ASRock 890GX Extreme4 Motherboard
By Gabriel Torres on August 23, 2010
Let’s take a look at this forthcoming socket AM3 motherboard from ASRock, featuring five SATA-600 ports, four USB 3.0 ports, three PCI Express x16 slots, and 128 MB on-board video memory.
We have already posted a detailed comparison between AMD chipsets with integrated video. In summary, AMD 890GX graphics engine has the same basic specs as AMD 790GX’s, but being a DirectX 10.1 part, not a pure DirectX 10 part as its older brother. The main difference on AMD 890GX is the use of a new south bridge chip, called SB850. This south bridge chip natively supports SATA-600 ports (a.k.a. “SATA 6 G”) and in fact this is the first chipset to arrived on the market with this feature (currently on motherboards based on other chipsets featuring SATA-600 ports an external controller chip must be used).
The forthcoming 890GX Extreme4 motherboard is an upgraded version of the 890GX Extreme3 motherboard, with two extra USB 3.0 ports. The number of internal SATA-600 ports was reduced from six to five, because the sixth SATA-600 port was routed to the rear panel of the motherboard to become an eSATA-600 port (on the Extreme3 the eSATA port is SATA-300). The audio codec was changed from VIA VT2020 to Realtek ALC892. We have no opinion about this change because strangely enough the manufacturers of both chips don’t publish technical information about these products at their website. At the table below you can compare the main specs of the three motherboard models ASRock has based on the AMD 890GX chipset. All three have 128 MB “SidePort” memory, but while the Extreme3 and Pro3 models use a DDR-1333 part, the new Extreme4 uses a DDR3-1666 chip (but still running at 1,333 MHz).
PCI Express x16 slots
PCI Express x1 slots
One eSATA-600 port
One eSATA-300 port
One eSATA-600 port
One Gigabit Ethernet port
One Gigabit Ethernet port
One Gigabit Ethernet port
VGA, DVI-D, HDMI
VGA, DVI-D, HDMI
VGA, DVI-D, HDMI
In Figure 1, you have an overall look at ASRock 890GX Extreme4.
As mentioned, this motherboard has 128 MB video memory soldered on the motherboard. In Figure 2, you can see the 1 Gbit GDDR3-1666 chip (1 Gbit = 128 MB) in charge of this feature.
AMD 890GX chipset has one PCI Express 2.0 x16 lane that can be split-up into two x8 lanes if necessary. Translation: motherboards based on this chipset can have one or two x16 PCI Express slots, but they will work at x8 if two video cards are installed. The north bridge chip supports a total of six PCI Express x1 lanes, while the south bridge chip supports two more.
The ASRock 890GX Extreme4 comes with three PCI Express x16 slots. The first two work at x8 if both are used at the same time, while the third slot always work at x4 (using four x1 lanes from the north bridge chip). All slots support CrossFireX mode, as expected.
The motherboard comes also with one x1 PCI Express slot and three standard PCI Express slots.
This is the exact same configuration used on the 890GX Extreme3 model, but on this other model the third PCI Express x16 slot is painted white to remember us that it works at a lower speed (x4).
It is important to note that the 890GX Extreme4 supports three dual-slot video cards using a regular seven-slot case. With some motherboards that have a third PCI Express x16 slots, the third slot can only be used by dual-slot cards if an eight-slot case is used.
AMD CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor – and not the chipset – that defines what memory technologies and the maximum amount of memory you can have. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.
At the moment the integrated memory controller from socket AM3 processors supports only DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz under dual-channel architecture, however ASRock says the 890GX Extreme4 supports DDR3 memories up to 1,866 MHz through overclocking. The 890GX Extreme4 has four DDR3 sockets and since at the moment each DDR3 memory module can have up to 4 GB each, you can have up to 16 GB with this motherboard.
The first and second sockets are white, while the third and fourth are blue. In order to achieve the maximum performance you should install two or four memory modules in order to enable dual-channel architecture. When only two modules are used, install them on sockets with the same color in order to enable this feature.
AMD 890GX chipset is a dual-chip solution. As we mentioned earlier, AMD 890GX is the first chipset to natively support SATA-600 ports, and the ASRock 890GX Extreme4 provides five of the six SATA-600 ports supported by the chipset. The sixth port was routed to the rear panel of the motherboard, making this product to have an eSATA-600 port. All ports support RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10.
Those five SATA-600 ports are placed at one of the corners of the motherboard, where video cards won’t block them, as you can see in Figure 5.
No parallel ATA (PATA a.k.a. IDE) or floppy disk drive port are present.
This motherboard has 10 USB 2.0 ports, four soldered on the rear panel and six through three headers located on the motherboard. This product also has two USB 3.0 ports at its rear panel, controlled by a NEC μPD720200 chip, and another two USB 3.0 ports available through a header, controlled by another NEC μPD720200 chip. The board comes with an aluminum-made 3.5” adapter for you to install these two extra USB 3.0 ports on the front panel of your case.
Two FireWire (IEEE1394) ports are provided, one standard-sized on the rear panel and one through a header on the motherboard. They are controlled by a VIA VT6315N chip.
Eight-channel audio is generated by the chipset using a Realtek ALC892 codec. Unfortunately this component isn’t listed at Realtek’s website. The 890GX Extreme4 comes with an on-board optical SPDIF output and you can add a coaxial SPDIF output installing an adapter on the motherboard “HDMI_SPDIF1” header.
The analog audio connectors are independent if you have a 5.1 analog speaker system, but if you have a 7.1 analog speaker system you will have to “kill” either the “mic in” or the “line in” jack to install it. This may not be a problem for most users, since if you want a 7.1 audio system you will probably connect the motherboard to a home theater receiver or a digital speaker set using either the SPDIF or the HDMI connector.
The ASRock 890GX Extreme4 has one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by a Realtek RTL8111E chip, which is connected to the system using a PCI Express x1 lane and thus not presenting any potential performance issues.
In Figure 7, you can see the motherboard rear panel, with keyboard PS/2 connector, four USB 2.0 ports, VGA output, DVI-D output, HDMI output, clear CMOS button, one FireWire port, one eSATA-600 port, one Gigabit Ethernet port, two USB 3.0 ports, an optical SPDIF output and shared analog 7.1 audio outputs.
As you can see, this motherboard comes with three different kinds of video connectors, but only two of them can be used at the same time.
No mouse PS/2 connector is available, thus you have to use a USB mouse with this motherboard.
Another feature available on this motherboard is a POST diagnostics display, which allows you to detect, through a two-digit code, what is wrong with your computer if it is not turning on. This feature is shown in Figure 8.
Other smaller features present at the 890GX Extreme4 include the presence of on-board power and reset buttons, a legacy serial port (available through a header on the motherboard, but the motherboard doesn’t come with the required adapter to us it), and an infrared interface (you need to buy the optical components to use it). It also has a core unlocking feature (called “UCC” by ASRock), which allows you to unlock hidden cores from certain AMD CPUs.
The ASRock 890GX Extreme4 comes with a ten-phase voltage regulator circuit. From the ten available phases, eight are used to generate the CPU main voltage (VDD, a.k.a. Vcore) while the other two are used to generate the voltage required by the integrated memory controller, the HyperTransport controller, and the L3 memory cache (VDDNB). Therefore, this motherboard has a “8+2” configuration.
This motherboard comes with a passive heatsink installed on top of the transistors of the voltage regulator circuit, connected to the passive heatsink that is installed on top of the north bridge chip using a heatpipe. In Figure 9, you can see the voltage regulator circuit with this cooling solution installed and, in Figure 10, with it removed.
All capacitors used on this motherboard are solid made in Japan and the voltage regulator circuit uses ferrite chokes, which are better than iron chokes. Please read our Everything You Need to Know About the Motherboard Voltage Regulator tutorial for more information.
The new ASRock 890GX Extreme4 provides several overclocking options. It has a dynamic overclocking function, where you can easily overclock your CPU from 0% to 20% in 4% increments, and also an automatic overclocking function called “Turbo UCC.” Below we list only the main ones available on the 1.00 BIOS.
Plus memory timings, which can be also tweaked.
The main specifications for the ASRock 890GX Extreme4 include:
This is a “First Look” article, but you can check the performance of AMD 890GX chipset on our ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 review. Traditionally motherboards based on the same chipset achieve the same performance.
Even though the AMD 890GX chipset presents a higher 3D performance than AMD 785’s, the truth is that you can barely play games with on-board graphics solutions. Therefore this motherboard should be seen more like a mainstream motherboard that happens to come with integrated graphics – especially because its feature pack puts it far away from low-end motherboards with on-board video.
The ASRock 890GX Extreme4 brings very nice features, such as five SATA-600 ports, one eSATA-600 port, four USB 3.0 ports with a nice aluminum 3.5” adapter for putting two of them on the front panel of your computer, three PCI Express x16 slots, two FireWire ports, several overclocking options, and a good voltage regulator circuit, making this motherboard an interesting option to more expensive socket AM3 products. The other model from ASRock that we wrote about, the 890GX Extreme3, comes with one extra SATA-600 port, but on this other motherboard the eSATA port is SATA-300, not SATA-600 like on the Extreme4.