MSI 990FXA-GD80 Continued and Test Setup

Just as Asus, MSI has gone to a UEFI BIOS in this board.  Unlike Asus, MSI has some real issues with their “Click BIOS” functionality.  The BIOS looks much the same as previous AMI powered boards, but with the added bonus of a mouse cursor!  Too bad the functionality of the mouse is very limited.  There seems to be a lot of overhead, because the BIOS is not responsive at all.  There were many times that while adjusting certain settings, the board would seemingly stop responding.  I would wait a few seconds and then I could make the changes I needed to.  This is not a deal breaker, but it certainly is an annoyance.  Their BIOS implementation is just not very polished.  Especially when compared to what Asus offers.

Just pretend it is using HDR for rendering.

After installation and setup, I did my best to get a good feel for the board.  Overall the performance is right where it is supposed to be in terms of benchmarks.  But from a usability perspective, this feels like a product that is not quite ready for prime time.  The Control Center software is an improvement from what I had seen with previous boards, but it is still unwieldy and poorly laid out.  It is not always easy to find the settings or monitors.  Some of the settings changes work, but others do not.  There is an entire page dedicated to OC Genie II, but no way to actually activate it from there.  The software was disappointing to say the least.

The layout is clean and very usable.

If there was one strength this board has over its competitor, it is the bundle.  Every SLI cable that one would need to run either a Quad GPU setup, or triple SLI, is included in the box.  It is packed full of SATA cables, manuals, quick start guides, driver CDs, backplates, etc.  What is most impressive is the inclusion of a real USB 3.0 backplate.  If a user has a case which does not feature front USB 3.0 connectivity, then those extra USB 3.0 headers will be wasted.  MSI gives you the option of using this optional part to get full use of all four USB ports.  It is a simple addition to the package, but one that Asus did not feel was necessary for their product.  Considering that the SABERTOOTH is $10 more expensive than the GD80, I disagree with Asus’ choice of not including this particular piece.

Test Setup

I had received the boards just a few days before the 990FX launch, so I was unable to dig into them as deeply as I typically do.  I still spent quite a bit of time with each board, and used them extensively in both benchmarking and non-benchmarking sessions.

We do not yet have Bulldozer based CPUs to test with, as they will be coming out much later this summer.  AM3+ motherboards are compatible with older AM3 processors, so I tested with the tried and true Phenom II X6 1090T.  All power saving settings were enabled as well as Turbo mode support.  Both boards supported that mode without issue in my testing.  Apparently, when increasing or adjusting DDR-3 memory to 1600 MHz levels with the MSI board, there is an issue of Turbo not working correctly.  This should be fixed in a new BIOS revision before these boards ship to customers.

SLI.  It works.  After being essentially absent from the AMD platform for the past year, it makes its return in time for Bulldozer.  Somewhat fitting, since AMD had the first SLI boards and support when it was introduced with the GeForce 6800 series.

I did not have time to test SLI performance and scaling, but I was able to get SLI to work with beta NVIDIA drivers that were given to us just for this occasion.  The cards were recognized, and I enabled SLI without an issue.  Quick 3D Mark runs proved that SLI was in fact working and scaling as expected.

Memory was set to DDR-3 1333 speeds and reasonable timings, as the memory controller at the stock 2 GHz clock on the Phenom II does not show any real performance improvement by going at a higher speed.  Once the northbridge portion of the CPU is clocked up to 2.4 GHz and 2.6 GHz, we then see the unit able to utilize the extra bandwidth provided by the faster memory speeds.  Since Bulldozer supports up to 6.4 GTPS speeds, we can assume that we will see a maximum speed of 3.2 GHz on the northbridge portion of these chips at the very top end.  This also explains why DDR-3 1866 speeds are officially supported.  In other words, we should see much better memory performance and utilization from Bulldozer this summer as compared to the Phenom II processors.

AMD Phenom II X6 1090T
AMD Radeon HD 5870 Video Card
2 x 2GB OCZ DDR-3 1600 Platinum @ 1333 MHz and timings
2 x Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB 7200 SATA 6G Drives
Lite-On DVD-R/RW
Corsair TX750W Power Supply
Windows 7 Ultimate 64 Bit
Catalyst 11.3a driver

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