The motherboard we will be using together with our AMD Phenom II X4 970 Black Edition, is the ASUS M4A89TD PRO. As its name suggests, the M4A89TD PRO uses AMD’s latest 890FX northbridge chipset, mated to a SB850 southbridge.
The AMD 890FX chipset is essentially the same as the 790FX, supporting AM2+ and AM3 processors and offering 2×16 or 4×8 PCI Express GPU lane configurations. However, 890FX drops DDR2 memory support, and comes with a new SB850 southbridge.
SB850 brings about many storage improvements: native support for SATA 3.0 (6Gbps), AHCI 1.2, RAID 5 support (in addition to RAID 0, 1 and 10), and two additional USB 2.0 ports to make a total of 14 USB 2.0 ports.
If you are an earlier adopter of USB 3.0, there is also a M4A89TD PRO/USB3 motherboard available; same PCB, same components, but you get an additional NEC USB 3.0 controller onboard… and will cost you an additional US$10 as well.
Moving on, let’s take a quick look at the motherboard. The M4A89TD PRO sports a 6+2 phase design.
ASUS has used two beefy heatsinks to cool the AMD 890FX chipset and the MOSFETs, with both heatsinks connected with a heat pipe. And there’s our Phenom II X4 970 Black Edition making itself comfortable in its new home.
There are two PCI slots, one PCI Express x4 slot, one PCI Express x1 slot, and two PCI Express x16 slots for two-way ATI CrossFire.
With the SB850 southbridge, you get six native SATA 6Gbps ports and one IDE port. ASUS has opted for three USB front panel headers (for six USB ports), while the remaining eight USB ports go onto the back panel I/O.
The Phenom II X4 has native support for dual-channel DDR3-1333, but ASUS has given enthusiasts the option of DDR3-1600 without overclocking the processor or bus frequency.
Notice the two tiny switches right up front hiding under the shadow of the DIMM slots?
The switch on the right is the Core Unlocker. AMD sometimes ships processors that have extra processor cores disabled, for reasons unknown to us. However, the disabled core(s) are often functional and motherboard manufacturers have come up with ways to re-enable these cores, allowing enthusiasts to get a free performance boost.
It is rumored that the boxed AMD Phenom II X4 970 Black Edition are based on Deneb, but the OEM run of the same processor are based on Zosma, a Phenom II X6 hexacore with two cores disabled. No concrete information yet, but we’ll keep you updated.
Getting around to the back of the board, we are greeted by legacy PS/2 ports, eight USB 2.0 ports (the blue ones are USB 3.0 on the M4A89TD PRO/USB3), Gigabit Ethernet, eSATA, S/PDIF out and analog audio connectors.