Asus Crosshair III Formula vs DFI DK 790FXB M3H5 Face-Off Page: 1
Introduction
 
It's been quite some time since we reviewed any motherboards from the green camp of AMD. With Intel's stranglehold on the CPU market, one might say that AMD motherboards are a 'much of a muchness' these days and as such have not received the same attention Intel have been given over the past year. AMD it seems, have been thrown in the bottom drawer while Intel have taken pride of place on the mantelpiece. It's quite a sad state of affairs we find ourselves in at present as Intel's domination of the CPU market has stifled new technology. Sure, there have been some breakthroughs but it seems eons away since AMD and Intel were squaring up against one another, Mano ET Mano in a no holds barred contest of speed. Not since the very popular Opteron and x2 range of processors have AMD held any significant advantage over Intel. Of course, dedicated followers of AMD will beg to differ but the truth is Intel are reigning supreme and it looks like we are going to have a long wait until AMD catch up.
 
Last year we checked out AMD's progress with the Phenom chip and the AM2 socket. While Intel have jumped from Core2Duo, to Core2Quad and most recently Core i7, AMD have made just one switch with the AM3 socket and Phenom II CPU. Quietly busying themselves away, AMD have made advances in both chipset and CPU technology. The 790FX chipset is renown to be the best AMD platform since the good old Nforce 4 days and like I stated in our last visit to the AMD camp, all AMD need now is a CPU to match this chipsets potential. Today we believe that AMD have made a step in the right direction with the Phenom II 955 Black edition.
 
AM3 motherboards are a break away from the AM2/+ range of motherboards and will require a new AM3 compatible CPU. These CPU's carry 938pins where current AM2+ processors have 940.This drop in pin count is not the only change though. While the same 128bit memory controller is still in-situ, running in dual 64bit configuration for the memory, the major shift in speed is with the increase of the frequency from 1.8GHz to 2GHz. The kicker here is the hyper transport bus also increases in-line with the memory controller to match the 2GHz speed. Add DDR3 memory support with an official rating of 1333MHz (although this can be overclocked higher) and you have the makings of a speedy platform. The transistor count has been increased to around the 758 million mark thanks to a die shrink to 45nm. Also worthy of note is the price. For £150 you can have an unlocked top of the range AMD Phenom II 955 Black edition which is a drop in the ocean compared to the extortionate prices Intel are asking for there comparable Extreme Edition CPU's.
 
Today we have two 790FX based motherboards with which to test this new CPU on and will compare the performance of both motherboards with an X58/Intel i7 combination which is thrown in for good measure. The two boards we will be looking at will be like a throwback to the top performing motherboards of yesteryear. Anyone who had the fortune to enjoy the NForce 4 platform will remember the two top performing motherboards of the day, the Asus A8n32SLI Deluxe and the DFI Lanparty Ultra/Expert. Both of these motherboards could overclock socket 939 CPU's to amazing speeds, and the performance of these setups were enough to make Intel enthusiasts cry into there Pentium boxes. DFI, most would agree, were the victors in that previous battle so today it only seemed right that we pitch both manufacturers head to head once more.Both the Asus Crosshair III and DFI DK 790FX M3H5 are targeted toward the overclockers and gamers, much the same as the NF4 boards of yesterday so it will be good to see how each manufacturer has progressed in the AMD sector.
 
Specification
 
Before we take a look at both boards in details, let's take a moment to compare specifications:
 
  Asus Crosshair III Formula
DFI DK 790FXB M3H5
CPU
 
AMD® Phenom™ II processor
HyperTransport 3.0 (5200MT/s) HyperTransport 1.0 (2000/1600MT/s)
AMD OverDrive provides tuning options using the new Advanced Clock Calibration” overclocking feature.
CPU Socket 938 AM3 45nm
 
 
AMD® Phenom™ II processor
HyperTransport 3.0 (5200MT/s) HyperTransport 1.0 (2000/1600MT/s)
AMD OverDrive provides tuning options using the new Advanced Clock Calibration” overclocking feature.
CPU Socket 938 AM3 45nm
 
 
Chipset
 Northbridge: AMD 790FX
Southbridge: AMD SB750
Northbridge: AMD 790FX
Southbridge: AMD SB750
Memory
 Four 240-pin DDR3 DIMM sockets
 Supports DDR3 1600(O.C.)/1333/1066 MHz
 Delivers up to 21Gb/s bandwidth at 1333MHz
 Supports dual channel (128-bit wide) memory interface
 Supports non-ECC unbuffered DIMMs
 Supports up to 16GB system memory.
 
Four 240-pin DDR3 DIMM sockets
Supports DDR3 1600(O.C.)/1333/1066 MHz
Delivers up to 21Gb/s bandwidth at 1333MHz
Supports dual channel (128-bit wide) memory interface
Supports non-ECC unbuffered DIMMs
 Supports up to 16GB system memory.
 
Expansion Slots
 
2 PCI Express (Gen 2) x 16 slots (16x16)
3 PCI Express x1 slots
1x PCI slot
3 PCI Express (Gen 2) x16 slots (16x16x4)
3 PCI slots
 
Audio SupremeFX XFI expansion card
Realtek ALC885 8-channel HD Audio Codec
 
 
LAN Realtek Gigabit Lan ControllerMarvell 88E8056 PCIE Gigabit LAN controller
Storage
5x SATA
1x eSATA
Raid 0,1, 0+1 5 and 10 capable
1x IDE port (ATA133)
6x SATA
Raid 0, 1, 0+1, 5 and 10 capable
1x IDE port (ATA133)
Dimensions
ATX form factor
24.5cm (9.64") x 30.5cm (12")
 
ATX form factor
24.5cm (9.64") x 30.5cm (12")
 
 
 
As you can see, both boards are pretty much identical on paper with just a few subtle differences. The DFI employs 6 full fat SATA ports while the Asus offers extra connectivity in providing 5 SATA ports with an additional eSATA port. The DFI has 3 PCIe 16 slots opposed to the Asus's two, instead providing 3 PCIe 1x slots and a PCI slot instead of the DFI's 3x PCI slots. Both boards have approached the audio in different ways with the DFI using Realteks ALC885 chip and Asus making use of the ever popular SupremeFX X-FI riser card.
 
Let's firstly pay homage to the Asus motherboard before getting down and dirty with the DFI...


Asus Crosshair III Formula vs DFI DK 790FXB M3H5 Face-Off Page: 2
Packaging & Appearance
 
The Crosshair III is packaged in the same manner as other ROG motherboards on general release today. The red packaging of the Crosshair III is both appealing and sturdy. The matt effect cardboard sleeve has a luxurious feel to it and the omission of any fairytale figurines signifies that this is a serious motherboard for serious enthusiasts. The Crosshair III title is in holographic ROG text with only the obligatory AMD and ATI emblems accompanying the text on the front. However, flipping the box over, Asus begin to go into detail regarding some of the specifications of the motherboard.
 
box front box rear
 
Opening the lid of the box via Velcro tabs, we find that Asus have included a window on the package which allows the user to see the actual product without potentially damaging it by incorrect handling. The top of the 'lid' describes the main feature set of the Crosshair III including MemOK which Asus claim enhances memory compatibility of the motherboard. CPU Level Up is an auto overclocking device, great for folk who do not understand the dark arts of BIOS overclocking and to round off, the Crosshair also includes a separate XFI Supreme FX sound card.
 
box inner box inner top
 
Both the motherboard and accessories are separately packaged which is a great idea and helps keep the contents in place during transit. The accessories included are what you would expect from a premium motherboard including 6 SATA cables, USB/Firewire bracket, Q-Connectors, LED Display, IDE cables, Supreme FX sound card, I/O backplate along with the motherboard manual and driver CD.
 
accessories
 
The main board itself follows on with the ROG theme of blue and white slots upon a black PCB. Initial impressions are that the motherboard is well laid out with everything appearing to be in the right place. The rear of the Crosshair is nothing to interesting barring the fact that Asus deemed it unnecessary to include backplates to the heatsink assembly.
 
board front box rear
 
The CPU socket are is tightly packed a row of ten chokes accompanying 10 solid capacitors leaving very little room to the left of the socket. This cramped area has however left plenty of room above the socket. Upon installation of the test setup I found that the area next to the memory slots was very cramped and therefore using an over sized heatsink and tall memory modules would certainly prove difficult if you intend to use the blue memory slots. Fortunately for me, I had no such issues but it is something to bear in mind. As stated in the introduction, the AM3 affords DDR3 in dual channel, unganged mode and with four slots available on the Crosshair III, up to 16 GB can be fitted.
 
xpu socket memory sockets
 
The PCIe area of the motherboard is well laid out with plenty of space for two GPU's. At the time of writing though, the Crosshair III is only Crossfire certified so SLI users will unfortunately have to look elsewhere. With both GPU slots filled you will only have use of a single PCI slot given that the top PCIe x1 slot will be taken up with the included SupremeFX sound card. To the left of the PCI slots are 5 SATA ports supporting 3GB/s. An IDE port is also included for those using this technology.
 
pcie SATA
 
The bottom of the motherboard has revised Power and Reset buttons which light up white and red respectively when the board is powered on. To the left of these buttons is the MemOK button which loads the failsafe settings allowing greater memory compatibility during non-boot scenarios.
 
The I/O backplate area if fairly sparse compared to what we are used to seeing on premium motherboards with just 6 USB ports, Firewire, e-Sata, Lan port, and a PS/2 keyboard port. The Crosshairs only saving grace is the inclusion of an illuminated (green) CMOS reset button.
  
power connector
 
Dominating the board is the Northbridge heatsink which, along with the Southbridge heatsink utilises the 'Pin-Fin' design found on other Asus boards. Both the Northbridge and Southbridge heatsinks are gun metal grey in colour and are both aluminium. The Northbridge has an illuminated emblem to one side once the board is receiving power. This Northbridge heatsink is attached to both the Southbridge and Mosfet cooler via a heatpipe which snakes its way around the board.
 
NB sb
 
A neat idea we are seeing more of on premium boards is the ability to replace the Northbridge's cooler with one of your own choosing, such as a waterblock. This is great for those not wanting to replace the whole heatsink assembly. As you can see from the picture below, our heatsink had thermal tape applied to transfer heat between the two surfaces.
 
no block
 
Removing the heatpipe was pretty straight forward with minimal of hassle. However users should be aware that both the Northbridge and Southbridge cores are very fragile and this should be done with extreme caution as they are easily 'nibbled' rendering the board useless as well as invalidating the warranty. Strangely, Asus had applied a lot of paste to the cores which was of bubblegum consistency. Also bizarrely, the heatsink had some sort of thermal pad in addition to the paste attached to it which would surely only serve to hinder and not aid thermal transfer. I can only assume that this sponge/tape is there to cushion the cores. This combination however was left in place for the review but no doubt this is something end users may want to consider modifying if they are having issues with chipset temperatures.
 
sb chip
 
It's hard not to be impressed by the lengths Asus have gone to to present the package in the most appealing way possible. From the exterior to the board itself, everything oozed quality. I could not fault the packaging apart from the fact I would liked to have seen some sponge behind the motherboard protecting it as cardboard, while padded itself, seemed a little to harsh for my liking. This however is a very minor point on what for all intents and purposes is a very appealing package. The board is very well laid out and apart from the potential cooling issues noted above and the proximity of the memory slots to the socket,  it's very hard to fault.
 
Let's take a look at the BIOS options of the Crosshair III...
 


Asus Crosshair III Formula vs DFI DK 790FXB M3H5 Face-Off Page: 3
BIOS Options
 
The animated ROG emblem bursts onto your screen during POST but this can be changed to the standard device detection and configuration if you wish by pressing the .del key and entering the BIOS itself. The first screen you will see is perhaps the screen you will use most if you like to tweak settings to get the most out of your PC setup. Asus call this section the Extreme Tweaker which has all the major overclocking settings available, each with sub-menus and pop up screens.
 
frontend extreme tweaker
 
If you don't fancy messing with the massive array of options available then Asus will allow basic overclocks using preconfigured settings with the CPU Level Up feature which for our test CPU allows 3.4, 3.6 and 3.8GHz overclocks. Before we get to the nitty gritty of the Extreme Tweaker options you would be best to visit the CPU configuration section where various utilities can be enabled or disabled depending on your preference.
 
CPU level up CPU features
 
DRAM frequency can be tweaked to four different settings (dependent on FSB and DDR SPD setting). The settings can be set either by the +/- keys or via the use of a pop up menu which is navigated by the arrow keys.
 
DRAM frequency CPU frequency
 
Both the Northbridge and HT Link Speed are highly tweak-able with a huge range of frequencies. Aside from the DRAM timing and frequencies one can also configure the memory controller by enabling or disabled a variety of features allowing the user to obtain greater compatibility and stability.
 
HT linkspeed DRAM controller
 
A great feature of the 790FX chipset is the ganged/unganged feature. Ganged allows both memory controllers on the Phenom to work together. Unganged allows the memory controllers to work independently of one another allowing each controller to work asynchronously with each DIMM channel. So in effect you could run two different sets of DDR3 together on the same motherboard making the upgrade path easier.
 
 unganged swizzle
 
Delving further into the memory options we arrive at the timings section which is as complete/complex as any other memory section I have seen. This section is spread over two screens so what timings you can't find here are simply not worth having. Much the same could be said regarding the voltage area which has some seriously insane options available, especially if you enable Extreme OV setting. Asus remind the user of the level of voltage with blue, yellow and red coloured font depending on the severity of the voltage. If that wasn't enough Asus also give various other warnings such as 'Setting over 1.75v may 'damage CPU permanently!' and 'Please use better cooling!'. Thanks Asus, where would we be without you!
 
timings voltages
 
Memory Data and Control reference voltages can be also be tweaked to get that extreme overclock stable with a wide array of options available on both channels. The tweaking doesn't stop there though because in a separate section of the Extreme Tweaker, the included LCD poster can be tweaked in the BIOS to your display preferences as can the on board LED's.
 
ref voltages LCD
 
After you are done with all of your tweaking you can view the results (after an F10 and reboot to save the settings) which are available in the Power section. Voltage, Temperature and fan speed readouts can be monitored here. The attached fans can also be set to your cooling/audible preference here too.
 
volt monitor voltage readout
 
It would be a shame if you spent time setting up the board to your preferences only for it to fail POST meaning a CMOS reset along with entering them all again with a few adjustments. For this reason, Asus allow the user to save upto 8 profiles so you could say have one for stock speeds, another for mild, another for extreme benching etc.
 
temp readout OC Profile
 
The Asus BIOS was a doddle to navigate and most of the options will be familiar to anyone adept to overclocking. There are also many not so familiar options available which will no doubt tempt the most ardent overclocker to explore. Even if you are not into tweaking until the early hours, Asus have made a BIOS which is simple to use for anyone at any level. There were a few occasions where I encountered a little stuttering during navigation which made navigating a little cumbersome at times but other than that, I doubt anyone would be unhappy with the massive array of options available on the Crosshair III Formula.
 
So with a full fat package and heavyweight BIOS, the DFI motherboard will certainly have it's work cut out if it is to better the Asus board. Let's take a look at how DFI have presented their product...


Asus Crosshair III Formula vs DFI DK 790FXB M3H5 Face-Off Page: 4
Packaging & Appearance
 
The exterior presentation of the DFI 790FXB DX M3H5 is akin to the new packaging design DFI are using across there range. Gone are the cartoon characters of the old Lanparty series. What we now have is an orb with the main product title surrounded by a smoke effect. This motherboard also features DFI's second incarnation of the popular autoboost system. AM3 and the obligitory AMD and ATI icons round of the front of the box. Flipping the box over to the rear we see DFI have gone to great lengths to show off the main feature set of the 790FXB with detailed photographs and brief descriptions of each.
 
box front box rear
 
By removing the outer sleeve, we are greeted with a plain white box with a silver Lanparty logo emblazoned in the middle. Once inside this box we find a compartmentalised unit separating the accessories from the mainboard. While this is effective in keeping the components separate it is a far cry from the design Asus use. That said, the package arrived in good condition and if it helps keep costs down then it's no bad thing. The accessory list is one which you would expect from a mid range board with UV reactive IDE and 4x SATA cables with optional SATA-Molex power adaptors. A standard, no frills I/O shield, driver/utility disc and a couple of manuals round off the accessories. A Crossfire bridge is also included for those who might have mislaid theirs.
 
box inner accessories
 
Ah, nothing like a blast of nostalgia to get the overclocking juices flowing. Those who remember the nForce 4 days will feel right at home with this colour scheme. UV reactive yellow and orange plastic adorns a black PCB which now appears to be a trademark of DFI. The overall spacing of the board, with all the right things in the right place but I do have concern over the proximity of the ram slots to the CPU socket. This will most certainly prevent oversized ram coolers being used with high end CPU heatsinks. Note the additional PCIe slot of the DFI though which are all 16x and allow dual 16x in Crossfire configuration or 16x/16x/4x in CrossfireX.
 
board front board rear
 
The CPU socket has the standard removable hold down plate (also in UV yellow) but the most interesting thing about the DFI's CPU socket area is the power delivery. The DFI 790FXB DK uses a 4+1 Phase digital PWM design (4 for the Vcore and 1 for the NB voltage). DFI claim that this design uses less power, gives greater stability as well as providing high durability.
 
As with the Asus motherboard and indeed all AM3 motherboards, the DFI 790FXB DK features 2 dual channel DDR3 ram slots (2+2) which allow upto 16GB of ram to be utilised should you feel the need.
 
socket memory sockets
 
As already stated, this mainboard allows both Crossfire and Crossfire X. The two PCIe slots upper most on the board are controlled via the 790FX chipset and run at the full fat 16 lanes each. The bottom slot is controlled by the Southbridge (750) core which when running in CrossfireX configuration will be limited to 4 lanes. Interestingly, DFI recommend connecting up 5v floppy power cables to each slot when running multiple cards. Personally I have never seen any benefit by doing this but DFI claim it adds greater stability, especially when overclocking the GPU's. 6 SATA ports are available on the DFI mainboard which is one more than the ASUS and DFI have also seen fit to include an IDE PATA port for those with ageing legacy devices.
 
An area which deserves special mention is the inclusion of an LED debug device which allows the user to identify problem areas when overclocking or indeed when first installing your hardware. 3 USB headers are on board which are adjacent to the on board power and rest buttons, or EZ-switch as DFI like to call them. The EZ switch is actually a useful design in that pressing both switches together will return the board to a bootable state by resetting the CMOS. However should you need to do a hard rest of the BIOS, DFI have also included a jumper for this.
 
PCIe sata
 
The backplate includes PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports along with coaxial and optical audio outputs, a CMOS clear jumper, 6xUSB 2.0 ports, Marvel Gigabit LAN port and and 7.1 HD audio. I can see the CMOS clear jumper proving a headache for most people who intend to use this board in an enclosure as fiddling with a jumper at the rear of the case is going to be no fun, especially if it needs to be done multiple times!
 
USB NB
 
The three main heatsinks on the motherboard which are responsible for keeping temperatures in check are small in comparison to DFI's X58 motherboard and only the NB and PWM cooler are screwed to the motherboard with the SB 750 cooler having a traditional push pin design. I was happy to note that there was no anti tamper glue fixing the nuts to the screws as with the X58 range which made removal of the heatsinks so much easier.
 
southbridge mosfet
 
Should you wish to replace the NB cooler, DFI allow this option with the removable NB heatsink which is a great design and good news for those looking for something a little more extreme than ambient air. Our sample had an ample amount of paste used to transfer heat between the two surfaces but this could be improved by spreading the paste yourself, rather than relying on the 'blob' method DFI seem to have employed.
 
heatsink removed mosfets
 
Both the Northbridge and Southbridge had copious amounts of Arctic Ceramique type paste on the cores, perhaps a little too much but the contact pressure was even enough to squeeze excess paste over the core onto the surrounding area ensuring a good mount was achieved. As always, extreme care should be taken if you decide to replace this paste as remounting the heatsink assembly could easily nibble the cores rendering the motherboard useless.
 
nb core southbridge core
 
Overall, the DFI 790FXB DK M3H5 appears to be a solid motherboard. It has everything you could want from an enthusiasts or gamers point of view with plenty of connectivity for those looking to base a well rounded PC on this mainboard. My only concern was the memory slots and this was certified when I came to set the board up as expected, the ram slots did indeed prevent oversized CPU coolers to be used with memory that employ double height heatsinks. Using the memory in the Orange slots however was not an issue.
 
Let's take a look at the DFI's BIOS...


Asus Crosshair III Formula vs DFI DK 790FXB M3H5 Face-Off Page: 5
BIOS Options
 
The POST screen, as with most motherboards of today can be set to either display an image or the configuration table of the mainboard. The image DFI have chosen is a replica of the front of the box which is very attractive, especially when compared to 16bit images of yesteryear.
 
The focus of the BIOS lays in the 'Genie' settings which contain all of the most common overclocking configurations available. The BIOS is controlled via the arrow, tab, function keys and enter to input your desired values and additional windows pop up depending on the setting.
 
front end Genie
 
The DRAM configuration setting allows memory timing, DCT modes and power CKE modes. The CPU feature set allows C1E support, changing the voltage and clockspeed depending on power requirements at the time but most interestingly, clock calibration on each core.
 
DRAM config CPU feature
 
Voltage settings can be adjusted in the main page or via the PWM sub menu allowing CPU VID, DRAM, PLL, NB, PCIe and HT voltages to be tweaked to their optimum settings. As our CPU is an unlocked version of AMD's 955 Core the CPU multiplier can be scrolled through upto a maximum of x39.5. The CPU-NB multi can also be increased to a maximum x25.
 
PWM setting clock ratio
 
The HT Link speed can be tweaked to many values, most of which will result in a none boot scenario but it's nice to have the option nonetheless. Below right we see the memory timing page which is not as comprehensive as some BIOS's I have come across but it does have all the usual timings and sub-timings.
 
HT link timings
 
As with the Asus board, DFI also include a profile save page with 4 profiles available. A neat feature of the DFI board is that you can configure the motherboard to reload any one of your saved profiles should an overclock be unsuccessful. You can also set the number of times the motherboard will attempt to load your ambitious overclocking attempts before falling back to your chosen profile. A nice safeguard that will prevent a lot of time wasting re-entering the settings over and over again.
 
CMOS reloaded monitor
 
While at first glance this is not the most complex DFI BIOS I have seen it is certainly thorough and will allow even the most experienced overclocker to get the most out of their hardware. The fun doesn't stop there though as by pressing F9 in the main BIOS menu a new window pops up asking if you would like the easy (above options) or advanced. The advanced options are an expansion of the above with additional settings available to tweak your settings to the extreme.
 
extra 1 extra 2
 
By using the setting the BIOS to run in advanced mode, a whole host of new memory settings are available via the ODC sub-menu. This sub-menu allows the user to adjust the drive strength to a huge range of possibilities as well as adjusting the CPU on-die termination. Another menu that appears that wasn't available before are the HT-Link control options which give the user much more settings to play with. However using the advanced settings can render your motherboard into a non booting piece of silicon, in our case resulting in an hour long battery removal to get it to boot again due to the fact that neither EZ clear switches nor the CMOS clear jumpers having any effect.
 
Let's see how the DFI board faired in the overclocking stakes when pitched up against the Asus motherboard...


Asus Crosshair III Formula vs DFI DK 790FXB M3H5 Face-Off Page: 6
Test Setup
 
To ensure that all reviews on Overclock3D are fair, consistent and unbiased, a standard set of hardware and software is used whenever possible during the comparative testing of two or more products. The configuration used in this review can be seen below: 
 
Processor: AMD Phenom II x4 955 Black edition
Motherboard: Asus Crosshair III Formula, DFI Lanparty 790FXB DX M3H5
Memory: 4GB Corsair DDR3 @ 8-8-8-24 1333Mhz
Graphics Card: NVidia GTX280
Power Supply: Gigabyte Odin 1200W
CPU Cooling: OCZ Gladiator
Hard Disk: Hitachi Deskstar 7K160 7200rpm 80GB
Graphics Drivers: Geforce 180.60 CUDA
Operating System: Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate x64 SP1
 
During the testing of the setup above, special care was taken to ensure that the BIOS settings used matched whenever possible. A fresh install of Windows Vista was also used before the benchmarking began, with a full defrag of the hard drive once all the drivers and software were installed, preventing any possible performance issues due to leftover drivers from the previous motherboard installations. For the 3DMark and gaming tests a single card configuration was used.
 
rog debug 

The DFI board tends to lend it's aesthetics in darkness to the UV plastic slots which shine up very brightly. The debug LED is very useful once you get to grips with what the readouts actually mean and can help identify where exactly the problems lay. Other than a standby LED though, the DFI board has no other lights. The Asus board on the other hand has the ROG emblem which lights up white upon powering up. The board does not have an on board LED diagnostic readout though, instead a separate LED Poster which scrolls through the post details using phrases instead of codes which is much easier to decipher.
 
To guarantee a broad range of results to best evaluate the motherboards performance, the following benchmark utilities were used:
 
Synthetic CPU Test
• Sisoft Sandra 2009
• PassMark CPU test
• SuperPI 1m, 8m, 32m

Memory Test
• Sisoft Sandra 2009
• Everest 4.60

File Compression & Encoding
• Sisoft Sandra 2009
• 7-Zip File Compression
• River Past ViMark

Disk I/O Performance
• HDTach 3.0.4.0
• Sisoft Sandra 2009

3D / Rendering Benchmarks
• Cinebench 10
• 3DMark 05
• 3DMark 06
• 3DMark Vantage

3D Games

• Crysis
• Far Cry 2
• Call of Duty 4

Overall System Performance
• PCMark Vantage
 
 
Power Consumption

Power consumption is an aspect often forgotten when it comes to enthusiast motherboards but in today's climate, with rising utility bills special consideration needs to be taken when choosing you components as over a period of time, one components can prove to be much more expensive than another over its lifetime. Power consumption was measured at the socket using a plug-in mains power and energy monitor. Idle readings were taken after 5 minutes in Windows. Load readings were taken during a run of 3DMark Vantage.
 
 
 
 
The AMD motherboards consume much less power than the Intel board when in idle with the DFI coming out in top if only by a few watts. When placed under full load, all boards were a lot more evenly placed.
 
 
Overclocking

Here's a few of the obligatory CPU-Z screenshots at stock:
 
Asus Crosshair III Formula:
 
 stock asus mem asus
 
board
 
 DFI DK 790FXB M3H5:
 
stock memory
 
mobo
 
Overclocking the Asus motherboard was a relatively simple affair. Using the CPU Level Up feature gained me an instant 3.8GHz. I did try pushing this further and I managed to post at 4GHz. This wouldn't boot into Windows though despite various voltage increases. So I dropped it back down to 3.9 but again I encountered stability problems so I was forced to settle for the 3.8GHz clockspeed. In stark contrast, I spent hours trying to get the max out of the DFI motherboard. The amount of features made things more difficult than easy and on numerous occasions I had to reset the CMOS in order to get the motherboard to boot. Sometimes the board would still refuse to POST despite a CMOS clear and needed the old battery removal trick to get things back to some form of normality. After numerous frustrating attempts the most I could get out of the DFI was 3.88GHz. This was obtained with a lower HT link speed and bus speed but using a higher Multiplier. No mean feat I guess but I felt there was more to gain, I just didn't have the time (nor patience) to continue with the constant CMOS resets.
 
oc asus overclock
 
The two boards behaved totally different in the fact that overclocking the Asus was a pleasurable affair where the DFI was a trial of my patience. That said the DFI did give an inkling that I was 'getting there' whereby the Asus either booted or it didn't. Overall I think I have shown that the DFI to be the better board for overclocking but you will need bags of patience if you plan on getting the absolute maximum out of your CPU. Whereby the Asus was either rock solid stable or simply refused to boot and then reset itself which was again, slightly frustrating in itself however it was predictable. The DFI just seemed to tease and one minute it appeared to be stable then it would throw a wobbly and refuse to boot with the same settings should you dare to reboot Windows.
 
After resetting the boards to their default values I ran our standard suite of benchmarks. Special consideration needs to be given to the fact that, even though I have included the Gigabyte i7 motherboard different settings were used due to the nature of the two technologies. The Gigabyte was happy to run the DDR3 at it's native 1600MHz speed whereby both the Asus and DFI AMD boards struggled to run the DDR3 at this speed with any degree of stability. You should also consider that the Gigabyte was run with triple channel DDR3 whereby the AMD boards had just dual channel so care should be taken when comparing the two setups, especially with regard to the memory benchmark where the i7 obviously has the upper hand. You may also want to take into account the Asus board overclocked the Phenom II at stock speed if that makes sense, albeit by just 10MHz.
 
Let's see how they all got on...


Asus Crosshair III Formula vs DFI DK 790FXB M3H5 Face-Off Page: 7
 
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. Each of the benchmarks below were run a total of five times with the highest and lowest scores being discarded and an average being calculated from the remaining three.
 
 
 

 


SuperPI is the benchmark of choice for many overclockers. It's lightweight to download and can give a quick indication on how good a system is at number crunching. Once again, testing was performed a total of 5 times, with an average being calculated from the middle three results.
 
 
 
 

 


PassMark is a popular benchmarking suite which test all aspect of PC hardware.The CPU test examines Mathematical operations, compression, encryption, SSE, 3DNow! instructions and more. Each CPU test was performed a total of 5 times, with an average being calculated from the middle three results.
 
 
 
Results Analysis

No surprises here really. The Intel CPU technology appears to be so much faster than AMD that one has to wonder where they are going to get that extra speed from if they are ever going to catch up to the boys in blue. Both the AMD boards performed on a par with neither board pulling ahead of the other by any significant margin.
 
Let's take a look at memory performance...


Asus Crosshair III Formula vs DFI DK 790FXB M3H5 Face-Off Page: 8


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. Each of the benchmarks below were run a total of five times with the highest and lowest scores being discarded and an average being calculated from the remaining three.
 
 
 
 
 
 


Everest is in many ways similar to Sisoft Sandra. Focusing mainly on software and hardware information reporting, Everest also comes with a benchmark utility suitable for testing the read, write and latency performance of the memory subsystem. Each of these benchmarks were performed a total of 5 times with the highest and lowest scores being discarded and an average calculated from the remaining three.
 
 
 
 
 
Results Analysis
 
Comparing like for like with Intel X58 and AMD 790FX is hardly a fair comparison, more like comparing apples to oranges. Thanks to the triple channel, the AMD boards can't hope to compete, especially as the Intel board was running the memory at 1600MHz vs 1333MHz for the AMD. What is interesting though is that the Asus board clearly outperforms the DFI by a clear margin in all of the benchmarks run. 1-0 to Asus.
 
Let's see how the boards perform in our Hard Drive benchmarks...


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HDTach is a free hard disk benchmarking program from SimpliSoftware. This benchmark is not only capable of producing results on hard disk access times but also CPU usage required during disk access. The "Long bench" was run a total of 5 times with the highest and lowest results being omitted and an average calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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. Each of the benchmarks below were run a total of five times with the highest and lowest scores being discarded and an average being calculated from the remaining three.
 
 
 
 
Results Analysis
 
As you can see, all three motherboards were much more evenly matched, with the DFI pulling out all the stops having the best read and write speeds using the same hard drive. Interestingly the AMD boards used more CPU power than the Intel but this extra CPU consumption transpired into slightly better speeds on average.
 
Let's see how the boards perform in our multimedia and encoding benchmarks...


Asus Crosshair III Formula vs DFI DK 790FXB M3H5 Face-Off Page: 10


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. Each of the benchmarks below were run a total of five times with the highest and lowest scores being discarded and an average being calculated from the remaining three.
 
 
 
 
 
 
ViMark is the latest addition to the OC3D motherboard testing process and a relatively new benchmarking application in general. Designed to take the inaccuracies and guesswork out of measuring the time taken to encode video files, ViMark produces easily comparable and consistent results for encoding raw video into Windows Media, Quicktime and Gif formats. As always, a total of 5 benchmark runs were performed with the highest and lowest scores removed and an average calculated from the remaining 3 scores.
 
 
 
 
 
 
7-Zip is an open source Winzip-style file compression utility that has the ability to compress and decompress many file formats including its own .7z compression scheme. 7-Zip also comes complete with its own benchmarking utility for gauging the compression and decompression speed of the system that it is installed on.
  
 
 
 
Results Observations
 
Sandra placed the Intel board clearly ahead of the AMD ones with both the AMD boards exchanging blows. The AMD boards exact their revenge though in both ViMark and 7-Zip where they destroy the Intel board. The Asus once again shows it is the better board however when compared to the DFI.
 
 Let's take a look at the synthetic 3D Benchmarks...


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Cinebench 10 is a benchmarking tool based on the powerful 3D software Cinema 4D. The suite uses complex renders to gauge the performance of the entire PC system in both single-core and multi-core modes. Testing was performed a total of 5 times with the highest and lowest results being omitted and an average created from the remaining 3 results.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
3DMark is a popular synthetic gaming benchmark used by many gamers and overclockers to gauge the performance of their PC's. All 3DMark runs were performed a total of 5 times with the highest and lowest results being removed and an average calculated from the remaining 3 results. Also included are the CrossfireX results to give an indication of how 8x PCIe lanes perform.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Results Analysis

 Contrasting results were found with Cinebench and Futuremark benchmarks. The rendering power of the i7 CPU put the Gigabyte board way out in the lead for the CPU runs, especially with the virtual 8 cores of the 7 compared to the 4 of the Phenom. The tables were turned though with all of the Futuremark test with the AMD motherboards giving the Intel setup a good kicking. I knew AMD were good for gaming but I did not expect this result. However this is only a synthetic benchmark. Let's see how they all perform in our three game tests...


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Crysis is without doubt one of the most visually stunning and hardware-challenging games to date. By using CrysisBench - a tool developed independently of Crysis - we performed a total of 5 timedemo benchmarks using a GPU-intensive pre-recorded demo. To ensure the most accurate results, the highest and lowest benchmark scores were then removed and an average calculated from the remaining three.
 

 


 
Call of Duty 4 is a stunning DirectX 9.0c based game that really looks awesome and has a very full feature set. With lots of advanced lighting, smoke and water effects, the game has excellent explosions along with fast game play. Using the in-built Call Of Duty features, a 10-minute long game play demo was recorded and replayed on each of the GPU's using the /timedemo command a total of 5 times. The highest and lowest FPS results were then removed, with an average being calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 
 
 


Ubisoft has developed a new engine specifically for Far Cry 2, called Dunia, meaning "world", "earth" or "living" in Parsi. The engine takes advantage of multi-core processors as well as multiple processors and supports DirectX 9 as well as DirectX 10. Running the Far Cry 2 benchmark tool the test was run 5 times with the highest and lowest scores being omitted and the average calculated from the remaining 3.
 
 
 
Results Analysis
 
This is one area where I expected the AMD boards to perform and they did not disappoint. Renown for being the better CPU for gaming, AMD certainly came up trumps here beating the Intel by a clear margin in the three popular game titles we ran.Crysis favoured the DFI board and Far Cry 2 the Asus while the spoils were shared in Call of Duty IV.
 
Let's see what PC Vantage makes of the motherboards...


Asus Crosshair III Formula vs DFI DK 790FXB M3H5 Face-Off Page: 13


PCMark Vantage is the latest benchmarking suite from Futuremark. Differing significantly from their 3DMark suites, PCMark performs a series of benchmarks designed to recreate and benchmark scenarios of a PC being used for everyday tasks. Vantage has a Vista only requirement as it actually relies on several different components from the OS in order to run correctly.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Results Analysis
 
Overall, the DFI DK 790FXB M3H5 appears to be favoured with the Asus board not too far behind. This is perhaps in contrast to our own run of benchmarks. Surprisingly, the Intel setup was left lagging behind in the majority of test run today. Once has to consider however that the Intel CPU is the entry level one and the AMD the range topping version. Price comparison though turns the tables upside down as the range topping AMD CPU is actually much cheaper than the i7 920.
 
Let's head over to the conclusion where I try to put my thoughts into some sort of order...


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Conclusion
 
Looking at the benchmarks we have run today it is clear that AMD have made up a lot of ground on Intel. Bang per buck there is no doubting that the AMD setup is the clear winner. £150 vs £220 is a no brainer, especially if you intend to run the CPU at stock speed where the AMD also happens to be the better performer. However, and here is the kicker, one has to consider that the benchmarks run today were at very different clockspeeds. Almost 600MHz separated the two CPU's and as such it was, in hindsight not the best comparison to make.
 
Had the Intel been overclocked to the same speed as the AMD I'm sure the results would have been much closer although dare I say it not close enough. The Intel setup is so much easier to overclock and 4-4.2GHz is easily attainable on most setups. This is in stark contrast to the AMD rig where even the range topping Phenom II x4 955 struggled to surpass 3.8GHz. So for now Intel still hold the crown as best performers but they better watch out because AMD are closing on them and if we were talking value for money, the AMD setup is by far and away the better setup.
 
The two AMD motherboards we had on test today were also different in that the Crosshair III is the flagship Asus AMD board whereby the DFI DK 790FXB M3H5 is DFI's mid range option. This was no more evident than in the packaging and presentation. Think of Ferrari vs Porsche and you are almost there. The Asus screamed premium from the outside of the box to the accessories included whereby the DFI just seemed to go through the motions with little improvement bar the exterior design of there packaging from over 2 years ago. Much more thought had gone into presenting the Asus board, that much was clear.
 
Performance wise I would have to give that to the Asus too, just. There was very little to separate the motherboards but overall I think it's fair to say the Asus Crosshair III just edged it in the benchmarks. One area which I expected the DFI to win hands down was the overclocking arena. DFI have long been the masters of overclocking and have attracted enthusiasts by the bus load thanks to the complex yet easy to navigate BIOS. I would like to say nothing has changed but surprisingly it has. The DFI still has an amazing BIOS but the Asus is much easier to follow and now has the options to compete with the DFI.
 
The overall overclocking experience of both boards was very different. I enjoyed the process with the Asus but felt very frustrated with the DFI. I don't know whether it was because I was expecting much more from the DFI or not as you have to remember this is not DFI's range topper. Then again, neither was the DFI nForce Ultra back in the day but you would never hear me complain about that as it was the best board out at the time and overclocking that was a pleasure. Perhaps the thing that frustrated me most was the very poor overclock recovery of the DFI. I seemed to spend more time trying to get the board to post than I did actually testing it and the EZ switches on this board did not seem to work as well as previous DFI boards I have tested. Also, what were DFI thinking putting a jumper on the backplate too, surely a button is not too much to ask for?
While the DFI did gain the upperhand in the overclocking department, the time and effort spent in getting that extra 80MHz was the most infuriating I have had overclocking in a long time.
 
It appears DFI have taken a backward step and as such Asus have taken the initiative by making a very solid motherboard that not only looks the part but can hold it's own against both AMD motherboards and Intel setups too. Both motherboards are priced competitively at around the £140 mark. With that in mind I would place my money on the Asus as even though it didn't quite match the overclock of the DFI, it was by far the more superior product in all other areas assessed.
 
Sep
 
Asus Crosshair III
 
The Good
- A1 packaging
- Excellent performance
- SupremeFX
- On boards switches
 
The Mediocre
- 5 SATA ports
- Ageing ROG colour scheme
- 2x PCIe x16 ports
 
The Bad
- Memory slots too close to CPU socket
 
 
 
Sep

DFI 790FXB M3H5
 
The Good
- Best overclocker out of the two boards on test
- 6 SATA Ports
- UV Design
- CrossfireX Compatible
 
 
The Mediocre
- Diagnostic LED (not enough info)
- Interior packaging dated
- Poor switches, both in design and function
 
 
The Bad
- Memory slots too close to CPU socket
- Jumper on I/O shield
 
 
 
Sep
 
Thanks to AMD, Asus and DFI for providing the CPU and motherboards which made todays review possible. Discuss in our forums.