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MSI 890FX-GD70 - BIOS, Software, Overclocking and Verdict
MSI's BIOS is pretty decent, as you would expect considering the company's motherboard pedigree. Layout and menu headings are intuitive - once you know that Cell is where you find overclocking options. H/W Monitor gives you access to variable fan settings (for one CPU and two system fan headers) as well as providing the usual temperature, fan-speed and voltage readouts.
Quick Booting is enabled by default (most competitors offer an equivalent but don't have it activated) and there's a noticeable positive impact on boot times (there's also an instant-on linux OS but it's not embedded on onboard memory and needs to be installed to the hard drive).
M-Flash lets you back up your BIOS to external storage or even boot from an external BIOS. MSI also offers six overclocking profiles onboard, and in the Cell Menu you can try to wring maximum performance out of your parts with all the usual settings for frequency, clocks and voltages logically subdivided. This is also where you'll find the Core Unlock feature, which if you're very lucky in your choice of processor may allow you to enable latent/binned cores, turning your tri-core into a quad-core, etc.
As with any enthusiast motherboard, there is a wealth of overclocking options. The lowest and hence most stable of these is OC Genie Lite (activated from the BIOS or within Windows), which as the name implies is a more restrained version of MSI's full-fat OC Genie. It overclocked our Phenom II X4 810 from its stock 2,600MHz to 2,717MHz, and upped the CPU voltage in the process. We're not very impressed by this to be honest: the ASRock 890FX Deluxe3's Turbo UCC managed 2,800MHz while enabling power savings, and the Asus M4A89GTD Pro/USB3's Turbo Key II gave us 2,830MHz.
Using MSI's Control Center software gave far better results, pushing the CPU up to a stable 2,947MHz without voltage alterations (surprisingly we didn't manage much more than this in our 'brute force' BIOS test, where instabilities and crashes occurred under stress at above 2,950MHz). Letting Control Center increase the voltages, we achieved an impressive 3,288MHz without any hiccups, despite the 890FX-GD70's five-phase (rather than the 10-phase provided by many competitors) power setup. A direct comparison with overclocking on other boards is not completely fair because of the increased voltage, but it really shows off MSI's excellent software. It also makes MSI's OC Dial - a volume-like wheel with notched feedback found in amongst the board's touch-sensitive buttons, which can over (or under)-clock on the fly in Windows – somewhat redundant, especially as adjustments take slightly longer to apply themselves.
When it comes to value, the £145 890FX-GD70 is in a difficult position. The main question we would ask is if it's worth the extra £20 over ASRock's high-end equivalent? If you're installing quad-card CrossFire then MSI is the obvious choice, but if you can spend that much you wouldn't necessarily be looking at a board this affordable in the first place. Overall, we reckon the cheaper 890FX Deluxe3 wins out with its extra USB 3.0 ports and slightly better stability.
A great-looking motherboard and one of a few to offer four graphics slots at its price point, but if neither of these are important to you there are cheaper alternatives.