- Review Price: £127.72
Best PC Component(/centre)
You can never have too much of a good thing. That certainly seems to have been ASRock’s philosophy when designing its current flagship AMD motherboard, simply named the 890FX Deluxe3. You see, where even the most expensive motherboards currently on the market only offer two USB 3.0 ports, the 890FX Deluxe3 doubles that to offer, well, four.
So what’s the big deal, you might ask? Because motherboards tend to be one of the longest-lasting and least-upgraded components of a PC, future-proofing is arguably more important than for other computer parts. As more and more USB 3.0 peripherals and storage options become available, two ports may soon prove inadequate: for example, if you have a Full HD webcam hooked up using one port, you can now no longer directly copy data from your USB 3.0 memory stick to your USB 3.0 external hard drive. If you’re as yet unaware of what all the fuss around USB 3.0 is about in the first place, we’d advise having a read of our USB 3.0 article.
Of course quad-USB 3.0 is not the only draw of the AM3 890FX Deluxe3. Up to Quad CrossFireX, AMD Core Unlocking for up to 140W (six-core) processors, SATA 6Gb/s, 10 (8+2)-phase voltage regulation, a large two-digit LED readout and red-backlit power, reset and clear-CMOS buttons are but some of the features ASRock has incorporated to entice enthusiasts.
This generous collection gives it stronger high-end appeal than a more restrained board like the recently reviewed Asus M4A89GTD Pro/USB3, which utilizes a largely similar 890GX northbridge/SB850 southbridge combination but lacks many of the features. Considering that ASRock’s latest uses the more advanced 890FX northbridge (offering a total of 42 PCIe lanes compared to the 890GX’s 22), it comes as a very pleasant surprise that the 890FX Deluxe3 only costs around £10 more, as it’s widely available for under £130. So far then, this ASRock motherboard would appear to be stuffed with features and priced to move, but let’s see how it holds up.
First impressions are a bit of a mixed bag. While its styling is not as aggressive as the MSI P55-GD65 or Asus ROG Maximus III Gene, it’s still an attractive board, with a complementary combination of white, blue and black that also serves as logical colour coding (hint: blue is primary, white secondary).
Unfortunately the four plain SATA cables provided in the rather sparse bundle are bright orange, which doesn’t exactly go with the board’s livery. Other bundled items include two four-pin to SATA power adapters that might come in useful depending on your PSU, and non-rounded EIDE and floppy (why!) cables that are at least blue to match the board.
At first glance the 890FX Deluxe3 immediately revealed a feature we’re not too pleased with: active cooling on one of the motherboard’s heatsinks. This ASRock is the only 890FX board we’ve seen to sport active cooling, which is a shame as it’s neither as durable nor as quiet as the passive solutions on competing boards.
To be fair to ASRock, its use of a Sunon MagLev fan ought to improve both noise-performance and longevity over cheaper fans thanks to a magnetically suspended ‘zero friction’ design. However, in practice the fan was far from silent, and though it’s unlikely to be audible over other fans in your system (we’re looking at you, video card), at the same time it’s still added noise. Thankfully, we found the heatsink didn’t get too hot with the fan disconnected, so if you’re not into hardcore overclocking you could try leaving it off altogether – just make sure the heatsink gets good airflow.
Layout is generally very good, though there are a few minor issues. For example, we prefer a staggered approach to RAM installation which leaves room for better memory cooling, and one of the board’s PCIe x1 slots can’t accommodate full-length cards because of the heatsink. At 1,800MHz, overclocked memory speed is also slightly lower than the 2,300MHz Asus manages to guarantee on its boards, but it’s in line with many competitors and plenty for most users.
Speaking of slots, the 890FX Deluxe3 offers more expansion than any other sub-£150 890FX motherboard we can think of. No less than three well-spaced PCIe 2.0 16x slots are available, though ‘only’ two will run at full speed with the third running at a 4x maximum. AMD chipsets don’t support SLI natively and at this board’s low price point we weren’t expecting it to be added, but all the various forms of CrossFireX are available – including using a pair of AMD/ATI Radeon 5970s for quad CrossFireX. Both full-speed slots are colour-coded blue, with the third slot dressed in white. We like the unique slider system ASRock uses to secure the graphics cards, though it’s inferior to Asus’ implementation of a double-sided hinged clip.
Aside from the graphics card slots, you get two PCIe slots – though one will be obscured if installing a dual-slot card in the primary slot, a bit of an oversight as dual-slot cards are the minimum we would expect to find in an enthusiast setup these days. You also get two older PCI slots, one of which will again be obscured if you install a second full-width graphics card.
Joining the generous slot selection are no less than eight SATA 6Gb/s (also known as SATA3) ports with six angled towards the right of the board and two facing up on the other side – though the last of these shares bandwidth with the eSATA port so don’t use it if you plan to hook up external storage. All ports support the full gamut of RAID configurations.
With faster SSD controllers coming onto the market SATA 6Gb/s may actually start to show a noticeable advantage over its predecessor, and unlike Intel chipsets – which still require a separate third-party controller and somewhat confusingly offer both types of ports, not to mention competing for the limited available bandwidth – AMD’s latest chipset simply offers native support. Ironically in the face of this cutting edge connectivity, for the legacy-loving crowd we still have an angled EIDE and vertical floppy port.
The 890FX Deluxe3’s rear I/O panel is impressive. Up to 7.1 audio is output from the board’s VIA VT2020 audio codec through six analogue and coaxial plus optical digital audio connectors. Gigabit Ethernet is an inevitable presence, but it’s when it comes to data and peripheral connectivity that ASRock’s high-end AMD motherboard really shines. We’ve already mentioned the USB 3.0 ports, but you also get PS2, FireWire, eSATA and four standard USB 2.0 ports, so you’re left wanting for little to our minds.
Further praise must also go to the dedicated ClearCMOS button found on the I/O panel, which is always a nice feature for overclockers. To hook up extra connections from your case or expansion brackets, the 890FX Deluxe3 provides a FireWire and two USB 2.0 headers.
ASRock’s BIOS is straightforward, with everything logically labelled. In fact we would go so far as to say that the 890FX Deluxe3 features quite simply the most intuitive BIOS we’ve ever used, and that’s saying something.
One nice extra is that the Exit screen also lets you load original BIOS or power saving presets, with the latter definitely being an unusual addition. Don’t worry though, if you care more about performance than your electricity bill, ASRock has you covered with three user-definable profiles logically found under the OC Tweaker menu. It offers a selection of automated CPU overclocking presets (from five to 50 per cent in five per cent increments) as well as the usual manual settings.
We also like the 890FX Deluxe3’s post screen options, which not only give access to the BIOS by pressing either Del or F2, but also let you call up a boot menu, flash your firmware or activate/deactivate Turbo UCC by pressing X or D respectively.
ASRock’s Turbo UCC is unique in that it combines automatic overclocking (including CPU and memory voltage adjustments), automatic core unlocking and power saving all into one single press of a button. Of course competitors also offer all these features, but in separate packages – which can lead to problems when they are unaware of each other, like we found to be the case with the Asus M4A89GTD Pro USB3. For the kind of user automatic overclocking is aimed at in the first place, it’s really nice to have everything taken care of at the press of a single button.
Moreover, Turbo UCC works quite well. Of course it can’t perform miracles, but it nevertheless manages a surprisingly successful balance between the seeming incompatibility of overclocking and power-saving. Idle power was reduced from 95W to 87W with it enabled, and even under load, with our Phenom II X4 810 overclocked to a reasonable 2,800MHz from its stock 2,600MHz, power draw only went up by 3W (from 150W to 153W). We couldn’t test Core Unlocking as none of our AMD CPUs seem to have a working deactivated core, but you might well have better luck.
In terms of software the ASRock 890FX Deluxe3 comes with a number of nicely-presented utilities, though there’s no option to install everything at once. OC Tuner is ASRock’s Windows software overclocking tool. It’s visually attractive (if a bit flamboyant) and easy to use, and results are not too bad. Just by pushing up the CPU frequency without altering voltage or other settings we pushed our Phenom II X4 810 from its stock 2,600MHz to 2,930MHz, 130MHz higher than the board’s Turbo UCC tool.
ASRock’s IES allows you to regulate and monitor voltages. Again it’s visually attractive and very comprehensive, giving you dynamic readouts from how many phases the motherboard is using to how long the motherboard has been operating. Just don’t try activating it when OC Tuner is running at its maximum, as this resulted in a BSOD. ASRock OC DNA, meanwhile, lets you create a Windows overclocking profile to share with friends, a neat if somewhat superfluous feature.
For BIOS overclocking, we tried the percentage presets. The highest one that would work was 30 per cent, which according to the BIOS would give us 3,380MHz but inexplicably gave us 2,600MHz – however, with the adjusted voltages we were able to push this up to beyond 3GHz using OC Tuner. As usual, the best method was just to adjust settings manually in the BIOS, which gave us a stable 3,120MHz with a 340MHz CPU frequency; any higher resulted in BSODs when the machine was put under load. While this is not as high as the 3.2GHz we got using the Asus M4A89GTD Pro USB3, it’s nonetheless a respectable overclock.
So would we recommend you buy this £127 motherboard? Performance is good if not class-leading, looks are attractive if not outstanding, and despite the disappointing bundle, the amount of features on offer is truly impressive – especially when taking into consideration that the 890FX Deluxe3 is priced lower than the competition. For example, the Asus Crosshair IV Formula that we took a look at in the DinoPC 6th Sense is around £150, and while you do get features like SupremeFX X-Fi emulation, we would argue that the 890FX Deluxe3’s extra USB 3.0 ports are a far more useful addition. If overclocking isn’t your prime consideration and your case is adequately cooled that you can safely disconnect the motherboard fan, we have absolutely no hesitation in recommending this board.
Cheap but competent and laden with features, a few minor quibbles are easy to forgive considering the ASRock 890FX Deluxe3’s low price. If you’re an enthusiast on a budget this motherboard is a great choice, and if you’re after more than two USB 3.0 ports it’s the only one – at least for now.
Score in detail
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