Even top processors from AMD have moderate price tags these days. But does it mean that top-end Socket AM3 motherboards, which may cost more than the most expensive Phenom II CPUs, are a disproportionate choice that is hardly of any interest? No, it doesn't. On the contrary, having found out that a CPU suddenly takes up only a small share of the PC budget, many users tend to invest the spare money into other PC parts instead. If you assemble a gaming rig, the first idea that springs to mind is to buy a more powerful graphics card. Well, this one is difficult to argue with. But a motherboard may also get its share of attention sometimes. This decision has a number of practical reasons. For example, users who edit videos or process large amounts of other media content really need an opportunity to connect more hard drives than just one or two. Some users want to have two network ports or other peripheral functionality, which is rarely available in cheaper motherboards (for example, both optical and digital S/PDIF interfaces or 4-pin and 6-pin FireWire connectors on the rear panel). A top-end chipset (like AMD 790FX) provides the most fully-fledged CrossFire mode (x16+x16), which may interest those choosing a platform for a long time, and who may want to install the second graphics card in the future.
Finally, as top motherboards almost always have imposing cooling systems, excessive power circuitry, and advanced BIOS settings, they are always popular among overclockers. Especially among those who don't just like to experiment, but want to use their heavily overclocked rigs under load on a daily basis. Stability depends much on motherboard quality in this case. This is also relevant to Phenom II which has a good overclocking potential, even better in the Revision C3. Such a CPU takes part in our tests today, by the way.
PCB layout has all typical signs of a top model. There is probably no need to mention that it can accommodate two graphics cards regardless of their dimensions (at least with factory cooling systems). Look at the third chip with a heatsink (except chipset bridges.) It's a proprietary RAID controller (Gigabyte SATA2) that manages two SATA2 controllers from JMicron supporting two HDD pairs. However, it does not allow to join hard drives, connected to different controllers (for example, for the 0+1 mode). In fact, the additional chip provides only service functions available via Smart Backup. In practice, two ports are sure to be used for eSATA connectors on the rear panel (on the bundled bracket). Another two ports will be used for optical drives, unless a user decides to use the chipset-based IDE channel. In this case, all six chipset-based ports remain free for RAID.
This motherboard has two BIOS chips, of course: a primary chip and a backup one. This feature is used even in cheaper models. It safeguards a user from consequences of a failed flashing attempt or experiments with hardcore overclocking, which may damage the main BIOS.
We have already seen this cooling system in various modifications in modern motherboards from Gigabyte. All three heatsinks are connected with a heat pipe: on the chipset and MOSFETs in the voltage regulator. We still don't agree with the idea to place nameplates on the main heatsinks. They won't be effective deflectors, as CPU fans are usually installed higher. And fins of the heatsink on the voltage regulator are directed transverse to the would-be air flow. All these frivolities actually don't affect operating stability even in overclocking (the voltage regulator does not grow hot due to its excessive design, and the chipset itself does not consume much). But advocates of technical perfectionism may find a reason to grumble.
And those who didn't like Gigabyte's flippant method of clearing CMOS (closing contacts with any metal object) should be pleased now. This motherboard has a special button now (illuminated together with the power and reset buttons with blue LEDs) with a transparent protective cover to avoid accidental presses.
The voltage regulator is expectedly designed in the best Ultra Durable traditions. Each of 10 phases contains two modern Low RDS (on) MOSFETs, chokes with ferrite cores, as well as 12 x 820 uF and 4 x 270 uF solid capacitors from leading Japanese manufacturers. It supports processors with TDP up to 140 W. When the Easy Energy Saver technology is enabled, the number of phases used is determined dynamically depending on the load. The board has twice as thick copper layers in power and ground circuits, which contributes to even heat distribution.
We liked the bundle either. Along with six cables with metal latches for internal SATA devices and one IDE cable, the box also contains an eSATA kit with a bracket for two ports and a power connector as well as cables (for power and data) for two devices.
There is also a brief installation guide. Proprietary utilities include: EasyTune for system monitoring, fan speed control, etc; Face-Wizard for BIOS splash screen editing; Q-Share for convenient file sharing in a local area network; @BIOS to download the latest BIOS version at the Gigabyte server and flash it; Gigabyte Online Manager for remote monitoring of the configuration; and Smart Backup for RAID monitoring. What concerns third-party utilities, we can mention Norton Internet Security, Kaspersky Anti-Virus, and COREL MediaOne. Quite a bundle!
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