A while ago AMD introduced their 790 chipset. This was yet another evolutionary step in AMDs illustrious chipset lineage and its rock-solid stability and ability to remain fresh through many steps kept it at the forefront of the AMD platform.
Fast forward to the current day and things have moved on apace in the hardware world. USB2.0 has been usurped by USB3.0 with its enormous bandwidth increase. SATA2 has become SATA3 (6Gbp/s) and AMD have released their stupendous six-core processors, the 1090T and 1055T.
To fill this gap in the technological marketplace, AMD have released the 890 chipset. MSI have already produced a fine series of 7 series AMD motherboards and today we'll take a look at their entry into the 890 Marketplace.
Popping along to the always excellent MSI website we can get the specifications of the 890GXM-G65. Not a lot to notice apart from the 890GX, 850 Southbridge combo. Because this is a M-ATX board there are a lot of features not included such as parallel ports, serial ports and firewire. But nothing anyone will miss.
|CPU (Max Support)||Phenom II|
|AM3 CPU Ready||Yes|
|FSB / Hyper Transport Bus||up to 5200MT/s|
|DDR3 Memory||DDR3 800/1066/1333/1600*/1800*/2133*(OC)|
|Max Memory (GB)||16|
|PCI-E Gen||Gen2 (1x16, 1x8)|
|USB 3.0 ports (Rear)||2|
|USB 2.0 ports (Rear)||4|
|Audio ports (Rear)||6+Optical SPDIF|
|VGA Share Memory (MB)||512|
Time for a look at what we have in our hands today.
Being an m-ATX board, the box is surprisingly slender. In fact, as you'll see below, it's about 4 CDs big and barely higher than the board itself. Having struggled to manhandle many immense boxes it's great to see something more manageable.
The box follows the theme we saw from the P55-GD85 earlier on this year. Simple and elegant with everything well laid out and clearly visible. The flaming G is way more subtle in real life than it appears in the thumb below. Very nice.
Opening up the box we find that we're a little short of accessories. A basic IO shield, SATA cables, Molex to SATA adaptor, IDE cable, CD and... oh. One of the problems with reviewing is sometimes we get a product that's been elsewhere. Wherever the elsewhere was kept the manual. If you've wondered why some sites give downloadable PDF versions of their manuals, here is why. Bacon saving indeed.
With the plain cardboard shelf lifted and the motherboard free from the static package, we can get our first look. Stickers adorn both the PCIe and CPU sockets. Thankfully they are like post-its. Sticky but easily removable without residue. Anyone who's tried to take circular "SALE!" stickers off stuff without success will, like me, appreciate this.
Black and blue is a theme we've seen more of lately and we really like it. Very classy indeed. The layout is very good with most things exactly where we'd like them. The right hand side of the board has a few minor quibbles though, which we'll cover in a moment.
The CPU socket and surrounding area is excellent though. After a few motherboards that barely gave you room to swing a metaphorical atom, MSI have given us swathes of room around the CPU, and the heatsink on the left is low-profile whilst still being lovely to look at and good at heat dispersion. Considering this is a m-ATX board we're mighty impressed by the sense of space MSI have attained, without being sparse in features.
I'm not sure if it's a trend, but this is the second motherboard in a row I've reviewed with some weird design choices. Thankfully we've only a couple of weird things. Above the IDE port is a gap on the motherboard, but the 24-pin ATX is placed above the IDE. Neither IDE cables or main power cables are very flexible so we'd have preferred MSI to move the ATX to the spot above.
The second one is that we've got a gap next to the four SATA ports, and yet one vertical SATA behind. Makes no sense to me. Why not have a six-block of SATA ports? Finally, and especially pertinent as I was manual-less but of a problem to most, is that the front-panel connectors are neither colour-coded or labelled. This is the first motherboard we've come across that has absolutely nothing to identify which pins the power and such go on. Quite an oversight.
On the rear panel we have plenty of connection options. Besides the standard ones MSI have really gone above and beyond by providing us with a VGA, DVI and HDMI outputs for the on-board Radeon 4290. The G65 does support hybrid crossfire, but the likelihood of you having a 4200 series Radeon around are slim. There is also 128MB of independant IGP memory which will help save memory if you're using the onboard graphics for your HTPC or internet needs.
Finally we have our four expansion ports. Two PCIe which run at 16x and 8x. If you're using two cards they are 8x/8x. This is a little disappointing as I'm sure the full-size ATX variant wont have this limitation. We also have a single PCIe 1x and a old PCI slot should you require it. The CMOS clear jumper is in a slightly odd place, so careful with your fingers.
Below the PCI slot we have the OC dip switches. Definitely a blast from the past. I used to have a socket A motherboard that had dip switch overclocking. The options are 10%, 15% and a 20% increase. Or 220MHz, 230MHz and 240MHz respectively. Not too shabby, but as it doesn't adjust anything but Bus Speed we'd definitely leave them well alone.
Next to the OC switch are four USB headers giving a total of 16 USB 2.0 and 2 USB 3.0 ports for the whole board. Given that almost everything is USB, and with USB headsets, webcams, printers, iPod adaptors etc you can quickly run out, it's good to see the latest MSI supporting so many.
BIOS and Software
The G65 comes with the AMI BIOS we're all very used to now. Because of this we'll focus on the overclocking features available to us. With the BIOS being so mature, and MSI being very good at what they do, we have all the options we'd expect to see. One of the good things is the adjusted CPU frequency which gives a "live, at a glance" display of the CPU speed you can expect to see upon reboot.
If you're the kind of person who always despairs at the low amount of tweaking available to you, then get a load of these voltages available to us. 3.725v on the DRAM! Nearly 2v on the CPU. Whatever the limit you find, you can be sure it wont be because you haven't got enough juice.
MSI's installation CD both looks the part and does the job. As our initial tests were one with an external graphics card in place, it did keep loading up the Catalyst Installation program.
Under the "MSI Utility" heading we have the Control Center which gives us all the information we could desire about our board, RAM and processor, as well as giving us some overclocking control.
As well as providing us with sliders which we can use to control our overclock, we have four presets we can apply. These, as with most manufacturer presets, are so mild as to be able to double as baby shampoo. But nonetheless should you desire the tiniest of tweaks, they are there.
Slightly curiously we have tweaks for most of our RAM settings. Nice thing to have I suppose, but as the "basic" overclocking only gives us three voltages and a FSB to adjust, to then have the ability to adjust the TRFC2 in advanced mode seems to be a definition of sublime to the ridiculous.
Worryingly the actual slider adjustments don't seem to either display, or affect, the hardware. As we can see from this screenshot, with Cool 'n' Quiet off, the CPU voltage in particular bears almost no relation to the actual Vcore.
Probably best used for information purposes only and leave your tweaking to the BIOS.
Test Setup and Overclocking
AMD Phenom II X4 620 Processor
4GB G.Skill 2000MHz RAM @ 1333MHz
ASUS Radeon HD5850 Top
Cougar 1000CM 1KW PSU
Samsung Spinpoint F1
Windows 7 64 Bit
Because we're not using a black edition processor today we're limited in the overclock we can achieve. The most surprising aspect is how quickly we hit the limit of the FSB, at 255MHz. With the CPU multiplier then increased and the bus speed reduced until we attained a fairly stable overclock, we reached 3263 GHz. This is the best we've yet seen out of our X4 620 CPU. Kudos to MSI for that.
A couple of our tests weren't happy with the one extra MHz on the Bus Speed, but lowering down to 250MHz allowed us to run our full battery of benchmarks, and so it is at this setting we will use for our overclocked tests.
Although the board has dipswitches available to increase the Bus Speed, this solely increases the Bus Speed without touching anything else, and doesn't really overclock it enough to bother testing. Although it definitely works, should you be morbidly afraid of the BIOS.
Benchmarks Part One
Firstly apologise that the 890GXM-G65 is mislabelled as a GD65 on some of these graphs. I have taken myself out the back and flogged myself severely.
Sandra uses Dhrystone and Whetstone tests to rate the computational speed of the processor. We get good results from our overclock but even in stock trim the G65 does well.
Showing how mature this chipset it, as an evolution of the already excellent 790, those results are mirrored in our Multi-Media test.
PC Mark Vantage
The PC Mark results definitely show that the G65 is quite a pocket powerhouse. Despite using a relatively slow HDD in our test system it still gave very good results across the board and responded well to the overclock too.
Demonstrating how well the 890 Chipset works in all situations, Everest Ultimate gives us consistent results in both the CPU and Memory tests. When overclocked we have a nice linear improvement from the G65. This really is a surprisingly powerful bit of kit.
7Zip is a freeware decompression utility that can handle every type of compressed archive. Although the compression test suffers a little at stock settings we still have a good final score. The overclock is handled particularly well giving over 10000 across the full gamut of tests.
CineBench is based upon Maxon's industry proven Cinema4D rendering engine. Despite the CPU overclock not giving a massive score, although being benefitial, the OpenGL test really shows that a bit of horsepower allows the 5850 to stretch its legs and the G65 is more than capable of keeping up.
3D Mark Vantage
Ah Vantage. Thankfully nearing the end of its testing life. Hopefully the next version will be better. Anyway, we have a good showing here from the G65. Often a CPU overclock doesn't make much of a difference to the final score, but here we have a good result at stock settings with the MSI G65 showing it's capable of being quite a gaming rig even on mid-range hardware. When overclocked all the tests show significant improvement. Impressive stuff.
Sometimes conclusions come easily. A product has a certain market, or has one particular feature that springs to mind, and the words just flow. Other times I can sit for a while mulling over what to say.
Today is one such time. But not for a moment because the MSI 890GXM-G65 is bland, bad or so good I'm speechless. Because it covers so many bases and can be so many different things, that it's difficult to know where to start.
Out of the box we have a very attractive, compact motherboard based upon the latest AMD chipset and with plenty of bells and whistles. Although it might be that only two PCIe slots could be considered few, in all honesty how many of you have 4 or 5 slots populated? Most of us have one graphics card and maybe a soundcard or similar, and so two will actually be plenty.
Firstly this is an excellent HTPC or internet motherboard. The on-board HD4290 certainly wont win any awards for 3D performance, but it's definitely capable of running all the HD media we threw at it. It's compact and, because of everything being on-board and fanless (CPU apart) you wont have to have the speakers pumping to drown out your PC. As an internet or small office PC the low power consumption is definitely advantageous and with a decent CPU you could have a good system for a shed-load less than many of the "internet ready" PCs you can get from your local emporium.
So what if you've just brought a humdinging six-core beast and want to blow the doors off something? It's pretty much got that covered too. Although our test setup today was a mild CPU and mid-range GPU we certainly got decent results. With a single GPU of awesomeness, and a 1090T or similar it would be as good a gaming rig as almost anything around. The fact that in a Crossfire setup you drop to 8x/8x does mean it's probably best as a single GPU base than for twin 5870s or something.
It overclocks well, without being pant-wettingly exciting. It just took the lead at the head of our X4 620 overclocking boards by 1MHz on the Base Clock, but was much happier at 250MHz. It's not for the want of voltages, with some frankly hilariously high numbers attainable from the BIOS.
The main difference between this and the older 790 boards is really the SATA 6Gbps and the USB3.0, so if you're looking to upgrade and aren't going to get the maximum out of those two elements, it's probably not really worth it.
However, if you're thinking of building a system and want high-performance, a great feature set and all for the decent price of £120, the MSI 890GXM-G65 comes with our OC3D recommendation.
Thanks to MSI for providing the G65 for todays review. Discuss in our forums.