In our review of the ASUS M3A79-T Deluxe we noted that the rollout of Phenom II made the ultimatistic combination of 790FX NB and SB750 much more important. However, there are not many such motherboards for Socket AM2+. It looked like all new models would be designed mostly for AM3. Nothing of the sort. Almost all manufacturers decided to update their product lines for Socket AM2+. We'll apparently review new motherboards with DDR2 support for a long time (along with AM3 products, of course). From the economic point of view, such motherboards will be quite popular in gaming computers, especially if you already own a good DDR2 memory kit of high capacity. Fortunately, top Phenom II processors (in combination with top graphics cards) are powerful enough to maintain high frame rates in modern games with high graphics quality and resolutions.
However, it sort of made no sense for ASUS to launch another motherboard with similar characteristics. But this is the policy of the biggest motherboard manufacturer (probably even its recipe for success) -- the company responds to all market tendencies with expanding its product range. It may be even simpler than that, because ASUS has already rolled out the M4A79T Deluxe motherboard (using the same components and codecs), which differs only in DDR3 support. This motherboard will appear in stores very soon. Perhaps it's expedient for the manufacturer to unify hardware components of these two models. We can only grumble about the strange shortage of indices, "T" was already used in the M3A79, and now the same letter is used in M4A-series motherboards to mark models with DDR3 support. The question is why this confusion. The Latin alphabet has many other letters. Besides, DDR3 support might have been designated by adding this very abbreviation to the title.
It looks like engineers were solving their own production issues, that is they slightly modified the layout and replaced most additional controllers with similar components from other manufacturers. It can be justified only by unification of hardware components with other motherboards, so that the company doesn't have to buy components specifically for this model. This reduces manufacturing costs.
As a result, not all changes are progressive from users' point of view. For example, all six SATA ports on the M3A79 were L-shaped, but this board has only two L-shaped ports, the others are standard ports. They can theoretically conflict with large graphics cards. Besides, eSATA on the rear panel is supported by the chipset now, while the previous version had to use an additional controller, so only five ports were available for internal devices. However, it's the only 'negative' difference, insignificant to most users, the other differences are neutral or positive. Exacting users may also complain about the layout of fan connectors, which used to be scattered across the board in a more convenient way.
The cooling system does not allow to install an additional heatsink on memory modules. So both heatsinks around the processor socket now have high fins, and this cooling system must be more efficient. However, as we already noted many times, AMD chipsets do not need intensive cooling. Now that Phenom II processors have rolled out, there is no need to pay special attention to VRM cooling either, even in the overclocked mode. But store is no sore, a reinforced cooling system may bring extra stability in some modes. What concerns an interesting initiative to include a memory cooling system into the bundle, it provided no real advantages, and it cannot be installed on memory modules with their own heat spreaders as a rule.
The voltage regulator of the processor is almost a complete copy of what we saw in the previous model. However, there was nothing to improve here: 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), 11 x 560 uF and 4 x 270 uF solid-state capacitors made in Japan. This number of phases does not need high total capacity. Support for processors with TDP=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.
It's a not rich bundle in terms of Deluxe products, but it still has some useful bonuses. For example, 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 bundled CD also contains interesting software, unlike most other bundles. Along with standard proprietary utilities to flash BIOS (and download the latest versions from the official web site) and to monitor system parameters, ASUS offers TurboV that allows to activate overclocking with the power button (what parameters it changes are specified in a special profile). Plus an imposing software bundle from third-party developers: Ulead Burn (for CD/DVD recording), Corel MediaOne Starter shell, Ulead Photo Impact 12 SE, Norton Internet Security.
Like all expensive (and not very expensive) products from ASUS, this model can boast of several proprietary technologies. The motherboard supports Express Gate: quick startup into a special shell with a music player, Internet programs, and an image viewer. Another useful option is EZ Flash. It allows to flash BIOS from the menu available at startup. It can read BIOS images from any FAT/NTFS/CDFS drive. And finally, BIOS offers another handy feature: checking the integrity of LAN cables with AI Net2 utility. It registers the contact or the distance to a breakout.
The motherboard is based on the AMD 790FX chipset (AMD 790FX Northbridge and SB750 Southbridge). It supports all processors for Socket AM2/AM2+ and AM3: Athlon X2/Phenom/Phenom II; it can accommodate up to 16 GB of DDR2-800/1066 memory. There are five internal SATA/300 ports (drives connected to these ports can form RAID 0, 1, 0+1, and 5), the sixth chipset-based port is used for eSATA on the rear panel. Just like all motherboards with modern chipsets for the AMD platform, this model has a single chipset-based IDE channel supporting two PATA/133 drives. Functionality of the chipset is supplemented with the following controllers:
- Integrated audio codec (8-channel HDA codec Realtek ALC1200), coaxial and optical S/PDIF Outs on the rear panel
- Gigabit Ethernet (Realtek 8112, PCIEx1) 10/100/1000 Mbps, supporting AI Net 2
- FireWire (VIA VT6315N, PCI) supporting two IEEE 1394a 100/200/400 Mbps ports (one on the rear panel and one on the bracket)
- System monitoring (ITE IT8720F), BIOS allows automatic CPU fan speed control, you can choose from the following profiles: Optimal, Silent, or Performance. Speed control is available for 3- and 4-pin fans.
We assessed the analog output quality of the integrated audio system in 16 bit 44 kHz mode using RightMark Audio Analyzer 6.2.2 and the ESI Juli@ sound card.
|Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB:
|Noise level, dB (A)
|Dynamic range, dB (A)
|Harmonic distortion + noise, dB(A)
|Intermodulation distortion + Noise, %
|Channel crosstalk, dB
|IMD at 10 kHz, %
General performance: Very good.
It's apparently better than the codec from Analog Devices in the previous model. This one demonstrates decent audio quality for an integrated solution, although it does not break any records. However, analog outputs in good sound cards offer much higher characteristics than in any integrated solution. So users, who need high audio quality, usually spare no money for a good sound card or use digital outputs -- fortunately, they are installed on the rear panel.
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