ASUS Sabertooth 990FX AM3+ Motherboard Review

Author: MAC
Date: May 30, 2011
Product Name: ASUS 990FX Sabertooth
Warranty: 5 Years
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A Closer Look at the Sabertooth 990FX

As we have come to expect from ASUS, this motherboard has a well though out layout. The 8-pin CPU power connector, 24-pin ATX power connector, eight SATA ports, USB 2.0 and FireWire headers are all ideally located on the edges of the motherboard. We do however wish that the front panel USB 3.0 header was located at the very bottom of the motherboard, instead of below the memory slots where effective cable routing/hiding can be little more difficult.

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This motherboard features a new 8+2 phase DIGI+ VRM digital power design, which is similar to the one we saw on the P8P67 PRO. Part of the DIGI+ VRM design are the Dual Intelligent Processors 2 (DIP2), consisting of the independent EPU (Energy Processing Unit) and TPU (TurboV Processing Unit) controllers. Thanks to the digital VRM and the TPU controller, this motherboard has extremely precise 0.005V voltage increments, five levels of Load-Line Calibration (LLC), very fast VRM phase switching with fine 10KHz switching frequency adjustments. The EPU controller monitors CPU loading and controls the number of active power phases, while also adjusting the voltages and multipliers on-the-fly in order to regulate power consumption. It is also connected to the chipset and memory VRMs, and optimizes their power efficiency as well. The main benefits of this new DIP2 design are that you can have full control over the system settings without using any CPU resources, and it’s no longer necessary to choose between power management (EPU) and overclocking (TPU).

From what we can tell right now, all of these new AM3+ motherboards will feature a black socket. It is a minor but effective way of differentiating AM3+ from the older AM2/AM2+/AM3 sockets. Those with eagle eyes will also notice that the AM3+ socket on this Sabertooth model features two small raised parts whose purpose is currently a mystery to us. We also believe that the pin holes look slightly wider, but don’t quote us on that.

Another distinctive change is the two-part heatsink mounting bracket, which differs from previous implementations, but also appears to be a ASUS-specific change instead of one mandated by AMD.

The two CPU fan headers are a terrific addition that we hope becomes a standard feature on all slightly higher-end motherboards.

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While the MOSFET heatsink is obviously a very robust looking piece, what really draws the eye is its unique texture. It is covered in CeraM!X, which is ceramic coating technology that ASUS only uses on The Ultimate Force (TUF) series motherboards.

This model only features one perfectly located 8-pin CPU connector, which is probably a good sign that AM3+ processors will not be power hogs, at least we are hoping.

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The Sabertooth 990FX has a pretty cool looking northbridge heatsink to our eyes. Part of this is obviously due to the CeraMIX coating that gives it a really gritty appearance. This heatsink doesn’t feature a particularly high fin density, but the way the fins are spaced ensures that they can really make use of any available airflow. The northbridge cooler is connected to the MOSFET heatsink via a flattened copper heat-pipe.

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The Sabertooth’s DDR3 memory slots officially support up to DDR3-1866, which is one of the benefits of the 990FX chipset, but ASUS have also validated this motherboard for overclocked operation up DDR3-2000. The 2-phase power design for the memory slots will have no issues handling the load. We are glad to see that ASUS are continuing the user-friendly Q-DIMM memory slot design, which is clip-less on one end. The reason for this innovative design is simply to make it easier to remove the memory modules.

In the top-right corner is the MemOk! button, which can be used to fix any memory compatibility issues in order allow the system to boot. As we come to expect, the 24-pin ATX power connector is right on the edge of the motherboard, exactly where it should be.

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This motherboard comes with a front-panel USB 3.0 header, and is one of the first to feature the new ASMedia ASM1042 USB 3.0 host controller, which as you will see later has much better performance than previous USB 3.0 implementations.

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The modern looking and low profile southbridge heatsink also features the unique ceramic-coating. It really doesn’t have much to cool, so form over function is not really a big deal in this case.

This motherboard features 8 right-angle SATA ports, 6 of which are supplied by the ‘new’ SB950 southbridge, which is identical to the previous SB850 southbridge. These six brown ports are all SATA III 6Gb/s and support RAID 0,1,5,10, JBOD, while the two black ports are SATA II 3Gb/s and come from a JMicron JMB362 controller.

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