iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






Biostar TA790GX A3+ Motherboard

A new meaning for the GPU acronym.

June 15, 2009

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  • CPU: AMD Phenom X4 9550
  • RAM: 2 x Corsair CM2X1024-6400C4 (2GB, DDR2-800, 5-5-5-15-2T)
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 (SATA, 7200rpm)
  • Graphics card: ATI Radeon HD3870, 512 MB GDDR4
  • PSU: AcBel ATX-550CA-AB8FB
  • OS: Windows XP SP2 32-bit, Catalyst 8.5, latest chipset drivers


  • WinRAR 3.70
  • XviD 1.0.2 (29.08.2004)
  • Doom 3 (v1.0.1282)
  • FarCry (v1.1.3.1337)
  • Unreal Tournament 2004 (v3339)

To assess performance we measure time required to archive a 297MB set of 277 files of various types and convert a 636MB MPEG2 video using XviD; we also measure frames per second in game demos run at 640x480, 800x600, 1024x768 and 1600x1200 (DOOM3 - built-in demo, FarCry - Regulator second run, Unreal Tournament 2004 - ONS_dria). Note that if a motherboard has no integrated graphics, performance tests are only used to check for serious layout or BIOS flaws and can be reduced to minimum. Vice versa, performance tests are indicative for motherboards with integrated graphics. And if a certain motherboard review lacks certain details, we might add respective test results to make up for it.

To assess capabilities of a motherboard and its BIOS, we overclock test CPUs (which ones depends on board's market segment) to a stable maximum with the help of Zalman CNPS9700 cooler. At that we use all motherboard features, like CPU core voltage adjustments and, if needed, bus multiplier and clock adjustments. At that, if changing a certain option (e.g. reducing Hyper-Transport clock) doesn't improve overclocking, the multiplier is left default. For RAM we select a clock rate typical for this class of modules by adjusting its multiplier. The stability of an overclocked machine is assessed in Windows XP with the help of AMD OverDrive stability test (all tests are run for 5 minutes). Note that since overclocking potential somewhat varies from one board to another, we are not focused on finding board's exact overclocking potential accurate to 1MHz. We just try to find out if a board hampers in CPU overclocking (due to insufficient voltage stabilizer power, etc.) and see how it performs in atypical modes, including automatic BIOS recovery in cases of overclocking issues (not requiring CMOS reset) and such.

BIOS overclocking settings Availability Notes
Memory timings +  
Memory frequency + DDR3-800 - DDR3-1600
HT bus frequency (multiplier) +  
Reference CPU frequency + 200-600 MHz
CPU multiplier + Cores and CPU NB
CPU voltage + +0.02 - +1.26 V (CPU)
1.20 - 2.20 V (CPU NB)
Memory voltage + 1.66 - 2.84 V
Chipset voltage + 1.20 - 2.30 V (Northbridge)
1.80 - 2.70 V (SidePort)
1.20 - 2.30 V (HT bus)

Adjustment ranges of the CPU multiplier and voltage, as well as HT bus in BIOS, depend on a given processor. We publish results for our Phenom II X4 810. We used BIOS 08.00.14 dated 25.03.2009.

It's just a standard set of options, no rare settings. We can only mention the Memory Insight section, which shows the SPD contents of memory modules. And a section with a strange name -- G.P.U. Phase Control. It has nothing to do with graphics processors. It stands for Green Power Utility, so it shows the number of active VRM phases, power consumption of a processor, and power conversion efficiency. Traditional automatic overclocking is available as well (three levels: V6, V8, and V12). It affects only the reference frequency, so it's of little use in practice.

Manual overclocking options are scattered cluelessly in different sections, some of them are duplicated in several locations (fortunately, they are adjusted synchronously). You will have to calculate resulting frequencies of a CPU and buses after overclocking on your own, while many other motherboards for overclockers display such values in the menu to facilitate the process of adjusting overclocking options. However, before we describe such conveniences, we'd like to have distinct voltage selection. We were bewildered to find out that having switched from the automatic to manual mode, the motherboard chooses arbitrary voltage values, far from optimal or nominal ones. The same happens for all components, so you will have to specify voltages for the chipset, memory, and other components manually, even if you didn't plan to change anything. It's weird, and it's an evident BIOS glitch. Let's hope it will be fixed in the nearest future.

  CPU Clock, MHz Reference clock (multiplier), MHz Core/CPU NB voltage (according to BIOS), V CPU NB frequency (multiplier), MHz HT bus frequency (multiplier), MHz Memory frequency, MHz Note
Phenom II X3 720 (2.8 GHz) 3800 200 (x19) 1.48/1.30 2600 (x13) 2000 (x10) DDR3-1333 Increased multipliers (CPU, CPU NB)
Phenom II X4 810 (2.6 GHz) 3640 280 (x13) 1.45/1.30 2520 (x9) 1960 (x7) DDR3-1492 Increased reference clock and reduced CPU NB/HT multipliers

It's a standard result for an unlocked processor. And it's not very impressive in a more complex overclocking test with an increased reference frequency. Unfortunately, the motherboard does not always restore all parameters correctly after freezing in an overclocking attempt, so you have to use hardware reset of all settings.

Performance and power saving

We decided to compare our motherboard under review with ASUS M4A78T-E, which is also based on the 790GX chipset.

Discrete graphics (Radeon HD4850) ASUS M4A78T-E Biostar TA790GX A3+
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec 2:15 2:18
Archiving with WinRAR, min:sec 1:15 1:15
XviD encoding, min:sec 1:19 1:24
Crysis (High@1024x768) 46 44
Crysis (High@1280x1024) 40 39
FarCry 2 (Highest@1680x1050), fps 56.0 51.8
Devil May Cry 4 (Highest@1600x1200), fps 88 85

Int. graphics ASUS M4A78T-E Biostar TA790GX A3+
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec 2:13 2:19
Archiving with WinRAR, min:sec 1:15 1:16
XviD encoding, min:sec 1:18 1:23
Crysis (Low@1024x768) 38 35
Crysis (Low@1280x1024) 26 23
FarCry 2 (Low@1280x720), fps 34.8 34.0
World in Conflict (Low@1280x720), fps 53 50
Devil May Cry 4 (High@1280x720), fps 26 25

Advantage of the ASUS motherboard is insignificant, but it appears in all tests. We expected to see even a bigger difference in tests with the integrated graphics due to different video memory: DDR3-1333 versus DDR2-800. But computing power of the graphics processor in selected modern games (even if with reduced graphics quality) apparently plays a decisive role. We did not expected higher performance of the ASUS motherboard in arithmetic tests with the integrated graphics versus the discrete graphics mode. We already got used to the fact that the integrated graphics core does not generate additional load on memory that may affect overall performance, especially in motherboards with video buffers. But we've never encountered the reverse effect. Perhaps it happens because of early BIOS versions, and results in the discrete graphics mode will catch up later on.

Power consumption (entire system unit)

Phenom II X4 810 + Radeon HD4850 ASUS M4A78T-E Biostar TA790GX A3+
Text editing, W (Cool'n'Quiet ON) 66 66 (Green Power ON)
66-71 (Green Power OFF)
Text editing, W (Cool'n'Quiet OFF) 100 90-95
Playing FarCry 2, W 189-201 177-213

Phenom II X4 810 + 790 GX ASUS M4A78T-E Biostar TA790GX A3+
Text editing, W (Cool'n'Quiet ON) 16 15-20 (Green Power ON)
27-32 (Green Power OFF)
Text editing, W (Cool'n'Quiet OFF) 33-38 35-44
Playing FarCry 2, W 69-84 66-90

It's the first time when we've registered such a distinct effect of the power saving technology (Green Power Utility from Biostar), which disables idle VRM phases, which is no different from technologies from other companies. This function really works: judging by monitoring results using the proprietary utility, the number of active phases in the idle mode may be minimized, that is one phase for CPU cores and one constantly working phase for CPU NB. On the other hand, this fact does not help this motherboard defeat its competitors in our tests. We failed to install the EPU utility for this ASUS motherboard in Vista 64bit (it would just crash or freeze the system), but the idle power consumption of the ASUS M4A78T-E was 16 W anyway. And this product from ASUS was generally less power consuming in the other modes as well.


As DDR3 memory grows cheaper, popularity of motherboards supporting this memory type will grow. As for now, users of such motherboards often prefer models with richer functions. That is they consider such motherboards as a basis for Hi-End computers. And in our opinion, Biostar engineers (and marketing specialists) underworked this model in this respect: the motherboard lacks proprietary technologies to stand out against competing products. Even if there are no bright ideas, it makes more sense for the first motherboard for the new platform to offer more features for the same money than to offer fewer features and cost less than competing products. In the very least, an eSATA port and any SPDIF Out would have been a great addition to the rear panel.

On the positive side we can mention good automatic fan speed control and the VRM phase control technology that really works.

ATI Radeon HD4850 provided by HIS, DDR3-1333 memory modules provided by Apacer

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