Foxconn A7DA-S 790GX Review

ajmatson - 2008-08-29 17:12:17 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ajmatson   
Reviewed on: September 7, 2008
Price: $124.99

Introduction:

Keeping up with the recent explosion of new technology releases AMD has again brought out a new and interesting technology to test benchmarks which are made to increase performance and make our mouth water. Between AMD/ATI and NVIDIA there have been a flood of new motherboard chipsets that have stormed the market now more than ever before. Previously, we took a look at the 780G chipset from AMD, which gave us faster speeds and Hybrid Graphics support to boost performance and save power. Back then, I thought how could they top that? Well, once again AMD has taken it a step further with the release of the 790GX/SB750 chipset. So what exactly is the 790GX chipset? Basically, it is a refresh of the 780G chipset we saw earlier this year with a few new tricks up its sleeve.

The 790GX has the same features of the 780G with some upgrades and some new technology. The 790GX integrated GPU (HD 3300) has the same core architecture and stream processors as the 780G (HD 3200) as well as DX10 and Shader Model 4.0 support, however the clock speed has been increased from 500MHz to 700MHz. What's that, you say? A core speed increase is nothing to get all giddy about? Well that is not the true secret. The true performance increase lies within a small chip embedded on the motherboard called Sideport Memory, a dedicated memory buffer for the integrated GPU, which gives the 790GX a trump card as the fastest integrated graphics solution on the market to date. That is not all that the 790GX boards have to offer; to get into the specifics, we are going to be reviewing the Foxconn A7DA-S motherboard to see how well this new chipset design performs.

 

Closer Look:

The Foxconn A7DA-S (the S stands for Sideport) arrived in discrete packaging with only the model number and some hardware support logos. The back of the board lists features that are included and supported on the Foxconn A7DA-S motherboard.

 

 

 

 

Opening the box reveals what I have been waiting for. Included with the Foxconn A7DA-S motherboard is the manual, quick start guide, driver/software CD, backplate, and IDE cable, a floppy cable, two SATA cables, two 4-pin to SATA power adapters, and an SATA to eSATA bracket.

 

 

 

Now that we have everything un-boxed, let's take a better look at the motherboard up close.

Closer Look:

As I mentioned before, the AMD 790GX platform uses an integrated graphics processing unit based off of the HD 3300 core and a new SB 750 Southbridge. It also incorporates new onboard memory to increase the integrated GPU's performance. The Foxconn A&DA-S takes all of this on a full ATX size board, giving you all of the technology that you need in a performance board. For the design, Foxconn used a dark blue PC board with a contrasting color scheme that says it is more than an ordinary off-the-shelf board but easy on the eyes as well. Perfect for showing off the innards of your system without screaming overkill. The back of the A7DA-S has a small copper retention bracket that attaches to the back of the Northbridge heatsink. This supports the heatsink as well as add more cooling surface area. Above that is the CPU heatsink retention bracket backplate used on AMD motherboards to distribute the weight of the CPU heatsink and prevent damage to the board.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turning the A7DA-S to the back panel you can see the connections that Foxconn has made available to its users. Right off the bat I noticed that Foxconn has opted to keep the legacy PS/2 ports for users with older keyboards and mice. This also helps those of us who use KVM switches with the legacy ports from being forced to upgrade. Down from there are the DVI, VGA, and HDMI connections for any type of monitor or TV you might want to hook your system up to. It is nice to have the ports onboard without having to find or purchase additional adapters. There are also a Firewire port, four USB 2.0 ports, one Gigabit LAN port, and the audio input/outputs which support 7.1 channel HD audio via the Realtek ALC888GR codec. There is no eSATA and only four USB 2.0 ports on the back panel, but these are supplied via headers on the board for more expansion which we will see below.

 

 

The CPU area, although having a lot of components surrounding it, is very well laid out and you should have no problem with any parts interfering with each other. The A7DA-S uses a 4+1 phase power design which is enough to keep the system stable while limiting power consumption overkill. It might post a problem for overclocking, which we will see in the testing section. There are four DIMM slots which support up to 8GB maximum of memory at up to 1066MHz. The color slots are the different channels.

 

 

Foxconn provides the right number of expansion slots for your needs. There are two PCI Express x16 slots, which run at x16 in single mode and x8/x8 in CrossFire mode, two PCI Express x1 slots for future expansion, and two legacy PCI slots for older expansion cards. This board also supports Hybrid CrossFireX, which runs the onboard video in conjunction with certain supported discrete cards for increased performance.

 

The Foxconn A7DA-S is not shy on the headers supplied for your needs. This board has everything you may want and then some. Starting from the left side of the board there is the CD-IN header, the front panel audio headers, an SPDIF out header, a Firewire header, a system fan header, four USB 2.0 headers, a power and reset button, and the case front panel headers. Sliding up the right spine of the board are six SATA 3.0Gbs ports, a COM port, and the IDE and floppy ports.

 

 

The Foxconn A7DA-S uses an all copper cooling design for the heatsinks. There is one fin style heatsink on the Northbridge that is connected by copper heatpipes to another fin type heatsink that covers the voltage regulators to keep both of the critical areas as cool as possible. There is also a small pin-fin style copper heatsink on the Southbridge for added cooling.

 

 

Now for the components that makes this board stand out from the rest. The AMD 790GX chipset has a big secret up its sleeve. This secret is Sideport Memory. Sideport Memory is a dedicated memory chip on the motherboard that acts as a buffer for the integrated graphics. This allows you to use this faster buffer for graphics before having to take away system memory, which is slower. The Sideport Memory on the Foxconn A7DA-S is a 128MB chip that runs at DDR3 1333MHz.

 

Now let's get everything plugged in and boot her up.

Closer Look:

Now for a look at the heart of the Foxconn A7DA-S motherboard. The BIOS, which stands for Basic Input Output System, is one of, if not the most, important part of a motherboard. This chip controls the very basics of the system and how hardware is handled upon start up. This is where you set your hardware options and the all famous overclocking for your system.

Main Screen & System Information:

When you boot into the BIOS you are presented with a menu type system to help you navigate to what options you want to control. Here you can save the options you changed as well as load optimized defaults for your system. The System Information menu is where you change the date and time as well as view and change your drive configurations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advanced BIOS & Integrated Peripherals:

The Advanced BIOS menu has the options for you to change boot up options such as the default boot order and drive timeout. The Integrated Peripherals menu allows you to change the options for onboard devices such as IDE, USB, and SuperIO functions and configurations. Here you can also enable or disable the onboard HD Audio controller if you have an add-on card instead.

 

 

 

Power Management, PC Health Status, & BIOS Security Features:

These sections control the basics of the system. You can change the power type the system uses and suspend features, monitor the temperatures and fan speeds to keep the computer healthy, and set passwords that will secure the system from non-authorized users.

 

 

 

Advanced Chipset Features:

The Advanced Chipset features section allows you to control chipset features such as the memory speeds and timings and the Integrated Graphics features. This sections lets you adjust the memory timings and if the memory runs ganged or unganged. For the Integrated Graphics you can enable or disable the integrated graphics as well as the Sideport Memory feature. You can also change the frame buffer that the integrated video takes from the system memory and adjust the speed of the Sideport Memory from 200MHz to 667MHz DDR3 (400Mhz to 1333MHz effective) in specific increments. Lastly, you can enable or disable the AMD 780 HD Audio function.

 

 

 

 

Closer Look:

Fox Central Control Unit:

The Fox Central Control Unit is a menu option added by Foxconn that is designed to make your overclocking ventures the easiest and most foolproof that they can be. The Fox Central Control Unit is basically a BIOS within a BIOS with special menus that control all aspects of the system speeds. To make things easier I am going to break it down and explain to you each section and what is does.

 

Smart BIOS:

Foxconn has added the Smart BIOS menu to make booting the computer easier. With the Smart boot menu you have the option to select what to boot first when the computer starts up. The Smart Power LED is almost like the POST LED used on other boards. The color will change and flash depending on what problems if any the BIOS encounters upon the system starting up. If all is normal it remains a solid green. Here you also have quick access to the speeds of your hardware without having to search all over the place for them individually.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fox Intelligent Stepping:

The Fox Intelligent Stepping section is where you can adjust the speeds of your hardware. This includes the memory speeds using predetermined levels up to 1066MHz, CPU clocks and multiplier, the HyperTransport link, and an Advanced Calibration that allows you to overclock and downclock all cores together or independently.

 

 

 

Voltage Options & CPU Configuration:

These sections allow you to manually assign the voltage for the CPU, memory, Northbridge and the HyperTransport. You also can enable or disable the energy saving features such as Cool'n'Quiet and C1E in the CPU configuration section.

 

 

Closer Look:

Setting up the Foxconn A7DA-S is easy as possible. First, just pop the driver CD into your drive and the autorun feature will launch the Foxconn installer. The Foxconn installer makes it easy to install the drivers and software included mostly with the press of one button. The only exception is that you must install the AMD Chipset drivers before installing any of the other drivers and the installer will remind you of this if you choose the one click install option.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The installation of the drivers is the same as installing drivers for ATI video cards. The chipset uses the ATI Catalyst Control Center to install and manage the drivers for the motherboard just like it does for the video card. Also, since the onboard video is an ATI HD 3300 chip, the video drivers are installed as well. The audio driver however, installs as a separate package and installs the Realtek High Definition Audio Codecs.

 

 

 

The included programs that come on the CD are designed to make life easier and more efficient when working with the Foxconn A7DA-S motherboard. There are programs included to update the system, change the design of the start up and even protect you from viruses and other malware designed to shut you down. The software included is the Fox One overclocking utility, Fox Live Update which will updae your BIOS within Windows, Fox Logo for changing your boot screen, Fox DMI which is a system DMI reader, Adobe Acrobat Reader, and a copy of Norton Internet Security with a complementary 90-Day subscription to get you started protecting your system.

 

 

 

Specifications:

 

CPU:
AMD Phenom™FX, Phenom™, Athlon™ 64x2, Athlon™ 64, Sempron™ processors, Socket AM2 and AM2+
Chipset:
AMD® 790GX + SB750t
Front Side Bus:
5.2 GT/s HyperTransport™
Memory:
Dual channel DDR2 1066/800/667/533 x 4 DIMMs, Max. 8GB
VGA on Die:
ATI® Radeon™ HD3300
Expansion Slots:
2* PCIe2.0 x16, 2* PCIe2.0 x1, 2* PCI
IDE:
1* ATA133
Serial ATA(SATA)/RAID:
6* SATAII w / RAID 0, 1, 10, 5, JBOD
Audio:
7.1 channel HDA by Realtek® ALC888GR
LAN:
Gigabit LAN by Broadcom® BCM5784
IEEE1394:
2* 1394a
Back Panel I/O Ports:
1 x PS/2 keyboard port
1 x PS/2 mouse port
1 x VGA port
1 x IEEE1394a port
1 x HDMI port
1 x Audio jack supports 6 jacks
4 x USB 2.0 ports
1 x RJ45 LAN port
1 x DVI-D port
Internal I/O Connectors:
1 x ATX 24-Pin power connector
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V power connector
1 x 4-pin ATX 12V power connector
3 x 4-pin CPU / System / NB FAN connectors
1 x Floppy disk drive connector
1 x CD-in connector
1 x Front Audio Header
1 x COM1 header
1 x IrDA header
4 x USB 2.0 headers support additional 8 ports
2 X onboard Power-on/Rest buttons
1 x ATA133 IDE connector
6 x Serial ATAII connectors
1 x Intrusion Alarm header
1 x Front Panel header
1 x S/PDIF Out header
1 x IEEE1394a connector
1 x Speaker
BIOS Features:
8Mb flash EEPROM w/ LAN boot PnP, ACPI, WfM,
Support CD:
Drivers, Direct X, Adobe Reader, SuperUtilities, Norton Internet Security
Standards/Manageability:
PCI 2.3, USB2.0, DMI 2.5
Special Features:
* Based on AMD 790GX chipset with AOD Extreme & SB750 Southbridge
* 2* PCIe x16 Gen2.0 with ATI CrossFireX™ and Hybrid Graphics™ support
* onboard side port memory-128MB DDR3 1333 support, with graphics performance increasing over 15%
* Dual Channel DDR2 1066MHz support with AM2+ socket Phenom™ processors
* 100% SOLID Capacitor design and Ferrite Choke power delivery ensure a stable basis for overclocking and increased reliability
* Fully supports AMD OverDrive™ utility for overclocking, system monitoring and testing.
Form Factor
ATX (12" x 9.6")

 

 

Features:

 

Testing:

For the testing phase of the Foxconn A7DA-S it will be broken down into two parts. First, the scientific tests will be run only using the discrete video card (HD 4850). Then for the video tests they will be run using a discrete card with the CPU at stock and overclocked. After that there will be a set of test run on the integrated graphics with and without the Sideport Memory enabled. There are different settings used for the discrete and integrated graphics tests in each section, so be aware when looking at the results. I am going to compare the Foxconn A7DA-S to the ASUS M3N78 Pro, which uses the latest NVIDIA IGP chipset, the GeForce 8300. For all of the tests, except the overclocking results, all hardware will be run at stock speeds, timings, and voltages so that there will be no variables that might interfere with the results.

 

 

Comparison Motherboard:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

Overclocking the Foxconn A7DA-S was a breeze with the Fox Central Control Unit. Having everything in one place like this made it easy resetting the values and trying it again. Little by little, I raised the CPU speed until I hit a wall. Since most Phenoms do not like much on the CPU speeds, once I hit that wall at 205MHz I used the unlocked multiplier feature of the Black Box Edition chip to squeeze more power out of the processor. I was able to raise the multi to 15x and all of this on a 1.45 voltage for the CPU. This gave me an overclock of 3.075GHz, which is the best overclock I have reached on this Phenom X4 9850 to date on any platform.

 

 

Benchmarks:

  1. Apophysis
  2. WinRAR
  3. SPECviewperf 10
  4. PCMark Vantage Professional
  5. SiSoft Sandra XII
  6. ScienceMark 2.02 Final
  7. CineBench 10
  8. HD Tune 2.55
  1. Crysis
  2. Knights of the Sea
  3. BioShock
  4. Call of Duty 4
  5. World in Conflict
  6. Call of Juarez
  7. Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts
  8. 3DMark 06 Professional

Testing:

First up are the system specific benchmarks that will test overall scientific performance. For the science tests, only the scores paired with the PowerColor HD 4850 discrete card are shown to make the direct comparison to the other boards with the same setup.

 

To get things started, I will begin 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

ZIP:

 

RAR:

 

The 790GX platform performed almost exactly as the GeForce 8300 platform.

Testing:

SPECviewperf 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 790GX chipset dominated the GeForce 8300 chipset in the Specview and PCMark Vantage 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

 

 

With the exception of the Processor Arithmetic and the Cache and Memory tests the 790GX took the lead in all of the other tests.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

In the Sciencemark test the 790GX fell slightly behind but then came back, taking the lead in the Cinebench and HD Tune benchmarks.

Testing:

Crysis has been out for quite some time now. In that time, there's yet to be a single or multi-GPU setup that can fully showcase the graphics performance of the game.  The Crysis single player demo includes both CPU and GPU benchmarks to test the performance of your processor and video card.

Video Settings:

 

Discrete Video Settings:

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The scores were right on with each other, except the GeForce 8300 took a one frame lead at 1920x1200 with the discrete card. The integrated video was about the same.

Testing:

PT Boats: Knights of the Sea is a new DX10 title that features its own proprietary graphics engine currently in development. The game is a combination of Real Time Strategy and Simulation. You have the ability to control the entire crew or just a single member. Play as the German, Russian or Allied navies, and prove your mettle on the open seas.

 

 

Integrated Video Settings:

 

Discrete Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 790GX chipset using the HD 3300 video let its true colors shine the higher it went with the Sideport Memory as well as with the discrete card.

Testing:

BioShock is one of the creepier games out in the wild, chronicling the building of a perfect Utopian society undersea gone horribly wrong, with its inhabitants driven mad by 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 Daddies." 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 storyline, will wrap you up for hours on end.

 

Integrated Video Settings:

 

Discrete Video Settings:

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wow! The AMD/ATI based chipset toppled the NVIDIA GeForce 8300 based board in BioShock.

Testing:

Call of Duty 4 : Modern Warfare is the successor to the Call of Duty crown. This iteration of the game is fought in many modern-day hot spots with modern armaments and firepower. You can play as either a US Marine or British SAS trooper. Since this game does not feature an in-game test, I will run through a section of the game and measure average FPS using Fraps 2.9.4.

 

 

Integrated Video Settings:

 

Discrete Video Settings:

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The NVIDIA based board had a slight advantage in the Call of Duty 4 runs, except when the IGP was used.

Testing:

World in Conflict: Released last year, World in Conflict is a Real Time Strategy game that simulates the all-out war the world hopes never comes. The difference in this RTS game is that it is not the typical "generate wealth and build" type of game. Instead, you advance by conquering your foe with limited opportunities to replenish your troops.

 

 

Integrated Video Settings:

 

Discrete Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 790GX board has the lead here by a nose.

Testing:

Call of Juarez is a DX10, First Person Shooter set in the Wild West of the late 1800's. The game is inspired, in part, by the movies of the Wild West genre of the seventies and eighties. The game can be played as both single player and multiplayer. The game focuses on realistic graphics and gameplay designed to take advantage of the latest video cards on the market.

 

Integrated Video Settings:

 

Discrete Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both chipsets were neck and neck in the Call of Juarez tests.

Testing:

Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts is the latest chapter in the Company of Heroes series. The scene is WWII. The mission is Operation Market Garden, the first allied attempt to break into the Third Reich. Play as the British or Germans. This real-time strategy game is brought to us by Relic Entertainment.

 

Integrated Video Settings:

 

Discrete Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the resolution climbed so did the scores of the 790GX based A7DA-S board over the GeForce based one.

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest is begun. 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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 790GX chipset fell behind in the 3DMark06 benchmarks with the discrete card, but the integrated video stomped the NVIDIA counterpart.

Conclusion:

What else can I say about the Foxconn A7DA-S motherboard but wow!!! This thing is an absolute monster. Even though a lot of the tests were dead on while running stock, when this puppy was overclocked there was no holding it back. I was able to achieve the highest overclock that I have ever gotten on this Phenom X4 9850 Black Box Edition chip. Not until now have I been able to break 3.0GHz, which was frustrating because I always came close but never quite got there. I am simply amazed at how easy and stable it was to get it that high. Also, the Sideport Memory is the most amazing technology I have seen on a motherboard in a long time. The addition of this additional onboard buffer gives the Foxconn A7DA-S motherboard an average 11% boost over using the UMA buffer alone. The extra boost gave an impressive 3DMark06 score at the default resolution of 1280x1024, breaking 2,000 marks, which is a first for an Integrated Graphics chip. Given all of the new support at a very low price, this makes the Foxconn A7DA-S the best bang for the buck amongst mainstream motherboards with integrated video. Even if you never use the IGP, you will never be left wanting more with this platform.

The only faults I could find with the A7DA-S is that the Northbridge, even with the heatpipe design, gets very, very hot, especially when using the onboard video. I had to place an additional fan over the heatsink even when running stock. When running dual discrete cards on the 790GX, the PCI Express x16 slots operate at x8 electrically instead of at full x16/x16; however, since they are PCI Express 2.0, the bandwidth increase will make up for the downfall and you should not notice any difference. Lastly, I am a USB hog, so only having four USB 2.0 ports on the back panel was a bummer for me. Foxconn makes up for this by having four more USB 2.0 headers on the board for up to eight more ports, but there are no brackets supplied with the board so you have to get your own or hook them up to a case's front ports for use.

 

 

Pros:

 

Cons: