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Asus M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 review

Seth Barton
18 Mar 2010
Asus M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 motherboard

An impressively featured board with great storage options and powerful integrated graphics for HD video playback.

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AMD has just announced its new motherboard chipset, the 890GX, with such a move resulting in a rush of new boards from the usual manufacturers. The first to arrive with us was this Asus model, the M4A89GTD PRO/USB3, though a largely identical Gigabyte board followed soon after.

The big change from the 7 series boards is the updated SB850 southbridge chip. The new chip supports for the high-speed SATA III standard. There are six such ports, two of which are conveniently placed on the edge of the board. SATA III should provide faster connections to storage devices, such as hard disks, but you won't see any speed increase at present as even the fastest SSDs don't max out SATA II's bandwidth. A second controller supports an eSATA port on the rear.

There's no support for USB3 as part of 890GX unfortunately, but thankfully Asus has added an NEC controller chip that supports two USB3 ports. We've already seen the benefits of USB3 external devices, such as the Buffalo DriveStation USB3.0. With transfer speeds up to four times quicker than USB2, this is a most welcome inclusion – and one you probably won't see on cheaper 890GX boards.

The GX moniker indicates that this board has an integrated graphics chipset. It's called the HD 4290, but despite the new name it appears to be largely identical to the HD 3300 used in the 790GX chipset. With the same specifications, clock speed and 128MB of SidePort memory, the HD 4290 doesn't have improved 3D performance. We got exactly the same score in our Call of Duty 4 test, just 3.5fps, and even with the resolution reduced to 1,024x768 and anti-aliasing disabled, it could only manage 18.3fps.

One improvement is support for dual video stream decoding and picture-in-picture display, both required for some BD-Live special features on Blu-ray movies. It's worth noting here that this chipset is simply brilliant when it comes to HD video acceleration. With our standard test processor, a 2.8GHz quad-core Phenom II, it played Blu-ray quality H.264 video with only 6% CPU usage. Compare this to the 30% usage we see performing a similar test on the current Intel chips with their built-in graphics processors.

For graphics output there are HDMI, DVI and VGA ports. There are also six USB ports, including the backward compatible USB3 ports mentioned above, plus FireWire. A 6-port analogue audio output provides 7.1 surround sound support plus there's an optical S/PDIF. The HDMI output can carry loseless 7.1 HD audio from sources like Dolby TrueHD soundtracks.

The new southbridge chip adds two extra PCI-Express lanes, giving a little more flexibility. Asus has decided on a single PCI-Express x1 slot, below which is a x4 slot – though we challenge anyone to find a proper use for the latter. There are two PCI-Express x16 sized slots, and you can fit two ATI graphics cards in a CrossFire configuration at x8 speeds. You can also combine cards with the onboard chipset to run four, or even six, monitors simultaneously.

The board itself has a tasteful brown PCB and is finished with blue heatsinks and slots. There are the usual four memory slots with support for 16GB of memory, and these support overclocked RAM rated up to 1866MHz. The BIOS contains every option you're likely to need for overclocking. Plus there's dedicated switches on the board that will automatically overclock your processor, or attempt to unlock extra cores or cache on X3 processors. There's also guaranteed support for AMD's upcoming 'Thuban' six-core processors, but we can see no reason why these shouldn't work on older 7-series chipsets, and anyway buying a motherboard today for an upgrade tomorrow rarely makes sense.

Performance doesn't vary from other AM3 boards we've tested recently, with an overall score of 103 in our benchmarks. This is a touch quicker than our reference system, but this can be attributed entirely to the switch from DDR2 to DDR3 memory.

The 890GX chipset isn't a great step forward from its predecessor. This board does add support for USB3 though, which is worth paying for if you're a serious user of external storage devices. Most users will be happy with a board at around half the price, like Asus's own M4A785D-M Pro, but if you're looking to push your hardware and want the latest storage technology then this is a sound buy.

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