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Appeared on: Monday, November 05, 2007
Gigabyte GA-MA790FX-DQ6

1. Introduction, specifications

After AMD and ATI merged, users waited for a product supposed to rock the gaming world. As time was passing, more and more details came to the surface concerning an upcoming chipset with the codename "RD790". This chipset has several interesting features like PCI Express v2.0 and up to four PCI-e slots that could enable a possible Quad Crossfire setup to further enhance video graphics performance. Gigabyte, one of the lead manufacturers released to the market the GA-MA790FX-DQ6 with several interesting features. This new board is supported to support the upcoming AM2+ socket compatible processors (Phenom), which unfortunately haven't been released yet to the market. In this review we will examine how well Gigabyte's RD790 proposal performs against a very popular AM2 board, the Asus M2N32WS Pro, that is based on Nvidia's 590SLI.

- AMD/ATI RD790 chipset

Sometime ago, DailyTech posted some information about the upcoming RD790. The article mentioned that there will be two reference boards Mako and Wahoo. Mako is the single processor reference board with support for socket AM2 and AM2+ processors which we will review today. It consists mainly of two ATI chipsets, the RD790 and the SB600.

The PCI Express lane configuration for Mako is as follows: two full-speed PCIe x16 slots, one physical PCIe x16 slot with four lane signaling for physics, one physical PCIe x4 slots with two lanes shared between Gigabit Ethernet and SATA and one PCI slot. These lanes can be further divided to deliver four PCIe x8 slots as well. PCI Express 2.0 will be supported as well.

Gigabyte delivers the first board that supports AMD AM2+ Phenom™/ AM2 Athlon™64 series processors. The GA-MA790FX-DQ6 supports Dual Channel DDR2 1066 and comes with Quad PCIe 2.0 graphics interface with ATI CrossFire technology support (two x16 or four x8). The chipset supports 41 lanes of PCIe 2.0 and can run CrossFire and the future Quad CrossFire.

The GA-MA790FX-DQ6 uses High Quality CPU Power design with ferrite core chokes, Low RDS (on) MOSFETs and Solid Capacitors just like the P35-DQ6. Durable Japanese manufactured SMD (Surface Mount Device) Solid Capacitors are used to enhanced the system durability. All New Copper SILENT-PIPE that includes heat sinks are covering the MOSFET modules, the north bridge and the south bridge in order to cool the board silently.

Other features on this board include a Realtek ALC 889A codec with DTS Connect support, featuring 106 dB Signal to Noise ratio enabling Blu-ray and HD DVD high quality Full Rate Lossless audio playback, onboard Dual Gigabit LAN with Teaming function support and Quad BIOS solution for multiple layers of protection. There are also 4 eSATA ports, 1394 and S/PDIF

- Features

1. Supports AMD AM2+ Phenom™/ AM2 Athlon™64 processors and support 4000/ 2000 MT/s FSB.
2. Supports DDR2 1066 memory for outstanding system performance.
3. Quad PCI-E 2.0 graphics interface with ATI CrossFireX™ technology support (two x16 or four x8).
4. Integrated SATA 3Gb/s with RAID function
5. Features dual high speed Gigabit Ethernet and one IEEE1394
6. Ultra Durable 2 motherboard features High Quality CPU Power design with Ferrite core chokes, Low RDS (on) MOSFET and Solid Capacitors.
7. Durable Capacitors that take advantage of Japanese manufactured SMD (Surface Mount Device) solid capacitors for enhanced system durability.
8. All New Copper SILENT-PIPE that includes heat sinks covering MOSFET modules, the north bridge and the south bridge.
9. Audio controller from ALC 889A codec and DTS Connect, featuring 106 dB Signal to Noise ratio and supporting for both Blu-ray and HD DVD formats.

- Full specifications

  1. Supports Quad BIOS
  2. 2 x 8 Mbit flash ROM
  3. Use of licensed AWARD BIOS
  4. PnP 1.0a, DMI 2.0, SM BIOS 2.3, ACPI 1.0b.
  1. AMD RD790
  2. ATI SB600
  3. Realtek 8111B Gigabit Ethernet
  4. T.I IEEE1394a
  5. Realtek ALC889A 8-channel audio codec
Internal I/O Connectors
  1. 1 x 4-pin ATX 12V
  2. 1 x FDD
  3. 1 x On panel
  4. 1 x IDE
  5. 1 x SPDIF in/out
  6. 1 x System Fan
  7. 1 x TPM
  8. 2 x IEEE 1394a
  9. 2 x USB 2.0 (supports 4 ports)
  10. 6 x SATA II 3.0Gb/s
Rear Panel I/O
  1. 1 x COM port
  2. 1 x IEEE 1394a
  3. 2 x eSATA
  4. 2 x RJ45 LAN
  5. 2 x SPDIF out (coaxial+ optical)
  6. 6 x Audio Jacks
  7. 6 x USB 2.0
  8. 2 x PS/2 (Mouse/Keyboard)
Expansion Slots
  1. 1 x PCI Express x1
  2. 2 x PCI
  3. 4 x PCI Express x16
Other Features
  1. Ultra Durable 2 Motherboard
  2. All cooper Silent Pipe and Crazy Cool
  3. All Japanese manufactured solid capacitors with SMD (Surface Mount Device)
  4. Over-clocking Enhanced
  1. Dual Channel DDRII 1066 / 800 / 667
  2. 4 x DIMM slots
Form Factor
  1. ATX form factor, 305 x 244mm

2. Inside the box

GA-MA790FX-DQ6 costs around 230 Euro (+shipping) , as found in several online stores. For sure this isn't a cheap motherboard and aims for power/enthusiast users. The retail package has all the needed logos to inform you about the new motherboard features:

Opening the big retail box, you can have an quick look at the board! The motherboard is placed inside a big protective plastic hard-shell that keeps it in place and well protected.

All included cables are showed below:

The manuals and included CDs

Below is a list of what's included in the retail package

The board itself looks very "clean" as most parts can be identified easily. Lets see how the board looks like. Lets zoom at the CPU area.

The Gigabyte GA-MA790FX-DQ6 follows the design of previous AM2 compatible motherboards. We can see the AM2 socket with plenty of empty space around it. There are two major copper heatsinks that cool down the RD790 (North bridge) and the SB600 (South bridge) chipsets. There shouldn't be any major problem installing any CPU cooler with this motherboard, all of our tests were performed with the  AMD's stock cooler.

The board has properly colored the memory banks in order to properly create Dual Channel memory setups. With the arrival of AM2+ socket processors, memory would be unleashed up to 1066MHz, allowing further performance improvement, compared to the  previous AM2 socket. A green IDE port is available and near the SB600, we can find four (4) yellow colored SATA 2 connectors. There are two more SATA ports (for RAID configurations) at the left side, as shown in the following picture.

At the back side, we find more copper based heatsinks! This may provide additional cooling for standard set-ups, but the larger one will need to be removed for CPU cooling solutions requiring their own back plate.

Now let's go the most interesting part, the PCI-e slots. As we mentioned earlier, there are four (4) PCI-e that can be used in various configurations:

Now the bad news. The PCI-e slots are very close and probably you'll need specific ATI based cards to perform Quad Crossfire configurations. It would be more convenient if those PCI slots were place in the middle in order to have more empty space in case of those big sized graphic cards.

There are several extra connectors for the back of the chassis in the retail package. The I/O panel has many connectors:

3. BIOS settings
The BIOS is Award based and the main screen is what most users have used to:

By pressing F11 you can save bios settings to a "memory file", there are 8 available slots. This is useful since you can access different memory/FSB/CPU schemes. Setting several important settings, for example, disable C1E and speedstep. Another things you should keep in mind is that by pressing CTRL+F1 unveils the "Advanced" features of the motherboard, something that we feel should be there from the beginning. There are three settings with various effects in performance/stability of the motherboard

while there are several things to notice under PC Health Status tab

Ok, now to the most interesting part, the MB Intelligent Tweaker or (M.I.T). Here you control all the major functions of the board, like FSB, voltages and timings

In one screen you can set whatever you like. Let's notice the most important. First of all the HT Link can go up to 1GHz

Memory Clocks can now be seen as it supposed to be, each different setting represents a different DRAM:FSB ratio. We didn't saw the 1066MHz option, we assume this will only be available with the Phenom AM2+ processors

DRAM timings are organized in another tab and they can be set to either manual or auto.

Several memory options are available and unfortunately, voltages have no absolute values but instead they are in the form of +0.xx. That's not good since you don't know the exact voltage that motherboard has selected for your CPU/subsystems. If you are using Gigabyte's Windows Easy Tune 5 software, you can view or set voltages from there, but again it would be ideal to have absolute values under the Bios. The voltages margins are not that high, we should expected more from this board:

- Installation

Using Everest Ultimate Edition 2007 we can get more information about the board:

Both North Bridge and South Bridge chipsets unveiled:

For all tests we used the latest available BIOS (F2B).

Let's see now  how our CPU was identified using CPU-Z:

4. Test configuration

In order to compare Gigabyte GA-MA790FX-DQ6 and Asus M2N32 WSPro we used the same components and tried to have the exact same memory speeds. However it was nearly impossible to set CL4 with the Crucial PC2-8000 memory, despite the fact that we pumped up memory voltage up to 2.25V and disabled MemoryBoost function under Advanced Features. To be exactly correct, we did managed to get the system boot under Windows, but CL4 was not stable, even with 2.25V as Orthos stability test showed:

We assume this is a BIOS problem that must be addressed in the near future from Gigabyte.

We used a variety of software, from benchmark to games:

5. Everest Ultimate Edition 2007

Click for official website!EVEREST Ultimate Edition is an industry leading system diagnostics and benchmarking solution for enthusiasts PC users, based on the award-winning EVEREST Technology. During system optimizations and tweaking it provides essential system and overclock information, advanced hardware monitoring and diagnostics capabilities to check the effects of the applied settings. CPU, FPU and memory benchmarks are available to measure the actual system performance and compare it to previous states or other systems. Furthermore, complete software, operating system and security information makes EVEREST Ultimate Edition a comprehensive system diagnostics tool that offers a total of 100 pages of information about your PC. The software has build-in several tests for memory and CPU/FPU.

Due to the lower CL4 timings, Asus M2N32WS Pro had better memory performance in all subtests.

The CPU tests are also affected from the memory performance. In some tests, Gigabyte GA-790FX-DQ6 managed to be  faster and that indicates that with CL4 timings the test results would be in favor of Gigabyte's.

6. SiSoftware Sandra

SiSoftware Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility. It should provide most of the information (including undocumented) you need to know about your hardware, software and other devices whether hardware or software. It works along the lines of other Windows utilities, however it tries to go beyond them and show you more of what's really going on. Giving the user the ability to draw comparisons at both a high and low-level. You can get information about the CPU, chipset, video adapter, ports, printers, sound card, memory, network, Windows internals, AGP, PCI, PCIe, ODBC Connections, USB2, 1394/Firewire, etc. Sisoft Sandra offers a variety of tests for Memory and CPU.

Again, the memory performance was better for Asus M2N32WS Pro. At the CPU tests, we saw a mixed bag in and in some tests Gigabyte GA-790FX-DQ6 was faster than Asus.

7. PCMark 2005, 3DMark 2006

Click for homepage!PCMark®05 is everything you need to reliably and easily measure the performance of your PC and determine its strengths and weaknesses. With PCMark05, you will be able to select the optimal upgrades for your existing PC, or choose the right new PC that fits your specific needs. This easy-to-use product gives you the same tools and knowledge that virtually every professional tester in the industry uses. Below you can see all three available scores, memory, CPU and total.

At both Memory/CPU scores, Asus M2N32WS Pro was faster...

Click for homepage!3DMark®06 is the worldwide standard in advanced 3D game performance benchmarking. A fundamental tool for every company in the PC industry as well as PC users and gamers, 3DMark06 uses advanced real-time 3D game workloads to measure PC performance using a suite of DirectX 9 3D graphics tests, CPU tests, and 3D feature tests. 3DMark06 tests include all new HDR/SM3.0 graphics tests, SM2.0 graphics tests, AI and physics driven single and multiple cores or processor CPU tests and a collection of comprehensive feature tests to reliably measure next generation gaming performance today.

3D Mar06 tests both CPU/RAM and of course the graphics card. Gigabyte GA-790FX-DQ6 topped 1869 score points at th e 3D Mark 06 CPU test.

8. ScienceMark 2.0, Pov-ray, x264 Benchmark

Science Mark 2.0 is an attempt to put the truth behind benchmarking. In an attempt to model real world demands and performance, SM2 is a suite of high-performance benchmarks that realistically stress system performance without architectural bias.  Science Mark 2.0 is comprised of 7 benchmarks, each of which measures a different aspect of real world system performance.

Pov-Ray s a high-quality, totally free tool for creating stunning three-dimensional graphics. It is available in official versions for Windows, Mac OS/Mac OS X and i86 Linux. The source code is available for those wanting to do their own ports. We used Pov-Ray 3.7beta15 for all tests, since it supports Dual Core CPUs. We used the build-in benchmark as suggested from developers.

Both Pov-Ray and ScienceMark test results are dominated from Asus...

- x264 Benchmark

x264 Benchmark utilizes the next generation of Video Encoding benchmarks with support for x264 codec that is considered to be one of the most demanding for Video applications. Simply put, this test measures how fast your machine can encode a short, DVD quality MPEG-2 video clip into a high-quality x264 video clip. The author believes that "...it's ideal for a benchmark because the application (x264.exe) reports fairly accurate compression results (in frames per second) for each pass of the video encoding process, and it uses multi-core processors very efficiently..."

The benchmark procedure is very simple, you just run a batch file that encodes the same file five times. There are two kinds of results, for first pass and second. We sum and divide the results in order to get an average performance and we post the results below.

Again the lowest CL4 memory timings gave Asus M2N32WS Pro the precedence.

9. CineBench

MAXON CINEBENCH is based on MAXON's award-winning animation software, CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such and Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and many more. MAXON CINEBENCH runs several tests on your computer to measure the performance of the main processor and the graphics card under real world circumstances. The benchmark application makes use of up to 16 CPUs or CPU cores and is available for Windows (32-bit and 64-Bit) and Macintosh (PPC and Intel-based). The resulting values among different operating systems are 100% comparable and therefore very useful with regard to purchasing decision-making.

All tests were concluded with the R9.5 and R10 build and each result is presented in a different graph for your consideration. Note that all displayed index scores are the summary of CPU index scores.

The result is the same in both tests, Asus M2N32WS Pro came first.

10. SuperPI

SuperPI has become an utility to benchmark modern systems. In August 1995, the calculation of pi up to 4,294,960,000 decimal digits was succeeded by using a supercomputer at the University of Tokyo. The program was written by D.Takahashi and he collaborated with Dr. Y.Kanada at the computer center, the University of Tokyo. This record-breaking program was ported to personal computer environment such as Windows NT and Windows 95 and called Super PI.

The software offers up to 32M calculations of PI numbers, we summed all test results and we compare the performance of the tested motherboards

Apparently Gigabyte GA-790FX-DQ6 showed good performance and got the lowest SuperPI score.

11. SySmark 2007, WorldBench 6

BAPCo's SYSmark 2007 Preview builds upon its predecessors and is the next generation of benchmark utilities that unitiliaze real life applications like: Adobe After Effects 7, Adobe Illustrator CS2, Adobe Photoshop CS2, AutoDesk 3ds Max 8, Macromedia Flash 8, Microsoft Excel 2003, Microsoft Outlook 2003, Microsoft PowerPoint 2003, Microsoft Word 2003, Microsoft Project 2003, Microsoft Windows Media™ Encoder 9 series, Sony Vegas 7, SketchUp 5 and WinZip 10.0.

SYSmark 2007 Preview is an application-based benchmark that reflects usage patterns of business users in the areas of Video creation, E-learning, 3D Modeling and Office Productivity. This new release includes a robust and refreshed set of applications. All results are directly comparable between various configurations and operating systems.

Minor differences between both tested motherboards...

http://www.pcworld.com/article/id,130470-page,1/article.htmlPC World has developed a new benchmark for testing PC system performance, WorldBench has reached six (6) number and now is compatible with Windows Vista. Much like as SysMark, it uses various real life applications (Adobe Photoshop CS2, Autodesk 3ds max 8.0 SP-3, Firefox 2, Microsoft Office 2003 with SP-1, Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9.0, Nero 7 Ultra Edition, Roxio VideoWave Movie Creator 1.5 and WinZip Computing WinZip 10.0) and with pre-defined usage patterns calculates a total score that can be used to evaluate a system's performance.

The highest score in this roundup was from Gigabyte GA-790FX-DQ6.

12. Lost Planet: Extreme Condition

The game's plot focuses on the amnesiac character Wayne Holden, his father, Gale Holden, and the past and future of the planet E.D.N. III. After a particularly vicious battle against a large Akrid known only as "Green Eye", Gale is supposedly killed, and Wayne lost on the icy planes of E.D.N. III . The planet of E.D.N III is perpetually cold and snowy, originally inhabited by a species of aliens known as Akrid, who forced humanity to abandon E.D.N. III by strength of numbers and surprise, which can be found in many and varied forms.

They all share one trait; Thermal Energy, or T.Eng., as it's called in the game. This powerful energy source, found only in Akrid bodies, made humankind determined to fight them after having to retreat from this new menace. They created the Vital Suit, or VS, technology, essentially heated mechs with mounted weapons and powered by T.Eng.

In order to benchmark graphic cards, we used the Demo version that includes a "Performance Test" function. We used the default demo visual settings for all test. There are two test results from two different animated courses that being reported as "Snow" and "Cave":

Let's now see the performance of the tested motherboards:

Exactly the same performance from both motherboards...

13. Overclocking

In our first test, all tested motherboards must achieve the highest CPU speed with all BIOS settings left to Auto. This means that each motherboard must figure out how much voltage the CPU needs in order to be absolutely stable. Memory dividers and memory/FSB/MCH voltages are also left to Auto. In other words this is the easiest overclocking method you can do.

Keeping the CPU multiplier at 12x, Gigabyte GA-790FX-DQ6 reached 2640MHz, while Asus M2N32WS Pro was somewhat faster reaching 2720MHz.

2nd Test

Except from the maximum CPU speed, we have to find the maximum possible FSB frequency with our used CPU. Again all BIOS settings are left to Auto and the CPU multiplier is dropped down to 5x, while the HT dropped to 200MHz. Memory timings and dividers are also left to auto.

With Auto voltage settings we got a totally stable 310MHz FSB for Gigabyte GA-790FX-DQ6.

- Overclocking stability

We have a mixed image for Gigabyte's overclocking stability. Several times it did managed to post after a failure, however several times didn't and required to perform the Clear CMOS function in order to restore it. We assume that this behavior will improve in future BIOS updates.

14. Conclusion

AMD and ATI worked together to produce the  RD790 for the AM2/AM2+ socket upcoming processors. There are two major and important features that makes the RD790 stand out, the PCI-e v2.0 support and the four PCI-e slots for a Quad Crossfire setup. Those two features appeal interesting in gamers wishing to use them and of course pay the corresponding price.

The Gigabyte GA-MA790FX-DQ6 is the first motherboard in the market that comes with the RD790. Due to Phenom indisposition, we tested the motherboard with an Athlon X2 4600+ processor. We used the same components and we had a direct comparison with a Nvidia 590SLI motherboard from Asus (M2N32 WS Pro). Before the tests we had the strange feeling of who will be the winner between those two boards, since with the Gigabyte we couldn't achieve CL4 for the tested memory at 400MHz. The thing is that the performance gap between the two tested boards isn't that big, but if the Gigabyte could achieve CL4, things might be different.

Passing to the board itself, the layout is clean and most major parts can be easily identified. The biggest issue might be the fact that the four PCI-e slots are very close to each other, so if you are dreaming of a Quad Crossfire setup, you will need to get the appropriate graphic cards. Gigabyte could make a better board design concerning this issue. Of course four (4) memory banks are present, four SATA2 connectors and many ports at the back panel.

Concluding this review, we feel that this motherboard aims at a specific target group, since there are not so many "hot" new improvements that could justify the increased price, compared to Nvidia's 590SLI. Things might change when the AMD Phenom hits the market, then we will see the true performance of the RD790 with the 1066MHz memory bandwidth and if we are lucky enough to get four identical ATI based graphics cards, a Quad Crossfire setup. For the retail price of 230 Euro, users must decide if those new features are really that interesting to make an upgrade of a current system setup. Upcoming buyers of Phenom, should consider this motherboard since it includes all the needed features to unleash the true power of AMD's future processors

Retail package
Overclocking performance
Overclocking stability

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