Review: MSI 890FXA-GD70

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Review: MSI 890FXA-GD70

AMD has been the best budget choice when it comes to processors in recent times, and socket AM3 motherboards follow suit with most we've seen coming in at under three figures.

The MSI 890FXA-GD70 is out of the ordinary, however; $233 out of the ordinary. Attempting to justify this is a host of high-end features, which are scattered liberally around the board's black PCB. The bottom-right corner, for instance, is home to a quartet of small touchpads that replace the buttons normally seen on expensive boards.

Besides the usual power and reset buttons are a couple of more intriguing switches. The first, labelled Green Power, turns off the system's LEDs, and the second works in conjunction with a circular dial next door. It's an overclocking control, and it's surprisingly easy to use. Delve into the BIOS to decide what sort of speed increase you'd like, and then turn the dial when you're in Windows to add this amount to your processor's clock speed.

While it's a handy addition that works reasonably well, we can't see it gaining much real-world use: after all, MSI provides its own software overclocking utilities that run within Windows already and, since you've got to head into the BIOS to activate the OC Dial anyway, you might as well tweak the clock speed and multiplier settings while you're there. Its position in the bottom-right corner of the board isn't exactly convenient, either.

Further up the board sits a two-character LED panel that's handy for diagnosing boot issues, and the board is covered with a good selection of jumpers and connecters: three USB 2 headers sit next to, two FireWire, one for chassis intrusion detection, another for a TPM module and the usual clear CMOS jumper. There are five fan connectors too, although only one comes with the fourth pin that indicates variable speed control.

Even the more conventional features are of an enthusiast bent, with the 890FX chipset sitting at the top of AMD's range. While we're sure that gamers won't notice the lack of integrated graphics in their rush to fit a beefy discrete card, they might appreciate the fact that this is the only AMD chipset that supports four-way CrossFireX.

Fitting four graphics cards, though, isn't as clear-cut as plugging them in. While there's a whopping five PCI-Express x16 slots, only two run at their full x16 speed. The next pair is half as quick, with the final slot half as quick again. The sheer number of these slots also means there's room for only single PCI Express x1 and PCI sockets.

A single SATA/300 socket that sits perpendicular to the board joins six SATA/600 ports, and there's the usual eight-pin CPU connecter and IDE socket. Thankfully, fitting large CPU coolers shouldn't be a problem, as there are no bulky heatsinks surrounding the board's Socket AM3.

The BIOS hides a couple of neat features. Chassis intrusion detection and the motherboard's TPM chip can be activated. Another menu allows you to unlock cores that, on certain AMD processors, have been locked before they've left the fabrication plant - potentially increasing performance for no extra cash. Aside from this, though, the BIOS offers conventional overclocking and system management settings, so serious tweakers might want to look elsewhere for a BIOS that offers more control.

The board itself offers many of the features that the serious system builder needs then, but you'll certainly be paying for it. If you're not going to use any of these niche additions you could slash your budget and invest in the A-Listed Asus M4A88TD-V EVO, which costs around £80 exc VAT and comes with USB 3, SATA/600 and integrated graphics.

If you need the versatility offered by the MSI's numerous sockets, slots and connectors then this is one of the few AMD-based boards to offer such a wealth of features. And, although it's expensive by AM3 standards, it's still much cheaper than the Intel equivalent.

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