ECS A890GXM-A2 Motherboard Review

ajmatson - 2010-11-01 15:29:31 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ajmatson   
Reviewed on: February 24, 2011
Price: $129

Introduction:

Elitegroup Computer Systems, better known as ECS, has been in the motherboard arena for a long time. We have seen a number of boards that date back to the Pentium era and beyond. ECS has always been known as the budget board designer, but things have been changing. The company has been putting more time, effort and research into its mainboards and it is beginning to really show. ECS brought its Black Series to us some time ago, which we have seen mature into a formidable opponent in the motherboard industry. With each change and improvement, the company is no longer taken lightly. I for one have been impressed with its mainboard offerings lately and was very excited when I had this particular board come across my desk. The Black Series boards are taking on a whole new shape with each release and I was eager to do this review. Today we are bringing a new competitor to the AMD arena with the ECS A890GXM-A2 mainboard.

The A890GXM-A2 is built around the strong, tried and true AMD 890GX chipset, which includes the AMD SB850 Southbridge. Not only does this pairing provide stability, but they also have the speed and features we need to stay ahead of the game. With features such as 140 watt CPU support, HyperTransport 3.0, and the ability to run DDR3 memory in dual channel up to 1800MHz when overclocked, you will not be held back when you are running this board in your computer. Take those base features and add in USB 3.0 SuperSpeed ports for up to 5Gb/s and SATA III for hard drive speeds up to 6.0Gb/s, and you might need some extra plugs for your thinning hair (editors note, lol!). If you are as excited as I am, then let's stop the yapping and take a dive into the review so we can get a firsthand look at the latest in the AMD ECS Black Series.

 

Closer Look:

ECS boards have been evolving to suit the gamer/enthusiast market and with those changes came the Black Series. The Black Series showed what ECS was capable of in its designs and in its stability. To show off this new series, ECS changed the color scheme not just with the board, but with the packaging as well. While keeping the same greenish design, the front of the A890GXM-A2 box contains all the product logos that went into this motherboard including AMD CPU support, ATI CrossfireX capabilities and the unique abilities of the system, such as eJiffy instant boot. On the back of the box, the support logos continue along with an image of the board itself and several of the top end features that are offered by the ECS A890GXM-A2. If you flip open the front cover, you may be surprised to find a glimpse of the actual board through a window, accompanied with a few of the power features, such as CPU O.C. and USB SuperSpeed support.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Removing the inner packaging from the box shows you the care that went into protecting your investment. On the top layer of the box is the motherboard itself, surrounded in a hard plastic shell. Underneath is a compartment that houses the accessories and documentation. Included with the motherboard is the I/O shield, video connection protectors for the back of the board, four SATA cables, an eSATA bracket, the driver CD, and the user guides.

 

 

Now that we have everything out of the box, we can take a better look at the layout of the motherboard.

Closer Look:

With the inception of the Black Series, ECS has been using a slick color scheme, in my opinion. I am all about the "bling" for my computer and ECS chose a really good contrast of color with the black and gray design for its Black Series boards. The layout of the A890GXM-A2 is clean and no one area is too crowded, especially where the CPU mount is, which will make for installing water cooling and large heat sinks a breeze. The A890GXM-A2 is based on the AMD 890GX chipset, which is paired with the SB850 Southbridge for a powerful kick that your system needs, coupled with the stability that you require. ECS has thrown in a few goodies under the hood as well with some of the company's unique features. For the contacts on the CPU socket and memory slots, ECS has used 15μ gold. This offers three times extra anti-oxidation, temperature resistance, and scrape protection to ensure the board has the longest lifespan, better reliability, and excellent contact with the parts. There are also several other perks and applications that we will be taking a good look at in the remainder of this review that are designed to make your overall experience with the A890GXM-A2 a good one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the back panel of the board, ECS has left no stone unturned. ECS starts out strong with the number of video out options you have available for use — a standard VGA port, a DVI port, HDMI out , and even a DisplayPort. Two video sources may be used at the same time for a multi-display setup. Then there are six USB ports, two of which are USB 3.0 SuperSpeed, an eSATA port, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, an optical S/PDIF Out connector, and the standard audio ports. You may have also noticed the red button right under the DisplayPort. This is the Clear CMOS button, which if you have ever overclocked you will realize how much of a life saver this is. With a press of this little button, it will wipe out your saved BIOS settings allowing you to quickly recover from a failed overclock without having to open the case and pull out the CMOS battery. I for one think this should be a standard feature on every motherboard.

 

 

Below the back panel are the expansion slots. The A890GXM-A2 supports CrossfireX with its three PCI Express x16 slots. The top two gray slots run at full x16 speeds for a powerful dual CrossFireX GPU setup, while the bottom black slot runs at x4 speeds. There is also a PCI Express x1 slot for additional expansion, such as for an audio or additional network card, as well as one legacy PCI slot for older devices.

 

The ECS A890GXM-A2 supports AMD socket AM3 processors including the Athlon II and Phenom II series up to 140 watts. The board also has support for the latest AMD Phenom II X6 Hexa-Core processors, including the latest 1100T. As with other AM3 boards, this one also supports HyperTransport 3.0 for up to 5200 mega-transfers per second. When it comes to memory, you can run up to four DIMMs of DDR3 memory with a maximum speed of 1800MHz when overclocked. The board physically supports up to 32GB of memory, but since there are currently only 4GB-sized modules max, it has been tested with 16GB. The memory DIMMS are color coded by channel. The two dark gray ones on the left are channel two and the lighter two slots are channel one. For best performance, ECS recommends filling the two light gray slots first, then the inner two last.

 

Just as with the back panel, ECS has included a number of header and internal connectors for you to use based on your need. Starting from the bottom left, there is a front panel audio header, a S/PDIF audio header, and four USB 2.0 headers that can be used to provide expansion to the back of the case or to front case connections, as needed. To the right of the USB headers, there are two onboard switches. These switches allow you to power on or off the system and reset it while working in the case. This eliminates the need for connecting the case leads when testing or making changes in the case itself. To the right of the onboard switches are the front case panel headers and the BIOS speaker header. On the right of the board are five SATA 6Gb/s ports for maximum speed. However, there are no IDE ports on the board so you will need to have a SATA DVD drive for operation.

 

 

The A890GXM-A2 has built-in video for the chipset. The 890GX Northbridge integrates AMD Radeon HD 4290 graphics, providing full DirectX 10.1 support. This allows you to use the integrated graphics for full HD video and light gaming without the need for a dedicated card. To help boost the performance, ECS has used a dedicated memory for the IGP called SidePort Memory. This is a 128MB DDR3 1333MHz chip soldered onto the board, which gives the graphics chip a 15% boost over just using the shared memory alone.

 

To cool the chipset and board, ECS uses a pipe and fin design. This allows for maximum heat dispersion using the natural airflow from the case. ECS calls this CoolTech III and employs a dual copper pipe to evenly transfer the heat across the heat sink for dissipation. Connected to the heat pipes are two heat sinks, one attached to the Northbridge chip and one to the voltage area for the CPU. To cool the Southbridge, ECS has included a fin-style heat sink.

 

 

Now that we have seen the glory of the board, we can get it installed and take a look at the software side.

Closer Look:

To assist users in getting the most out of their experience, ECS has included several utilities. These utilities are designed to make your computing life easier and without wasting time. We are going to be looking at what each one is and how it will help you out with your ECS A890GXM-A2 system.

 

ECS Easy BIOS Live Update:

The ECS BIOS Live Update program allows you to update your BIOS quickly and painlessly without having to download a file and boot your computer using a floppy drive, which is a pain since who has a floppy these days, right? The utility will download the update and install it for you, should you need one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ECS Easy Driver Live Update:

The ECS Driver Live Update utility will scan your computer and let you know what board you have installed. It will then provide you with the Internet page for you to download any driver updates that you may need.

 

 

ECS Easy Green Saver:

ECS Easy Green Saver lets you manually or automatically throttle down your system to save on power and energy waste. You can adjust your speed and create a custom setting to allow you to save all the "Green" you can.

 

 

ECS Easy Overclock:

The ECS Easy Overclock utility allows everyone from novice to expert to get the most out of their system. With this utility, you have the controls to adjust the reference clock as well as the voltages of system it impacts. Not only can you overclock with it, but you can monitor your system as well. There is a utility called Easy Smart Fan that works in conjunction to control your fan speeds and allows you to silence your PC or provide maximum cooling.

 

 

 

ECS eJiffy:

ECS eJiffy is an instant-start OS that provides you the ability to quickly boot your system into this stripped down OS and perform tasks such as web browsing and instant messaging without having to wait for your full Windows or Linux OS to load. This allows you to get online and check mail or update a contact quicker when you need to be on the run.

 

 

 

 

Now that we have seen the utilities, we can take a look at the BIOS.

Closer Look:

The BIOS is a very essential part of any motherboard. No matter how much design went into the hardware, the BIOS can be the downfall if it is too weak. There are several types of BIOSs available, including one from American Megatrends Inc., which ECS has chosen for the A890GXM-A2 board. Some BIOS structures are very complex, but ECS has kept that complexity to a minimum. There are several menu systems that are not too confusing and a special area that adds a bit more functionality for the enthusiast types that like to tweak around a bit. I am going to break this up into two sections. First is "General", which will encompass all the basic menus and then there will be a section dedicated to the special area, called the "M.I.B. III" section.

General:

The first several sections of the BIOS are where the general tasks take place. These tasks include setting up the system time and resources, controlling power states and functions such as AMD Cool & Quiet and C1E halting for memory, IRQ configurations, and more. You can also adjust onboard chips including how SATA ports run as (IDE compatibility mode or AHCI), USB legacy support, system temperatures, and the speeds at which the fans run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

M.I.B. III:

M.I.B. III, or Motherboard Intelligent BIOS III as it is better known as, is the section where all the overclocking magic happens. While the BIOS on the A890GXM-A2 is compact, don't let that fool you — there are plenty of options available to squeeze the most out of your hardware. There are detailed controls that allow you to increase your processor multiplier if you are so lucky to have a Black Edition CPU, as well as your reference clock speed. You can independently adjust your memory speed, timings and voltages, as well as your SidePort memory. Voltage is controlled by adding in mV to the stock voltage, so be careful here. ECS has included warnings to help you if you are unsure.

 

 

 

 

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

Specifications:

CPU:
Socket AM3 socket for AMD Phenom™ II processors
Support 125W Phenom™ II X6 processors
High-performance HyperTransport 3.0 CPU Interface
Support transfer rate up to 5200 mega-transfers per second
Note: This board supports CPU up to 140W TDP only; you can refer to AMD website to check your CPU.
Chipset:
AMD® 890GX & AMD® SB850
North Bridge: AMD® 890GX
South Bridge: AMD® SB850
Graphics:
On Chip (AMD 890GX-based with ATI™ Radeon HD4290 graphics )
Integrated DirectX10.1 graphics processor
Share Memory: Maximum up to 512MB
AMD SidePort Memory : DDR3-1333 (64Mx16=128MB)
Memory:
Dual-channel DDR3 memory architecture
4 x 240-pin DDR3 DIMM socket support up to 32 GB
Support DDR3 up to 1800(OC)/1600(OC)/1333/1066 DDR3 SDRAM
*(Due to the DRAM maximum size is 4GB at present, the memory maximum size we have tested is 16GB)
*(Due to AMD CPU spec limitation, please refer to Memory QVL for more information)
Due to the operating system limitation, the actual memory size may be less than 4GB for the reservation for system usage under Windows 32-bit OS.
For Windows 64-bit OS with 64-bit CPU, there is no such limitation
Expansion Slots:
3 x PCI Express Gen 2.0 x16 slots
1 x PCI Express x1 slot
1 x PCI slot
 *The second PCIEx16 only support bandwidth x4
Storage:
Support by AMD® SB850
    • 5 x Serial ATA 6.0Gb/s devices
    • 1 x eSATA 3Gb/s port
    • RAID0, RAID1, RAID5, RAID 10 configuration
Audio:
Realtek ALC892 8-Ch High Definition audio CODEC
Compliant with HD audio specification
LAN:
Dual Realtek 8111DL 10/100/1000 Fast Ethernet Controller
Rear Panel I/O:
1 x D-sub(VGA)
1 x HDMI Port
1 x DVI Port
1 x Display port
2 x RJ45 LAN connectors
1 x Audio port (Line-in, Line-out, Mic-in)
1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector
1 x Clear_CMOS button
1 x eSATA 3Gb/s port
2 x USB 3.0 ports compatible to both USB 3.0/2.0 devices (blue)
4 x USB 2.0 Ports
Internal I/O Connectors & Headers:
1 x 24-pin ATX Power Supply connector
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power Connector
1 x 4-pin CPU_FAN connectors
1 x 3-pin PWR_FAN connector
1 x 3-pin SYS_FAN connector
1 x Power on button
1 x Reset button
1 x Speaker header
1 x Front panel switch/LED header
1 x Front panel audio header
1 x SPDIF out header
1 x Clear CMOS header
1 x Power on LED (Green light)
1 x Stand by LED (Red Light)
5 x Serial ATA 6Gb/s connectors
4 x USB 2.0 headers support additional 8 USB ports
1 x Chassis intrusion header
System BIOS:
AMI BIOS with 8Mb SPI Flash ROM
Supports Plug and Play, STR (S3) / STD (S4) , Hardware monitor, Multi Boot
Supports ACPI & DMI
Audio, LAN, can be disabled in BIOS
F11 hot key for boot up devices option
Support over-clocking
Support eJIFFY
Support Page Up clear CMOS Hotkey
Support ECS M.I.B III Utility
CPU voltage adjustable
Memory voltage adjustable
    • NB Chipset Voltage Adjustable
    • HT Voltage Adjustable
    • External Clock Adjustable
    • Multiple Frequency Adjustable
Form Factor:
ATX Size 305mm*244mm

 

Features:


All Information courtsey of ECS @ http://www.ecsusa.com/ECSWebSite/Product/Product_Detail.aspx?DetailID=1152&CategoryID=1&DetailName=Feature&MenuID=19&LanID=9

Testing:

Now we get to what we have all been waiting for and that is the testing. The ECS A890GXM-A2 has certainly peaked my interest and I am really eager to see how she performs. I have lined up a battery of tests to throw at the board designed to gauge on how well it performs and if it can handle the pressure. These tests include scientific benchmarks that will test the logic of the platform, as well as video tests to show how it runs as a whole. I will be comparing it to another well known board based on the same AMD 890GX/SB850 chipset to see how it stands up against competition. To keep the testing fair, all hardware will be run at the same speeds, voltages and latencies unless specified, such as in the overclocking.

 

 

Testing Setup:

 

Comparison Motherboard:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked Settings:

Since this is a Black Edition processor with an unlocked multiplier, I figured I would start there for my overclocking. That didn't happen though because everytime I tried to raise the CPU multiplier even by 1x, the system would not boot. I then tried to boost it by 0.5x and I was finally able to boot. I was baffled and could not understand why it would not boot even when throwing a lot of voltage at it. I then went on to Plan B — the reference clock. Surprisingly I was able to get the system to boot with a reference clock of 229MHz, but no more. I booted into the OS and figured I would give the ECS eOC program a shot to fine tune even further. I was able to use the utility to squeeze a few more MHz out of the system and still pass the benchmarks and stability tests. The final stable OC I was able to achieve was 4060MHz, which is a big improvement over past ECS boards I have tested. I was quite happy with this number for the overclocked tests.

 

Maximum Clock Speeds:

Each CPU has been tested for its maximum stable clock speeds using Prime95. To gauge the maximum stability level, each processor had to be able to perform at least a one hour torture test without any errors.

 

 

Benchmarks:

  1. Apophysis
  2. WinRAR
  3. Geekbench
  4. Office 2007
  5. POV Ray 3.7
  6. PCMark Vantage Professional
  7. Sandra XII
  8. ScienceMark 2.02
  9. Cinebench 10
  10. Cinebench 11.5
  11. HD Tune 3.50
  1. Far Cry 2
  2. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
  3. Batman: Arkham Asylum
  4. 3DMark 06 Professional
  5. 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 100MB and 500MB files to test the time needed to compress these files. Time will be measured in seconds. Additionally, I will use the built-in benchmark as a comparison.

 

ZIP:

 

 

Lower is Better

 

 

RAR:

 

 

 

Lower is Better

 

Geekbench:

 

 

The scores were close and went back and forth during these benchmarks. It was hard to see a clear winner so we will have to move on and see what happens.

Testing:

Office 2007 Excel Big Number Crunch: This test takes a 6.2MB Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and performs about 28,000 sets of calculations that represent many of the most commonly used calculations in Excel. The measure of this test is how long it takes to refresh the sheet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Multi-Processing) enabling the workload to be spread across the cores for a quicker completion.

 

 

Higher Is Better

 

PCMark Vantage x64 is used to measure complete system performance. We will be running a series of tests to gauge performance of each individual CPU to see which CPU, if any, rises above the others.

 

 

 

In the Office Big Number Crunch, the ECS board was only a hair slower than the ASUS board. However, in the POV Ray and PCMark Vantange tests, the tide turned with the ECS board being the fastest.

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 CPUs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Processor Arithmetic

 

 

Multi-Core Efficiency

 

 

 

Memory Bandwidth

 

 

 

Memory Latency

 

 

Cache and Memory

 

 

Power Management Efficiency

 

 

Once again it was back and forth between the two boards throughout the Sandra 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

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

Cinebench 11.5

 

Higher is Better

 

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

 

 

Higher is Better

 

 

 

 

Lower is Better

 

In the Sciencemark test at stock, the ECS was the slowest, but it took back the lead when overclocked. For the Cinebench tests and HD Tune, the ECS A890GXM-A2 once again proved itself in battle.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ECS board was a bit behind in the Far Cry 2 benchmark.

Testing:

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is the latest iteration of the venerable first-person shooter series, Call of Duty. Despite its long, successful pedigree, the game is not without substantial criticism and controversy, especially on the PC. Aside from the extremely short campaign and lack of innovation, the PC version's reception was also marred by its lack of support for user-run dedicated servers, which means no user-created maps, no mods, and no customized game modes. You're also limited to 18-player matches instead of the 64-player matches that were possible in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Despite all this, the game has been well received and the in-house IW 4.0 engine renders the maps in gorgeous detail, making it a perfect candidate for OCC benchmarking.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tides switched in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, with the ECS board being slightly faster.

Testing:

Batman: Arkham Asylum is a new game that brings together two bitter rivals, the Joker and Batman. The Joker has taken over Arkham Asylum, Gotham's home for the criminally insane. Your task is to rein the Joker back in and restore order. This game makes use of PhysX technology to create a rich environment for you to become the Dark Knight.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again, the ECS board had a slight lead in Batman.

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 this setup fares. The settings we will use are listed below.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The trend continues with the ECS board being much faster in the 3DMark 06 tests.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The trend still continues with the ECS board being the top performer.

Conclusion:

I must say I was pleasantly surprised by not only the stock performance, but the overclocked performance as well. This board has definitely shown the true power of ECS and its Black Series motherboards. When compared head to head, the ECS board was able to hold its own and even come out on top numerous times. When overclocking, even with the inability to change the CPU multiplier, I was surprised by how much of an overclock I was actually able to achieve. Being able to break the 4GHz barrier shows the improvements and design research that went into the making of this board. There were several features that I really liked about the A890GXM-A2. First, I am a sucker for dual Ethernet ports. The ability to have multiple connections shows that ECS cares not only about the gamers and enthusiasts, but for use in the working world as well. In addition to the LAN ports, ECS has included both USB 3.0 SuperSpeed as well as SATA 6.0Gb/s ports, so you are not held back by slower peripherials. Pair those with the onboard power, reset and magnificient Clear CMOS button on the rear panel and you have an ambidextrous board to die for.

ECS has really done its homework and inproved on an already great chipset. The A890GXM-A2 board delivers the performance and features that enthusiasts and gamers desire. The solid build and amazing performance are exactly what is needed to push your next system or upgrade to the next level. If you have been uneasy about taking a plunge on an ECS mainboard, I encourage you to consider this one in your next buy. You will be as amazed as I was when testing it and will not regret your decision.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: