Review: ASRock gets ready for AMD's next generation of parts with a high-end board at a nice price-point.
It has come to our attention that yes, AMD do still exist. You’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise; Intel’s dominance in the market feels like forever in the fast moving world of tech. While AMD’s current Phenom II range is no slouch, it’s a generation late to the party. So why buy an AMD motherboard? AMD has been good with backward compatibility. The ASRock 890FX Deluxe 5 features an AM3+ socket which supports both Athlon II/Phenom II and the upcoming Bulldozer parts! Not a bad deal for the AMD fanbase.
The Deluxe 5 has all the usual extras such as a debug display, power and reset buttons, without going overboard with features most enthusiasts ignore (sorry superfluous power saving features).
AMD’s finest chipset, the 890FX, is at the heart of the board, which provides 32 lanes of PCI-e 2.0 bandwidth. ASRock has provided three PCI-e 16x slots, however only one is 16x electrically, the other two are 8x and 4x respectively. Essentially, you’re limited to a maximum of two cards in Crossfire, even though it is technically possible to run three (but at 4x on the third, it’s not worth it).
Connectivity-wise, the board is blessed with six SATA3 ports powered by the AMD SB850 southbridge, and another two via a Marvel SE9120 controller. Eight USB ports adorn the I/O panel, two of which are USB3.0. A single FireWire, 6Gb/s eSATA, and 7.1 channel audio ports are also included.
An interesting inclusion is the front USB3.0 panel, which doubles as an SSD mount point. It can also be pulled apart and reassembled so that it can be attached to an expansion slot!
A small fan is supplied which can be attached to the MOSFET heatsink once the metal ‘5’ logo is removed. We didn’t feel this fan was necessary, but it’s nice that it was offered as part of the bundle. This heatsink is quite tall; attaching a Thermalright Ultra 120 was a very tight fit!
To test overclocking performance, we searched long and hard for a worthy AMD chip, only to settle on the one and only Phenom II X4 980. It looked so innocent in its little green container, protected by soft foam to protect its precious pins. So we slammed a TRUE on it and got it to pull its weight!
Our first port of call was to attempt a 4GHz clock rate from stock of 3.7GHz. We set memory to 8-8-8-24 and an 8x multiplier, with the stock 200MHz bus rate and a 20x CPU multiplier. We started with 1.4v and the maximum half LLC option. This was unstable, and for good reason too, the vDroop was massive, with idle voltage reported as 1.376v, and load at 1.336v. For LLC, there wasn’t much calibration happening!
We soldiered on and raised the voltage until we found a stable setting – 1.45v. Under load, the vDroop continued to take effect, with an effective voltage of 1.38v.
Raising the clock rate hit a brick wall at 4.2 GHz. We didn’t have luck achieving this with the unlocked multiplier (20x was the most stable), so had to bump up the bus rate to 210MHz. 4.2GHz at 1.5125v was the final result, with an effective voltage of 1.424v under load.
While the large vDroop is concerning, in most situations it can be rectified by raising the voltage further in the BIOS.
Speaking of the BIOS, the ASRock board uses an AMI uEFI similar to that on ASUS boards. It functions and looks similar, without some of the fancy extras such as EZ-Mode. It’s also interesting to note that at no point did we have to use the provided CMOS reset button on the I/O panel. Simply hitting restart twice was enough for the motherboard to get its act together without us losing all our settings! In addition, the motherboard has profile slots in order to save settings.
To have a high-end board at this price point is a great sign – we certainly wouldn’t mind running one of these boards; now to see what AMD’s Bulldozer range brings to the table!