Let’s take a look at one of the motherboards based on the AMD 890GX chipset released by ASRock, featuring SATA-600 and USB 3.0 ports and three PCI Express x16 slots.
We have already posted a detailed comparison between AMD chipsets with integrated video. In summary, AMD 890GX graphics engine has the same basic specs as AMD 790GX’s, but being a DirectX 10.1 part, not a pure DirectX 10 part as its older brother. The main difference on AMD 890GX is the use of a new south bridge chip, called SB850. This south bridge chip natively supports SATA-600 ports (a.k.a. “SATA 6 G”) and in fact this is the first chipset to arrived on the market with this feature (currently on motherboards based on other chipsets featuring SATA-600 ports an external controller chip must be used).
So far ASRock released two models based on AMD 890GX: 890GX Extreme3, which is the model we are taking a look, and 890GM Pro3. We created a table showing the main differences between these two products. As you can see 890GX Extreme3 is a more complete model, using the ATX form factor, while 890GM Pro3 is a microATX product. Both use only solid Japanese capacitors, but 890GX Extreme3 uses a better voltage regulator (10+1 phases against 4+1 on 890GM Pro3). Both have 128 MB “SidePort” memory.
|890GX Extreme3||890GM Pro3|
|Memory||4 sockets||4 sockets|
|PCI Express x16 slots||Three||One|
|PCI Express x1 slots||One||One|
|SATA-600||Six ports||Five ports|
|eSATA||One eSATA-300 port||One eSATA-600 port|
|USB 3.0||Two ports||One port|
|Audio Codec||VIA VT2020||VIA VT2020|
|Networking||One Gigabit Ethernet port||One Gigabit Ethernet port|
|Video Outputs||VGA, DVI-D, HDMI||VGA, DVI-D, HDMI|
In Figure 1 you can have an overall look from ASRock 890GX Extreme3.
Figure 1: ASRock 890GX Extreme 3 motherboard.
As mentioned, this motherboard has 128 MB video memory soldered on the motherboard. In Figure 2, you can see the 1 Gbit GDDR3-1333 chip (1 Gbit = 128 MB) in charge of this feature.
Figure 2: 128 MB GDDR3-1333 memory chip.
AMD 890GX chipset has one PCI Express 2.0 x16 lane that can be split-up into two x8 lanes if necessary. Translation: motherboards based on this chipset can have one or two x16 PCI Express slots, but they will work at x8 if two video cards are installed. The north bridge chip supports a total of six PCI Express x1 lanes, while the south bridge chip supports two more.
ASRock 890GX Extreme3 comes with three PCI Express x16 slots. The first two (blue ones) work at x8 if both are used at the same time, while the third slot (white one) always work at x4 (using four x1 lanes from the north bridge chip). All slots support CrossFireX mode, as expected.
The motherboard also comes with one x1 PCI Express slot and three standard PCI slots.
[nextpage title=”Memory Support”]
AMD CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor, and not the chipset, that defines the 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.
At the moment, the integrated memory controller of socket AM3 processors supports only DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz under dual-channel architecture, however ASRock says 890GX Extreme3 supports DDR3 memories up to 1,800 MHz through overclocking. 890GX Extreme3 has four DDR3 sockets and since, at the moment, each DDR3 memory module can have up to 4 GB, you can have up to 16 GB with this motherboard.
The first and the second sockets are white, while the third and the fourth are blue. In order to achieve the maximum performance, you should install two or four memory modules to enable the dual-channel architecture. When only two modules are used, install them in sockets with the same color in order to enable this feature.
Figure 4: Memory modules. Install two or four modules for the best performance.
[nextpage title=”On-Board Peripherals”]
AMD 890GX chipset is a dual-chip solution. As we mentioned earlier, AMD 890GX is the first chipset to natively support SATA-600 ports and ASRock 890GX Extreme3 provides all the six SATA-600 ports supported by the chipset. These ports support RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10.
These SATA-600 ports are placed on the motherboard edge rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them, as you can see in Figure 5.
An eSATA-300 port is provided on the motherboard rear panel.
Even though the chipset supports one parallel ATA (PATA, a.k.a. IDE) port, no port of this kind is provided. Also no floppy disk drive controller is present.
890GX Extreme3 features on-board power and reset buttons, as you can check it out in Figure 6.
Figure 6: On-board power and reset buttons.
This motherboard has 12 USB 2.0 ports, four soldered on the rear panel and eight through four headers located on the motherboard. This product also has two USB 3.0 ports on its rear panel (the blue ones), controlled by a NEC μPD720200 chip.
Two FireWire (IEEE1394) ports are provided, one standard-sized on the rear panel and one through a header on the motherboard. They are controlled by a VIA VT6315N.
This motherboard has a legacy serial port, available through a header on the mother
board (you can see it in Figure 3). The motherboard doesn’t come with the necessary adapter for you to use it.
[nextpage title=”On-Board Peripherals (Cont’d)”]
Eight-channel audio is generated by the chipset using a VIA VT2020 codec. Unfortunately this component isn’t listed on VIA’s website, but at least the product manual says that it presents a 110 dB signal-to-noise ratio on its outputs, which is a professional-grade number. 890GX Extreme3 comes with an on-board optical SPDIF output and you can add a coaxial SPDIF output installing an adapter on the motherboard “HDMI_SPDIF1” header.
The analog audio connectors are independent if you have a 5.1 analog speaker system, but if you have a 7.1 analog speaker system you will have to “kill” either the “mic in” or the “line in” jack to install it. This may not be a problem for most users, since if you want a 7.1 audio system you will probably connect the motherboard to a home theater receiver or a digital speaker set using either the SPDIF or the HDMI connector.
ASRock 890GX Extreme3 has one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by a Realtek RTL8111E chip, which is connected to the system using a PCI Express x1 lane and thus not presenting any potential performance issues.
In Figure 7, you can see the motherboard rear panel with Keyboard PS/2 connector, four USB 2.0 ports, VGA output, DVI-D output, HDMI output, clear CMOS button, one FireWire port, one eSATA-300 port, one Gigabit Ethernet port, two USB 3.0 ports, optical SPDIF output and shared analog 7.1 audio outputs.
Figure 7: Motherboard rear panel.
As you can see, this motherboard comes with three different kinds of video connectors, but only two of them can be used at the same time.
No mouse PS/2 connector is available, thus you have to use a USB mouse with this motherboard.
Another feature available on this motherboard is a POST diagnostics display, which allows you to detect, through a two-digit code, what is wrong with your computer if it is not turning on. This feature is shown in Figure 5.
In Figure 8, you can see all accessories that come with this motherboard. It comes with an eSATA bracket, so you can transform any of the internal SATA-600 ports into an eSATA-600 port.
[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]
ASRock 890GX Extreme3 comes with a ten-phase voltage regulator circuit. From the ten available phases, eight are used to generate the CPU main voltage (Vcore) while the other two are used to generate the voltage required by the integrated memory controller. Thus this motherboard has a “8+2” configuration.
This motherboard comes with a passive heatsink installed on top of the transistors from the voltage regulator circuit, connected to the passive heatsink that is installed on top of the north bridge chip using a heatpipe. In Figure 9, you can see the voltage regulator circuit with this cooling solution installed and, in Figure 10, with it removed.
Figure 9: Voltage regulator circuit.
Figure 10: Voltage regulator circuit.
As mentioned earlier, all capacitors used on this motherboard are solid made in Japan and the voltage regulator circuit uses ferrite chokes, which are better than iron chokes. Please read our Everything You Need to Know About the Motherboard Voltage Regulator tutorial for more information.
[nextpage title=”Overclocking Options”]
ASRock 890GX Extreme3 provides a bunch of overclocking options. Below we list only the main ones available on 1.40 BIOS.
- CPU reference clock: From 150 MHz to 500 Hz in 1 MHz steps.
- CPU DOC clock: From 152 MHz to 400 MHz in 8 MHz steps.
- PCI Express clock: From 75 MHz to 250 MHz in 1 MHz steps.
- SidePort clock: From 533 MHz to 1700 MHz in 30 MHz steps.
- GPU clock: From 350 MHz to 2000 MHz in 1 MHz steps.
- CPU voltage: From 0.6000 V to 2.000 V in 0.0125 V steps.
- CPU VDDA voltage: From 2.56 V to 2.70 V in 0.14 V steps.
- PCI Express VDDA voltage: From 1.81 V to 1.92 V in 0.11 V steps.
- Memory controller voltage: From 0.600 V to 2.000 V in 0.0125 V steps.
- Memory voltage: From 0.987 V to 1.995 V in 0.014 V steps.
- HyperTransport voltage: From 1.200 V to 1.820 V in 0.01 V steps.
- GPU voltage: From 1.108 V to 1.794 V in 0.013 V steps.
- South bridge voltage: From 1.10 V to 1.40 V in 0.1 V steps.
- SidePort voltage: From 1.50 V to 1.80 V in 0.1 V steps.
Memory timings can also be tweaked.
890GX Extreme3 also has two automatic overclocking preset profiles called “Turbo 30” and “Turbo 25,” which promises to increase the system performance by 30% and 25%, respectively (ASRock doesn’t say the program they used to measure this).
Figure 12: Overclocking menu (Cont’d).
Figure 13: Memory timing options.
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
ASRock 890GX Extreme3 motherboard main features are:
- Socket: AM3.
- Chipset: AMD 890GX.
- Super I/O: Nuvoton NCT6771F
- Parallel ATA: None.
- Serial ATA: Six SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset (RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10).
Motherboard comes with one bracket to convert one of these ports into an eSATA-600 port.
- External SATA: One eSATA-300 port.
- USB: 12 USB 2.0 ports, four soldered on the motherboard and eight available through four headers on the motherboard. Two USB 3.0 ports controlled by a NEC μPD720200 chip.
- FireWire (IEEE 1394): Two ports, one normal-sized soldered on the rear panel and one available through a header on the motherboard, controlled by a VIA VT6315N chip.
- On-board video: Yes, Radeon HD 4290 engine running at 700 MHz (40 processing cores), with 128 MB GDDR3-1333 memory (Nanya NT5CB64M16AP-CG).
- On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with a VIA VT2020 codec (8-channel, 110 dB signal-to-noise ratio for its outputs, no more technical information is provided). On-board optical SPDIF output.
- On-board LAN: One Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Realtek RTL8111E chip, connected to the system through one PCI Express x1 lane.
- Buzzer: No.
- Power supply required: EPS12V
- Slots: Three PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots (the first two working at x8 when two video cards are installed and the third one always working at x4), one PCI Express x1 slot and two standard PCI slots.
- Memory: Four DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to 16 GB up to DDR3-1800 through overclocking).
- Fan connectors: One four-pin connector for the CPU cooler and three three-pin connectors for auxiliary fans.
- Extra Features: External clear CMOS button, POST diagnostics display, serial port.
- Number of CDs/DVDs provided: One.
- Programs included: Motherboard drivers and utilities, CyberLink DVD suite (trial) and Sound Blaster X-Fi (trial).
- More Information: https://www.asrockamerica.com
- Average price in the US*: USD 130.00
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.
This is a “First Look” article, but you can check the performance of AMD 890GX chipset on our ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 review. Traditionally motherboards based on the same chipset achieve the same performance.
From this review we learned that AMD 890GX is way better than AMD 785G, providing a performance gain between 33% and 37% in games. However, on-board video is still a bad way to play games: a very low-end Radeon HD 3450 with 64-bit memory interface and 256 MB was between 44% and 64% faster than AMD 890GX. Therefore if you are looking for a system to play games, even occasionally, you are still better off buying an add-on video card, even the cheapest one (this Radeon HD 3450 costs USD 35).
But that doesn’t mean that AMD 890GX should be ignored. Motherboard manufacturers will be providing motherboards based on this chipset with very good features, and you may want to pick a motherboard based on this chipset even if you want to install an add-on video card.
Since it natively supports SATA-600 ports, motherboards based on this chipset will probably be cheaper than motherboards that require an extra chip to do the same thing, helping to bring SATA-600 to the mainstream arena. And even if you don’t plan to use a SATA-600 hard drive or SSD, you will have a system ready for this new technology for a future upgrade, which is always desirable.
Now talking specifically about ASRock 890GX Extreme3, it brings several extra features like two USB 3.0 ports, three PCI Express x16 slots (the third one always working at x4 speed) and a high-end voltage regulator circuit, making this motherboard an interesting option to more expensive socket AM3 motherboards.
The price of this motherboard is compatible with the number of features it brings. Of course we’d love if it cost less, but keep in mind that it brings the latest technologies available. Even though it has on-board graphics, you should not see it as a low-end motherboard with integrated graphics, but as a mainstream socket AM3 motherboard with all the latest technologies that happens to give you on-board video "for free.”
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