Foxconn Digitalife A79A-S Motherboard Page: 1
Introduction Foxconn Digital Life logo

To be honest, if any company were to spring to mind when thinking about motherboards that bring lifestyle and personal computing together, it would be ASUS and their AI Lifestyle range. However, nothing could be further from the truth as Gigabyte have their 'Digital Home' range of motherboards, and Foxconn have have their 'Digital Life' range. Foxconn's Digital Life range currently has two motherboards available, the Intel P45 based ELA, and the AMD 790FX based A79A-S. It will be the latter that we be reviewing today.

The Foxconn Digital Life range of motherboards are all about performance, enhanced connectivity and enabling digital entertainment. Whilst they don't aim to provide the extreme performance of say, the Foxconn BlackOps, but more of an 'all-rounder' approach to personal computing - power on tap when you need it, but a range of connectivity options for those who require it. Let's hear what Foxconn have to say:

Digital Life...aims to bring more connectivity and digital entertainment capability to enthusiast motherboards. Digital Life is about giving users better capability to utilize their PC in the home environment, not just sat in the corner of a home office or being used as a high-end enthusiast rig.

We wanted to combine the performance and overclocking features found on enthusiast motherboards with some additional connectivity capabilities, which will provide for a more adaptable computing platform.

Well performance and increased connectivity is fine by me. but let's get started with the review of the Foxconn A79A-S Digitalife motherboard by having a look at its specifications.
 

Specifications

The specifications for the Foxconn A79A-S Digitalife motherboard were unashamedly copied from Foxconn' product page.
 
Processor: AMD Phenom™FX, Phenom™, Athlon™ 64x2, Athlon™ 64, Sempron™ processors, Socket AM2 and AM2+.

Chipset: AMD® 790FX + SB750

Front Side Bus: 5.2 GT/s HyperTransport™

Memory: Dual channel DDR2 1066/800/667/533 x 4 DIMMs, Max. 8GB

VGA on Die: Discreted

Expansion Slots: 4* PCIe2.0 x16, 1* PCIe2.0 x1, 1* PCI

IDE: 1* ATA133

Serial ATA(SATA)/RAID: 6* SATAII + 2* eSATA w / RAID 0, 1, 10, 5, JBOD

Audio: 7.1 channel HDA by Realtek® ALC888SDD, DTS CONNECT™ and Dolby Digital Live™ certified audio

LAN: Dual Gigabit LAN by Realtek®RTL8111B

IEEE1394: 2* 1394a connectors (rear panel x1, pin header x1)

Back Panel I/O Ports:
1 x PS/2 keyboard port
1 x PS/2 mouse port
1 x S/PDIF Out Coaxial port
1 x S/PDIF Out Fiber port
2 x eSATA ports
1 x Audio jack supports 6 jacks
6 x USB 2.0 ports
2 x RJ45 LAN ports
1 x 1394 port

Internal I/O Connectors:
1 x ATX 24-pin power connector
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V power connector
1 x 4-pin power connector
2 x 4-pin CPU / System smart fan connectors
3 x Onboard On/Off/CMOS reset buttons
3 x 3-pin power fan connectors
1 x Floppy disk drive connector
1 x CD-in connector
1 x Front Panel header
1 x Buzzer
3 x USB 2.0 headers support additional 6 ports
6 x Serial ATAII connectors
1 x ATA133 IDE connector
1 x Onboard power_LED
1 x Intrusion Alarm header
1 x Intel Azalia header
1 x COM1 header
1 x 1394 header
1 x IrDA header
1 x Speaker

BIOS Features:
8Mb flash EEPROM w/ LAN boot PnP, ACPI, WfM,

Support CD: Drivers, Adobe Reader, SuperUtilities, Norton Internet Security

Standards/Manageability: PCI 2.3, USB2.0, DMI 2.5

Special Features:
* Based on AMD 790FX chipset with AOD Extreme & SB750 Southbridge
* 4* PCIe x16 Gen2.0 with ATI CrossFireX™ support
* Dual Channel DDR2 1066MHz support with AM2+ socket Phenom™ processors
* DTS CONNECT™ and Dolby Digital Live™ certified audio
* Dual Digital Audio function enables separation of 2 different sound sources from your PC, and also provides 2 digital audio outputs via S/PDIF Coaxial and Fiber
* 100% SOLID Capacitor design and Ferrite Choke power delivery ensure a stable basis for overclocking and increased reliability
* Fully supports AMD OverDrive™ utility for overclocking, system monitoring and testing.

Form Factor: ATX (12" x 9.6")

The Foxconn A79A-S features an impressive array of features and connectivity options which should satisfy even the most discerning user.

Let's head over the page to see how the Foxconn A79A-S should arrive at your door, by taking a look at the packaging and contents...


Foxconn Digitalife A79A-S Motherboard Page: 2
Packaging

The Foxconn A79A-S is packaged in a bold and highly visible cardboard box with a predominantly black and white theme. On the front of the box is an image of cartoon-like people going about their business with motherboard components featuring as furniture and digital appliances. On the rear of the box, Foxconn has included an image of the A79A-S motherboard with arrows pointing to the prominant features of the motherboard.

Foxconn A79A-S packaging front Foxconn A79A-S packaging rear

On the leading edges of the box there are further images illustrating that the Foxconn A79A-S motherboard supports AMD's Phenom processors, ATI Crossfire and is Windows Vista ready. Foxconn has also included a very brief specification list which can be seen below (right).

Foxconn A79A-S support Foxconn A79A-S specifications

Foxconn appears to be taking a leaf out of ASUS' book when it comes to packaging. On the top of the box is a secondary lid that when opened reveals additional information about the A79A-S' features.

Foxconn cover insert Foxconn cover insert

Opening up the box we can see the usual double-walled cardboard box that houses both the motherboard and the included bundle. This method of packaging hardware is proven, and subsequently, should provide maximum protection for the motherboard contained within.

Foxconn A79A-S box opened Foxconn A79A-S motherboard box
Motherboard box opened Motherboard and bundle box

Opening up the box we can see the Foxconn A79A-S motherboard securely situated on top in an anti-static bag. Underneath the motherboard is a secondary box that houses the bundle.

Contents

Opening up the bundle box we were greeted by a mass of SATA and Molex-to-SATA power cables. You would be excused for thinking that Foxconn had a special on them at the moment. As well as the cabling, Foxconn has included a standard array of bits and bobs in the bundle, I have made a list of them for you below:
 
* OEM I/O backplate
* 6x SATA cables
* 6x 4-pin Molex to SATA power cables
* 1x IDE cable
* 1x Floppy cable
* 1x USB 2.0 and IEEE1394 cable extender
* Support CD
* Motherboard manual
* Specification summary


Foxconn A79A-S bundle_1 Foxconn A79A-S bundle_2

Now that we've seen what you can expect in the packaging and contents department of the Foxconn A79A-S motherboard, let's head over the page to see the motherboard itself in detail...


Foxconn Digitalife A79A-S Motherboard Page: 3
Board Layout

Upon first impressions, the Foxconn A79A-S is a definite mismatch of colours and the result is incredibly 'loud' to say the least. It's almost like Gigabyte, DFI and MSI got together and had mutant babies. Certainly not my favourite combination of colours at all. However, there is one redeeming factor about the colour scheme, and that is that the PCB is red which means that it'll hopefully go faster. :D

Foxconn A79A-S motherboard Foxconn A79A-S side on
rear of Foxconn A79A-S motherboard showing backplate

We can see from the rear of the motherboard that Foxconn has included a nice, big plate behind the CPU socket. This should provide ample and secure fixing for many of today's aftermarket cooling solutions.
 
Starting our tour around the Foxconn A79A-S on the left hand side of the motherboard, we can see the inclusion of four PCIE x 16 slots, one PCIE x1 and one PCI slot. If you're looking to run a dual graphics card setup (Crossfire) then you'll need to utilise the first and fourth slots (blue ones) as they provide x16 bandwidth (PCI Express 2.0). The second and third slots provide x8 bandwidth respectively. When four GPUs are installed all four slots operate at x8 speeds
 
Immediately above the topmost PCIE x 16 slot we can see the inclusion of an auxilliary power molex, which allows exclusive power for your graphics card/s. To the left of the expansion card slots are two Realtek RTL81118 chips which handle the dual Gigabit LAN duties.
 
Along the bottom edge of the motherboard, Foxconn has included front audio and speaker connectors, as well as one IEEE1394 and three USB headers.In the bottom right hand corner we can see the inclusion of a power and reset button; onboard debug LED's; four SATA ports (2x 90 degree and 2x vertical); one Primary IDE, and the front panel connectors. Immediately above the Primary IDE plug is the CLR_CMOS button.
 
The South Bridge is kept cool by a small and flat passive gold colored heat sink. It does get a bit warm to the touch when under heavy usage but it's not hot enough to be an issue.

 
PCIE x16 SATA, digital debug, power and reset switches
PCIE x16 slots AMIBIOS chip 
 
The Foxconn A79A-S motherboard has the capacity to cater for 8GB of DDR2 RAM courtesy of the four memory DIMM slots. Thankfully, when the motherboard was designed, someone at Foxconn thought about full length graphics cards and the DIMM catches. I'm happy to report that a full length graphics card inhibit your ability to remove memory modules from the DIMM slots without first removing the graphics card.
 
Next to the DIMM slots on the right hand side of the motherboard we can see the Floppy Disk Connector and 24-pin ATX power connector. Moving around to the CPU socket area we can see that it is reasonably clean apart the presence of five chokes and a number of low profile solid capacitors.
 
Memory DIMMs CPU socket
 MOSFET cooling NB heatsink
 
Immediately above, and to the left of the CPU socket area, is the 8-pin ATX 12V power connector. Providing cooling to the voltage regulation MOSFET's is a large copper heatsink that sits just behind the rear I/O ports. Cooling the North Bridge is a small copper heatsink with fins radiating outwards, and the FOXCONN DigitaLife logo sitting on the top. The North Bridge heatsink is very low profile and shouldn't cause any compatibility issues with aftermarket CPU coolers, although it does get incredibly warm when under load.
 
I/O area

Concluding our tour around the Foxconn A79A-S motherboard, we arrive at the rear I/O ports at the rear. Foxconn has included pretty much everything that you'd require for this board to be the foundation of a dedicated multimedia PC. As you can see the Foxconn A79A-S has the following ports on the rear I/O panel: PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports, 1 IEEE1394a port, 2 eSATA ports, 2 RJ-45 GigE ports, 1 S/PDIF port, six mini-stereo headphone jacks, 1 optical out jack, and 6 USB ports.


Foxconn Digitalife A79A-S Motherboard Page: 4
BIOS

Foxconn chose the American Megatrends Incorporated (AMI) BIOS for the A79A-S motherboard. Once you hit the 'Delete' key to enter the BIOS settings you are greeted by a DigitaLife splash screen, and then the BIOS itself. The first BIOS screen provides the usual layout of BIOS features: System Information, Advanced BIOS Features, Fox Central Control Unit, Advanced Chipset Features, Integrated Peripherals, Power Management Setup, PC Health Status, BIOS Security features and so on.
 
After not having used an AMD based motherboard in a good while (DFI LANPARTY nF4 SLI-DR, if the truth be known), the BIOS feels a little 'clunky'. Not clunky in an incredibly bad way, but clunky in that all the power features aren't accessible via one page of the BIOS (like ASUS' Jumperfree Configuration). The processor and memory settings are in completely different areas of the BIOS. This makes adjustments tedious at best, and becomes extremely frustrating at times.
 
Fox Central Control Unit is where all the performance options related to overclocking are found. The Fox Central Control Unit Menu has four submenus and a single setting for Advanced Clock Calibration (ACC). CPU Speed, FSB/HTT speed and current memory speeds are displayed in here. The Fox Intelligent Stepping menu contains CPU/HT Reference Clock, SB Reference Clock, Processor Frequency FID, AM2+ Ratio Adjust, Spread Spectrum, CPU-NB HT Link Speed, NCHT Incoming Link Width and NCHT Outgoing Link Width settings.
 
Foxconn A79A-S BIOS main screen Fox Central Control unit
Fox Intelligent stepping Multiplyer adjustment screen
Fox Intelligent stepping
 
The Voltage Configuration Menu contains settings for VCore Voltage Control, HT Voltage Control, DIMM Voltage Control, NB Voltage Control and CPU PLL Voltage. The ACC Setting is the new feature provided by AMD's new SB750 South Bridge. Advanced Clock Calibration can be configured for All Cores, one core, or automatic, or disabled. When enabled for one or more cores it can be adjusted from 0% adjustment all the way to negative or positive 12%. ACC should provide you with more overclocking headroom.
 
Voltage configuration DIMM voltage control
NB voltage control CPU PLL voltage control
 
The Advanced Chipset Features Menu has Memory Configuration options and PCI-Express Configuration Options. Under the North Bridge Chipset Configurations there are two submenus - Memory Configuration and DRAM timing. Underneath these two submenus you'll find CAS Latency, RAS, TRP, TRAS, TRRD, and TRC timings for system memory. Under Memory Configuration you'll find bank Interleaving, Channel Interleaving, Clock to all DIMMs, MemClk tristate C3/ATLVID, Memory Hole Remapping DCT Unganged mode, Power Down Enable, Optical Performance Mode, Auto Tweak Performance, and DRAM Config-High Control. Under the DRAM Timings you'll find the Memory Speed Mode, Memory Speed Adjust and DRAM Timing Mode
 
 Advanced Chipset Advanced Chipset_2
DRAM timing_1 DRAM timing_2
Memory config
 
The  PC Health Status displays the usual system temperatures and voltages. Fan speeds can also be monitored here.
 
 PC Health status
 
Let's head over the page to see how we're going to test the Foxconn A79A-S motherboard.
 


Foxconn Digitalife A79A-S Motherboard Page: 5
Test Setup and Overclocking
 
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:
 
System configuration
 
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.
 
To guarantee a broad range of results, the following benchmark utilities were used:
 
Synthetic CPU & Memory Subsystem
• Sisoft Sandra XII 2008c
• Lavalys Everest 4.0

File Compression & Encoding

• 7-Zip File Compression
• River Past ViMark

Disk I/O Performance

• HDTach 3.0.4.0
• Sisoft Sandra XII 2008c

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

3D Games
• Crysis
• Racedriver GRID
• Unreal Tournament 3
 
 
Overclocking
 
With many options available, moderate overclocks were easily gained through the AUTO options, but better overclocks were accomplished tweaking the Vcore/NB/HTT voltages. The Foxconn A79A-S motherboard comes with an overclocking utility called Fox One, and whilst it is quite a reasonable utility, I preferred using AMD OverDrive.
 
Fox One
 
 
AMD Phenom @ stock 
 
I managed to overclock my Phenom X4 9850 BE processor to just over 3.4Ghz by simply manipulating the multiplier (gotta love an unlocked multiplier). Fiddling with the various voltage options within the BIOS and attempting to push the FSB above 210 yielded a non-posting motherboard. 3.5Ghz was attainable on the Foxconn A79A-S motherboard, but it got a little flakey when running Stress Prime 2004.
 
AMD Phenom overclocked
 
All things considered, 3.412Ghz is nothing to be sneezed at on air. Well done Foxconn!
 
Unfortunately, I was unable to get hold of another 790FX motherboard to use as a comparison, and using an Intel Q6600 would have been an unfair comparison. So the following benchmarking session was conducted with the AMD Phenom X4 9850 BE at stock and overclocked settings. Let's head over the page to see how the Foxconn A79A-S performed in the benchmarks...


Foxconn Digitalife A79A-S Motherboard Page: 6
SANDRA logo
 
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.
 
SiSoft SANDRA CPU Arithmatic
 
SiSoft SANDRA CPU Multimedia
 
 
Everest logo
 
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 3.
 
 
Lavalys Read/Write
 
Lavalys Latency
 
Result Observations
 
We can see that our overclocked Phenom processor has resulted in an all round average increase in performance which is not surprising. Nonetheless it's always good to see the fruits of your labour and confirming that your system is running faster than previously.


Foxconn Digitalife A79A-S Motherboard Page: 7
ViMark logo
 
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, AVI 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.
 
 
ViMark results
 
 
7Zip
 
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.
 
 
7-Zip results
 
 
Results Observations
 
The ViMark benchmark yielded a slightly mixed bag of results, with the Apple Quicktime and AVI encoding scores suffering when compared to Windows Media and GIF encoding. 7-Zip on the other hand, managed respectable increases in decompression and compression performance figures over the stock clocked AMD Phenom processor.


Foxconn Digitalife A79A-S Motherboard Page: 8
HDTach
 
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.
 
Burst speed
 
Avg. Read
 
Random access
 
%CPU
 
SANDRA logo
 
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.
 
Sandra Disk Read Index
 
Sandra Disk Read Access
 
Results Observations
 
The HDTach results show very similar results for the HDD subsystem, and these results are further reinforced by the SiSoft Sandra results.


Foxconn Digitalife A79A-S Motherboard Page: 9
Cinebench
 
Cinebench 10 is a benchmarking tool based on the powerful 3D software Cinema 4D. The suite uses complex renders to guage 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.
 
 
Cinebench results
 
 
 
3DMark05 logo 3DMark06 logo
 
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.
 
3DMark05
 
3DMark06
 
Results Observations

The Cinebench 10 benchmark illustrates significant performance gains from the overclocked AMD Phenom processor in the single core; multi core and OpenGL testing. The multi core benchmark returned the greatest performance gain, as is to be expected.
 
3DMark05 shows an increase in graphical performance which was just shy of 3000 3DMarks. The more taxing 3DMark06 saw a performance gain of just under 1000 3DMarks.


Foxconn Digitalife A79A-S Motherboard Page: 10
Crysis logo
 
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.
 
Crysis results
 
 
Racedriver GRID logo
 
Race Driver: Grid is a visually taxing game that presents a challenge to any graphics system. Results were recorded using FRAPS to log the average FPS over a 2 minute race. To ensure consistency, the same track, car and general path of travel was used in each of the 5 benchmark runs for each graphics card, with an average FPS being calculated from the median three results.
 
Racedriver GRID
 
 
Unreal Tournament 3 logo
 
Unreal Tournament 3 is the highly anticipated game from Epic Games and Midway. The game uses the latest Unreal engine, which combines fast gameplay along with high quality textures and lighting effects. All benchmarks were performed using a run-through of the Shangri-La map. As usual, all benchmarks were performed 5 times, with the highest and lowest results being removed and an average calculated from the remaining three.
 
UT3 results
 
Results Observations
 
The 3D benchmarks returned what can be considered as acceptable, and playable, frame rates.  Crysis, being the most taxing game of the three that I benchmarked, again illustrates just how hard it is on the graphics subsystem. However, in the Foxconn A79A-S motherboard's defense, the level that I used to benchmark the system (opening level after you jump out of the plane) has a an incredible amount of textures, shadows and detail to process.
 
Race Driver Grid and Unreal Tournament 3 returned very playable frame rates, and the increase in clock speed on the AMD Phenom X4 9850 BE processor shows a small, yet significant, increase in performance.
 
Let's head over the page to see how the Foxconn A79A-S motherboard performed as a whole by checking out the conclusion...


Foxconn Digitalife A79A-S Motherboard Page: 11
Conclusion Foxconn A79A-S DigitaLife motherboard
 
So how well did the Foxconn A79A-S DigitaLife motherboard perform in today's performance review?
 
The Foxconn A79A-S DigitaLife motherboard is an unusual beast that has some great points, but again it has some not-so-great ones at the same time. The Foxconn A79A-S bundle isn't anything to "write home to mum about", but it does provide everything that you'll need to get your system up and running. I guess that I've been spoiled by the vast amount of accessories that you get when you purchase say an ASUS motherboard. You just don't feel like you're getting value for money when you're paying a premium price for a motherboard. Furthermore, the motherboard colour scheme isn't the best and is quite ugly.
 
The Foxconn A79A-S has probably the best layout of any AM2 motherboard that I have seen to date. The overclocking experience on a Phenom X4 is good thanks to the inclusion of ACC. The extra overclocking headroom made available to you by the Advanced Clock Calibration (ACC) function is certainly a welcome addition, and an unlocked mmultiplier certainly helps too. The Foxconn A79A-S DigitaLife is also extremely stable when overclocking. That being said, I did find the HTT overclocking experience on this motherboard very poor, but it is never usually fantastic with these motherboards anyway. During out trip around the BIOS, I mentioned that it feels extremely 'clunky' in that the processor and memory settings are in completely different areas of the BIOS. This makes adjustments tedious at best, and becomes extremely frustrating at times. On a couple of occasions I found myself just getting up and walking away.
 
Pricing for the Foxconn A79A-S DigitaLife motherboard, unfortunately, is where everything really comes unstuck. Ebuyer have the motherboard advertised for £204.45 inc vat, and further searching didn't yield many better offers. Our Australian readers can get their hands on the A79A-S from Altech Computers for AUS$499 inc GST. For a motherboard at this price point I just feel that it isn't particularly worth the premium that you are having to pay for it. There are better alternatives out there for your hard earned cash.
 
The Good
+ Stability
+ SB750 and ACC feature
+ Exceptional layout for an AM2 motherboard
 
The Mediocre
* BIOS layout could have been better
 
The Bad
- Price
 
Overclock3D Reviewed Award
 
Overclock3D would like to thank Altech Computers for providing today's review sample
 
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