Ever since the launch of the Bulldozer range and 9-series motherboards, the initial reviews of the processors were not encouraging to say the least.  Since then, AMD has decided to pull out of the enthusiast end of the CPU market, to focus in on the mainstream and low power processors.  This is despite the fact that Windows 7 (and Windows 8, natively) is now receiving updates so the operating system can understand the processor architecture a little better, and hopefully boost performance.  This gives a second wind to those owning (or thinking of owning) a Bulldozer based processor, and in turn, a 900-series motherboard.  With the updates in hand, today we are looking at five 990FX boards that may feature on the consumer or system builders’ radar.  This roundup has been on the cards for a long time, but unfortunately has had to be continually pushed back and then retests applied with latest BIOS updates – but as belated as it might be (and as deeply apologetic as I am), here it is!

9-Series Overview

In a trend of compatibility, today’s Bulldozer architecture and Zambezi processors are all wrapped up in our 942-pin AM3+ socket, coupled with either the 990FX, 990X or 970 chipsets.  For all intents and purposes, these chipsets are identical to their 800-series brethren, with two differences: guaranteed support of processors based on the Bulldozer architecture (BIOS update may be required), and SLI licensing for motherboards that can take advantage of multi-GPU setups.

  990FX 990X 970
PCIe Lanes 32 16 16
PCIe Configuration x16/x16
x16 or x8/x8 x16
TDP 19.6 W 14 W 13.6 W
South Bridge SB950 SB950 SB950 or SB920
SATA 6 Gbps
(from South Bridge)
6 6 6
SLI Yes Yes No
CrossFire Yes Yes On a single card

The 990FX chipset is our focus today, which comes with 32 lanes for graphics (usually in x16/x16, x16/x8/x8 or x8/x8/x8/x8 distributions) and is paired up with the SB950 Southbridge.  This Southbridge makes sure that all the motherboards come with six SATA 6 Gbps ports with RAID 0/1/5/10 support and 14 USB 2.0 ports (USB 3.0 comes from controllers) for only another 6 watts of power consumption.

We are still limited to dual channel memory, compared to AMD’s high end server offerings which give quad channel and Intel’s various memory channel designs.  This is partly cost, keeping AMD chipsets relatively cheaper, and design – moving to a larger number of memory channels would require more pins and routes from the CPU, and thus a new CPU socket. 

Speaking of sockets, the AM3+ (or AM3r2) and 942-pin design is still with us for the near future.  The second generation Bulldozer (Bulldozer Enhanced) and FX processors will still be on the same pin layout and 900 series boards will work with them – the processor should merely benefit from a workload throughput increase.  The third generation FX processor, codename Steamroller, is still reported (not confirmed) to use AM3+, meaning that there are still quite a few years left in this platform when taking the AMD route.

By default the 890FX and 990FX HyperTransport 3.0 should enjoy transfer rates of up to 5.2 GT/s, unless you use an appropriate processor when HyperTransport 3.1 kicks in to give a 6.4 GT/s transfer rate. With the 900-series, users now have access to a graphical UEFI BIOS, similar to recent Intel chipsets, and also have full support of 2.2+ TB devices.

With all that in mind, for this article we are testing and reviewing the following products and prices:

$215 - ASUS Crosshair V Formula
$185 - ASUS Sabertooth 990FX
$180 - Gigabyte 990FXA-UD5
$195 - MSI 990FXA-GD80
$130 - Biostar TA990FXE

These boards will be tested with both a previous generation Thuban processor (the X6 1100T) and a high end Bulldozer processor (FX-8150), under AMD’s all-in-one liquid cooling solution (which is made by Asetek, and is essentially their take on the Corsair H80).  With a wide range of price points and feature sets, let us see what they can do, starting with the ASUS Republic of Gamers Crosshair V Formula.

ASUS Crosshair V Formula – Overview and Visual Inspection
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  • geforce912 - Thursday, April 5, 2012 - link

    Just so you know, the supremefx x-fi 2 on the crosshair v is still a realtek chip but with higher grade capacitors and a creative software overlay. Definitely not a creative chip. Please correct it.
  • TerdFerguson - Thursday, April 5, 2012 - link

    Instead of repeatedly calling $130 cheap for a motherboard, why don't you step up and breakdown the costs associated with construction?

    This reviewer is backwards, as usual - the other boards are horribly overpriced, following the modern trend.

    I'd like to see a cost breakdown for any of the very overpriced boards. Please show us how they justify their high costs. It looks to me like Biostar simply didn't get the price-fixing memo.

    It's insane how many folks are continuing to support AMD because of its former stance as a budget option and how many of those purported fans seem to turn up their nose at any components that aren't marketed (and priced) as being premium-tier.
  • MadAd - Friday, April 6, 2012 - link

    sata 3, cool
    usb 3, cool
    good overclocking, cool
    dual channel ram, itll do

    four graphics slots.....groan

    am fed up paying out the wazooo for these so called enthusiast boards when I only intend to run 1 graphics card ... yes im a gamer, i want the best in all other areas (esp best sata 3 perfomance) but jeez can we have some 'normal' boards reviewed along with these high end monsters pls?
  • gilmoreisu - Friday, April 6, 2012 - link

    I'm a little disappointed in not seeing the ASRock Fatal1ty board. Any reason why this was left off? Otherwise, great round-up. Thank you!
  • waldojim42 - Friday, April 6, 2012 - link

    One of the things I see skimmed over far too often these days are the actual audio capabilities. In the day of digital audio connections and receivers, why do we still have enthusiast level boards with stereo digital audio!? This is something That needs pointed out in the motherboard reviews. MSI makes such ridiculous claims, like "Lossless 24bit/192kHz HD Audio" and "THX TruStudio PRO", yet in the end mean NOTHING when you are playing a game, as you are still limited to 3(or 4) analog 3.5mm to RCA cables for your audio.

    So which boards support DTS/Dolby Digital encoding mid game?
  • funguseater - Friday, April 6, 2012 - link

    Thank you for taking the time to review these motherboards. It is a relief to know that my old Gigabyte MA790X-UD4P still overclocks to the same levels with a thuban (1090t). It will be interesting to see if the next 1090 chipset will support the old Thubans.

    I only have DDR2 on my board but it doesn't seem to affect performance as much as I thought it would so I can wait for the next gen boards.

    Anyway thanks for including the 1100t in the review!
  • ranger429 - Saturday, April 7, 2012 - link

    It would have been nice to see how a FX-4170 or 4100 would do in this test
  • brahma - Saturday, April 7, 2012 - link

    excelent job, congratulations! ,... but what a shame! do you forget the asrock 990fx fatality, the unique with a fase power 12+2 !!
  • Sunny129 - Saturday, April 7, 2012 - link


    First of all, thank you for the informative review and comparison of 990FX boards. Is there any particular reason you reviewed Gigabyte's GA-990FX-UD5, and not their big dog, the UD7? would it be worth while to review the UD7, since you seem to have reviewed the top 990FX boards from ASUS and MSI? specifically, i'd like to see if the UD7 suffers from the same downsides that the UD5 does, for instance the VRM heat issues while under load, lack of decent fan control, etc.

  • kukreknecmi - Saturday, April 7, 2012 - link

    What does this mean? Doesnt video encode is Floating Point intensive task??

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