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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  • phys1cs - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    Spamming affiliate links, I see. Reply
  • R3MF - Friday, April 06, 2012 - link

    "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."

    If this is true then i simply cannot believe that AMD will continue on socket AM3+ without a chipset that supports PCIe 3.0!

    Where, when, and what will the 1090FX chipset arrive?
    Reply
  • SilthDraeth - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    This seems to be an ok roundup of AMD boards.

    However, how do the latest Windows 7 tweaks increase the performance of the Bulldozer? Can we get a before and after benchmark based on Win 7 and or Win 8 (beta) optimizations?

    I was hoping we would get that information. Also, how does it compare to similarly priced Intel offerings?
    Reply
  • IanCutress - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    Thank you for your comment. I didn't perform comparisons as Anand did a comprehensive look at the scheduling updates here:

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/5448/the-bulldozer-s...

    (Also reviewing five boards and writing 20,000 words about them takes longer than you think!)

    If there are any motherboards you would like to see in the future (or particular tests), drop me an email (ian AT anandtech.com) and I will have a look. Obviously I can't take care of every little niche test that everyone wants, otherwise we'd only get one board a month out for review, but I'll do what I can!

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

    Thank you for the link. That is what I wanted. Reply
  • StevoLincolnite - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    I noticed your Thuban was hitting 60'C+
    So I was just wondering if you took the Thubans thermal bug into account on those readings? On my old 1090T and 1045T I had to have a 13'c offset to get a correct thermal reading.
    Reply
  • sumitlian - Saturday, August 04, 2012 - link

    Temperature related problem have long been rectified in C3 stepping of Denab CPUs and in Thuban as well. There is no fault in temperature sensor anymore in our CPUs.

    Only C2 rev. or earlier rev. AMD CPUs suffered from this issue.

    Download and Read:
    "Revision Guide for Family 10h CPU"
    Reply
  • ExarKun333 - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    More to life than gaming on your PC. If you read the article, you could see how terrible the non-gaming benchmarks are for 'only' a Intel 4 and 6-core vs the 8-core AMD. Fanboi much? Reply
  • blazeoptimus - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    I bought an MSI 990FX-GD80 board a couple of months ago and was looking for a review like this one at the time. I would have loved the info you brought up here and I hope it will help others looking into the available 990FX boards.

    I went with the MSI board since it seemed to hit a sweet spot on features, price (newegg was offering $20 off which put it to $169) and performance. I also went with a Zosma processor since it seemed to hit the price elbow and had the most unlocking potential. I've been very happy with the experience thus far. I've been able to unlock the 2 additional processors and have pushed the clock to 3600mhz (stock is 3k). My next push will be to see if I can hit the aggressive clocks listed in this article.

    Thanks again for the write up. I'm a long time reader and frequently use the information in these reviews to make hardware decisions.
    Reply
  • Taft12 - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    Very comprehensive, thank you Ian!

    Of course now that you've exhausted so much energy on this review, the 1090FX chipset is right around the corner alongside the 2nd gen FX CPUs.

    Such is life for a desktop hardware reviewer!
    Reply

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