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ASUS M3A32-MVP DeLuxe/WiFi-AP is today the most high-end motherboard for the AMD platform money can buy. Based on the new AMD 790FX chipset this board is targeted to the AMD gaming platform “Spider,” featuring four PCI Express x16 slots allowing up to four video cards working in parallel through the new CrossFireX interconnection mode. As other motherboards from ASUS, this product has passive heatsinks, but what is unique about it is that it comes with a passive heatsink for the memory modules that can be attached to the motherboard passive cooling solution. This board also features an 802.11g (54 Mbps) WiFi access point, allowing you to share your Internet connection wirelessly without a wireless broadband router, eSATA port, coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs and much more, so read on.
This motherboard is a socket AM2+ board. There are two main differences between socket AM2 and socket AM2+: the support for HyperTransport 3.0 and Dual Dynamic Power Management (DDPM) technology, present on AMD CPUs based on K10 core (e.g., Phenom CPUs). You can still install Phenom on socket AM2 motherboards but you won’t have these two technologies available and the CPU will talk to the chipset only up to 2,000 MB/s (HyperTransport 2.0) instead of up to 10,400 MB/s (HyperTransport 3.0) – it is important to notice that current Phenom processors work under the lowest HyperTransport 3.0 transfer rate, 7,200 MB/s. For more information about those technologies we recommend you to read two other articles, Inside AMD K10 Architecture and The HyperTransport Bus Used by AMD Processors.
AMD 790FX is the latest and most high-end chipset by AMD/ATI, using ATI’s SB600 southbridge, which is the same south bridge chip used by ATI Radeon Xpress 3200 chipset. AMD 790FX brings three new important features. The first is of course the support of HyperTransport 3.0, allowing the communications between the chipset and the CPU to be performed at a higher speed – if a HT3-based CPU is installed on the system, of course; otherwise, i.e., if you install a plain socket AM2 Athlon 64, the maximum transfer will be 2,000 MB/s. HyperTransport 3.0 maximum transfer rate is of 10,400 MB/s (this rate is also called 5,200 MT/s) but Phenom CPUs released so far have their HyperTransport bus working at 7,200 MB/s (3,600 MT/s). It is important to remember that since on AMD CPUs the memory controller is embedded on the CPU and not on the chipset this transfer rate is available for I/O transfers only.
The second biggest feature of this new chipset is its support for the new PCI Express 2.0 bus, which doubles the bandwidth available for video cards from 2.5 GB/s to 5 GB/s, if they are also based on PCI Express 2.0 (so far the only PCI Express 2.0 video cards available are GeForce 8800 GT, Radeon HD 3850 and Radeon HD 3870). This chipset provides 32 PCI Express 2.0 lanes for graphics, which can be arranged as two PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots truly working at x16 or four PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots working at x8. More on this in a minute.
The third biggest feature is the support for CrossFireX, which allows up to four video cards based on this new connection working in parallel.
This motherboard features four PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots, which are physically identical to PCI Express 1.0 x16 slots, so you can install PCI Express 1.0 cards without any problem. If one or two cards are installed, the slots work at x16. If a third video card is installed, the first slot will remain working at x16, but the other two slots will work at x8. And if you install four video cards all slots will work at x8.
As you can see in Figure 2 this motherboard has two standard PCI slots and no PCI Express x1 slots.
Keep in mind that if you use an AMD CPU that isn’t based on HT3 you will limit the graphics performance of your system. Let’s do some math to explain this better.
The maximum bandwidth between AMD 790FX chipset and the video cards is of 10 GB/s (5 GB/s, which is the x16 transfer rate, times two), if PCI Express 2.0 video cards are used. If PCI Express 1.0 cards are used, the maximum bandwidth available is of 5 GB/s (2.5 GB/s, which is the x16 transfer rate, times two).
In theory HyperTransport 3.0 offers a maximum transfer rate of 10 GB/s, what would match perfectly the required bandwidth if you use two or more PCI Express 2.0 video cards. However Phenom processors released so far use a lower 7 GB/s transfer rate, generating a bottleneck. This bottleneck does not exist if you use PCI Express 1.0 video cards, as the maximum required bandwidth will be of 5 GB/s.
But if you use an Athlon 64 CPU, for example, you will limit the graphics performance. Since this CPU can talk to the chipset only up to 2 GB/s you won’t be able to achieve the maximum performance video cards are capable of delivering. In fact, even on regular socket AM2 motherboards with PCI Express 1.0 this occurs, as the maximum I/O transfer rate of the CPU is of 2 GB/s and the maximum graphics transfer rate if of 2.5 GB/s if one video card is used or 5 GB/s if two cards are installed.
So HyperTransport 3.0 unlocks the maximum graphics performance of your system, even though for a perfect system we still need to wait for the release of Phenom CPUs based on the 10 GB/s HyperTransport bus.
However the numbers provided above are theoretical and in fact no performance impact may be seen, as video cards transfer data at a rate far below their maximum theoretical transfer rates.[nextpage title=”Introduction (Cont’d)”]
ASUS M3A32-MVP DeLuxe/WiFi-AP has six SATA-300 ports, four controlled by the SB600 south bridge, supporting RAID 0, 1, and 0+1, and two controlled by a Marvell 88E6121 chip, supporting RAID 0 and 1. The SB600 south bridge also controls one ATA-133 port available and a Marvell 88SE6111 chip controls an eSATA-300 port available on the rear panel. The SATA ports are placed in parallel to the board (see Figure 3), so video cards won’t close them as it sometimes happens when using regular SATA plugs that are placed perpendicular to the board.
The audio section from this motherboard provides 7.1 audio, produced by the south bridge chip with the aid of an Analog Devices AD1988B codec, which provides a 92 dB signal-to-noise ratio for its inputs and 101 dB SNR for its outputs and a maximum sampling rate of 192 kHz for both inputs and outputs. These specs are terrific for the mainstream user.
This board has one coaxial and one optical SPDIF output soldered directly on the motherboard, which is great as you can easily connect it to your home theater receiver.
ASUS M3A32-MVP DeLuxe/WiFi-AP has ten USB 2.0 ports, six soldered on the rear panel and four available through two headers, and this motherboard comes with an I/O bracket with two ports. This motherboard al
so has two FireWire ports controlled by an Agere L-FW3227 chip. One of the ports is located on the motherboard rear panel, and the other is available through an I/O header, which comes with the board.
In Figure 4, you can see the motherboard rear panel with one antenna connector for the on-board WiFi access point, PS/2 keyboard connector, six USB 2.0 ports, coaxial and optical digital audio (SPDIF) outputs, one FireWire port, one eSATA port, one Gigabit Ethernet port and complete set of 7.1 audio jacks.
As you can see, this motherboard does not have a PS/2 mouse connector, so you have to use a USB mouse with this motherboard. This board also doesn’t have parallel and serial ports, although one serial port is available through an I/O bracket that doesn’t come with the product.
M3A32-MVP DeLuxe/WiFi-AP has “only” one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by a Marvell 88E8056 chip, which is connected to the south bridge chip through a PCI Express x1 bus. We say “only” because almost all top motherboards have two Gigabit Ethernet ports.
One of the most different features present on this motherboard is its 801.g/b WiFi access point, which is based on an Atheros AR2425 chip. An integrated access point allows you to share your broadband internet connection (and also files and printers) wirelessly with other computers around your office or home without the need of a wireless broadband router, so you can save some bucks (even though the cost of this access point is embedded on the motherboard cost, of course). Of course your other computers will need a wireless network card installed.
IEEE 802.11g specification allows networks running up to 54 Mbps, if you also have IEEE 802.11g cards on your other computers. If you don’t, the on-board access point will work at 802.11b, with a maximum transfer rate of 11 Mbps. Of course your internet speed will be limited by your broadband connection: if you have a 2 Mbps connection that will be the maximum transfer rate you will get on the internet. The 54 Mbps or 11 Mbps transfer rates will only be available for local file transfers – i.e., for transferring files from one computer to another. With more and more digital contents like movies being produced and saved on hard disk drives, the higher your network speed the better for transferring files between computers. Even though if you are really worried about speed you will probably build a cabled network using a Gigabit switch in order to achieve 1,000 Mbps when transferring files between your computers.
M3A32-MVP DeLuxe/WiFi-AP comes with one omini-directional antenna. According to ASUS the operating ranges for its on-board access point are the following:
- IEEE 802.11g: 200 ft (60 m) outdoor or 80 ft (30 m) indoor.
- IEEE 802.11b: 1000 ft (310 m) outdoor or 130 ft (40 m) indoor.
[nextpage title=”More features”]As you could see in Figure 1, this motherboard uses a passive heatsink solution, which is particularly indicated to users that are annoyed with the amount of noise produced by a typical PC (since this motherboard doesn’t have a fan on top of the chipset heatsink, less noise is produced by the PC).
But what is unique about this board is that it comes with a passive heatsink solution for up two memory modules, allowing you to connect this module to the passive cooling solution already present on the motherboard. According to ASUS this solution lowers the memory temperature in 10° C.
This solution is more indicated to memory modules that don’t have heatsinks attached, even though you can install modules with attached heatsinks without any problem.
In Figure 8, you can see where the heatsink fits on the motherboard. After installing it on the memory modules you need to screw its body to the motherboard passive cooling solution.
This motherboard uses only solid aluminum capacitors, which is great in order to prevent the infamous capacitor leakage problem. This motherboard uses ferrite coils on the voltage regulator circuit, which is also great, since they provide a lower power loss.
In Figure 10, you can see all accessories that come with this motherboard. As you can see, it comes with a fan to be installed on the motherboard passive heatsink if you think that it is generating too much heat. Another interesting small feature is that the I/O panel finishing doesn’t have any cutting edges, so you probably won’t cut yourself while installing it. This motherboard also comes with Q-Connectors, a solution created by ASUS that facilitates the installation of the wires coming from the case frontal panel.
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
ASUS M3A32-MVP DeLuxe/WiFi-AP main features are:
- Socket: AM2+.
- Chipset: AMD 790FX.
- Super I/O: ITE 8716F
- Parallel IDE: One ATA-133 port controlled by the south bridge chip (SB600).
- Serial IDE: Six SATA-300 ports, four controlled by the south bridge chip, supporting RAID 0, 1, and 0+1 and two controlled by a Marvell 88SE6121 chip. One eSATA-300 port controlled by a Marvell 88SE6111 chip.
- USB: Ten USB 2.0 ports (six soldered on the motherboard and
four available through I/O brackets; this board comes with an I/O bracket containing two ports, thus two ports are left over and should be used by the case frontal USB ports).
- FireWire (IEEE 1394a): Two ports controlled by Agere L-FW3227 chip, one soldered on the motherboard and another available through an I/O bracket that comes with the motherboard.
- On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with Analog Devices AD1988B codec (eight channels, 24-bit resolution, up to 192 kHz sampling rate for both inputs and outputs, 92 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the inputs and 101 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs).
- On-board video: No.
- On-board LAN: One Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Marvell 88E8056 chip connected to one PCI Express x1 bus. One IEEE 802.11g/b WiFi access point controlled by an Atheros AR2425 chip, with one omni-directional antenna.
- Buzzer: No.
- Power supply required: ATX12V 2.x (24-pin), EPS12V optional.
- Slots: Four x16 PCI Express 2.0 slots supporting CrossFireX (working at x16 if one or two cards are installed; at x16/x8/x8 if three cards are installed; and at x8 if four cards are installed) and two PCI slots.
- Memory: Four DDR-DIMM sockets (up to 8 GB up to DDR2-800/PC2-6400 or DDR2-1066/PC2-8500, depending on the CPU).
- Number of CDs that come with this motherboard: One DVD-ROM.
- Programs included: Motherboard drivers and utilities.
- Extra features: Passive cooling for the memories, passive cooling for the motherboard, aluminum solid capacitors and Q-Connectors for the case frontal connectors.
- More Information: https://www.asus.com
- Average price in the US*: USD 240.00
* Researched at Froogle.com on the day we published this review.
We couldn’t simply find any negative point on this motherboard. If you are looking for the most high-end motherboard for your AMD system supporting CrossFireX – i.e., up to four video cards – for your “Spider” gaming system this is definitely the motherboard you should buy.
This board features only the cutting-edge technology: socket AM2+ (i.e., HyperTransport 3.0), four PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots, six SATA-300 ports, one eSATA port, two FireWire ports, Gigabit Ethernet, on-board optical and coaxial SPDIF connectors and, of course, its exclusive WiFi access point working under 802.11g or b, allowing you to create your own wireless network without needing a wireless broadband router. This means that building a system with this board you won’t need to upgrade your PC for several years. In fact, the only reason you may want to think about upgrading your system based on this motherboard is when socket AM3 CPUs are released, which will support DDR3 memories. Since in practical terms DDR3 does not bring higher performance compared to DDR2, even this upgrade is questionable if you think of it only for the memory reason ( maybe for having a CPU with a higher clock rate it will make sense).
The highlight of this motherboard is its memory passive cooling system, a feature available only with this board. According to ASUS this cooling system reduces memory temperature in 10° C, which should help you achieving a higher overclocking.
The quality of the on-board audio of this motherboard is also something we need to say: with over 100 dB signal-to-noise ratio on its output you get the same quality of good add-on sound cards. Its input signal-to-noise ratio, however, is low for today’s standards, with only 92 dB while it should have at least 95 dB. Even though this is enough for the regular user, if you are looking for a motherboard for professionally capturing and editing analog audio (converting LPs, VHS tapes, etc) you should look for a different motherboard or install a better add-on sound card on this board.
Also on the good side is the manufacturing quality of the board, with passive heatsinks that eliminate the noise produced by the motherboard, solid aluminum capacitors, which provides a higher life span compared to traditional electrolytic capacitors plus you won’t face the infamous capacitor leakage problem, and ferrite coils on the voltage regulator circuit, which provide a lower power loss.
Of course this isn’t the cheapest motherboard around, but for the ultimate gaming PC it provides a fair cost/benefit ratio.
The only real problem right now is availability. From the top computer on-line shops this board can only be found at ZipZoomfly, at USD 230.