First and foremost, let’s talk about the “new” AMD 990FX/SB950 chipset. Aside from the revised microcode needed for upcoming Zambezi processors, a HyperTransport 3.1 link to the socket and slightly optimized data paths, there is really nothing that differentiates this Northbridge/Southbridge combo from the previous 890FX/SB850 iteration.
That is not necessarily a big deal though since it does have its strong points like 40 PCI-Express lanes, native SATA 6Gb/s and more than enough bandwidth for third party USB 3.0 controllers. We actually feel like the 890FX/SB850 sported features which were forward thinking enough that the combination could have been carried forward without too much of an issue. However, unless there are some technological advances which haven’t been discussed with the press, this isn’t the type of next-generation chipset that we would have expected to the paired with AM3+ Zambezi desktop nor the new Bulldozer architecture.
Thankfully, what actually redeems this chipset launch is the introduction of SLI support. While we have had SLI capabilities on the AMD side as recently as 2009 with the NVIDIA nForce 980a chipset , this is the first time that a native AMD chipset supports this previously exclusive NVIDIA technology. Based on our testing, it has been implemented perfectly as well, since we were consistently getting a very solid 75% performance boost in a 2-way configuration.
When it comes to the Sabertooth 990FX itself, we are admittedly impressed. At first, the concept behind ‘The Ultimate ‘Force’ series seemed a little unusual to us since there was nothing lacking in the build quality and reliability of run-of-the-mill ASUS motherboards. However, the increased focus on monitoring and management is what we really like. This motherboard has 6 fan headers that can be fully controlled in the BIOS or in Windows via the TUF Thermal Radar utility. It is a dream come true for control freaks.
Speaking of control freaks, the dual CPU fan headers are also a no-brainer addition that we hope become the norm since more and more people have CPU coolers with two fans (Noctua NH-D14 anyone?). The Sabertooth also has an impressive 10 thermal sensors located at all the critical areas. This is the very first motherboard that actually exceeds our expectations when it comes to temperature and voltage readouts.
We raved out the UEFI BIOS on the P8P67 PRO, and it is clearly as good if not better on this motherboard. The purely graphical EZ Mode is a little too limited for our liking, but then again it is targeted towards novice users. The Advanced Mode has everything that we have come to expect in a modern BIOS, which is to say a user-friendly layout and every feature you could possibly want to tweak. The level of control over the VRM is extremely impressive and does lead to tangible overclocking benefits when used correctly. We were in fact able to surpass our previous best Phenom II X6 1100T overclock, albeit very slightly. Being reviewers, we absolutely love the ability to take screenshots from within the BIOS. It is a novelty feature for most users, but it is a pretty cool little time-saver for overclockers that like sharing their BIOS settings.
The new user-friendly Ai Suite II toolbar is great since you no longer have to go hunting for the utility you want, nor do you need to have desktop icons everywhere. The TurboV and DIGI+ VRM utilities were definitely our favourites, since they allowed us to tweak all the aforementioned overclocking settings from within the OS. However, we were obviously also quite fond of the aforementioned Thermal Radar utility since it really has excellent monitoring capabilities.
While we like the overall layout, there are a few issues. We weren’t able to install our very tall Corsair Dominator GT memory modules on this motherboard because our Thermalright Ultra-120 heatsink (along with many other AM2 / AM3 coolers) can only be installed in one orientation on AMD platforms. This caused it to hang over the memory slots. You will need to have either low-profile memory or a CPU cooler with an adjustable mounting kit. Secondly, when you install two dual-slot graphics cards on the Sabertooth, you lose access to the legacy PCI slot. This is not a big deal for some people, but many high-end PCI sound cards like the ASUS Xonar Essence ST are quite popular.
Because the Sabertooth 990FX is so good though, and quite reasonably priced considering all the functionality that has baked in, we can overlook the aforementioned issues. We can even turn a blind eye to the fact that the new 990FX chipset is nothing revolutionary. The build quality, performance, features, and 5 year warranty speak for themselves, but right now there is relatively little incentive to buy a 990FX-based motherboard until the AM3+ Bulldozer processors are released.
- AM3+ support.
- Great performance.
- Four mechanical PCI-E x16 slots.
- 3-Way CrossFireX & 3-Way SLI capability.
- Excellent manual overclocking capabilities.
- Very capable automatic overclocking feature.
- Superior monitoring capabilities.
- Dual CPU fan headers are a nice touch.
- Impressive SATA and USB 3 connectivity + performance.
- Great new software package.
- Socketed BIOS chip.
- User-friendly and tweaker-friendly new UEFI BIOS.
- Reasonable price tag given the features list.
- Only one BIOS chip.
- Large CPU coolers + tall memory heatspreaders will cause installation issues.
- No onboard power and reset buttons.
Our thanks to ASUS for making this review possible!