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Out of sight and out of mind usually means no one even knows–or cares–that you're alive. That’s the problem AMD’s chipset division has faced lately.
With Nvidia still ruling the roost in Phenom and Athlon 64 chipsets, AMD’s chipset division doesn’t get much press for its new chipsets. Here’s a news flash though, some pretty compelling motherboards are using the new 790FX chipset.
The Asus M3A32-MVP Deluxe is one of them. One the first boards available that supported AMD’s Phenom, the M3A32-MVP is pretty much the reference board as far as Phenoms go.
The board takes full advantage of the large number of PCI Express 2.0 lanes available in the 790FX chipset by offering no fewer than four x16 physical PCI Express slots. With two x16 ATI cards installed, you get x16 speeds per card. With three, you get one slot operating at x16 and two operating at x8. With four cards installed, all operate at x8 speeds, albeit PCI-E 2.0 speeds.
All the other parts required of a higher-end board are included: IEEE-1394A using an Agere FW322 chip, Gigabit Ethernet using a Marvel part, and, in welcome break from Realtek audio, an Analog Devices ADI1988 HD Audio CODEC part.
The rear I/O is quite good with up to six USB ports, a six-pin IEEE-1394A port, optical and coax SPDIF, a single eSATA, and a keyboard PS/2 port. Asus includes its signature wireless part. Here, it’s a 802.11b/g Atheros chip mounted on the motherboard. The antenna is properly mounted on a short cable, so you can prop it on your desk instead of it being buried behind your PC.
As we mentioned, the board and chipset are ready to run AMD’s latest Phenom CPUs, including the Phenom X4 9850 chip. In fact, only three 790FX boards are qualified for the 9850, and the Asus is one of them. Although we haven’t seen much need for it yet, the M3A32-MVP Deluxe Wi-Fi is an AM2+ board, which means that it supports higher HyperTransport 3.0 data rates and features a split-ground plane. This separates power between the CPU cores and the integrated memory controller and contributes to better power savings.
We found no major gaffes with the layout, but the Wi-Fi card is a tad bit tight. Asus learned long ago not to screw up the SATA ports, so all six available ports feature angled connectors.
To test the board, we mounted a 2.5GHz Phenom X4 9850, a standard clocked GeForce 8800 GTX card, and 2GB of Corsair Dominator RAM and installed a fresh copy of Windows XP Professional with SP2 installed. The latest BIOS available was used in each case as well as the latest drivers for the board. Our main comparison point was another 790FX-based board, the MSI K9A2 Platinum. In the numbers game, with the same hardware and drivers, performance is usually close. Here, they’re practically identical.
In other words, don’t get worked up over performance – they’re the same. That really turns this into a feature/spec battle. In the slot war, the MSI board has a leg up. Both give you four physical PCI-E x16 slots and two PCI slots, but the MSI board gives you one more x1 PCI. The Asus’s onboard ADI chip is preferred to the Realtek audio part on the MSI.
We do have one big issue with the board, though, and it’s not about the hardware–it’s with Asus’s website. How the world’s leading motherboard vendor can have the worst bandwidth is beyond us. It’s as though the entire website is running on a $12 DSL account. It would also be nice if Asus adopted an online updater similar to MSI’s. Right now, the Asus will do online updates, but only of the BIOS.
If you pointed a phaser at us and forced us to pick, we’d probably go with the Asus board, but honestly, its performance is so close to the MSI board's that it seems hard to justify the extra $70. The Wi-Fi seems cool, but unless you’re really going to use it, it’s a bit extravagant.
Good performance; supports up to 4 GPUs.
Could use another couple of SATA ports; Asus's website doesn't meet expectations.
|Asus M3A32-MVP ||MSI K9A2 Platinum |
|CPU ||Phenom X4 9850 ||Phenom X4 9850|
|GPU||GeForce 8800GTX||GeForce 8800GTX|
|PCMark Overall ||8,206 ||8,302 |
|HD Tach Avg.||77.4||77.4|
|ScienceMark 2.0 Overall||1,611.54||1,615.26|
|ScienceMark 2.0 MEM||7,882.5||7,969.66|
|Valve Particle test||71||71|
|Quake 4 low||152.7||144.3|
|UE Mem Read||8,149||7,664|
|UE Mem Write||5,037||5,024|
|UE Mem Copy||8,586||8,558|
|UE Mem Latency||54.7||56.3|