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Biostar TA790GX XE
As the model suggests the Biostar TA790GX XE uses an AMD 790GX chipset that supports the AMD Phenom processor. We've already reviewed a couple of 790GX motherboards, namely the Asus M4A78T-E and MSI 790GX-G65, and think it's a good piece of silicon. In essence the 790GX is a 790FX with the addition of a Radeon HD 3300 graphics core which includes a superb movie decoder and comes with support for VGA, DVI, and HDMI monitor outputs.
You might expect that a 790GX motherboard would be a small highly integrated piece of hardware but our experience is that most 790GX models are based on a 790FX design with the addition of the graphics outputs on the I/O panel. This means that a typical 790GX motherboard has dual PCI Express graphics slots that support CrossFireX along with Hybrid CrossFire, whereby you can utilise the integrated graphics together with a graphics card. This is dead handy if you're building a budget gaming PC in a tower case and you fancy a combination of 790GX and Phenom II but it's not so great if you want a small, compact PC or a discreet Media Centre.
Enter stage left the TA790GX XE. Biostar has, for the first time on a Phenom II motherboard, used the Micro-ATX form factor (244mm x 244mm) instead of regular ATX (305mm x 244mm). The trade-off is that the TA790GX XE only has one PCI Express 2.0 graphics slot, so you can forget about CrossFireX, but that's the only obvious deficit on the features list.
‘Hurrah!' you may think ‘This is the motherboard for me.'
Well, yes and no.
Yes, the TA790GX XE packs in most of the features that you want; decent integrated graphics with DVI, VGA, and HDMI sockets, support for most current AMD processors, a PCI Express x16 graphics slot, Gigabit LAN, and 7.1 HD audio. However, it also has some questionable aspects.
The first point is that the processor socket is AM2+ rather than AM3, which is good in the sense that it supports a long list of AM2+ or AM3 processors. However, it does not support the one very processor that we originally chose which is the Phenom II X4 955. We spotted the problem when our 3.2GHz powerhouse ran at a sloth-like 800MHz so we switched to a Phenom II X4 810.
The downside to the AM2+ support, aside from more limited future compatibility, is that the four memory slots support DDR2 rather than DDR3. The consequence of this is that you are obliged to pay slightly more cash for memory that runs at DDR2-1066 rather than DDR3-1333 and it also requires higher voltage.
Another gripe is the list of ports and connectors as there are only four USB 2.0 ports on the I/O panel and while there are headers on the board for six more USB ports there are no brackets included in the package. We are also unhappy about the absence of a digital audio connector as it means that anyone using the Biostar in a Media Centre will be forced to connect the audio over HDMI or buy a separate sound card.
Also missing are eSATA and Firewire ports but these come firmly under the heading of ‘you pays your money and you takes your choice.' Certainly, we don't regard Firewire as an essential feature and that is especially true with a motherboard that is as cheap as the Biostar. When we reviewed the MSI 790GX-G65 it was priced at £115 and the cost has now dipped below £100. By contrast the Biostar TA790GX XE costs less than £73 which is very appealing when you consider that a Phenom II X3 710 costs £92 so you can buy your motherboard, processor and memory for £200.