iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






Foxconn A79A-S Motherboard

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Frankly speaking, Foxconn pleased its users greatly with Foxconn A7DA-S based on AMD 790GX. It was an all-purpose motherboard, not cheap, but definitely worth its price. And these things do not always go together. On the contrary: inexpensive unexpectedly-functional motherboards come with reasonable price tags much more often than products from a higher price range.

And now we look at a more expensive motherboard, which must be much "cooler". Will it be able to justify its price? Of course, any motherboard above $200 these days is addressed to specific categories of users, not to common users. For example, to manufacturers of servers and workstations. Speaking of individual users, they usually want to assemble a powerful computer for games. So essentially, such motherboards differ from cheaper products significantly only as far as their graphics ports are concerned. The other features, including abundance of overclocking settings in BIOS, a powerful chipset cooling system, and a multi-phase CPU voltage regulator, can be obtained within $200.

What does this motherboard have to offer? What concerns CrossFire support, it provides the top configuration (16 x PCI Express 2.0 lanes for each of the two cards or 8 lanes for each of four cards). Northbridge of AMD 790FX, providing these functions, is combined on this board with the new SB750 Southbridge. There are not many motherboards with this combination of bridges in the market so far (only ASUS offers a similar product -- M3A79-T Deluxe). The other products still use 790FX with SB600. While the number of SATA ports is irrelevant (as a rule, the difference is compensated by additional controllers), Advanced Clock Calibration support from SB750 suggests itself for a hardcore model.

Besides functionality, users often buy expensive motherboards to get a platform, which would allow to upgrade a processor in future when need arises (usually about 12-18 months for active users). Motherboards for Socket AM2+ are generally more attractive here, because they can accommodate future processors for Socket AM3. And even the most expensive motherboards with Intel X48 (similar to AMD 790FX in functionality) are equipped with LGA775 socket, which is incompatible with future Nehalem processors.

The motherboard really offers maximum freedom to users of multi-GPU configurations. Along with a natural option to install a couple of graphics cards with enough room between them for ventilation, you can also install three dual-slot graphics cards or four single-slot models. By the way, graphics ports can accommodate other expansion cards (we installed a SATA controller from ST-lab based on Sil3132). But if you use PCI Express 1.1 cards, you must manually specify a corresponding mode for the selected slot in BIOS, even though the system automatically detects old graphics cards.

Pay attention to the original design of the on-board power buttons (illuminated). There is also a button to reset BIOS. Unlike a jumper, it can be used with a powered system and even with a running operating system (the result -- BIOS settings reset to defaults -- will take effect after restart). But User Manual still recommends doing it when the power is off. There is a POST display to make the life of overclockers easier.

An ultimatistic motherboard is supposed to offer a full set of outputs in its rear panel, but it's not always so. So it must be noted that our motherboard under review offers everything possible here. There is FireWire, 2 x eSATA, 2 x Gigabit Ethernet, as well as coaxial and optical S/PDIF Outs. Besides, you can install a bundled rear panel bracket with 2 x USB and 1 x 4-pin FireWire.

The cooling system does not look intimidating at first sight, as it sometimes happens on some motherboards of this class. But it wouldn't have been rational to connect the Southbridge heatsink to the common cooling system with a heat pipe in this case. It gets barely warm, and the 790FX Northbridge is quite energy efficient. In fact, the only on-board components needing intensive cooling for stable operation in the overclocked mode (with raised voltage) are field-effect transistors in the CPU voltage regulator. And we can see no signs of economy in this unit: it's a wide well-placed heatsink, and the CPU cooler may contribute to its ventilation. Heat is transferred through an elastic thermal pad, which provides tight contact. By the way, the pad is made of expensive material of the new generation, a good example of nano technologies in chemistry. Similar pads are used in some mobile racks for hard drives. They can stick to metal tightly, but you can unglue them from the surface without any traces of them left. Besides, a pad remains sticky after that procedure, and this property does not degrade in time.

The 5-phase switching voltage regulator of the processor incorporates four field-effect transistors per channel (in all channels). There are 13 x 560 uF, 4 x 330 uF capacitors and several ones of lesser capacitance. All of them are solid-state models from the leading Japanese manufacturers. On-board chokes use ferrite cores. There are no empty seats on the board, because it's the only model from Foxconn on this chipset. Motherboard dimensions -- 305x245 mm (standard ATX), nine-screw mount, all corners are firmly fixed.

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Article navigation:

Page 1: Introduction, design

Page 2: Interfaces, package, controllers

Page 3: BIOS, performance, conclusions

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