ASUS Sabertooth 990FX Motherboard Review

As ASUS' newest AMD based board, the Sabertooth 990FX offers future-proof technology in a sleek package. The board is designed around the AMD 990FX chipset, supporting the next generation of AMD processors, and looks to give the competition a run for the money.

Introduction

ASUS has a long running track record for producing high quality and high performance computer components, propelling the company to its dominating position in the space. The company continues to push the technological limits to provide its customers with the best in brand products, using a fusion of hardware and software technological innovation to maintain its leadership role in the market. ASUS' latest AMD based motherboard shows off the company's technological prowess in both design and function.

The ASUS Sabertooth 990FX motherboard offers future-proof support through the AMD 990FX and SB950 chipsets. The board supports the following technologies: the AMD Socket AM3 and next-gen AM3+ processor line (AMD FX series processors); DDR3 memory operating in Dual Channel memory mode up to 1600 MHz officially; and either NVIDIA Quad-SLI or AMD Quad-CrossFireX graphics mode using matched video cards.

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ASUS designed the listed integrate devices in to the Sabertooth 990FX: 6 SATA III 6Gb/s ports (RAID 0, 1, 0+1 and 5 capable) on the AMD SB950 controller; 2 SATA II and 2 e-SATA 3Gb/s ports on the JMicron controller; 14 USB 2.0 capable ports (10 in rear panel, and 2 onboard headers supporting 2 ports each); 4 USB 3.0 capable ports (2 in rear panel, and 1 onboard header supporting 2 ports each); 2 IEEE 1394 ports (1 in rear panel, and 1 onboard header supporting 1 port each); 1 Realtek GigE Ethernet port in the rear panel; Realtek 8-channel HD audio codec with integrated S/PDIF optical output port; and a PS/2 keyboard / mouse port in the rear panel.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Mainboard Specification List:

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Packaging

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The Sabertooth 990FX' box art design is simple, with the board's name and supported technologies on a black brushed background. ASUS chose to include the following components in the box: locking connector SATA drive cables; a 2-way NVIDIA SLI connector; the rear panel IO shield; the Q-Connector modules; a certificate of reliability; and the normal complement of manuals and drivers discs. The Q-Connector modules allow for an easy interface for connecting in to the motherboard headers. You simply plug in your front panel jumpers in to the white connector and the USB 2.0 jumpers in to the blue connector block, and then plug both blocks in to the motherboard headers. It makes for a much easier install for those typically hard to reach header areas.

Board Layout

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The Sabertooth 990FX sports a sleek and utilitarian-style design, with adequate space around key board areas and components. The board revision is located in between PCI Express x16 slots 2 and 3, with the model used in testing being a 1.04 revision. The board's serial number was not anywhere to be found on the surface of the board, nor on the box itself since this is not a Mass Production board, but rather a testing sample. As expected with a higher-end product, ASUS designed the Sabertooth 990FX' power path using high quality polymer solid-electrolyte capacitors and metal alloy chokes.

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The CPU socket area is free of obstacles, with the socket itself oriented so that the CPU sits along the board's vertical axis. The CPU's cooler is held in place with an AMD AM3 style hold-down cage, with the cage itself split in to 3 pieces instead of the normal 2. The AMD 990FX Northbridge chipset is located to the left of the CPU socket, covered by a large thin-finned cooler. The 8-pin ATX12V power connector is located to the upper right of the CPU, with the CPU_FAN and CPU_OPT fan headers located to the socket's lower right side.

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The 4 DDR3 memory slots are located directly below the CPU socket, arranged in a bi-colored block. The tan colored slots are the manufacturer recommended primary use slots, with Dual Channel memory mode activated with modules populating all slots of the same color. The 24-pin ATX power connector, CHA_FAN3 header, and MemOK! button are located directly below the DIMM slot block. The MemOK! button can be used to reset the board's memory settings to default settings in the event of a boot failure due to an overly aggressive memory configuration.

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The AMD SB950 Southbridge chipset is located directly beneath the primary and second PCI-Express x16 slots, covered by a large low-profile heat sink. The USB 3.0 port and CHA_FAN4 headers are located to the lower right of the chipset. The onboard SATA ports are located to the lower left of the chipset, with the tan colored slots being the AMD SB950 controlled SATA III 6Gb/s ports. The 2 black colored SATA II 3Gb/s ports are controlled by the JMicron controller. The front panel header is in the board's lower left corner, with the serial port header, the CMOS reset jumper, and USB 2.0 port headers directly above it.

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ASUS chose to integrate 6 total ports in to the Sabertooth 990FX: 4 PCI-Express x16 slots, 1 PCI-Express x1 slot, and 1 PCI slot. The CHA_FAN1 and CHA_FAN2 headers are located to the upper right of the primary PCI-Express x16 slot. The USB 2.0 port, IEEE 1394 port, S/PDIF output and front panel audio headers, as well as the standby power LED, are located along the outside edge of PCI-Express slot 4. Surprisingly, ASUS chose to place the CMOS battery in between the lower portions of PCI-Express x16 slots 1 and 2, making for a tricky removal process when using a video card with a larger cooler. Note that the standby power LED illuminates when an active power source is connected to the board's power connectors.

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The Sabertooth 990FX's rear panel includes the following integrated ports: a PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo-port; 10 USB 2.0 ports; 2 USB 3.0 ports (blue colored USB style ports); 2 e-SATA 3 Gb/s ports; 1 Realtek GigE Ethernet port; and 6 analogue and S/PDIF optical audio output ports.

TurboV EVO

For overclocking the Sabertooth 990FX board from within windows, ASUS provides the TurboV EVO application, with version 1.01.30 provided on the installation DVD. TurboV EVO integrates seamlessly in to their AI Suite utility, which offers many other system monitoring related applications as well.

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The TurboV EVO applet can be access via the Tool button after opening the AI Suite application. The TurboV EVO screen is broken in to two separate tabs - TurboV and Auto Tuning. Notice the CPU bar along the right side of the app window as well. The TurboV tab displays current system voltage and bus speed settings, allowing for configuration of all displayed settings. Within the Advanced Mode tab are other adjustable system voltages, while the CPU Ratio tab allows for manual configuration of the current CPU multiplier setting. For all settings listed in the applet, the configurable settings shown mimic the settings available through the BIOS menus.

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ASUS also chose to bundle version 1.00.22 of their Thermal Radar board monitoring applet with the AI Suite utility. In its base mode of operations, the applet displays temperature monitor locations on the board surface, with real-time display of monitored temperatures, voltages, and fan speeds.

Editor's Note:

Worth noting though is that the socket itself is still very close to the DIMM slots, as we have seen in other 990FX motherboards, so it is worth your time to check around the HardForum and see if others have had cooling fitment problems. Below is a shot of Thermalright TRUE sitting on the socket and you can see that you will give up the first DIMM slot if you have "tall" DIMMs. The heatsink itself does not intersect the socket, but rather the fan does, so surely you could reposition the fan if you wished.

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