MSI 790GX-G65 AM3 Motherboard Review

ajmatson - 2008-12-05 17:14:04 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ajmatson   
Reviewed on: March 29, 2009
Price: $129.99

Introduction:

We have seen a lot of DDR3 based boards for the Intel platforms over the past few months. However, now the DDR3 flavors are also arising for the AMD followers. These new boards use the proven chipsets that were used for the DDR2 based processors, but with support for the faster memory speeds DDR3 has to offer. One of these chipsets is the tried and true 790GX platform. The 790GX based boards brought radical new technology to the table and have shown great potential time and time again, so it is no surprise to see them used as a basis for the new socket AM3 motherboard designs. One of these new boards is the MSI 790GX-G65 motherboard which supports the new AM3 line of processors including the AM3 Phenom II X3 and X4. This particular board has support for DDR3 memory up to 1600MHz. However, currently the Phenom series processors only support up to 1333MHz, which is a big bummer considering the potential of this chipset. The MSI 790GX-G65 also supports processors up to 140 watts and adds some unique features that should make overclocking fun and easy for everyone from noob to novice.

 

Closer Look:

The MSI 790GX-G65 motherboard comes boxed in a sleek white package with a flame-like design. The front of the package features several logos sporting off the technology that the board uses and supports. On the back side of the packaging MSI has highlighted several of the great features that the 790GX-G65 brings to your rig including Active Phase Switching, Sideport Memory, and more.

 

 

 

 

Inside the box there is a wealth of goodies that will help you in building your system. When you open the box you can see the care that went into packaging the board and accessories. Included with the MSI 790GX-G65 is the manual, software CD, quick install guide, and IDE cable, four SATA cables, two 4-pin Molex to SATA power adapters, a set of quick connect headers, I/O shield plate, and a CrossFire bridge.

 

 

Now that everything is out of the box we can get a better look at the motherboard itself.

Closer Look:

MSI has chosen to use a brown colored PC Board, with a color scheme that is easy on the eyes. While this is not as flashy for those of you who like to show off your innards, it gets the job done and that is what counts. The MSI 790GX-G65 is a full ATX board which supports the latest AM3 processors from AMD, as well as the faster memory standard DDR3 RAM. In addition it adds some great features like instant overclocking and CrossFireX capabilities. With the included onboard graphics you are ready to go out of the box as long as you are not into hard-core gaming. On the back of the board there is the AMD retention bracket, which evenly distributes the load of the CPU heatsink protecting the critical components.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the side of the 790GX-G65 are the back panel connections. MSI has added everything that they can think of that you might need to get the most out of your new system. Starting from the top there is a PS/2 port that can be used for both a keyboard or a mouse, an optical SPDIF port, a VGA port, a DVI port, an HDMI port, six USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, an eSATA port, one LAN port, and the six audio jacks which support 8 channel HD audio.

 

 

 

Just as MSI has done with the back panel they have included a wealth of expansion ports. There are two legacy PCI slots for supporting older card such as sound cards, There are also two newer PCI Express x1 slots for those migrating the older cards to the newer faster specification. Finally there are two PCI Express x16 slots for graphics. The x16 slots support up to two discrete cards in a CrossFire configuration with x8 speeds between the two. When running a single graphics card, the top slot only will run at x16 speeds. You can also run a CrossFireX configuration with the Integrated graphics and certain discrete cards in a Hybrid GPU setup.

 

The CPU area at first glance looks cramped. I am really concerned about how close the memory slots are to the CPU retention bracket. There are four DIMM slots which support up to 16GB of DDR3 memory. Just as a note, current AM3 processors can only support DDR3 1333MHz natively and in a single channel configuration if at 1333MHz or above. The two blue memory slots represent one channel and are also the main channel for running with only two sticks, and the pink slots are the second channel. Unlike the newer Intel X58 chipset, AMD processors and boards only support Dual Channel architecture, so no triple channel sets for us.

 

 

Along the bottom of the MSI 790GX-G65 board there are headers galore. These headers allow us to expand out system ports even further. Starting from the left are the audio headers, the CD IN header,a Firewire header, floppy port, three USB 2.0 headers, an onboard reset button, an onboard clear CMOS button, an onboard power button, a COM header, a TPM module header, the front panel headers, five SATA 3.0GBs ports, and one IDE port.

 

 

Between the two PCI Express x16 slots there is the EZ OC Switch. The EZ OC Switch allows the user to overclock the CPU Front Side Bus by arranging the dip switches in a series of positions. This allows for a no brainer overclock. However it will not tweak the memory and other parts for you to get a nice high stable overclock. To the right of the Northbridge heatsink you will see a memory chip embedded into the board. This is the Sideport memory chip which adds 128MB of DDR3 1333MHz memory for the Integrated ATI HD 3300 graphics. This onboard chip allows the video to use it as a faster frame buffer before having to dip into the shared system memory allowing you to squeeze a few frames extra versus a board without the dedicated memory.

 

 

To cool all of this hardware, MSI has placed a combination of heatsinks and heatpipes over the critical parts of the board. There is a large heatsink that cools the VRM area of the 790GX-G65 and connects to the heatsink on the Northbridge allowing transfer of heat as certain parts get hotter than the others. On the Southbridge there is a smaller heatsink, which helps keep it cool especially during overclocked running.

 

 

Now that we have seen the board in all of its glory, we can boot her up and install the drivers and programs.

To install the drivers and software all you need to do is pop the CD into the drive and the program will auto start. You are presented with a menu system from MSI. There are several options for you to choose to install the programs and drivers. The first tab is the Driver tab which is where you can install the chipset drivers, the audio drivers and the drivers for the network connection. The second tab is the Utility tab which has the installations for the Live Update 3 utility and the Overclocking Center program. Third is the Service Base tab which gives you links to MSI's and other useful websites to get you up and running without any problems. The fourth tab is for product information for this and other MSI motherboards that might interest you. The final tab is the Security tab which allows you to secure your system with a 60 day trial of Norton Internet Security 2009.

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Installation of the drivers is a snap because it uses the same Catalyst Control Center install as ATI video cards. Just follow the prompts, choose where and what you want to install and let the Control Center do its magic. After a few minutes you will be prompted to restart the system. I recommend this so that everything runs properly and you get no errors.

 

 

 

There are two utilities that are available for you to install. They are the MSI Live Update 3 and MSI Overclocking Center. The Live Update 3 utility will allow you to search and install the latest BIOS and drivers for your hardware. It will launch a web based program and search their database. Once the latest version is found it will prompt you showing what you have installed and what the latest version is. If you need to update it just click the Live Update 3 button and it will handle the rest. The Overclocking Center Utility allows you to control your computers clocks and voltages to overclock your system easily. You can also create profiles based on your overclocking needs for quick switching.

 

 

 

 

Now that we have the software installed, let's get on to the BIOS.

Closer Look:

The BIOS is where all of the computing magic takes place. This area of a motherboard is very overlooked by most users as they do not understand the potential of what you have control over. I will be taking a look at the BIOS of the MSI 790GX-G65 for you in sections so that you get a better understanding of what it has to offer. This board uses an AMI (American Megatrends) BIOS which uses a menu system for easy navigation so that you can find exactly what you need without wasting time searching.

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

Standard CMOS:

The Standard CMOS section is where you can set the date and time of the system, as well as get drive and system information.

 

Advanced BIOS Features:

The Advanced BIOS features section is where you can change features such as enabling and disabling the onboard video, boot options such as boot order, and CPU features such as C1E. For the onboard video you have the option to use only system memory or system memory and the Sideport memory together. You can also select the amount of system memory you want to allocate to the video and the speed at which the Sideport memory will operate at.

 

 

Integrated Peripherals:

The Integrated Peripherals section is where you can change the onboard options such as USB, FireWire, LAN, SATA, IDE, and COM functions. You can set how the onboard SATA will operate in RAID mode such as in IDE, RAID, or ACHI which makes the drives hot swappable for things like servers.

 

 

 

Power Management & Hardware Monitor:

The Power Management section allows you to choose how the system will handle its power properties. You can set the ACPI states, how the power button responds when pushed and how the computer responds to Wake requests. The Hardware Monitor allows you to check on your systems temperatures, voltages, and fan speeds as well as control how the fans are running.

 

 

 

Green Power, User Settings & M-Flash:

The Green Power section allows you to choose to have the system adjust the phase power based on the load of the CPU and to enable the green power activity leds. The User Settings section allows you to save and load any BIOS profiles you have set so that it is easier to switch between them or to recall them in the event your system goes down. The M-Flash section allows the user to update and save the BIOS via USB drives or other media for quick and easy updates and back ups.

 

 

Closer Look:

Cell Menu:

The overclocking section of the MSI 790GX-G65 is called the CELL Menu. This is where the magic takes place. MSI has separated this in sections also so that you do not get all confused when navigating it. I will start from the top and split it in sections also. First, is where you can change the speeds of the processor. Here you can view the CPU Specifications, enable or disable Cool 'n' Quiet, adjust the CPU speed, change the HT multiplier, and alter overclocking settings.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The memory section of the CELL menu allows you to control all of the speeds and timings of the DDR3 memory. You can set the timings either together or independently for more defined control. You can also set the memory speed manually using ratios or you can set it to auto and have the SPD set it if programmed.

 

 

 

 

The Onboard VGA overclock section allows you to change the speed of the integrated video. The default is 500MHz. Below that is the HT Width and multiplier configuration. Here you can change the HT Link width to auto, 8 bit or 16 bit. You can also set the HT Link Multiplier. Lastly at the bottom of the Cell Menu is the voltage control. The values are changed by using the + or - keys to raise or lower the voltage in increments for better voltage control.

 

 

 

 Now that everything is configured, let's install the drivers and utilities to get started.

Specifications:

 

Socket:
AM3
CPU Max Support:
Phenom II
AM3 CPU Ready:
Yes
FSB / Hypertransport Bus:
up to 5200MT/s
Chipset:
AMD® 790GX+SB750
Memory Support:
DDR3 800/1066/1333/1600 (OC)
Memory Channel:
Dual Channel
DIMM Slots:
4
Max Memory:
16GB
PCI-E x16:
Gen2 (1x16, 1x8)
PCI-E x1:
2
PCI:
2
IDE:
1
SATA:
5
RAID:
0/1/5/10/JBOD
LAN:
10/100/1000*1
TPM Support:
1 (Optinal)
USB ports (Rear):
6
Audio ports (Rear):
6+Optical SPDIF
1394 ports (Rear):
1
eSATA:
1
VGA:
1
DVI:
1
HDMI:
1
DIrectX:
DX10
VGA Share Memory (MB):
512+1GB Sideport
Form Factor:
ATX
APS:
Y
Sideport Memory:
Y
CrossFire:
Y
Hybrid CrossFireX:
Y

 

 

Features:

 

All information courtesy of MSI @ http://www.msi.com/index.php?func=proddesc&maincat_no=1&cat2_no=171&prod_no=1739

Testing:

To put the MSI 790GX-G65 to the test I will be running a series of scientific and video benchmarks, which will push this motherboard to its limits. I will then compare the 790GX-G65 against another 790GX based board which supports the older DDR2 memory standard using the same processor on each to see if the faster memory speeds really do make a difference. To keep any variables from interfering with the scores and comparisons all of the boards will be run with the same hardware setup and everything will be set at their stock speeds, timings, and voltages unless noted as in the overclocking section.

 

Testing Setup AM2+ Motherboard:

 

Testing Setup AM3 Motherboard:

 

Comparison Motherboard:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

Since the processor is a Black Edition with an unlocked multiplier, I started with the multiplier. I pushed the voltage to the maximum specified to 1.5v and slowly rose the multiplier until the system would not longer boot and run benchmarks stably. Once I reached the max at x18 I started with the FSB for the processor. I pushed up the bus speed 1MHz at a time until again I could no longer boot and complete benchmarks with stability. At only 5MHz over, I hit the wall and could not go any further. The final speed was 3.690GHz which is a 900MHz increase in speed or almost a 30% gain. Not bad I must say. So this is where the overclocked tests will be run at 3.69GHz (205x18) at 1.5v.

 

 

 

 

 

Benchmarks:

  1. Apophysis
  2. WinRAR
  3. SpecviewPerf 10
  4. PCMark Vantage Professional
  5. Sandra XII
  6. ScienceMark 2.02
  7. Cinebench 10
  8. HD Tune 2.55
  1. Far Cry 2
  2. Crysis - Warhead
  3. Bioshock
  4. Call of Duty World At War
  5. Dead Space 
  6. Fall out 3 
  7. Left For Dead
  8. 3DMark 06 Professional
  9. 3DMark Vantage

Testing:

The first part of our testing will be the system specific benchmarks.

 

Let's get started with Apophysis. This program is used primarily to render and generate fractal flame images. We will run this benchmark with the following settings:

 

 

The measurement used is time to render, in minutes, to complete.

 

  

 

 

 

Lower is Better

 

WinRAR is a tool to archive and compress large files to a manageable size. We will use 10MB, 100MB and 500MB files and test the time needed to compress these files. Time will be measured in seconds.

 

ZIP:

 

 

 

RAR:

 

 

 

Again the DDR3 memory helps the MSI board come out on top.

Testing:

Specview 10 is a benchmark designed to test OpenGL performance. I will be using the multi-threaded tests to measure the performance when run in this mode. The tests used for comparison are listed below. The default multi-threaded tests were chosen to be able to compare across platforms. In these tests, higher scores equate to better performance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

    

Higher is Better

 

 

Higher is Better

 

PcMark Vantage is used to measure complete system performance. We will be running a series of tests to gauge performance of each individual board to see which board, if any, rises above the others.

 

The scores for the DDR3 version of the chipset seem to have the advantage in these two tests.

Testing:

Sisoft Sandra is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level to be more helpful. For this benchmark, I will be running a broad spectrum of tests to gauge the performance of key areas of the motherboards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Processor Arithmetic

 

Multi-Core Efficiency

 

Memory Bandwidth

 

Memory Latency

 

Cache and Memory

 

File System

 

Physical Disks

 

Power Management Efficiency

 

The DDR3 Memory of the MSI 790 board helped inch the score up a bit more than the DDR2 counterpart.

Testing:

Sciencemark tests real world performance instead of using synthetic benchmarks. For this test, we ran the benchmark suite and will use the overall score for comparison.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

Higher is Better!

 

Cinebench is useful for testing your system, CPU and OpenGL capabilities using the software program CINEMA 4D. We will be using the default tests for this benchmark.

 

Higher is Better

 

 

HD Tune measures disk performance to make comparisons between drives or disk controllers.

Higher is Better

 

 

Lower is Better

 

Throughout these three benchmarks, the MSI 790GX board was better than the AM2+ board in all respects.

Testing:

Far Cry 2:

Featuring a new game engine named Dunia, this game looks to be another one to stress your video card. Built specially for Far Cry 2, this engine allows for real time effects and damage. This next generation first person shooter comes to us from Ubisoft surprisingly - not from Crytek. The game is set in a war-torn region of Africa where there is a non-existent central government and the chaos that surrounds this type of social environment. If you have seen the movie Blood Diamond, you know the setting. Ubisoft puts the main storyline of the game into focus with these statements: "Caught between two rival factions in war-torn Africa, you are sent to take out "The Jackal," a mysterious character who has rekindled the conflict between the warlords, jeopardizing thousands of lives. In order to fulfill your mission you will have to play the factions against each other, identify and exploit their weaknesses, and neutralize their superior numbers and firepower with surprise, subversion, cunning and, of course, brute force." In this version of the game, you don't have the beautiful water, but instead the beauty and harshness of the African continent to contend with. Most games give you a set area that can be played through, while Ubisoft has given the gamer the equivalent of 50km squared of the vast African continent to explore while in pursuit of your goals. The settings used are just a few steps below the maximum in-game settings and offer a good blend of performance vs. visual quality.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

The DDR3 helps the MSI board take the win.

Testing:

Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack situated in time with the story line of the original Crysis. As Sergeant "Psycho" Sykes, you have a secret mission to accomplish on the far side of the Island. Along the way there are EMP blasts and Aliens to contend with, as you hunt down the KPA chief. This game uses an enhanced version of the Cryengine 2.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was a close one, with the majority of the scores being tied.

Testing:

BioShock is one of the creepier games you can play. The building of a perfect Utopian society undersea gone horribly wrong. Its inhabitants driven mad with the introduction of tonics and genetic modifications. Now Rapture is just a shadow of its former glory with little girls looting the dead of what little they have left while being shadowed by guardians known as "Big Daddys". It is a demanding game that will make your hardware scream for mercy. This First Person Shooter allows for an infinite number of weapons and modifications to provide a unique experience each time it is played. The environment, as well as the story line, will wrap you up for hours on end.

 

Video Settings:

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again the DDR3 board came out on top.

Testing:

Activision's Call Of Duty World at War goes right back to the bread and butter of the franchise - WWII FPS action. In this rendition, you start off in the South Pacific and move through a series of missions that flip back and forth between the Russian front and the island hopping advance toward the Imperial Japanese homeland. Included is a mission on Peliliu Island, arguably one of the more difficult and costly battles in the Pacific theater. The gameplay in the single player mode is rather short, but the game makes up for this shortcoming in online gameplay. If you thought COD4 looked nice, this game is amazing with the graphics maxed out playing at a large resolution. This game just may be my reason to move to a 30 inch monitor. I will use Fraps to measure a section of gameplay in the Semper Fi map on Makin Island to compare performance of these video cards.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again, the board with the faster memory takes the cake.

Testing:

In Dead Space, as part of the crew of the USG Kellion, you are headed on a repair mission to repair a ship in distress. Things go from bad to worse as starting with the crash landing and seemingly silent and "Dead" ship, the USG Ishimuru. Offering a non-traditional over the shoulder viewing angle, the game gets right into the action as soon as the ventilation systems are activated. From there things get worse with the appearance of the Necromorphs. Survival now becomes a primary concern for the primary character Isaac Clarke. Survive and you may find the loved one that was aboard the Ishimuru.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again there was a slight advantage to the faster memory.

Testing:

Fallout 3 takes place after the nuclear holocaust that nearly wipes out civilization and leaves the world an irradiated mess. The vault, or fallout shelter, you are born in is Vault 101, situated in the Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia area. The premise of the game is that the Vault has been sealed for 200 years and now your father has opened the vault and escaped without a trace. The Overseer believes you are involved, so you must escape as well into the wasteland that was once our nation's capital. I find myself looking for landmarks, since I am familiar with the streets of Washington DC.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While a little faster, not much to brag about in Fallout 3.

Testing:

Left For Dead is a new release from Valve that leaves you as part of a group of survivors in a world where an infection has rapidly turned the populace into a zombie horde. You goal is to make it to a rescue point, all the while fighting what seems like overwhelming odds. Along the way there are safe houses where you can replenish your weapons and health. The movie 'I Am Legend' comes to mind to set the stage for this game. But unlike the movie, there are four characters and not just a lone gun and his faithful companion. The horde is not at all like the typical slow walking, foot shuffling zombie. These zombies are quick and work with the pack mentality. Your job: survival!

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, here the memory really shined through with a nice lead.

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest is started. 3DMark06 presents a severe test for many of today's hardware components. Let's see how this setup fares. The settings we will use are listed below.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While the MSI board was the fastest, it was by a small margin.

Testing:

Featuring all-new game tests, this benchmark is for use with Vista based systems. "There are two all-new CPU tests that have been designed around a new 'Physics and Artificial Intelligence-related computation.' CPU test two offers support for physics related hardware." There are four preset levels that correspond to specific resolutions. 'Entry' is 1024x768 progressing to 'Extreme' at 1920x1200. Of course, each preset can be modified to arrange any number of user designed testing. For our testing, I will use the four presets at all default settings.

 Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While still the fastest, the margin was very slight especially at the maximum resolution.

Conclusion:

Well, when it comes down to the wire, apples to apples, the DDR3 memory support does give the AM3 processors a bit of a lead. In just about every test there was an increase when using a 790GX based board with DDR3 memory support over DDR2 memory support. If you are in the market for a new system, then I highly suggest going the AM3 route. However, in my opinion, if you are already running a strong DDR2 based AMD system, then the cost does not justify the minimal increases that you will currently get. All of that aside the MSI 790GX-G65 is a rock solid board with great features that will make any enthusiast smile. The overclocking on this board was very easy and has been one of the stablest I have seen with minimal tweaking. The added ability to overclock using hardware dip switches will allow even a novice the added joy of pushing their hardware beyond the limits.

When it comes to overall feeling of the MSI 790GX-G65, I am finally glad to see AMD based systems moving to the faster DDR3 specifications. While the current AMD Phenom II processors are having trouble at higher DDR3 speeds, this board supports up tp 1600MHz overclocked, so you have plenty of room for pushing your hardware to their breaking point. My only quirk for this board is that the area around the CPU and memory is really tight. When running only two sticks of memory, the manual says they have to be placed in the first channel closest to the CPU to boot which makes having wide large CPU heatsinks hard to install if at all. Even with a stock AMD heatsink I managed to scratch my RAM heatsinks when installing them, because they are right up against the CPU heatsink with no room to breathe. MSI has put together a board that performs well for a reasonable price. What more do you need?

 

Pros:

 

Cons: