FXing on a Budget
With the release of the FX processor we and others began taking some serious look sat the 900 series motherboards, they are after all the high end of the AMD board lineup and so it only makes sense. However the FX was not just released at the high end but at the low end as well with the 4100 chip. There where also some lower cost 900 series motherboards released, using the 970 series chipset. Budget oriented solutions may not be as sexy as the high end but lets be real, they represent a more common purchasing choice. For our first look at a 970 based motherboard we turn to our friends at Gigabyte and the 907A-UD3 motherboard.
Price at $109 this board is right in the ball park of a higher quality budget board. While this might be a budget board in pricing thought it is more expensive in it’s features, something we have come to expect with Gigabyte budget boards. This board packs in Gigabyte’s On/Off Charge USB tech which allows the USB ports on the board to be used as a charging station for your portable devices. Add to this an all solid capacitor design, a solid onboard audio solution, SATA and USB 3.0, also an internal USB 3 header as well as Gigabytes traditional extra copper in the board foundation and you have a board that has a rich feature set.
While the board has two full size PCIe slots, only one of them is capable of x16 speeds, the second is limited to x4. This is a limitation of the 970 chipset, as it does not provide as many available PCIe lanes and the 990 chip. This means this board will not support Crossfire or SLI like the 990FX chip, there has to be a reason for some savings in cost after all.
While this board might be light for multi-card solutions it is not coming up short on SATA capabilities with full SATA 3.0 support and six ports to allow for some nice RAID options if you so choose. Thankfully we do not see any standard ATA hookups anymore taking up board space. We do have 4 DDR3 slots allowing form up to 32 Gigs of RAM if you want to pony up for the 8 gig sticks.
While this might be a budget board in price it is far from a budget board in build quality and that shows with the 8+2 Phase power that is onboard. This means the system is going to get a nice clean and stable power flow and well as better overclocking possibilities. To further enhance this we see some consideration for better heat removal from the board with some well placed and designed heat sinks.
Working around to the back of the board we see eight USB 2 connectors as well as two connectors for USB 3.0, meaning your USB devices have plenty of places in the back for your USB devices. You also get a gigabit LAN connector, PS2 port, Firewire and the full range of sound connection options. This is something we have come to expect with gigabyte boards and the 970A delivers, USB connectivity is not an issue. This is further enhanced with 3 connection headers for USB on the motherboard as well as an internal USB 3 header.
So we know we have a solid, feature rich and well constructed board at a reasonable price, but how does it perform? Well after updating to the latest BIOS we drop an FX 8150 into the board and hit the power. Right out of the gate it came up and correctly IDed the 8150, so far so good. We put in 8 gigs of RAM, put a 6850 in for video and began running the same test we ran when we looked at the 8150 on two different 990FX based boards.
At stock speeds the 970A delivered exactly what we have come to expect, the same performance as the more expensive boards. People get caught up in thinking that the more expensive boards deliver better performance. This is NOT true at stock settings. A 970 board with the same CPU, RAM and GPU will perform just like a 990FX. The savings does reduce your options by not allowing multiple GPUs but for more budget oriented users this is not a big deal.
As we move to overclocking we see where the lower costs boards begin to hit their limits. The 970A has some solid options in it’s old school BIOS but at the end of the day it just does not offer the features for the open overclocking that the 990FX boards we have seen offer. I was able to get my 8150 to 4.2 Ghz with little effort but the chip seemed to stall there. I tried a few quick tricks but did not push to hard. This means the the 970A was unable to match the simple overclocking level of the 990FX boards.
What this means in the end is that if you are looking to buy an FX processor, or for that matter any of the Phenom II lineup and running at stock speeds then the 970A-UD3 is a great option that cane saver you some money and deliver performance that the extra money will not buy you with other boards. If you are planning on a budget build then this baord NEEDS to be your first stop on the shopping list. Buying the 970A with an FX 4100 or a Phenom II and a solid single card solution like a 6870 and you will get a good AMD based build that will meet most computing experience needs.
Sure for some extra money you could move to a higher end board but unless you are planning on spending some time tweaking for overclocking and running multiple cards you will not gain ANYTHING that justifies the extra cost. For most people this is the current board they should look at if they are building a budge AMD platform based system. Gigabyte has delivered through the last few generations with the x70 based boards and the 970A continues in this excellent tradition.
Well I might be Computer Ed at the end of the day I am just like the rest of you and crap happens. The SD card in the camera that held all of our review pictures of this board decided to die on us. The 970A is currently in use with a Noctua cooler on it for testing and rather than disassemble it and get you fresh pictures I am using the stock pictures provided by Gigabyte.
970A-UD3 Review as aired 12 November 2011
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