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AMD 890GX SB850 Chipset Debut: Phenom II X6 Ready
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Date: Mar 02, 2010
Section:Motherboards
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction and Specifications

It has been quite a while since AMD launched a new high-end desktop chipset. The 790FX has been riding high at the top of AMD's line-up for over two years now. It has been paired to newer Southbridge chips and AMD did follow up with the 790GX about a year and half ago, but for all intents and purposes AMD's flagship desktop chipset has remained unchanged for what is equivalent to an eternity in Internet-years.

Today, however, a new chipset will finally supplant the 790FX/GX at the top of AMD's line-up. As its name suggests, the 890GX features an integrated graphics core, but there's more to the story than just graphics. AMD has specifically stated that the 890GX will officially support upcoming 6-Core Phenom II X6 processors, and courtesy of a new Southbridge, the SB850, the AMD 890GX is the first core logic chipset to natively support SATA 6G.

We've got a couple of AMD 890GX based boards in-house for testing from Asus and Gigabyte, and have a full performance review posted on the pages ahead. First up, a little background on the chipset itself, and then we'll move on to the actual hardware and its performance...

AMD 890GX / SB850 Chipset
Specifications & Features


AMD 890GX Chipset Block Diagram

Above is a high-level block diagram of the new AMD 890GX / SB850 chipset. As you can see, the chipset supports AMD socket AM3 processors, including upcoming 6-core Phenom II X6 processors, and it features an integrated, DX10.1-class graphics core with 40 shader units and a 64 / 128-bit memory interface. The reference specifications call for a 700MHz GPU core clock, and the IGP supports AVIVO / UVD 2.0. We should also note that the graphics core within the 890GX is branded the Radeon HD 4290, but it supports Hybrid CrossFire modes with the Radeon HD 5450.

890GX-based motherboards will typically feature DVI, HDMI, and VGA outputs, but DisplayPort is supported too. Dedicated Sideport frame buffer memory is supported as well. In fact, the Asus and Gigabyte boards we tested were each equipped with 128MB of Sideport memory.

Other features of the 890GX chipset include 22 PCI Express Gen 2 lanes in the Northbridge, and full HT 3.0, 5.2GT/s link between the CPU and NB. A new interface with 2GB/s of bandwidth between the 890GX NB and SB850, dubbed Alink Express III is used here, and the SB850 features all of the typical amenities of a modern chipset, like USB 2.0, HD Audio, Gigabit Ethernet, PATA, and PCI are present. In addition, the SB850 also features an additional pair of PCI Express Gen 2 x1 lanes, along with the aforementioned, native support of SATA 6G.

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890GX Motherboards: Asus, Gigabyte

To test the AMD 890GX chipset, we got our hands on a couple of high-end motherboards from Asus and Gigabyte, the M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 and the 890GPA-UD3H, respectively.

  

  

 

 
Asus M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 Motherboard

The M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 is part of Asus' Xtreme Design family of products. As its name makes blatantly obvious, the board supports USB 3.0 though the use of dedicated NEC controller, but unlike many previous implementations of said chip on the Intel P55 platform, it is linked to the 890GX via PCI Express Gen 2, and doesn't require a bridge chip for max bandwidth.

The M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 includes a typical assortment of accessories, and like the other motherboards in the Xtreme Design family, it is built upon a dark colored PCB, with dark and light blue and white accents. There are relatively large heatsinks in the VRM and on the 890GX Northbridge, linked together via a heat-pipe and a smaller heatsink on the SB850 chip. As is typically the case, Asus does a good job with the layout and all major connectors and headers are spread out nicely around the edges of the board, and all are clearly labeled.

The slot configuration on the M4A89GTD PRO/USB3, consists of a pair of PCI Express x16 slots (1x16 or 2x8), a single PCI Express x1 slot, a single x4 slot, and a pair of PCI slots. Outputs in the I/O backplane are plentiful and include Firewire, USB 3.0, and eSATA.

Not visible in the pictures are the M4A89GTD PRO/USB3's extensive system BIOS options and some other Asus only features. The M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 supports a Quick Hot key feature for quick core unlocking with some Phenom II and Athlon II processors, Auto Tuning with Turbo Profiles in the BIOS, new fan controls in the BIOS as well, and GPU Boost. Asus has also revamped their AiSuite and EPU software for the M4A89GTD PRO/USB3.

  

  

 

 
Gigabyte 890GPA-UD3H Motherboard

The Gigabyte 890GPA-UD3H is aesthetically similar to virtually all of the company's enthusiast offerings. It features Gigabyte's trademark blue PCB with orange, blue, and white slots / expansion headers. What stands out the most on this board from a physical standpoint is its large cooling solution, which cools the VRM and the chipset. The board's slot configuration consists of dual PCIe x16 slots, a trio of PCIe x1 slots, and a pair of PCI slots. Like the Asus board, the Gigabyte 890GPA-UD3H features USB 3.0 through the use of NEC's controller, and overall the layout is very good, with well placed headers and connectors that are all clearly labeled.

The Gigabyte 890GPA-UD3H's system BIOS is very well appointed, with a full array of overclocking tools. And it too has a couple of proprietary features. Gigabyte touts the 890GPA-UD3H's support for "USB Power 3X", which essentially triples the maximum power output that both the USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports are capable of, for better compatibility with power hungry USB devices. And the Gigabyte 890GPA-UD3H also features dedicated hardware dubbed "Precision OV" which offers better voltage control options for the CPU, chipset and memory than previous offerings, with linear real time voltage control.

Of course, the 890GPA-UD3H also supports many of the other features Gigabyte is known for, like Dual-BIOS and 2oz copper layers, but we've covered those many times before in previous articles.

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Overclocking and Overdrive

AMD is also using the 890GX launch to release new version of the OverDrive utility as well. The AMD OverDrive utility seen here is v3.1 of the tool...


AMD Overdrive v3.1

Overdrive v3.1 offers all of the features of previous versions of the tool (pre-3.0), in addition to fan speed controls, Black Edition Memory Profiles, and smart application profiles. Fan speed control is self-explanatory. Black Edition Memory Profiles, however, require some explanation. Like EPP or XMP, BEMP polls the SPD in certain high-frequency DDR3 memory modules and applies the intended frequency and latency settings from within AOD 3.1. The feature requires BIOS support, which at this point has been properly implemented on the Gigabyte board we used for testing, and memory kits that are compatible with the feature. Those kits include products from Corsair, Kingston, Mushkin, and OCZ. Which brings us to the smart application profiles. The smart profiles tool gives users the ability to alter system parameters on a per-application basis to either increase performance, like in games or content creation applications, or to lower power utilization, say while playing back digital media files.

We also did some overclocking with the 890GX and found it to be perfectly capable in that department. Using either the BIOS or Overdrive, we were able to take our Phenom II X4 965 processor up to 3.8GHz with the Gigabyte 890GPA-UD3H using either HT base clock adjustments or a combination of HT and multiplier manipulation. We were also able to take DDR3-memory speeds to over 1600MHz with little more than a bump in voltage. We're sure mileage will vary from board to board, but with regard to overclocking the 890GX appears to be as capable as any other AMD chipset to date.

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Test Setup and SANDRA

Test System Configuration Notes: When configuring our test systems for this article, we first entered their respective system BIOSes and set each board to its "Optimized" or "High performance Defaults". We then saved the settings, re-entered the BIOS and set the memory speed to DDR3-1333 with 8,8,8,24 timings. The hard drives were then formatted, and Windows 7 Ultimate x64 was installed. When the Windows installation was complete, we updated the OS, and installed the drivers necessary for our components. Auto-Updating and Windows Defender were then disabled and we installed all of our benchmarking software, performed a disk clean-up, defragged the hard drives, and ran all of the tests.

 HotHardware's Test Systems
 Intel and AMD - Head To Head
System 1: 
AMD Phenom II X4 965
(3.4GHz Quad-Core)

Asus M4A89GTD PRO
Gigabyte 890GPA
(AMD 890GX Chipset)

2x2GB Kingston DDR3-1600
(@ 1333MHz, CAS 8)

Radeon HD 4290 IGP
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD150 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows 7 x64
Catalyst Drivers v10.3b

System 2: 
Core i5 750
(2.66GHz - Quad-Core)

Asus Maximus III Formula 
(P55 Express Chipset) 

2x2GB Kingston DDR3-1600
(@ 1333MHz, CAS 8)

GeForce GTX 280
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD150 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows 7 x64 
Forceware v190.62
System 3:
Core i5 661
(3.33GHz - Dual-Core)

Asus P7H57D-V EVO
(H57 Express Chipset)

2x2GB Kingston DDR3-1600
(@ 1333MHz, CAS 8)

Intel HD IGP
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD150 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows 7 x64
Intel HD Graphics

System 4:
Core 2 Q9650
(3GHz - Quad-Core)
Core 2 Quad Q9400
(2.66GHz - Quad-Core)

Gigabyte X48T-DQ6
(X48 Express Chipset)

2x2GB Kingston DDR3-1600
(@ 1333MHz, CAS 8)

GeForce GTX 280
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD150 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA 

Windows 7 x64 
Forceware v190.62
System 5:
AMD Phenom II X4 965
(3.4GHz Quad-Core)

Asus M4A79T Deluxe
(AMD 790FX Chipset) 

2x2GB Kingston DDR3-1600
(@ 1333MHz, CAS 8)

GeForce GTX 280
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD150 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA 

Windows 7 x64 
Catalyst Drivers v10.3b
 Preliminary Testing with SiSoft SANDRA 2010
 Synthetic Benchmarks


We began our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2010, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran three of the built-in subsystem tests that partially comprise the suite with AMD's 890GX chipset (CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, and Memory Bandwidth).  All of the scores reported below were taken with the Phenom II X4 965 processor running at its default clock speed of 3.4GHz with 4GB of DDR3-1333 RAM running in dual-channel mode, using the Radeon HD 4290 IGP on Gigabyte's 890GPA-UD3H motherboard.


CPU Arithmetic


CPU Multimedia


Memory Bandwidth

When paired to a Phenom II X4 965 processor, the 890GX chipset performs as expected in the various SiSoft SANDRA benchmarks that we ran. As you can see, the systems performs on par with similar reference machines in SANDRA's database, including those listed in the memory bandwidth test. Typically, an IGP will sap a bit of memory bandwidth, but the GB motherboard we used for testing is outfitted with 128MB of dedicated Sideport memory, which minimizes the IGP effect on system memory bandwidth while at the Windows desktop, or running apps that don't consume the full 128MB.

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PCMark Vantage

Next up, we ran a number of different test systems through Futuremark‚Äôs latest system performance evaluation tool, PCMark Vantage. PCMark Vantage runs through a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads including High Definition TV and movie playback and manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity.  Most of the tests are multi-threaded as well, so the tests can exploit the additional resources offered by a quad-core CPU.

Futuremark PCMark Vantage
Simulated Application Performance

The Asus and Gigabyte AMD 890GX-based motherboards we tested performed similarly in the PCMark Vantage benchmark. Overall, the Asus board had a slight edge, but they technically traded victories over one another depending on the particular test. The 890GX also performed about on-par with or slightly better than the 785G. We had suspected the 890GX would far a bit better here over the 785G due to its more powerful IGP, but Vantage didn't highlight the differences as much as he had initially thought it would. And somewhat lackluster drive performance held the 890GX systems back in areas like the productivity benchmark.

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LAME MT and Cinebench

In our custom LAME MT MP3 encoding test, we convert a large WAV file to the MP3 format, which is a popular scenario that many end users work with on a day-to-day basis to provide portability and storage of their digital audio content.  LAME is an open-source mid to high bit-rate and VBR (variable bit rate) MP3 audio encoder that is used widely around the world in a multitude of third party applications.

LAME MT
Audio Encoding

In this test, we created our own 223MB WAV file (a hallucinogenically-induced Grateful Dead jam) and converted it to the MP3 format using the multi-thread capable LAME MT application in single and multi-thread modes. Processing times are recorded below, listed in seconds. Shorter times equate to better performance.

Not much to see here. The 890GX-based motherbaords performed right on par with the 785G in the LAME MT encoding benchmark. If you want to nit-pick, the 890GX boards were slightly faster in the multi-threaded test, but benchmarks doesn't have the granularity in its results to show sub-1-second differences. So, even though that graphs have a 1 second advantage for the 890GX, the different could be somewhat less than 1 second, and most likely are.

Cinebench R10
3D Rendering


Cinebench R10 is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test based on Cinema 4D from Maxon. Cinema 4D is a 3D rendering and animation tool suite used by 3D animation houses and producers like Sony Animation and many others.  It's very demanding of system processor resources and is an excellent gauge of pure computational throughput.

This is a multi-threaded, multi-processor aware benchmark that renders a single 3D scene and tracks the length of the entire process. The rate at which each test system was able to render the entire scene is represented in the graph below.

All of the AMD-based systems performed similarly in the single-threaded Cinebench test, but the 890GX boards had a slight edge in the multi-threaded test. The deltas separating the AMD platforms isn't huge, but the 890GX based boards from Gigabyte and Asus had an edge nonetheless.

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3DMark06 and Vantage CPU Tests

3DMark06's built-in CPU test is a multi-threaded DirectX gaming metric that's useful for comparing relative performance between similarly equipped systems.  This test consists of two different 3D scenes that are processed with a software renderer that is dependent on the host CPU's performance.  Calculations that are normally reserved for your 3D accelerator are instead sent to the CPU for processing and rendering.  The frame-rate generated in each test is used to determine the final score.

Futuremark 3DMark06
Synthetic DirectX Gaming

The new Core i5 661 just missed the mark set by the Core 2 Quad Q9400, according to 3DMark06's CPU built-in CPU benchmark, and trails the rest of the pack. Not bad considering it's got half the cores of all of the chips.

The results from 3DMark06's CPU performance module test a similar story to Cinebench. The 890GX-based boards finished slightly ahead of the older 785G, but their margins of victory were not very big.

Futuremark 3DMark Vantage
Synthetic DirectX Gaming

3DMark Vantage's CPU Test 2 is a multi-threaded test designed for comparing relative game physics processing performance between systems.  This test consists of a single scene that features an air race of sorts, with a complex configuration of gates. There are aircraft in the test that trail smoke and collide with various cloth and soft-body obstacles, each other, and the ground. The smoke spreads, and reacts to the planes as they pass through it as well and all of this is calculated on the host CPU.

Surprisingly, 3DMark Vantage tells the exact opposite story of 3DMark06. Here, both 890GX-based motherboards put up the exact same score, which happened to be a bit lower than the 785G. Again though, the delta is less than a single frame per second.

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Low-Res Gaming: Crysis and ETQW

For our next set of tests, we moved on to some in-game benchmarking with Crysis and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. When testing processors with Crysis or ET:QW, we drop the resolution to 800x600, and reduce all of the in-game graphical options to their minimum values to isolate CPU and memory performance as much as possible.  However, the in-game effects, which control the level of detail for the games' physics engines and particle systems, are left at their maximum values, since these actually do place some load on the CPU rather than GPU.

Low-Resolution Gaming: Crysis and ET: Quake Wars
Taking the GPU out of the Equation--Somtimes



Although these low-resolution gaming benchamrks are meant to show max framerates when limited by CPU performance, the IGPs listed here are still the bottleneck. What the numbers show, however, is that the Radeon HD 4290 integrated into the 890GX chipset is demonstrably faster than the 785G and Intel HD Graphics of the Core i5-661.

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GPU Performance: 3DMark Vantage

We also did a bit of testing designed to tax the Intel HD Graphics incorporated onto the Core i5 661. For the next few tests, we pit the Core i5 661 and its Intel HD IGP against the Phenom II X4 965 and AMD 785G combo, running 3DMark Vantage and ET: Quake Wars at 1280x1024.

High-Resolution Gaming: 3DMark Vantage
Taxing the Whole Rig







In this set of tests, we completed a full 3DMark Vantage run using the benchmark's built-in performance preset. Here, the AMD 890GX chipset, with its Radeon HD 4290 IGP, is significantly faster then the 785G, but it falls just short of the mark set by the Intel platform.

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GPU Performance: ETQW and Multimedia

For our next set of tests, we moved on to some in-game tests with Enemy Territory: Quake Wars running in its High Quality mode, at a resolution of 1280x1024. Then we move on to some multi-media tests using a handful of videos, encoded using MPEG 2 or H.264 to see how the Intel HD Graphics core handles the workload.

High-Resolution Gaming: Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
Taxing the GPU

Our higher-resolution Enemy Territory:Quake Wars benchmark had the AMD 890GX / Radeon HD 4290 IGP performing just slightly better than the Intel HD Graphics of the Core i5-661, but well ahead of the older 785G.



Max Payne 1080P HD Trailer, Windows Media Player

We played back an assortment of multimedia files on the AMD 890GX to assess its video-playback performance and were pleased with the results. Regardless of the file type or CODEC used, CPU utilization remained very low and image quality was excellent.

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Total System Power Consumption

Throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we monitored how much power our test systems consumed using a power meter. Our goal was to give you all an idea as to how much power each configuration used while idling and while under a heavy workload. Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power consumption at the outlet here, not just the power being drawn by the processors and motherboards alone.

Total System Power Consumption
Tested at the Outlet

Depending on their configuration, motherboards based on the AMD 890GX chipset should consume similar amounts of power to the older 785G. As you can see here, the Asus board used only slightly more power than the 785G under both idle and load condidtions. The Gigabyte board, however, consumed measurably more power than either, most likely due to higher default voltages being assigned to some core components via the BIOS.

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Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: The two AMD 890GX-based motherboards we tested performed well throughout our testing. Generally speaking, motherboards based on the new 890GX chipset should perform right on par with previous AMD platforms when the capabilities of the 890GX's superior IGP don't come into play. In the system level benchmarks like PCMark Vantage, the 890GX was only marginally faster than the 785G, if at all. However, in the GPU bound tests, the 890GX was significantly faster than the 785G. The 890GX's integrated Radeon HD 4290 graphics core is superior to any other AMD IGP and it surpassed the performance of Intel's HD Graphics solution in a number of tests as well.

The 890GX is a nice step forward for the AMD platform. In terms of features, an argument can be made that the 890GX / SB850 combination is the most advanced desktop chipset currently available. The Radeon HD 4290 IGP is one of, if not the most powerful integrated graphics solution on the market and the SB850 is the first Southbridge to natively support SATA 6G, even if the latter doesn't mean much in terms of performance at this point in time.

Our testing also showed the AMD 890GX to be a solid performer in light of the company's previous chipset offerings, and it was a capable overclocker as well. Despite the increased performance of its IGP, the 890GX was relatively power-friendly too.  There's nothing like having better performance overall, within the same power envelope as the previous-gen product.  It's a win-win.

Expect AMD 890GX-based motherboards to be available from a number of AMD's board partners almost immediately. Prices will vary depending on the board configuration, form factor, and features, but we're told the Asus and Gigabyte offerings we looked at here will fall somewhere in the $130 to $180 range, which puts them about on par with previous-gen products. Considering the 890GX's excellent IGP and native support for future-looking features like SATA 6G, it appears to be an excellent choice for users looking to build and AMD based system, especially those on a budget where a top-shelf integrated graphics solution might fit the bill.

 

  • Solid Performance
  • Power Friendly
  • Great IGP
  • Overclockable
  • Competitive Pricing
  • IGP Still DX10-Class
  • Non-Native USB 3.0
  • No True Dual x16 Graphics



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