is also solely amd's fault. i think software developers/coding can also be attributed to it. i mean, if you have this and that code built for intel chips since they're inside (i hate to say it) most of the pc's in the world, then of course, intel will have a lead from the get go. for example, windows 8 is suppose to be better for amd fx cpu's than windows 7. now dig deeper into how programs are run and make it so that an fx chip will shine as much as an intel chip, then we probably have a very well optimized program, which in the real world is probably a unicorn program. so, this unicorn program puts both amd and intel chips thru its paces, equally and optimally and fully. and i think that unless an intel chip has a specific function that makes it run faster (i forgot what it is), then an amd fx 8-core chip with its more logical, fully functional, real cores of 8 will probably be better than intels 4 cores with hyperhtreading. intel has patents for those specific, specialize tasks though and this is why intel is hard to beat and why amd loses to them.

    this is why amd is waiting b/c 1)amd knows intel's roadmap and 2)they have apu's and consoles as stop gap 3) they'll return to the desktop performance cpu when the tide, the program/software/patents or whatever it is has leveled out so that amd can put out a competitive product that is truly innovative. and not just tick and tocks 4) the cpu fabs are probably too expensive right now for amd to jump in and do a die shrink (not sure tho; maybe intel has a hand in that too? idk)--like why is intel the only cpu company doing die shrinks every year and half? sounds weird to me. and it's closest competitor is just sitting back. weird right? anyway, im out of theories, i think.

    oh, you'd think amd would just put 8 core kaveris without an igpu, right? but, no. i think amd is still not sure the performance gain with that will be enough to wipe out the negativity of the fx-8150 debacle. so, amd is just not doing it.

    what do you guys think of my theories?
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Sunday, August 10, 2014 - link

    "but the thing it has going for it are 8 cores, which intel doesn't even have in their consumer or enthusiast cpu's."
    I stopped reading right there. If you think 8 cores in a 4 module FX CPU are comparable to 4 cores in Intel mainstream CPUs or 8 cores in Intel enthusiast CPUs, you should go back and read up on the architecture differences. The fact that an Intel 8 thread CPU (core i7 with 4 cores and HT) usually beats any FX CPU with 4 modules should be warning enough that you shouldn't draw any conclusions based on that.
    Reply
  • wurizen - Sunday, August 10, 2014 - link

    Ive read up on bulldozer architecture. 4 modules with 2 logical and physical cores = 8 cores. Intels hyperthreading arent physical cores but software driven. so an OS sees an i7 with 8 cores even tho 4 of those cores are virtual. AMD has 8 physical/logical cores. Each module or 2 cores do have to share FpU, l2 cache (i think) and another thing. So, the cores are hampered by this but it doesnt take away the fact that there are 8 cores there. And i know its slow even though it has more cores than intel. But by refining it and better software optimization, i am wishing AMD to at least compete with intel enthusiast x99 chipset in the future with half the price. Why? Bc i cant afford intel. Simple as that. Reply
  • mapesdhs - Tuesday, August 12, 2014 - link

    Sorry it's not an 8-core at all, not when it has to share resources split int vs. fp. Hence why
    this very article shows again and again the older 4770K beating the 959 on threaded loads,
    with 60% less power consumption. Convincing yourself that AMD's "8 cores" marketing has
    any kind of sensible basis is as bad as believing MHz is an equally useful metric, or MIPS.

    Intel's real, old, 6-core, the 3930K, utterly demolishes the 9590, for less power, etc. If you're
    on a budget, buy a used 3930K, it'll leave AMD's chips in the dust, and there are plenty of
    low cost X79 boards these days, especially on the used market (Gigabyte UD3 only cost me
    55 UKP).

    Ian.
    Reply
  • Budburnicus - Wednesday, January 14, 2015 - link

    Noob, 2x ALU per unit DOES NOT equal 2 FULL CPU cores! The ONLY "edge" AMD has gained by this, frankly, AWFUL architecture, is in marketing, because they can somehow LEGALLY call each unit 2 CPU cores - when they do not function as such at all! In fact, HyperThreading provides better real world performance that doubling APU's when the architecture involved has much higher IPC as well as a DEDICATED minimum of 168 GB/s to L3 cache per core, at stock speeds!

    AMD calling a 4 unit CPU an 8 core machine is essentially the same as intel calling a 4 core i7 an 8 core CPU! HyperThreading is NOT software! read more about CPUs bro.
    Reply
  • Budburnicus - Wednesday, January 14, 2015 - link

    *than doubling ALUs* Reply
  • Budburnicus - Wednesday, January 14, 2015 - link

    EXACTLY! +1 Reply
  • Laststop311 - Monday, August 11, 2014 - link

    you said intel has no non xeon 8 core cpu's. But haswell-e will have 8 core/16 thread. I currently run an i7-980x gulftown x58 system and will be replacing it with 8 core haswell-e. video production speed should sky rocket. Reply
  • mapesdhs - Tuesday, August 12, 2014 - link

    That depends on what you're doing, which app, where the bottlenecks reside, etc.
    If you've already oc'd your 980X then you're starting from a pretty good baseline,
    so don't expect HW-E to be that much better (NB: I have a 990X, a couple of 3930Ks,
    4820K, seveal 2700Ks, etc.)

    What really will help for you is the newer I/O provision, ie. SATA3, PCI Express, M.2, etc.
    The non-Intel SATA3 controllers on X58 boards were pretty awful, especially Marvell.
    And of course you can at least double your max RAM, which might be holding you back
    somewhat if you're a heavy AE user.

    Ian.
    Reply

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