ECS Black Series A990FXM-A ReviewnVidia_Freak -
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Beautiful, no? Shades of black, gray and white give ECS's A990FXM-A an understated but classy look. Plenty of connectivity give the board a busy, hefty look, although none of it is flashy and all of it blends together rather well.
The ominous heatsink dominates the board, although one may notice that it also manages to have a clean and subdued style. On a related note, one might notice something a little 'off' with this board. At first it might be difficult to identify what exactly it is, and then you see it; this board appears to lack a northbridge! This is mere illusion, however, as AMD's 990FX chipset is located underneath the same lumbering heatsink that takes care of the VRMs and MOSFETs. A closer look at this heatsink reveals a bit more heatsink at the very bottom that is responsible for transferring the heat from the 990FX to the heatsink. An adaptive approach to space constraints, however, I do wonder not only about the affect of the 990FX's close proximity to the VRMs and MOSFETs, but also about cooling issues since all three are now cooled by the same heatsink.
Leading from the primary heatsink is a heatpipe to the smaller, secondary heatsink of the SB950 southbridge. Here, a closer look at the heatsink shows the gray areas between the black areas that change colour to orange followed by red depending on the temperature of the SB950. I express befuddlement at this feature, which ECS refers to as QoolTech. Its purpose is simply to change color depending on what temperature it is from 50-60 °Centigrade. Any one reasonably high-end card used in the first two PCIe x16 slots will block most of the heatsink from view. Furthermore, the board would have to be in plain view while the computer is running to even see it on a regular basis, and in addition, sufficient lighting is required to see the colours regardless of where the board is placed. Undoubtedly it is very cool to look at when it is able to be seen, yet I don't know much of a real reason for it. No matter, removing the heatsink has unveiled the (eS)ATA controller from Marvel for the single ultra-PATA port and two I/O panel eSATA3 ports.
One curious physical feature of the A990FXM-A is the excess height 8-pin 12V power port. As it is here, this port is usually located to the upper left of the board, often behind or very close to the VRM/MOSFET heatsink. With a standard height port it can be a pain in the ass trying to unplug, and sometimes even plugging in, the cable because of the very tight quarters in that area. Even those with smaller hands will become flustered at the difficulty of this simple task. This excess height plug, however, eliminates most if not all of the aggravation associated with this portion of assembly. An excellent feature and a thumbs-up to ECS.
Another questionably useful feature is this set of load indicating LEDs used. The scale reaches from low to high, three for low, and two each for medium and high. All LEDs lit indicates an idle system or one with very little being done, all the way to only one red LED being lit indicating a system under full load. An interesting feature, but again, one that is only useful if the board is in clear view. On the other hand, I can see a use for this feature if this knowledge is helpful to know when in an environment without a monitor of its own, such as the Windows Task Manager.
The right side of the board is home to the usual with a couple extras. RAM slots arranged in the more traditional alternating scheme occupy space immediately to the right of the processor socket. A small speaker near the upper left of the board eliminates the need to forage for an external speaker to debug a system that fails POST. Next to the 24-pin power port is a debug display to assist with debugging. Curiously, however, the included manual does not list the meaning of any of the codes that it may display. Those without access to a second computer with which to look these codes up had better hope that the only errors experienced are the three that ECS briefly mentions that make use of the onboard speaker. How about it, ECS? Six SATA3 ports courtesy of AMD's SB950 and one uATA port courtesy of Marvel's own controller wrap up this portion of the board.
Along the bottom of the board are the traditional connections. The front panel header, two USB headers, one USB3 header, and audio headers. In addition, ECS has included easily reachable power and reset buttons for out-of-case extreme stress testing and benching.
Have no fears over cards not being able to clear the southbridge heatsink, for it is sufficiently low enough that the largest of cards will only be limited to how much horizontal clearance is available. Three PCIe x16 and two PCIe x1 slots decorate the board, and, for those of us still rocking an older PCI device, ECS has thoughtfully included one such slot. In front of the slots are the various controllers for the I/O panel connections, including Realtek's ALC892 audio controller, two Realtek 8111E gigabit ethernet controllers, and one ASMedia 1042 USB3 controller.
The I/O panel has enough connectivity to satisfy anyone out there that happens to have a port fetish. HD audio ports and a single KB/Mouse PS/2, eight USB2 ports, two USB3 ports, two eSATA3 ports, two gigabit Ethernet jacks, and a truly unique addition, a Bluetooth receiver. On the very left of the I/O panel is an easy-access button to clear the CMOS settings should the need arise. This is also becoming standard feature on boards, even on mainstream and low-end parts. And if you're still wondering what those blue port covers are for, they're to protect unused USB ports. Twelve are included, and twelve is the amount supplied by ECS. A curious addition. How about dealing with the stuff in the board? How can I disable the audio, change boot settings, or overclock my processor? Let's find out.