iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






ASUS M3A32-MVP Deluxe/WiFi-AP Motherboard on AMD 790FX Chipset (Socket AM2+)

With memory module cooling system

April 17, 2008

  • AMD 790FX chipset (AMD 790FX Northbridge + SB600 Southbridge)

We have already tested motherboards on the AMD 790FX chipset from Gigabyte and MSI. In both cases we have found luxurious sets of peripheral interfaces and tangles of heat pipes in the chipset cooling system. Actually we've seen it all in previous models based on the top-end chipsets. Just the quad PCI Express x16 ports have become a usual thing with the launch of this core logic. Along with the standard bells and whistles, ASUS decided to introduce brand new useful features into its motherboard on AMD 790FX. They will be described later.

Motherboards with four graphics slots look unusual. It seems that their capacity to accommodate expansion cards is limited. But in reality, most motherboards with two graphics slots also offer only two PCIEx1 slots and two PCIs. So in this case you can use black PCIE ports to install cards that can exchange data along the PCIEx1 interface. Moreover, you can redistribute lanes between the four ports in BIOS. If you use two graphics cards with two-slot cooling systems, you can install a couple of cards (PCI and PCIE). But three full-size cards will block all remaining slots (you will still be able to access SATA connectors, because they lie aside). It's impossible to install four graphics cards with two-slot cooling systems onto this motherboard, unlike the MSI board, because the fourth card is to be installed in the next slot after the third graphics card.

The cooling system of the chipset looks small compared to solutions from Gigabyte and MSI. The heat sink touches transistors in the power circuit through an elastic thermal spacer with excellent heat-conducting properties. The chipset gets only hard thermal grease. So if you accidentally move the cooling system when you install the motherboard, thermal contact may be broken. As we have already mentioned, AMD 790FX does not need advanced cooling. However, noblesse oblige. Besides, overclockers prefer excessive cooling capacities.

That's why the motherboard comes with a very interesting device, which can also cool a dual-channel memory kit. According to ASUS, it can also reduce the system temperature by 10B°C. However, we didn't have Athlon 64 X2 (2.8 GHz) and ATI Radeon HD 2900XT at hand (ASUS obtained its results with these models) to verify the results. So we skipped this test, especially as users are more interested in efficiency of this cooling system for overclocked memory. So we just tried to overclock our memory modules to maximum with the stock heat spreaders and compare the results with those obtained with ASUS Cool Mempipe.

If you cannot remove stock heat spreaders from your memory modules for overclockers without damaging memory chips, you will hardly benefit from additional cooling. Heat spreaders on memory modules are often ribbed. Although the space between fins can be adjusted in a wide range, we detected no benefits from Cool Mempipe in this case. Results of Kingston KHX7200D2K2/1G in both cases correspond to DDR2-900 operating at 2.0 V, that is modules operate in the standard mode. Raising voltage further squeezed another several dozens of MHz, but memory stability was ruined, and our testbed started rebooting in case of any computing activity.

The cooling system from ASUS performed better, when we removed the stock heat spreaders from memory modules. We raised voltage to 2.2 V, and the modules reached DDR2-980 results retaining perfect stability. These results were demonstrated without the bundled fan. As the CPU was cooled by a box cooler, the heat spreader still got some indirect air flow.

Thus, ASUS cooling system for memory modules can be useful indeed, but mostly for those users who want to save on memory modules and buy inexpensive overclockable products without heat spreaders instead of elite kits. The game may be worth the candle, but nobody can guarantee positive results, as in case with any overclocking.

The switching voltage regulator in the CPU power circuit uses 8+2 phases (the number of phases is determined by the load, by the current that goes through the regulator), it comprises two field-effect transistors per channel, 13 x 791 uF and 3 x 270 uF capacitors. The motherboard uses only brand polymer capacitors and potted coils, so the voltage regulator does not generate side tones. There are no empty seats on the PCB, as it's the only product on this chipset from ASUS. However, you may come across a modification without Wi-Fi, M3A32-MVP Deluxe. Motherboard dimensions - standard ATX (305x245 mm), nine-screw mount, all corners are firmly fixed.

The original idea to add heat pipes to the chipset cooling system to cool memory modules deserves our award.

System monitoring (ITE IT8716F-S, BIOS Setup)

  • CPU voltage, +3.3 V, +5 V, and +12 V
  • RPM of four fans
  • CPU and board temperatures (by the corresponding embedded sensors)
  • Smart Q-Fan Function - automatic rpm control of the CPU fan and chassis fan depending on CPU and system temperatures. Users can adjust two parameters - control method (PWM for 4-pin fans or voltage control) and cooling/noise priority (Optimal, Silent, and Performance). Performance and Optimal modes employ similar algorithms -almost maximum rpm is reached at 40B°C, Silent sets half of the speed at this temperature, the fan speeds up to maximum at 55B°C.

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • Processor socket (Socket AM2, Socket AM2+ compatible, officially supports all Phenom, Athlon 64/X2/FX, and Sempron processors for Socket AM2 and Socket AM2+)
  • 4 x DDR2 SDRAM DIMM (up to 8 GB of DDR2-533/667/800/1066, dual-channel mode, the list of compatible devices is published on the website)
  • 2 x PCIEx16 2.0 (operating in x16 mode with two graphics cards, and in x8 mode with more cards installed)
  • 2 x PCIEx16 2.0 (operating in x1 mode; when a graphics card is installed into these slots, they are reconfigured to x8)
  • 2 x PCI
  • Power connectors: standard ATX 2.2 (24 pins) and an 8-pin EPS12V connector for a processor (you can also use a standard 4-pin ATX12V)
  • 1 x FDD
  • IDE (Parallel ATA) for two ATA133 devices - chipset-based
  • 6 x SATA-II (Serial ATA II), four of them (for SATA300) are chipset-based, connected drives can form RAID 0, 1, and 0+1; support for another two is provided by the Marvell 6121 controller, they can form RAID 0 or 1
  • 2 connectors for brackets with 4 additional USB ports
  • Connector for a rear panel bracket with 1 x FireWire
  • Connector for a bracket with a COM port
  • S/PDIF-Out connector
  • 1 x CD/DVD audio connector
  • Connectors for analog audio ins and outs on the front panel
  • Connector for a Chassis Intrusion sensor
  • Four fan headers with rpm control, the 4-pin header for a CPU fan supports fine speed control and provides backward compatibility with 3-pin fans

Back panel (left to right, blockwise)

Click for the rear view.
  • Connector for a Wi-Fi antenna
  • PS/2 keyboard, 2 x USB
  • Coaxial and optical S/PDIF-Outs
  • 2 x USB
  • eSATA II and FireWire 400
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 6 x Analog Audio (Center/Sub, Side-Out, Rear-Out, Line-In, Front-Out, Mic-In).

Package Contents

  • Package: a relatively small box for such a motherboard
  • Documentation: User Manual in English and an abridged guide in European languages
  • 2 x CrossFire Bridges
  • 6 x Serial ATA cables and a power splitter for two devices
  • 1 x ATA66, 1 x FDD
  • Rear panel bracket with 2 x USB and 1 x FireWire
  • ASUS Cool Mempipe
  • A fan for the chipset heat sink, if you use liquid or passive CPU cooling
  • Wi-Fi antenna
  • Rear I/O shield
  • Q-Pˇonnectors
  • CD with drivers and ASUS utilities

The bundle of proprietary utilities includes: ASUS EZ-Flash and ASUS Update (to flash BIOS in Windows, to search and download the latest version from the official website), PC Probe II (to monitor system parameters), AI Suite (to overclock and tweak the system), Norton Internet Security 2006. However, the most convenient and functional overclocking utility for this chipset is AMD OverDrive. It's also included into this disc, but you should download the latest version from the motherboard manufacturer's website.

Integrated Controllers

  • Audio, based on the Analog Devices AD1988 HDA codec, 7.1-ch audio, front line-ins/outs, CD-In, and 2 x S/PDIF-Out jacks
  • Gigabit Ethernet supporting 10/100/1000 Mbps based on the Marvell 88E8058 controller (PCI Express) supporting AI NET (BIOS monitors a cable connection and detects the distance to a cable break)
  • 2 x SATA-II controllers: based on the Marvell 6121 chip (PCI-Express) supporting two SATA devices (on-board connectors labeled "Front Panel SATA"), which can form RAID 0 or 1; and Marvell 6111 (PCI Express) supporting eSATA devices to be plugged to the rear panel
  • FireWire, based on the Agere FW322 chip, supporting two FireWire IEEE1394a ports
  • Wi-Fi, 54 Mbps in compliance with IEEE 802.11g and backward compatibility with 11 Mbps IEEE 802.11b, software emulated access point.

The integrated audio quality was tested in 16 bit 44 kHz mode using RightMark Audio Analyzer 6.0.5 and the ESI Juli@ sound card:

Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB: +0.17, -0.04 Very good
Noise level, dB (A): -89.2 Good
Dynamic range, dB (A): 88.4 Good
THD, %: 0.0048 Very good
THD + Noise, %: -70.3 Average
IMD + Noise, %: 0.046 Good
Channel crosstalk, dB: -69.0 Good
IMD at 10 kHz, %: 0.026 Good

General performance: Good. ASUS is known to prefer Analog Devices codecs. Although many users rate these codecs as quite good subjectively, they very often criticize the quality of drivers and support for digital outputs. On the whole, the old AD1988B codec is still one of the best in the series of SoundMAX codecs from this company. Its main competitor, Realtek, launches new models on a regular basis. The latest codec (ALC889A), which is used in Gigabyte MA790FX-DQ6 on the 790FX chipset, is apparently more attractive than this old product. Owners of such motherboards often install stand alone sound cards, of course. But some users may still want to stick to integrated audio, and they may be hypercritical.

Proprietary technologies and peculiarities

  • Stack Cool 2 - an additional layer of the PCB, which allows to channel the heat away from the main chips
  • AI NOS (Non-Delay Overclocking System) - dynamic overclocking of a processor depending on its load. The clock grows only under maximum CPU load, the rest of the time it operates at its standard clock (or at the clock, reduced by the Cool'n'Quiet driver)
  • AI Clock Skew - choosing a memory clocking mode to provide maximum operating stability at increased frequencies
  • AI Net 2 - both network controllers automatically detect a damaged cable - LAN Cable Status option in BIOS
  • EZ Flash 2 and CrashFree BIOS 3 - flashing BIOS using a built-in utility (it allows to read BIOS image from a floppy, flash drive, or compact disc, and to restore BIOS automatically from the above listed media after an unsuccessful flash attempt
  • O.C. Profile - you can store BIOS settings in CMOS memory (two profiles) or in a file on a hard drive to make it convenient to restore a "good" profile in the process of overclocking or even to exchange settings between users
  • Noise Filter - removing noises (generated by system fans, air conditioners, etc) in the process of sound recording, it's a software function of SoundStorm for the integrated audio codec


Jumpers and switches Clear CMOS jumper
AMIBIOS 2.61 Controlling specific functions of the platform + K8 Cool'n'Quiet
AMD Live!
Secure Virtual Machine
CPU Tweak (TLB patch)
Memory timings + 1T/2T Memory Timing, CAS Latency, RAS to CAS Delay, Row Precharge Time, Min RAS Active Time, AI Clock Skew, Row to Row Delay, Row Cycle Time, as well as a wide choice of additional timings
Memory frequency selection + 400, 533, 667, 800, 1066 (you actually specify a multiplier to the HTT frequency)
HT bus setup + Auto, 200, 400, 600, 800, 1000, 1200, 1400, 1600, 1800, 2000, 2200, 2400, 2600 MHz
Peripheral bus frequency control + PCI-E = 100-150 MHz at 1 MHz steps, you can also limit the number of lanes for graphics ports (to x1, x2, x4, x8)
PCI IRQ manual assignment +
FSB frequency setup + 200-600 MHz at 1 MHz steps
CPU multiplier + from x4 at x0.5 steps
CPU core voltage control + 0.8000-1.6875 V at 0.0125 V steps, you can also control CPU VDDA within 2.5-2.8 V at 0.1 V steps
Memory voltage control + 1.80-2.50 V at 0.02 V steps
Chipset voltage control + Northbridge:
1.10-1.40 V at 0.02 V steps for the core
1.8-2.1 V at 0.1 V steps for PCI Express bus
Southbridge: 1.20-1.40 V at 0.02 V steps
HT bus voltage control + 1.20-1.50 V at 0.10 V steps

We used BIOS 0801 dated 2007/12/26, the latest release at the time of our tests. The mentioned BIOS parameters are available in this version, but the viability of non-standard settings hasn't been tested.

The choice of options is sufficient for serious overclocking. However, hardcore overclockers may grumble about the traditionally limited top line of the CPU core voltage, unlike similar motherboards from competitors. The motherboard also offers semiautomatic overclocking modes to raise frequencies by 3, 5, 10, 15, 20, 30%. There are two modes, as usual - AI Overclock and AI N.O.S. (in the first case the system is constantly overclocked; in the second case the frequency is raised only under maximum CPU load). The motherboard allows to control overclocking BIOS options in Windows (options can be stored in CMOS) using AMD OverDrive.


In order to evaluate motherboard and its BIOS, we overclock our testbed processor to a maximum stable level. We use all features of the motherboard in this test, including raising CPU voltage and adjusting multipliers and frequencies of system and peripheral buses, if necessary. But if, for example, reducing Hyper-Transport frequency does not improve overclocking, we leave the default multiplier. Memory is set to the standard frequency for a given memory module (multiplier correction), if a manufacturer does not publish any ways to improve memory overclocking. Otherwise, we analyze their efficiency as well. In order to evaluate stability of the overclocked system, we load Windows XP and run WinRAR performance test for 10 minutes (Tools - Benchmark and hardware test). As overclocking potential is an individual property of a given motherboard sample to some degree, we don't set the task to determine overclocking potential to within a single MHz. In practice, we are to find out whether CPU overclocking will be limited by a motherboard as well as to evaluate its behavior in non-standard modes, including automatic restoration of a correct frequency after a failed overclocking attempt, etc.

Clock, MHz FSB Clock, MHz Core voltage (according to system monitoring in BIOS), V HT bus frequency (multiplier), MHz
Athlon 64 X2 4000+ (2.0 GHz)
1160 (x4)

The result is close to the maximum for this processor. Interestingly, when we chose automatic HT bus multiplier, BIOS set it to x4, although the motherboard was stable even with x5.

If an overclocking attempt fails, you just have to power it off for several seconds (the LED on the motherboard should go out), then the system will boot up with the default parameters. No matter whether the the system froze because of too high CPU or memory voltage, we didn't have to clear CMOS despite lengthy experiments in unusual conditions. We were again happy to have O.C. Profile - to be able to store good BIOS settings (not only to CMOS, but also to an external drive.)


Testbed configurations:

  • CPU: AMD Athlon 64 X2 4000+
  • Memory: 2 x Kingston KHX7200D2K2/1G (DDR2-800, 5-5-5-15)
  • Discrete video: ATI Radeon X1900 XTX, 512 MB GDDR3
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 (SATA, 7200 rpm)
  • PSU: Chieftec CFT-560-A12C
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

We compared our motherboard under review with Gigabyte MA790FX-DQ6 on the same chipset.

Test Gigabyte MA790FX-DQ6 ASUS M3A32-MVP Deluxe
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec 6:28 6:26
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec 5:59 5:58
DOOM III (Low@640x480), fps 138.3 139.2
DOOM III (Highest@1600x1200), fps 137.6 137.4
FarCry (Low@640x480), fps 167 169
FarCry (Highest@1600x1200), fps 124 126

These are standard results both for games and computing tests.


In order to attract attention to motherboards on expensive chipsets, ASUS traditionally resorts to a luxurious set of proprietary technologies, including an additional PCB layer for heat dissipation or saving BIOS profiles on a hard drive or in CMOS, and certainly Wi-Fi. However, engineers always find ways to surprise users. This time they added a cooling system for memory modules, which is installed on the chipset heat sink. Like all such options, it's not necessary to all users. However, in certain conditions it may even justify the high price of this motherboard, as you will be able to buy and overclock memory modules without heat spreaders. In this case other functional advantages of this motherboard will come relatively free of charge.

Official product page.

Motherboard provided by the manufacturer.

Dmitry Laptev (lpt@ixbt.com)
April 17, 2008

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