|ASRock AOD790GX/128M AM2+ Motherboard|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Motherboards|
|Written by Bruce Normann - Edited by Olin Coles|
|Wednesday, 11 March 2009|
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Closer Look: AOD790GX
First impressions count. Whether it's an aura of understated elegance, the flashy glitter of the fashion runway, an overwhelming display of technology, or a down home sense of comfort, presentation is the first chance we have to evaluate and discover what a new product is all about. The ASRock AOD790GX/128M takes somewhat of a no-frills approach to design and implementation. That's not to say that it looks like a stripped down model without any features, it just doesn't scream "Look at ME" in an effort to stand out amongst the competition. It looks like a capable performer, but it doesn't go over the top to look good while doing it.
There are a variety of colors used for the various electrical connectors; I count nine different hues, including black and white. It's a very tame appearance, and several of the colors are a darker, muted version of the colors most commonly used by others. The muted colors aren't as easy for me to differentiate in the dark; because I keep my PC under the desk, I actually appreciate the bright, gaudy colors that seem over-the-top to most people. The color coding does look functional and well thought out; all the non-descript beige and black connectors are for things that I rarely have to change once the motherboard is installed, or won't use at all: COM, FDD, PCI, ATX-2x12, and ATX-12V-2x4. All the bright colors are used to highlight connections that I may need to access on a more regular basis.
The AOD790GX/128M offers two PCI-Express (2.0) slots with CrossFireX support. The first PCI Express slot offers 16 lanes of bandwidth, and the second offers 8 lanes. Used together for multiple video cards, the first one throttles back to 8x, to accommodate the 16 lane limit of the 790GX Northbridge. While not the most powerful solution out there, it will work well with all mid-level ATI CrossFireX configurations. Hardcore gamers will wish for 16x out of each slot for their dual 4870X2 cards, but I dare say they will not be looking too closely at a mid-level board like this, anyway. There are three standard PCI slots and one PCI Express 1x slot, right in line with the Northbridge chip. Only very small expansion cards will fit here.
The thermal cooling solution for the chipset is pretty low-key. There are two separate heatsinks for the Northbridge and Southbridge; both are gold anodized with fairly routine fin designs and there are no heat pipes. Both heatsinks are anchored with basic plastic push pins. Neither of them got more than warm during some pretty abusive testing. There are no heatsinks on any of the power transistors that provide voltage regulation for the major components.
The AOD790GX/128M features ASRock DuraCaps, with a claimed 2.5 x longer lifetime. They are all solid, 100% Japanese manufactured Conductive Polymer Capacitors and are used throughout the board, at every location. They contain a solid organic polymer, have a low equivalent series resistance (ESR), and their service life rating means they will likely last as long as the rest of the components on the motherboard. All are through-hole mounted types; a couple of them are mounted on the extreme edges of the board, and they got bent over a bit during packaging. That's not unusual or particularly harmful for radial through hole mounted components. The good news is that through-hole components are a lot easier to replace than surface mount devices (SMD). It's not common, but people have experienced board failures when a SMD capacitor gets knocked off accidentally. I think bent is decidedly better than broken.
Two pairs of DDR2 DIMM sockets are available, color-coded yellow and orange, and they are located a good distance away from the CPU socket. I was pleased to see this, as some boards have the DIMM sockets too close to the CPU and the first set of DIMMs is tight up against the CPU cooler. This happens less often on full size ATX spec boards, but it still happens too often, IMHO. On this board I'm going to look at some of the most over-the-top RAM and CPU cooling schemes and see how they fit together.
The power connections on the AOD790GX/128M are standard ATX 24-pin and 8-pin sockets, but ASRock has labeled them with small stickers that cover the "extra" 4 pins on each connector that embody the transition from the 20 and 4 standard of the past. This is a subtle hint that, verbiage to the contrary, you can use a legacy PSU with its outdated 20+4 plugs. Considering that pins 21-24 were added to the ATX12V 2.0 spec to supply the extra power needed by PCI Express slots, it would be crazy to use an old PSU unless relying solely on the integrated graphics of the 790GX chip for a Home Theater rig. The same goes for the 12V connection for the CPU. If you have to use an old PSU, put a big warning sticker inside the case to keep you (or others) from getting over ambitious with component substitutions.
The back of the AOD790GX/128M has nothing more than a single support brace for the standard AMD-spec heat sink mounting ring. Nothing exciting to look at there...especially after I took it off to mount the CPU HSF with its supplied bolt through mounting kit. Now let's take a look at some of the features on the ASRock AOD790GX/128M in more detail.