Board Impressions and Test SetupBoard Impressions
At first I was not entirely certain I liked the setup of the board. The heatsinks seemed a bit too much. There was a max of 3 x CrossFire boards at one time. The board just seemed somewhat garish. The SupremeFX just seemed like a big scam to me. Luckily we do not go only by first impressions when writing final reviews.
Nope, no Creative here. So this is how VIA makes their money anymore?
The board really grew on me as I started to use it. The colors seemed to work better for me. The heatsinks did a good job, and soon I did not think their appearance was that strange. The multitude of LED lights throughout the board was not a big deal, as they also served a purpose other than looking neat. The board does seem a bit crowded as compared to some of the competition, and some of the decisions there make things harder to get to.
The first issue I have is with the PCI-E and PCI slot setup. If CrossFire is enabled with two cards, the #1 and #3 PEG slots are used. This allows at least one PCI slot to be used if dual slot graphics cards are installed. If triple CF is installed with double slot graphics cards, then no other PCI-E or PCI slots can be utilized. Asus seemingly sacrificed a slot in there to get this design to work, which is in direct contrast to the MSI 890FX board which features a full complement of slots (though only one PCI). This may be splitting hairs because if the MSI board is installed in a 3X or 4X CrossFire implementation, that single PCI slot is going to be covered up anyway.
The SATA connectors are located directly behind the #1 PCI-E slot. When a double wide, long graphics card is installed, it makes those connectors harder to get to. If triple CF is used, then it will be impossible to get to those ports at all. This is not a huge issue, as few people regularly swap out their SATA devices once the machine is put together. But when adding new drives, it can be a slightly larger hassle than one would hope.
The biggest potential issue I had with this board is the aforementioned Supreme FX X-Fi functionality. I was disappointed to see that it was a software layer which utilizes a less expensive VIA audio codec. But then I started to actually use the board, and my opinion changed to a degree. I had few problems, if any, with the audio implementation. I saw no real slowdowns in games which utilize EAX or other 3D audio processes, and I did not have any audio quality issues with popping or hissing. The software worked surprisingly well, especially considering the poor driver implementations we have seen over the past few years with the actual X-Fi standalone boards and chips from Creative. With the full X-Fi based boards, the audio functionality can be changed from “Entertainment” to “Gaming” to “Content Creation”. For this, there is only one setting, and that is “Entertainment”. Since the VIA codec does not actually have any DSP functionality, a lot of the features in a full X-Fi product are left out. It works, and supports up to EAX 4.0, but it will not give the user the same toolset as the full X-Fi product line.
The 8+2 power phase setup is nicely hidden under the heatsink. Note the lack of High-C caps. Also note the lack of concern for its long term survival.
The BIOS is fully featured, and users can change nearly any option on the motherboard as they see fit. It includes all the necessary timing and voltage settings for the CPU, memory, and chipset. It has the usual functions of saving individual BIOS profile settings, recovering settings, flashing the BIOS from a USB memory stick, etc. There is not much else that can be put into a BIOS these days, and this one certainly covers most of the bases. About the only thing missing is a built-in OS on the actual BIOS chip to allow for things like hard drive recovery in the case of a bad OS error. Once flash chips get dense enough, I would imagine that we will see features such as this in the future.
The back panel is pretty average; with the exception of two buttons on there to clear the BIOS and to enable the ROG connect. It has six USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, a firewire port, PS2 port, a single Gig-E Ethernet, optical SPDIF, e-SATA connection, and the necessary analog audio outputs and inputs. Unlike the MSI 890FX board, it does not feature 2 x Gig-E connections. This is not all that big of a deal, as very few users will actually populate both ports or use their primary machine as a gateway to the rest of their network.
Throughout testing I became more and more happy with the board. I had few issues with installing all the gear I really wanted to use. Sure, it is a bit crowded once everything is installed, but in the end it did the job it was supposed to. While it does not give users the option to really run 4 x CrossFire X with dual slot cards, the ability to easily run 2x and 3x CrossFire should be mentioned. At the very least, with 2x CrossFire a single PCI slot is available. If any form of CrossFire X is used, then the remaining PCI-E 16x/8x slot should not be used for other products like RAID cards or OCZ’s recently released Ibis SSD or the OCZ Revo card. Users will have to be content with the solid SATA 6G implementation that AMD provided with the SB850 southbridge.
This board is compared to the MSI 890FXA-G70 and the MSI 890GXM-G65. Overclocking was done after all tests were complete, so as not to endanger the OS install with potential errors after overclocking which could affect overall performance.
Users should use the utmost caution while plugging in their peripheral cables. Things are awfully close to the BIOS reset button, and nobody wants to plug a USB cable into the eSATA port. Much screaming could ensue.
A fresh install of Windows 7 was applied, with all major updates included. The Catalyst 10.9 drivers were also used. All standalone HD tests were performed on the second HD drive, whether it was attached to a SATA 6G port or used in the USB 3.0 HD dock.
AMD Phenom II X6 1090T
OCZ Platinum DDR-3 1600 2 x 2GB DIMMS @ 1333 and 184.108.40.206 latencies
2 x Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB SATA 6G Hard Drives
AMD HD 5870 Video Card
Lite-On 4X BD Drive
Sharkoon USB 3.0 HD Dock
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
Catalyst 10.9 Drivers