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GIGABYTE 890GPA-UD3H 890GX AM3 Motherboard Review

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Mike D.

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AMD has had an excellent handle on the budget and mid-range PC markets of late, and the success of their integrated graphics platforms has played a key role in this. When we first took a look at AMD’s new 890GX platform back in March, we were impressed by it’s rich feature set and very attractive price tag. Although the integrated graphics in the 890GX is nothing more than a simple evolution of the 790GX, the new SB850 southbridge brought some key next-generation functionality to the table.

Today, we’re going to be taking a look at one of the industry’s first 890GX boards to hit the shelves – the GIGABYTE 890GPA-UD3H. Pricing in as low as $120 CDN, the UD3H is targeted directly at the low to midrange market share and has a healthy set of features, including USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gbps. But just because this is an integrated graphics platform doesn’t mean the UD3H is in the cold as far as AMD’s higher end crowd. With a large passive cooling solution, support for CrossFire-X in a dual 8X PCI-E 2.0 configuration and enough juice for 140W CPUS – new X6 processors included – the 890GPA-UD3H and 890GX in general cater to a wide variety of buyers. A board of this caliber could be found in a basic machine with a low cost Athlon II dual core running integrated graphics, or in a budget conscious performance rig running an X6 1090T and a pair of Radeon HD 5850s. Let’s face it – not everyone needs or wants to spend $300 on a motherboard, nor do they need half of the features that high end boards offer.

Lately, Gigabyte has done a good job in shying away from the complicated naming schemes many other manufacturers use for their boards. Basically, the 890G denotes the chipset, the “A” shows us that there is USB 3.0 installed and the UD3 is the Ultra Durable namesake followed by the product category.

Without further ado, let’s take an in-depth look at the GIGABYTE 890GPA-UD3H.

 
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lemonlime

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890GX Features and Specifications

890GX Features and Specifications

As with any new platform, we’ll turn things over to the customary block diagram.


As with all of AMD’s platforms, the 800 series is a dual-chip solution encompassing the 890GX controller hub – we don’t feel right calling it a northbridge any more as the memory controller resides in the CPU – as well as the SB850 southbridge. As expected, the duties of 890GX include CPU interface, PCI-Express I/O control as well as graphics processing via the integrated graphics core dubbed Radeon HD 4290. You may notice that there isn’t much detail on the IGP depicted above, but not to worry, we’ll cover that in detail shortly.

You may notice that there is no mention of DDR2, only DDR3 and socket AM3 in the block diagram. Unlike earlier IGP platforms, it appears that AMD will be targeting the 890GX to AM3 based DDR3 systems – particularly with their new AM3 based Athlon II line of CPUs. Since memory control is exclusive to the CPU, and the CPU interfaces with the chipset using the same Hypertransport 3.0 bus, there is technically no reason that the 890GX couldn’t be adapted for use with AM2+ based systems. We’ll have to wait and see what board partners decide to produce, but we wouldn’t be surprised if the 890GX platform remains exclusively AM3, which makes sense as that seems to be the market direction – even for budget systems.

Let’s begin with the PCI-Express configuration supported by the 890GX. Like it’s predecessor, the 790GX, the 890GX has a healthy array of PCI Express 2.0 lanes, including a 16X 2.0 lane that can be evenly split into two 8X 2.0 lanes for Crossfire-X configurations. This was certainly nice to see, as the lower end 785G chipset couldn’t split it’s 16X lane, and users are forced to more of a crippling 16x4 configuration that could be limiting with higher end cards. A dual 8X configuration gives buyers a lot of flexibility. Not only can they begin with nothing but integrated graphics, but they can move all the way up to a pair of HD 5850s if they so desire.

Aside from the graphics card lanes, there are a total of six additional 1X 2.0 lanes available for integrated components – like audio and network controllers – and additional slots. If this weren’t enough, two more 1X 2.0 lanes are provided by the SB850 southbridge.

Moving on down to the shiny new SB850, we see that AMD has updated the chipset interconnect and is now using a 2GB/s interface dubbed “Alink Express III”. Although we’re not sure exactly what has changed, the older Alink Express II was essentially a 4X PCI-Express 1.1 lane, so bandwidth appears to have been increased – likely to a 4X 2.0 lane - for improved chipset to chipset communication performance.

Speaking of the southbridge, the most significant new feature that is has brought to the table is 6Gbps SATA support. That’s right, those lucky enough to own one of the new Sandforce 1500 based SSDs can now enjoy Read/Write well beyond 300MB/s. Aside from updated SATA support, the remainder of the southbridge is consistent with the older SB750. We unfortunately don’t get to enjoy integrated USB 3.0 support at this point in time, as the SB850 remains a USB 2.0 controller.


On the topic of USB 3.0, we should note that AMD was very careful to point out that USB 3.0 controllers can be interfaced to the chipset using 1X PCI-Express 2.0 lanes for a maximum theoretical throughput of 500MB/s. Coincidentally, Intel’s new H55 and H57 are limited to half bandwidth lanes and a maximum of 250MB/s to off-chip USB 3.0 and SATA 3.0 controllers. This likely won’t be of concern for USB 3.0, but having on-chip SATA 3.0 support is certainly a benefit as the only bottleneck is the 2GB/s Alink interface between the chipsets and 1X component interface lanes don’t need to be used at all.

So with that out of the way, let’s take a closer look at the new Radeon HD 4290 integrated GPU.
 
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lemonlime

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The Radeon HD 4290 IGP

The Radeon HD 4290 IGP

Image courtesy of AMD​

Perhaps the most anticipated improvements that the 890GX brings to the table are in regards to its IGP. When the 790GX first hit the streets, it was greeted by very positive reviews. Today, we hate to be the bearer of less than exciting news, but the 890GX IGP is nothing more than a higher clocked version of the one found on the 785G – hardly anything to get excited about.


Based on the same RV620 architecture, the HD4290 is nothing more than a 700MHz variant of the DX10.1 HD 4200 found in the 785G chipset. This is definitely a little disappointing, as AMD has made terrific strides in the discrete graphics arena, with numerous DX11 cards at all price points and very potent performance. It appears that we’ll have to wait for AMD’s next generation – or should we say current generation – IGP.

Aside from a higher IGP core speed, the shader count, TUs and ROPs all remain consistent at 40/4/4. There was some speculation that AMD’s next IGP would employ 80 shaders for a nice performance boost, but this is not likely until we see a chipset die shrink from the current 55nm process.

All of the new features that the 785G brought to the table remain within the 890GX, including DirectX 10.1 support, HDMI 1.3 and implementation of AMD’s UVD2. UVD2 or “Unified Video Decoder 2” brings further enhancement in the form of multiple video stream acceleration (think picture-in-picture) as well as other image quality enhancing features. Lots more information on UVD can be found here.

Like the 790GX and 785G, the 890GX also supports “Hybrid Crossfire X”, although it appears that AMD is moving away from this name in favour of “Dual Graphics”. This essentially allows the IGP core to work in tandem with a similar discrete graphics core to improve performance. There has surprisingly been a lot of confusion and contradictory information as far as which cards can be paired with the older 785G chipset, but this time AMD is calling out the HD 5400 and HD 5500 series for this purpose.


Image courtesy of AMD.​


Given the 4000 series IGP name, it seems odd that a brand new DX11 card would be paired with it, but AMD claims a solid 20-25% performance boost in some titles. At this point we can only assume that pairing a non-DX11 card with a DX10.1 IGP will forfeit hardware DX11 support in whatever game is launched in this mode, but we look forward to testing out the 890X “Dual Graphics” in our lab.

We’re also pleased to see that AMD has continued to include Sideport DDR3 support for the 890GX. Sideport memory is essentially a single 64 or 128MB DDR3 IC that is dedicated for use by the IGP. Since the IGP normally has to “share” some of the main memory for its purposes, having some dedicated cache is beneficial as it is faster and can be accessed directly i.e. not having to use the CPU’s memory controller and resources to access. Board partners have produced IGP systems without Sideport memory to reduce cost, but that is more common in the lower end budget models. We’d be surprised to see any 890GX boards without Sideport memory.
 
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lemonlime

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A Closer Look at the GIGABYTE 890GPA-UD3H

A Closer Look at the 890GPA-UD3H


As with many other motherboard boxes, this one from GIGABYTE is literally chalk full of information and marketing mumbo jumbo. Naturally, mentions are made about the 2oz copper PCB, GIGABYTE’s 3 year warranty and the inclusion of both USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gb/s.



There really isn’t much included with the 890GPA-UD3H in the way of accessories, but given it’s price point, we don’t really expect much. Included you’ll find four SATA cables of the locking variety and an IDE cable. We were pleased to see that two of the SATA cables have 90 degree connectors on them, which is a great feature for optical drives and hard drives in tight spaces.
A simple rear I/O plate, owner’s manual and drivers DVD are included as well.


Once again we see a near-perfect layout from GIGABYTE on a board that holds all the usual hallmarks of their design team. Blue, white and yet more shades of blue take over the colour scheme and while this may bother many people, at least GIGABYTE has done away with the oddball green and pink colours they were using less than a year ago.

The ATX power connector and SATA ports, and IDE connector can be found at the edge of the board, and the CPU-power connector is located at the top left – all ideal locations. The floppy connector really isn’t in a very good location at the bottom-left corner, but this is forgivable given that most people don’t use floppy drives these days.

From an expansion slot perspective, the layout looks good as well. There is triple slot spacing between the two full-length PCI-E slots and the 1X slots can accept very long cards without obstructing anything on the board. The 890GX heatsink is cut-out so that the top-most 1X slot can accept extra-long cards as well.

An excessive number of USB headers can be found in the usual bottom-right corner of the board as well as a pair of 1394 headers in the same location. The clear CMOS jumper is in a very inconvenient location between the two full-length slots and may be difficult to access with even one dual-slot card installed. Of greatest concern though are the case header connections that GIGABYTE oriented on the right edge of the board. This was probably done because of all of those USB headers crowding that area of the board. We’ll take a closer look at this in the “Hardware Installation” section.

We should also mention that there are four fan headers on the UD3H. The 4-pin CPU fan header is oddly located at the top left of the board, but still close enough not to be a problem. It would have been nice to see a case fan header at the top left of the board for a rear-exhaust fan, but there is one just below the first 1X slot that can be used for that purpose. A header can also be found at the top right and bottom right corners of the board, which are ideally located for intake fans.


We were very pleased to see GIGABYTE opt for relatively large heatsinks on both the 890GX and the CPU MOSFETS. Interestingly, GIGABYTE cut out a portion of the 890GX heatsink in order to allow extra-long PCI-E 1X cards to be installed in the top most slot.

The power layout on this board is a 4+1 phase design which may seem a bit anemic by today’s lofty standards but it should be more than enough for current and upcoming AMD processors. GIGABYTE does certify the UD3H for 140W processors – so there is no issue there. Although there aren’t as many phases present on the UD3H as with some modern boards, it appears that GIGABYTE beefed up the components considerably with large coils, a hefty heatsink and multiple capacitors per phase. We’ll be testing the effectiveness of this design later on in the review because “more isn’t always better”.


The southbridge heatsink is remarkably small, but given the low power output of the SB850, this is not at all a problem.
The expansion slot layout on this board is perfect and no, you don’t need a switch to change the PCI-E configuration like on the ASUS M4A89GTD PRO that we recently looked at. As mentioned earlier, the 890GX chipset allows an 8X/8X Crossfire-X PCI-E configuration, or a single 16X 2.0 slot with a single card installed. We should note that in order to get the full 16X bandwidth in a single card configuration, the top-most slot must be used. The second slot is electrically limited to an 8X maximum operation.

It also looks like GIGABYTE went with three PCI-E 1x connectors to give users many options for the placement of aftermarket sound cards and tuner cards. Two legacy PCI slots are also included with one that will remain unobstructed with dual video cards installed.


At the edge of the board, we have eight SATA ports. As you have probably already guessed, the blue ports hang off of the new AMD SB850 and are SATA 6Gbps capable. The two white ports are SATA2 and hang off of the “GIGABYTE Branded” SATA controller just behind the ports.

The nice thing about the ninety-degree SATA ports is that they will remain unobstructed even with very long video cards.


The backplate on the 890GPA-UD3H is relatively simple but it provides all of the connectors you could possibly want. Much like the ASUS M4A89GTD PRO and other USB3 products, the two USB 3.0 connectors are finished in a blue color to differentiate them from the others. We wouldn’t be surprised if this became a standard color scheme for USB 3.0.

The only missing item we would have expected to see on the rear I/O panel is an E-SATA connector. Given that most cases now-a-days include an internal connection for an E-SATA port, this isn’t much of an issue.
 
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lemonlime

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A Closer Look at the GIGABYTE 890GPA-UD3H Pg.2

A Closer Look at the GIGABYTE 890GPA-UD3H Pg.2

Let’s take a closer look at the various on-board components.


Ethernet services are provided by a Realtek 8111D PHY, which is a very commonly used network PHY component. It provides standard 10/100/1000Mbps connectivity to a single Ethernet port on the rear I/O panel.

On the Audio front, we find a Realtek ALC 892R. This Audio CODEC appears to be very new, as we found almost no information on it on Realtek’s site or in the deep reaches of the interweb. From what we can tell, it is a simple 8-channel high definition CODEC supporting Dolby Home Theatre and features similar to that of the ALC 885.


For USB 3.0 support, GIGABYTE went with the venerable NEC controller IC. All USB 3.0 enabled motherboards seem to utilize this particular USB 3.0 controller at the moment and it has proven to be very capable. The two “blue” color coded USB ports on the rear I/O plate are hung off of this controller.

To enable Firewire 1394 support, a Texas Instruments controller was utilized just below the bottom most PCI-E slot. Unlike most of the other onboard components, this controller is hosted off of the legacy PCI bus, not the 890GX/SB850’s PCI-E lanes. The PCI BUS should allow for around 130MB/s of throughput – plenty for 1394 devices.


As with most GIGABYTE boards these days, an additional “GIGABYTE” labeled SATA2 controller is present to provide some additional storage capabilities. This controller provides the IDE channel on the board as well as two additional “white” SATA ports at the edge of the board. Given that the SB850 natively supports IDE, we’re not quite sure why GIGABYTE bothered with this controller. None the less, it may be appreciated by those with more than six hard drives.

An ITE IT8720 controller can also be found at the bottom left corner of the board. This is a very common controller that provides temperature, voltage and fan monitoring as well as legacy floppy drive and Serial COM port support. Third party monitoring applications such as HWMonitor have no problem detecting and reading from the IT8720.


At the bottom right hand corner of the board, we find a slightly odd location for the front panel connections. Rather than being at the very bottom of the board, it is located at the right edge of the board, where it can be potentially blocked by long video cards. We’ll take a closer look at this issue in the “Hardware Installation” section of the review.

You’ll also notice that the UD3H has both a master and backup BIOS chip on board for redundancy purposes. This is a nice feature to find in a mid-range board.

Right in between the two full-length PCI-E slots is the CMOS battery as well as the clear CMOS jumper. We’re not terribly pleased with the location of the clear CMOS jumper as it will be difficult to access with dual-slot video cards installed.
 
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lemonlime

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Hardware Installation

Hardware Installation


In the Hardware Installation section we examine how major components fit on the motherboard, and whether there are any serious issues that may affect installation and general functionality. Specifically, we are interested in determining whether the motherboard has adequate clearance levels in all critical areas.


We are pleased to report that we found no heatsink clearance issues with the 890GPA-UD3H. There was plenty of space surrounding the socket in all directions.


As with almost all AM2/AM3 boards, the memory slots are a tad too close to the CPU socket. Very large memory modules like Corsair’s “Dominator Series” or the OCZ “Reaper” series may have clearance issues if you populate the DIMM slot closest to the CPU. Thankfully all standard profile memory heat spreaders will not have an issue with the board. As a work around, the fan could be mounted slightly higher up the heatsink for additional clearance.


Both the 890GX heatsink and MOSFET heatsink sit low enough to clear tower heatsinks without issue.


The only real clearance issues we found involved the front panel connectors with a second video card installed. As you can see, longer cards will sit directly on top of the connectors and may block them completely. Our GTS250 only partially blocked them, but a long card like the 5870 would definitely cover them. This is an unfortunate layout problem and we hope that GIGABYTE will keep those connectors at the very bottom edge of future motherboards.

Thankfully all of the SATA connectors on the UD3H are of the right angled variety and will not be obstructed regardless of the PCI-E card configuration.
 
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lemonlime

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Included Software

Included Software

In the typical GIGABYTE style, a very generous software bundle is included with the 890GPA-UD3H.


The driver and utility CD is about what we’d expect from any major motherboard manufacturer. A slew of drivers and utilities can be downloaded, although we’d definitely recommend taking a look online in case newer revisions are available.


Easy Tune 6

Easy Tune 6 is an application that we’ve become familiar with over the past few GIGABYTE board releases. This particular application is the sort of “technical centerpiece” of the software suite allowing for both viewing of system vitals as well as the application of both overclocking and other system tweaks.


Much like the very popular CPU-Z application, the CPU and Memory tabs of Easy Tune provide all of the essential system information.


The real fun happens at the “Tuner” tab. As you can see, there are several profiles to cater to both the novice and advanced overclocker. The “Quick Boost” feature is a handy one for those very uncomfortable messing around in the BIOS, or for those who probably shouldn’t be overclocking in the first place. Simply select your desired level of overclock, reboot and you are off to the races. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

Under the advanced tab, things get a lot more granular. Users can increase both frequencies as well as voltages from the operating system. Although this works great for the most part, we found ourselves encountering system instability when increasing the BCLK values from within Easy Tune. It wasn’t always consistent, but settings stable in the BIOS were not always stable when setting from Easy Tune.


Even video card overclocking can be done from within ET6 under the “Graphics” Tab. Core and memory frequencies can be increased and the GPU temperature is also reported.


Smart fan control is another nifty feature found within Easy Tune. The fan speed can be adjusted based on selectable temperature thresholds.

Last but not least, we have the HWMonitor tab. As you probably have already guessed, voltages, fan speeds and temperatures can be monitored from here.


Easy Energy Saver


Next up is GIGABYTE’s power saving application called “EES” or “Easy Energy Saver”. Some readers may be familiar with GIGABYTE’s “Dynamic Energy Saver 2” and this application appears to be a trimmed down version of it.


In GIGABYTE’s own words: “GIGABYTE now makes it even easier for users to save energy with the new GIGABYTE Easy Energy Saver™. One click of the Easy Energy Saver™ button and users are able to instantly take advantage of power savings, without a confusing setup or complicated calibration processes. Not only can users see real-time CPU power consumption in Watts, but once Easy Energy Saver™ is enabled, users can see how much power they are actually saving. Now, everyone can benefit from quick and easy energy savings, helping to not only save electricity costs, but also making it easy to do your part to help save the environment.”

Although GIGABYTE provides very little information as to what exactly is happening in the background, we can only speculate that some voltage and frequency adjustments are being done above and beyond what is provided by the standard power states and “Cool’N’Quiet”.

Easy Energy Saver is disabled by default, and has to be enabled by clicking the large button at the top right hand corner of the application. There is a definite hardware component to DES2, as we could see by the “Powered by Intersil” logo at the bottom of the application. More than one Intersil IC can be found around the power delivery area of the motherboard to make this functionality possible.

Given the interest in going “green” these days, we were very pleased to see GIGABYTE’s innovative power saving features.


Face Wizard


Let’s “face” it – pun intended - most self-respecting system tweakers disable the “full screen logo” that appears during the boot-up process. But what if that logo could be changed into absolutely anything? That certainly changes things. GIGABYTE’s “Face Wizard” application allows you customize this logo in any way you see fit. You can pull down the current image stored on the board, and upload a new one. It’s really as simple as that.


Auto Green


Moving on, we have a very unique application called “Auto Green”. Auto Green is a blue tooth enabled application that automatically puts the PC to sleep or wakes it up based on proximity to a blue tooth enabled cell phone. For example, simply coming home from work and walking near the PC causes it to spring to life. This is a really nifty feature in concept, but unfortunately, GIGABYTE does not include a Bluetooth adapter to make this work, but one can be purchased pretty cheaply.


“@BIOS”


Given that the vast majority of PC users have never seen a PC BIOS, let alone flashed a new BIOS ROM, it was nice to see that GIGABYTE created a software product for the masses. Flashing a new BIOS really couldn’t be easier. Simply click to download the latest BIOS, and then click to flash. The current BIOS can also be backed up to file for roll-back purposes.
 
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lemonlime

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BIOS Rundown

BIOS Rundown


The 890GPA-UD3H features a nice and colorful full-screen logo to hide all of those post messages. As a nice added bonus, GIGABYTE actually provides software that allows this logo to be customized from within Windows.


As is no surprise, the 890GPA-UD3H features the very popular Award BIOS. Although all of the “fun” tweaker settings are located within the “MB Intelligent Tweaker” section, we’ll let the suspense build as we go through the more pedestrian menus first.

Features like Cool’N’Quiet as well as other CPU and chipset features can be found under the “Advanced BIOS Features” menu. All of the integrated video configuration can be found under the “IGX Configuration” sub-menu. We’ll take a closer look at this in a moment.



Under the “Integrated Perhiperals” menu we can find the control parameters for the various onboard components. Anything referred to as “OnChip” denotes a service provided by the SB850 southbridge.

The “PC Health” status page gives us some basic voltage, temperature and fan readings, and allows the configuration of temperature warning thresholds and fan control. The list of readings available here is pretty decent, although it would have been nice to see some additional voltage and temperature readings.


Under the “MB Intelligent Tweaker” menu, we find a very healthy array of overclocking options – just about everything you could possibly need. Enough voltage can be supplied to the CPU, CPU-NB, Chipset, DRAM and other various voltage planes to cause serious damage – just what every overclocker wants to hear!

All of the essential multipliers and frequencies can be adjusted here. We were very pleased to see so many adjustments available on a mid-range board.


The integrated video controller can also be tweaked a fair bit. The core clock speed can be increased, along with the SidePort memory frequency. Even the SidePort voltage can be increased from the “Intelligent Tweaker” menu if you were so inclined.



We thought it was worth mentioning that a hidden “Advanced Chipset Features” menu is available from the main menu when CTRL+F1 is pressed. There isn’t much terribly interesting within, except for a “NB Power Management” and southbridge “Spread Spectrum” option.



The 890GPA-UD3H – like most modern GIGABYTE boards – features “Q-flash”. As you’ve probably guessed, this is a built-in BIOS utility that allows flashing from a USB storage device instead of having to rely on floppy disks and archaic methods. You simply browse the folder structure on the flash drive, and select the BIOS ROM you’d like to apply.
 
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