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AMD’s 890GX Chipset in Gigabyte 890GPA-UD3H

890GX is AMD’s newest integrated graphics chipset. It features an updated version of the HD 3300 graphics core, along with native SATA 3.0 support and extra bandwidth for add-on USB 3.0 controllers. Is it a worthy successor to 790GX?

March 15, 2010 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Gigabyte 890GPA-UD3H
AM3 ATX Motherboard
Manufacturer
Gigabyte
Street Price
~US$140

890GX is the newest high-end integrated graphics chipset from AMD, succeeding
the 790GX chipset which was released in the summer of 2008. 790GX’s main draw
was the HD 3300 graphics chip, the fastest IGP on the market. The same core
is used for the 890GX’s HD 4290 IGP but it has undergone a couple of minor updates.
Version 2.0 of UVD (Universal Video Decoder) and DirectX 10.1 support has been
added, both features that were incorporated in the HD 4200 IGP of the budget
785G chipset. The main changes
to the chipset involve increased bandwidth to accommodate the new SATA 3.0 and
USB 3.0 standards.


890GX block diagram.


The H55/H57 chipset saddles external controllers with slower PCI-E connections,
creating a potential bottleneck for add-on USB/SATA 3.0 controllers.

The Alink Express bus connecting the Northbridge and Southbridge has been doubled
to 2GB/s allowing AMD to tout native support for SATA 3.0 and its rated speed
of 6 Gb/s. While both AMD and Intel have been dragging their heels when it comes
to a native USB 3.0 controller, AMD has given their newest boards a bit of a
boost in this department with internal PCI Express 2.0 connections, providing
add-on controllers twice the PCI-E bandwidth available on Intel’s H55
and H57 chipsets. H55 and H57 are the only chipsets that support their latest
GMA HD graphics, so it’s a natural rival for 890GX. AMD is careful to point
this difference out in their literature even though the most useful application
of USB 3.0 is for external mechanical hard drives that cannot push 250MB/s.

The only other real changes are Hybrid CrossFire support for the new HD 5450
graphics card, the option for an integrated gigabit ethernet MAC, and support
for port multipliers with FIS-based switching in the new SB850 Southbridge.
Most multi-drive eSATA enclosures/docks have built-in port multipliers that
require support for FIS switching to allow all the drives inside to be accessible
simultaneously through eSATA. Previously this feature was only available on
more capable third party/add-on SATA controllers.


Gigabyte 890GPA-UD3H box.


Accessories.

Our 890GX sample comes in the form of the Gigabyte 890GPA-UD3H, an ATX motherboard
with CrossFireX support, SidePort memory for the IGP, HDMI, S/PDIF and FireWire.
At $140, it is at the high-end of the spectrum for AMD motherboards sporting
integrated graphics, but the accessories included are rather pitiful with only
one IDE and two SATA cables included. An eSATA adapter bracket would have been
a welcome addition seeing as it is one of the few $100+ AMD boards that lacks
eSATA.

Specifications: Gigabyte
890GPA-UD3H

(from the product web page)
CPU 1. Support for Socket AM3
processors: AMD Phenom™ II processor / AMD Athlon™ II processor
Hyper Transport Bus 1. 5200 MT/s
Chipset 1. North Bridge: AMD 890GX
2. South Bridge: AMD SB850
Memory 1. 4 x 1.5V DDR3 DIMM sockets
supporting up to 16 GB of system memory (Note 1)
2. Dual channel memory architecture
3. Support for DDR3 1866(OC)/1333/1066 MHz memory modules
4. Support for non-ECC memory modules
Integrated Memory 1. 128MB DDR3 SidePort memory
Onboard Graphics Integrated in the North
Bridge:
1. 1 x D-Sub port
2. 1 x DVI-D port (Note 2)(Note 3)
3. 1 x HDMI port (Note 3)
Audio 1. Realtek ALC892 codec
2. High Definition Audio
3. 2/4/5.1/7.1-channel
4. Support for Dolby Home Theater
5. Support for S/PDIF In/Out
6. Support for CD In
LAN 1. 1 x Realtek 8111D chip
(10/100/1000 Mbit)
Expansion Slots 1. 1 x PCI Express x16 slot,
running at x16 (PCIEX16) (Note 4)
2. 1 x PCI Express x16 slot, running at x8 (PCIEX8) (Note 4)
(The PCIEX16 and PCIEX8 slots support ATI CrossFireX and ATI Hybrid CrossFireX
technologies, and conform to PCI Express 2.0 standard.)
3. 3 x PCI Express x1 slots
4. 2 x PCI slots
Storage Interface South Bridge:
1. 6 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors 6 supporting up to 6 SATA 6Gb/s devices
2. Support for SATA RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 10, and JBOD

GIGABYTE SATA2 chip:
1. 1 x IDE connector supporting ATA-133/100/66/33 and up to 2 IDE devices
2. 2 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors supporting up to 2 SATA 3Gb/s devices
3. Support for SATA RAID 0, RAID 1, and JBOD

iTE IT8720 chip:
1. 1 x floppy disk drive connector supporting up to 1 floppy disk drive

USB Integrated in the South
Bridge:
1. Up to 14 USB 2.0/1.1 ports (6 on the back panel (Note 5), 8 via the USB
brackets connected to the internal USB headers)

NEC D720200F1 chip:
1. Up to 2 USB 3.0 ports on the back panel

IEEE 1394 T.I. TSB43AB23 chip:
1. Up to 3 IEEE 1394a ports (1 on the back panel, 2 via the IEEE 1394a bracket
connected to the internal IEEE 1394a header)
Internal I/O Connectors 1. 1 x 24-pin ATX main power
connector
2. 1 x 8-pin ATX 12V power connector
3. 1 x floppy disk drive connector
4. 1 x IDE connector
5. 6 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
6. 2 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors
7. 1 x CPU fan header
8. 2 x system fan header
9. 1 x power fan header
10. 1 x front panel header
11. 1 x front panel audio header
12. 1 x CD In connector
13. 1 x S/PDIF In header
14. 1 x S/PDIF Out header
15. 2 x IEEE 1394a header
16. 4 x USB 2.0/1.1 headers
17. 1 x serial port header
18. 1 x clearing CMOS jumper
Back Panel Connectors 1. 1 x PS/2 keyboard port
or PS/2 mouse port
2. 1 x D-Sub port
3. 1 x DVI-D port (Note 2)(Note 3)
4. 1 x HDMI port (Note 3)
5. 1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector
6. 4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
7. 2 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports
8. 1 x IEEE 1394a port
9. 1 x RJ-45 port
10. 6 x audio jacks (Center/Subwoofer Speaker Out/Rear Speaker Out/Side
Speaker Out/Line In/Line Out/Microphone)
I/O Controller 1. ITE IT8720 chip
H/W Monitoring 1. System voltage detection
2. CPU/System temperature detection
3. CPU/System/Power fan speed detection
4. CPU overheating warning
5. CPU/System/Power fan fail warning
6. CPU/System fan speed control (Note 6)
BIOS 1. 2 x 8 Mbit flash
2. Use of licensed AWARD BIOS
3. Support for DualBIOS™
4. PnP 1.0a, DMI 2.0, SM BIOS 2.4, ACPI 1.0b
Unique Features 1. Support for @BIOS
2. Support for Q-Flash
3. Support for Xpress BIOS Rescue
4. Support for Download Center
5. Support for Xpress Install
6. Support for Xpress Recovery2
7. Support for EasyTune (Note 7)
8. Support for Easy Energy Saver
9. Support for Time Repair
10. Support for Q-Share
Bundle Software 1. Norton Internet Security
(OEM version)
Operating System 1. Support for Microsoft
Windows 7/ Vista/ XP
Form Factor 1. ATX Form Factor; 30.5cm
x 24.4cm
Note (Note 1) Due to Windows
32-bit operating system limitation, when more than 4 GB of physical memory
is installed, the actual memory size displayed will be less than 4 GB.
(Note 2) The DVI-D port does not support D-Sub connector by adapter.
(Note 3) Simultaneous output for DVI-D and HDMI is not supported.
(Note 4) For optimum performance, if only one PCI Express graphics card
is to be installed, be sure to install it in the PCIEX16 slot. The PCIEX8
slot shares bandwidth with the PCIEX16 slot. When PCIEX8 is populated with
a PCI Express graphics card, the PCIEX16 slot will operate at up to x8 mode.
(Note 5) Two share the same ports with USB 3.0.
(Note 6) Whether the CPU/system fan speed control function is supported
will depend on the CPU/system cooler you install.
(Note 7) Available functions in EasyTune may differ by motherboard model.
Remark 1. Due to different Linux
support condition provided by chipset vendors, please download Linux driver
from chipset vendors’ website or 3rd party website.
2. Most hardware/software vendors no longer offer support for Win9X/ME.
If drivers are available from the vendors, we will update them on the GIGABYTE
website.

PHYSICAL DETAILS

A board’s layout is important in several regards. The positioning of components
can dictate compatibility with other products like third party heatsinks and
long dual-slot graphics cards. Poorly placed connectors can also disrupt airflow
and make a system more thermally challenging.


The board has a fairly good layout with only one obvious fault: the 8-pin
EPS12V connector is hard to access due to its proximity to the VRM heatsink.

 


The SATA ports are on their sides which helps keep the cables tidy and
prevents them from interfering with long graphics cards. We also like
that the LED/switch headers are raised slightly; typically they are at
the very bottom which can make plugging in the connectors difficult.

 


The CPU socket is surrounded on two sides by a moderately sized Northbridge
heatsink and a much larger VRM heatsink, joined together by a heatpipe.
The socket is a little close to the memory slots, but this is typical
of AMD motherboards.

 


The back panel is stocked with VGA, DVI, HDMI, S/PDIF and FireWire ports
as well as a pair of blue USB 3.0 connectors powered by a NEC chipset.

 


The heatsinks surrounding the CPU are only 30~31mm tall as measured from
the PCB surface so they pose no trouble for most tower coolers. However,
a 120mm fan heatsink oriented north-south will cover the first two DIMM
slots and interfere with memory that have tall heatspreaders.

BIOS

For enthusiasts, the options available within the BIOS can make
a good board, a great one. The ability to manipulate frequencies, voltages,
and fan control settings vary depending on the hardware and the amount of
trust placed in the user’s hands by the manufacturer.


“M.I.T.” menu.


“PC Health Status” menu

 

BIOS Summary: Gigabyte 890GPA-UD3H
Setting
Options
CPU Frequency
200MHz to 500MHz
CPU PLL Voltage
2.220V to 3.100V in varying increments (2.500V default)
NB Voltage
0.900V to 1.600V in varying increments (1.300V default)
NB/PCIe/PLL Voltage
1.450V to 2.100V in varying increments
CPU NB VID
-0.600V to +0.600V in 0.025V increments
CPU Voltage
-0.600V to +0.600V in 0.025V increments
Memory Clock
x4.00, x5.33, x6.66, x8.00
DRAM Voltage
1.275V to 2.445V in varying increments
DDR VTT Voltage
0.720V to 1.050V in varying increments (0.750V default)
Memory Timing Control
Advanced
Integrated Graphics
Internal Graphics Mode
Disabled, UMA, SidePort, UMA+SidePort
UMA Frame Buffer
Auto, 128MB, 256MB, 512MB
VGA Core Clock
200MHz to 2000MHz (700MHz default)
SidePort Memory Clock
667MHz to 2000MHz in varying increments (1333MHz default)
SidePort Memory Voltage
1.370V to 1.750V in varying increments
Fan Control
CPU Smart FAN Control
Disabled, Enabled
CPU Smart FAN Mode
Auto, Voltage, PWM
System Smart FAN Control
Disabled, Enabled

The BIOS allows for as much frequency/voltage modification as
one would expect on an enthusiast board. Settings for all the main components
(CPU, chipset, memory, IGP) have liberal limits and a CPU voltage offset can
be applied without disabling Cool’n’Quiet. It seems that two of board’s fan
headers can be controlled, but you cannot define their behavior/tolerances
in the BIOS.

TEST METHODOLOGY

Test Setup:


Testbed device listing.

Measurement and Analysis Tools

H.264/VC-1 Video Test Suite

H.264 and VC-1 are codecs commonly used in high definition movie videos on
the web (like Quicktime movie trailers and the like) and also in Blu-ray discs.
To play these clips, we use Cyberlink PowerDVD.


1080p | 24fps | ~10mbps
H.264:
Rush Hour 3 Trailer 1
is a H.264 encoded clip inside an
Apple Quicktime container.

 


1080p | 24fps | ~8mbps
WMV-HD:
Coral Reef Adventure Trailer
is encoded in VC-1 using the
WMV3 codec commonly recognized by the “WMV-HD” moniker.

 


1080p | 24fps | ~33mbps
Blu-ray: Disturbia is a short section (chapter
4) of the Blu-ray version of Disturbia, the motion picture, played
directly off the Blu-ray disc. It is encoded with H.264/AVC.

 


1080p | 24fps | ~36mbps
Blu-ray: Becoming Jane is a short section
(chapter 7) of the Blu-ray version of Becoming Jane, the motion
picture, played directly off the Blu-ray disc. It is encoded with
VC-1.

x264/MKV Video Test Clip

MKV (Matroska) is a very popular online multimedia container
used for high definition content, usually using x264 (a free, open source
H.264 encoder) for video. The clip was taken from a full length movie;
the most demanding one minute portion was used. We use Media Player Classic
Home – Cinema to play it as its default settings allow it to use DXVA
(DirectX Video Acceleration) automatically when used with a compatible
Intel/ATI graphics chip. For Nvidia graphics we use CoreAVC to enable
CUDA (Compute Unified Device Architecture) support in MPC-HC.


1080p | 24fps | ~22mbps

x264 1080p: Crash is a 1080p x264 clip encoded from the
Blu-ray version of an science fiction film. It features the aftermath
of a helicopter crash.

 

Estimating DC Power

The following power efficiency figures were obtained for the
Seasonic SS-400ET used in our test system:

Seasonic SS-400ET Test Results
DC Output (W)
21.2
41.6
60.2
81.9
104.7
124.1
145.2
AC Input (W)
32.0
58.0
78.0
102.0
128.0
150.0
175.0
Efficiency
66.3%
71.7%
77.1%
80.3%
81.8%
82.8%
83.0%

This data is enough to give us a very good estimate of DC demand in our test
system. We extrapolate the DC power output from the measured AC power input
based on this data. We won’t go through the math; it’s easy enough to figure
out for yourself if you really want to.

Testing Procedures

If available, the latest motherboard BIOS is installed prior to testing and
256MB is allocated to the integrated graphics core, if applicable. Cool’n’Quiet
or Intel SpeedStep are enabled and confirmed working (unless otherwise noted).
The following features/services are disabled during testing to prevent spikes
in CPU/HDD usage that are typical of fresh Vista installations:

  • Superfetch
  • System Restore
  • Windows Defender
  • Windows Sidebar

Our main test procedure is designed to determine the overall system power consumption
at various states (measured using a Seasonic Power Angel). To stress CPUs we
use either Prime95 (large FFTs setting) or CPUBurn depending on which produces
higher system power consumption. To stress the IGP, we use FurMark, an OpenGL
benchmarking and stability testing utility. Power consumption during playback
of high definition video is also recorded.

Our main video test suite features a variety of high definition video clips.
The videos are played and a CPU usage graph is created by the Windows Task Manger
for analysis to determine the approximate mean CPU usage. High CPU usage is
indicative of poor video decoding ability on the part of the integrated graphics
subsystem. If the video (and/or audio) skips or freezes, we conclude the board’s
IGP (in conjunction with the processor) is inadequate to decompress the clip
properly.

Detailed DC Power Consumption

During testing we record power consumption both from the wall and from the
AUX12V connector with the help of a pair of digital multimeters and an in-line
0.1 ohm shunt resistor. The latter measures how much energy is being drawn on
the +12V line by the processor including inefficiencies lost to the VRMs. This
can help us narrow down the causes of power consumption differences between
two boards.

Gigabyte Boards: 785G vs. 890GX
Test State
785GPMT-UD2H
890GPA-UD3H
System
CPU + VRM
Diff.
System
CPU + VRM
Diff.
Idle
34W
15W
19W
38W
12W
26W
Crash
(x264 22mbps)
53W
18W
35W
BD Disturbia
(H.264 33mbps)
62W
35W
27W
57W
18W
39W
BD Jane
(VC-1 36mbps)
63W
35W
28W
57W
18W
39W
CPU Load
108W
82W
26W
110W
79W
31W
CPU + GPU
Load
115W
83W
32W
128W
80W
48W

Our measurements from the AUX12V connector show that the board’s CPU power
management is very good. The CPU and VRMs used 3W less at idle and on full load
compared to the Gigabyte 785G board we reviewed in December. During Blu-ray
playback the difference increased to an impressive 17W. Unfortunately, the overall
system power wasn’t that different, indicating that the rest of the system was
actually using more power. The other portions of the motherboard and the remaining
components in our test system used 7W more when idle and 5W more when a full
CPU load was applied.

As we tested both mainboards using the same hardware, we have to conclude that
the 890GX motherboard is more power hungry. Sure, the compared 785G board is
mATX, but in our experience the form factor matters little when it comes to
of energy efficiency. Except for the chipset, the only major difference is the
included NEC USB 3.0 controller running on the PCI-E bus which could be the
culprit. When we reviewed the USB 3.0 enabled Asus P7H55D-M, we also found that
it used more power than expected.

As the HD 4290 IGP is more powerful than HD 4200, it used considerably more
power when stressed.

Video Playback

Gigabyte Boards: 785G vs. 890GX
Test State
785GPMT-UD2H
890GPA-UD3H
Avg.
CPU
Sys. Power (DC)
Avg.
CPU
Sys. Power (DC)
Rush Hour
(H.264 10mbps)
3%
56W
8%
47W
Coral Reef
(WMV 8mbps)
20%
61W
27%
57W
Crash
(x264 22mbps)
18%
53W
BD Disturbia
(H.264 33mbps)
7%
62W
17%
57W
BD Jane
(VC-1 36mbps)
7%
63W
21%
57W

The HD 3300 and HD 4290 graphics chips found on the 785G and 890GX boards respectively
both have the same version of ATI’s UVD (Universal Video Decoder) and as such,
they both powered through our video playback test suite with little effort.
However, one would expect the CPU usage numbers to be similar, but in fact the
890GX board seemed to require more CPU cycles to render the same videos. We
found that the CPU utilization was higher because the processor was running
at lower frequencies and voltages during rendering. This explains the unusually
high CPU/VRM efficiency during video playback we mentioned earlier.

Undervolting

Estimated DC System Power Comparison
(X3 720 @ 1.6GHz, best undervolt, C&Q off)
Board
vCore
Idle
BD Disturbia
CPU Load
CPU + GPU
Load
MSI
785GM-E65
0.940V
31W
41W
45W
55W
Gigabyte
785GPMT-UD2H
0.950V
35W
44W
49W
58W
Asus
M4A78T-E
0.913V
35W
44W
46W
64W
Asus
M4A785TD-V
1.025V
43W
52W
57W
66W
Gigabyte 890GPA-UD3H
1.025V
37W
57W
62W
78W

We conducted our undervolting tests with the CPU running at 1.6GHz. The board
was Prime95 stable at 0.925V, but setting the voltage that low prevented the
system from POSTing on a cold boot. It would not startup with less than 1.025V
vCore. Compared to the Asus M4A785TD-V
running at the same voltage, the 890GPA-UD3H used 6W less when idle, but 5W
more during Blu-ray playback and on full CPU load, and an additional 12W when
the GPU was stressed as well due to the faster HD 4290 graphics core.

Easy Energy Saver


Easy Energy Saver interface.

Gigabyte claims that their Easy Energy Saver dynamically adjusts CPU voltage
and frequency to maximize power savings. We did not notice any difference in
CPU clock speed behavior when Dynamic Frequency feature was activated. There
are three settings for Dynamic Voltage, but all they did was apply a CPU voltage
offset. The “1” setting undervolts the CPU by 0.025V, “2”
by 0.050V, and “3” by 0.075V.

Detailed Power Consumption
Test State
Easy Energy Saver (3)
Stock Settings
System
CPU + VRM
Diff.
System
CPU + VRM
Diff.
Idle
36W
11W
25W
38W
12W
26W
BD Disturbia
(H.264 33mbps)
54W
16W
38W
57W
18W
39W
CPU Load
98W
67W
31W
110W
79W
31W
CPU + GPU
Load
114W
68W
46W
128W
80W
48W
CPU + VRM power measured from the AUX12V connector
(combined DC draw of VRMs and CPU).

Using the “3” setting resulted in only minor savings when idle and
on low load tasks like watching video. On full load however, we saw a 12~14W
improvement in system power which is significant. Using the Easy Energy Saver
feature is a quick way to make the system more energy efficient, but one could
just as easily enter the BIOS and undervolt manually and to a larger degree.

Fan Control

To test the board’s fan control, we connected the CPU fan to a manual fan speed
controller so we could slow it down to induce higher CPU temperatures and connected
three separate fans with varying maximum fan speeds to the onboard headers.
Fan speeds and temperatures were monitored using SpeedFan as the system was
stressed.

Fan Control
Criterion
CPU_FAN
(2470 RPM)
SYS_FAN1
(1600 RPM)
SYS_FAN2 (1840 RPM)
Min. Fan Speed
400 RPM
1100 RPM
1580 RPM
Trigger Temp.
30°C
N/A (constant)
N/A (constant)
Max. Fan Speed Temp.
60°C
N/A (constant)
N/A (constant)
Ambient temperature: 22°C

The board’s automatic fan control made the CPU_FAN start at 400 RPM until the
CPU temperature reached 30°C, increasing gradually until 60°C when it
topped out. We appreciated the slow, gentle curve, but we were dismayed by the
fact that neither of the other fans reacted to the temperature. For the duration
of testing, SYS_FAN1 ran at a constant speed of about 70%, while SYS_FAN2 spun
close to maximum.

SpeedFan Support

For Windows users, SpeedFan is our application of choice for fan control. It
can be configured to raise or lower multiple fan speeds to designated limits
when any specified temperature threshold is breached.


SpeedFan correlations.

SpeedFan can fully control both the CPU_FAN and SYS_FAN1 headers using 3-pin
and 4-pin fans. To enable fan control, set PWM modes 1/2 in the Advanced menu
to “Software Controlled.” SpeedFan also presents temperature readings,
which we found correlated to the CPU, Southbridge, and VRM area.

Cooling

Lower cost boards ship with simple heatsinks on the chipset(s) while those
targeted at enthusiasts typically have large heatpipe coolers and heatsinks
on the voltage regulation modules near the CPU socket. A well-cooled motherboard
can deliver better power efficiency and stability.

Heatsink Temperatures
Heatsink
Southbridge
Northbridge
VRM
MSI 785GM-E65
50°C
64°C
61°C
Asus M4A785TD-V
57°C
70°C
61°C
Asus M4A78T-E
50°C
85°C
63°C
Gigabyte 890GPA-UD3H
50°C
86°C
79°C
Gigabyte 785GPMT-UD2H
49°C
81°C
95°C
(bare)
DFI 790GX-M3H5
60°C
86°C
80°C
Measured with a spot thermometer at the hottest point
of each location after 15 minutes of full CPU + GPU load.
CPU fan reduced to 8V.
Ambient temperature: 22°C

Both the Northbridge and VRM heatsinks run fairly hot on the 890GPA which is
understandable considering it uses the latest and greatest AMD chipsets. It
may be in Gigabyte’s best interest to use taller, larger heatsinks in the future.

3D Performance

Futuremark Comparison
Motherboard
Graphics
3DMark05
3DMark06
Gigabyte 78GM-2SH
(X2 4850e)
HD 3200
2293
1116
Intel DH55TC
(Core i5-661)
GMA HD
3215
1688
Zotac GeForce 9300-ITX (C2D E7200)
GF9300
3522
1797
Asus M4A785TD-V
(X3 720 BE)
HD 4200 (SidePort)
4095
1789
Asus M4A78T-E
(X3 720 BE)
HD 3300 (SidePort)
4884
2205
Gigabyte 890GPA-UD3H (X3 720 BE)
HD 4290 (SidePort)
4934
2322

As we remarked before, the HD 4290 graphics chip is just the 790GX’s HD 3300
with minor functionality updates. As such, the 890GPA performs similarly in
3DMark to 790GX motherboards.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Chipset:

Compared to 790GX and 785G, 890GX features a rash of minor improvements, but
it seems to us that the real driving force behind the chipset is the desire
to capitalize on all the chatter regarding the SATA/USB 3.0 standards. The benefit
of SATA 3.0 is limited as hard drives remain the norm, and they don’t come close
to hitting even 2.0 speeds except in short bursts. To really take advantage
of the increased bandwidth of 3.0, you need high-end solid state drives or a
RAID configuration. The bandwidth improvement of USB 3.0 is more useful; at
best, USB 2.0 only provides half of the standard’s 480mbps maximum. Neither
AMD or Intel have a native controller yet, and although AMD current stopgap
solution gives third party controllers twice the bandwidth of the current ~250MB/s
provided on comparably-priced Intel boards, you will be hard pressed to find
a USB 3.0 device that will take advantage of the extra speed. The primary application
for USB 3.0 is external storage where the limitations of mechanical hard drives
comes into play once again.

Aside from SATA/USB, 890GX offers few real advancements. The new SB850 southbridge
supports SATA port multiplication with FIS-based switching so a third party
controller is not required when using multi-drive eSATA enclosures and docks.
Also, AMD took its fastest IGP, HD 3300, and added UVD 2.0 and DirectX 10.1
support, features that have been available on the 785G’s HD 4200 chip since
last summer. Like 790GX, two cards in CrossFire each get 8x of PCI-E bandwidth,
but Hybrid CrossFire can now be accomplished using their newest entry level
graphics card, the HD 5450. AMD also touts 890GX support for the upcoming 6-core
processors, but we suspect 785G and 790GX boards will also be compatible in
the future with a BIOS update. 890GX is AMD’s most advanced chipset to date,
but there is nothing revolutionary; AMD is just keeping things up date.

Gigabyte 890GPA-UD3H:

Compared to its 785G counterpart,
the Gigabyte 890GPA-UD3H consumed a bit more power on idle and on load, and
the HD 4290 graphics chip used about 10W more than HD 4200 when heavily stressed,
which is about on par with HD 3300 found on the 790GX chipset. The system power
draw was lower during video playback though, as Cool’n’Quiet kept the CPU speed/frequency
lower than usual, so we’ll call it about even. More interestingly, our measurements
showed less power being drawn by the CPU and VRMs throughout testing. So while
overall power consumption was close, when we take CPU power regulation out of
the equation, the 890GX board used about 6W more than its 785G cousin, whether
due to the new chipset, the USB 3.0 controller, or a combination of the two.

If you wish to lower your energy usage further, undervolting is the way to
go. The board applies an offset when undervolting the CPU that applies whether
the system is idle or on load, so you can adjust the CPU voltage with Cool’n’Quiet
enabled to make it an even more efficient feature. Gigabyte’s Easy Energy Saver
is a quick and simple way to do this, but it is limited to only -0.075V. If
you undervolt in the BIOS, there is no limit except the CPU. The sample board
had problems cold booting with our Phenom
II X3 720 Black Edition
when the voltage was set below 1.025V.

The board runs fairly hot, particularly the Northbridge cooler. It is connected
to the VRM heatsink with a heatpipe, but a size upgrade would be welcome. The
board’s fan control system is adequate, gradually ramping up the CPU fan in
a smooth and effective manner, but only limits the speed of two system fans
by a moderate, constant amount. This can be improved by using the SpeedFan software
utility which can lower the speed of the CPU fan and one system fan all the
way down to zero.

Overall, the Gigabyte 890GPA-UD3H is a good motherboard with no serious flaws.
It currently retails for about US$140, which is reasonable given its feature-set
and the fact it utilizes AMD’s newest chipset and integrated graphics core.
It should also be noted that an equivalent Intel LGA1156 board will cost you
about $200. For existing AMD users, the 890GX chipset is really only an evolutionary
step-up and isn’t worth the upgrade from 785G/790GX unless you need an integrated
USB 3.0 controller. If you’re starting from scratch, it is worthwhile. SATA/USB
3.0 may not be particularly useful at the moment, but you can reap the benefits
in the near future when the standards are more widely adopted.

Gigabyte 890GPA-UD3H
PROS

* SATA & USB 3.0
* Liberal BIOS options
* Good CPU power management
* Offset undervolting
* Fastest IGP available

CONS

* Cold-boot problems below 1.025V vCore
* Runs a little hot
* Lack of eSATA

Our thanks to Gigabyte
for the Gigabyte 890GPA-UD3H sample.

* * *

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Gigabyte MA785GPMT-UD2H 785G Motherboard
Intel’s LGA1156 and Lynnfield
core

AMD’s 785G Chipset Boards: 780G Evolved
Intel DG41MJ: Affordable 775 Mini-ITX

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