ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 Motherboard Review
By Gabriel Torres on March 2, 2010
AMD is releasing today a new chipset with integrated graphics, AMD 890GX. Let’s see the performance of this new chipset and explore all features present on one of the most complete motherboards based on this new release, ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3, which comes with USB 3.0 and SATA-600 ports.
Before talking specifically about this motherboard from ASUS, let’s briefly see what is new on AMD 890GX.
In the table below we provide a comparison between AMD 890GX and previous chipsets with integrated graphics from AMD: AMD 785G, AMD 790GX and AMD 780G.
As you can see, the main specs of the graphics engine from AMD 890GX is pretty similar to AMD 790GX’s, except that AMD 890GX uses a DirectX 10.1 engine while AMD 790GX’s is DirectX 10.
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). Like the SB750 used with AMD 790GX, SB850 supports RAID level 5, a configuration not supported on SB710 and SB700.
SB850 supports only USB 2.0 ports. The support for USB 3.0 ports on ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 is provided by an external controlled chip from NEC.
South Bridge Chip
USB 2.0 Ports
0, 1, 5, 10
0, 1, 10
0, 1, 10
0, 1, 5, 10
1 (2 devices)
1 (2 devices)
1 (2 devices)
1 (2 devices)
ROPs stand for “Raster Operation Units” and are also known as “Rendering Back-End Units.” They are the final stage on rendering a 3D image.
Other chipsets with on-board video from AMD include AMD 690V, AMD 690G, AMD 740G and AMD 780V. AMD 690V, AMD 690G and AMD 740G are based on a DirectX 9 graphics engine, while AMD 780V is based on a DirectX 10 one. AMD 780V is based on Radeon HD 3100 engine, which runs at 400 MHz – clock is the main difference between HD 3100, HD 3200 and HD 3300 engines.
Like SB750, SB850 south bridge chip supports an overclocking feature called “Advanced Clock Calibration” or simply ACC. How exactly this new feature works is completely obscure, as AMD does not explain how it works in details. All we know is that SB850 provides a feedback loop to Phenom/Phenom II processors using some unused CPU pins, allowing you to unlock hidden features from the CPU – most commonly unlocking an extra CPU core on triple-core CPUs. You can read more about this feature here and here.
As you may know by now, on systems with integrated video the video memory is achieved by stealing part of the main RAM. Chipsets from AMD have a feature called SidePort, which is an optional memory chip soldered on the motherboard in order to increase performance. The reviewed motherboard brings this feature, having 128 MB of GDDR3-1333 memory on-board to speed up video.
In Figure 1, you can see the basic block diagram from AMD 890GX chipset.
Before going to our tests, let’s take an in-depth look at ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3.
In Figure 2 you can have an overall look from ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3. It uses the ATX form factor, but that does not mean that all motherboards based on AMD890GX will be ATX; some manufacturers will also release microATX versions.
Notice how all capacitors from this motherboard are solid.
As mentioned, this motherboard has 128 MB video memory soldered on the motherboard. In Figure 3, you can see the 1 Gbit GDDR3-1333 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. They support CrossFire mode, as expected.
The north bridge chip also supports six PCI Express x1 lanes, while the south bridge chip supports two more.
ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 comes with two PCI Express x16 slots working at x8 if both are used. The board comes with a loopback card installed on the first PCI Express x16 slot, which must be used if you don’t have a “real” video card. The instructions printed on this card says that it should be installed on the black PCI Express x16 slot, however there is no black slot on this board (the first PCI Express x16 slot where this card must be installed is light gray).
The motherboard also comes with one x4 and one x1 PCI Express slots and two standard PCI Express slots.
AMD CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor, and not the chipset, that defines the 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 of socket AM3 processors supports only DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz under dual-channel architecture, however ASUS says M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 supports DDR3 memories up to 1,866 MHz through overclocking. M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 has four DDR3 sockets and since, at the moment, each DDR3 memory module can have up to 4 GB, you can have up to 16 GB with this motherboard.
The first and the third sockets are black, while the second and the fourth are blue. In order to achieve the maximum performance, you should install two or four memory modules to enable the dual-channel architecture. When only two modules are used, install them in sockets with the same color in order to enable this feature.
Like other high-end motherboards from ASUS, M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 comes with a built-in memory compatibility tester called MemOK!. To activate this feature all you need to do is to push a button located near the main motherboard connector (see Figure 5) for a few seconds after you turn on the computer until you see the red LED next to it start blinking. Then the motherboard will check if your memory modules are compatible with your CPU and will display a message on the screen after some seconds. If this LED is permanently turned on and the system does not show a message even after you wait one minute, then your modules are not installed correctly/have bad contact with the sockets, they are incompatible or they are damaged.
AMD 890GX chipset is a dual-chip solution and we’ve already published all the main specs from this chipset on the first page of this review.
As we mentioned earlier, AMD 890GX is the first chipset to natively support SATA-600 ports and ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 provides all the six SATA-600 ports supported by the chipset. These ports support RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10.
Even though the chipset supports one parallel ATA (PATA, a.k.a. IDE) port, on this motherboard the ATA-133 port available is controlled by a JMicron JMB361 chip, which also controls an eSATA-300 port available on the motherboard rear panel.
The ATA-133 port and two of the SATA-600 ports are placed on the motherboard edge rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them. The other SATA ports are placed where expansion cards won’t block them as well.
No floppy disk drive controller is present.
From the 14 USB 2.0 ports supported by the chipset, ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 offers 12 of them, four soldered on the rear panel and eight available through four headers on the motherboard.
One of the highlights of this motherboard is the presence of two USB 3.0 ports, controlled by a NEC μPD720200 chip. These ports are available on the rear panel of the product and painted blue (USB 2.0 ports are black).
Additionally ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 comes with a FireWire (IEEE 1394) controller, providing two FireWire ports, one soldered on the rear panel and one available through a header. The motherboard doesn’t come with an I/O bracket for you to use the second FireWire port. So if you decide to buy this motherboard, it is a good idea to buy a case with four USB ports and one FireWire port, so you can use all available ports.
Audio is generated by the chipset using a Realtek ALC892 codec. Unfortunately this component isn’t listed on Realtek’s website and the motherboard manual doesn’t talk about the technical features of this chip, so we can’t comment on the quality of the on-board audio from this motherboard. The board has an SPDIF optical connector soldered on the rear panel. A coaxial SPDIF output can be added by installing the appropriate adapter on the motherboard “SPDIF_OUT” header (this adapter doesn’t come with the product).
ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 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 PS/2 keyboard connector, four USB 2.0 ports (black ones), optical SPDIF output, HDMI output, VGA output, DVI-D output, FireWire port, eSATA-300 port, Gigabit Ethernet port, two USB 3.0 ports (blue ones) and independent analog 7.1 audio outputs.
As you can see, this motherboard comes with three video connectors, but only two of them can be used at the same time. There is no PS/2 mouse connector, so your mouse must be USB.
ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 also has a legacy serial port available through a header on the motherboard besides the 24-pin power supply connector. In order to use it you will need an I/O bracket that doesn’t come with the product.
ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 comes with a 10-phase voltage regulator circuit. From the 10 available phases, eight are used to generate the CPU main voltage (Vcore) while the other two are used to generate the voltage required by the integrated memory controller. Thus this motherboard has an “8+2” configuration.
This motherboard comes with a passive heatsink installed on top of the transistors from the voltage regulator circuit, connected to the passive heatsink that is installed on top of the north bridge chip using a heatpipe. In Figure 8, you can see the voltage regulator circuit with this cooling solution removed.
As mentioned earlier, all capacitors used on this motherboard are solid 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.
ASUS motherboards traditionally have lots of overclocking options, and with M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 it isn’t different. It features two switches near the memory sockets called “TURBO_KEY_II” and “CORE_UNLOCKER.” The first one enables some sort of automatic overclocking, but the product manual doesn’t tell much about it. The second one enables the ACC feature we commented on the introduction, allowing you to easily enable an extra CPU core if you have an “unlockable” CPU.
Tons of overclocking features are provided on the motherboard setup and below we list only the main ones available on BIOS 0207.
Memory timings can also be tweaked.
ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 motherboard main features are:
* Information provided by AMD.
During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between our benchmarking sessions the only variable was the motherboard being tested and the addition or removal of a “real” video card (Sapphire Radeon HD 3450, 64-bit memory interface).
Operating System Configuration
We adopted a 3% error margin; thus, differences below 3% cannot be considered relevant. In other words, products with a performance difference below 3% should be considered as having similar performance.
3DMark06 measures Shader 3.0 (i.e., DirectX 9.0c) performance. We ran this software under its default configuration. For this test we included the result achieved by a 64-bit Sapphire HD 3450 card installed in the motherboard PCI Express x16 slot while disabling the motherboard’s on-board video, so we can have an idea of the performance of a very low-end video card compared to the on-board video of the reviewed motherboard. The results you can see below.
The integrated video provided by AMD 890GX was 33% faster than the one provided by AMD 785G. A very low-end Radeon HD 3450, however, is still 44% faster than the on-board video provided by AMD 890GX.
3DMark Vantage measures Shader 4.0 (i.e., DirectX 10) performance. We ran this program under its “Entry” profile, which basically disables all image quality enhancements and set resolution to 1024x768.
On this DirectX 10 simulation the on-board video from AMD 890GX achieved a score 32% higher than the on-board video provided by AMD 785G. However, a very low-end Radeon HD 3450 was still 50% faster than the on-board video provided by AMD 890GX.One interesting thing here was that with comparing both systems with the low-end add-on card installed, ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 was 14% faster.
We ran this benchmarking tool at 1440x900 resolution configuring all image qualities set to their lowest values. Although this program supports DirectX 10 rendering, for some reason this option didn’t work with us, so we used this program to benchmark DirectX 9.0c performance. The results below are in frames per second (FPS).
The integrated graphics engine from AMD 890GX was 36% faster than the one from AMD 785G. A low-end Radeon HD 3450 was, however, 64% faster. As you can see, in both cases (on-board video and add-on low-end video card) we achieved a low number of frames per second.
Half-Life 2 is a popular franchise and we benchmarked the video cards using Episode Two with the aid of HOC Half-Life 2 Episode Two benchmarking utility using the “HOC Demo 1” provided by this program. We ran the game under 1440x900 with no anti-aliasing and bilinear filtering, i.e., using the lowest image quality possible. The results, given in frames per second, you see below. This game was included to see how the on-board video from the selected motherboards would perform with an older game being run.
Here AMD 890GX was 37% faster than AMD 785G. A low-end Radeon HD 3450 was 49% faster than the integrated video from AMD 890GX. With this low-end video card installed, ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 was 18% faster than ECS A785GM-M.
Fallout 3 is based on the same engine used by The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and it is a DirectX 9.0c (Shader 3.0) game. We configured the game with “low” image quality settings at 1440x900. To measure performance, we used the FRAPS utility running an outdoor scene at God mode, running through enemy fire, triggering post processing effects, and ending with a big explosion in front of Dupont Circle. The results below are in frames per second (FPS).
On this game AMD 890GX was 34% faster than AMD 785G. A very low-end Radeon HD 3450 was 60% faster than AMD 890GX.
Let’s first talk about the chipset. AMD 890GX is way better than AMD 785G, providing a performance gain between 33% and 37% in games. However, on-board video is still a bad way to play games: a very low-end Radeon HD 3450 with 64-bit memory interface and 256 MB was between 44% and 64% faster than AMD 890GX. Therefore if you are looking for a system to play games, even occasionally, you are still better off buying an add-on video card, even the cheapest one (this Radeon HD 3450 costs USD 35).
But that doesn’t mean that AMD 890GX should be ignored. Motherboard manufacturers will be providing motherboards based on this chipset with very good features, and you may want to pick a motherboard based on this chipset even if you want to install an add-on video card. Which is definitely the case of ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3.
Since this chipset natively supports SATA-600 ports, motherboards based on this chipset will probably be cheaper than motherboards that require an extra chip to do the same thing, helping to bring SATA-600 to the mainstream arena. And even if you don’t plan to use a SATA-600 hard drive or SSD, you will have a system ready for this new technology for a future upgrade, which is always desirable.
Now talking specifically about ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3, its main feature besides the SATA-600 ports is USB 3.0 ports. It also provides three different types of video outputs and therefore should please all sorts of users, like the user building an HTPC and the user that wants a system with the latest technologies and doesn’t mind having a low-end gaming performance or wants to try the on-board graphics from AMD 890GX before deciding if he or she will need an add-on video card. And also overclockers from all levels, as this motherboard provides several overclocking options.
This motherboard is estimated to arrive on the market costing between USD 130 and USD 160. We wish it cost less.