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[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

The AMD 890FX is the new high-end chipset for AMD processors and the MSI 890FXA-GD70 (a.k.a. MS-7640) is a high-end motherboard based on this new chipset, bringing features like five PCI Express x16 slots, six SATA-600 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, SMD (a.k.a. Hi-c) capacitors, lots of overclocking features and more. Check it out.

This new high-end chipset is a two-chip solution. The main feature of the north bridge chip is the presence of 42 PCI Express x1 lanes – almost double the amount present on AMD 890GX chipset (22 lanes) – which allows a very high-end configuration for the expansion slots as we will explain in the next page. The south bridge chip used is an SB850, the same one used on the AMD 890GX chipset. The main feature of this chip is the native support for six SATA-600 (a.k.a. “SATA 6G”) ports, so the motherboard doesn’t need an external chip to support this feature, and certainly the AMD 890FX and 890GX will help the new SATA standard to become mainstream.

In Figure 1 you have an overall look at MSI 890FXA-GD70.

MSI 890FXA-GD70 motherboardFigure 1: MSI 890FXA-GD70 motherboard.

[nextpage title=”Slots”]

As mentioned, the AMD 890FX chipset has 42 PCI Express x1 lanes controlled by 11 engines – just to put things into perspective, the AMD 890GX chipset has 22 lanes controlled by eight engines. This allows this chip to provide a very high-end slot configuration.

MSI 890FXA-GD70 comes with an impressive number of PCI Express x16 slots: five. Four of them work at x16 if only one or two video cards are installed or at x8 if three or four video cards are installed. One of the slots – the third one (PCI_E4) – work at x1. So only install a video card on this slot if you had already ran out of PCI Express x16 slots. The placement of this lower-speed slot between the high-speed ones is perfect, as it allows the high-end configuration we will explain below. We think MSI could have used a different color for this lower-speed PCI Express x16 slot (black would be a terrific choice).

The way that the PCI Express x16 slots are arranged was really well-thought out. There is enough room between the slots for you to install dual-slot video cards on the first, on the second and on the fourth PCI Express x16 slots at the same time. A fourth dual-slot video card can be installed on the last PCI Express x16 slot, but in this case you will need a case with eight or more expansion slots (of course in this case it will block all the USB and FireWire headers available). So with the right case, you can have up to four dual-slot video cards installed at the same time with this motherboard, a configuration that is not possible to achieve with cheaper products.

It is important to note that motherboards from other manufacturers may use a different configuration.

This motherboard offers support to CrossFireX technology, of course, but not to SLI. The product comes with one CrossFireX bridge.

MSI 890FXA-GD70 also comes with one PCI Express x1 slot and one standard PCI slot. The use of a dual-slot video card on the first PCI Express x16 slot will “kill” the x1 slot, but remember that PCI Express technology allows you to install x1 expansion cards on any kind of PCI Express slot, so you can install your expansion card on any other slot.

MSI 890FXA-GD70 motherboardFigure 2: 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 MSI says 890FXA-GD70 supports DDR3 memories up to 2,133 MHz through overclocking. This motherboard 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 it.

The first and the second sockets are blue, while the third and the fourth are black. 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.

MSI 890FXA-GD70 motherboardFigure 3: Memory modules. Install two or four modules for the best performance.

[nextpage title=”On-Board Peripherals”]

As explained earlier, the AMD 890FX chipset is a dual-chip solution using the SB850 south bridge chip. This chip natively supports six SATA-600 ports (with RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10). These ports are placed on the motherboard edge rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them, as you can see in Figure 4. This motherboard has one ATA-133 port controlled by a JMicron JMB363 chip, which is also placed rotated on the motherboard edge. This chip also provides a SATA-300 port (blue connector) and an eSATA-300 port that is placed on the motherboard rear connector. No floppy disk drive controller is present.

MSI 890FXA-GD70 motherboardFigure 4: OC Dial, SATA-600 ports and ATA-133 port.

In Figure 4, you can see some of the additional features available on this motherboard, a knob called “OC Dial” that is used for overclocking the motherboard, an overclocking button, a “Green Power” button (which turns off all motherboard LEDs), and power and reset buttons.

This motherboard has 12 USB 2.0 ports, six soldered on the rear panel (one of them is shared with the eSATA port) and six available through three headers located on the motherboard. Two USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors) are available on the motherboard rear panel, controlled by a NEC μPD720200 chip. This motherboard comes with an I/O bracket with two USB ports.

Two FireWire (IEEE1394) ports are provided (controlled by a VIA VT6315N), however none of them are soldered on the rear panel of the board, which is a big flaw in our opinion, since this motherboard doesn’t come with an I/O bracket for you to use these ports. So you have to make sure to buy a case with at least one FireWire port to have this kind of port available on your computer.

Eight-channel audio is generated by the chipset using a Realtek ALC889 codec, which is a professional-grade component, with 24-bit resolution, 192 kHz sampling rate (both numbers for the inputs and outputs), 104 dB signal-to-noise ratio for its analog inputs and 108 dB signal-to-noise ratio for its outputs. These numbers mean that you can work professionally with audio mixing/editing (e.g., converting VHS tapes and vinyl records to digital format) with no background noise (white noise). The motherboard provides on-board optical and coaxial SPDIF connectors and you can route digital audio
to your video card to have it available on an HDMI connector by installing the required cable on the “JSP1” header available on the motherboard. The analog audio connectors are independent, so you won’t have to “kill” the line in or mic in jacks if you decide to install an analog 7.1 speaker set.

MSI 890FXA-GD70 has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, controlled by two Realtek RTL8111DL chips.

In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel with keyboard and mouse PS/2 connectors, clear CMOS button, coaxial SPDIF output, optical SPDIF output, six USB 2.0 ports (black ports), one eSATA-300 port (shared with one USB 2.0 connector), two Gigabit Ethernet ports, two USB 3.0 ports (blue ports), and independent analog 7.1 audio outputs.

MSI 890FXA-GD70 motherboardFigure 5: Motherboard rear panel.

Other smaller features are available. As you can see in Figure 6, this product comes with a POST diagnostics display, allowing you to discover through a two-digit code what is wrong with your computer if it is not turning on.

MSI 890FXA-GD70 motherboardFigure 6: POST diagnostics display.

This motherboard supports one legacy serial port through a header called “JCOM1.” It doesn’t come with the I/O bracket that is required to use it.

Like other motherboards from MSI, this product comes with an operating system stored inside the motherboard read-only memory that allows you to access the Internet without needing to load the operating system or even without having a hard disk drive installed. This feature, called Winki, is identical in concept to the Express Gate feature available on motherboards from ASUS and the eJiffy feature present on motherboards from ECS.[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]

MSI added a high-end voltage regulator circuit on this motherboard, featuring five phases, four for the CPU main voltage (VDD a.k.a. Vcore), and one phase for the CPU VDDNB voltage (memory controller, HyperTransport bus controller and L3 memory cache). Therefore it uses a “4+1” configuration.

Comparing only the number of phases is unfair, though. Each phase from this motherboard switches at a higher frequency (1 GHz instead of 250 MHz) and has a lower switching loss, resulting in a higher efficiency and lower operating temperature. This is achieved by using an integrated circuit (Renesas R2J20604) called DrMOS instead of discrete transistors. According to MSI each DrMOS phase is equivalent of four regular phases, so the “4+1” configuration used by this motherboard is comparable to a “16+4” configuration using the standard voltage regulator architecture used by competing products.

If this was not enough, MSI decided to use military-grade components on the voltage regulator circuit. Electronic components rated as military-grade have a higher operating temperature range, tighter specs and higher life-span. All electrolytic capacitors used on the voltage regulator circuit are SMD (surface mount device), also known as highly-conductive polymerized or simply Hi-c, and solid ferrite chokes, which MSI is promoting as “icy chokes” or “super ferrite chokes” (although they are not so impressive-looking like the ones used on Big Bang XPower). According to MSI these chokes work  20° C cooler than traditional chokes. Please read our Everything You Need to Know About the Motherboard Voltage Regulator tutorial for more information.

Capacitors used outside the voltage regulator circuit are solid.

As you can see in Figure 7, there is a big passive heatsink on top of the integrated circuits of the voltage regulator circuit, which is connected to the passive heatsink used on the north bridge chip through a heatpipe.

MSI 890FXA-GD70 motherboardFigure 7: Voltage regulator circuit with the heatsink.

MSI 890FXA-GD70 motherboardFigure 8: Detail of the SMD capacitor, solid choke and phase integrated circuit.

Besides having a high-end voltage regulator circuit, MSI 890FXA-GD70 can disable phases from the voltage regulator circuit as needed in order to save energy, feature called APS (Active Phase Switching). A group of LEDs near the memory sockets indicate how many VDD (i.e., Vcore) phases are active at any given moment. The motherboard also has LEDs to monitor the number of phases being used on the south bridge chip voltage regulator (which is a standard two-phase design), and on the memory voltage regulator (which is a standard two-phase design).

MSI 890FXA-GD70 motherboardFigure 9: LEDs to monitor the number of CPU phases being used.

[nextpage title=”Overclocking Options”]

One of the highlights of MSI 890FXA-GD70 is the presence of the new “OC Dial” feature, a knob that allows you to adjust the CPU base clock by turning it clock-wise or counter clock-wise (you need to press the button located on the left first to enable the knob). This feature is controlled by hardware and thus doesn’t require any software installed to work, but it must be enabled inside the BIOS Setup (“OC Dial Function”). On the motherboard setup you can also adjust how many MHz you will be increasing or decreasing each time you turn the knob.

MSI 890FXA-GD70 motherboardFigure 10: OC Dial.

This motherboard has an automatic overclocking feature, called “OC Genie Lite,” that is available inside the BIOS Setup, differently from other motherboards from MSI that have this option enabled through a physical button on the motherboard.

MSI 890FXA-GD70 is clearly targeted to overclockers, providing a myriad of overclocking options. Below we list only the main ones available on 1.6 BIOS.

  • CPU base clock: From 190 MHz to 690 Hz in 1 MHz steps.
  • PCI Express clock: From 90 MHz to 190 MHz in 1 MHz steps.
  • CPU voltage (VDD): From 1.1000 V to 1.5500 V in 0.0125 V steps.
  • Memory controller (VDDNB) voltage: From 1.1000 V to 1.5500 V in 0.0125 V steps.
  • CPU clock multiplier (VDDA a.k.a. PLL) voltage: From 1.702 V to 3.132 V in 0.010 V steps.
  • Memory voltage: From 0.978 V to 2.485 V in 0.007 V steps.
  • Memory referen
    ce voltage: From 0.490 V to 1.166 V in 0.026 V steps.
  • Memory termination (VTT) voltage: From 0.490 V to 1.166 V in 0.026 V steps.
  • North bridge voltage: From 0.884 V to 1.393 V in 0.005 V steps.
  • South bridge voltage: From 0.950 V to 1.580 V in 0.030 V steps.
  • HyperTransport voltage: From 0.800 V to 1.830 V in 0.010 V steps.
  • PCI Express voltage: From 1.136 V to 3.974 V in 0.034 V steps.

Memory timings can also be tweaked.

This motherboard has a core unlocking feature, available as “Unlock CPU Core” under “Cell Menu” in the motherboard setup. This function allows you to unlock hidden CPU cores on selected AMD CPUs.

MSI 890FXA-GD70 motherboardFigure 11: Overclocking menu.

MSI 890FXA-GD70 motherboardFigure 12: Overclocking menu (Cont’d).

[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]

MSI 890FXA-GD70 motherboard main features are:

  • Socket: AM3.
  • Chipset: AMD 890FX + SB850
  • Super I/O: Fintek F71889ED
  • Parallel ATA: One ATA-133 port controlled by a JMicron JMB363 chip.
  • Serial ATA: Six SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset (RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10) and one SATA-300 port controlled by a JMicron JMB363 chip.  
  • External SATA: One eSATA-300 port controlled by the same JMicron JMB363 chip.
  • USB: 12 USB 2.0 ports, six soldered on the motherboard (one shared with the eSATA port) and six available through three headers on the motherboard. The motherboard comes with an I/O bracket containing two USB ports. Two USB 3.0 ports controlled by a NEC μPD720200 chip.
  • FireWire (IEEE 1394): Two ports available through two headers on the motherboard, controlled by a VIA VT6315N chip.
  • On-board video: No.
  • On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC889 codec (eight channels, 24-bit resolution, up to 192 kHz sampling rate for both the inputs and outputs, 104 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the inputs and 108 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs). On-board optical and coaxial SPDIF outputs.
  • On-board LAN: Two Gigabit Ethernet ports controlled by two Realtek RTL8111DL chips.
  • Buzzer: No.
  • Infrared interface: No.
  • Power supply required: EPS12V
  • Slots: Five PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots (the third one always working at x1 and the other four working at x16 if one or two video cards are installed or at x8 if three or four video cards are installed), one PCI Express x1 slot and one standard PCI slot.
  • Memory: Four DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to 16 GB up to DDR3-2133 through overclocking).
  • Fan connectors: One four-pin connector for the CPU cooler and four three-pin connectors for auxiliary fans.
  • Extra Features: POST diagnostics LEDs, utility for unlocking hidden CPU cores inside the motherboard setup, external clear CMOS button, overclocking dial, Winki, DrMOS voltage regulator circuit with military-grade components, APS (Active Phase Switching), LEDs for monitoring the active phases of the voltage regulator circuit.
  • Number of CDs/DVDs provided: One.
  • Programs included: Motherboard drivers and utilities.
  • More Information: https://us.msi.com
  • Average price in the US*: USD 200.00

* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

MSI 890FXA-GD70 is not the cheapest socket AM3 motherboard based on AMD890FX chipset available on the market. In fact, if you are planning to have only one or two video cards, don’t need two Gigabit Ethernet ports, are not really into overclocking and don’t care about having a very high-end voltage regulator circuit, you are better off buying a more affordable product and saving some money.

But if you plan to build a massive CrossFireX array with three or four dual-slot video cards and want them working at high performance, likes overclocking and really thinks it is better buying a motherboard with high-end components, then MSI 890FXA-GD70 is the motherboard you should buy, and in fact it provides an excellent value for its target audience.

It is important to keep in mind that there are cheaper AMD 890FX-based motherboards around with three or four PCI Express x16 slots, but on those motherboards you can’t install three or four dual-slot video cards and also the third and fourth slots may work at x4 or even at x1 speed. However keep in mind that for installing the fourth dual-slot video card you will need a case with eight or more expansion slots.