iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






ASUS M3A79-T Deluxe Motherboard

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As is well known, Phenom II processors will be initially installed on Socket AM2+ motherboards with DDR2 memory. The AM3 platform will appear a bit later. Besides, processors for Socket AM3 can also be installed on Socket AM2+ motherboards, that is they can be used to upgrade your existing PC. Mutual dynamics of prices for these two types will determine the time when AM3 motherboards appear in bulk and users get interested in this migration. That is it depends on economic rather than technical conditions. Multiple tests (including ours) prove that the chase after higher bandwidth has brought meager dividends up to now. So instead of paying through the nose for high-frequency memory, you can buy a larger volume of less expensive memory and almost certainly get higher performance in a multitasking environment for the same money. Especially as gradual upgrades are favored by users, who already own good DDR2 memory kits for overclockers. It's too expensive to replace them with similar DDR3 kits, and you just don't have the heart to abandon them for the standard memory kits.

The second main fact about Phenom II, illustrated by our tests, is its remarkable performance, especially in games. Even though relatively inexpensive motherboards with AMD 790GX and 780G chipsets look like the most popular choice for such processors, overclockers will certainly remember about the 790FX chipset as well, which was designed for gaming enthusiasts. This chipset was used in many excellent motherboards. There is only one little nuance -- most of such motherboards were launched on the market a year ago, so they use the old SB600 as their Southbridge. Inherent functionality of such motherboards usually does not give rise to criticism owing to abundant additional controllers, and it usually makes no sense to their owners to replace them at all. Especially as Advanced Clock Calibration support is now integrated into a processor and does not require a corresponding option in BIOS. However, if you want to buy a substantial motherboard for the AMD platform now, you may get the state-of-the-art combination with SB750. Not everybody can buy a Phenom II right away, so ACC support in SB750 will come in handy for Phenoms. Fortunately, some companies launched such models -- we already tested Foxconn A79A-S, so now we'll remove from a large box a product from ASUS with shining copper heatsinks.


Motherboard design demonstrates all tendencies and peculiarities of top motherboards. Four PCI Express x16 slots, interlaced with PCI slots. We checked them up at once, they can be used not only for graphics cards, but also for expansion cards with a narrower interface. Horizontal placement of PATA and SATA connectors is a common courtesy for a motherboard of this class. On-board power and reset buttons as well as bordered connectors for brackets with extra USB and FireWire ports are also a plus.

The cooling system with a copper-painted aluminum heatsink is relatively compact, but energy-intensive. In fact, cooling systems on modern AMD chipsets should focus on reliable cooling for power circuits rather than chipset bridges. That's what often determined successful overclocking of top processors. The chipset itself does not grow hot, especially this one (without an integrated graphics core), so it could have done well with a plain heatsink.

There is another reason to focus on MOSFET cooling. This heatsink is placed behind the processor socket, so even the boxed cooler or most inexpensive CPU coolers with standard retention modules will provide sufficient ventilation. Perfectionists may replace springs on mounting knobs (or add spacers under the knobs, for example, several cardboard ones, which usually come with a PC enclosure bundle). Judging by the imprint on the heat conducting padding, the pressure can be increased. But don't overdo it.

However, speaking of intensive VRM cooling, temperature of this module was barely warmer than the environment in our tests, including overclocking. It's not surprising, considering that the voltage regulator on this motherboard has 10 phases (two phases are assigned to power the Northbridge integrated into the processor). It incorporates two highly efficient Low RDS (on) MOSFETs per phase (10 x 5525L and 10 x 9025L), 13 x 560 uF and 3 x 270 uF solid-state capacitors made in Japan. This number of phases does not need high total capacity. Support for processors with the TDP of 140 W is practically assured, power supply should be sufficient even to overclock such processors. Note the Stack Cool layer of the PCB to provide more even distribution of heat from the most temperature-critical components. The PCB itself has a 6-layer design.

The bundle may look not rich enough for a Deluxe motherboard, because it lacks expensive hardware addons, such as Supreme FX sound card, LED panel, or Wi-Fi module. However, ASUS usually charges for these addons even more than their retail costs. On the other hand, the bundle includes lots of cables, plus a bracket for two USB ports and one FireWire as well as Q-Connectors to knit cables from the front panel together, so it's more convenient to plug them to the motherboard, and an IO shield with soft antistatic padding.

The disc includes the following software: standard utilities to flash BIOS and search for the latest version on the web site, to monitor system parameters, Ulead Burn for CD/DVD recording, Corel MediaOne Starter shell to work with multimedia files, Ulead Photo Impact 12 SE graphics editor, and Norton Internet Security. The motherboard supports Express Gate: quick startup into a special shell with a music player, Internet programs, and an image viewer.

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