MSI 890FXA-GD65 AM3 Motherboard Review

With LGA1155 boards being all the rage, it’s easy to forget about those who are using the AM3 platform. We rectify that by taking a long [H]ard look at the MSI 890FXA-GD65. A simple and very basic design that makes up for its lack of features in many ways. For around $130 it may be just what the OC Genie ordered.

Introduction

MSI is a well known brand in the motherboard industry. MSI was founded in 1986 and since then it has been providing quality motherboards, many of which are targeted at the computing enthusiast. Of course MSI knows that computer enthusiasts take many forms. Some are overclockers, gamers, or home theater aficionados looking for the flexibility an HTPC offers. With that in mind MSI has a number of offerings which target many different markets just as their competitors do. The one we are looking at here is the MSI 890FXA-GD65 which is relatively stripped down compared to most of the boards we review. The feature set sounds solid at a glance though. The board makes use of AMD’s SB850 south bridge and as a result supports SATA 6G. The use of an NEC controller allows for USB 3.0 support. The motherboard also supports CrossFireX using two physical cards, but up to 4 GPUs.

MSI markets the board as "military class" touting features such as Icy Choke, Hi-c Capacitors, and "solid caps" as well. The board also features MSI’s excellent Auto OC Genie feature which we’ve always found to work extremely well. The Dr. MOS feature is also present here. Decoding the marketing speak basically tells me that MSI used quality capacitors and active phase switching to keep the power phases cool.

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The MSI 890FXA-GD65 is based on AMD’s 890FX chipset with the SB850 south bridge granting the board support for SATA 6G drives. Unfortunately you won’t find eSATA, multiple RAID controllers, IEEE1394 ports, or anything of that nature on the 890FXA-GD65. So if you need these things you’ll need to step up to a higher end offering. However, minimalists will appreciate the board’s no nonsense and no frills design. Like most boards these days the high level of integrated peripherals, even on this basic board requires very little in the way of added components to make a fully functional system. You only need a socket AM3 compatible processor, DDR3 memory, power supply, and data drives to make a complete machine.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

The packaging is basic but effective. Our board arrived undamaged with all accessories intact. The bundle isn’t nearly as large or comprehensive as some I’ve seen, but it’s not exactly sent with nothing either. The board comes with the following accessories in the box: User’s manual, quick installation guide, user guide for HDD backup, I/O shield, front panel quick connectors, rear slot USB I/O bracket, and two packages of SATA cables with a 4-pin Molex to SATA power adapter.

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Board Layout

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The layout of the 890FXA-GD65 is good with very few issues. In fact most of the physical issues I have with the board aren’t so much layout issues, but rather a lack of attention to detail which makes initial setup of the board more difficult. The main issue I have is that the front panel connectors and other headers are not labeled. They are listed as JFP1 and JFP2, which you have to reference in the user manual in order to figure out what gets put where, so get out the manual, just like the olden days. You can use the pack of quick connectors, but you shouldn’t need to do so in my opinion. I would also like to see the memory module sockets placed further away from the CPU, but that doesn’t seem likely as that’s pretty much been the norm on all AMD processor compatible boards since the Socket 754 days.

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The CPU socket area is less than ideal but as I said before this is par for the course on the AMD platform. It seems unavoidable. (Supposedly for technical restrictions in the HyperTransport design.) The problem is that the memory slots are simply too close to the CPU socket as far as I am concerned limiting your cooling options to a degree. Consideration of DIMM height and CPU cooler profile are a good idea before you buy.

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The DIMM slots are color coded in the usual black / blue color scheme. They are far enough away from the expansion slots to prevent video card installation / upgrades as well as memory upgrades simple and relatively trouble free. That’s about the best you can hope for on an AMD based setup.

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The chipset is cooled with a modestly sized passive heat sink. It’s pretty much smack in the middle of the board. There isn’t much to say about it. The thing isn’t fancy and it doesn’t need to be. The AMD chipsets run very cool and even while overclocking the system, it did the job well.

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The south bridge has a small silver heatsink which is flat and unimpressive. However this is fine as the SB850 south bridge requires little in the way of cooling. This simple heat sink doesn’t impede the installation of large expansion cards and gets the job done. In front of this are the board’s 6 SATA ports. All of which are tied to the SB850 south bridge. The 890FXA-GD65 is extremely simple compared to most of the boards we look at. So the PCB almost looks bare in many areas. The south bridge just looks like an island all by itself as a result. But if you are looking for a "clean" install, this motherboard will be right up your alley.

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With regard to the expansion slot area, there are some issues. The problem here is that the north bridge cooler is too tall and may interfere with the installation of devices in the board’s two PCI-Express x1 slots. Normally only one of these is blocked by a chipset, but MSI shifted everything down and moved one of the x1 slots to the top. This still gives you 7 expansion slots, but 2 of these may prove unusable depending on your hardware configuration. The two flanking the PCI-Express x16 slots are to be expected, and blocking at least 1 PCI-Express x1 slot by a chipset cooler is also fairly common. Why MSI chose to do this to two slots is beyond me. Then again many boards shift everything down leaving you with only six expansion slots, up to two or three of which may go unusable. So this isn’t as bad as it sounds.

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Simple board, simple I/O options. The board has a legacy PS/2 keyboard and mouse port, clear CMOS button, 8 USB 2.0/1,1 ports, 2 USB 3.0 ports, 6 mini-stereo jacks, 1 S/PDIF out, 1 optical out, and 1 RJ-45 (LAN) port.