ECS A890GXM-A2 Motherboard
By Gabriel Torres on November 11, 2010


Introduction

The new ECS A890GXM-A2 is an updated version of the ECS A890GXM-A, which we already covered. Both are socket AM3 models based on the AMD 890GX chipset. Even though this chipset comes with integrated video, both motherboards come with three PCI Express x16 slots. The main differences between the two are the addition of two USB 3.0 ports and a better color scheme on the new model. Let’s check it out.

Before talking specifically about this motherboard from ECS, let’s briefly talk about the AMD 890GX chipset.

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 the AMD 890GX are pretty similar to AMD 790GX’s, except that the 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, they support RAID level 5, a configuration not supported on the SB710 and SB700.

Notice how the SB850 supports only USB 2.0 ports. Motherboards based on this chipset that have USB 3.0 ports, like the A890GXM-A2 we will be exploring in this article, use an external controller chip.

Chipset

AMD 890GX

AMD 785G

AMD 780G

AMD 790GX

GPU Clock

700 MHz

500 MHz

500 MHz

700 MHz

Graphics Processors

40

40

40

40

ROPs

4

4

4

4

Engine

HD 4290

HD 4200

HD 3200

HD 3300

DirectX

10.1

10.1

10

10

PCI Express

2.0

2.0

2.0

2.0

South Bridge Chip

SB850

SB710

SB700

SB750

USB 2.0 Ports

14

12

12

12

SATA-300 Ports

None

6

6

6

SATA-600 Ports

6

None

None

None

RAID

0, 1, 5, 10

0, 1, 10

0, 1, 10

0, 1, 5, 10

ATA-133 Ports

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 the AMD 690V, AMD 690G, AMD 740G, and AMD 780V. The AMD 690V, AMD 690G, and AMD 740G are based on a DirectX 9 graphics engine, while the AMD 780V is based on a DirectX 10 one. The AMD 780V is based on the Radeon HD 3100 engine, which runs at 400 MHz – clock is the main difference between the HD 3100, HD 3200 and HD 3300 engines.

Like the SB750, the 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 some AMD CPUs, using some unused CPU pins, allowing you to unlock hidden features of the CPU – most commonly unlocking an extra CPU core, if you were lucky to get a CPU that has hidden disabled cores inside. 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 video memory. This motherboard from ECS brings this feature, having 128 MB of GDDR3-1600 memory on-board to speed up video.

In Figure 1, you can see the basic block diagram of the AMD 890GX chipset.

ECS A890GXM-A2 motherboard
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Figure 1: AMD 890GX chipset

The Motherboard

So far ECS released four models based on the AMD 890GX chipset, and in the table below we summarized the main differences between them. The A890GXM-AU and A890GXM-A are offered in two versions, 1.0 or 2.0, with the 2.0 coming with a core unlocking feature, feature not present on the 1.0 version or on the IC890GXM-A. The A890GXM-A2 supports this feature. All models use only solid capacitors, except the IC890GXM-A, which uses solid capacitors only in its voltage regulator circuit, using regular electrolytic capacitors on the rest of the board.

 

IC890GXM-A

A890GXM-A

A890GXM-A2

A890GXM-AU

Form Factor

ATX

ATX

ATX

ATX

Memory

4 sockets

4 sockets

4 sockets

4 sockets

PCI Express x16 slots

Two

Three

Three

Three

PCI Express x1 slots

Two

Two

One

Two

PCI slots

Two

One

One

One

SATA-600

5 ports, 1 eSATA

5 ports, 1 eSATA

5 ports, 1 eSATA

5 ports, 1 eSATA

USB 3.0

No

No

Yes, two ports

Yes, two ports

Audio Codec

ALC892

ALC892

ALC892

ALC892

Networking

1 Gigabit Ethernet port

2 Gigabit Ethernet ports

2 Gigabit Ethernet ports

2 Gigabit Ethernet ports

Video Outputs

VGA, DVI-D

VGA, DVI-D, HDMI, DisplayPort

VGA, DVI-D, HDMI, DisplayPort

VGA, DVI-D, HDMI, DisplayPort

Voltage Regulator

3+1

6+1

6+1

6+1

In Figure 2, you have an overall look of the ECS A890GXM-A2. It seems that ECS is reading our reviews, because one thing that we always criticized ECS for was their tendency to use three hundred different colors on their motherboards, making their products to look like a Christmas tree, and with the A90GXM-A2 they decided to pick only three colors, gray, white, and black, giving the product a more professional looks.

ECS A890GXM-A2 motherboard
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Figure 2: ECS A890GXM-A2 motherboard

As mentioned, this motherboard has 128 MB video memory soldered on the motherboard. In Figure 3, you can see the 1 Gbit GDDR3-1600 chip (1 Gbit = 128 MB) in charge of this feature.

ECS A890GXM-A2 motherboard
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Figure 3: 128 MB GDDR3-1600 memory chip

Slots

The 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 ECS A890GXM-A2 comes with three PCI Express x16 slots, just like its older sister, the A890GXM-A. The first two (gray ones) work at x8 if both are used at the same time, while the third slot (black one) always work at x4 (using four x1 lanes from the north bridge chip). All slots support CrossFireX mode, as expected, including Hybrid CrossFire, which is the ability to use the motherboard integrated graphics together with a compatible video card in CrossFireX mode.

If you install a dual-slot video card in the second PCI Express x16 slot you will block the third PCI Express x16 slot.

The motherboard comes also with one PCI Express x1 slot and one standard PCI slot. The A90GXM-A has two PCI Express x1 slots.

This motherboard requires a standard peripheral power connector to be installed in order to provide extra current to the PCI Express slots.

ECS A890GXM-A2 motherboard
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Figure 4: Slots

Memory Support

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 ECS says the A890GXM-A2 supports DDR3 memories up to 1,800 MHz through overclocking. The A890GXM-A2 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 gray. 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.

ECS A890GXM-A2 motherboard
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Figure 5: Memory sockets; install two or four modules for the best performance

On-Board Peripherals

The AMD 890GX chipset is a dual-chip solution. As we mentioned earlier, the AMD 890GX is the first chipset to natively support SATA-600 ports, and the A890GXM-A2 provides five of the six SATA-600 ports supported by the chipset – the sixth port was converted into an eSATA-600 port located at the rear panel. These ports support RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10.

The motherboard comes with a SATA-to-eSATA adapter, so you can have two eSATA-600 ports if you need.

Four of those five SATA-600 ports are rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them.

ECS A890GXM-A2 motherboard
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Figure 6: SATA-600 ports

No parallel ATA (PATA a.k.a. IDE) or floppy disk drive port are present.

This motherboard has 12 USB 2.0 ports, four soldered on the rear panel and eight through four headers located on the motherboard. This product also has two USB 3.0 ports at its rear panel, controlled by an EtronTech EJ168A chip. This motherboard doesn’t offer FireWire (IEEE1394) ports.

Eight-channel audio is generated by the chipset using a Realtek ALC892 codec. Unfortunately this component isn’t listed at Realtek’s website, so we can’t discuss audio quality. The A890GXM-A2 comes with an on-board optical SPDIF output and you can add a coaxial SPDIF output (or route digital audio to a video card, in order to have audio in its HDMI connector) installing an adapter on the motherboard “SPDIFIO” 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 ECS A890GXM-A2 motherboard has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, controlled by two Realtek RTL8111DL chips, which are connected to the system using PCI Express x1 lanes and thus not presenting any potential performance issues. These ports support teaming, meaning that they can be combined for a 2 Gbps bandwidth if you have a compatible switch in your network.

In Figure 7, you can see the motherboard rear panel, with VGA output, DVI-D output, HDMI output, DisplayPort output, clear CMOS button, four USB 2.0 ports, one eSATA-600 port, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, two USB 3.0 ports, an optical SPDIF output and shared analog 7.1 audio outputs.

ECS A890GXM-A2 motherboard
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Figure 7: Motherboard rear panel

No mouse or keyboard PS/2connector is available, thus you have to use a USB mouse and a USB keyboard with this motherboard.

Other smaller features present at the A890GXM-A2 include the presence of on-board power and reset buttons, the use of 15µ gold contacts (usually motherboards use 5µ gold contacts), eJiffy (an operating system stored inside the motherboard read-only memory that allows you to access the Internet without needing to load the operating system or even without having a hard disk drive installed, being equivalent of ASUS’s Express Gate and MSI’s Winki), and a core unlocking feature, which allows you to unlock hidden cores on certain AMD CPUs (this function is available in the motherboard setup, under the “M.I.B. III” menu, option “CPU Unlock”).

In Figure 8, you can see all accessories that come with this motherboard.

ECS A890GXM-A2 motherboard
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Figure 8: Accessories

Voltage Regulator

The ECS A890GXM-A2 motherboard comes with a seven-phase voltage regulator circuit. From the seven available phases, six are used to generate the CPU main voltage (VDD, a.k.a. Vcore) while the other one is 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 “6+1” configuration.

This motherboard has a series of seven LEDs for you to monitor the activity of each phase.

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 U-shaped, 5-mm heatpipe. In Figure 9, you can see the voltage regulator circuit with this cooling solution installed and, in Figure 10, with it removed.

ECS A890GXM-A2 motherboard
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Figure 9: Voltage regulator circuit

ECS A890GXM-A2 motherboard
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Figure 10: Voltage regulator circuit

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.

Overclocking Options

The new ECS A890GXM-A2 provides only a few overclocking options. Below we list only the main ones available on the 1.1 BIOS.

ECS A890GXM-A2 motherboard
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Figure 11: Overclocking menu

Main Specifications

The main specifications for the ECS A890GXM-A2 include:

Conclusions

This is a “First Look” article, but you can check the performance of AMD 890GX chipset in our ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 review. Traditionally motherboards based on the same chipset achieve the same performance.

The new A890GXM-A2 is basically an updated version of the A890GXM-A with two USB 3.0 ports added. Smaller differences include a better color scheme, the removal of one PCI Express x1 slot (to add room for the USB 3.0 controller chip), and the addition of a core unlock feature, which is only available on the 2.0 revision of the A890GXM-A.

All other features are the same, with the SATA-600 ports and the three PCI Express x16 slots being the highlights. Another good feature is the presence of four different types of video connectors (although only two can be used at the same time), allowing you to connect this motherboard to any kind of video monitor.

This motherboard should please all sorts of users, like the user building an HTPC and the user that wants a system with the latest technologies but doesn’t want or doesn’t have the money to buy a video card right now. With this motherboard you can use its integrated graphics while you don’t have a decent video card, and the extra PCI Express x16 slots will ensure that you have room for additional video cards, in the case you want to boost your gaming performance by adding a second or even third card in CrossFireX mode in the future.

Motherboards from ECS usually come to market at a terrific price. Although this particular motherboard isn’t available yet, the A890GXM-A can be found today for USD 110, and we guess the A90GXM-A2 will be offered a little bit above that due to its USB 3.0 ports, bringing a terrific cost/benefit ratios for users in the situations described above.

Originally at http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/ECS-A890GXM-A2-Motherboard/1130


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