Gigabyte 890GPA-UD3H review
AM3, ATX, AMD 890GX chipset, supports: Phenom II, Athlon II, Sempron 100
The launch of AMD 890GX chipset has prompted all the major manufacturers to release new high-end AM3 boards. Gigabyte's 890GPA-UD3H is one of these, and it certainly has a feature list to justify its high price, including USB3, SATA III and powerful integrated graphics.
All the recent attention has been on Intel's new Core processor range; but things may be about to get a lot more exciting for AMD, with a six-core processor, codenamed Thurban, due in the first half of this year. The 890GX chipset guarantees compatibility with Thurban, but then we can see no technical reason why these shouldn't with the older 7-series chipsets too. We would advise against buying an expensive motherboard purely for compatibility with an as yet unreleased and untested chip.
The main change between the 790GX and 890GX lies in the SB850 southbridge. This supports the new SATA III standard, which theoretically provides far faster connections to storage devices. However, at present we've not seen any real-world advantage to the standard. It supports six SATA devices, plus Gigabyte has added an additional controller with a further two ports – though we doubt many people will need these. A small complaint is that all the SATA ports sit parallel to the board
More useful is the inclusion of a separate USB3 controller, with two ports. This gives far higher transfer speeds than USB2, up to four times in our tests. However, we've seen this before on 790GX boards, and so though handy, it's hardly revolutionary.
The new southbridge also adds two extra PCI-Express lanes, allowing for more expansions slots. Gigabyte has taken good advantage of this, with three PCI-Express x1 slots for adding expansion cards. There are also two PCI slots and the usual pair of PCI-Express x16 graphics slots, with support for dual-card CrossFire configurations.
There are the usual four memory slots, which support up to 16GB of RAM. The board can be used for overclocked memory rated up to 1866MHz. Speaking of overclocking the BIOS contains a wide range of options for tweaking performance, and there's dual BIOS just in case one gets corrupted or you try to push your hardware too far.
The graphics chipset is largely unchanged from the 790GX. This is no bad thing as it's very efficient at taking the load of the processor when it comes to HD video playback. The only thing to be added is BD-Live compliance for movie special features, this is thanks to support for dual video streams and picture-in-picture. Gaming performance is still poor though, with only 3.5fps in our Call of Duty 4 test.
There are DVI-D, VGA and HDMI outputs, of which any two can be used at once. For audio there's an optical S/PDIF plus the usual analogue outputs supporting 7.1 surround sound. The HDMI output can carry decoded loseless 7.1 HD audio from sources like Dolby TrueHD soundtracks. Six USB ports, including the two USB3 ones, are provided; alongside which is FireWire, Gigabit Ethernet and a PS/2 port. No eSATA port is fitted, but you could always daisy chain one from an internal port using a backplate.
The 890GX chipset brings little that is both new and of immediate practical use, but then again these boards cost little more than their 790GX predecessors. With just a single extra PCI-Express slot and an additional two internal SATA ports, the differences between this board and the Asus M4A89GTD PRO/USB3aren't going to bother most users. If you're looking for a high-end AM3 board then this is marginally the better of the two, though, and currently £10 cheaper as well. However, most of us will be equally well served by boards costing almost half as much, like the M4A785D-M Pro