|ASRock AOD790GX/128M AM2+ Motherboard|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Motherboards|
|Written by Bruce Normann - Edited by Olin Coles|
|Tuesday, 10 March 2009|
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AOD790GX Component Layout
The first thing I look for on any new MB is the spacing between the CPU socket and the memory slots. I'm strictly an air-cooled guy (yeah, Porsche 911 FTW...!!), so I want to make sure the CPU cooler doesn't interfere with the DIMM sockets. For this build, since I knew I wanted to explore the overclocking boundaries of the new Phenom II CPU, I chose a fairly heavy duty CPU cooler, the Cooler Master Hyper Z600. It's actually marketed as a passive cooler, but it has fan mounting points and we've had good results with it on the Core 2 Duo CPU family here at Benchmark Reviews. But.... did I mention that it's HUGE?
In this image you can see that it hangs over the first two DIMM sockets, and even though the fins have been cut away in this area, it still a struggle to fit a Corsair DHX-style memory module in there. The OCZ Reapers don't fit in the first two slots at all. For the duration of the testing, I used 2 DIMMs in slots 3 & 4, which is the location recommended in the manual, if only using two slots. There was no way the fan would fit on this side of the Z600; one down, three to go.
If using a more traditional CPU cooler, you will likely have more flexibility in fan placement. The Hyper Z600 is 127mm x 127mm x 160mm tall. The Cooler Master Hyper 212 CPU cooler I've used in the past is fairly wide, at 73mm; and the Xigmatek HDT-S1283 is only 50mm wide; a MUCH smaller footprint. These products, and many other detailed in the Best CPU Cooler Performance articles here on Benchmark Reviews, will give excellent performance. So don't worry that you have to give up good cooling just for the sake of compatibility. Just because I built it with a monster-sized CPU cooler doesn't mean you have to.
The second thing I look for is the cooling solution for the Northbridge. Most overclocking involves increasing the FSB clock, and upping the voltage in some cases. You want to make sure the NB stays cool, but again, you have to watch out for interference with the CPU cooler. On the AOD790GX/128M, there was plenty clearance between the NB and the CPU heatsinks; good enough that I was able to mount the 120mm fan on this side of the Hyper Z600. With two adjacent sides of the Hyper Z600 unavailable for fan mounting, due to clearance issues, a push-pull fan setup was not in the cards. Fortunately, it wasn't needed, as we'll see later in the results section.
The location of the two full length 8X/16X PCI-E slots is straightforward; they're right next to one another, just below the Northbridge. The green colored 16X slot is closest to the NB and the 8X slot is two doors down. They are double-spaced, so no trouble fitting the majority of cards in there. The space between has an unusual looking connector and card located there, looking like a mutant SO-DIMM memory slot. This is actually a switch connection, used to configure the PCI-E data lanes as either 1 - 16X or 2 - 8X. I'm sure there are easier ways of making this configuration change, but this might be the simplest, cheapest and more robust solution. I left it in the default setting, 1 - 16X connection, since I was only using a single video card.
There is only one dedicated PCI-E 1X slot, and it's in line with the NB. If the blue slot is not set up as 8X, it does alternate duty as another 1X slot. The Southbridge heatsink is a very low profile unit that is unlikely to interfere with anything. It seems adequate for the task, as it never got past warm during the tests. One aspect of component layout that seems to trip some manufacturers up is the placement of the SATA connectors. I'm happy to say that the AOD790GX/128M avoids this trouble by locating them at the bottom edge of the board. The only thing that could possibly interfere with them is a monster, full length PCI card in the last PCI slot. This is an unlikely situation, given that there are three PCI slots to choose from and the top two are not obstructed by anything else on the MB.
In the next section, Benchmark Reviews takes a look at the BIOS included with the ASRock AOD790GX/128M, and we see how overclocking friendly it is.