Another quirk is the cooling system on the chipset and power supply system. The small passive cooler on the DrMOS chips is conventional during our testing it remained cool to the touch, which suggests that the technology works as advertised. However, the Circu-Pipe Lite chipset cooler is whole different kettle of fish. The Northbridge cooler is a finned circular item that stands 30mm tall and is 57mm in diameter. This is a completely different approach to the usual Circu-Pipe arrangement and in our opinion it is a step backwards as the cooler fouls the corner of our Thermaltake CPU cooler.
The Northbridge cooler is linked to the tiny Southbridge cooler with a single heatpipe rather than the dual heatpipes on the Platinum’s Flat Circu-Pipe system. During our testing we had to keep the CPU fan spinning at a brisk pace to keep both the CPU and chipset coolers at a comfortable temperature. With the fan turned down low both coolers hit 75 degrees but with a decent airflow the temperature dropped into the 40’s.
Another difference between this model and the Platinum is the absence of the 128MB SidePort memory chip for the integrated graphics.
Look between the two PCI Express graphics slots and you’ll see two dipswitches that can be used to overclock the 200MHz reference clock to 220MHz, 230MHz or 240MHz. The dipswitches are reasonably accessible even with a hefty dual slot graphics card installed. It seems like a curious method of overclocking when the BIOS can perform exactly the same task without any need to open the case of your PC and AMD’s OverDrive utility even allows you to overclock in a Windows environment.
Setting up our test system was quick and easy and the only job we had to perform was to raise the memory speed from 800MHz to 1,066MHz which required higher voltage and a change in the memory multiplier. The new speed raised memory performance which is exactly what you would expect, however we saw some strange results when we reviewed the TA790GX A2+ so it wasn’t a foregone conclusion this time.
The BIOS installed on our review sample was v1.31B while the latest version listed on MSI Live Update 3 is v1.20 so we left well alone. Incidentally we noted that the Live Update 3 utility currently stands at v3.95 so we fully expect that a new version will be revealed very soon.
We overclocked our Phenom X4 9850 using OverDrive and found it was stable at 3.0GHz and looked good at 3.1GHz until it blue screened in 3DMark06 and found that performance was almost identical to the Foxconn A7DA-S which had successfully run at 3.1GHz. One glaring difference was the idle power consumption which was 145W at standard speed and 155W overclocked while the Foxconn drew a mere 115W when it was overclocked. Under load there was no difference in the power draw between the two motherboards but it rather suggests that Foxconn has done something rather clever with its power regulation hardware.
MSI has delivered an AMD 790GX motherboard that has a decent list of features, decent layout and decent performance. There’s room for improvement but as things stand this is the best Phenom motherboard that we’ve seen to date.