The 990FX launch is something of a disappointment in ways.  There is no new technology in the base design, but it does pave the way for something more exciting; the eventual appearance of Bulldozer.  These boards will build the foundation for future Bulldozer machines.    We also see the motherboard guys working hard to make unique products with new thinking and new features that they bundle into their products outside of the base chipset.  While AMD did not play a significant part in this launch, they are the marketing force behind it to make sure that we see proper compatibility with the upcoming Bulldozer parts, and customer education in figuring out that if they buy a Bulldozer then for everything to work as advertised they need a AMD 900 series based motherboard.

For an AMD based board, there is a decent amount of space around the CPU.  I think the VRMs are sorta pretty in this picture.

As far as I was concerned, the Asus board is the show stealer here.  It was consistent in terms of performance, it had a much more aggressive auto overclock, and its overall overclocking prowess is simply outstanding.  The UEFI BIOS is very clean, informative, and easy to use.  I had no issues with any board level components, and the ASMedia USB 3.0 controller was slightly faster than the rest.  The board design and layout is very good, and I had no problems with DIMM clearance with the larger fan and heatsink I used during testing.  DIMM slots were closer to the CPU socket than many would like, but it should not affect the majority of customers out there.

The only real issue I had with the board was the bundle that it came with.  This is a minor issue, but it would have been nice for Asus to throw in another USB 3.0 bracket so users can actually use all four USB 3.0 ports supported on the board.  Documentation was good, and the AI Suite II was really tremendous to work with.  Rarely have I seen a board this polished right off the bat.  I really enjoyed working with the SABERTOOTH 990FX, and it was a fantastic performer and ultimately very stable.

The MSI 990FXA-GD80 was not nearly as trouble free as the Asus board.  First off the CD did not include the THX functionality, and the link for it on their site was not active yet.  Second, the Gig-E controller would literally lock up the machine for about 15 to 20 seconds when getting an IP address.  Supposedly a few other reviewers have had some Gig-E issues of their own, so it is hard to say if this is a BIOS/Firmware problem, or MSI just had a batch of bad chips.  Overclocking was again disappointing.  The UEFI BIOS implementation drove me up the wall with its constant pauses and flickering mouse cursor.  It was simply not a friendly environment to work in for any length of time.  Control Center needs a lot of work, which leaves me scratching my head.  MSI made a big splash with its excellent Afterburner program for graphics cards.  Why can’t they do the same for their motherboards?  In my latest video card reviews from MSI, the hardware was pretty awesome and scored very highly.  It just seems strange to me that the very same company is putting out some rather mundane parts on the motherboard side.

Note the black bar/heatsink on the other side.  There are some VRM components mounted back here to save space on the top.  Nicely played Asus…

That being said, the board is not a bad board at all.  During regular use it was stable, and it performed right where it was expected to.  It has all of the features that a user could want, plus the extras provided in the bundle the such as the THX functionality are big plusses.  My overall impression is that the board still has some work to be done on it.  While the hardware seems fairly intact, the handful of issues I had makes it seem like the software/firmware side is more to blame.  The board just isn’t quite fully baked, and MSI is scrambling to make these fixes before the board gets released to the public.  Hopefully I can update with the potential fixes that are in the pipeline.

For now, it is nice to see that AMD has finally released the official chipsets and boards that will support Bulldozer.  Asus took a big lead here with their SABERTOOTH product, but historically speaking MSI is not all that far behind.  A few BIOS fixes and perhaps a revision, and we have a competitive part from MSI that actually costs $10 less than the rather lean and sparse TUF product.

Asus SABERTOOTH 990FX Silver Award Winner

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