AMD’s 890FX Chipset: An Evolution for the AM3 Platform

Author: Michael "SKYMTL" Hoenig
Date: April 26, 2010
Product Name: AMD 890FX Chipset
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A Closer Look at the AMD 800-series

With the release of the 800-series chipsets, AMD is now moving away from their older “Dragon” and “Pices” platforms towards what they call “Leo” and “Dorado”. Leo will basically be the all-encompassing name for their high end and upper mainstream products while Dorado will end up targeting entry level consumers.

As we mentioned in the introduction, AMD is very much trying to hit every possible price point with their 800-series of chipsets and for the most part their motherboard partners are playing along. One thing that AMD wants to avoid for the time being is to have motherboards priced above what most consumers are willing to pay. Naturally, some motherboards will be priced higher than expected due to expanded feature sets and high-end capabilities but for the most part AMD is staying on track to give every consumer a number of choices within their budget.

Let’s take a look at how these new platforms compare to their predecessors.

Looking at the cart above, it should become apparent that the new SB8xx-based boards aren’t really going to offer anything revolutionary but will rather evolve AMD’s platforms to fit better with today’s market trends. The most important move in our opinions from a compatibility standpoint is the omission of DDR2 support from the newer platforms. It was only a matter of time until the move to a DDR3 / AM3-exclusive platform was made and make no mistake about it; we feel this has been a long time in coming.

At this point and for the foreseeable future, the 890FX will be AMD’s flagship motherboard and rest at the heart of a high-end “Leo” platform. Even though it effectively replaces the outgoing 790FX, its specifications are nearly identical save for a few differences with the Southbridge features. For the most part the Northbridge still equips motherboards with a total of 42 PCI-E lanes of which 32 are dedicated to add in graphics cards. There has also been a jump (no seen in the chart above) to official support for 1333Mhz DDR3 modules from the 790FX’s 1066Mhz but the main difference lies in the power consumption. Even though AMD has maintained the slightly antiquated 65nm manufacturing process from the 790FX Northbridge, TDP (remember, this is NOT actual power consumption) has nearly doubled from about 10W for the older chipset to 19.8W. The reason behind this is partially due to the implementation of IOMMU into the 890FX which benefits virtualization and as such will probably rarely be used by most people. As such, the TDPs of both chipsets should be about the same if virtualization isn’t being used.

Much like the 790GX, 785G and some 770-series boards from the last generation, the lower-end 800-series boards will feature integrated graphics. One of the more interesting things about the graphics aspects for these chipsets is the fact that yet another mid-range GX-series board from AMD will feature dual 8x PCI-E lanes for Crossfire use. This is a step up from the 785G that natively supported Crossfire but only in a 16 / 4 configuration. However, it should be noted that it is up to the board manufacturer to implement the necessary on-board automatic switch on an 890GX product to ensure full 16x operation if only the first PCI-E slot is populated. Nonetheless, the 890GX should offer the best combinations of performance and price for budget-conscious consumers.

Both the 890FX and the 890GX share a significant amount of commonality with the higher-end 700-series products (the 890FX with the 790FX and the 890GX with the 785G) but their 850 Southbridge represents a significant step forward on the storage front. Gone is the outdated SATA2 interface and in its place is native compatibility with the new SATA 6Gb/s standard. Even though there aren’t many drives currently on the market that take advantage of the bandwidth “SATA 6” offers, the fact that AMD natively supports it gives them an automatic step up from the competition. Another two USB 2.0 ports are also supported versus the last generation as well.

Meanwhile, the lower end of the 800-series boards holds what can only be considered a carbon copy of the previous generation in some ways. The 870 with its 65nm Northbridge and SB850 seems to be really nothing more than a renamed 770 series chipset with a single 16x PCI-E 2.0 slot but does come with the added benefit of additional USB 2.0 ports and SATA 6Gb/s support.

The 880G on the other hand may look familiar but it is manufactured on a 55nm process and sports a new GPU…or what looks like a new GPU. As we saw in our 890GX article, the HD 4200-series IGP is nothing more than a renamed 3200 series with some increased clock speeds. Other than the IGP, there really isn’t much about this chipset to comment on other than to say that it may be what HTPC users are looking for considering its GPU supports UVD 2.0 and all the latest HD audio and video decoding. There was originally some talk about an “SB810” Southbridge but it seems AMD has instead decided to carry on with the old 130nm-based 710 Southbridge but leaves the option for their motherboard vendors to implement the more expensive SB850 as well.

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