ECS A890GXM-A Motherboard

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ATI filled their Radeon HD 5000 series from top to bottom, and are now ready with a new integrated graphics processor for AMD’s motherboards.

The 890GX is the first of a new generation. It plays into AMD’s Fusion and Vision mantras of bringing its processing and graphics wings together in a single, easily digestible package. The IGP here is dubbed the Radeon HD 4290, skipping the 5000-series name and sticking with DirectX 10.1 rather than 11. Entry-level customers should be happy with onboard graphics, while those who want more can add in Radeon cards ranging from the low-end 5400 series to the highest-end 5800s and CrossFire X multi-card options.

However the IGP is still capable of multimedia niceties including video upscaling, accelerated HD playback (including Flash video), and even some amount of accelerated GPU processing with compatible software. Hybrid Crossfire, which pairs the IGP with a low-end Radeon card to deliver the combined performance of both, is also supported.

The chipset block diagram highlights a few features: first of all, there’s only DDR3 RAM support, as expected. Secondly, there’s support for analog VGA as well as digital DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort video outputs. AMD also allows for a fixed amount of DDR3 “Sideport” RAM, as a dedicated cache for the video subsystem.

The last interesting feature is native support for 6 GBps SATA 3, which means all the board’s internal and external SATA ports use the newly-launched standard with no additional controllers or accessories required. USB 3.0 isn’t built in, but AMD says board partners who choose to add a third-party USB 3.0 controller will be able to use the full bandwidth of a PCIe lane, as opposed to current Intel implementations which either halve the available bandwidth or occupy two lanes.

First to our Test Center was ECS, with its A890GXM-A “Black Series” board. ECS boards are typically quite vanilla and don’t offer much customization, but this one is fairly souped up. ECS uses bright yellow and orange plastics on a dark brown board, which looks quite striking. The motherboard’s layout is decent, with no visible components that could cause obstructions. The SATA ports are angled to the board’s edge and the primary PCIe slot is spaced away from the RAM slots, but the other two PCIe slots are right next to each other, which will limit Crossfire X options since every Radeon 5000 series card needs a cooler large enough to occupy two slots.

ECS throws in dual Gigabit LAN ports and 8-channel audio, apart from the chipset’s integrated features. The rear panel has one of each type of video output—VGA, DVI, DisplayPort and HDMI, which was a pleasant surprise. You can use ATI Eyefinity triple-monitor configurations out of the box, though of course limited by the IGP’s power. There are six USB ports on the rear with headers for eight more, but no USB 3.0 (which isn’t natively supported, but most motherboard vendors will add it through an extra controller—and USB 3.0 will be common soon enough that we wonder why any new motherboard today doesn’t have it). You get one eSATA port, but no FireWire. Interestingly, there’s also a CMOS clear button on the rear panel for easy BIOS resets if you tweak the settings often.
Strangely, there’s zero support for most legacy peripherals. There’s a lone PCI slot, but you won’t find ports or motherboard headers for serial, parallel, PS/2 or even IDE! Sure, these won’t be missed too sorely with all the new options, but it’s still nice to have an IDE channel handy for older optical and hard drives!

On the software side, ECS includes eJiffy, its customized quick-loading Linux environment. After installing a Windows utility, you have to dig through a few BIOS settings to get it running. Once enabled, your regular boot screen is replaced with a graphical menu which gives you the option of running eJiffy, proceeding with a regular boot, and entering the BIOS settings. ECS claims eJiffy will load in under 10 seconds from this point. You’ll be able to browse the Web (and therefore use any online app), connect to instant messaging programs, play basic media files and browse through your local and network drives.

Published Date: Mar 05, 2010 05:32 pm | Updated Date: Mar 05, 2010 05:32 pm