Biostar TA890FXE Motherboard Review

Achieving superior performance from less expensive hardware was the main reason overclocking appealed to me severals years ago. In recent years, Biostar has really stepped up to the plate to fill the performance-on-a-budget roll, and I’ve personally owned several of their boards. The TA890FXE takes the high end AMD 890FX chipset and aims to get it in the hands of more budget conscious buyers. With any luck this motherboard will be able to play with the big boys, for instance the Asus Crosshair Formula IV we reviewed recently.

Retail box front

Retail box front

Retail box rear

Retail box rear

Features and Specifications

Currently, the 890FX is the flagship chipset for the AMD AM3 platform.  That means the motherboards with this chipset come sporting all of the new goodies that might not be standard now, but will be soon.  The only thing I see missing from this board is USB 3.0 and dual LAN, but that’s not too bad considering Biostar is targeting budget-conscious buyers.  I’ve also never used more than one LAN port at a time on a desktop computer, so I do not miss the option for a second connection at all.  Other notable areas where Biostar saved some money is by not running a heatpipe to the southbridge and only having 4-phase power filtering going to the processor.  If you are running air cooling, both of those won’t make much of a difference since the processor temperature will be the limiting factor.  Other than that, it’s got everything you could want in a top of the line motherboard:

  • AMD 890FX / SB850
  • Socket AM3 (Phenom II, Athlon II, Sempron Processors)
  • Maximum CPU TDP (Thermal Design Power) : 140Watt
  • Support HT 5.2G
  • Support Dual Channel DDR3 1800(OC)/1600(OC)/1333/1066/800 MHz
  • 4 x DDR3 DIMM Memory Slot
  • Max. Supports up to 16GB Memory
  • 2 x PCI Slots
  • 4 x PCI-E x16 2.0 Slot (x16,x16, x4, x1), support CFX x16
  • 5 x SATA3 6Gb/s Connector
  • 1 x eSATA2 3Gb/s Connector
  • 1 x IDE Connector
  • Support SATA RAID: 0,1,5,10
  • 6 x USB 2.0 Port
  • 3 x USB 2.0 Header
  • VIA VT6330
  • 1 x IEEE 1394a Port
  • 1 x IEEE 1394a Header
  • Realtek RTL8111DL – 10/100/1000 Controller
  • Realtek ALC892 8-Channel HD Audio
  • 1 x PS/2 Mouse
  • 1 x PS/2 Keyboard
  • 1 x eSATA2 3Gb/s Connector
  • 1 x FireWire IEEE 1394a Port
  • 6 x USB 2.0 Port
  • 1 x RJ-45 Port
  • 6 x Audio Connector
  • 1 x S/PDIF Out Port
  • 3 x USB 2.0 Header
  • 5 x SATA3 6Gb/s Connector
  • 1 x IDE Connector
  • 1 x Front Audio Header
  • 1 x Front Panel Header
  • 1 x S/PDIF-OUT Header
  • 1 x CPU FAN Header
  • 2 x System FAN Header
  • 1 x Serial Header
  • 1 x FireWire IEEE 1394 Header
  • 1 x CIR Header
  • ATX Form Factor Dimension: 30.5cm X 24.4cm ( W x L )
  • Support Windows XP / Vista / 7

Black PCB looks pretty good.

Black PCB looks pretty good.

The I/O Panel

The I/O Panel

Beefy northbridge and power filter coolers

Beefy northbridge and power filter coolers

Back of the board

Back of the board

In the box:

  • 4 x SATA Cable
  • 2 x SATA Power Cable
  • 1 x I/O Shield
  • 1 x CD Driver
  • 1 x User Manual
Accessories in the box

Accessories in the box

I did run into one problem when setting up the motherboard. The included I/O shield wasn’t made for this board. The I/O shield looks like it’s made for a normal dual lan with four USB ports under them motherboard, but in this case the red ports are two USB ports, one FireWire port, and one ESATA port. So, the shield blocks the top USB ports. Again, this wasn’t a major problem for me since I usually am too lazy to install the I/O shield to begin with.

Editors Note: If you happen to have this same issue with the I/O panel, contact Biostar and they will gladly replace it.

The included I/O Shield doesn't fit this motherboard

The included I/O Shield doesn't fit this motherboard

The I/O shield doesn't fit the red plugs

The I/O shield doesn't fit the red plugs

BIOS Tour

The BIOS has all of the options you’d expect.  The issue I had with it is many of those options are hidden under sub-sub-menus.  I’d much rather save a few button presses and have things more directly accessible.  The upside to all of the menus is that you don’t have to scroll the screen often, which may appeal to some people.  The other part of this is that there are two separate locations for voltages.  One location lets you set the base CPU and CPU-NB Voltages, i.e. 1.3 V and 1.15 V, then you have to escape out of that screen and go in to another section to set the overvoltage.  It would be much nicer if there was only one location to set these voltages.

One of the very cool features of the BIOS is the BIO-Unlocking.  This lets you unlock the hidden cores of your processor by just pressing a button.  No pad mods or soldering needed.  Of course, this doesn’t mean stability, but if you tinker with the voltage settings enough, it may be.  I got to test this feature out on a Phenom II X2 555 processor and was able to unlock two more cores effectively turning it into an X4 B55.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it stable, even at stock speeds, but other processors might have better luck.

Phenom II X2 555 stock

Phenom II X2 555 stock

Phenom II X2 555 unlocked to 4 cores

Phenom II X2 555 unlocked to 4 cores

Software Tour

Biostar includes their TOverclocker software in the package, and it’s not entirely useless.  There wasn’t much different from all of the other overclocking or monitoring utilities that other manufacturers supply, but the good thing is that it does function as you’d expect.  You can set and monitor the voltages, base clock speed, and fan speeds.  The feature I loved to hate was the Auto overclocking.  When you pressed this, it would increment the base clock continually by 1 MHz until the computer crashed.  This was useful to get a rough idea of what settings might work, but I didn’t like that the end result was always the computer crashing and it would never reach the same clocks that I run when manually set in the BIOS.  The automatic calibrating fan speed button also did not do the best job.  It ended up setting the temperature limits too low so my heatsink fan was still running at 100% even when the computer was idle.

TOverclock mage page

TOverclocker mage page

Memory information

Memory information

Frequency settings

Frequency settings

Voltage settings

Voltage settings

Preset overclock settings and Auto mode

Preset overclock settings and Auto mode

Voltage manitor

Voltage monitor

Fan speed monitor

Fan speed monitor

Temperature monitor

Temperature monitor

Performance

Our very own Hokiealumnus already reviewed another 890FX motherboard, the Asus Crosshair Formula IV, using the Athlon II X4 640 processor. I’m using the exact same processor now which should give us a very good indication of how this board stacks up against it’s more expensive peers.

Test Setup

  • Motherboard: Biostar TA890FXE
  • Processor: AMD Athlon II X4 640
  • RAM: CSX Diablo 2x1GB DDR3-2000
  • Heatsink: Cooler Master Vortex Plus
  • Power Supply: NZXT Hale90 850W
  • Graphics Card: ATI Radeon 5550

The highest I was able to overclock the 640 was 270 MHz @ 1.6 V.  Unfortunately, this was a little shy of Hokiealumnus’ 275 MHz score but at least the Overclockers Benching Team is #1 and #2 as a result, even if there are only four total submissions at the moment.  For the rest of the tests, I had to adjust the voltage and speed as necessary to complete the tests successfully, all of which were under the 4 GHz that Hokiealumnus was able to run his tests at in his Asus Crosshair review.

Performance comparison

Performance comparison

Performance comparison

Performance comparison

Super Pi at stock speed

Super Pi 1M at stock speed

Super Pi 1m at 15x255mhz

Super Pi 1M at 15x255 MHz

Super Pi 32M at stock speed

Super Pi 32M at stock speed

Super Pi 32m at 15x255mhz

Super Pi 32M at 15x255 MHz

wPrime at stock

wPrime at stock

wPrime 32M at 15x265 MHz

wPrime 32M at 15x265 MHz

wPrime 1024M at 15x255 MHz

wPrime 1024M at 15x255 MHz

hexus pifast at stock speed

PiFast at stock speed

Pifast at 15x265mhz

PiFast at 15x265 MHz

3DMark Vantage CPU Score at stock speed

3DMark Vantage CPU Score at stock speed

3DMark Vantage CPU Score at 15x240 MHz

3DMark Vantage CPU Score at 15x240 MHz

Cinebench CPU Score at stock

Cinebench CPU Score at stock

Cinebench CPU Score at 15x240 MHz

Cinebench CPU Score at 15x240 MHz

One thing that was disappointing when testing this platforms was the fact I could not use the DDR3-2000 ram to its fullest.  Whenever I approached 900 MHz (DDR3-1800), the system would be very unstable.  I tested this with the Phenom II 555 also, but it was hard to get much higher than 850 MHz with either processor.  I’ve searched around quite a bit, and it seems the integrated memory controller (IMC) on the Athlon II and Phenom II processors simply cannot handle speeds above DDR3-1600 very reliably.  Although, there appears to be hope in the new Thuban processors, like the 1090T.  Supposedly, the Thubans have stronger IMCs and can handle running DDR3-2000 at rated speeds.  Since I don’t have one on hand to test that right now, it will have to wait for another day.

Conclusion

While the TA890FXE may not have all of the features and clock as high as the more expensive motherboards, it certainly packs a lot of punch for the money.  I was able to get very close to the same clocks that were attained on the Asus Crosshair board, but couldn’t really pass the 270 MHz threshold.  So, when you consider that this motherboard retails around $149.99, which is even less expensive than budget boards from other manufacturers, you can start to see the value.  Then, you can hop over to HWBot and see that it holds several medals, including a first place in CPUZ with over 7 GHz using a Phenom II X4 955 BE, the pot starts to sweeten even more.  Overall, bang-for-your-buck is the number one thing I look for when purchasing hardware, and this motherboard would definitely be at the top of my list.

-splat

http://www.overclockers.com/asus-crosshair-iv-formula-review/

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