Motherboards for AMD CPUs are generally somewhat cheaper than those used for Intel models. This is excellent news for everyone looking to base their new system on AMD CPUs, since you can obtain pretty impressive hardware for one of Zambezi or Vishera CPUs and create a solid gaming platform at an accessible price. The best example thereof is one of the two motherboards we’re presenting today. Both models at hand are very high-quality and belong to ASUS’ top line.
Sabertooth 990FX R2.0
Sabertooth motherboards have always had a special place in our heart. These are models which pride themselves on quality and warranty exceeding that of “Republic of Gamers” models. ASUS tests these motherboards in the most stressing conditions imaginable, ensuring their reputed rock-stability. All this is possible owing to special materials and components used to manufacture them.
Firstly, the cooling system uses special ceramic plating to do its heat transfer task more efficiently. In concrete terms, the peculiar uneven surface combined with a wider contact area provides better heat dissipation. High-quality components comprise special coils, MOSFETs, as well as military-grade shielded electrolytes. The power unit, you’ve guessed it, is Digi+, and owing to the complexion of fine tuning settings, it’s touted as one of the best ever seen on a motherboard. CPU voltage is filtered in eight phases, which is truly phenomenal, and there’s even dynamic control of the number of active phases according to the CPU’s needs. In order to ensure utmost stability in any scenario, you’re able to read temperatures on multiple hotspots on the motherboard simultaneously. This technology is exclusive to ASUS and is called TUF Thermal Radar. It’s nothing revolutionary per se, but it still manages to keep all vital sensors in check by adjusting fan speeds automatically. Furthermore, the user is able to set a custom ratio for optimal parameters. Of course, for maximum usability of this feature, you’ll need to install the AI Suite II application, provided on the driver disc alongside all other necessary and accompanying software.
This Sabertooth model comes in military colours, faithful to the point of having a camouflage look. We have to admit that we like this image immensely, as the entire motherboard comes across as incredibly convincing. The ceramic cooling system also has a special feel to it. As for the capabilities of the motherboard itself, it’s not as well-equipped as RoG models, but it still has plenty of features even for the most advanced users. For instance, it contains four memory slots, as well as two PCI-Express slots in full x16 mode. Other than the latter, there’s a third PCI-Express slot with half the bandwidth (x8). This is more than enough even for multi-GPU systems, i.e. users who intend to have more than two graphics cards in their PC at a certain point. As for the R2.0 mark, which means “second revision”, we were wondering what the changes consisted in. Well, except for the improved power unit, there’s not much to speak about – a changed SATA controller, with AS Media replacing JMicron. Speaking of which, the number of SATA connectors is the same as before – a total of eight, which puts this motherboard above average in its range. The back panel is similarly well-equipped, again, not quite in line with RoG models, but still has all the niceties that you’ll need. The UEFI BIOS is as good as ever, since ASUS has perfected this particular feature long ago. Everything works perfectly well, the menu is very intuitive, and automatic overclock regulates all parameters as desired, although we feel it’s a bit too generous on the voltage.
This motherboard has a design typical of ASUS’ “standard” solutions. It has an excellent layout and we couldn’t find any inconsistencies while setting up the system. One could say that ASUS has “graduated” this aspect of motherboard design long ago. As this is a full-ATX model, we’re really satisfied with the choice of connections and capabilities. Just like the case with Sabertooth, the AM3+ socket is surrounded by the Digi+ power unit. Dual-Intelligent Processors technology has been implemented, which means two separate chips in the unit – one for maximising energy efficiency (EPU) and the other for dynamic CPU overclock (TPU). This is an excellent feature for all those who don’t wish to dabble with manual overclock too much, but want to squeeze out a little more performance from their system. The number of phases is eight yet again, which is enough to provide the CPU with stable voltage even under maximum load, overclock and voltage increase. The number of memory slots is standard at four, while the maximum clock is declared to 1866 MHz, interestingly enough, as opposed to Sabertooth’s 2133 MHz. We were using the same memory modules in both cases and noticed zero difference when the higher frequency was matched. The main difference between this model and Sabertooth is the number of connections and slots at disposal to the user. The number of full-size PCI-Express slots is lower, with two capable of x16 mode, and the remaining one clocking in at x4. In practice, this translates to little purpose in creating a system with more than two graphics cards. This is hardly something that’ll deter potential buyers, in all honesty, but it’s still worth mentioning.
Furthermore, although the motherboard has the same controller combo for data storage, the number of SATA III ports is lower. While we understand ASUS’ desire to differentiate its products, reducing the number of SATA ports for this reason only seems a bit offhand. Still, this will also be of little interest to buyers with the usual needs. Of course, M5A99FX has the standard three-year warranty, like most other products on the market. With the exception of a few arguably relevant missing functions, M5A99FX isn’t inferior in any sensible way. Overclock capabilities, high-quality UEFI BIOS and other aspects are quite on par with other, more expensive models.
Quality above all
Although both these motherboards are exceptional, as we stated at the very beginning, Sabertooth has to be our choice, simply because it has its own spirit that no one else on the market can match. Everyone seems to be striving to create either a cream-of-the-crop gaming model or a budget one, while Sabertooth caters to an entirely different niche, and is currently alone in it. This robust motherboard is amazing regardless of which platform it’s intended to be used with.
|ASUS SABERTOOTH 990FX R2.0||ASUS M5A99FX PRO R2.0|
|Memory||4x DIMM DDR3 1066-1866(OC)||4x DIMM DDR3 1066-2133 (OC)|
|MultiGPU support||CrossFireX, SLI|
|Expansion slots||2x PCIe 2.0 x16, 1x PCIe 2.0 x8, 1x PCIe 2.0 x1, 1x PCI||2x PCIe 2.0 x16, 2x PCIe 2.0 x4, 1x PCIe 2.0 x1, 1x PCI|
|SATA/ATA||10x SATA 6Gbps||7x SATA 6Gbps|
|Audio||Realtek ALC892 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC|
|Network||1x Realtek 8111F|
|Internal connectors||6x USB 3.0, 4x USB 2.0, 6x Fan, 1x 24pin power, ATX 12V power, Audio (Front panel)||2x USB 3.0, 6x USB 2.0, 4x Fan, 1x 24pin power, ATX 12V power, Audio (Front panel)|
|Back panel||8x USB 2.0, 4x USB 3.0, S/PDIF, LAN, 2x eSATA 6Gbps, 6x 3.5mm audio, USB Bios Flashback, PS/2||7x USB 2.0, x USB 3.0, S/PDIF, LAN, eSATA 6Gbps, 6x 3.5mm audio, USB Bios Flashback, 2x PS/2|
However, it should be noted that for some reason, the AMD model is some 30% cheaper than the variant with Intel’s Z77 chipset. Even more surprisingly, the difference between the two models that we’ve tested today is $30 or so, which makes the choice even easier for us, and we believe that you shouldn’t have any trouble in deciding either.