Pity AMD's current CPUs aren't a bit more competitive, because there are some cracking AMD-compatible motherboards available. They really do stick it to Intel in terms of features and value. Asus's new M4A89GTD Pro/USB3 is a prime example.
The big news is the arrival of the 890GX chipset from AMD. With it come a number of upgrades – some significant, some less so.
You'd think a new integrated GPU, known as the Radeon HD 4290, would be worth a butchers. But apart from an incremental step from DirectX 10 to DirectX 10.1, there's not much to get excited about. The paltry total of 40 shaders hasn't been increased, for example.
Compared to AMD's fastest discrete graphics chip, the 1,600-shader Radeon HD 5870, that's totally feeble. Even AMD's upcoming CPU-GPU 'fusion' processor will have 480 shaders.
Anyway, the take-home point is that the 4290 won't get the job done if gaming matters to you even slightly. Like pretty much every integrated GPU since time began, it's hopeless for 3D rendering, as in can't-even-cope-with-CoD4-at-low-res hopeless. That's something even 128MB of dedicated 'SidePort' graphics memory can't help.
Of course, a pair of PCI-e x16 ports await the insertion of proper graphics firepower. But if that's what you have in mind, what do you need the integrated GPU for in the first place?
Home cinema friendly
However, if the context is 2D or more specifically home cinema larks, this board really comes into its own. For starters, it sports VGA, DVI and HDMI ports and includes HDCP compliance for playback of nasty content-protected sources such as Blu-ray. As it happens, it does a stand-up job of Blu-ray acceleration, reducing the CPU load into single-digit territory.
For the record, the DVI port also supports dual-link operation. That means you can drive one of the latest uber-resolution 27-or 30-inch panels with the fun-sized integrated GPU. That may seem a bit of a mismatch, but gaming aside, what more do you need?
The other key feature of the chipset is the SB850 southbridge, which brings 6Gbps SATA support. That's a welcome addition and something Intel currently doesn't offer. Without it, an extra chip is required for 6Gbps storage. That makes for more cost and complexity on the one hand and typically a confusing mix of 3Gbps and 6Gbps ports on the other. Not so for the M4A89GTD series. All six ports are the full 6Gbps monty.
Sadly, however, what the 890GX doesn't deliver is native USB 3.0. That comes courtesy of a dedicated controller chip and is limited to a pair of ports on the rear panel.
This board is our first experience of Asus's new Core Unlocker tech. AMD has removed support for unlocking hidden CPU cores with the new 8 Series chipset, so Asus has developed a workaround. We can confirm it works splendidly, transforming our puny little Phenom II X2 into a fully functioning and ludicrously cheap quad-core beast.
Maybe those AMD chips aren't so bad after all.
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