ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 890GX Motherboard Review

ajmatson - 2010-02-18 14:52:51 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ajmatson   
Reviewed on: March 1, 2010
Price: $155

Introduction:

AMD has been keeping up with the latest trends in technology with their past motherboard chipsets, including the ever popular 785G with integrated graphics and robust features. With the technology changing again, we find ourselves looking at a new competitive chipset with the latest and greatest features on the table for us. This new chipset from AMD is officially called the 890GX and not only keeps the best of the last generation chipsets but also included the new USB 3.0 specification for blazing fast transfer speeds for all of your USB 3.0 products. The 890GX board we are going to be looking at today is from ASUS which is the M4A89GTD Pro/USB3. This board packs all of the new technology for the 890GX chipset and adds a few new and exciting features up its sleeve sure to get your mouth watering. If I have you curious yet, trust me, you will surely like what this board has to offer, so let’s dive in and take a look the ASUS M4A89GTD Pro/USB3 up close.

 

Closer Look:

The ASUS M4A89GTD Pro/USB3 motherboard comes packages in an green colored box with a lot of details on it showing off the new technology and compatible hardware. The first thing you might notice is the Xtreme Design Logo and the Hybrid Logo. The Xtreme Design stands for the board being designed with performance, safety, and reliability as the number one priorities. The Hybrid logo is because the M4A89GTD Pro/USB3 supports both the integrated graphics and discrete graphics cards with CrossFireX and with the right discrete card can also support Hybrid CrossFireX with the integrated video. Some of the other logos on the front show Windows 7 support, AMD CPU support, and the presence of the Memory OK button on the board. Flipping over to the back of the box we get a view of the board along with some more of the features which we will see more later in the review, including the Core Unlocker and Turbo Key II features.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Included with the ASUS M4A89GTD Pro/USB3 motherboard are enough accessories to get you up and running right away. There is the manual, driver CD, Q-Connectors for the front panel leads, one IDE cable, four SATA cables which support 3.0Gb/s, and the I/O Shield plate.

 

 

 

 

Now that we have the board out of the box, we can take a better look at the design of it.

Closer Look:

When I first looked at the ASUS M4A89GTD Pro/USB3, I loved the design and layout. It is simplistic and elegant with everything placed with regards to not interfering with another part of the board as much as possible. The color scheme of the motherboard is elegant as well with no outrageous contrasting colors, which I like since most cases have windows and you want to show off the hardware you have inside to the world. As with ASUS motherboard this one take the design step to ensure it lasts you a long time. ASUS uses 100% solid Japanese capacitors and a 8 + 2 Phase power design which keeps your CPU and components with clean power for operation and overclocking. The ASUS M4A89GTD Pro/USB3 supports the latest AMD processors including the Phenom II and Athlon II series to keep you up with the hardware trends. The chipset for this board is the 890GX with integrated HD 4290 graphics and the newer SB850 Southbridge designed for better performance and transfer speeds. ASUS has built this board using their Xtreme Design technology as shown on the packaging. The Xtreme Design technology uses three key areas to increase the safety, performance, and reliability of the motherboard. The first point is that the board is designed for number one in performance. This is achieved by using a multi-phase power design which can switch phases by demand and has a better power efficiency by design. The performance is also complemented by the TurboV and Turbo Key utilities which aid in better and more stable overclocking. The second point of the Xtreme Design is that it is number one in safety. ASUS has designed their Xtreme Design board to have better protection against EMI (Electo Magnetic Interference) and ESD (Electro Static Discharge). This is done by ASUS including an Anti-Static chip to the board, re-designing the circuitry, and designing the I/O shield to to handle and protect the discharge more efficiently making the board protected 4x better then the standard design. The last point of the Xtreme Design is that it is number one in Reliability with their Stack Cool3+ PC Board design. This design used a 2+2 ounce copper design in the PC Board which offers up to 17% better heat dissipation lowering the overall temperatures of critical components extending their life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the back panel, the connections available are not slim. ASUS has done away with the PS/2 mouse port placing two USB 2.0 ports there instead and keeping only the keyboard PS/2 port; underneath them are an HDMI port which supports up to 1080P high definition video and audio, an optical S/PDIF port, a VGA port, a DVI video port, two more USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, one eSATA port, one Gigabit LAN port powered by a Realtek 8111E chipset and also features AI Net 2 functionality, the analog audio ports and two unique looking blue USB ports. What is so unique about them? Well these two blue colored ports are USB 3.0 specification which provide speeds of up to 4.8Gb/s for fast data transfers. The USB 3 on the ASUS M4A89GTD Pro/USB3 motherboard is provided by the NEC D720200F1 chip right below the back panel.

 

 

Moving on down the motherboard, we get to the expansion slots that the M4A89GTD Pro/USB3 offers. This board supports CrossFireX with two discrete cards by using the two PCI Express X16 slots on the board. When both slots are used they operate at X8 speeds, however, when only one card is used then it runs at X16 speeds. The catch to this is that for a single card setup the card must be placed in the lower blue colored X16 slot and a switch card must be placed in the upper whitish colored X16 slot to enable the true X16 speeds. I have seen a lot of manufactures going back to this switch card design lately for their single card configurations. If the card is not placed in the top slot the discrete card will run at only X8 speeds. In addition to the X16 slots there is a PCI Express X1 slot and an X4 slot for additional expansion cards. ASUS has also kept two legacy PCI slots on the board for those of you who have the older cards such as sound or network cards that you still want to run. As I mentioned above, this board also supports Hybrid CrossFireX with the integrated HD 4290 IGP. The IGP uses the core and is clocked at a generous 700MHz which is the fastest AMD integrated graphics to date. It also features 40 stream processors and this particular board also has a 128MB DDR3 1333MHz on board memory chip, called Sideport memory which gives a faster boost to the video. This memory chip is manufactured by Hynix, which is known for their memory stability and speed.

 

 

The ASUS M4A89GTD Pro/USB3 motherboard is a Socket AM3 board which officially supports all AM3 processors including the Phenom II, Athlon II, and Sempron 100 series CPUs including 140 watt processors designed with the 45nm manufacturing process. The board also supports AMD's Cool and Quiet technology which throttles back the CPU speed and power consumption when the load levels are low or in an idle state. HyperTransport 3.0 is also supported for a maximum speed of 5200MT/s. The M4A89GTD Pro/USB3 also supports up to 16GB of DDR 3 memory in its four banks with speeds up to 1866MHz overclocked and 1333MHz natively. One thing I want to point out, which I absolutely love about this board, is that they changed the way the memory is placed compared to the standard on most AMD board. If you notice the colors are alternating instead of together for the DIMM slots. Instead of each channel being side by side as in other board the blue slots are one channel and the black slots are the second. This allows those of you with larger heatsinks suck as water cooled ones to populate them is the alternating slots allow you to run them. This has been my biggest pet peeve with AMD based boards for years and I applaud ASUS for changing this on the M4A89GTD Pro/USB3 and I hope to see this become standard on AMD board in the future.

 

 

Down to the bottom of the ASUS M4A89GTD Pro/USB3 motherboard are the expansion headers. These headers provide you even more expandability as needed without getting in the way when not being used. The headers that are available for the user include the front panel audio heaters, a FireWire header, three USB 2.0 headers, six SATA 6Gb/s ports, two of which are at a 90-degree angle for better positioning with large graphics cards, the front panel headers, one IDE header supporting up to two devices, and a COM header. Up near the COM header, there are a couple of switches and a button. The button is the MemOK button which when pressed will test the memory for settings that are compatible with the motherboard and then set them automatically. The board will start with those settings programmed and will boot up for the user. The other two switches are the Turbo Key II and the Core Unlocker switches. The Turbo Key II switch when activated will automatically overclock the system giving it a bit of a boost without any manual input from the user. The Core Unlocker switch will also without any input into the BIOS from the user make the necessary adjustments to attempt to unlock the hidden cores on some of the AMD processors. While ASUS does not guarantee this will work with every processor, the idea of having it in case is a nice thrill. We will be testing it out later in the review to see if it works.

 

 

 

To keep the board nice and cool, ASUS has incorporated their Hybrid coolers which consist of heatsinks and heatpipes designed to transfer heat from the most critical areas and out into the cases airflow. There is one heatsink over the voltage regulators, which is connected by a heatpipe to another fin style heatsink that covers the 890GX Northbridge. Over the SB850 Southbridge is a smaller flat style heatsink to keep the chip cool as well.

 

 

Now that we have everything out, let's plug it in and check the software side of this baby.

Closer Look:

Installation:

To install the drivers and software ASUS makes it simple with their installer program. Just pop the CD in and the autorun feature will bring up the installer. On the installer are several tabs to choose from. The first tab includes the drivers for the motherboard which include the chipset drivers, LAN drivers, audio drivers, and even the drivers for the NEC USB 3.0 chip. The second tab is the utilities tab which installs the programs ASUS has included to get the most out of your system. These utilities include the AMD Overdrive utility, ASUS update, ASUS PC Probe II, ASUS AI Suite, and Adobe Acrobat Reader 9. The third tab is the make a disk tab which creates RAID drivers for you for the JMicron JMB36X chip and the SB850 chipset. The fourth tab has electronic versions of the manuals for the board and software available and the last tab has the contact information for ASUS for support should you need it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


ASUS Update, ASUS AI Suite & ASUS PC Probe II:

The ASUS Update utility allows you to easily update and backup your BIOS from within the operating system via a saved file or with the ASUS update servers. This makes updating the BIOS painless and quick. The AI Suite is a program that will throttle your hardware's speeds and voltages to conserve energy and heat automatically by just choosing the setting that you desire. The ASUS PC Probe II utility is a handy little utility that allows the user to view and monitor their hardware voltages, temperatures and fan speeds and also allows you to set warnings for the hardware should they fail or fall below acceptable levels.

 

 

 


ASUS TurboV Evo:

The ASUS TurboV Evo utility is an overclocking utility that allows you to get the most out of your hardware. The utility has three settings that you can use based on your needs or experience level. The first setting is the manual setting which gives the user control over the CPU frequency, CPU voltage, CPU/NB voltage and the memory voltage. Once you get the system where you want, you can save and load profiles based on your needs. The second setting is easy mode which only allows you to adjust the CPU speed while the voltage and other settings will auto set based on the speed selected and the final setting is auto tuning which the system will tune itself for the best possible and stable overclock.

 

 

 

 

Browser Bookmarks & USB 3.0 Host Controller Information:

The Browser Bookmarks utility is a little tool that takes the bookmarks you have on either Internet Explorer or Firefox and exports them to your Express Gate Browser every time you shut your system down. This way if you need to find something quickly on the net you can boot into Express Gate and surf without having to load the OS to follow a bookmark. The USB 3.0 Host Controller Info just gives you the latest hardware information for the host controller including the driver.

 

 

Now that we have everything installed we can reboot and take a look at the BIOS.

Closer Look:

The BIOS is the most important part of the motherboard in my opinion. If you are a true computer enthusiast, then when getting you system setup the way you want it this is where you will spend a lot of your time. ASUS has done a good job making navigating their BIOS with easy grouping the sections together based on their function. To get a better look at the BIOS on the ASUS M4A89GTD Pro/USB3 motherboard, I will break it down by the section and tell you a little bit about what is found in each one so you can see what is available for you to make changes to.

 

Main:

The main section is the first part of the BIOS that you come to when you start up into it. In this section you can control the date and time for the system, the drives and storage configurations for ACHI or RAID, and you can view the system information such as the BIOS version, processor model and speed, and the memory size.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advanced:

The Advanced section has a lot going on that you can change. This is where you can change the CPU configuration such as enabling Cool 'n' Quiet, C1E support, Virtual Machine support, and the ASUS Core Unlocker selection, which allows you to select which cores to run based on the processor. There is also more DRAM configuration such as support settings for ECC memory and Ganging mode. In the Advanced section are also the video controls such as selecting the primary video device whether it be the onboard video or a discrete card.

 

 

 

 

Other onboard devices you have control over are the serial devices, onboard LAN, onboard FireWire, S/PDIF, and USB controllers including the USB 2.0 and 3.0 controllers. You can also enable legacy support for these devices.

 

 

 

Power:

In the Power section, the user can adjust the Suspend mode from S1 to S3 or set it to auto and have the system control it. You can also control the ACPI and APM (Advanced Power Management) for features such as power on or WO (Wake on) certain devices. Here you can also monitor your CPU and motherboard temperatures, fan speeds, and the system rail voltages.

 

 

 

Boot:

The Boot section is where you select the boot priority and boot configuration such as Quick Boot, Logo selection, error messages, and also assign or remove the BIOS and system passwords to protect your system.

 

 

Closer Look:

Tools:

The tools section is where you can control additional features of the board such as flashing the BIOS using the ASUS EZ Flash 2 utility, you can enable the Express Gate feature and reset the data to defaults if needed, you can load or save overclocking profiles using the ASUS O.C. Profile section, and you can test the LAN connection using the AI Net 2 utility. You can also turn off the POST State LEDs if necessary so that they do not interfere with your case lighting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ai Tweaker:

The Ai Tweaker section is where all the overclocking magic happens. ASUS has made this section very easy and user simple. In this section, you can adjust the CPU speeds, system multipliers, memory dividers, and more. You can control the voltages for everything from the CPU to the chipset and memory. All of the values are just keyed in for what you want so you do not have to go through a long list of values. For instance, for the memory, if you want 1.65V, you just enter that amount into the field and that is it. At the bottom of the section, you can also choose how the integrated video is set up such as the memory assigned and the speed at which you want the Sideport chip to run.

 

 

 

 

Now that we have the BIOS configured, we can move on to the testing.

Specifications:

 CPU
AMD Socket AM3; Phenom II / Athlon II / Sempron 100
AMD 140W CPU Support
AMD Cool 'n' Quiet Technology
Supports 45nm CPUs
Chipset
AMD 890GX / SB850
System BUS
Up to 5200MT/s; HyperTransport 3.0
Memory
4 x DIMM, max. 16GB, DDR3 1866(O.C.) / 1333 / 1066 MHz, ECC / non-ECC, un-buffered memory
Expansion Slots
2x PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots, support ATI CrossFireX Quad-GPU Technology (@ dual x8 speed)
1x PCI Express 2.0 x4 slot
1x PCI Express 2.0 x1 slot
2x PCI slots
VGA Output
Integrated ATI Radeon HD 4290 GPU
Multi-VGA output support; HDMI, DVI-D, and RGB ports
Supports HDMI with max. resolution 1920x1200 (1080P)
Supports DVI with max.resolution 2560x1600 @ 60Hz
Supports RGB with max. resolution 2560x1440 @ 75Hz
Supports H.264, VC-1, MPEG-2, DirectX 10.1 and OpenGL 2.0
Support Shader Model 4.1, Universal Video Decoder (UVD) 2.0
Maximum UMA memory size: 512 MB
128MB DDR3 Sideport memory support
Hybrid CrossFireX support
Storage
AMD SB850 chipset
   6x SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports with RAID 0.1.5 and 10 support

JMicron JMB361 PATA and SATA Controller
   1x eSATA 3.0Gb/s port
   1x Ultra DMA 133/100 for up to 2 PATA devices
LAN
1x Realtek 8111E Gigabit LAN controller featuring AI NET2
Audio
ALC892 9-channel High Definition Audio CODEC
   DTS Surround Sensation UltraPC
   Supports Jack-Detection, Multi-Streaming, and Front Panel Jack-Retasking
   Optical S/PDIF Out port as back I/O
   ASUS Noise Filter
USB
2x USB 3.0 ports (blue, at back panel)
12x USB 2.0 ports (8 ports at midboard, 4 ports at back panel)
IEEE 1394
VIA VT6308P controller supports 2x IEEE 1394a ports (one at midboard, one at back panel)
ASUS Unique Features
ASUS Xtreme Design
   ASUS Hybrid Processor - TurboV EVO
     - TurboV, Auto Tuning, CPU Level UP and GPU Boost
   ASUS Hybrid OS - Express Gate
   ASUS Hybrid Switched
     - Turbo Key II
     - Core Unlocker

ASUS Power Solutions
   8+2 Phase Power Design
   ASUS EPU

ASUS Exclusive Features
   MemOK!

ASUS Quiet Thermal Solutions
   ASUS Fanless Design: Heat pipe solution
   ASUS Fan Xpert

ASUS EZ DIY
   ASUS Q-Design
   ASUS O.C. Profile
   ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3
   ASUS EZ Flash 2
   ASUS MyLogo 2
   Multi-language BIOS
ASUS exclusive overclocking features
Precision Tweaker 3
   vCore: Adjustable CPU voltage at 0.003125V increment
   vDDDNB: Adjustable CPU NB voltage at 0.003125V increment
   vCPU PLL: Adjustable PLL voltage at 0.00625V increment
   vHT BUS: Adjustable PCH voltage at 0.00625V increment
   vDRAM BUS: Adjustable DRAM voltage at 0.00625V increment
   vChipset: Adjustable Chipset voltage at 0.00625V increment

SFS (Stepless Frequency Selection)
   Internal Base Clock tuning from 100MHz up to 600MHz at 1MHz increments
   PCI Express frequency tuning from 1000MHz up to 150MHz at 1MHz increments

Overclocking Protection
ASUS C.P.R (CPU Parameter Recall)
Back Panel Connectors
1x PS/2 keyboard port (purple)
1x D-Sub port
1x DVI-D port
1x HDMI port
1x optical S/PDIF Out connector
1x External SATA port
1x IEEE 1394a port
4x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
2x USB 3.0/2.0 ports
1x RJ-45 port
8-channel audio I/O ports
Internal I/O connectors
4x USB connectors support 8 additional USB ports
1x IDE connector
6x SATA 6.0 Gb/s connectors
1x CPU Fan connector
2x Chasis Fan connectors (1x 4-pin, 1x 3-pin)
1x Power Fan connector
1x IEEE 1394a connector
1x S/PDIF Out Header
1x Core Unlocker switch
1x Turbo Key II switch
1x MemOK! button
Front panel audio connector
1x COM connector
24-pin ATX Power connector
8-pin EATX 12 Power connector
System Panel
BIOS Features
16Mb Flash ROM, SPI, AMI BIOS, PnP, DMI 2.0, WfM 2.0, SM BIOS 2.5, ACPI 2.0a, Multi-language BIOS, ASUS EZ Flash 2, ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3
Manageability
WfM 2.0, DMI 2.0, WOL by PME, WOR by PME, PXE
Support DVD Contents
Drivers
ASUS Utilities
ASUS Update
Anti-Virus Software (OEM)
Form Factor
ATX Form Factor,: 12in x 9.6in (30.5cm x 24.4cm)

 

Features:

 

All information courtesy of ASUS

Testing:

Now we can get down to the nitty-gritty bit of the review and that is the testing section. To test the ASUS M4A89GTD Pro/USB3 motherboard, I will be running a series of video and scientific benchmarks designed to tell how well it performs. I will then take the scores and compare them among other motherboards in its class to gauge how the performance of the M4A89GTD Pro/USB3 fairs compared to them. To keep the tests fair and eliminate any outside variables all of the testing will be done using the same settings including speeds, voltages and latencies that way the true performance of the board are what makes the difference. Since some of the motherboard were testing with the Phenom II X4 955 prior to the 965's release I will run the tests down clocked to the 955's speeds. Everything else will remain the same, unless otherwise noted.

 

Testing Setup AMD AM3 CPU's:

  

Comparison Motherboards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

With the available options on the ASUS M4A89GTD Pro/USB3 for tuning it was a pleasure and a surprise on how high I was able to overclock the Phenom II X4 965. Just as a note this overclock was done using a custom water cooling system and the temperatures even under load never surpassed 48C degrees in a room with the ambient temperature of 22C degrees. To start the overclocking, I first raised the multiplier while slightly raising the voltage. Once I was no longer able to boot stably, I backed down the multiplier a bit and then started pushing the reference clock as well while still adjusting the voltage and the multipliers for the HyperTransport and the memory. I knew under water I could push the voltage a bit more, so I topped it at 1.5V and pushed the reference clock and multiplier a bit more and was able to boot at 4.3GHz but it was not stable enough to pass benchmarks so I tapped them down a bit and found a sweet spot at 4.226GHz, where everything ran stable and the temperatures were still low. For the final overclocking settings, the processor is at 4.226GHz (216.7MHz x 19.5) at 1.5V and the memory was set at 1733MHz with timings of 7-7-7-20.

 

 

Benchmarks:

  1. Apophysis
  2. WinRAR
  3. Office 2007 Excel Number Crunch
  4. POV Ray 3.7
  5. PCMark Vantage Professional
  6. Sandra XII
  7. ScienceMark 2.02
  8. Cinebench 10
  9. HD Tune 2.55
  1. Far Cry 2
  2. Crysis Warhead
  3. BioShock
  4. Call of Duty World At War
  5. Dead Space 
  6. Fallout 3 
  7. Left 4 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; the lower the better.

 

ZIP:

 

 

RAR:

 

 

For both Apophysis and WinRAR, the new 890GX chipset took the lead in all of the benchmarks.

Testing:

Excel 2007 Big Number Crunch: This benchmark uses mathematics to perform complex calculations in Excel 2007, which puts a heavy load on the processor. The measurement is in seconds that it takes to complete the task. The benchmark is performed three times and then averaged for the final score.

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lower is better

 

POV Ray 3.7: This program features a built in benchmark that renders an image using Ray Tracing. The latest versions offer support for SMP (Symmetric MultiProcessing), enabling the workload to be spread across the cores for a quicker completion.

Higher Is Better

 

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

 

Just as in with the first two benchmarks, the ASUS M4A89GTD Pro/USB3 shows its power remaining the fastest of all the motherboards.

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 functions of the motherboards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Processor Arithmetic

 

Multi-Core Efficiency

 

Memory Bandwidth

 

Memory Latency

 

Cache and Memory

 

File System

 

Physical Disks

 

Power Management Efficiency

 

In all but two of the tests, the 890GX chipset either tied or beat out all of the other chipsets, showing the increase of power that the chipset provides.

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

 

For ScienceMark and Cinebench, the scores for the M4A89GTD Pro/USB3 again were a bit above the rest. For HD Tune the Burst speeds and CPU utilization were great however, the average read and access times fell short a bit.

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 Far Cry 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 50km2 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:

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Far Cry 2, everything was even across the resolutions.

Testing:

Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack situated in time with the storyline 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.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Crysis Warhead, the lowest and highest resolution provided a bit more power on the 890GX board, but the 1280 x 1050 resolution was a bit sluggish.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Call of Duty World at War, the scores, again, were pretty even between each chipset.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

There are similar results for Fallout 3, with the scores being the same through all the chipsets.

Testing:

Left 4 Dead from Valve leaves you as part of a group of survivors in a world where an infection has rapidly turned the populace into a zombie horde. Your goal is to make it to a rescue point, all 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 zombies. These zombies are quick and work with pack mentality. You have but one job: survival!

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

For Left 4 Dead, the scores were close until the highest resolution where there was a bit of a gain by the 890GX chipset.

Testing:

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

 

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As with the scientific benchmark scores, the 890GX based ASUS board had the advantage with the highest scores in 3DMark06.

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.

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In 3DMark Vantage, the ASUS M4A89GTD Pro/USB3 just dominated the scores and blew away the older chipsets with a fury.

Extras:

Turbo Key II:

Turbo Key II is a hardware utility that is controlled by flipping a switch, allowing you to overclock your system. There is no input or changes made from the user, it is all automatic. When I flipped the switch, it overclocked the Phenom II X4 965 processor to 3.70GHz (217.7 x 17), but it sacrificed the memory speed and latencies dropping them to 870MHz with timings of 8-8-8-20. With the overclock and the reduction of the memory, I ran PCMark Vantage to see how it faired and ended up with a score of 4954, which a bit lower then the stock score of 5127 so the auto clock actually hurt the performance. While you can go into the BIOS and still alter the settings, this defeats the simplistic design of the feature and defeats its purpose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Core Unlocker:

Core Unlocker is another hardware driven switch that when enabled allows the system to automatically tune the BIOS, to attempt to unlock hidden cores in some of AMD's processors. As we have all seen I am sure some of the AMD Phenom II X2's and X3's are actually Phenom II X4's that have one core disabled, either due to stability issues or simply to meet demand for that particular CPU. This utility attempts to restore it to the quad core state. To test this feature, I placed a Phenom II X2 555 "Black Edition" processor into the system and flipped the switch. To my amaze the system automatically unlocked the other two cores with no other input from me. With this board, I was able to stably run the unlocked cores for 2 hours using Prime 95 and had no stability issues. In fact, I have kept it in the system for the last four days and still running strong as can be.

 

Express Gate:

Express Gate is nothing new to us, however, ASUS continually is updating it and making it better. The Express Gate utility for the ASUS M4A89GTD Pro/USB3 is software based and is installed onto the hard drive to function. Once installed, the user can go into the BIOS and set the utility to start up on boot. It only takes a few seconds to boot into Express Gate and once into it, you can surf the internet, browse photos, send instant messages, talk on skype, and more all without having to boot into the normal operating system which saves time. As shown in the drivers section, you can even export your bookmarks to the Express Gate browser for faster access to them.

 

 

 

 

Conclusion:

The new 890GX / SB850 chipset surely takes its place among the top. Not only does it increase the overall performance of the hardware over the previous chipsets, but it is also paired with the offerings that ASUS has included on the M4A89GTD Pro/USB Motherboard - these combined, and you have yourself a winner. Sure there are some issues that could be improved, but overall this is a top contending board. First, let me go through some of the features that make this board so great. First and foremost, while some might find it simplistic, the design of the DIMM slots with the ability to stagger the modules so that they are not pressing right up against each other in a two module setup is a design I really want to see on more AMD based boards. This design makes it possible to install memory with large and unusual heatsinks, which are not possible when the modules are installed right next to each other. Intel based boards had done this forever and I wish AMD ones would follow suit. Also, the inclusion of newer technology such as the USB 3.0 ports and SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports helps those looking to take the upgrade path without wanting to install PCI cards to gain the technology. Another feature I would really love to show some praise to is the Core Unlocker switch. With no effort on my own (except of course flipping the switch), I was able to unlock the other two cores on my Phenom II X2 555 "Black Edition" processor. With this feature, I have been running the X2 with all four cores unlocked and have had no stability issues. Now while I know this is not guaranteed, it surely worked in this instance.

On the flip side, there were a couple of items that I would like to see improved on. First is the Turbo Key II feature which auto tunes your system to the best stable overclock, however, when I enabled the feature it actually hindered the performance by crippling the memory speed and timings, which affected the overall score when running PCMark Vantage to compare it to. While this is a great feature for a novice, anyone who is into overclocking will skip this and tune it themselves and those who are not overclockers will actually lose performance with this. The other feature that got me was when two discrete cards are used, the speeds drop down to x8 versus x16. With the speeds and technology that has been out for some time, it would be nice to have the full potential of our hardware to run them as fast as they are designed for.

The performance of the ASUS M4A89GTD Pro/USB3 motherboard is impeccable. Not once did it falter and fall way behind however, it remained on the top and when it came to overclocking the same durability and speed shone through with a tremendous overclock. With making a few adjustments and tweakings I was able to push my Phenom II X4 965 over 4.2GHz and stable at that. While overclocked to those speeds and benchmarking, the temperatures stayed well below the maximum threshold specified for the processor. Even though the system was cooled using a water cooling setup, this just goes to show you the potential that and enthusiast has when pushing their hardware with the right cooling.

If you are looking for a great board with plenty of features for a new build or are considering upgrading to the latest and greatest technology, definitely look to the new AMD 890GX / SB850 chipset and if you are wanting a killer board with that chipset you would not go wrong with, the ASUS M4A89GTD Pro/USB3 motherboard, with a price of $155, is one of the top board that will be on the market for the AMD processors.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: