It's not often that you can purchase a motherboard equipped with a chipset/socket designed for a new CPU architecture well before the appropriate CPUs have been released. AM3+ is the latest socket type by AMD, which facilitates the extra pin required for Bulldozer processors to unleash their power on unsuspecting Intel diehards. The Sabertooth 990FX yields, as the name suggests, the brand spanking new enthusiast 990FX chipset.
So what does the 990FX have over the existing flagship 890FX? Well there's a nice bump in HyperTransport sample rate, from the existing 5.2 GT/s to 6.4GT/s (HT 3.0 vs HT 3.1), however this boost is only available to AM3+ processors. There's also the ability to run SLI (shock horror!) which is a welcome addition. Otherwise, this chipset is very much a re-branding of the existing 890FX, bar guaranteed compatibility with future processors. Those with older boards, you'll find comfort in knowing a BIOS update will more than likely allow you to run AM3+ CPUs, albeit without the perks of the 990FX chipset.
32 PCI-e 2.0 graphics lanes allow for two 16x GPUs to run in tandem, three at 16x/8x/8x, or four at 8x. A further 10 lanes (split into a single 4x and six 1x lanes) are used for other devices such as audio cards and USB 3.0 controllers.
The new SB950 Southbridge is a mere name change from the existing SB850 chipset. No surprises there, it already offered native SATA 3.0 connectivity, although the lack of native USB 3.0 is a tad disappointing.
What we love about this board is its subtle military camo elegance. Flashy mismatched colours may attract the odd script kiddie, but nothing turns more heads than simple beauty – and this board has just that. CeraM!X ceramic cooling technology is coated on parts of each heatsink, and claims to increase heat dissipation via enlarged area due to microscopic irregularity. Whether this has a tangible effect remains to be seen, but it does have add an interesting aesthetic element to the board.
Bundled with the Sabertooth is the usual SATA cables, a single 2-way SLI bridge, and the handy Q-Connectors. This wouldn't be a TUF series product without a 'Certificate of Reliability' enclosed, indicating thermal, shock and mechanical tests (to name a few) on key components.
A 8+2 phase DIGI+ VRM power design makes an appearance, offering clean power and fine controlled voltage increments of 0.005v. Five levels of Load Line Calibration facilitate overclocking by maintaining suitable load voltage levels.
The TUF series is all about military design and standards. The alloy chokes, capacitor and MOSFETs are claimed to be of military standard. The 'Thermal Radar' technology has been brought over from the P67 Sabertooth, which consists of thermal probes in the vicinity of the CPU, DIMM slots, expansion slots and other key areas, all reported to the user via the Thermal Radar software. The board is intelligent enough to automatically adjust fans to keep these various areas cool, unlike traditional designs which focus on the CPU only.
The absence of Thermal Armor doesn't concern us, we're not too sure it had a positive net affect on temperatures. But that's doesn't mean this board isn't protected, an 'exclusive' ESD (electrostatic discharge) guard chip protects your kit from accidental zapping. Yes, we know you don't use an anti-static wrist strap!
Our overclocking attempt managed to score us a clock frequency of 4.2GHz (200 x 21) with our Phenom II X4 980. Setting LLC to 'high' resulted in our 1.425v BIOS setting dropping to 1.404v idle, and 1.392v load. Some noticeable vDroop there. On the other hand, 'extreme' pushed our voltages up, from 1.38v in the BIOS to 1.404v load, and 1.38v idle.
Not to neglect our peripherals, connectivity on the I/O panel includes a PS/2 combo port, FireWire, two eSATA (one powered), two USB 3.0, ten USB 2.0, six audio jacks, optical S/PDIF out, and a Gigabit LAN port. Audio is powered by the Realtek ALC892 codec. It's nothing particularly special, but it does the job.
Similar to the Intel based Sabertooth motherboards, the AMD platform has progressed to the age of UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface). This means 3TB+ drive support, and a pretty UI when delving into the various setup settings. EZ Mode and Advanced Mode UI options are available depending on skill level, but you'll almost always want to head straight to the latter – that's where all the fun is!
Overall we're impressed with this board. Unfortunately the best processor we have is the X4 980 whilst we wait for the new kit to arrive. We're itching to try the upcoming Zambezi processors (for those who are unfamiliar, that's eight cores of fun), and we're certain that this board can harness the power of the next generation without issue. Now, hurry up AMD!