MSI 990FXA GD-80 Reviewccokeman - November 10, 2011
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MSI's 990FXA-GD80 is an ATX form factor board that is designed and built around the 990FX and SB950 chipsets from AMD. Processor support includes AM3 and AM3+ CPU's from the Sempron and Athlon II up to the Phenom II and now the latest FX series including the just released FX-8150. MSI's Military Class II build methodology is used to improve reliability and improve the life span of the product through the use of components such as Tantalum core Hi-C Capacitors, Dynamic switching Super Ferrite chokes, and DrMos. Components that meet Mil Spec MIL STD 810G are used. The 990FXA-GD80 uses the blue, black, and silver theme seen on the rest of its enthusiast lineup. More visually appealing, the updated look has been popular and is a major step forward from the multi colored boards of the past. The large heat sink package used on this board necessitated the use of screws to retain the heat sinks onto the board in lieu of plastic push pins.
Let's start the trip around the board at the I/O panel. Left to right are the PS/2 ports for the keyboard and mouse, the CMOS clear button, Optical and Coax SPDIF outputs, a single VIA® VT6315N chipset based 1394 firewire port supporting 400 Mbps transfer rates, four USB 2.0 ports, a pair of combo eSATA/USB 2.0 ports, a pair of NEC® D720200 USB 3.0 ports, a single Realtek 8111E based Gb Lan port, and the six Realtek® ALC892 audio ports. Expansion capabilities include four 16x PCIe 2.0 slots that run at 16x x 16 x in slots 1 and 3 with a dual video card card configuration, 16x x 8x x 8x with three cards and 16x x 8x x 8x x 4x with 4 cards. Crossfire with 4 cards and 3 way SLI are supported multi GPU solutions. There are 2 PCIe 2.0 1x slots and a single PCI slot. In front of the third 16x slot is a sticker over the Realtek® ALC892 chip that points out the THX TruStudioPro capabilities on this board from MSI.
Along the bottom of the board is a wealth of connectivity including the front panel audio, IEEE 1394 Firewire, Easy 3 button pack that includes the OC Genie one-touch overclocking button and both a Reset and Power button. Beside the Easy Buttons are a pair of USB headers, one of which supports the Super Charger function providing the power to charge your tablet PC with the motherboard powered on or off. The onboard debug LED is helpful for diagnosing issues during the POST sequence. All the way to the right are the front panel connections, TPM header, and Clear CMOS header.
On the right hand side of the board is the drive connectivity. To the left of the six SATA 6Gbps is a USB 3.0 header that is rotated to match the SATA ports allowing it to not cause any clearance issues with multi GPU setups. The six SATA 6Gbps ports are controlled by the SB950 chipset. RAID 0/1/5/10 are supported with transfer rates up to 6Gb/s. Above the drive connectivity is the 24 pin ATX power connector and the four DDR3 DIMM slots that support a dual-channel configuration up to 32GB maximum, although 16GB is going to be more commonly used with the scarcity of 8GB DIMMs. Speeds of up to 2133MHz(Overclocked)/1866MHz native are supported.
Along the top of the PCB there is not a lot to mention with the exceptions being the 8pin auxiliary power connection, the large heat sink over the VRM circuit, and the Active Phase switching LED's that light up to show how many power phases are in operation. These LED's are right above the DIMM slots and are bright enough to be seen in a dim case. When not overclocking, this technology is used to dynamically manage the 8 CPU power phases depending on the processors load to deliver lower power consumption. Gotta go green somewhere.
The AM3+ socket supports both AM3 and AM3+ AMD processors including the AMD Phenom II X8/X6/X4/X3/X2, Athlon II X4/X3/X2 and Sempron CPU's. The area around the socket is clear of any obstructions that would make mounting a large heat sink an issue. The low profile Hi-C capacitors and DrMOS implementation keep the area clean. The 8 Phase power circuit uses APS or Active Phase Switching to manage the power usage dynamically based on current loading. The Super Ferrite chokes used handle up to 30% more than standard chokes and handle it more efficiently as well with a 10% improvement in efficiency.
The heat sink package used on the 990FXA-GD80 is fairly stout. The large heat sink to the left of the AM3+socket covers the DrMOS (Driver Mosfet) package and gets a bit warm under load with a liquid cooling solution for the CPU. Low profile ribbed heat sinks are used for the 990FX and SB950 chipsets to manage the heat from these devices. Much like on the Crosshair V the heatsink over the VRM gets hot without direct airflow. Overclocking drives the heat up another notch.
With a robust feature set and great aesthetics the MSI 990FXA-GD80 looks to offer some serious performance potential. The key is will good looks and strong feature set deliver?