This editor was particularly eager to review an ECS Elite Group motherboard – especially their Black Series – because of their fine reputation for solid motherboards. We especially wanted a good look at their new AMD AM3 890GXM-A which was said to be very overclocking friendly. It is also a potential replacement for my Gigabyte GA-MA790X-UD4P which was the basis for the Phenom II Value system which we reviewed against Intel’s high performance Core i7/x58 platform here. The ECS 890GXM-A is currently priced $120 at NewEgg.com
Our Gigabyte GA-MA790X-UD4P motherboard is an excellent overclocker with many adjustments available and since it is a 790X chipset, it is natural that we will compare our new ECS 890GXM-A which is the updated version of the chipset that we have been using to overclock our Phenom II CPUs. It has been just over two years since AMD launched its 700 series chipset and the 800 series is being ushered in. We are going to look at the performance of this DDR3-supporting 890GXM chipset paired with a SouthBridge 850 which supports SATA 3.0 for AMD’s popular AM3 series of motherboards. This 890GX series is an “all purpose” motherboard and it is useful for both low- and high-end consumers.
AMD’s new 890GX chipset supports DDR3 memory and it has also upgraded the IGP (integrated graphics processor) to what AMD calls its Radeon HD 4290 which compared to the previous generation, brings new media capabilities and potentially better gaming performance. USB 3.0 support is available although it’s not built into the chipset itself but must be added in although the Southbridge 850 supports SATA 3.0. There are three 16x PCIe slots of which two supports AMD’s CrossFire and the third is 4x PCIe. You will have to wait until the 890FX chipset later this month to use full 16x + 16x PCIe CrossFire bandwidth simultaneously; our chipset is limited to 8x + 8x PCIe when both slots are populated.
Due to the lack of available PCI-Express bandwidth with Intel’s H55/P55 motherboards, neither USB 3.0 nor SATA 3.0 connections can experience their full bandwidth potential if a device from both connections are used simultaneously. In contrast, thanks to AMD’s SB850 Southbridge, there is enough bandwidth to handle all six possible SATA 3.0 ports along with USB 3.0 devices. We won’t see that kind of support from Intel’s motherboards until at least Sandy Bridge.
The new Southbridge is a very nice update over our older SB7x0 series. The Southbridge ASIC is used for peripheral connectivity for SSDs and HDDs, USB, audio, etc. We notice that this motherboard has implemented SATA 6G (SATA3) to increase the bandwidth on the SATA controller from 3 to (theoretically) 6 GBit/sec. For regular HDDs this is not really very necessary, but with the increasing popularity of fast SSD drives this is quite an attractive feature.
Since we do not have a SSD to test these transfer rates, we will rely on synthetic benchmarks to compare the two motherboards and we can tell you if it is worth an upgrade or not. It would be very logical to pair this motherboard with an Athlon II on the low end or a Phenom II on the high end and we shall focus on midrange gaming performance with the HD 4870 and our Phenom II 955-x4 which we run at its stock 3.2 GHz clock.
The ECS 890GXM-A is also a much more full-featured than the ECS A-785GM-AD3 AM3 motherboard which ABT senior editor Karan reviewed here. Although they share much in common, the one we are reviewing is intended to be particularly overclocking-friendly. Both motherboards include an integrated HD 4200 series graphics chipset (although the A890GXM-A’s integrated HD 4290 at 700 MHz is much faster) which is ideal for powering that second monitor or for use as a home theater PC (HTPC). It also means that you don’t need a separate video card for smooth BluRay playback. Eight-channel RealTek ALC892 7.1CH High Definition audio is also onboard with Content Protection for Blu-Ray.
The ECS 890GXM-A allows the integrated graphics to be paired with an HD 5450 for CrossFire-X to harness the power of both GPUs to work in tandem for more performance than either of them could muster by themselves. We were able to test the stock performance of the HD 4290 integrated graphics although we did not bother to overclock it as most end users do not buy it for that purpose. We also tested the performance of the stock HD 4870-1GB video card in our older 790X motherboard and we compared it to the performance in the ECS 890GXM-A to see if there is any difference or not.
There is a good reason that AMD did not include a HD “5290″ as DX11 requires a rather beefy graphic processor to take advantage of tessellation and the extra details. This one is really intended for relatively low resolution and we tested the HD 4290 IG at 1440×900 to see how it does. The integrated graphics of ECS 890GXM-A is aimed squarely at Intel’s most powerful integrated graphics so as to blow it away for less money. AMD has succeeded but for more powerful integrated graphics, we shall have to wait until next year for AMD’s first iteration of their Fusion – a CPU core integrated with a fairly powerful DX11 graphics processor. Of course, if you do want DX11 now, you can pair the HD 4290 IG with an inexpensive HD 5450 in CrossFire-X and harness the power of both GPUs rather inexpensively.
Before we get into the benchmarks and performance figures, let’s take a look at this very aesthetically pleasing motherboard which is black as befits the ECS Black Series:
ECS, Elitegroup Computer Systems, was established in 1987. Over the last two decades, they have expanded their operation to not only motherboards, but also desktop and notebook computers, graphics cards and many mobile products. ECS was the first motherboard maker in Taiwan to be listed on the Taiwan Stock Exchange in 1994.
Headquartered in Taiwan with business partners and distributors in over 60 countries, ECS has ISO 9001:2000 and ISO 14001:2004 certified manufacturing facilities in China, capable of producing over 2.5 million motherboards and 200,000 notebook computers every month. The company currently has branch offices throughout the world in Americas, Europe and the Pacific Rim. To further extend its quality products and services, ECS plans to open additional branch offices in the new emerging markets including Brazil, India and Russia.
So let’s get better acquainted with the ECS A890GXM-A AM3 Black Series motherboard.