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ASRock 960GM/U3S3 FX

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Phenomiinal View Drop Down
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    Posted: 12 Oct 2015 at 6:09pm
Hello Asrock forums! Firstly I would like to thank Asrock and AMD for hosting this amazing comp, it is always great to have a chance at winning something amazing Clap

That said, I will get on with my review below.

This build came about because I wanted to build a decent budget gaming/school rig for my 7 year old daughter. I had an old Phenom II system laying about but it's motherboard was on its way out so I set out to find something affordable so I could spend a little more on other parts like a new HDD and RAM. The goal was simple, a system that could use the old Phenom CPU but also provide the latest features and support FX CPUs. Obviously any 900 series board would provide all this but I needed something on a budget so I settled on the 960GM/U3S3 FX.

System specs:
CPU: AMD Phenom II x4 955 BE
Motherboard: Asrock 960GM/U3S3 FX
RAM: Adata DDR3 1600 8gb kit
GPU: AMD Radeon HD 5850 1gb
HDD: 1tb Western Digital Blue
PSU: Cooler Master 500w
Case: An old windowed case I had laying about that my daughter wanted me to use for her build because she wants hers to be "cool" like daddy's LOL

I no longer have the box but I took the system apart and cleaned it all up for the purposes of this review.



Here is the board with RAM and CPU all crammed in and ready to be put into the case. As you can see there are a lot of features added to the 760g chipset by Asrock. Just above the LAN port you can just make out the Etron USB 3 controller that provides USB 3 support where the 760 chipset only supports USB 2. Directly to the right of the lowest RAM slot, between the RAM catch and the PCIE x16 catch there is the Asmedia SATA 3 controller, again providing support the 760 chipset lacks. These were the selling point for me, DDR3 support as well as USB 3 and SATA 3 on a cheap board that supports all the way up to the 95w 8 core Vishera FX CPUs. The board's power systems are rated for 95w so anything over that would potentially cause damage. Interesting that my Phenom 955 BE is supported as it is a 125w part but it is also on a larger manufacturing process and 125w is in reference to TDP not actual power draw so that may explain it. The Phenom gets hotter but uses close to the same power as a newer FX 95w CPU.



Here we have the IO panel. Not a bad set of connections for a budget board. We have legacy PS2 keyboard and mouse ports which I still love to see as I have several old peripherals knocking about in my workshop that it is nice to be able to use. Moving on we have a Dsub or "VGA" and DVI ports for the on chipset Radeon 3000, 4 USB 2 ports (black) and 2 USB 3 ports (blue) provided by the Etron chip. The LAN is provided by Realtek and is adequate for most network tasks short of massive file transfers and professional online gaming. The Realtek Audio is likewise adequate for every day use and light gaming.



Here you can see how the board is dwarfed by the more or less average sized Arctic Cooling Freezer 13 I decided to go with for some light overclocking on the Phenom 955. There was plenty clearance for the RAM so the slots are not too close to the CPU for this cooler though some larger coolers may have clearance issues so be careful when choosing.



Another angle on the board with the cooler attached though now secured in the case, you may note the fan header splitter I was forced to use to accommodate all the fans I planned to use in the system. This is one area where the 960GM/U3S3 FX lacks, it would have been nice to see at least 1 more fan header especially for those planning to use an FX CPU in it. While you can use molex powered fans it is rather annoying not being able to monitor their speeds. Also note that what looks like a bend in the board is actually just perspective warping from the camera, the board is in fact dead flat and of solid construction.



After a little cable management and some fiddling to get all the connectors where I wanted them I put in the HD 5850. I have to say, I bought this card on the day it was released and it has worked flawlessly for almost 6 years now. Even today's AAA games are playable at medium to high settings @720p, mostly high though AA is out of the question for most. I love the PCIe x16 catch on this board, it is so easy to access and works very well. I have had nightmares with other catches in the past that require screwdrivers or bending your hand in ridiculous angles to reach it from under your 2 slot GPU. Great stuff there on the part of the design team.


 
And here she is all buttoned up and ready to go. All in all it was a very simple build and I had absolutely no issues with the installation, even the onboard connections were well positioned for cable management.

After the build was complete I fired it up and installed the OS without any issues aside from one, the Asmedia SATA 3 drivers provided on the product page for windows 8.1 64bit caused the system to fail to boot into windows. I was forced to reset the system until the automatic repair option allowed me to revert to the native windows drivers. I am not sure how much of an impact the native drivers will have on performance but given I am using a mechanical drive in this build I saw no point in trying to fix the issue.

Performance and Benchmarks

This section will be limited to the benchmarks I ran on the old motherboard as I am unable to run more on it now that most of the components have been given a new home on the ASRock board. I did also run 3dMark Firestrike on both systems but discovered that there is a bug with my HD 5850 and Windows 8.1 that causes the GPU to set to "Media clocks", 400 core 900 mem as opposed to 775 core and 1000 mem. All attempts to fix the issue amounted to nothing so I went with 3dMark 11 instead for which I already had scores for the old setup. The test was run on the "Performance" preset.



The DDR3 and other differences between the 2 motherboards results in a significant performance increase in 3dMark 11. Almost 400 points with everything at stock clocks across both systems. Bare in mind that we are comparing what was once a high end board with a budget board here so these results are actually a little more impressive than the numbers denote.

Gaming

The only more modern game I had tested with the old configuration was Dragon Age Inquisition because my daughter loves playing with character creation LOL It is a fairly new title so is fairly demanding on this older system. When playing I use custom settings that allow for a fairly solid 50+ FPS @720p with most settings on high or ultra but for the purposes of this test I went with the "Ultra" preset @720p with AA off.



Now the difference may only be 4 FPS on average but that is a significant improvement and rendered the game almost playable at the highest possible settings @720p. Where the older board struggled the extra RAM bandwidth and newer features helped the ASRock board to push the components a little harder. A quick run through the first few minutes of the game showed FPS ranging from 21 to 45, mostly playable until the visual effects got too heavy. Turning down the shadow quality and lowering texture quality to high, down from ultra, made the game run smoothly without dipping under ~40 fps in the opening scenes.


Overclocking

While the 960GM/U3S3 FX does offer significantly more overclocking features in it's BIOS my CPU still would not go over the 3.6ghz limit I encountered with the old board. No matter what combination of BCLK and multi I tried and what other settings I tweaked I simply could not get my old Phenom past 3.6 on all cores. I was however able to achieve 3.6ghz at stock voltage on this board where the older board required 1.4v to be stable. 

Disabling cores 2 and 3 allowed me to achieve a 4ghz stable overclock however and given the older board did not have a feature to disable cores I will consider this a win for the 960GM/U3S3 FX. Sadly the performance boost was nowhere near enough to offset the loss of 2 cores, especially with all 4 cores clocked at 3.6ghz. Regardless of my dud Phenom, the overclocking features on this board are fantastic and offer far more control over your settings than I had on the older board. Paired with a 95w FX CPU I don't see why this board would not overclock well.


Conclusion


All in all I have actually noticed a performance increase with the new board which is saying something. The faster boot times and quicker loading however are more likely due to the newer SATA 3 hard disk rather than any performance improvement in the SATA controller as the mechanical drives were unable to saturate the bandwidth of even the SATA II interface for the most part. 

I couldn't be happier with my board, it does everything I needed it to and left me enough change to pick up a new hard disk and RAM for the system. I don't like reusing these components in new builds so it was nice having the budget to not have to. For a budget motherboard it really has blown me away, especially considering it cost almost half of what the old board did. The older board was a high end board with triple Crossfire support and the AMD 790x chipset yet this board on a 760g chipset manages to easily outperform it with the same core components.   

The Phenom II x4 955 served me well for 4 years without any issues whatsoever. The system the CPU and GPU came out of did not suffer a single hardware failure in almost 6 years. The old motherboard I replaced purely because it used DDR2 RAM which is hard to find and expensive here and its USB ports were starting to mess about, it was not an Asrock board but none the less it was also based on the AMD 700 series chipset (790x). AMD have never failed to deliver value in their products, not once in the 20 years I have been building PCs have I regretted buying an AMD product. While I am certainly no fanboy and build Intel systems frequently too I always recommend AMD to those wanting to get the most for their money.

Again, thank you Asrock and AMD for this opportunity, I hope my review accurately represents the standards you have set out for your products. I am sure my daughter will get at least a few good years of use out of her new (almost) system Big smile


Edited by ASRock_Official - 06 Nov 2015 at 11:59am
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote ASRock Expert Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Oct 2015 at 6:25pm
Nice budget gaming rig - if I can guess, Your daughter plays The Sims? Wink
990FX Extreme 9 MOD P1.70
AMD FX 8120 4GHz 1.25V
Thermalright HR-02
Patriot Viper 2x4GB 2133MHz
Samsung 850 EVO 250GB
MSI R7970 TFIII 3GB
CORSAIR VX550W
LanCool K62 Dragonlord
ASUS Xonar D2X
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Phenomiinal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Oct 2015 at 6:33pm
Thanks Smile and yes the Sims is one of her favorites though she also plays World of Warcraft and a number of educational games Wink
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote tag75 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 Oct 2015 at 2:35am
nice rig + nice cpu cooler
treat people the way you want to be treated
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Phenomiinal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15 Oct 2015 at 3:06pm
Originally posted by tag75 tag75 wrote:

nice rig + nice cpu cooler
Thanks Smile

Updated with some benchies and a little more on the performance/overclocking.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote tag75 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15 Oct 2015 at 3:56pm
Originally posted by Phenomiinal Phenomiinal wrote:

Originally posted by tag75 tag75 wrote:

nice rig + nice cpu cooler
Thanks Smile

Updated with some benchies and a little more on the performance/overclocking.
nice might have TO DO THEM SAME Smile
treat people the way you want to be treated
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Phenomiinal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 Oct 2015 at 12:00am
Originally posted by tag75 tag75 wrote:

nice might have TO DO THEM SAME Smile

You should, it will make these entry threads a more interesting read even when the competition is over Thumbs Up Good luck with your entry Smile
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote tag75 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 Oct 2015 at 2:41am
Originally posted by Phenomiinal Phenomiinal wrote:

Originally posted by tag75 tag75 wrote:

nice might have TO DO THEM SAME Smile

You should, it will make these entry threads a more interesting read even when the competition is over Thumbs Up Good luck with your entry Smile
and u mate
treat people the way you want to be treated
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Edwin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Oct 2015 at 5:37pm
is that an old artic cooling CPU Cooler?

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Phenomiinal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Oct 2015 at 6:41pm
Its actually a new old arctic cooling cooler if that makes sense. It was still sealed in its packaging. Though I got it from a friend who traded me for the hyper 212 evo I was planning on using. I really like it's performance for it's size, most of my other coolers are a lot larger and didn't have enough clearance for the side panel + LED fan so it was either remove the 120mm fan or use the smaller cooler. With some testing it actually performs almost as well as the hyper 212 evo.
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