ECS Black Series A990FXM-A Review
Reviewed by: nVidia_Freak
Reviewed on: September 11, 2011
The processor is to the brain, as the motherboard is to the central nervous system. Without one, the other is rather useless. Each plays an integral part in the functiality of a very beautiful system. It can be argued, based on relative amounts of advancement over a given period of time, that processors and motherboards are the more advanced of the two systems. Not because they have surpassed or even met the level of a human's, but because of how far they have advanced in the half-century that each has been around in one form or another. Given the rate of progression, AI may indeed be quite close.
The utilitarian nature of these electronics is one reason why they have developed so rapidly. As opposed to waiting millennia or centuries for the simplest change in architecture or design to change, when one part has outlived its usefulness and can no longer meet the demands of the rest of the system, it can be replaced immediately by a better part. The beauty in this is that these new parts are in constant development, and as soon as the newest part is released, so work is begun on making it better. This artificially created system of evolution is responsible for bringing computers where they are at this very moment.
AMD has been more value oriented than Intel for quite some time, though this is not to discredit their performance in any way. Despite being just a tick behind the evolutionary scale, AMD remains competitive. AMD may have a trick up its sleeve with its next-generation octo-core processors called Bulldozer, which may meet or perhaps pass Intel and regain the evolutionary performance crown. Preceding this by rather a long way off, however, are new motherboards sporting the newest chipset and PGA package. ECS is one of those manufacturers and has created and submitted a high-end AM3+ board for review that sports the newest AMD 990FX/SB950 chipset and AM3+ socket, the A990FXM-A. Let's have a look.
The glossy, green box that enshrouds the A990FXM-A advertises all of the nifty features it offers, some of them courtesy of the new chipsets. Take for instance the reunification of AMD and SLI. The 990FX chipset has support for both Tri-SLI and tri-fire. No longer is it necessary to pay Big Money to play with Green Power, assuredly a welcome change. Beyond simple marketing attempts to spruce up features that have been standard and approaching archaic for some time, ECS highlights some of the more interesting things that this board can do. Tri-Fire/SLI, support for DDR3-2133, and eSATA3 being the more notable features.
With the board come a standard bunch of accessories, which include the User manual, Installation foldout, Driver/Utility DVD, I/O backplate, six SATA cables, three SLi bridges, twelve USB port plugs, one 3.5" bay USB3 with two ports. Nothing out of the ordinary, and in fact the SATA cables are a mild letdown, as right-angle connections are absent. Making up for that, however, is the inclusion of a 3.5" USB3 bay, which can also be transformed with the included hardware to use one of your case's backplates. Onward to more visual stimulation!
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.
Closer Look: BIOS
Like many new motherboards, ECS's A990FXM-A utilises the UEFI and provides a GUI that seems more form over function, which is completely unnecessary and not what a BIOS is for. That said, the UEFI works well enough and provides just as many options as the traditional BIOS. The first thing encountered after entering the BIOS is the welcome screen that shows basic system information and a selection screen that provides quick access to some settings that may need to be changed quickly, including the boot drive priority order. Interestingly, all major languages are offered as part of the GUI should English not be the preferred one. German, Korean, and Russian are just some of the options.
Quick commands and controls are slightly different from the traditional BIOS, but once you figure them out it's no issue. In addition, being a very showy GUI interface, settings and menus can be navigated and changed via the mouse. USB or PS/2 matters not, only your preference. The 'Main' tab allows the quick change of the language, date, and time.
The 'Advanced' tab provides the opportunity to fine-tune things just so. All the onboard features, power settings, and AMD specific tech, like Cool 'n' Quiet, can be enabled or disabled here. The 'Smart Fan' function allows one to set fans connected to the CPU and SYSTEM_FAN headers to be controlled either based on temperature or at a constant speed.
The lonely 'Chipset' tab is home only to the two settings concerning the onboard audio controller and what the computer ought to or not to do when power is restored after a power failure.
ECS calls its performance adjusting section 'M.I.B. X' or Motherboard Intelligent BIOS X. Why 'X'? Because 'X' is cool, that's why. Voltages, frequencies, timings, and a few curious options under 'Power Planes and Voltage Controls' are all of the things that can be adjusted within. My only gripe is that there is not option to adjust the processor's bus multiplier and the RAM speed can only be adjusted by selecting a particular speed, while no divider is shown, and what speed the RAM boots when overclocked is a mild nightmare to figure out. Otherwise, it's rather thorough.
Booting up with the A990FXM-A will either be a nightmare or great depending on whether you're the type to be cluttered or neat. ECS offers eight selections for boot priority. Just in case the four hard drives, two optical drives, and both your USB sticks all happen to fail at the same time, you can still have your rig boot on sheer willpower alone.
An admin password can be enabled for extra security, and various settings can be saved under profiles for one setup or another. Additionally, the final window lets one know how to manually override the previously selected boot drive by pressing and holding the number of the desired drive.
Included with ECS's A990FXM-A is a DVD that includes drivers for various components on the motherboard as well as a few select programs. Once taken to the main menu after inserting the DVD, one is greeted with a little program ECS calls its Setup Utility. The 'Driver' tab is the home tab and allows the installation of the drivers needed for the board. Pressing 'Setup' performs a 'silent' installation of all the needed drivers, meaning that one click is all that's needed to get things going. Optionally, for those that prefer to install drivers manually, or would like to select which to install and which to not, one can browse through the disc and manually install them via Device Manager. Drivers for the 990FX chipset, Realtek's gigabit ethernets, Marvel's eSATA3 controller, ASMedia's USB3 controller, and the Bluetooth receiver are included. ECS also includes a set of programs and utilities. Some are their own proprietary programs for this motherboard, which I'll get into shortly, and two are for basic functionality. ECS includes Adobe's free PDF Reader and Norton Internet Security 2011. Although many enthusiasts will likely ignore these programs in favor of possibly free, better alternatives; particularly for an AV choice, be aware that 60 days are included free of charge with Norton Internet Security 2011. Food for thought.
ECS includes a variety of its own system performance-based programs to make tweaking and updating easier for the end user. From overclocking to UEFI updates, they can do it all. These programs are names of three or four letter acronyms, none of which are clarified, though some are obvious. Up first is eBLU, which likely stands for 'ecs BIOS Live Update' or some such thing. eBLU lets one quickly check if the UEFI for one's ECS motherboard is up to date. If one is available, clicking the 'Install' button will download and install the updated UEFI and install it, after which a reboot is required. The UEFI version that shipped with this review sample was several months out of date and installing the newest one was no issue at all.
eDLU or Driver Live Update is not so much a program as much as it is a hyperlink with a GUI. Clicking the 'Start' button brings one to ECS's webpage for the motherboard in question and directs one to the drivers section. The idea is that ECS will keep the drivers for the various controllers on the motherboard up to do date so that one doesn't need to run around to six or seven different places to get drivers. Unfortunately, several of the drivers already have one or more updated versions available on their own websites. This has the potential to be something nice, but ECS has to work to keep the driver downloads up to date at all times.
eOC is ECS's Windows based overclocking utility. Two modes, 'Easy' and 'Advanced' are available, each with its own options. 'Easy' mode only allows the adjustment of the CPU bus and no adjustments of voltage values for the processor, chipset, or RAM. In 'Advanced' mode these values can be changed and applied. After clicking the 'Apply' button, several seconds will pass before the settings are activated. Unfortunately, this doesn't always work, and the program seems to prefer small jumps over large ones. System hangs and outright hard resets were not uncommon in my trials with eOC. That said, when it does work it works well enough. Once one arrives at one's desired settings, they can be saved to an eOC profile and be set to load at startup or when the program is launched. A timer can also be used if one wants a chance to void the settings before they take effect. A quick click will also take one to ECS's website to check for an updated version of the eOC utility, of which there is already one available.
eSF is a software fan controller utility for use with fans plugged into the motherboard's CPU and SYSTEM fan headers. Several built-in profiles are available to provide various amounts of air flow and noise. Additionally, a custom mode is available should none of the included profiles satisfy your cooling or noise requirements.
eGS is ECS's power-saving utility that further compliments or can be used in place of AMD's own Cool 'n' Quiet. Automatic mode is selected by default to underclock the processor as is necessary by system load. Selecting normal mode will run the processor at its configured speed regardless of load, and the green mode will run the processor at its selected reduced speed regardless of load. Green mode also offers settings for the hard drive and monitor. I don't quite see the use in this program since these features are things available in the UEFI/BIOS and in Windows and can be set with ease. Furthermore, the underclocking control setting merely effect the bus frequency, and not the multiplier, which Cool 'n' Quiet will. Green is good, but this is simply redundant.
|CPU Support||AMD AM2/3/3+ Processors up to 140W TDP, 32nm FX|
|Northbridge Chipset||AMD 990FX|
|Southbridge Chipset||AMD SB950|
|Memory||Support up to 128GB dual-channel DDR3 up to 2133(OC)/1866/1600/1333/1066 DDR3 SDRAM|
|Expansion Slots||3x PCIe x16 2.0, 2x PCIe x1, 1x PCI|
|Storage||6x SATA3 via SB950, 2x eSATA3 and 1x uATA via Marvell 9128|
|Audio||Realtek ALC892 8CH HD Audio|
|Networking||Dual Realtek RTL8111E Gigabit Ethernet|
|I/O Panel Connectivity||1x PS/2 KB/Mouse, 1x Bluetooth Transceiver, 8x USB2, 2x RJ45, 2x USB3, 2x eSATA3, 1x SPDIF, 5x Audio|
|BIOS||AMI BIOS with 32Mb SPI ROM|
|Form Factor||ATX (305mm x 244mm)|
- Rapid 333: Support latest generation USB 3.0, SATA 3.0 (6Gbps) and eSATA 3.0 (6Gbps) high-speed interface technologies that meet the high-capacity and high-speed needs of multi-media publishing and PC gaming.
- Clear CMOS Button: One of ECS 4"E" Design which is especially a great plus that brings users remarkable convenience while overclocking or tweaking system performance. ( 4"E" Design : Easy button; DebugLED; Clear CMOS; Right-Angled SATA Slots)
- Mutli-language BIOS: Multi-language BIOS allows you to see and set up the BIOS with your native language. It helps Non-English users to solve the problem of setting up the BIOS and achieve extra system performance easily.
- ECS GUI UEFI BIOS: ECS GUI UEFI BIOS is a convenient tool for tweaking BIOS in Graphical interface. Users can select functions in BIOS with mouse and keyboard. The user-friendly interface with ECS designed wallpaper radically brings users convenience and easy-to-use experience.
- Supports 140W CPU: Mainbords support 140W CPU processors.
- HT3.0: The highly scalable Hyper Transport 3.0 is capable to provide incredible bandwidth of the system bus up to 20.8GB/s which would dramatically elevate the efficiency of computing performance.
- Support 32nm processors: New 32nm architecture enables support for 6 cores (or above) CPUs as well as the multi-chip packages that allow for integrated graphics on the CPU.
- ATI CrossFire X: The technology not only combines multi-GPU and motherboard power that soars into a new dimension of graphics capability, but also delivers the highest image quality and screen resolutions, even with the most demanding 3D titles.
- Dual Channel DDR3 2133 OC: Dual DDR3 2133 O.C. is able to raise processor and RAM clock up to 2133mHz through capable RAM in overclock mode. It assists system to obtain optimal performance to meet the O.C. enthusiast needs.
- PCI EXPRESS 2.0: The exceptionally increased interconnect bit rate from 2.5GT/s up to 5.0GT/s would effectively eliminates the bottle neck of the system performance and brings the most terrific computing experience from the present to the future.
- RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5: Supports RAID 0(Striped disk array), RAID 1(Mirroring disk array), RAID 0+1(A mirror of stripes), RAID 5(Block Interleaved Distributed Parity). Provides users the performance and protection.
- eSATA 6Gb/s: eSATA III with 6Gb/s data transfer rate can promise substantial performance gain to a new hard drive enclosure. The data transfer rate is double than previous SATA II(3Gb/s) and also supports external HDD hot plug and keyed connector end for fool-proof.
- Content Protection for Blu-Ray: Features Realtek ALC 892 HD Audio Codec with loss-less content protection technology that allows full-rate audio and quality performance for Blu-ray Discs.
- 8 Channel High Definition Audio: Integrated 8-channel HD Audio CODEC delivering advanced multi-channel audio and bringing you the experience of home theater-quality sound.
- Dual Gigabit Lan with teaming: The dual Gigabit LAN with Teaming allows 2 single connections to act as 1 single connection for double bandwidth. In addition, it prevents network downtime by transferring the workload from a failed port to a working port and balances the network traffic load evenly between 2 CPU cores in order to improve performance.
- USB 3.0: The latest generation Super Speed USB 3.0 Card is able to transfer data 10 times faster than USB 2.0. An innovative power management system provide better energy saving and carry more power to recharge more USB rechargeable devices. USB 3.0 Card is compatible with USB 2.0 to add more convenience and excellent performance.
- eBLU - BIOS Live Update Utility: ECS eBLU utility makes updating BIOS fast and easy. eBLU saves time and hassle of searching for BIOS online and avoid complicated flashing steps. With simple and easy steps it checks for new BIOS version on-line and safely guides the user to flash the system BIOS.
- eDLU - Drivers Live Update Utility: ECS eDLU utility makes updating Drivers fast and easy. eDLU Saves time and hassle of searching for Drivers online and avoid complicated steps. With simple and easy steps it checks for new Drivers version on-line and let the user to update the Drivers.
- eSF(ECS Smart Fan Utility): ECS Smart Fan Utility provides smart and user friendly way to adjust fan speed depending on PCs system loading and temperature. It offers five modes to adjust fan speed within safe range without entering BIOS for smart, easy and silent environment.
- eGS (Easy Green Saver): eGS (Easy Green Saver) is a simple and easy-to-use interface for efficient power saving solution. It is based on computer loading to automatically adjust CPU frequency to reduce power consumption. eGS benefits not only by saving personal pocket money but also save environment.
- Norton™ Internet Security: Simple, Easy-to-Use Interface, delivers fast and comprehensive online threat protection, guarding your PC, network, without slowing you down. Giving you greater insight into downloaded applications, whether they can be trusted, and how they may impact your PC’s resources and performance Offering users a safer and more convenient environment than ever.ECS recommends the immediate installation of Norton Internet Security of your computer.
- EZ Charger: EZ Charger technology provides 3 times current than general USB port in off mode for USB devices. It’s useful and excellent, especially for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch devices that need a large amount of current for faster recharging within less time.
- Certified For Windows® 7 Windows® 7 platform introduces a number of manageability improvements that can reduce total cost of ownership by helping to increase automation, improve user productivity, and provide flexible administrative control to meet compliance requirements. It is more user-friendly and has been optimized to consume less system resources with Windows® 7 as well. Furthermore, the VT technology is enhanced to support real-time multimedia application including video playback and 3D games.
- AMD Vision Ready Build your PC with VISION Technology from AMD. Combine AMD processors and ATI Radeon TM graphics to see, share and create a more vibrant digital world.
- EUP 2013: ECS Motherboards have been certified by EuP 2013 of European Union. Stand by mode and off mode not to exceed 0.50W consumption to save energy and maintain sustainable environment.
- Bluetooth Technology: Supports Bluetooth v2.1+ EDR technology, which is easier to connect devices to improve the paring experience on Bluetooth and increasing the use and strength of security. Bluetooth v2.1+ EDR also provides faster data transfer and able to reach 3Mbps with reduced power consumption and improved security. It also offers you a better wireless life.
All information courtesy of ECS @ http://www.ecs.com.tw/ECSWebSite/Product/Product_Detail.aspx?DetailID=1265&CategoryID=1&DetailName=Feature&MenuID=115&LanID=9
To test the ECS A990FXM-A motherboard, I will be running the OCC Motherboard Benchmarking Suite which includes benchmarks of both a synthetic and real-world nature. To eliminate variance between scores as much as possible, and to provide accurately comparative scores, all stock testing will be performed with the same speeds, voltages, timings, and latencies. Each newly received board will be tested on a fresh installation of Windows 7 Ultimate x64, using the most up-to-date drivers for the hardware and chipsets involved. Any one driver will be used with as many boards possible to further curb variances. Hardware PhysX is disabled for any benchmark that would otherwise make use of it.
- Processor: Phenom II x6 1055T
- CPU Cooling: Noctua NH-C12P-SE14
- CPU Fan: Noctua NF-P14
- Motherboard: ECS A990FXM-A
- Memory: Mushkin Redline 996996 PC317000
- Video Card: XFX HD6970 2GB + BFG 8800GT (PhysX)
- Soundcard: ESI Juli@
- Hard Drive: Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 750GB
- Optical Drive: ASUS DRW-24B1ST
- Power Supply: XFX BE 850W
- Case: Corsair Graphite Series 600T
- OS: Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
- Gigabyte 890FXA-UD5
Overclocked Settings with A990FXM-A:
- Processor: 250x14, 2.5GHz HT
- RAM: DDR3-1700 9-11-10-28-39 2T, 1.65V
- Chipsets: NB 1.272V, SB +50mV
Initially, overclocking with the A990FXM-A was a load of bollocks. Voltage settings wouldn't stick, RAM speed wouldn't boot to what I set them too, the bus speed would boot at 230 regardless of where I set it and wouldn't return to stock if I reset it. Add the lack of multiplier and divider settings, and this is quite a pain. eOC worked reasonably well when it did, but, again there are no multiplier settings for the processor or HT bus. Only voltage adjustments for the processor, northbridge, and RAM are available in addition to the processor bus. My experience with eOC is that small adjustments have a better chance of working than large ones. Even if the goal is say to go from the stock bus speed of 200MHz to 230MHz, an attainable clock for any 1055T, the system may freeze or hard reset if going from 200 to 230, whereas better luck is had in 5MHz increments and setting them each time. This is a very tedious process, particularly when attempting to find the highest stable speed. On the same token, loading a setting that causes a large jump as previously mentioned can also cause hangs and resets. I was at a loss as to what to do to commence benchmarking, until all of a sudden the settings I saved in the UEFI started to stick. I was blown away. Up until that point it had not worked, but then it started and so I was happy. So, overclocking, if the board works, use the BIOS to make your initial adjustments, and use eOC for very small tinkering, but after you find where your max is, set it in the BIOS. This of course depends heavily on the settings sticking, and if they do, hoorah! Easily the worst experience I've had overclocking, but the fact that things started to work is good, right? Final OC settings for the A990FXM-A are 250x14, 2.5GHz HT, 1.272 NB, +50 mV SB, RAM at 1700 9-11-10-28-39-2T, 1.65V. This is slightly further than I was able to obtain with my comparison Gigabyte board, and at a 25% increase in speed, not bad.
Using Apophysis, a special OCC fractal will be rendered at 2750x2048 with a quality of 500 and RAM usage limited to 512MB. A lower render time is better.
A special selection of files is used with WinRAR to measure performance by compressing the files in 100MB and 500MB chunks in both ZIP and RAR format. A lower compression time is better.
Geekbench's 'Benchmark' test suite will be used to obtain an overall system score. A higher score is better.
Bibble 5 will be used to convert 100 RAW 8.2MP images to JPEG. Total conversion time was recorded in seconds. Lower conversion time is better.
Overall, a little faster in general, with some slight trading of paint.
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. A lower time 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 quicker completion. A higher average render is better.
PCMark is a full-spectrum benchmark based on real-world tasks, including video transcoding, photo editing, gaming, and web surfing. The suite is designed to provide an overall view of system performance based on scores from these different areas of testing. A higher composite score is better.
Still too close to tell if there's a definite improvement when moving from the 890FX chipset to the 990FX. On the other hand, being able to overclock the 1055T a little bit further shows up in benchmarks like POV Ray that are heavily CPU dependent.
SiSoft Sandra 2011 SP3:
SiSoft's Sandra 2011 SP3 will be used to run a series of synthetic benchmarks to measure the performance of various system components. The CPU and RAM will have the spotlight with these next benchmarks.
The 'Processor Arithmetic' benchmark is up first. This measures the CPU's performance in terms of GIPS and GFLOPS. A higher score is better.
The 'Multi-Core Efficiency' benchmark measures the available bandwidth between the total amount of cores. This is what allows the cores to communicate and spread workload. More bandwidth and lower latency are better.
The 'Memory Bandwidth' benchmark measures the available bandwidth of the installed RAM. Higher bandwidth is better.
Cache and Memory:
'Cache and Memory' measures the bandwidth between the processor's cache and the RAM. Higher bandwidth is better.
Power Management Efficiency:
PME measures the processor's performance in its low-power state to measure how well the processor's low-power functions work when the demand isn't there. A higher score is better and shows how many more times the processor is efficient than at its maximum speed.
A curiously low showing here by ECS's board, though still a similar relative improvement considering the stock performance scores.
ScienceMark measures system performance with benchmarks that are designed not to cater to any one particular CPU architecture, and thus more accurately convey real world performance. A higher score is better.
Cinebench measures processor performance by rendering a high quality 3D scene with all available threads. A higher score is better.
HD Tune measures the HDDs performance in MB/s. Higher read speed, lower access time, and lower CPU utilization are better.
Again, not much swaying one way or the other beyond heavily CPU dependent apps like Cinebench that make use of the little extra speed that this board can let my 1055T run at.
Aliens vs. Predator, developed by Rebellion Developments, is a science fiction first-person shooter and is a remake of its 1999 game. The game is based off the two popular sci-fi franchises. In this game, you have the option of playing through the single player campaigns as one of three species — the Alien, the Predator, and the Human Colonial Marine. The Game uses Rebellion's Asura game engine that supports Dynamic Lighting, Shader Model 3.0, Soft Particle systems, and Physics. To test this game, I will be using the Aliens vs. Predator benchmark tool with the settings listed below. All DirectX 11 features are enabled. More FPS is better.
- SSAO = On
- Texture Quality = Very High
- Hardware Tesselation = On
- Advanced Shadow Sampling = On
Not much to see here since AvP isn't quite CPU dependent.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is an 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. You start off the single player missions playing as Private Allen and jump right into a serious firefight. This is the point where testing will begin. Testing will be done using actual game play with FPS measured by Fraps. Higher FPS is better.
- In-game settings to Maximum
- Fraps-measured gameplay
Still no noteworthy happenings, but such is the case.
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.
- 4xAA in CP
- 16xAF in CP
- Global settings = High
- Ambient Occlusion = On
A little bit of position swapping at the very end of testing, though slight variances may be the case here and not outright gains.
3DMark 11 is the next installment for Futuremark in the 3DMark series with Vantage as its predecessor. The name implies that this benchmark is for Microsoft DirectX 11 and with an unintended coincidence, the name matches the upcoming date in number (which was the naming scheme to some prior versions of 3DMark nonetheless). 3DMark 11 is designed solely for DirectX 11 so Windows Vista or 7 are required along with a DirectX 11 graphics card in order to run this test. The Basic Edition has unlimited free tests on performance mode whereas Vantage only allowed for a single test run. The advanced edition costs $19.95 and unlocks nearly all of the features of the benchmark and the professional edition runs $995.00 and is mainly suited for corporate use. The new benchmark contains six tests, four of which are aimed only at graphical testing, one to test for physics handling and one to combine graphics and physics testing together. The open source Bullet Physics library is used for physics simulations and although not as mainstream as Havok or PhysX, it still seems to be a popular choice.
With the new benchmark comes two new demos that can be watched, both based on the tests but unlike the tests, these contain basic audio. The first demo is titled "Deep Sea" and have a few vessels exploring what looks to be a sunken U-Boat. The second demo is titled "High Temple" and is similar to South American tribal ruins with statues and the occasional vehicle around. The demos are simple in that they have no story, they are really just a demonstration of what the testing will be like. The vehicles have the logos of the sponsors MSI and Antec on their sides with the sponsorships helping to make the basic edition free. The four graphics tests are slight variants of the demos. I will use the three benchmark test preset levels to test the performance of each card. The presets are used as they are comparable to what can be run with the free version so that results can be compared across more than just a custom set of test parameters.
- Default test settings
- Entry test: 1024 x 600
- Performance test: 1280 x 720
- Extreme test: 1920 x 1080
Slight variances again, how exciting. Get Bulldozer out, AMD, so we can start having some fun with these AM3+ boards!
So what's ECS got here? In terms of functionality the A990FXM-A is loaded with USB2/3 and SATA ports, so storage ought to not be an issue. Functionally, the board isn't spectacular having experienced issues with saving overclocking settings or not saving them at all. Additionally, the included overclocking software isn't brilliant and is temperamental as to when it will hang and when it will pass the settings on and doesn't offer anything more than what's offered in the UEFI to begin with. It's more of a hassle to use the OC software and I would recommend steering clear of it. Although overclocking from the UEFI is also rather temperamental, more settings are offered, though the lack of a multiplier control is aggravating, even with a 1055T with a limited 14x multiplier. For someone with a 1090T or higher this could be rather limiting for overclocking. That said, even the UEFI has issues holding settings, but it seems to be more reliable and less of a problem than eOC. The rest of the software isn't mindblowing, but some of it, particularly the Driver Live Update utility have potential to be very helpful. Unfortunately, ECS already isn't keeping the drivers up to date, and for eDLU to be anything more than another thing to add to a list, ECS has to do that.
On the other hand, when the board does function properly, which is more often than I may make it seem, it holds its own. With this board I was able to overclock a 1055T that was previously limited to 3.43GHz at 1.34V with a Gigabyte 890FXA-UD5 to 3.5GHz at stock volts, although, I didn't have much of a choice as to how much power the processor took on, because despite loading the correct bus and RAM speeds, CPU voltage never budged. Within this example of the A990FXM-A working patchily is its surprising strength at overclocking with its ability to overclock not only further, but with less power.
Overall, I quite like the board when it works. When it doesn't work, however, it's sufficiently aggravating. The only other 'problem', which is one that AMD needs to address, is the lack of Bulldozers to use with AM3+ boards such as this one. None of the features that are specifically geared toward these as of yet unreleased processors are able to be used and I have a sneaking suspicion that this board and others like it will shine a little brighter once they are. Until then, I can only recommend it based on what's available now, and as it is, I would stick with an 890FX based board if that's what it would replace unless Bulldozer is on your radar. If this would be a first upgrade in five years, I would also recommend it to be future-proof for Bulldozer. As a sidestep upgrade or a switch from Intel, I would wait for BD to be released first. On the whole, a good board.
- Very clean design
- Extra tall EPS12V power plug
- Loads of connectivity options
- Can OC a little further with less power than last generation boards
- Pleasing when it works
- Temperamental BIOS
- Temperamental OC software
- Mildly aggravating when it fails...continuously