Everyone likes a bit of variation in life. If one can help it, there are only few reasons to intentionally restrict options. This is why the sensible system builders buy power supplies, chassis' and motherboards that will offer future longevity. Fundamentally, there is nothing too difficult about achieving this but how many of you are willing to pay over the odds for a computer that is easy to expand and upgrade? Where do you draw the line?
I could for example purchase a £150 power supply unit, just so I could guarantee that I would never have to replace it when the time comes to upgrade a graphics card or processor for example. But what if it turns out that I won't be able to upgrade for well over two years, when an equivalent power supply unit is cheaper? What if graphics cards become more power efficient? Is the level of choice available to you all that important when a £75 power supply unit could have offered your existing system all the power it needs at that particular point in time?
So once again, the extent of variety is a bit of a balancing act and heavily dependent on your future financial situation and needs. It's never wise to skimp on core hardware but there's also every chance that you might find yourself investing in a depreciating asset that never reaches its full potential, much like the example I mentioned above. However, once every blue moon odd ball products emerge on the market that claim to offer great long term features, but without the ludicrous pricing. Today's product could well be an example of this; ladies and gentlemen, the MSI 870A Fuzion Power Edition Motherboard.
Not to be confused with the MSI 870A Fuzion, the Power Edition is supposed to be a completely different animal. While boasting a similar feature set, the Power Edition benefits from a more potent 10 + 1 phase VRM power design, uprated capacitors and a different heatsink array. Furthermore, it benefits from the current generation 870 Northbridge and also the SATA 6Gbps capable SB850 southbridge. Not very alike at all it would seem!
Its detailed specifications are as follows.
|Form Factor||ATX, 12" x 9.6" (30.5cm x 24.5cm)|
|Processor Support||AMD Socket AM3 Sempron 100/Athlon II X2/X3/X4 and Phenom II X2/X3/X4/X6 Processors|
|Chipset||AMD 870 / SB850 |
|Memory||4 x DIMM, Max. 16 GB 1600/1333/1066 Non-ECC,Un-buffered Memory|
Dual Channel memory architecture
2 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (16x/16x Dual CrossfireX, SLI, ATi + nVidia)
|Multi-GPU Support||Lucid Hydra LT22102 Module|
ATi CrossfireX Supported
nVidia SLI Supported
Lucid ATi + nVidia Supported
AMD SB850 Southbridge
|LAN||One Gigabit LAN|
|Audio||Realtek ALC892 8-Channel HD Audio|
|USB ||AMD SB850 Southbridge|
- 9 x USB 2.0 ports (6 x Rear, 2 x Internal)
NEC USB 3.0 Controller
- 2 x Rear USB 3.0
|Firewire||2 x 1394 ports (1x Rear I/O, 1x Internal)|
|Back Panel I/O||2 x PS/2 |
1 x LAN
6 x USB2.0/1.1 ports
1 x USB3.0 (1x USB3.0 accessible with adapter)
1 x IEEE1394a port
6 x Audio
1 x SPDIF
Now that you've taken a good look at the Power Edition's specification list, you'll understand why it falls under the "Odd Ball" category. The 870A Fuzion is akin to engines such as VW Group's 1.4TSI Petrol. Upon face value, it is a bog standard 4 cylinder engine with not a lot going for it. However, with its Turbo Charger + Super Charger combo setup, it pushes out peak performance (~175bhp) similar to many 2.0 engines.
A similar story holds with this frankenstein of a board. The 870A Fuzion is centred upon the entry level 870 Northbridge. Instead of using high end core logic, MSI have effectively outsourced a key part of the board's feature set to a 3rd party. With the modifications in place, this entry level platform has been transformed into an all singing and all dancing Multi GPU monster.
This sounds reasonable enough on paper, but how will it perform in practice? Let's move on...
Packaging & Initial Impressions
The MSI 870A Fuzion Power Edition arrives in a rather enthusiastic designed box. The front of the box is left fairly plain in terms of text, aside its product name and its status as a "Military Class Mainboard"...whatever that means.
The back of the box is a little more busy, detailing all the key features of the board.
In terms of accessories, MSI are pretty generous. Aside an I/O shield and a number of comprehensive manuals pertaining its features, you also receive four SATA cables, two molex to SATA adapters, a rear USB bracket and a front 3.25" USB 3.0 bracket. Annoyingly the MSI bracket is coloured in deep blue; this is likely to be an eye sore on many cases.
Then we get to the motherboard itself. The Power Edition version of the 870A Fuzion greatly resembles its inferior brother with the exception of its heatsinks. Now obviously the key difference between the two is the implementation of a 10 + 1 phase VRM power design but of course, chunkier heatsinks are required as well. Also note that the Lucid Hydra has been moved away from the Northbridge and closer to the Southbridge.
At the rear you will find a reasonably comprehensive I/O configuration, including six USB 2.0, one USB 3.0, SPDIF + 7.1 Audio, PS/2, Firewire and a CMOS clear button
We're a little unsure of the internally mounted "external" USB 3.0 port. You may either use an extender to mount the port at the rear with a PCI backplate or at the front with the blue 3.25" adapter. While it is great to have been offered the option to place a high speed USB port at the front of a computer, it just seems a little bit inconvenient (and a waste of a PCI position) should you wish to have a second USB 3.0 at the rear.
The motherboard layout itself seems to have been well thought out, particularly in terms of the PCI-Express spacings. Thus far we remain impressed by the 870A Fuzion Power Edition.
AMD Phenom II X6 1090T BE 3.20GHz Processor
MSI 870A FUZION Power Edition Motherboard
Corsair Dominator GT 4GB 2000mhz
ATi Radeon HD 5870 1GB GDDR5 Graphics Card
ATi Radeon HD 5770 1GB GDDR5 Graphics Card
nVidia GeForce GTX 480 Graphics Card
Corsair AX1200w PSU
Windows 7 Home Premium x64
Unlike a number of manufacturers, MSI use the Phoenix BIOS style layout. Regardless, it is easy enough to navigate around its sub menu's. MSI have also used relatively generic parameter names, making it simpler to identify them.
The 870A FUZION offers plenty of scope within BIOS to reach high frequencies, both by offering large Base HTT and Overvoltage ranges. Much like how the slowest of cars have speedometers that go all the way to 140mph, we don't as yet know if the 870A can max itself out. I suppose you can guess what we're about to do next...
Automated Overclocking - OC Genie
Let's get the boring bit out of the way - automatic overclocking. In fairness, not all of us have the time to navigate through BIOS, engage in the trial and error process of overclocking and then waste hours on end verifying stability. Instead, MSI offer an automated tool which will do all of the work for you. So we pressed the big glowing button and we found this...
After the OC Genie had finished having its way with our system, it finally left our 1090T processor with an overall frequency of 3.62GHz; roughly a 400MHz boost over its default frequency. Obviously, the end result won't be quite as good as a manually configured overclock but for a quick and cheap performance boost it does the job very well.
Next stop, Manual overclocking.
Manual Overclocking - Max Base HTT
This is where we were pleasantly surprised by the 870A Fuzion. Effortlessly, we continued to ramp up its Base HTT frequencies all the way to a blistering 400MHz.
We initially attempted these base HTT's with a low overall CPU Multiplier, but eventually we were able to achieve the same frequency with a multiplier of 10x and a consequent processor frequency of 4000MHz.
Manual Overclocking - Max Northbridge Frequency
We have previously mentioned how important it is to ramp up those NB Frequencies. With our MSI 870A Fuzion board, our X6 1090T saw a maximum frequency of 3000MHz. This is near enough what we expect from our processor sample.
Manual Overclocking - Max Overall Frequency
The above CPU-Z Validation shot says it all really. Tweaked for all its worth, the 870A Fuzion Power Edition pushed our 1090T (on air) to a maximum frequency of 4500MHz. This of course was a suicide run and wasn't quite what could be considered as stable.
With some further refinement, we finally found ourselves with a stable overclock of 4.03GHz as shown below.
This is more or less in line with this particular 1090T's capabilities. With the overclocking now summarised, it's now time to hit the benchmarks.
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 CPU arithmetic test ascertains the processor's capabilities in terms of numerical operations. Two subtests named Dhrystone and Whetstone are carried out respectively. This is not a measure of latency and thus higher is better.
We commence on a good note, identifying all platforms performing nigh on identically. The gains exhibited by the overclocked 1090T are in line with what would be expected of a 4.0GHz AMD K10.
The CPU Multimedia Test focuses on CPU based operations that may occur during multimedia based tasks. The magnitude of the score depends on the processor's ability to handle Integer, Float and Double data types
A similar story unfolds with the CPU Multimedia test. No surprises here!
CPU Queen is based on branch prediction and the misprediction penalties that are involved.
The delights of branch prediction have nothing on these systems. All of these scores are higher than average. Meanwhile the 870A Power Edition hangs on tightly to the other two motherboards, despite being based on a chipset that's one generation senior.
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.
Strangely, the Photoworxx benchmark revealed a slightly inferior stock 3.20GHz score for the MSI. This is more than likely within the error margin of this particular benchmark and we wouldn't particularly expect the board to be the cause.
This is an integer based benchmark that will test the CPU and Memory by means of the CPU ZLib compression library.
Next we'll be taking a look at rendering based and system wide benchmarks
The latest iteration of Cinebench's rendering benchmark takes greater advantage of multiple cores. With this in mind, what better way to test a processor with no less than six cores?
Once again no surprises here. The error margins of Cinebench are somewhat low so it comes to no surprise that the test results of our reference frequency examples remain head to head.
Persistence Of Vision RAYtracer is an application for creating three dimensional graphics. Within the program is a very popular benchmark that measures the processor's ability to render such images.
The PovRay results appear just as impressive.
PCMark Vantage is Futuremark's flagship "System Wide" benchmark. With a large focus on day to day operations, it's an excellent means of judging the capability of a computer as a whole.
Finally we will have a close look at gaming with the Power Edition as well as Lucid Hydra performance.
For our gaming benchmarks, we have also included results for our testbed with MSI's OC Genie function enabled. This should offer a valuable indication of the performance difference that the 870A Fuzion's automated overclocking function can offer.
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.
Both overclocks result in a significant increase in CPU and GPU scores, using our Radeon HD 5870. This might be an indication of CPU dependancy in the benchmark however scores in the range of 18,000 are exactly what one would expect with this graphics card.
Crysis Warhead is without a doubt one hard nut to crack, especially at higher resolutions.
Small gains are to be had by CPU overclocking in Crysis Warhead in terms of maximum and consequently average framerates. As expected minimum frates remain largely the same, however at 35fps and above this is a fluid gaming environment regardless.
Metro 2033, is another popular game we were curious to see if an 800MHz boost in core frequency would push those framerates out of the gutter.
Annoyingly Metro 2033's performance gains remained relatively flat despite a substantial CPU overclock. We did however notice a mild boost in minimum framerates.
Mafia 2 is a recent action-adventure game. With plenty of eyecandy we were keen to see how well it would perform on our Socket AM3 testbed.
We wrap up our gaming tests with yet another set of results that show minimal gains from the processor overclock.
Lucid Hydra Performance
At last we get to the interesting bit. Up until now we've used a single Radeon HD 5870 for our testing process. However in order to showcase Lucid's Hydra we'll be introducing two new Multi GPU configurations
1) Radeon HD 5770 + GTX 460
2) Radeon HD 5870 + GTX 480
Working from the lowest score upwards, the introduction of a GTX 460 offers a 77% increase in GPU score and a 57% increase overall. Interestingly when we ramp up our processor overclock, we see a further 3% increase in GPU scores, which may suggest a small level of processor dependency.
For the testing of the high end graphics cards, we decided not to waste any time with benchmarking at 3.20GHz and so we worked with our overclock instead. The addition of the range topping GTX 480 brought a 47% increase in GPU score to the table while only a more paltry 33% gain overall.
We began to wonder if our 1090T just wasn't up to the task in this synthetic benchmark. Perhaps the gains might have remained linear with an Intel Core i7 970/980X?
On the other hand, we also wondered about the link between the AMD 770 chipset and the Lucid Hydra. It is our understanding that they interact via a single 16x link. Lucid insist that this would never be the root cause of poor performance, but in future we may investigate this. Finally we cannot discount the fact that the technology is still in its infancy and that future driver iterations will yield better performance increases.
Some interesting findings here. Let's wrap this one up.
Yes, indeed the MSI 870A Power Edition is a bit of an odd ball. For a motherboard that is in essense, a tarted up AMD 870 motherboard it has offered astonishing levels of performance. Not only was our sample capable of reaching dizzy HTT frequencies in the region of 400MHz, we were able to obtain a bootable 4.50GHz out of our X6 1090T processor.
Then we have the Lucid Hydra module. Not only can the board operate dual 16x lane PCI-Express modes, we were able to successfully operate 3DMark Vantage with ATi and nVidia graphics cards functioning together, with promising gains. Also one must remember that this is new hardware and there is every possibility that we can see further performance enhancements with a driver update.
The insanity doesn't end just yet as we haven't even discussed price yet. MSI have informed us that the 870A Power Edition will be priced in the region of £120; this is just £20 more than the inferior vanilla edition. At this price point, it sits alongside the cheaper 890FX motherboards, such as the Biostar TA890FXE, ASRock 890FX Extreme and Asus M4A89TD PRO. Yet in terms of its feature set and the performance it has offered us today, we would place this board squarely as an Asus Crosshair IV series competitor, which is priced at £170 upwards.
This means two things. The MSI 870A Fuzion Power Edition is able to offer class leading performance but also at a price that is more in line with midrange choices. It is rare that this tends to happen and with this in mind, we are proud to issue the board the OC3D Gold and Value for Money awards.
Well done MSI.
- Anticipated Price Tag
- Class leading overclocking ability
- Board layout
- Lucid Hydra performs very well
- Automated Overclocking Feature
Thank you to MSI for the board on test today, you discuss the review in our forums.