The 990FX Chipset Arrives: AMD And SLI Rise Again

990FX Boards From Asus And MSI

We received two platforms ahead of today’s roundup. One arrived early from Asus, and the other showed up a little later from MSI. Because we had the Asus board set up and running tests already, that’s the one we used for benchmarking.

Asus Sabertooth 990FX

Asus is estimating that its Sabertooth 990FX will cost $209—the same price, incidentally, as the P8Z68-V Pro motherboard we’re using for comparison. UK pricing for the Sabertooth is not yet known, but we do know that the P8Z68-V Pro costs roughly £155. So, if Asus plans to match Sabertooth pricing with P8Z68-V Pro pricing in the UK market, as it's done in the U.S., expect pricing somewhere around the £155 region.

The board supports up to four GPUs using two cards, or up to three-way CrossFire or three-way SLI. As with the 890FX before it, 990FX feature 42 lanes of second-gen PCI Express, 32 of which can be used on a pair of graphics cards. Technically, the chipset also supports four cards with eight lanes apiece, but Asus doesn’t support that configuration, instead running up to three discrete cards at x16/x8/x8.

Complementing 990FX is AMD’s SB950 southbridge. Contrary to early rumours, this part doesn’t support USB 3.0 (that’ll have to wait until AMD’s first Fusion Controller Hubs debut next month). No, SB950 is, again, identical to its predecessor, which means Asus has to add USB 3.0 through a pair of ASMedia controllers. Fortunately, the AMD southbridge carries over SB850’s six SATA 6Gb/s ports, and all of those are exposed along the board’s bottom-right edge, along with two 3 Gb/s connectors enabled by a JMicron JMB362. A second JMicron controller facilitates two eSATA ports.

Of course, Asus adds its own unique mix of features to the board as well. This platform is shuffled into the TUF series, which emphasizes stability and durability. We’re happy to report that the Sabertooth 990FX did, in fact, operate flawlessly through testing. Should it become part of your next build (rather than a subject on our open-air bench), you’ll be happy to know it features a total of six fan headers, 10 thermal sensors, and a feature Asus calls TUF Thermal Radar, used to identify hot spots and adjust fan performance in response.

MSI 990FXA-GD80

We didn’t have time to run MSI’s 990FXA-GD80 through the same gauntlet as the Asus board, but we still wanted to show off the difference between both platforms. Whereas the Sabertooth’s focus is clearly on reliability and subdued, earthy colours, MSI spices things up with its dark blue/grey/black motif.

From a functionality standpoint, MSI includes most of the same capabilities as Asus—notably three-way SLI and CrossFire support, that black AM3b socket interface, plenty of USB 3.0 connectivity, and six 6 Gb/s SATA ports emanating from the SB950 southbridge.

MSI is short one internal SATA 3Gb/s controller versus Asus’ implementation. However, the 990FXA-GD80 does include onboard power/reset buttons—a feature awkwardly missing from the Sabertooth.

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  • Jay_83
    Disappointing. Kinda like preloading a Steam game before launch- you get stuff you that's not much good for anything until the real show hits the road.
    Here's hoping (against hope?) Bulldozer exceeds expectations. A bit of a price and performance war would do Intel some good.
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  • uksnapper
    I was hoping for 6 memory slots so I guess I will have to wait for more M/Bs to come on stream
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  • codefuapprentice
    I'll be interested to see what the bulldozer is capable of when its completed.
    I'm not rushing out to buy a new machine any time soon as i'm still enjoying using my PII 955BE machine (790GX based)
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  • Anonymous
    Asus are releasing BIOS updates to support AM3+ chips in some of their AM3 motherboards (like my M4A89GTD PRO) - would be interested in a comparison of this with a 'proper' AM3+ motherboard (with SB950, I think), once the Zambezi chips come out.
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