Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Forty-two PCIe lanes give the 990FX a clear connectivity lead over competing Intel chipsets.

Five $160 To $240 990FX-Based Socket AM3+ Motherboards          
Forty-two PCIe lanes give the 990FX a clear connectivity lead over competing Intel chipsets. We compare five class-leading products using AMD's FX-8150 to see which offers the best combination of performance, overclocking, integrated features, and value.

When it comes to the popularity of our stories, CPUs run second only to new graphics cards (which seem to get everyone's blood pumping the fastest). Motherboards fall behind quite a ways. That's a shame though, because the right board is an absolute necessity for connecting processors to GPUs, and every other components inside your machine.

This is where AMD gives a lot of love to its customers, whereas Intel tends to skimp more often. Nowhere is the difference between both company's mainstream parts more evident than in the chipset segment. The 990FX's 42 total PCIe 2.0 lanes provide a lot more potential throughput than Intel's popular Z68 Express, which is limited to 16 lanes from the CPU and a handful more on the Platform Controller Hub.
Of course, a fan of Intel's work could argue against the need for 42 lanes of second-gen PCIe when the 36 native to X58 Express support multi-card graphics configurations just as capably. But such a comparison really isn't necessary. After all, we've known for almost a year that Intel’s lower-cost Sandy Bridge-based part outperform the pricey six-core Gulftown-based processors in many desktop benchmarks, including pretty much every gaming scenario we throw at the two platforms. 

And, it just so happens that Intel's mainstream (and multiplier-unlocked) Core i5 and Core i7 chips are more in the same league as AMD's most expensive enthusiast-oriented FX CPU.

The Importance Of PCIe

Gaming is where the Sandy Bridge architecture most easily proves that you don't need a thousand-dollar processor to turn in the best frame rates, and that's in spite of the 16 lanes built into each CPU's die. We've even seen situations where an NF200 bridge soldered down onto a Sandy Bridge-based motherboard enables performance just as compelling as a high-end LGA 1366 configuration. The thing is, a Z68 or P67 platform's 24 total PCIe 2.0 lanes aren't explicitly set aside for graphics cards. They have to handle every device attaching via PCI Express, including network and storage controllers.

We’ve even tested a few "enthusiast-class" Sandy Bridge-based motherboards so loaded with features that simply installing an add-in card forced certain slots or on-board controllers to become disabled. That doesn’t sound like a solution a power user would willingly accept to us.

As of this moment, enthusiasts who need more connectivity than the LGA 1155 platform offers are left to choose between “upgrading” to one of Intel’s older LGA 1366 platforms, paying extra for a motherboard with bandwidth-sharing PCIe bridges, or shifting to a platform with more native PCI Express, a wider range of unlocked processors and prices, several times the reference clock overclocking headroom for locked processors, and a downright respectable chipset: AMD’s high-flying 990FX.

Today we consider a few of the most enthusiast-oriented Bulldozer-compatible motherboards that employ the 990FX northbridge.

12:00 AM - November 7, 2011 by Thomas Soderstrom

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