Stuffing ever-more features and functionality into chips. That's what computing is all about.

In the past, ever-increasing transistor counts have enabled the likes of Intel and AMD to make their execution cores more sophisticated, perhaps bolting on extra cache memory or maybe bunging in a floating point unit or three. More recently, chip engineers have spent their transistor budgets by cramming in more cores.

But arguably the most significant current trend is the drive towards SoC or system-on-a-chip designs. In the context of the PC, that means taking bits off the motherboard and sticking them into the CPU. Bits like the memory controller, I/O and integrated graphics.

The point is that you could argue that mobos are becoming less and less critical. The end game seems to be a dumb board with a few sockets that does little more than connect components and supply power.

Thus, you might wonder whether it matters what chipset your motherboard has. So long as it has the right features and quality electrical current management, you're pretty much good to go, right?

That is surely the only hope for this Gigabyte board. It's the sole model here that's based on one of AMD's old 7 Series chipsets. However, it's a well specified board running the high-ish end 790FX variant of AMD's older chipset family. So you know you're getting quality power management and good cooling.

A pair of bona fide 16-lane PCI-e 2.0 sockets for multi-GPU CrossfireX action are also part of the package. What's more, Gigabyte has plumbed in a dedicated SATA 6Gbps controller. Okay, you only get a pair of 6Gbps ports. The other six can only manage 3Gbps. But it largely offsets one of the more obvious advantages of the 8 Series family.

It also has the NEC USB 3.0 chip, so doesn't fall short in that department, either. Again, USB 3.0 connectivity is limited to a pair of ports.

Chipsets do matter

In fact, the only obvious omission from the feature set is some kind of autooverclocking tool. Given the mediocre results typically delivered by such features, that's no great loss. What is disappointing, however, is this board's all round performance.

The first inkling that the GA-790XTA might not quite deliver the goods arrives in the storage performance benchmarks. Granted, with both sustained and burst read rates well over 300MB/s, it's much faster than any SATA 3Gbps motherboard. But it's still a fair few clicks down on the boards with 6Gbps supported natively in the chipset.

The results in our application benchmarks are a little patchy, too. By a clear margin, this board returns the slowest time in the Cinebench software rendering test.

But the biggest downer has to be overclocking. A maximum bus speed of 230MHz is pretty pathetic. Ditto for the top memory frequency of 1,333MHz with our 1,600MHz-rated Corsair DIMMs.

If the GA-790XTA was available at a conspicuously cut-down price, we might be inclined to to turn a blind eye to the boards shortcomings.

But at well over £100, it's deep into 890GX territory. Turns out motherboard chipsets do matter after all.

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