ASRock 890GX Extreme3 Page: 1

Introduction

ASRock are a brand that you don’t tend to see here at Overclock3D very much. Founded in 2002 as the budget arm of Asus many of the motherboards sold were sub £50 no frills efforts that were not made to break records but merely just to “get the job done”. Aside a couple of Frankenstein products such as the popular AGP and PCI-Express compliant ASrock 939Dual SATA2, this was pretty much what ASRock was about. Times do change though and they certainly did for this low cost child.

From 2007, ASRock saw great levels of growth most notably from it’s independent floatation on the Taiwan stock exchange and dare I say it, has also meant multiple attempts at breaking into the performance sector of DIY systems. Today we will be looking at ASRock’s latest attempt; the 890GX Extreme3.

We tend to raise an eyebrow when the word “Extreme” is used overzealously. Perhaps we live in a world of exaggeration but Extreme is most certainly a word that describes something to the “furthest degree” and no less. It’s very much akin to today’s vehicle market, which is now flooded with cars with aggressive lines, huge wheels, bright lights and you guessed it... an underpowered diesel engine. That’s right, you in the BMW 116D M-Sport. There is nothing “Motor-Sport” about your £20,000 oil burning hatchback.

To the point, what I’m referring to is the terrible amount of “all show and no go” in a number of consumer industries today. Is the ASRock 890GX Extreme3 just another case of this or has it got what it takes to really impress us? Without prejudice, we will put the board through it’s paces but first, here’s a more comprehensive specification list to digest.

Specifications

Form FactorATX, 12" x 9.6" (30.5cm x 24.5cm)
Processor SupportAMD Socket AM3 Sempron 100/Athlon II X2/X3/X4 and Phenom II X2/X3/X4 Processors
ChipsetAMD 890GX / SB850
Memory4 x DIMM, Max. 16 GB 1600/1333/1066 Non-ECC,Un-buffered Memory
Dual Channel memory architecture
Expansion Slots

3 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (8x/8x Dual CrossfireX mode 8x/8x/4x Tri CrossfireX mode)
1 x PCIe 2.0 1x
3 x PCI

Multi-GPU SupportATi CrossfireX Supported
Onboard VideoATi Radeon HD 4290 w/ 128MB GDDR3 Sideport
Supports Hybrid CrossfireX with Radeon HD 2400/34xx/42xx series graphics cards
Storage

AMD SB850 Southbridge
6 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports
1x e-SATA 6.0Gb/s
 

LANOne Realtek RTL8111E 10/100/1000 Gigabit LAN
AudioVIA VT2020 7.1 Channel Audio
USB
AMD SB850 Southbridge
- 12 x USB 2.0 ports (4 x Rear, 8 x Internal)

NEC USB3.0 Controller
- 2x USB 3.0 ports

Firewire2 x 1394a ports (1x Rear I/O, 1x Internal) 
Back Panel I/O1 x PS/2 Keyboard
1 x e-SATA
1 x DVI
1 x VGA
1 x HDMI
1 x LAN
2 x USB3.0/2.0/1.1 ports
4 x USB2.0/1.1 ports
1 x IEEE1394a port
1 x Clear CMOS switch


Time for pictures...



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Packaging & Initial Impressions

ASRock's current livery appears to entail dark colours and large contrasting font. One thing's for sure is that with titles such as these, you will never accidently buy the wrong motherboard. The packaging also boasts the titles "True 333". Quite simply, this means onboard USB 3.0, SATA3 and eSATA3; a trio of third generation features.

ASRock 890GX Extreme3     ASRock 890GX Extreme3

Quite predictably, the first things you'll find will be the motherboard's manual and accessory set. Included you will find four SATA cables, one SATA to eSATA adapter, one molex to SATA power adapter (for the pseudo eSATA3 support) and of course, a driver disc.

ASRock 890GX Extreme3

The 890GX Extreme3 in person. Given the blue and white component colour scheme and a generally respectable layout, you would almost think that this is an Asus board. It is only the excessive labelling on the PCB itself that gives the game away.

ASRock 890GX Extreme3     ASRock 890GX Extreme3

The 890GX Extreme3 sports a heatpipe cooling unit to cool the chipset and voltage regulation modules, while a small independent heatsink cools the SB850 southbridge.

ASRock 890GX Extreme3     ASRock 890GX Extreme3

It doesn't look particularly cheap when compared to it's similarly priced competition but how does it fair in our testing regime? Let's get cracking.



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Testbed 

AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition "C3"
ASRock 890GX Extreme3 Motherboard
4GB Corsair XMS3 PC3-12800C8 RAM
Samsung Spinpoint F1 320GB SATA II Hard Disk Drive
XFX Radeon HD 5670 1GB GDDR5 Graphics Card
Samsung 22x DVD+/-RW SATA
Windows 7 Home Premium x64

BIOS

The ASRock BIOS shares many elements of the Asus 890 based boards that we have previously tested. As such, the important parameters are easy to find and the nomenclature is simple to understand.

ASRock 890GX Extreme3     ASRock 890GX Extreme3

ASRock 890GX Extreme3

In terms of overclocking, there is plenty of flexibility to attempt a large overclock on your Socket AM3 system. Looking good...now it's time to see how far the 890GX Extreme3 can be pushed

Overclocking

Our overclocking attempts with our proven Phenom II X4 965BE C3 processor were reasonable, taking us all the way to 300MHz before the motherboard refused to POST. Alas the ASRock Boot Failure Guard had failed us, which ultimately commanded a CMOS Clear to fully revive the system. For what it's worth the CMOS Clear Button is at least accessible from outside of the case but I digress...

Following some stability testing, we found our maximum stable base HTT frequency at 290MHz.

ASRock 890GX Extreme3

We weren't quite as lucky with finding an acceptable CPU Northbridge Frequency with this motherboard. While Asus' Crosshair IV, M4A89TD and M4A89GTD saw frequencies nearing 2800MHz, we were struggling to push north of 2400MHz with the 890GX Extreme3. With this in mind, we eventually found our maximum clockspeed at 3.80GHz, utilising a HTT of 262MHz and a Multiplier of 14.5x

ASRock 890GX Extreme3

One interesting observation is that the board has a tendency to overvolt the CPU ever so slightly. More to the point, it exhibits similar behaviour to our tested Asus 890GX/890FX boards when Load Line Calibration is enabled.

With a determined overclock, it is finally time to get on with some benchmarks. Shall we?



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CPU Performance

SiSoftware Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility capable of benchmarking the performance of individual components inside a PC.

CPU Arithmetic

Things are looking quite level between the 890GX Extreme3 and the M4A89GTD PRO. While we had hoped to attain a slightly higher CPU overclock, the gains from the 400MHz increase are definitely noticeable.

CPU Multimedia

A similar picture is painted with the CPU Multimedia test.


CPU Queen

CPU Queen is based on branch prediction and the misprediction penalties that are involved.

Very respectable results are being offered by both Asus and ASRock offerings; either would certainly prove to be worthy choices for the 965BE thus far.


CPU Photoworxx

PhotoWorxx as the name may suggest tests processors by means of invoking functions that are common to Photo Manipulation including Fill, Flip, Crop, Rotate, Difference and Colour to B&W conversion.

Here, the ASRock takes an unexpected lead, however multiple benchmark attempts reaffirmed that this is a concordant result.

CPU ZLib

This is an integer based benchmark that will test the CPU and Memory by means of the CPU ZLib compression library.

Back to normality, we are seeing comparable results in this number crunching benchmark.

 WinRAR

 WinRAR's embedded Benchmark focuses on the processor's File Compression capability.

I for one would love to see faster compression rates than this, but it's about all we can expect for this particular testbed. Again, the Extreme3 and M4A89GTD have much in common, performance wise.



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Memory & SATA Performance

SiSoftware Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility capable of benchmarking the performance of individual components inside a PC.

The Extreme3 pulls slightly behind the M4A89GTD in the SiSoft test. Both remain in roughly the correct ballpark for DDR3-1600 at a NB frequency of 2000MHz.


Everest Ultimate Edition's memory testing suite determines the performance of your memory and your system's memory controller. Both Read and Write operations are tested.

The trend continues as the ASRock falls short yet again. This is not enough to make a real world difference but it's certainly notable in these synthetic benchmarks.

Hard Disk Performance

HDTune

HDTune analyses the performance and health of your Hard Disk Drive. It's comprehensive test will determine minimum, maximum and average transfer rates.

With both motherboards sporting the same SB850 Southbridge, it is definitely not a surprise to learn that Hard Disk Drive performance is roughly the same. Let's move on...



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Integrated Graphics Performance

3DMark06

Futuremark's 3DMark06 is a means of testing a system's capability as a gaming machine. It has aged a little, however remains to be an excellent benchmark for all round 3D testing.

Here, the Asus board falls behind slightly over the 890GX Extreme3, though not on a noticeable level.

Flash HD - Youtube.com


Watching Flash based High Definition video is often more tasking on a system than you'd be led to believe. Without Flash Player 10.1 which enables GPU acceleration, many systems would have otherwise grinded to a halt. Let's see how our test setup performs here.

Thankfully we are happy to report that your £500+ machine will have no trouble at playing videos on youtube...

Microsoft's HD Suite contains a variety of 720p and 1080p video clips. We selected one 1080p Video Clip and gauged performance on the basis of CPU utilisation and fluidity.

Likewise, the playback of 1080p is unlikely to be of any hassle for the integrated Radeon HD 4290 graphics module.

Left 4 Dead is a very popular hit and as such was a game that we wanted to throw at our modest integrated GPU. Let's see how well it performs.

Playable L4D at 1440x900 on an integrated graphics card? We are certainly not complaining...



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Dedicated Graphics Performance

3DMark Vantage

3DMark Vantage is Futuremarks flagship gaming oriented benchmark at present and is considered to be a demanding one at that. Our tests were carried out under the "Performance" prefix.

The ASRock takes a peculiar lead in 3DMark Vantage. This is most likely due to a prior issue that we had with the M4A89GTD PRO that has now been resolved. Once again, the 400MHz overclock appears to make a substantial difference in CPU based tests.

Left 4 Dead

Left 4 Dead is a very popular hit and should be an interesting choice to take our testbed for a spin. Let's see how well it performs.

There is very little separating the two motherboards here.

Microsoft Flight Simulator X

Flight Simulator X remains to be a terribly demanding game for it's age. Known for being very demanding on the CPU but also requiring a level of GPU power in the process, we thought it'd be interesting to see how it faired.

Out of all our games, FSX is always the hit that sees an immediate performance boost from a CPU Overclock - even at 1920x1200. Once again, both systems remain very much on par and the results are very much as one would expect.

Crysis Warhead

Crysis Warhead is without a doubt one hard nut to crack, especially at higher resolutions and a dash of Anti Aliasing and Anisotropic Filtering.

Quite the opposite to FSX, Crysis Warhead is an all out GPU hog. No CPU overclock could raise these framerates as the Radeon HD 5670 is the weakest link here!

DiRT 2

DiRT2 is a very recent race driving game, known for it's Direct X 11 support.

The ASRock sees a slight performance dip over the Asus at stock speeds here in DiRT2. Once again however, the major limitation in this benchmark lies with the GPU.

That's all folks!



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Conclusion

With the testing wrapped up, it's now time to cut to the chase.

Our results generally suggest that the 890GX Extreme3 is a very good competitor to the previously reviewed M4A89GTD PRO motherboard. From our experience, the product was stable, sported a mature design and had a feature set that would satisfy most. On a number of levels, we consider it to be a very competent motherboard, but there are areas where it falls short.

The achilles heel of the ASRock 890GX is it's overclocking capability. With the latest BIOS, we struggled to break 300MHz HTT and with our particular processor, we couldn't quite reach it's maximum Northbridge Frequency either.

We do appreciate that most popular Phenom II processors are multiplier unlocked Black Editions and as such, this might be a gripe that won't apply to many of you. However, it should be mentioned that many who purchase sub £100 890GX motherboards are more likely to purchase the multiplier locked (but strong value for money) 1055T hex core over the more expensive 1090T Black Edition; this is where Base HTT overclocking capability becomes very important. Theoretically the ASRock could push a strong 1055T to the 4.0GHz ballpark, however it must be said that this isn't particularly reassuring when the equivalently priced M4A89GTD PRO achieved a superier 340MHz Base HTT in our tests. Interestingly, a base clock just short of 300MHz would have been commendable with previous generation 790GX/790FX boards yet today this is our complaint. Food for thought...

Furthermore, we felt that ASRock needs to work on this board's ability to recover from a sour overclock as for most of the part we were required to repeatedly cycle power or clear CMOS before it would successfully POST again. This doesn't even refer to overclocks which are completely unreasonable - all it took was +5/+10MHz over stable limits for an unrecoverable POST.

On the flipside, in some ways the 890GX Extreme3 sports a superior board layout to competitors such as the M4A89GTD PRO. Depending on the expansion slots that you use, you may find yourself with more usable connectors and also the sidemounted SATA ports are a nice touch. Further, the inclusion of a POST ID screen and onboard power/reset switches are features that are only found on more expensive boards. Our stance on the matter is that while many of these added features are great to have, they don't particularly compensate for the weaker overclock.

All in all, excellent work ASRock; this board is painfully close to being a winner, but it's not quite there yet.

The Good
- Excellent Feature Set
- Good board layout

The Mediocre
- Does not OC as well as similarly priced competition

The Bad
- None

Thank you to Asrock for the sample today, you can discuss this review in our forums.