MSI 990FXA GD-80 Review
Reviewed by: ccokeman
Reviewed on: November 10, 2011
Over the past few years MSI has been a company that has catered to the enthusiast and developed products with the feature sets that we like to see and use. Things like its OC Genie and now OC Genie II one touch hardware-based overclocking system make it easy for the novice to get a boost in performance with little or no overclocking knowledge needed, all by pushing a button and powering on the system. Things like their Military Class(II) build philosophy, DrMOS, Active Phase switching, and more add value, stability and reliability to the motherboards design. New with the 990FXA-GD80 is the addition of a uEFI BIOS that is leaps and bounds above what was offered earlier in the year. This addition brings with it support for 3TB hard drives. Although this board has been out since June, it received support for AMD's FX-8150 8 core processor and is the top of the line AMD based board in MSI's lineup. As such, the expectation is that it will be a high performing board. Let's see how it performs against the competition. If the levels of performance of its Intel-based boards are any indication, than the 990FXA-GD80 should do well.
Packaging-wise the 990FXA-GD80 looks much the same as the latest Intel motherboards that I have recently looked at from MSI. The feature set is pushed up-close and personal with MSI's Military Class II technology graphic taking center stage on the packaging. The warranty period of three years is prominently highlighted on the front panel reinforcing the commitment to quality and reliability. Across the top are the supported technologies including both CrossfireX and SLI multi GPU graphics solutions, support for AMD's FX series of processors and Windows 7 support. USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gbps are supported on the 990FXA GD-80. The front of the packaging flips up to reveal information about the supported technologies including the implementation of MSI's Click BIOS II uEFI BIOS, Super Charger functionality and the THX TruStudioPro sound solution. A rendering of the 990FXA-GD-80 surrounded by pictures of the highlighted features is shown as well giving the consumer an idea what the board looks like.
Flip open the lid and the size of the accessory bundle is apparent. MSI usually sends a pretty substantial accessory bundle with its higher-end offerings and this board is no exception to that rule. There are two parts to the bundle — the documentation and the hardware. Documentation for the 990FXA-GD80 includes the manual, driver disk, quick start and user guides, MSI product brief, and a software user guide. On the hardware side there are 4 SATA 6Gbp/s cables, a pair of molex to SATA power adapters, a rear slot bracket with additional USB 3.0 ports, the I/O shield, NVIDIA SLI Bridge connectors, and last but not least the M-connectors that make installing all of the front panel wiring a breeze for those of us with big hands.
Knowing what MSI brings to the table and how performance has taken a front seat over the past couple years, I am interested to see how the 990FXA-GD80 performs in relation to what I normally see on their Intel based boards regarding performance and overclocking.
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?
MSI offers a complete line of software utilities to compliment the feature set used on the 990FXA-GD80. First up is the Core Center utility that allows you to overclock the system while in the operating system. Under the overclocking section there are four sections(Mainboard, CPU, Memory and Overclock) that give top line information about the installed components. A drop down box on the right side of each window digs deeper into the hardware profile and settings. The Overclock section is where you can manually configure the settings. There are also several profiles that can be chosen in the overclock section Cooling, Default, Cinema, and Game. Each of these delivers performance characteristics specific for these activities.
Under the OC Genie tab there is a walkthrough on how to enable the OC Genie II functionality including the "Lite" function. Under the Green Power tab are the option to monitor voltages and temperatures, adjust the power phases and turn on/off the motherboard LED's. The monitoring function can be shrunk to the size of a widget to use on the Win 7 sidebar or dragged anywhere on the desktop to monitor the CPU frequency and temperature.
Live update is an application that is used to update the drivers, BIOS, and MSI utilities installed. The program runs in the background and is configurable to meet most needs. It can be run manually or set to check automatically.
Audio Genie is used to tailor the sound settings, the speaker configuration, and the THX audio settings to your liking. Auto Boot is used to set the computer to wake and start on a user determined schedule. Easy Viewer is an 3D image viewer/manipulation tool that supports NVIDIA 3D Vision. The Teaming Genie is used to balance network traffic and provide some redundancy if one port fails. Super Charger is an application that is tailored to provide charging for mobile devices and specifically the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. The iPad requires up to 1.6 amps to charge rather than the .5a found on the USB circuit. This works through the special Super Charger capable USB port on the PCB to allow charging these devices even while in suspend or hibernation mode.
Lets see how this offering from MSI performs with AMD's latest processor the FX-8150.
MSI has updated their uEFI BIOS to make it look more in line with what a high performance motherboard BIOS should look like. Rolled out first on their latest Z68 offerings, Click BIOS II now has a home on their AMD lineup. Across the top of the main page is a wealth of information including the date & time, boot sequence, installed processor and clock speed, amount of memory and speed. There are three different modes to choose from, Eco, Standard, and OC Genie II. Eco locks certain parameters to ensure that the board and CPU run using as little current as possible, Standard gives full control of the BIOS so that it can be tailored to run as the user likes, including manual overclocking and OC Genie II to lock certain parameters to allow the OC Genie II Functionality. Taking screen shots of the BIOS is now a possibility by pushing the F12 key to paste an image to an installed thumb drive making it easier to share settings or for diagnostic purposes. One other addition is the ability to use 3TB and larger drives to their full capacity by moving to a uEFI BIOS.
This first section contains the System Status, Advanced, Boot, and Save & Exit drop down menus. The System Status menu shows the date and time, the connected system drives, and system information on the installed processor. The Advanced drop down has more detail and is where you can configure the integrated peripherals, such as the system drives mode (IDE, AHCI, RAID), enable or disable the LAN controllers, and enable or disable the audio controller. The Hardware Monitor is where the fan controller settings can be configured, as well as monitoring the CPU and System temperatures. There are a few more settings, but these few are where the most time can be spent. The Boot menu is where the drive boot order is established. It can be done at the top of the main menu by dragging and dropping the drives in the correct order or preference. Additionally, the full screen logo can be turned on or off to suit the end user's preference.
Under this tab is where all the overclocking goes on. At the top is the reference clock and clock ratio tuning, the CPU/NB clock ratio, OC Genie II can be enabled or disabled, Turbo Core can be enabled or disabled to lock the clock speed, DRAM frequency adjustments cap at 1866MHz but can go higher with overclocking, DRAM timings opens another window to manually tweak the memory primary and secondary timings. All of the voltages can be tweaked and are sufficient to get the clock speeds out of your processor. The one missing item is a means to control voltage droop. Overclocking profiles enables the user to save up to six specific profiles. Each profile can be named independently of each other. This makes working on settings much easier after a failed overclock. CPU Specifications details the frequency, CPU Microcode, L1/L2 cache size and VID. Memory-Z shows the information on the installed memory's SPD chip including any vendor specific profiles. CPU Specifications allows the user to turn on or off AMD's Cool and Quiet technology and enable or disable C6 states.
This section is where the energy saving features are enabled or disabled, CPU C1E, CPU Phase control, DDR Phase control, Core C6 States, and motherboard LED control can be turned on or off here. EuP 2013 is the Standby mode supported with this implementation not to exceed 1.00 watt of power in standby or off mode when priding a display. Voltages can be checked here, as well as the power draw through the Green Power Genie section.
In the utilities section, HDD Backup, Live update, and M-Flash can be accessed. HDD Backup and Live update can be used from either MSI's Linux based Winki quick boot software or in the operating system and by clicking either of these icons that is where the direction goes. M-Flash is used as an easy way to flash the BIOS with a simple to use utility that looks for the replacement BIOS ROM file on removable media like a thumb drive.
In this section, admin and user passwords are configured. Chassis Intrusion settings are configured here for a one stop shop for the security needs of the board.
Compared to the earlier attempts at the uEFI BIOS at the beginning of this year, MSI has come a long way towards giving a new look and making it easier to navigate through it. I had some issues initially with the first BIOS sent for the board. With my Logitech MX 510 as my mouse I was unable to navigate through the BIOS, as the mouse cursor would move opposite the direction intended, which made things difficult. Navigating with the keyboard was fine. MSI stepped up and resolved the issue with a revision to the BIOS so that going forward the latest BIOS is ready to go.
64bit AMD® Phenom II X8/X6/X4/X3/X2, Athlon II X4/X3/X2 and Sempron CPU in AM3 / AM3+ package.
Please refer to CPU Support for compatible CPU; the above description is for reference only.
Hyper Transport Bus
HyperTransport 3.0 supporting speed up to 5200MT/s
AMD® 990FX and SB950 Chipset
Supports four unbuffered DIMM of 1.5 Volt DDR3 800/1066/1333/1600/1800*/2133* (OC) DRAM, 32GB Max
• 4 PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots
• 2 PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots
• 1 PCI slot, support 3.3V/ 5V PCI bus Interface.
• 6 SATA III (1~6) ports by AMD® SB950
- Supports storage and data transfers at up to 6Gb/s
SATA III 1~6 support RAID 0, 1, 5, 10 mode by AMD® SB950
MSI Reminds You...
• The RAID setup floppy disk is optional depending on the districts. You can download the files from the website to make the setup disk.
• 2 USB 3.0 ports by NEC® D720200
• Chipset integrated by Realtek® ALC892
- True Blu-ray Audio Support
- Flexible 8-channel audio with jack sensing
- Compliant with Azalia 1.0 Spec
• Realtek PCI-E GbLAN controller 8111E
- Integrated Fast Ethernet MAC and PHY in single chip
- Supports 10Mb/s, 100Mb/s and 1000Mb/s
- Compliance with PCI-Express Bus specification v1.0a
IEEE1394 / FireWire
• VIA® VT6315N chipset
- Supports up to two 1394 ports. (pinheader x2)
- Transfer rate is up to 400Mbps.
Internal I/O Connectors
- 1 x ATX 24-pin power connector
- 1 x ATX 8-pin 12V CPU power connector
- CPU x 1 / System x 4 FAN connectors
- 1 x Front panel audio connector
- 1 x Front panel connector
- 1 x Chassis intrusion switch connector
- 2 x USB 2.0 connectors
- 1 x USB 3.0 connector
- 6 x Serial ATA III connectors
- 1 x IEEE1394 connector
- 1 x Serial port connector
- 1 x Power button
- 1 x Reset button
- 1 x OC Genie button
- 1 x Debug LED display
- 1 x Clear CMOS jumper
- 1 x SPDIF-out connector
- 1 x TPM module connector
Back Panel I/O Ports
- 1 x PS/2 Keyboard port
- 1 x PS/2 Mouse port
- 1 x Claer CMOS button
- 1 x Coaxial SPDIF-out
- 1 x Optical SPDIF-out
- 4 x USB 2.0 ports
- 2 x USB 3.0 ports (blue)
- 2 x eSATA / USB 2.0 Combo ports
- 1 x RJ45 LAN Jacks
- 1 x 6 in 1 audio jack
• 30.5cm(L) x 24.4cm(W) ATX Form Factor
• 9 mounting holes.
- OC Genie II – Overclock & Unlock CPU Core in 1 Second: OC Genie II, the most powerful and easy overclocking technology is implemented on MSI's AMD 9-Series mainboards. MSI's OC Genie II completely automates advanced overclocking functions and offers up to 248% higher performance with the simple click of a button. It does not matter if you're a first time hardware owner, or a veteran overclocker, activating MSI OC Genie II will unlock your hidden CPU cores, overclock your CPU and your memory to simply give you the best and stable performance for free on MSI AMD 9-Series mainboard available. Benefits:
- Automatically overclock & unlock hidden CPU core(s) in 1 second
- Instantly boost system performance up to 248%
- Military Class II: The perfect trinity of quality, stability and efficiency all exist at one mainboard to meet end user expectations. The MSI Military Class II series products provide the long lifespan, unparalleled quality, extreme performance and ultimate efficiency.
8X Lifespan than solid Capacitor!!
Insisting on the best stability, MSI utilizes Hi-c CAPs on Military Class series. Made of the rare element Tantalum, often used on space shuttles and satellites, which sustains very high temperatures and shows an amazingly high electrical conductivity.
SFC(Super Ferrite Choke).The super Ferrite Chokes use a Ferrite core that is Super-Permeable. Compare with traditional choke, the Super Ferrite Chokes run at a 35 degree Celsius lower temperature. The lower working temperature will enhance mainboard stability.
10 years long lifespan
For providing the highest quality products, we built-in Solid CAP in the entire Military Class series. This not only makes bursting capacitors a non-issue but also ensures a dramatically extended lifetime and ultra-low ESR.
- THX TruStudio PRO: THX is a trade mark of a high-end audio/visual reproduction standard for movies, home theaters, computer speakers and other audio devices. THX Certified Audio products are designed to let users experience movies & videos as live show. The true sound effect can make high definition video more powerful.
- A high-fidelity sound reproduction standard
- Accurately reproduce the fullest audio experience of movie, music and game soundtracks
- Super Charger: Mobile consumer appliances are getting more and more attention in current day fast moving life style, with smart phones and tablets almost becoming a fashion accessory. However, many ordinary personal computers cannot charge some of these devices, making it difficult to stay connected. The MSI Super Charger is a Windows resident program capable of revising the power supply mode of your USB port to become more powerful. Once your phone or tablet is connected to your USB port, the Super Charger sends a signal to initiate its charging circuit, making it a really smart and convenient charging solution for mobile computing needs.
- Instant MB info monitor
- Green Power: CPU Phase, system fan speed controlled with max power saving
- Smart Mode: 4 instant OC modes
- USB 3.0: Compared to the 480Mbps provided by traditional USB 2.0, the all-new USB 3.0's 5Gb/s offers 10 times the transfer bandwidth, so transferring a Blu-ray movie takes less than one minute. MSI also has implemented a front panel USB 3.0 port, making the use of an external USB 3.0 device even more convenient.
- 10X Faster Than USB 2.0
- Up to 5Gb/s Data Transfer Bandwidth
- World’s first to provide Front Panel USB 3.0 Port
- Boost Transfer Rate Between Your PC and External Storage Devices
- SATA 6Gb/s: SATA 6Gb/s provides double the bandwidth of traditional SATA 3Gb/s, and increases the data transfer rate between your mainboard and internal storage devices, such as 7200RPM HDDs, 10000RPM HDDs and SSDs. It’s also the current trend for upcoming high-speed internal storage devices to to break the existing bottleneck of a PC’s performance. Features - 2X Faster Than SATA 3Gb/s - Up to 6Gb/s Data Transfer Bandwidth- Unleash True Performance of New HDDs/SSDs
- Lossless 24-bit/192KHz HD Audio:Onboard PC audio gets better! MSI is the first to implement the most high-end HD Audio codecs available. Don’t be fooled by other inferior audio solutions onboard (sometimes you can’t even find the driver!) Only MSI offers the Loss-less 24-bit/192KHz HD Audio function with an incredible 109 SNR dB value to provide the most clear & vivid HD audio quality and support 7.1 channels surround sound playback with a 2-channel independent stereo output (multiple streaming) through the front panel 3.5 inch phone jack.
- Winki 3: Winki 3 is a free Linux-based O/S which is based on the Linux core. With an ultra-fast booting speed and a multi-language interface, the built-in Winki 3 provides an easy-to-use internet environment that includes the most popular functions such as internet surfing, web mail, instant messaging, picture browsing, and more. It's the most practical way to be online in the shortest time.
- User friendly & totally free applications
- Power on to run applications in 25 seconds
- Multi-language interface support
- APS (Active Phase Switching): Active Phase Switching, APS, technology is an intelligent design that helps to save energy on MSI’s mainboards. The underlying idea is to switch off the power supply as soon as no electricity is needed, and when the system needs more resources again, APS will automatically adjust electricity supply accordingly. APS will automatically detect your processor’s loading at any given time and save energy accordingly. This is only possible by means of a very advanced power controlling technology. Other than software-based solutions, APS technology stands out from MSI's own research. The specially developed IC chip can operate automatically depending on the demands of the power supply, which is to reduce the total power usage.
- M-Flash: Compared to common mainboard which need extra BIOS chips, MSI’s M-Flash has a double advantage which doesn’t need extra components and secondly, all your BIOS data will be saved in the USB drive. The stored data does not only have backup and upgrade function, moreover it can also be seen as a portable BIOS chip which is actually able to boot up your PC.
- Backup/Restore Your BIOS to/from Any USB Flash Disk
- Avoid Unnecessary Repair Due to Accident Failures During The Upgrading Process
- Earn more BIOS Lifespan by Reducing Unnecessary Rewriting Process
- USB Safeguard: USB Safeguard can prevent mainboards and USB devices from being damaged by short-circuit and ESD (Electro-Static Discharge) with Anti-ESD chips built-into the mainboards. Additionally, the safeguard can protect against such dangers multiple times, and greatly improves product lifespan.
- All MSI mainboards use USB Safeguard’s anti-ESD chip for thorough protection against ESD damage
- USB Safeguard is protected against a short circuit and/or ESD without the need for a fuse. It also supports stand-by power supply
- AMD CrossFireX: AMD CrossFireX™ is the ultimate multi-GPU performance gaming platform. Enabling game-dominatig power, AMD CrossFireX technology enables two or more discrete graphics processors to work together to improve graphics performance. AMD CrossFireX technology allows you to expand your system’s graphics capabilities. It allows you the ability to scale your system’s graphics horsepower as you need it, supporting up to four AMD Radeon™ HD graphics cards, making it the most scalable gaming platform ever. With an AMD CrossFireX gaming technology, the traditional graphics limitation exists no more, allowing you to enjoy higher performance as well as visual experience.
- Live Update 5: MSI Live Update 5 is a powerful and useful application for updating the latest BIOS and Drivers, saving you time and lowers the risk of updating. End-users can install and run the Live Update 5 software on their computers with the companion CD or downloading the app from the MSI website.
- Automatically Detect the BIOS/Driver/VGA/Utility Update
- Support Microsoft Windows 98SE/ME/2000/XP/Vista/7 32Bit
- NVIDIA SLI: SLI technology allows using multiple Nvidia graphics cards in a single computer system with a mainboard equipped with an nForce SLI MCP. Users need an a mainboard with two PCI-Express 16x graphics slots and two matching GeForce graphics cards which are "SLI Ready". Most NVIDIA's PCI-Express graphics cards starting from the 6600 GPU can enjoy the benefits of SLI.
- DrMOS: In order to provide customers stable and high quality products, starting from P45 series mainboards, MSI is leading the industry to introduce the world's most advanced power supply component, DrMOS (Driver-MOSFET), which integrates Driver IC, Top MOSFET and Bottom MOSFET into one chip. Except for its outstanding performance in power saving, DrMOS possesses switch frequency which is 400% faster than traditional MOSFET and has great improvement in stabilizing power supply and voltage control. Even under heavy loading and overclocking conditions, DrMOS can still provide the most stable and efficient power supply and quality.
- Cool'n'Quiet: AMD Cool'n'Quiet™ Technology reduces heat and noise so you can experience amazing performance without distraction. Combined with core enhancements, included in the AMD processors, that can improve overall power savings, deliver better multitasking and energy efficiency. Cool'n'Quiet technology can automatically adjust processor ratio to throttle CPU speed with four modes.
- Independent Dynamic Core Technology
- Dual Dynamic Power Management™
- AMD CoolCore™ Technology
- AMD Wideband Frequency Control
- Multi-Point Thermal Control
- 3TB+ Infinity: 3TB+ Infinity is not only breaking through the limit of traditional BIOS, but also enhancing the utilization of hard drives efficiently. In addition to supporting the latest 3TB hard drives, MSI 3TB+ Infinity technology can use the 3TB hard drive as boot disk when installing a 64-bit operating system. Compared to competitors, MSI 3TB+ Infinity is an industry-leading technology which substantially presents an advantage of development and application in the future.
- All the latest 3TB hard drivers on the market can be supported
- Make the 3TB hard drive as boot disk when installing a 64-bit operating system
All information Courtesy of MSI @ http://us.msi.com/product/mb/990FXA-GD80.html
Testing this latest 990FX based board from MSI will involve running it through OCC's test suite of benchmarks, which include both synthetic benchmarks and real-world applications, to see how each of these products perform. The gaming tests will also consist of both synthetic benchmarks and actual gameplay, in which we can see if similarly prepared setups offer any performance advantages. The system will receive a fully updated, fresh install of Windows 7 Professional 64-bit edition in addition to the latest drivers for each board and the latest AMD Catalyst drivers for the XFX HD 6970. To ensure as few variables as possible, all hardware will be tested at their stock speeds, timings, voltages and latencies – unless otherwise stated. Turbo Boost is disabled on all processors to make a fair comparison without skewing the results.
Testing Setup: AMD AM3
- Processors: AMD FX-8150
- Motherboard: MSI 990FXA-GD80
- Cooling: Noctua NH-U12P SE
- Memory: Mushkin 996996 Redline PC317000 9-11-10-28 8GB
- Video Card: XFX Radeon HD6970
- Power Supply: Mushkin Joule 1000w Modular Power Supply
- Hard Drive: 1 x Seagate 1TB SATA
- Optical Drive: ASUS Blu-Ray
- Case: Corsair Graphite Series 600T
- OS: Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
- Processor: AMD FX-8150 @ 4816 MHz 299x22
After cutting my teeth overclocking the FX-8150 on the ASUS Crosshair V, I was excited to see how MSI's top end offering would fair as I heard it was going to be part of the AMD launch when I visited Austin for the AMD Tech Day back in September. This was my chance to see just where the performance curve fell. Overclocking started well but quickly became a game of chasing the vdroop to get the voltage to fall where the chip needed the voltage for specific clock speeds. There is no means to control the vdroop in the BIOS that I could find so I was stuck with increasing the voltage to compensate. The large vdroop is most likely caused by the significant power consumption of the CPU when the clock speeds are ramped way up. The drain is enough at 4.8GHz that the system fans can be heard slowing down as the load is applied. The end result of the exercise was that I was able to get an overclock stable above 4.8GHz using a reference clock of 219Mhz with a clock multiplier of 22 for a final speed of 4816MHz. I was expecting more, or at least some parity with ASUS's offering as its Intel offerings are spot on with the competition. One area where MSI has traditionally excelled was in its OC Genie one-touch overclocking tools. What I found when using the function was that I could post the system at roughly 4.0GHz but it was not stable enough to get into the operating system at all. If I tried to tweak any of the settings in the BIOS the values would remain as they were set by the OC Genie. This may mean more BIOS tweaking to get AMD's latest processor to play nice but I was disappointed to see that this tool and overall overclocking were a bit sketchy at best. Still a 1.2GHz bump in clock speed is going to do wonders for performance when compared to stock speed performance and is an almost 33% increase over the base clock speed. Cooling the the FX-8150 at these speeds and voltages will require better than air cooling. At a minimum, a self contained water cooling system like the FX liquid cooling solution that AMD is offering or one of the latest offerings from Corsair or Antec. Keeping the processor cool is the way to keep it from throttling.
Maximum Clock Speeds:
Each CPU has been tested for stability at the overclocked speeds listed. These clock speeds will represent the overclocked scores in the testing.
- Scientific & Data:
- Geekbench 2.1
- Office 2007 Excel Number Crunch
- POV Ray 3.7
- Bibble 5
- Sandra 2011
- AIDA64 1.85
- Proshow Gold
- Handbrake .9.5
- ScienceMark 2.02
- Cinebench 10 & 11.5
- HD Tune 4.60
- Aliens vs. Predator
- Civilization V
- Battlefield Bad Company 2
- 3DMark 11
The first part of our testing will involve 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:
- Resolution: 2750 x 2048
- Quality: 500
- Limit Memory use: 512MB
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. Here we will test the time needed to compress files of 100MB and 500MB. Time will be measured in seconds.
Lower is Better
Lower is Better
Geekbench 2.1 is a benchmark that tests CPU and memory performance in an easy-to-use tool. The measure used for comparison is the total suite average score.
Higher is Better
This test consists of converting 100 8.2MP RAW images to jpeg format. The file size is 837MB. The measure used for comparison is time needed to convert the file in seconds.
Lower is Better
Starting off the testing shows that boards equipped with the same hardware perform in a similar envelope.
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 the amount of time 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 MultiProcessing), enabling the workload to be spread across the cores for quicker completion.
Higher Is Better
ProShow Gold: This program is used to take a collection of images and stitch them together in a slide show, using a variety of transitions and effects, to make a compelling show you can share with friends and family. The workload consists of 29 high-resolution images that are stitched into a 3 minute video file.
Lower Is Better
Handbrake .9.5: is an open source application used to transcode multiple video formats to an h.264 output format. The test file size is 128MB in size and 43 seconds in length.
Lower Is Better
Again the results fall into the same performance envelope at stock speeds. Variances can be as simple as the tweaking done to the secondary timings for the memory. When both boards are overclocked, the higher clocked board is the stronger performer.
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.
Cache and Memory
Power Management Efficiency
AIDA64 Extreme Edition: is a software utility designed to be used for hardware diagnosis and benchmarking. I will be using the CPU Queen test that looks for the solution for the "Queens" problem on a 10x10 chessboard. This tests the branch prediction capabilities of the processor. The FPU Mandel test measures double precision floating point performance through computation of several frames of the "Mandelbrot" fractal.
Higher is Better
In most of these tests the MSI board is slightly slower. The memory latency differences may point to the slight differences in performance when only the primary memory timings are manually set.
ScienceMark tests real-world performance instead of using synthetic benchmarks. For this test, we run the benchmark suite and will use the overall score for comparison.
Higher is Better!
CineBench 10 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
Higher is Better
HD Tune measures disk performance to make comparisons between drives or disk controllers.
Higher is Better
Lower is Better
PCMark 7 is the latest iteration of Futuremark's popular PCMark system performance tool. This latest version is designed for use on Windows 7 PCs and features a combination of 25 different workloads to accurately measure the performance of all PCs from laptops to desktops.
Higher is Better
In this series of tests the 990FXA-GD80 is the slower board. The exception is the PCMark 7 default speed testing. That has to be taken for what its worth because the differences in performance are slight enough that in everyday situations the difference will not be felt.
Aliens vs. Predator, developed by Rebellion Developments, is a science fiction first-person shooter and a remake of its 1999 game. The game is based on 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, or the Human Colonial Marine. The game uses Rebellion's Asura game engine, which supports Dynamic Lighting, Shader Model 3.0, Soft Particle systems and Physics. For testing, I will be using the Aliens vs. Predator benchmark tool with the settings listed below. All DirectX 11 features are enabled.
- 4x AA
- 16x AF
- SSAO = On
- Texture Quality = Very High
- Hardware Tesselation = On
- Advanced Shadow Sampling = On
Higher = Better
Throughout the four tests, the average FPS varied by less than 1 FPS in the Aliens vs. Predator benchmark. Same parts, same performance.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is a first-person shooter developed by EA Digital Illusions CE (DICE) and published by Electronic Arts for Windows, PS3, and Xbox 360. This game is part of the Battlefield franchise and uses the Frostbite 1.5 Engine, allowing for destructible environments. You can play the single-player campaign or multiplayer, with five different game modes. Released in March 2010, it has sold in excess of six million copies so far.
- 4x AA
- 16x AF
- Global settings = High
The results in BFBC2 show a nice boost in performance.
Civilization V is a turn-based strategy game. The premise is to play as one of 18 civilizations and lead it from the "dawn of man" up to the space age. This latest iteration of the Civilization series uses a new game engine and brings massive changes to the AI behaviour in the game. Released for Windows in September of 2010, Civilization V was developed by Firaxis Games and published by 2K games. Testing will be done using actual gameplay, with FPS measured by Fraps through a series of five turns, 150 turns into the game.
- In-game settings to High
- 4x AA
- 16x AF
- Fraps-measured game play
Higher = Better
Again the FPS numbers delivered by both boards are almost identical from run to run for each resolution.
3DMark 11 is the next installment for Futuremark in the 3DMark series, with Vantage as its predecessor. The name implies the benchmark's focus on Microsoft DirectX 11 and with an unintended coincidence, matches the current year in number (which was the naming scheme to some prior versions of 3DMark nonetheless). 3DMark 11 was designed solely for DirectX 11, so Windows Vista or 7 are required alongside a DirectX 11 graphics card in order to run this test. The Basic Edition gives unlimited free tests on performance mode, whereas Vantage only allows for a single test run. The advanced edition costs $19.95 and unlocks nearly all features of the benchmark, while the professional edition runs for $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 that tests physics handling and one that combines 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 remains a popular choice.
The new benchmark comes with two new demos that can be watched; both of which are based on the tests, but unlike the tests, contain basic audio. The first demo is titled "Deep Sea" and involves a number of vessels exploring what looks to be a sunken U-Boat. The second demo is titled "High Temple" and displays a location similar to South American tribal ruins, with statues and the occasional vehicle. The demos are simple in that they have no story, but really demonstrate testing conditions. The vehicles have the logos of the sponsors, MSI and Antec, on the sides, 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 find the performance of each card. The presets are used because they are comparable to what can be run with the free version, so 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
In five out of six tests the MSI 990FXA-GD80 scores higher than the competition in this benchmark.
After having tested a pretty big cross section of MSI's Intel lineup I was looking forward to getting a crack at what they have to offer in the way of a board built to use AMD's latest "Bulldozer" processors and the 990FX/SB950 chipsets. As you might have expected from the GD-80, MSI designates this board as being the top of the food chain in MSI's AMD line up. As such, it is loaded with all of the features that the end user is looking for with USB 3.0, Multi GPU support up to 4 GPU's, support for the latest processors, OC Genie II one-touch overclocking utility, Click BIOS II uEFI BIOS, and a comprehensive software package that includes MSI's Control Center application that lets you monitor voltages and temperatures as well as having full overclocking control from within the operating system. MSI's Military Class II uses electronic components that are certified to meet MIL STD 810G. This standard puts the components through a battery of tests that include vibration, low temperature, high temperature, shock testing, temperature shock testing, humidity, and low pressure tests. Dynamic switching Super Ferrite chokes that are 10% more efficient than traditional designs, while having an increase in current capacity of 30%. Tantalum core Hi-C Caps offer 15x less current leakage and tolerate higher temperatures and what has been a standard feature for a while now the DrMOS implementation that boasts 96% power efficiency and up to 40 amps of current capacity. Couple these things with a good looking board and you have what should be a board that is ready for prime time. But is it? That's where I ran into a few issues with the board. The largest problem was the tremendous voltage droop under load while overclocking with no means to reduce the droop other than increasing the voltage to the processor. Ultimately this worked, but in the end it limited the overclocking of the AMD FX-8150 used for this test. In the past the OC Genie one-touch overclocking utility has been excellent at giving the novice user a nice boost in processor speed for the small effort of pushing a button with no overclocking knowledge needed. On their Intel boards this works without a hitch but on the AMD side of the fence it may come down to needing some more time to iron out the details with the FX-8150. When it did work I was able to get an overclock of 4.02GHz which is just short of the 4.2GHz max you get under Turbo Boost situations. Kind of a disappointment considering how well it works on the Intel side of the fence. Manually overclocking the 990FXA-GD80 proved to not be a challenge except where the voltage to the processor was concerned. I had to find that fine balance of voltage taking into consideration what the chip needed to run the numbers. 4.84GHz was about all that I could get from the 990FXA-GD80 which is about 120MHz short of what the Crosshair V would give. Even with the lower clock speed, this amounts to a significant increase in processor speed of 1.2+GHz or around 33%.
While this board from MSI is not without its challenges, there is an upside to the 990FXA-GD80 in addition to overclocking. For one it really is a good looking motherboard. The blue and silver theme that MSI is using on its latest boards just looks right. The three year warranty gives the end user some piece of mind knowing that should anything go wrong MSI has it covered for what is the usual turn time on hardware. The Military spec parts should make any reliability concerns a moot point. At $179 it is competitively priced, leaving some room for the rest of the build using either the Last gen Phenom II or AMD's Latest FX series processors. Overall the board is easy to work with and would be a good addition to any AMD build.
- Click BIOS II
- Military grade construction
- THX Audio
- Control Center
- AM3+ CPU Support
- Multi GPU support AMD and NVIDIA
- Super Charger
- 3TB drive support
- 3 Year Warranty
- Large vdroop on vcore
- OC Genie failed to work