MSI 990FXA-GD80 Motherboard
By Gabriel Torres on June 13, 2011
So far, MSI has released only two motherboards based on the new AMD 990FX chipset, one for the top mainstream market (990FXA-GD65), and one for the high-end market (990FXA-GD80). Let’s take a look at the MSI 990FXA-GD80.
The AMD 990FX chipset is basically an AMD 890FX chipset with a new name. There are no new features. The AMD 990FX chipset, however, 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 the same, 890FX motherboards won’t support this new generation of AMD processors.
The MSI 990FXA-GD80 comes with four PCI Express x16 slots, two PCI Express x1 slots, and one standard PCI slot.
The first PCI Express x16 slot (PCI_E2) always runs at x16 speed; the second PCI Express x16 slot (PCI_E4) always runs at x8 speed; the third PCI Express x16 slot (PCI_E5) runs at x16 only when the second PCI Express x16 slot (PCI_E4) is empty (otherwise, it runs at x8 speed); and the fourth PCI Express x16 slot (PCI_E6) always runs at x4 speed. This way, in order to achieve the best performance if you are installing two video cards, you should install them in the first and third slots, not in the first and second slots as it would appear more logical.
If you install a dual-slot video card in the first PCI Express x16 slot, you will “kill” one of the PCI Express x1 slots. If you install a dual-slot video card in the second PCI Express x16 slot, you will “kill” the standard PCI slot. If you install a dual-slot video card in the third PCI Express x16 slot, you will “kill” the fourth PCI Express x16 slot. And to install a dual-slot in the fourth PCI Express x16 slot, you will need a case with at least eight expansion slots (cases usually have seven), and the video card may block the buttons and headers located at the edge of the motherboard.
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 as to how much memory can be installed.
Currently, the integrated memory controller of AMD processors support only DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz under dual-channel architecture, but MSI says the 990FXA-GD80 supports memory up to 2,133 MHz through overclocking.
The MSI 990FXA-GD80 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.
The first and third sockets are blue, while the second and fourth are black. 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 in the black sockets. Otherwise, your computer won’t turn on.
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 portrayed motherboard also has two eSATA-300 ports, controlled by a JMicron JMB362 chip. There is no support for a floppy disk drive controller or an ATA-133 port.
This motherboard has 10 USB 2.0 ports, six soldered on the rear panel and four available through two headers located on the motherboard. It also has two USB 3.0 ports, controlled by an NEC (Renesas) µPD720200 chip. These ports are located at the motherboard rear panel. This motherboard has a front panel connector for these USB 3.0 ports. See Figure 4. The board comes with an I/O bracket for you to convert this front panel connector into two USB 3.0 ports. We don’t understand why this motherboard comes with this adapter, since the ports available on the front panel header are shared with the ports located at the rear panel. This gives the impression that the product has four USB 3.0 ports, which is not the case.
The 990FXA-GD80 has two FireWire (IEEE1394) ports, one at the motherboard rear panel and one available at a header on the motherboard. These ports are controlled by a VIA VT6315N chip.
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. Finally, Realtek is disclosing the specifications of this chip, which include 97 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog outputs, 90 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs, and up to 192 kHz sampling rate for both inputs and outputs. These specs 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. Since this is a high-end motherboard, we expected that MSI would use a better codec, such as the Realtek ALC889.
The portrayed motherboard comes with independent analog audio outputs, a coaxial SPDIF output and an optical SPDIF output. You can route digital audio to your video card to have digital audio in the HDMI connector using the available “JSP1” header.
This motherboard has one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by a Realtek RTL8111E chip.
In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel, with PS/2 keyboard and mouse connectors, clear CMOS button, coaxial and optical SPDIF connector, FireWire port, six USB 2.0 ports, two eSATA-300 ports (shared with two USB 2.0 ports), one Gigabit Ethernet port, two USB 3.0 ports (blue), and independent analog 7.1 audio outputs.
The MSI 990FXA-GD80 has a POST diagnostics display, so you can detect what is wrong with your computer if it doesn’t turn on.
The motherboard has a legacy serial port on a header labeled “COM1.” You will need to buy an adapter if you want to use this port.
In Figure 7, you can see all the accessories that come with this motherboard.
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the 990FXA-GD80 has eight phases for the CPU main voltage (VDD a.k.a. Vcore) and two for the CPU VDDNB voltage (integrated memory controller, HyperTransport bus controller, and L3 memory cache). Therefore, it uses an “8+2” configuration.
This motherboard uses military-class components. Electronic components are available in two series, civilian and military. Military components are more expensive but have tighter tolerance and can withstand a wider range of temperatures. All electrolytic capacitors used in the main voltage regulator circuit are SMD (surface mount device), also known as highly-conductive polymerized or simply Hi-c, but the other voltage regulators (memory, chipset, etc.) use solid capacitors. All coils on this motherboard are solid ferrite-core models, also known as SFC, Super Ferrite Choke, which, according to MSI, can provide up to 20% improvement in efficiency.
Each main phase is controlled by a Fairchild FDMF6704 integrated circuit, which combines the three required transistors (“high side,” “low side,” and “driver”) in a single chip. It also allows the switching clock to be at 1 MHz, which allows efficiency to be over 90 percent. (Usually, voltage regulator circuits switch at 250 kHz.) Integrated circuits with those characteristics are known as “DrMOS.”
If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on the subject.
The motherboard has two LEDs for you to monitor the active VDDNB phases, eight LEDs for you to monitor the active main CPU voltage phases, and two LEDs for you to monitor the active memory voltage phases.
The MSI 990FXA-GD80 offers some 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 990FXA-GD80 comes with a button called “OC Genie.” By pressing it, the motherboard will test and find the recommended overclocking settings for your system, allowing you to overclock your PC without having to go through the hassle of changing somewhat complicated settings manually.
The main specifications for the MSI 990FXA-GD80 motherboard include:
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.
The MSI 990FXA-GD80 brings several nice features, such as four PCI Express x16 slots, two FireWire ports, two USB 3.0 ports, six SATA-600 ports, POST diagnostics display, decent audio quality with coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs, a very high-end voltage regulator circuit, and a terrific set of overclocking options. In addition, the OC Genie button allows you to overclock your system without the need of manually changing any complicated settings.
Of course it is not the cheapest motherboard around, but it comes with a fair price for its set of features.
The only drawback we see with the 990FXA-GD80 is its audio codec. Since it is a high-end model, MSI should have used a better codec such as the Realtek ALC889. Also, keep in mind that, for best performance, if you have two video cards, you must install the second one in the third PCI Express x16 slot, not in the second.
Even though the MSI 990FXA-GD80 is mainly targeted to the forthcoming CPUs based on the AMD “Bulldozer” architecture, it is already available on the market, supporting current-generation CPUs.