ECS A990FXM-A Motherboard
By Gabriel Torres on September 5, 2011
Today we are going to take a look at the A990FXM-A, the first socket AM3+ motherboard from ECS, supporting the forthcoming “Bulldozer” CPUs from AMD and coming with three PCI Express x16 slots.
The AMD 990FX chipset is basically an AMD 890FX chipset with a new name, but supporting the higher HyperTransport 3.0 speeds that weren’t used before and that will be supported by the “Bulldozer” processors. (The HyperTransport 3.0 bus supports speeds of 7.2 GB/s, 8 GB/s, 9.6 GB/s, and 10.4 GB/s, but current AMD CPUs support speeds only up to 8 GB/s, a.k.a. 4 GT/s; Bulldozer CPUs will support transfer rates of up to 10.4 GB/s, a.k.a. 5.2 GT/s. Click here for more information.)
The AMD 990FX chipset is targeted to the new socket AM3+ platform, while the 890FX chipset is targeted to the socket AM3 platform. This way, AMD is providing an easy way to identify the platform through the chipset name. Socket AM3+ motherboards support the forthcoming AMD CPUs based on the new “Bulldozer” architecture. So, even though the chipset is basically the same, 890FX motherboards won’t support this new generation of AMD processors.
We are always happy to see that ECS took our constructive criticism very seriously. In the past, their motherboards used 300 different colors, looking more like a parade float than a motherboard. The A990FX-M has a very sober appearance, with colors that match and make sense. ECS is finally on the right track in regards to the appearance of their products.
The ECS A990FXM-A comes with three PCI Express x16 slots, two PCI Express x1 slots, and one standard PCI slot. According to the manufacturer, the three PCI Express x16 slots really work at x16 speed. They allow you to install up to three dual-slot video cards using a regular seven-slot case. However, if you install a dual-slot video card, you will “kill” the PCI Express x1 slot or the regular PCI slot right next to it.
All PCI Express x16 slots support both CrossFireX and SLI modes.
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 on how much memory you can have installed.
Currently, the integrated memory controller of AMD processors supports DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz under dual-channel architecture, but ECS says the A990FXM-A supports memory up to 2,133 MHz through overclocking.
The ECS A990FXM-A has four memory sockets, and since DDR3 memory modules can now be found in capacities up to 8 GB, you can have up to 32 GB with this motherboard if you use four 8 GB modules.
On this motherboard, the first and third memory sockets are white, while the second and fourth are gray. 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 in the white sockets.
The AMD 990FX chipset is a two-chip solution. The south bridge chip is an SB950 chip, which is a renamed SB850. This chip supports six SATA-600 ports, supporting RAID (0, 1, 5 and 10). These ports are located on the motherboard edge rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them.
The ECS A990FXM-A has two eSATA-600 ports controlled by a Marvell 88SE9128 chip, supporting RAID (0 and 1), and one ATA-133 port, controlled by another Marvell 88SE9128 chip. There is no floppy disk drive controller.
This motherboard has 12 USB 2.0 ports, eight soldered on the rear panel and four available through two headers located on the motherboard. It also has four USB 3.0 ports, controlled by two ASMedia ASM1042 chips. Two ports are located on the motherboard rear panel, and two are located on a front panel header.
The portrayed motherboard doesn’t have FireWire ports.
This motherboard supports 7.1+2 audio format, i.e., eight channels plus two independent channels for audio streaming. On this motherboard, the audio is generated by the chipset using a Realtek ALC892 codec. The specifications for this chip include 97 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog outputs, 90 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs, up to 192 kHz sampling rate for both inputs and outputs, and 24-bit resolution. These specifications are good for the mainstream user, but if you are looking into working professionally with audio editing, you should look for a motherboard that provides an SNR of at least 97 dB for the analog input.
The ECS A990FXM-A comes with an optical SPDIF output, but the analog connectors are independent only if you install a 5.1 analog speaker set; if you install a 7.1 analog speaker set you will have to use either the “line in” or the “mic in” jacks. You can add a coaxial SPDIF output or route digital audio to your video card to have digital audio in the HDMI connector using the available “SPDIFO” header.
This motherboard has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, controlled by two Realtek RTL8111E chips. It also has a Bluetooth receiver.
In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel, with external clear CMOS button, PS/2 keyboard and mouse shared connector, eight USB 2.0 ports, two eSATA-600 ports, Bluetooth receiver, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, two USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors), optical SPDIF output, and shared analog 7.1 audio outputs.
The ECS A990FXM-A comes with a POST diagnostics display, so you can identify, through a two-digit code, which component is preventing your computer from turning on.
In Figure 7, you can see all the accessories that come with this motherboard.
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the ECS A990FXM-A has six phases for the CPU main voltage (VDD a.k.a. Vcore) and one for the CPU VDDNB voltage (integrated memory controller, HyperTransport bus controller, and L3 memory cache). Therefore, it uses a “6+1” configuration.
This motherboard uses solid ferrite-core coils, which present less energy loss than iron-core coils (i.e., they improve efficiency), solid capacitors, and transistors with low RDS(on).
The motherboard has a series of LEDs for you to monitor which phases are active.
If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on the subject.
The ECS A990FXM-A offers a few overclocking options, listed below (1.0 BIOS):
For a better understanding of what these options do, please read our Understanding All Voltage Configurations from the Motherboard tutorial.
The main specifications for the ECS A990FXM-A motherboard include:
It is always good to see manufacturers improving their products. It seems that ECS has finally retired the colorful designer that they had on their team, and decided to focus on adding more features on their motherboards.
The A990FXM-A is a good option if you want a motherboard for your current or future AMD CPU with several additional features, such as three PCI Express x16 slots, two eSATA-600 ports, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, a Bluetooth receiver (by the way, this is the first time we’ve seen this feature on a motherboard from this manufacturer), a POST diagnostics display, on-board optical SPDIF output, and an ATA-133 port. And, of course, it comes with four USB 3.0 ports and six SATA-600 ports.
The only aspect that ECS still has room for improvement is on the voltage regulator circuit (which could have more phases, especially for the memory controller voltage) and overclocking options.
The MSRP of this motherboard, of USD 220, may seem high compared to the price of competing products such as the Gigabyte 990FXA-UD5 (USD 190) and MSI 990FXA-GD80 (USD 195) at Newegg.com. However, Newegg.com and other online stores rarely sell motherboards at their suggested price, so the price of the ECS A990FXM-A should be lower when it arrives on the market. (At least we hope so.)