Recently we took a look at an offering from MSI of a mATX motherboard that utilises all the latest technology as well as having on-board graphics. It was nearly all things to all men and we were very impressed.
Today we're looking at the top of the MSI 890 model range, the GD70. Very similar to the G65, nonetheless this is more aimed at those who want a full-sized and fully featured board.
It certainly isn't a board that wants for lastability, as with Hi-c CAP with Tantalum cores used around the CPU socket. Ferrite core "Icy" chokes and more normal Aluminium core solid CAPs there definitely shouldn't be any heat or reliability issues in long-term usage. Hopefully all this pukka power circuitry will also ensure lots of stability and better overclocking.
However I don't want to spoil the forthcoming attractions, so let's take a look at the technical specifications before we move on to the main event.
Direct from the MSI website to your eyes...
|CPU (Max Support)||Phenom II|
|AM3 CPU Ready||Y|
|FSB/Hyper Transport ||up to 5200MT/s|
|DDR3 Memory||DDR3 800/1066/1333/1600*/1800*/2133*(OC)|
|Max Memory (GB)||16|
|PCI-E Gen||Gen2 (2x16, 2x8, 1x4)|
|USB 3.0 ports (Rear)||2|
|USB 2.0 ports (Rear)||6|
|Audio ports (Rear)||6+Coaxial SPDIF/Optical SPDIF|
|Serial ports (Rear)||N/A|
|Parallel ports (Rear)||N/A|
|1394 ports (Rear)||N/A|
|Green Power Genie||Y|
So we know roughly what we're getting in terms of hardware and features. So let's actually have a look at the GD70 in the flesh.
The box follows the standard MSI look and layout with a flaming G on the left of a mainly white box replete with all the important technological logos. The obverse is nicely laid out highlighting the bits that MSI hope will entice you to purchase the GD70 for your AMD rig.
The contents are pretty much as you'd expect. SATA cables, some Molex to SATA power adaptors, a colour-coded IO shield, the driver disk and the always excellent MSI manual. We also have an IDE cable and various block headers to make cable insertion easier for front-panels or non-modular USB cables.
Before we move to looking at the GD70 in close-up, we'll get the overview. It's almost impossible not to notice the heatpipe/heatsink arrangement because it totally dominates the motherboard.
Starting with the very new and very old, we find six SATA3 headers providing us with all the 6Gbps goodness we could hope to use. Just behind is a vertical blue 3Gbps SATA port. By virtue of its positioning and placement we can see how quickly the market is adopting the 6Gbps standard and also the sector of the market MSI are aiming the GD70 at. Next to this is a IDE connector so if you've got an old IDE drive hanging around you can use it. It's more likely that your optical uses IDE as technology in the optical market has been static for ages.
Round the back we have the expected ports. PS2, CMOS reset, SPDIF, USB2.0, USB3.0, e-SATA, 2x1Gbps LAN and the audio outputs for the Realtek ALC889 sound.
Further demonstrating the high-end nature of the GD70 is the 5 PCI Express slots, along with a legacy PCI and a PCI-e x1.
The way the slots are configured requires a bit of explanation. Slot 1 is x16 unless slot 3 is populated then it's x8. Slot 5 is x16 unless slot 6 is populated in which case it's 8x. Slots 3 and 6 are x8 only, but if 1,3,5 and 6 are populated then they move from 16x/0x/16x/0x to 8x/8x/8x/8x. I hope that's clear.
Devil in the details
This is especially true of motherboards. With most of the technologies being fairly interchangeable between boards it is important for those little things to shine through. Whilst a lot of websites laud things that make their lives easier, we have always prided ourselves on treating everything as if we were the target audience. After all, we are. Starting on the bottom left hand corner we find two internal 1394 ports. We don't know many people who own a 1394 compatible device, much less so many that we need two headers. Would much prefer an additional USB one here.
On the bottom right is one of the variants of the MSI overclocking system. We've had the OC Genie button on the P55 which was so brilliant we gave it our innovation award. We've had the dip switches on the G65 which were ok at best. This straddles the middle ground by providing a dial that can be turned up to increase the Bus Speed. It can be disabled in the BIOS but can be handy for eking that last clock out once you've got into the OS. It is disappointing to see the premiere AMD motherboard in the MSI line-up not given the OC Genie functionality we loved in the P55.
Moving on to the cooling, wow. Don't they look fantastic. A gorgeous blue contrasts nicely with the plain aluminium and gives the whole board a look of high quality. The large "DrMOS" heatsink certainly dominates the board. We've seen plenty of variants for heatsinks here from the passive to the active, large to the tiny. This is one of the best we've seen yet as it has huge surface area and yet, as you can see from the second row of photos, retains a nice low profile. I can get a little warm so if you're going for really mental clock speeds and power usage it might be worth making sure your case has good airflow, but under most uses, including our testing today, it dissipated the heat well enough.
8pin CPU power placement is a pet bugbear of mine and seeing the MSI one wedged between the heatsink and the SPDIF connector did give slight concern. However thanks to the low profile of the heatsink it wasn't hideous, but still not the best position around. Why it can't be placed above the CPU socket or similar is beyond us. Ah well.
Below the main PCI Express slot and just to the right of the legacy PCI socket is a debug LED that gives you a clear indication of the boards status. One thing we'd love to see more of is an indication of what these numbers mean. Certainly the manual covers the main ones well enough, but when overclocking we saw an error that isn't in the manual, and in use it varies from about 34 to 38 on the display. If you're going to include (excellent) features such as this twin seven-segment display, please also document it properly.
Finally on the right we have the ubiquitous NEC USB3.0 chip.
Test Setup and Overclocking
As this is a higher end motherboard than the G65 we're upping the ante by using the fantastic 1090T.
AMD Phenom II X6 1090T Processor
4GB G.Skill 2000MHz RAM @ 1333MHz
ASUS Radeon HD5850 Top
Cougar 1000CM 1KW PSU
Samsung Spinpoint F1
Windows 7 64 Bit
Before we start it's worth mentioning that the BIOS is identical to that on the G65, and so we have spared you repeating those shots as you can slip across to that review if you want to see them.
Overclocking on the GD70 was a very simple affair thanks to the always intuitive BIOS. Firstly we wanted to make sure we kept our voltages at levels that you could run 24/7. There is no use in creating an unrealistic environment purely for the sake of "look at us" scores. We'd much rather show you what you could replicate without having a bucket of LN2 and a defibrillator handy.
Firstly we wanted to find the highest possible Bus Speed. Thanks to the unlocked capabilities of the 1090T we could do this easily by dropping the multiplier to make sure we aren't CPU or RAM limited. We finally topped out at a not inconsiderable 282MHz. There is clearly enormous potential in this board if you can harness all that.
Secondly we wanted to find the highest overclock that we could run in a stable manner. We ended up, after a suitable period of trial and error, at 4.256 GHz. Very impressive indeed. This happily ran all of our tests without a problem, right until we reached POV-Ray. This started giving us exception errors, despite all our other tests passing happily.
Despite much tweaking eventually we ran out of time and so had to drop down to a speed that would pass POV-Ray. We were very tempted to run POV-Ray at a lower speed and retain our 4.2 GHz overclock for the rest but consistency throughout our tests is vital. So with a small drop to just under 4 GHz we re-ran and this is the speed we'll be using for our testing today.
Benchmarks Part One
3D Mark Vantage
Starting off with Vantage for a change we can see that the stock GD70 is very consistent across all phases of the test. However with our 800MHz overclock the difference was quite startling. 1000 points is quite an increase on the overall score, and the 3500 point increase in the CPU test showed how easily this MSI copes with the extra horsepower available.
7Zip is proof that sometimes a freeware bit of software can trump all the professional efforts. As befits such a behemoth of a processor we see fantastic scores at both stock and overclocked speeds, but it's always nice to see that the motherboard can easily cope with such fast movement of data.
Rendering has always, since Imagine on the Amiga, been something that demands more power than Stalin. Considering we're only running a HD5850 in our bench rig the OpenGL results are outstanding. We also see our 25% increase in CPU speed gave us a 25% increase in CPU Pts in the benchmark. Not bad from the GD70.
Everest Ultimate Edition
Moving on to Lavalys Everest we obtain our first disappointing result. The results of all the tests are about where we'd expect given this chip and our previous testing with it. However something clearly is up with whatever the PhotoWorxx result punishes because that score is well below what we would expect. Even overclocked it doesn't come up to our previous stock results.
The memory results aren't too bad. Not quite as good as we hoped. The transfer rates do slightly beat what we saw from the G65, but considering we're using a vastly more powerful processor they're somewhat disappointing. Perhaps this is the PhotoWorxx issue. Let's run some more testing and see.
Benchmarks Part Two
PC Mark Vantage
Things return to normal with PC Mark Vantage though. Throughout we see the beef of the 1090T sparkling when combined with the 890FXA-GD70.
POV-Ray, a freeware raytracer, gives us two scores. The average relates to how many "Pixels Per Second" your system is capable of rendering. Then some behind-the-scenes trickery shows how hard each core is working. Normally systems with a lot of cores, such as our test rig today, have high averages but a low Per-CPU score by virtue of the diminishing returns you get from adding more and more cores.
Despite this the GD70 really shines and when overclocked gives us a staggering average of 1000 PPS, Per-CPU. There definitely isn't any bottleneck from the motherboard.
Describing results can be a thankless task. After all you can see them below in the pretty graph, and to say we got a better score when overclocked than stock is like pointing out the sky is blue. However what makes it all worthwhile is when you get results like we see here from SiSoft Sandra. Stock results are not bad at all, but when overclocked this motherboard flies. The improvement is impressive. Naturally it's tempered by the overclock itself, but it's still good to see that you don't lose any of the performance gain.
Although more of a test of the CPU and RAM speed than anything, nonetheless wPrime nicely emphasises our results and how the GD70 is capable of handling almost anything you can throw at it.
As we've only recently reviewed the mATX 890GXM-G65, this is more of a companion piece than a standalone review. We found that the £110 G65 was a great motherboard. A pocket powerhouse. Costing substantially more (around £165) this GD70 has to offer plenty to make it worth purchasing. So does it?
To paraphrase the Simpsons Reverend Lovejoy, the short answer is no with a but, and the long answer is yes with an if.
Let's take those in order for simplicities sake. Strictly comparing to the G65, this has very similar performance. By virtue of it being a full ATX board and it certainly isn't much use as an HTPC board, especially without the on-board graphics.
If what you require from your system is to be compact, good value, and great for gaming, the G65 has you covered.
However, few people will look at a full-size high-end board just to run a single-card setup. So what do we get extra for our money with the GD70? Not a lot it seems.
We move from dip-switch based overclocking to the MSI "OC dial" method. This still has the downfall of being purely a Bus Speed increase without any accompanying adjustments to ensure overclock stability. Considering where this is positioned in MSIs AMD line-up we'd much prefer to see the OC Genie button that was so brilliant on the P55. It's like going back to burger and chips when you've eaten steak and roasts.
Speaking of stability we required quite worrying amount of voltage to get the chip stable at 4.2GHz and even then it fell over during our POV-Ray test. Worse was the fact we couldn't get our 2000MHz memory to run at anything over 1600MHz. The system wouldn't boot at all, much less BSOD. So despite us seeing one of the highest FSBs we've achieved, it appears quite finicky about what it likes and what it doesn't.
Certainly it would take more tweaking than we are capable of in our limited review time. Definitely there is potential. It's just not as easy to get to the higher echelons as some boards we've used and that's somewhat disappointing.
On the subject of slightly disappointing, two 1394 headers is curious. We will just about allow MSI to get away with an IDE socket especially as the AM3 socket has been around for a long while, but two headers for Firewire?
The good stuff is the fantastic cooling arrangement that ensures sensible temperatures without compromising either looks or usability. Six SATA 6Gbps definitely means that your storage needs will be covered long into the future. Finally the BIOS is excellent being both easy to navigate and clear about what will do what.
Although the bandwidth of the PCI Express slots is split in a slightly curious manner, they are positioned in a manner than means you're unlikely to populate them all anyway without incurring airflow issues.
So all in all it's difficult to recommend over it's little brother unless you absolutely must have an ATX board or desperately want to run QuadFire. That isn't so much a fault of this board, but how great the G65 is.
High Bus Speed
Lots of features
PCI E slots have odd bandwidth and curious spacing
Needs some tweaking to get the best overclock
OC Dial not OC Genie
Little pricey compared to its brother
Thanks to MSI for providing the GD70 for review. Discuss in our forums