Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 Motherboard Review
   
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Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 Motherboard Review

August 30th, 2016 James Leave a comment Go to comments

Overview

 

This review is about more than just the Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 and is as much about AMD as it is about the motherboard, why? Well it’s because pcG has not looked at an AMD based system for almost two years, shock horror, but that’s all about to change. Thanks to AMD we will not only look at the Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 supplied by Asus themselves but also the AMD FX 8350 and its associated Wraith CPU Cooler.

The Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 (as the name suggests ) is actually Asus’ third iteration of their 990FX board. The board itself is a full ATX board with support for the following AMD CPUs (AMD AM3+ FX™/Phenom™ II/Athlon™ II/Sempron™ 100) as well as support for both SLI and Crossfire. In addition to this the new board from the TUF range also features Aura RGB illumination. The board has four DIMM slots supporting 32GB of Memory/RAM up to 1866MHz. While there’s also six expansions slots (3 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (dual x16 or x16/x8/x8) & 1 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (x4 mode, black) & 2 x PCIe 2.0 x1), 5 x SATA 6GB/s ports, a single M.2 socket supporting both SATA and PCIE, a single Intel based LAN port and a Realtek ALC1150 audio solution.

 

asus_logo-new ‘Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 drives ASUS TUF’s direct-etching concept forward by military-inspired digital pattern directly onto the board in commanding gun-metal grey! As unique as it is evocative of might, Sabertooth 990FX R3.0’s stunning new aesthetic envisions the future for your next battle-ready rig. A well-tuned enthusiast system deserves a matching aesthetic. ASUS Aura offers full RGB control with a variety of exciting presets for its onboard LED illumination, all of which can be synced with an ever-growing portfolio of Aura-capable ASUS hardware.’

 

Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 - box front Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 - box back

 

The Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 arrived at pcG in simple looking (yet smart) black box with the front of the box highlighting both the brand, product name and series (TUF: Ultimate Force). In addition to this Asus have chosen to highlight the 5 year warranty, AMD 9-Series Chipset, SLI and CrossFire support, Windows 10 Ready and Aura RGB lighting.

There’s far more detail to be found on the back of the box as well as images of the board itself and the I/O ports. There are also four images highlighting the TUF Components, DIGI+ Power Control, USB BIOS Flashback and TUF ESD Guards 2. In addition to this Asus also draws our attention to the following:

  • Thermal Radar 2
  • TUF LANGuard
  • Asus SafeSlot
  • AURA Lighting Control
  •  

    Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 - box open

     

    On opening the the box we can see that the Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 is adequately packaged and presented with the motherboard itself lying in the top of the box in a cardboard frame and further protected by an anti-static bag.

     

  • IN THE BOX
  • Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 - box contents (accessories)   Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 - box contents (paperwork)

     

    The rest of the box contents can be found below the motherboard’s cardboard tray in the bottom of the box. This comprises of the following paperwork: (User Guide, Warranty Information, Certificate of Reliability, Motherboard Layout, Five-Year Warranty Notice, Driver CD, Sticker and Safety Information) and the following accessories: (I/O Shield, x4 SATA cables, SLI Bridge, Q-Connector and M.2 mount).

    At the time of review, the Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 is retailing on Amazon for approximately £200 (although the RRP £186.88) and comes with an impressive 5 year warranty.

     

    Specifications/Features

    courtesy of Asus

    • CPU
      AMD AM3+ FX™/Phenom™ II/Athlon™ II/Sempron™ 100 Series Processors
      Supports AM3+ 32 nm CPU
      Supports CPU up to 8 cores
      Supports CPU up to 220 W
      AMD Cool ´n´ Quiet™ Technology
    • Chipset
      AMD 990FX/SB950
    • Memory
      4 x DIMM, Max. 32GB, DDR3 1866/1600/1333/1066 MHz ECC, Non-ECC, Un-buffered Memory
      Dual Channel Memory Architecture
    • System Bus
      Up to 5.2 GT/s HyperTransport™ 3.0
    • Multi-GPU Support
      Supports NVIDIA® 3-Way SLI™ Technology
      Supports AMD 3-Way CrossFireX™ Technology
    • Expansion Slots
      3 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (dual x16 or x16/x8/x8) *1
      1 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (x4 mode, black)
      2 x PCIe 2.0 x1
    • Storage
      AMD SB950 controller :
      5 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s),
      Support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10
      AMD SB950 controller :
      1 x M.2 Socket 3, gray, with M Key, type 2242/2260/2280/22110 storage devices support (both SATA & PCIE mode)
    • LAN
      Intel® I211, 1 x Gigabit LAN Controller(s)
    • Audio
      Realtek® ALC1150 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
      – Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel Jack-retasking
      Audio Feature :
      – Absolute Pitch 192kHz/ 24-bit True BD Lossless Sound
      – Blu-ray audio layer Content Protection 
      – Optical S/PDIF out port(s) at back panel
      – BD Audio Layer Content Protection
      – Audio Shielding: Ensures precision analog/digital separation and greatly reduced multi-lateral interference
      – Dedicated audio PCB layers: Separate layers for left and right channels to guard the quality of the sensitive audio signals
      – Audio amplifier: Provides the highest-quality sound for headphone and speakers

    * Additional details available here

     

    First Impressions

     

    Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0

     

    I have to confess that I’ve never really been a fan of the Asus Sabertooth motherboard, while I appreciated the build quality I was never a lover of the colour scheme, you know the Noctua type of colour scheme. 😮 Well that’s about to change as this Sabertooth motherboard is actually quite the looker and I’d be more than happy to use it in a build of my own. I particularly like the military-inspired digital gun-metal grey pattern on chipset heatsink as well as on the Motherboard itself.

     

    Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 - right Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 - left

     

    Looking at what I would call the right side of the board and working left to right; in the far left corner we first see The Ultimate Force logo followed by the five SATA 6GB/s ports. Behind which we have the main chipset heatsink (more on that later) this is then followed by one of two USB 3.0 ports and then the main 12v 24-pin power connector. Above this we have the four DIMM slots capable of supporting up to 64GB of 1866Mhz Memory/RAM. Finally just to the right of the 24-pin power connector we have the (almost) infamous Asus Mem OK button, something that I still don’t really understand to this day…

    On the opposite side (left) we find the main I/O panel (detailed below) that’s nicely protected by the large black shroud complete with Sabertooth logo. Note the screws in the top that allow access to the space within where an additional fan (not supplied) can be installed to help cool the VRMs. To the right of this we find the circuitry for the on-board Realtek ALC1150 audio solution also detailed below.

    Looking at the PCIe lanes we see that this ATX Motherboard features just six PCIe 2.0 lanes that are split into four x16 length slots and two x1 length slots. The top one (nearest the CPU) is a x16 slot this is then followed by the first of the two x1 slots. Next up we have another two x16 slots, followed by the last x1 slot and the final x16 slot at the far end. Note that this motherboard supports both Crossfire and SLI with up to three Graphics Cards supported. For a single GPU setup use the first x16 slot (PCIe2.0 x16_1), for dual GPU use the first two grey slots (PCIe2.0 x16_1 & PCIe2.0 x16_3) and for 3-way use the first two grey slots and the last black one (PCIe2.0 x16_1 & PCIe2.0 x16_3 & PCIe 2.0 x16_4). Also, if we look closely at the clips themselves at the ends of the three main PCIe slots we can see that they are in fact clear. That’s because they illuminate courtesy of the Sabertooth’s Aura RGB illumination.

     

    Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 - top Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 - bottom

    Looking at what is effectively the top of the board we can see that it’s dominated by the CPU Power phase heatsinks and the AM3+CPU socket. What’s nice to see here is that the main heatsink and others are held in place with screws, and not clips. This is important as these heatsinks are often used as handles! In the far right corner we find the first of three chassis fan headers (CHA_FAN1) followed by the 8-pin CPU power connector. This in turn is followed by three headers the first two are CPU_FAN and CPU_OPT (optional) followed by a dedicated pump header (W_PUMP). Although the colour coding is odds in my opinion as for me it would make sense for the two beige headers to be for the CPU and the black to be for the pump, but no…

    Looking at the bottom of the board and again working from left to right, in the far corner we find the main bank of capacitors supporting the on-board audio solution this in turn is followed by its associated Front Panel audio connector. Next up we have a COM port (not used one of them in a while, well never actually) and two small buttons. The first is an additional power button while the second is the USB Flashback BIOS update button. Next we find the TPM header and two USB 2.0 headers and the second and last USB 3.0 header. Finally in the far right corner we have the main Front Panel header that in itself connects to the supplied Q-Connector and damn useful it is too.

     

    Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 - back

     

    Looking at the back of the Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 we can see that it features a nice clean, somewhat glossy black PCB. Here you can see the AMD back-plate as well as the fact that the heatsinks are screwed to the motherboard. Also note the audio isolation circuit in the top right of the image above.

     

    Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 - audio Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 - heatsink indicators Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 - M2

     

    As I noted above the Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 features a Reatlek ALC11500 audio solution with isolated audio circuitry as shown in the image above left. This Audio shielding ‘ensures precision analog/digital separation and greatly reduced multi-lateral interference’. In addition to this the audio design features a
    Unique de-pop circuit that helps to reduces start-up popping noise to all audio outputs, an audio amplifier to enhance the highest quality sound for headphone and speakers and a special layout design featuring separate layers for left and right channels to guard the quality of the sensitive audio signals.

    Something rather unique aboard the Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 is the QLED indicators built into the chipset heatsink (shown above centre). Apparently the design is ‘inspired by an armored cockpit’ according to Asus, not sure about that; but it does allows you to check the status of numerous boot actions at a glance, well unless your Graphics Card is in the way, and it will be, shame as it’s a great idea…

    Above right we can see the single M.2 slot aboard the Sabertooth 990FX R3.0. This is one of my favourite techs of recent years as not only does it provide a SFF but it’s cable free and fast as **** (faster than a SSD if you use a PCIe M.2 device) and let’s be fair honest who wouldn’t want that!? This particular slot features both SATA and PCIe compatibility with transfer speeds up to 20Gb/s.

     

    Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 - IO
    Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 - IO shield
    • x4 USB 2.0 ports
    • x2 USB 3.0 ports
    • x2 USB 3.0 ports
    • x2 USB 3.1 Type-A ports
    • Intel LAN port (with TUF LANGuard)
    • USB 3.1 Type-A port
    • USB 3.1 Type-C port
    • Audio I/O ports
    • Optical S/PDIF-Out

     

    Everything that I’ve seen so far I’ve been impressed with and I very much like the overall design and asethetics of the board. The inclusion of an M.2 slot is also (for me) the icing on the cake. The QLED indicators are a nice idea (but obscured by a GPU) and the Aura illumination is yet to be seen, but is something I’m looking forward to…

     

    Hardware Installation

     

    A new build was put together to support the Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 Motherboard with a new AMD FX 8350 CPU and new DDR3 memory in the form of 8GB of HyperX Fury running at 1866MHz. The following components were also used:

  • Test Rig Setup

  • Case Cooler Master HAF XB Power Supply Corsair Professional Series AX 760i
    Motherboard Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 CPU AMD FX 8350
    CPU Cooler Scythe Fuma RAM HyperX FURY 8GB 1866MHz
    Graphics Card EVGA GeForce GTX 980Ti Classified SSD Toshiba Q300 Pro 512GB

     

    Installation of the Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 was simple enough thanks to a good board layout. There are three chassis fan headers that are all well placed and two CPU headers and a pump header near the CPU, although the colour coding I think is odd so be mindful. The Motherboard assembly was also simple enough consisting of the board itself, a new AMD FX 8350 CPU, a Scythe Fuma (as it was to hand) CPU Cooler and 8GB of HyperX Fury memory. With the motherboard assembly complete it was secured into our test Case (Cooler Master HAF XB) by way of the nine screws required.

     

    Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 - Aura lighting

     

    All necessary SATA cables were connected to the motherboard and for this test I used a Toshiba Q300 Pro SSD connected to the SATA6G_1 port. All of the relevant power cables (that’s two) from the Corsair AX760i were then plugged into the Sabertooth along with all of the case fans. I was surprised to find no chassis fan header on the bottom of the board though!? Final cables included USB 3.0, with the choice of two, which is good to see! And of course the fiddly Front Panel connectors, that here was easy thanks to the included Q-Connector. That just left the installation of our new test GPU an EVGA GeForce GTX 980Ti Classified. Note that after installing any Graphics Card of a decent size the QLED indicators on the chipset heatsink are obscured, which is a shame and a bot of an oversight I feel.

    Now it’s time for some testing…

     

    Testing Methodology/Setup

     

    For all of our Z170 testing we will be using Windows 10 (DirectX 12), therefore a new installation of Windows 10 64Bit was performed and the following Drivers were installed. The latest Asus Drivers were used and these can been obtained (here). Although the Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 has its Drivers and Utilities available on the supplied DVD, we here at pcG try to keep up with the latest Drivers and software where possible.

     

    Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 - BIOS update * The latest BIOS (0212) was downloaded and installed via the Asus EZ-Flash 2 utility within the UEFI and this version was used throughout testing. *

     

    Drivers installed:

    • Audio Driver – Realtek Audio(6.0.1.7848)
    • USB 3.0/3.1 Driver – Asmedia USB3.1/3.0 Driver (1.16.33.1)
    • LAN Driver – Intel LAN (V20.5.150.0)
    • Nvidia Driver 372.54 WHQL

    During testing the following tools/benchmarks & games were used/played:

     

    Hardware Performance

     

    Sabertooth 990FX UEFI - EZ Mode Sabertooth 990FX UEFI - Advanced Mode

     

    As I mentioned at the beginning of this review this review is as much about AMD as it is about the Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0. I also have to confess that my knowledge of AMD CPU’s in general was poor before I started this review. Therefore you may well ask if I’m best placed to do a review of this board and (logically) you’d be right, but… As I have significant Intel and general overclocking experience then this alone lends me some kudos I feel (hope!). Therefore what we have here is my experience of what it’s like to migrate from an Intel platform to an AMD platform using the Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 Motherboard.

    After a good initial startup and boot things went smoothly for some time and the system was responsive and was super stable. But it was at this point I set about the normal task of overclocking the CPU. Now the stock speed of the FX 8350 is 4.0GHz (4.2GHz Boost), therefore in the BIOS I set about trying to dial in an OC of 4.4GHz. This was done in the UEFI (that’s actually really quite nice and responsive) by dialling in a 220MHz CPU Bus Frequency, that’s up 20Hz on the base 200MHz speed. But this resulted in heat and lots of it especially with the Wraith cooler installed . I was struggling to keep the CPU below 70 degrees and this is bad when the AMD recommended temperatures are 62 degrees for the Core and 70 for the Socket! After some time and after moving the rig to a cooler Case, putting the Wraith Cooler in the bin and swapping it out for a Scythe Fuma (twin tower/twin fan) cooler things were far better, 15+ degrees better.

    Below you can see the default (power on defaults) settings in the Asus UEFI for both the CPU @ 4000Hz and for the Memory/RAM @ 1866Hz. For overclocking purposes it’s also worth noting the NB Frequency: 4200MHz and the HT Link Speed: 2600MHz.

     

    Sabertooth 990FX UEFI - OC settings Sabertooth 990FX UEFI - OC Asus 990FX R3.0 @ 4.5GHz - Prime95

     

    Having done some additional research on the web regarding overclocking the FX 8350 I was surprised to see so much conflicting information with some guides getting you to change some 25+ settings in the UEFI and others suggesting extremely high voltages! In the end (although it took time) I settled on an overclock of 4.5GHz using 1.475v with a NB voltage of 1.2v. The full list of changes that I made can be seen in the UEFI screenshot above left.

    With these settings I was able to get a cool (56 degrees) 4.5GHz stable overclock that was tested in both Prime 95 and in-game without issue. The end result of the OC can be seen above right, but again take note of the modified Memory/RAM speed, the NB Frequency and the HT Link speed. The reason for this is that we are modifying the Bus Frequency to get our overclock therefore all other values (associated to bus speed) also change. The reason for doing it this was I that it provides better single threaded performance than by overclocking the multiplier.

    In the image above far right you can see the Asus AI Suite showing off what’s what and what’s hot (56 degrees Celsius) while running a Prime95 Torture Test. Note also the vDroop that’s occurring during the test, as the CPU voltage is now measuring just 1.392v under load despite the fact that at idle it’s closer to the 1.475v set in the UEFI.

    Overall there was a lesson learned and that’s that the FX 8350 is one toasty CPU that doesn’t really like to get too hot. So super cooling (water cooling) is really the order of the day. I’d also like to thanks Asus for there support during this review as it was invaluable, especially when I muself was running out of ideas (tearing my hair out)… 😉

     

    • Benchmark Results Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 + AMD FX 8350 @ 4.5GHz + 8GB RAM @ 1800MHz
    Benchmark Result
    Hitman 66.67
    Rise of the TombRaider 73.57
    Unigine Valley 69.00
    3DMark Firestrike (Extreme) 7506

     

    • Benchmark Results ASRock Fatal1ty Z170 Gaming K6 + Intel Core i5-6600K @ 4.4GHz +8GB RAM @ 2400MHz (pcG test system)
    Benchmark Result
    Hitman 69.13
    Rise of the TombRaider 80.57
    Unigine Valley 73.90
    3DMark Firestrike (Extreme) 8082

     

    Above you can see the performance results offered up by this AMD setup (Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 + AMD FX 8350 @ 4.5GHz + 8GB RAM @ 1800MHz) and what you can also see is the result of running the same tests on our own Intel based Test Rig. Now they may be close at times, but there’s no doubt the Intel system does make for a better Gaming setup, but then again it also costs more…

    Also worth mentioning was that the Realtek ALC1150 audio solution put in a good showing, or is that hearing. I felt that the overall audio clarity and quality was generally very good and there was also a fair amount of power (volume) on tap.

     

    Additional Software/Features

     

    There are so many features and so much software that comes with (or is downloadable) for the Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0, that to try and cover it would be a review in itself! I’m also not a big fan of software so for me the only software that I’m likely to install is Asus’ AI Suite utility as that in itself is a portal to a handful of other options.

     

    Software (Command Center)

     

    Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 - AISuite software

     

    AISuite in general was found to be very good, but I was surprised not to find any form of profile/wizard overclocking functionality, as that may well have helped. But there is a wealth of monitoring options as well as the ability to record. In addition to this there’s also a Fan Control wizard and the Thermal Tuning wizard allowing full control over the fans, temperatures and noise levels.

     

    Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 - Aura software One of the other main features of the Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 is its Aura RGB lighting, found at three positions at the end of the three main PCIe slots. The colour itself is both bright and vivid and the colour along with some effects can be controlled via the Aura software (left). But I did discover that the settings made were somewhat short lived as they would be lost on a reboot, which is a shame.

     

    Final Thoughts

     

    All in all there’s a lot to like about the new Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 motherboard. In its latest guise it not only looks good but it’s super stable and it now features ASUS’ Aura RGB lighting too. The only thing that may hold it back is the price…

    The Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 arrived at pcG in a smart, somewhat understated black box with the contents within both adequately packaged and presented. In the box other than the obvious highlights include the Q-Connector, SLI Bridge and with this being a TUF Motherboard that Certificate of Reliability. Once out of the anti-static bag the new 990FX R3.0 was found to be quite the looker, with a sensible colour scheme that will fit in with many Rig designs. The military-inspired digital pattern in gun-metal grey looks particularly smart! Although that beige colour does still feature here and there…

    Installation and setup was a breeze and the board booted first time, but I did note that the Graphics Card obscures the QLED indicators on the chipset heatsink which seems a little silly and is a bit of a shame. Especially as I really rather like the concept, maybe these could be moved somewhere more sensible in the future. Other than this I found the board to be well laid out and the UEFI was also very easy to use and responsive to input.

    As you may have already read (you have been reading right and not just skipped to the Final Thoughts) the fun started when I set about overclocking the FX 8350 that I used for this test. With little recent knowledge regarding AMD MB/CPU overclocking this turned out to be quite the task. I’ll not go into the detail here (again) too much as it’s already written above. But, what I did discover was that the FX 3850 is not only one toasty CPU but it’s also not happy at higher temperatures (75 degrees plus), therefore my biggest issue (when overclocking) was heat! The first task was to bin the Wraith cooler as this was never going to hold up under overclocking, this was replaced by a twin tower, twin fan cooler in the form of a Scythe Fuma. I also moved the test rig into a cooler case as well, this allowed for far better results and stability was greatly improved.

    The end result was a AMD FX 8350 running at 4.5GHz with Memory/RAM at 1800MHz, while thanks to the increased cooling capacity temperatures were now down to just 56 degrees Celsius. During all of this time the Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 performed flawlessly, especially considering the amount of crashes I saw, the board recovered without issue every time. Performance wise the board performed well, but it was still no match for our Intel based Test Rig, although obviously that system is more expensive and should therefore perform better.

    Asus’s AI Suite was used to help with monitoring during this time and it was found to be more than capable of keeping me informed. Although its lack of any software based overclocking did disappoint, as this would have proved invaluable. I also noticed that the Aura software (shown above) did allow me to mess with the RGB output on the PCIe clips, but on a reboot my settings were lost, which is a shame.

    But to be honest the only issues with this board are niggles, there’s no doubt that this TUF Series Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 is a great motherboard and is exactly what one would expect from Asus. In it’s latest guise it not only looks good (probably the best looking TUF board yet!) but it’s packed with features and it (as I undeniably proved) is very stable indeed.

     

    Verdict

    Please Share, Like & Comment below, we really value your thoughts and opinions…

    Design/Quality pcGameware awards the Asus Sabertooth 990FX R3.0 a Silver
    Performance
    Value
    Overall

     

    Many thanks to Asus for providing this sample for review

     



    1. Straim
      October 9th, 2016 at 01:32 | #1

      Hello Guys, Have you tried TurboV for the OC part, is the main OC app built inside AI Suite! http://dlcdnet.asus.com/pub/ASUS/misc/utils/TurboV-Core_Win7-81-10_V10104.zip?_ga=1.27635964.119622071.1475383273

      • James
        October 9th, 2016 at 15:59 | #2

        No unfortunately not, all OC settings were dialled in via the UEFI as this is the way we do it in all Motherboard reviews. Thanks for the link though and we’ll be sure to take a look next time…