- Review Price: £145.00
The Asus M4A79 Deluxe is the first Socket AM2+ motherboard we’ve seen that is intended to accommodate both existing Socket AM2+ and upcoming Socket AM3 Phenom processors.
You see, Socket AM2+ Athlon X2 and Phenom processors have 940 pins and their integrated memory controllers can support up to DDR2-1066MHz RAM. Meanwhile, the the new Socket AM3 CPUs use 938 pins and are pin-compatible (i.e. they fit) with AM2+ sockets. They also have memory controllers that support both DDR2-1066MHz ”and” DDR3-1333MHz system memory. The result is you should, in theory, be able to use the new AM3 CPUs in existing AM2+ motherboards, just with the limitation that you’ll only be able to use the DDR2 memory that these older motherboards support. Oh, and you’ll almost certianly need to update your motherboard’s BIOS.
Of course, there will be many motherboards that this won’t work for so you’ll have to check out the motherboard manufacturer’s website to see if you’re board is one of the lucky ones. Either that or you could invest in one of Asus’ new range of M4 motherboards that have been specifically developed to support just the above scenario.
The M4A79 Deluxe, then, is based on the existing AMD 790FX chipset and supports DDR2 memory. It’s one of eight new models that come under the M4 moniker; the other seven being made up of four further models using AMD chipsets and three using nVidia chipset.
What we have here is a motherboard that looks very similar to the M3A79-T Deluxe with the addition of a more sophisiticated eight+two-phase power arrangement. Naturally the chipset cooler has undergone some cosmetic changes but we’re used to that with Asus; they must have a squad of people churning out heatpipes, coolers and cosmetic tinware just to ensure us plebs can see a difference between its myriad motherboards.
If you do look closely you can spot a number of tiny changes between the two models. For instance the M3A79-T has a single PS/2 port that is two-tone green and purple to show that it can be used for either mouse or keyboard while the new M4A79 Deluxe has two PS/2 ports. Even ignoring the fact it has been ages since we last saw a PS/2 mouse, it’s odd that the newer version would be more accomodating of older technology – most puzzling!
”’(centre)The M3A79T Deluxe is a very similar motherboard on more than just a cosmetic level. (/centre)”’
In another strange move the floppy drive connector (another anachronism, surely?) and Firewire header have swapped positions. This doesn’t seem to make the blindest bit of difference to the ease of assembly and there seems little other reason why one would move them.
One change that really puzzles us is the SATA arrangement. The M3A79-T Deluxe has six SATA ports on the SB750 Southbridge with an eSATA port on a Marvell controller. By contrast the M4A79 Deluxe has five SATA ports and one eSATA running off the SB750 which means it has managed to do away with the Marvell chip. We feel that five internal SATA ports offer plenty of storage options so the change from seven ports to six is fine by us. Where we have a problem is with the configuration of the SATA ports. M3A79-T Deluxe has the six ports laid down in three blocks of two but the new board only has two laid-down ports while the other three stand vertical.
This arrangement is fine provided you use a single graphics card but this motherboard supports CrossFireX so there’s the potential to to use dual graphics cards. The bad news is that installing a double slot graphics card in the second PCI Express slot blocks three of the five SATA connectors, which is very bad news indeed.
Asus redeemed itself to a small degree by including AMD OverDrive v 2.1.5 on the driver DVD, along with its Asus TurboV and Asus EPU utilities. It amazes us how rarely motherboard manufacturers include OverDrive which is a pain as it can be tricky to find the download link on the horribly confused AMD website, and it’s actually a very useful utility.
The biggest change in the land of AMD Phenom is the recent introduction of the 45nm Phenom II which wasn’t available when we reviewed the M3A79-T Deluxe so we had to give ourselves a new reference point. Happily we had a MSI DKA790GX Platinum (similar to the DKA790GX, which we’ve already reviewed) so we at least had one other board to compare to.
The complete test system consisted of a Phenom II X4 940 processor, a Radeon HD 4870 X2 graphics card, an Intel X25-M 80GB SSD (yes, it’s horrendously expensive but it’s also incredbly fast). We’re not suggesting that you will use an SSD in your new PC build but this change will remove any possibility that the hard drive is a bottleneck in performance during testing.
The MSI performed admirably and set a high standard for the Asus which it unfortunately failed to match.
”’(centre)If only the eight+two-phase power circuitry did glow yellow and green. Now that would be neat!(/centre)”’
The M4A79 Deluxe draws 20W more than the MSI both at idle and under load and it also failed to overclock as well as the MSI. We’re only talking about a slender margin with the Asus hitting 3.5GHz and the MSI running at 3.6GHz but there’s also an issue with hard drive performance during overclocked conditions. The MSI maintained its hard drive performance while the Asus lost some ten percent when the CPU was overclocked.
We got part of the way through our test suite with the Asus running at 3.6GHz before it crashed in PCMark Vantage.
We’ll get the full story when we can test the M4A79 Deluxe with a Socket AM3 Phenom but as things stand it is hard to see why you would spend an extra £20 on the Asus when the MSI delivers a better deal.
Although the Asus M4A79 Deluxe does a decent job and could prove the perfect upgrade path when AM3 Phenom II CPUs come along, it is currently beaten in every department by conventional alternatives like the MSI DKA790GX.
Score in detail