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January 17, 2012

Gigabyte 990XA-UD3 motherboard Review

AMD’s new 9-series chipset is built for the latest Bulldozer CPUs and the reason to go in for it is to harness the full potential of the CPU and get features that weren’t supported before. Good news is that the latest motherboards also support the older Athlon II and Phenom II CPUs in the socket AM3 package. 

The AMD 9-series comprise of 970, 990X and 990FX chipsets. The primary difference between the three is the number of PCIE lanes for graphics, which determines the type of multi-GPU setup supported. With 32 PCIE lanes, 990FX can support two graphics cards in x16 mode or up to four graphics cards in x8 mode each. Both 970 and 990X have 16 PCIE lanes, however, 970 supports a single graphics card and 990X supports up to two graphics cards in dual x8 mode.
Plenty of features for a good price
Plenty of features for a good price

The Gigabyte 990XA-UD3 motherboard is based on the AMD 990X chipset. It’s not an enthusiast-class model, but with multi-GPU support and a few other interesting features, it comes under the mid-range segment. The motherboard sports the new socket AM3+, which can easily be identified by its black color. Apart from the multi-GPU support, the chipset supports up to 32GB of DDR3 memory and the SB950 southbridge natively supports six SATA 6 Gb/s ports. Support for USB 3.0 is still via discrete controllers – there are two ports on the rear panel and two additional ports are offered by an on-board header. Also present on the rear are eight USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, a Gigabit Ethernet port, a PS/2 port than can be used either for the mouse or keyboard, optical S/PDIF output and jacks for 7.1 channel audio.

The 990XA-UD3 features Gigabyte’s typical blue-and-white color scheme and even the heatsinks used for the chipset and the power phase are similar to those used on other boards. The overall look is pretty average, but the layout is excellent. With smaller heatsinks and other components around the CPU socket, there’s ample clearance for installing large coolers.
A good number of USB ports and a FireWire port as well
A good number of USB ports and a FireWire port as well

The expansion slots have been placed thoughtfully.  The PCIE x16 slots are far apart so that when you install two graphics cards in SLI or CrossFireX, they have ample breathing space. However, if you install a dual-slot graphics card in the first PCIE x16 slot, you’ll lose out on a PCIE x1 slot, which is just below it and likewise you lose a PCI slot with a hefty graphics card in the second PCIE x16 slot.

The SATA 6 Gb/s port are oriented outward for easy cable routing and headers for USB, FireWire, and front audio are lined up at the base.

Bundled applications
Gigabyte has bundled a handful of useful applications that add value. The @BIOS utility allows downloading the latest BIOS and flashing the BIOS from within Windows. The Easy Tune 6 utility displays the CPU and memory information and allows tinkering with clock speeds and voltages. The Cloud OC is an app that can be used to overclock your system using an Internet-connected device such as a laptop or a smartphone. Last, but not the least, you also get Easy Energy Saver, which optimizes power consumption without compromising on performance. It displays the total power savings from the time you first activated the app.
The expansion slots and headers are well laid out
The expansion slots and headers are well laid out

Our test setup, included AMD FX-8150 CPU, 8 GB G.Skill RipJaws X (DDR3-2133), AMD Radeon HD 6870 and Plextor PX-256M2S SSD. Both the synthetic and real world scores were very similar to those reported by AMD 990FX motherboards. This board scored 14511 points in PCMark Vantage and 4225 points in 3DMark 11. At 1920x1080, Crysis Warhead and Mafia II logged 35.8 fps and 48.3 fps, respectively.

990X and 990FX chipset-based motherboards are ideal, if you’re going in for multi-GPU setup. If not, then the 970 chipset should suffice. Note that none of the new chipsets feature integrated graphics. So, a graphics card will be an additional investment. Optionally, you can settle for an 8-series chipset-based motherboard with integrated graphics and use a Bulldozer CPU with it, if you want the latest platform.
For Rs 11,000, the Gigabyte 990XA-UD3 is a good overall package. However, we suggest considering other options. You may want a different set of expansion slots or other additional features, which other brands might have to offer.


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