Asus Sabertooth 990FX Review

This review has been a long time coming. Here today is the Asus Sabertooth 990FX motherboard. The Sabertooth line up was first introduced by Asus in their Intel socket 1156 lineup. The idea was simple, create a motherboard that defined the word TUF – rough, rigged, military grade. Fallout wasteland TUF. What does this mean to household gamers and overclockers though? It is not an everyday situation for people like us to be out in a world that has severe heat and somehow our computer system gets tossed around like a rag doll. The best way to define this board then is to say that it is the best in class for the gamer and overclocker.

The TUF lineup has been engineered to run cooler, longer, and stronger than any other board out there on the market. In the world we live in, gaming and overclocking, this is something we need. We gamers / overclockers need a board that is not going to degrade over time because our hardware has a 30% gain from overclocking. We need that board to last after it gets frosted over from an experimental dry ice run. We need a board to laugh at our attempts to push our CPU well beyond its means because it knows that it can go further if you just let it.

The Asus Sabertooth 990FX brings these features to the table. As the best in class for the 990FX line up from Asus, it delivers on these features and then some. I say best in class even though the Crosshair V is their highest end board because I have firm belief that the Crosshair series is specifically designed for overclockers in mind. The Sabertooth is designed for us gaming overclockers. Gaming overclockers is a term that I use for people that spend the majority of their time gaming on their system, but their system is also overclocked in some way. Here on Overclockers.com I believe the majority of you do just that.

Author’s note: Some pictures were taken after testing. These pictures may show power supply voltage levels far below what they should be. The readings are accurate; soon after testing my PSU started to die. This did not affect the review or testing.

The Sabertooth 990FX

The Sabertooth box is pretty simple. It has a flap and inside is a single box that has two layers. The first layer contains the motherboard, the second is the accessories. Finally a motherboard company that does not send a bunch of useless or unneeded accessories for a motherboard that already contains everything you need. Sometimes it’s nice to have accessories, but it has to target the user. Since the Sabertooth is designed to be the all around board used by all, it should come with the minimum amount of accessories and be packaged in a simple box. Let me buy any extra things that I may need later on. Prime examples of this is extra sound cards, expansion cards for FireWire, USB2/3 etc.

Front Box

Front Box

Back of Box

Back of Box

Box Flap

Box Flap

More stickers please

More stickers please

Outside from what I said, the sticker is always needed. I have a pile of stickers that I plan on putting on my custom bench station once I get around to building it. If all I got for accessories were stickers, it would make me a happy customer.

Let us get to the good stuff, the motherboard itself. I somewhat like the color scheme that is going on. It has a military color scheme. It gives an appeal that every aspect of the board was created with military strength and endurance in mind. As it should be. If I had received a board that said military grade, and I got a pink commando scheme board, I would question the engineering of the board entirely.

Board laying in the box

Board laying in the box

Full Motherboard

Full Motherboard

Now to what is important – how everything is laid out on the board. It looks nice, but much of the time a motherboard is going to be put in a case and never looked at again until cleaning season. The first thing I look at with a new motherboard is the area around the socket. As an extreme overclocker, the most frustrating scenario is me having to shutdown a liquid nitrogen session because a water puddle is forming around a component. Even with good insulation these things can happen. The less components around the socket the better. As you can tell, the Sabertooth only has the bare essentials around the socket. The engineers did a good job in keeping it clean.

CPU Socket

CPU Socket

RAM Sockets

RAM Sockets

PCIE Sockets

PCIE Sockets

Backplane

Backplane

Asus was able to squish in four PCI-e expansion ports, the problem is that three of them could only be really used for SLI or CrossfireX. The two tan colored slots are full x16 slots and can be used as dual x16 for SLI and CrossfireX. The brown and black ones are both x8. The brown slot is used for 3-Way SLI and CrossfireX and will only be able to go up to x8 in this mode. The black slot is really there for any expansion cards that may use a PCI-e lane. Something like a Revo Drive would be perfect here. It is not necessarily a bad thing that Asus did not give users the ability for full on 4-way SLI and CrossfireX. If you are going to do something like that, you might as well and invest your money in something that will give those cards as much power as possible. In most cases two cards will do just fine.

CPU Voltage Regulator

CPU Voltage Regulator

CPU Powerplane

CPU Powerplane

So pretty

So pretty

Powering the CPU is the signature Digi+ Voltage Regulator. I really like how this VR works and love the many options that it comes with. Being able to tweak even the frequency of the voltage being supplied is a nice feature for those that want to bring their boards under cold. The Digi+ powers a simple 8+2 power plane. 8 phase power plane for the CPUv and a 2 phase power plane for the CPU-NBv.

Northbridge without Heatsink

Northbridge without Heatsink

Southbridge without Heatsink

Southbridge without Heatsink

On this board, there is the 990FX and the SB950. The 990FX powers the four PIC-E lanes and than tells the SB950 to do the rest of the work. Attached to the SB950 are six 6.0GB/s SATA ports, no IDE ports (finally), more than enough USB2 ports, a USB3 controller, Gigabit Ethernet port, and Realtek sound. This is all pretty standard addons for a motherboard.

Another shot of the CPU Powerplane

Another shot of the CPU Powerplane

Fun Shot 1

Fun Shot 1

Fun Shot 2

Fun Shot 2

Southbridge with Heatsink

Southbridge with Heatsink

TPU Chip

TPU Chip

Features & Specifications

TUF stands for The Ultimate Force.

The TUF series delivers a “tough” image. With the unique design & high quality components (military-standard), TUF series is born for pursuing the preeminent stability, all-round compatibility, and extreme durability

CeraM!X – Heatsink Coating Tech.

50% Larger area for heat dissipation with the revolutionary ceramics-coating technology

Innovative ceramics effectively conducts heat away from the system. It replaces traditional anti-oxidant to dissipate heat better with its microscopic irregular surface and enlarged area. Better cooling leads to overall improvement in system stability.

TUF Thermal Radar

Real Time Temp Detection and Heat Removal 

The TUF Thermal Radar monitors temps in critical parts of the motherboard in real time, automatically adjusting fan speeds to make sure the system maintains high stability without overheating. It consists of multiple sensors for various components on the motherboard, giving users the ability to monitor each one individually. The Thermal Radar automatically calculates ideal fan speeds based on different parameters selected by users for each component, keeping everything cooler and longer lasting.

DIGI+ VRM

Herald the Arrival of a New Digital Power Design Era

The new ASUS DIGI+ VRM design upgrades motherboard power delivery to a digital standard. The 8+2 digital architecture provides the highest power efficiency, generating less heat to enhance longer component lifespan and ensure minimal power loss. With ASUS DIGI+ VRM, users can easily adjust power phase performance, enabling new PWM voltage and frequency modulation controls. Digital 8+2 power phase design also expands the modulation spectrum for improved stability and lower VRM switching noise by dynamically detecting system load, empowering users with superior flexibility and perfect precision to ensure optimized performance, extreme system stability, and greater power efficiency.

UEFI BIOS

Flexible and Easy BIOS Interface

ASUS UEFI BIOS offers a user-friendly interface that goes beyond traditional keyboard-only BIOS controls to enable more flexible and convenient mouse input. Users can easily navigate the UEFI BIOS with the smoothness of their operating system. Quick and simple overclocking and setup sharing is facilitated by the F12 hotkey BIOS snapshot feature. The exclusive EZ Mode displays frequently-accessed setup info, while the Advanced Mode is for experienced performance enthusiasts that demand far more intricate system control, including detailed DRAM information.

E.S.P. Efficient Switching Power Design

Optimal power efficiency for key components

Exclusively for this motherboard, the switching power design is provided not only for the CPU and memory, but also for other key components such as graphics cards, LAN and USB 3.0. E.S.P. dramatically improves system efficiency and reduces heat generation.

TUF Components (Alloy Choke, Cap. & MOSFET; Certified by Military-standard)

Certified for Tough Duty 

Get rugged performance even in the most challenging conditions with robust TUF chokes, solid capacitors, and MOSFETs–certified through third-party, military-grade testing. TUF Chokes, also known as the “Alloy Choke”, is a made of a compound of various types of metal instead standard iron, enables the support of up to a massive 40A of rated current, 25% higher than conventional component. Furthermore, the single piece packaging also eliminates the emission of vibration noise, delivering superb characteristics as well as durability under extreme conditions.

MemOK!

Any Memory is A-OK!

MemOK! quickly ensures memory boot compatibility. This remarkable memory rescue tool requires a mere push of a button to patch memory issues. MemOK! determines fail safe settings and dramatically improves your system boot success. Get your system up and running in no time!

ESD Guards

Unique protection of motherboard components from unexpected electrostatic discharges (ESD)

Electrostatic discharge (ESD) can happen suddenly and its damaging effects is often underestimated. Exclusive ASUS anti-static chip, a protective circuit design, and the I/O shield provides four times better protection to extend component lifespan.

AI Suite II

One-stop Access to Innovative ASUS Features

With its user-friendly interface, ASUS AI Suite II consolidates all exclusive ASUS features into one simple-to-use package. It allows users to supervise overclocking, energy management, fan speed, voltage and sensor readings. This all-in-one software offers diverse and easy to use functions, with no need to switch back and forth between different utilities.

Front Panel USB 3.0 Support

Convenient USB 3.0 Front Panel Compatibility 

ASUS provides standardized USB 3.0 front panel support, compatible with any chassis. Enjoy faster throughput of USB 3.0 without relegating cables or devices to the hard-to-reach rear I/O.

Complete USB 3.0 Solution

Double USB access, double convenience

ASUS facilitates strategic USB 3.0 accessibility for both the front and rear panel – 4 USB 3.0 ports in total. Experience the latest plug & play connectivity at speeds up to 10 times faster than USB 2.0. The SABERTOOTH 990FX affords greater convenience to high speed connectivity.

CPU AMD AM3+ FX™/Phenom™ II/Athlon™ II/Sempron™ 100 Series Processors
Supports AM3+ 32 nm CPU
Supports CPU up to 8 cores
Supports CPU up to 140 W
AMD Cool ‘n’ Quiet™ Technology
Chipset AMD 990FX/SB950
Memory 4 x DIMM, Max. 32GB, DDR3 1866/1600/1333/1066 Hz ECC, Non-ECC, Un-buffered Memory
Dual Channel Memory Architecture
* Refer to www.asus.com or user manual for the Memory QVL (Qualified Vendors Lists).
* Due to OS limitation, when installing total memory of 4GB capacity or more, Windows® 32-bit operation system may only recognize less than 3GB. Install a 64-bit Windows® OS when you want to install 4GB or more memory on the motherboard.
* Due to CPU spec., AMD 100 series CPUs support up to DDR3 1066MHz. With ASUS design, this motherboard can support up to DDR3 1333MHz.
Multi-GPU Support Supports NVIDIA® Quad-GPU SLI™ Technology
Supports AMD Quad-GPU CrossFireX™ Technology
Expansion Slots 3 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (dual x16 or x16, x8, x8) *1
1 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (x4 mode, black)
1 x PCIe 2.0 x1
1 x PCI
Storage AMD SB950 controller : 
6 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), brown
Support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10
JMicron® JMB362 controller : 
2 x SATA 3Gb/s port(s), black
1 x Power eSATA 3Gb/s port(s), green
1 x eSATA 3Gb/s port(s), red
LAN Realtek® 8111E , 1 x Gigabit LAN Controller(s)
Audio Realtek® ALC 892 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
- Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel Jack-retasking
Audio Feature :
- Absolute Pitch 192kHz/ 24-bit True BD Lossless Sound
- Blu-ray audio layer Content Protection
- ASUS Noise Filter
- Optical S/PDIF out port(s) at back panel
IEEE 1394 VIA® 6308P controller
2 x IEEE 1394a port(s)
(1 at mid-board, 1 at back panel)
USB Ports ASMedia® USB 3.0 controller :
4 x USB 3.0 port(s) (2 at back panel, blue, 2 at mid-board)
AMD SB950 controller :
14 x USB 2.0 port(s) (10 at back panel, black+red, 4 at mid-board)
Special Features ASUS Dual Intelligent Processors 2 with DIGI+ VRM :
TUF ENGINE! Power Design :
- 8 +2 Digital Phase Power Design
- TUF Components (Alloy choke, Cap. & MOSFET; certified by military-standard)
- ASUS DIGI+ VRM Utility
- E.S.P. : Efficient Switching Power Design
Ultimate COOL! Thermal Solution :
- TUF CeraM!X Heatsink Coating Tech.
- TUF Thermal Radar
ASUS Exclusive Features :
- MemOK!
- AI Suite II
- Anti-Surge
- ESD Guards
- Front Panel USB 3.0 Support
- ASUS UEFI BIOS EZ Mode featuring friendly graphics user interface
ASUS EZ DIY :
- ASUS Q-Shield
- ASUS O.C. Profile
- ASUS EZ Flash 2
- ASUS MyLogo 2
- Multi-language BIOS
ASUS Q-Design :
- ASUS Q-LED (CPU, DRAM, VGA, Boot Device LED)
- ASUS Q-Slot
- ASUS Q-DIMM
- ASUS Q-Connector
Back I/O Ports 1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port(s)
1 x eSATA 3Gb/s
1 x Power eSATA 3Gb/s
1 x IEEE 1394a
1 x LAN (RJ45) port(s)
2 x USB 3.0
10 x USB 2.0
1 x Optical S/PDIF out
6 x Audio jack(s)
Internal I/O Ports 1 x USB 3.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 2 USB 3.0 port(s) (19-pin, moss green)
2 x USB 2.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 4 USB 2.0 port(s)
1 x COM port(s) connector(s)
6 x SATA 6Gb/s connector(s)
2 x SATA 3Gb/s connector(s)
1 x IEEE 1394a connector(s)
1 x CPU Fan connector(s) (4 -pin)
4 x Chassis Fan connector(s) (3 x 4 -pin, 1 x 3 -pin)
1 x Optional Fan connector(s) (4 -pin)
1 x S/PDIF out header(s)
1 x 24-pin EATX Power connector(s)
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power connector(s)
1 x Front panel audio connector(s) (AAFP)
1 x System panel(s) (Q-Connector)
1 x MemOK! button(s)
1 x Clear CMOS jumper(s)
Accessories User’s manual
ASUS Q-Shield
4 x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s)
1 x SLI bridge(s)
1 x Q-connector(s) (2 in 1)
1 x TUF Certification card(s)
1 x TUF 5 Year Warranty manual(s) (by region)
BIOS 32 Mb Flash ROM, UEFI BIOS, PnP, DMI2.0, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 2.5, ACPI 2.0a, Multi-language BIOS, ASUS EZ Flash 2,
Manageability WfM 2.0, DMI 2.0, WOL by PME, WOR by PME, PXE
Support Disc Drivers
Anti-virus software (OEM version)
ASUS Update
ASUS Utilities
Form Factor ATX Form Factor
12 inch x 9.6 inch ( 30.5 cm x 24.4 cm )
Note *1: When running dual graphics cards, be sure to insert the card in the first and third PCIex16 slot to get the best performance.

The UEFI

With the introduction of the socket AM3+, AMD motherboards are now getting the new and improved BIOS system called UEFI. This new BIOS allows users to interact with their system at a higher quality than in previous years. Not only do users get the functionality of a GUI setup, but they are given more settings to play with, allowing for even the lowest tech level individuals to play with their system.

EZ Mode

EZ Mode

BIOS Main Screen

BIOS Main Screen

The Sabertooth BIOS is pretty typical when it comes to new UEFIs. You have the Main, Overclocking, Advanced, Monitor, Boot, and Tools tab. What is unique to Asus is their EZ Mode. Here a user that does not completely understand how their system works, can still overclock and change some advanced settings with ease. EZ Mode shows some of the more important voltages, temperatures, and fans on your motherboard. It also provides three “overclocking” settings. You have the power saving, normal, and the overclocked profile. You can also easily change the boot order by dragging the disks to the position you want.

AI Tweaker Default

AI Tweaker Default

AI Tweaker Default cont.

AI Tweaker Default cont.

AI Tweaker Default cont.

AI Tweaker Default cont.

In Advanced Mode, the AI Tweaker tab is the overclocking tab. Here you can start playing with your hardware and start pushing it until it blows up or you get bored. Asus has setup this menu into three sections. The first being a Default setting. This gives you basic options to help overclock your CPU and Memory.

AI Tweaker DOCP main

AI Tweaker DOCP main

AI Tweaker DOCP cont.

AI Tweaker DOCP cont.

AI Tweaker DCOP again cont.

AI Tweaker DCOP again cont.

You get the picture

You get the picture

After that comes the DOCP mode. Every manufacturer has something like this. It is an automated mode to overclock your system if you do not know exactly what you are doing, or just want something quick and dirty, but sure to work. What is different, and something I like, is that the DOCP takes into consideration the SPD of your Memory. Basically depending on the overclocking you choose, it will also adjust your memory to a better fit. This is a pretty nifty feature for those that want to learn about overclocking and how each setting effects their system.

AI Tweaker Manual main

AI Tweaker Manual main

AI Tweaker Manual cont.

AI Tweaker Manual cont.

AI Tweaker Manual cont.

AI Tweaker Manual cont.

AI Tweaker Turbo enabled

AI Tweaker Turbo enabled

The Manual mode is the “professional” mode. You get free reign over all the features on the Sabertooth. There really is not much of a difference between this mode and the other modes, except for the options of working with your CPUv and CPU-NBv along with the CPU Multipler.

A couple features that are new to me with this motherboard are the Current Capability, Phase Control, and Voltage Frequency. The Current Capability is the amount of current being pushed by the Voltage Regulator. This option should not be touched unless you know what you are doing. It is nice to have for those that want to put this board through a cold session, but outside of that you should not touch it.

The Phase Control and Voltage Frequency also deal with the delivery system with the Voltage Regulator. Again they should not be touched unless you know what you are doing. For those that know how to use these features, you should be very happy. They work very well and are a good fit for catering to the overclocking extreme community.

Memory Options

Memory Options

Memory Options cont.

Memory Options cont.

DRAM DC Options

DRAM DC Options

DRAM DC cont.

DRAM DC cont.

The Memory menus are pretty standard. You have free reign over all the different options for your memory. I like that you can punch in or use the + or – symbols on your keyboard to adjust the settings. It is worth mentioning how many options you do have for tweaking with your memory. I have never been a huge memory tweaker, but I cannot imagine how much of this goes into usage for people that are trying to break memory records.

Monitor Screen

Monitor Screen

Monitor Screen cont.

Monitor Screen cont.

Boot Screen

Boot Screen

The Monitor and Boot tabs house your standard information and options. Here you can see the different temperatures of your system along with the voltages. You can play with the fan speeds and adjust how they behave in your setup. The Boot tab does not have anything really special with it. The same settings have been in this tab since the dawn of the BIOS.

Tool Screen

Tool Screen

Memory SPD Screen

Memory SPD Screen

OC Profile Screen

OC Profile Screen

In the Tools tab you can update your BIOS, check the memory SPD and save current settings of the BIOS to a profile. The SPD viewer is pretty nifty. For my sticks of RAM it did not catch all of the information, but for those that have sticks of RAM that are verified for the Sabertooth 990FX, it should pull of the information you need.

Advanced Main Screen

Advanced Main Screen

CPU Core On Off Function

CPU Core On Off Function

I am not going to go over all the details of the Advanced tab, there is just to much information, and most of it does not need to be covered. Pretty much you can mess with all the components attached to the Southbridge and the Northbridge. There is a Core Unlocker function for those that are looking to potentially unlock cores. For those that do want to see it, I have uploaded all of the sections of the Advanced tab.

AI-Suite II

I will admit this here and now, I am 100% biased when it comes to the overclocking software packaged with motherboards. Asus has continuously out-shined the competition in this one regard. They have always been ahead of the curve when it comes to features and utilization. Most users will not use overclocking software to overclock, they use it to check temperatures and voltage levels. As most users should. Overclock in the BIOS people, do not overclock in the OS.

Something that has always bothered me when it comes to OS overclocking is finding a tool that gives you the power you would have if you were in the BIOS. Having a tool like this is necessary for those that are extreme overclockers. We have to be able to push the system further in the OS since a full OS boot is more strenuous on the system. Asus has always seemed to get it right with the tools they provide in this one regard.

AI-Suite II has a bunch of tools in its tool chest, and it is all organized in a tool bar fashion. Instead of searching through your start menu to find a single tool to open, the AI-Suit II allows you to access every tool easily. In the AI-Suit II you get your standard TurboV Evo overclocking software, and DIGI+ VRM. There are a couple other new and unique tools, one of which, Thermal Radar, is only provided for the Sabertooth lineup.

AI Suite II Tool Bar

AI Suite II Tool Bar

 

Thermal Radar is a unique feature to the Sabertooth line up. It is a tool that plugs into temperature and voltage probes located throughout the board; pretty sweet stuff. You can also see which fans are hooked up, and where they are placed in a case that it believes you own. This should come in handy when you are trying to optimize your system to be perfect with the overclocking settings you intend.

A quick note, there are two Vcore sensors. VCORE-1 is for the CPUv, and VCORE-2 is for the CPU-NBv. You can see the temperatures on the right picture. Really cool to see how each part of the CPU effects the board. The problem is that there is only one voltage sensor, and it is for the CPUv. I would have liked to see one for the CPU-NBv since it is just as important as the CPUv.

Thermal Radar showing Voltage

Thermal Radar showing Voltage

 Thermal Radar showing Temperature

Thermal Radar showing Temperature

Thermal Radar showing Fan

Thermal Radar showing Fan

TurboV Evo is the program for overclocking, and oh boy does it make me happy. I get to play with everything just as if I was in the BIOS. This will come in handy when I put this board through some LN2 for an upcoming Overclocker’s competition. This could also allow me to win the competition. One feature that I do not see as much with other manufacturers is the ability to overclock each individual core by its multiplier. This is always a nice feature to have.

CPU Ratio settings

CPU Ratio settings

Turbo Evo Advanced options

Turbo Evo Advanced options

Digi+ VRM

Digi+ VRM

Unique to Asus’s AI-Suite II is the Digi+ VRM tool. This tool gives you full access to the Voltage Regulator, just as if you were in the BIOS. I can now change the LLC for both the CPU and CPU-NB inside the OS. Not only that but I can change the overall current being pushed into each section and the voltage frequency. To simplify, the voltage of the CPU has a pulse. This pulse is measured by the peak to peak, essentially the distance between the two maximum points of a line. Increasing the frequency reduces the distance between these two points deliver more power to your CPU. As nice as this is, this feature can hurt hardware. It is best advised not to use it unless you know what you are doing.

Sensor Recroder Voltage

Sensor Recroder Voltage

Sensor Recorder Temperature

Sensor Recorder Temperature

Sensor Recorder Fan

Sensor Recorder Fan

Sensor Recorder History

Sensor Recorder History

The next tool, in this giant tool set, is the Sensor Recorder. This nifty tool allows you to monitor your temperature, voltage levels, and fan speeds on a nice graph. Although the sample ratings are a bit low (5 secs up to 20 secs) you can see how your system reacts under idle and load conditions. There is even a record option to record readings. I would have liked to seen an export of data option so that I could put it in an excel. This does enough though. One last thing, not all the voltages are an option to monitor. Not to much of a big deal but I like having free access to everything, the more customization the better.

AI Charger+

AI Charger+

Here is something interesting: Ai Charger+. This very unique tool is designed specifically for the USB3 ports. Essentially its purpose is to help charge your devices – namely Apple products – faster. I only did a quick test of this feature to see if it really worked. Nothing came up on my screen when I plugged my iPod in, and it did not seem to charge faster. This little tool could be a gimmick or it could be the real deal. Either way it is not a huge feature for the board. The last thing I think about is how quickly I charge my Apple products, the few that I have.

Monitoring the Sensors

Monitoring the Sensors

Monitoring the CPU Frequency

Monitoring the CPU Frequency

As usual there is a sensor bar to show you what the voltage is for your CPU and the temperatures on the board. The sensor is pretty accurate and is not too far off from the actual values from when I have used my own tools to record voltages and temperatures. Now the one problem I have with the Sensor window is that it does not show the CPU-NBv or memory or a bunch of other voltages. I can play with these voltages in TurboV Evo, but I cannot monitor the levels after I set them. For such a powerful tool it lacks some of the bare essentials. The CPU Frequency sensor could have been done a bit better. Instead of thumbing through to see what frequency each core is running at, I would have the the CPU Usage removed and put all the Frequencies on one tab. I can look at my CPU usage just by hitting CTRL+ALT+DEL.

Asus Update

Asus Update

My logo is a unicorn

My logo is a unicorn

Asus likes to give their users some customization when it comes to, not only their boards, but the OS that is installed with the board. I remember when people had to manually install custom loading backgrounds for Windows XP. I had to re-install a couple times because a custom load did not work out to well. The Asus MyLogo allows you to customize your loading screen. Along with the MyLogo is the Asus Update. A simple tool to update your BIOS.

System Information showing CPU

System Information showing CPU

System Information showing MB

System Information showing MB

System Information showing SPD

System Information showing SPD

Last in the tool chest is the System Information. This tool gives you all the information you need about your system. All the information provided is pretty much standard. You have information about the features your CPU gives you, the motherboard with its BIOS and the Memory you have installed.

Test System

  • Windows 7 64-bit Operating System: Fresh install with updates, and few programs installed
  • AMD Phenom II 1090T CPU @ 3.0 GHz
  • OCZ Black Edition 1600 Cas 8 (2×2 GB) 4 GB RAM
  • Asus Matrix 5870 GPU
  • Drivers: Catalyst 11.8
  • All BIOS settings were set to default, only the RAM and DRAM voltages were changed.
  • Water cooled on an open-air benchmarking station

LLC Testing

A problem with each new motherboard is trying to understand how it works under load and idle situations. Learning how a board behaves is only one step in finding out how to create the most stable overclock with the hardware at hand. One of the most time consuming step in overclocking is finding the perfect balance between enough voltage for the overclock and low enough to produce less heat and energy.

Here, I provide to you how the Load Line Calibration (LLC) performs on the Sabertooth. It is common to have voltage readout points on higher end boards, and it would have been nice for this board. It did not take me long to figure out what each cap did on the back of the CPU socket. Once I did, I hooked up some wires and labeled them. Last thing I need, after this board survived me poking it with a DMM, was it blowing up because I shorted the CPU-NBv wire with the CPUv wire. As always please only do this if you have had practice with soldering on hardware before, and I am also not responsible if you break the board.

I am not responsible for stupid soldering

I am not responsible for stupid soldering

I connected the CPUv and the CPU-NBv along with a grounding wire. I could have grounded at a safer location, but I need it to be as close to the source as possible for the most accurate reading.  This is usually not necessary if you just want to take a quick read. My test method was pretty simple: load up the CPU at default settings except for the CPUv being at 1.4 during the CPUv LLC test, and 1.125v on the CPU-NBv during the CPU-NBv LLC test. All other settings were set to default in the BIOS.

LLC Test for CPUv

LLC Test for CPUv

LLC Test for CPU-NBv

As expected, as you raise the throttling power of the voltage regulator, the difference between idle and load becomes more and more even. As you go higher the voltage regulator will allow more voltage to pass through to your hardware. For when you do overclock with the Sabertooth 990FX, it would be better to use the Ultra High settings for LLC. As you can see there is not a huge difference between the idle and load which should give you the easiest CPUv to work with when trying to find the overclock settings you desire. With the CPU-NBv you are not given as many options and as you can see they are all over the place. Not one of the LLC settings gives you a voltages near to which you have set. Again Asus has flopped with the CPU-NBv.

CPU Testing

Now time for the most mundane part of the review: the CPU tests. Pretty much these tests tell you nothing. They are only ran to show that the board works just the same as all other boards. For motherboards, the most important part of the design is to make sure that the CPU can reach maximum performance under any situation. These tests show how the board does not effect the CPU in anyway. It does not show which board is better than the other, unless for some odd reason a board does show obstruction of the CPU performance.

SuperPI and WPrime Results

SuperPI and WPrime Results

Cinebench and 7 Zip Results

Cinebench and 7 Zip Results

First tests up is the Super Pi, and Wprime, along with the Cinebench and 7zip bench tests. Each of these tests the different modules of the CPU: FPU, APU and Memory.

3DMark06 Results

3DMark06 Results

3DMark Vantage Results

3DMark Vantage Results

3DMark 11 Results

3DMark 11 Results

Next up is the 3DMark tests. Each of these do the same thing but with better graphics. 3DMark Vantage does  a bit more with the CPU in the stress testing, and 3DMark 11 combines both the CPU and GPU in a couple physic graphical tests.

AIDA 64 CPU Results

AIDA 64 CPU Results

AIDA 64 FPU Results

AIDA 64 FPU Results

AIDA 64 Memory Results

AIDA 64 Memory Results

Finally the AIDA 64 tests, previously known as Everest Benchmark Suite. Each of these tests are specifically focused on three parts of the CPU: FPU, APU and Memory. There is a bit of difference if you look at the CPU PhotoWorxx and Memory Write. Pretty much this shows that the Sabertooth allows the CPU to work better under CPU write stages.

Overclocking

With every motherboard that comes through the labs (i.e. houses/apartments/cardboard box houses) of Overclockers.com each board must be put through the overclocking stage. In this stage we look at how well the board overclocks, and the software that comes with the board. Each board allows a user to overclock these days, but each board is designed differently to handle overclocking.

24/7 Overclocking

First up on the overclocking test list is the 24/7 overclocking. The idea is simple, how far can I push the board to handle 24/7 overclocking. Since my CPU is a 1090T I always like to push up to the 4.0 GHz region. This is usually the relative maximum for this CPU and knowing that the CPU can still get up to this point on a different board tells me that the board is pretty good. What really makes a board stand out from the the others is the voltage needed to get up to these speeds. Each motherboard is a bit different in how they power the CPU. A more efficient and better designed power system can give a cleaner overclock, which in turn may give you a chance to reach higher levels of overclocking.

4.0ghz Stable

4.0ghz Stable

4.1 ghz Stable

4.1 ghz Stable

In the case of the Sabertooth 990FX, the 24/7 overclocking resulted nearly the same as the rest of some of my other reviews. The CPU easily got up to 4.0 GHz with setting 1.45v in the BIOS. LLC flux shows that the CPUv pushed up to 1.488v. Moving up to the next step took a bit more tweaking on my part but I got it stable. With a jump up to 1.52v in the BIOS and 1.536v being used after LLC flux gives a pretty reasonable overclock.

Max Overclocking

Here is my favorite part when it comes to reviewing motherboards: max overclocking. Actually, it is my favorite part of all hardware. For these tests I let loose on the system. The only thing that holds me back is the physical limits of the CPU such as a safe maximum voltage or temperature. I do not exceed anything past ~1.63v even with LLC Flux. I try to factor that in during load.

Max SuperPI 1M

Max SuperPI 1M

Max SuperPI 32M

Max SuperPI 32M

Max WPrime 32M

Max WPrime 32M

Max Wprime 1024M

Max Wprime 1024M

I was pretty happy with the results I got with this board. With just H2O cooling I was able to get up to 4.5 GHz on the CPU with SuperPI 1M. This is the lightest of the tests when it comes to the CPU. Considering that I did not max out the CPU voltage I probably could have gone further. Going over to the heavy hitters I had to increase the voltage a bit more to keep up with the load. Getting up to ~4.3 GHz roughly for the Wprime 32M was pretty nice. The only downfall to working with this board in the max overclocking situation is that the bus tends to have a slightly higher decimal than other 990FX boards. Instead of getting an even 200.0 +0.3, I was seeing 200.0 +0.9. Meaning that the bus would reach up to 200.9 at times. Pretty much this is an extra 1MHz added onto the system. It was a pretty simple adjustment since the error was always consistent.

Max 3DMark06

Max 3DMark06

Max Vantage

Max Vantage

For the 3D max tests, I push the CPU until it stops passing CPU tests and than adjust from there. The 3D tests only apply pressure during the times of the CPU phase, outside of that, the CPU is usually doing nothing. With these results you can tell where your system may end up if you are strictly looking for overclocking settings that will only be used for gaming. It is not unreasonable to believe that these settings may work if you had a decent cooling system for the system.

Max Multiplier OC

Max Multiplier OC

Max FSB OC

Max FSB OC

A member of our forums requested that I start doing this for motherboard reviews, and honestly I do not see why I did not think of it on my own. In addition to the maximum overclock on the CPU, I also have the maximum bus for the motherboard. To be honest I am not the best on this end, so I did take a lot of time to tweak the system to get these results. Maybe with a lot more effort I could get higher. I impressed myself when I saw that I was getting higher than 300 MHz on the bus. Those that have locked multipliers may like the potential of what this board can offer.

Conclusion

Overall I have fallen in love with this board. The only complaints I have with the Sabertooth 990FX is the bus scale is a little off, and the lack of effort with the CPU-NBv. The bus scale is easy to get around. After factoring in the difference, overclocking with the board is pretty easy. Compared to the 890FX boards, this is much better. I had to factor in +5 MHz difference at times with some of the older boards.

With the CPU-NBv it is a bit disappointing to see such little effort to help control the voltage. I can play the voltage, but it’s off by some amount when reading from my Digital Multimeter. The LLC options do nothing but just increase the voltage even more instead of trying to level it out to what it is set to. I also cannot see the voltage level in AI-Suite II. This is the second most important voltage when it comes to overclocking and not knowing what its actually reading can lead to guessing, and guessing in overclocking is not good.

Compared to the other 990FX board I have reviewed, the Asrock 990FX Extreme 4, it goes to show how much of a difference there is between the big time players and the small timers. I enjoyed the Asrock 990FX Extreme 4, but I found a lot of faults with the software and the BIOS. Those have been slowly fixed but I still have a sour taste in my mouth from the experience.

If you look at the prices for the 2nd tier motherboards, you will see that Gigabyte and Asus are at the upper spectrum of the price range. MSI and Asrock have their 2nd tier boards priced for $30 less. For the extra $30, this board is worth every cent, and twice that. The options and utilities you get with the Sabertooth 990FX are far superior than those that you get from any other manufacture. The most important feature you get with this extra $30 is the Digi+ VRM. The most important feature of any motherboard is the power delivery system. If you go cheap on this aspect, you will not be able to overclock as much, or you will find it harder to find the proper overclock settings you desire.

If you are looking for a board to just place in your computer and not think to much about it, go elsewhere. This board was made for people that want to do more than just sit in an idle computer and power components. The Sabertooth 990FX was given life for the sole purpose of showing that 2nd tier motherboards can compete with those in the first tier. So if you want a board that is going to deliver performance and reliability to the maximum, if you are looking for a board that will laugh at your puny attempts to overclock, then grab yourself a Sabertooth 990FX because you want to see if your CPU gives out first or your motherboard. Seeing how Bulldozer ended up, your motherboard will probably last longer.

 

- Dolk

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4 Comments:

hokiealumnus's Avatar
I already read it, so let me be the first to say great job on the review Dolk!
Woomack's Avatar
Nice review.
I have one question about RAID. Board supports RAID 0, 1, 5, 10 ... but does it have cache options in RAID ROM ?
Question is mainly because CHV does not what makes it much slower than some other brands especially when you use SSD in RAID that is quite popular lately.
Dolk's Avatar
I have always skipped over RAID since not many people use it. I can look into the RAID ROM question but give me a bit to find out.
xsuperbgx's Avatar
Nice review. I wish I hadn't sold mine before i had even used it. Add it to the long list of hardware that I wish I would have kept...
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