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MSI 970 Gaming AM3+ Motherboard Review

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AMD 970 Motherboard Final Thoughts

As a reviewer, I’m used to testing high-end, benchmark-crushing systems, and have become inured to $400 motherboards with $1,000 processors. And if having a benchmark-crusher is important to you, and you can afford it, well, go for it! But if like most of us you don’t have unlimited funds with which to build your rig, you need to consider where your cash will be best spent.

AMD originally sent us this motherboard and FX-8320E CPU as a package they said would make a good basis for a budget, multi-GPU gaming system. And as my review of the FX-8320E showed, this board does indeed support SLI, and gaming FPS scores were virtually identical with those of an equivalent Intel-based system, with the added advantage of four times as many physical CPU cores for those situations in which they could be useful.

That said, this is a pretty minimal motherboard. There’s no WiFi or Bluetooth; you’ll look in vain for onboard Power and Reset switches, or a POST code display, or even MSI’s own OC Genie button. But the money thus saved has been put into a solid foundation that can support a heavily overclocked CPU (as long as it’s not one of the 220-watt variety) backed up by an excellent audio system.

msi_970_gaming_rot1

So, this board would indeed be a good foundation for a multi-GPU gaming system, and it’s impressive that an overclocked FX-8320E has pretty much the same performance as the FX-9590. However, my concern lies not with MSI, which has provided an excellent product within the limitations of the AMD silicon available, but with AMD themselves.

Since the FX 8-core CPUs and 9-series chipsets were introduced in 2011, AMD has made virtually no progress in their desktop components. While Intel has progressed from Sandy Bridge to Ivy Bridge to Ivy Bridge-E to Haswell to Haswell-E, and the Z68-Z77-Z87-Z97 and X79 and X99 chipsets, AMD has made a very incremental update from their Bulldozer CPU architecture to the Piledriver architecture, and cancelled the follow-on Steamroller architecture entirely. And there have been no changes at all in the original 9-series chipsets– the 990FX, 990X, and 970, paired with the 950 South Bridge– for more than three years now.

In the meantime, AMD seems to be putting all their development and marketing efforts into their mobile and APU architectures. Certainly being the GPU supplier to the Xbox One was a big win, and their APU systems make an excellent basis for low-end hardware, competing with and often beating Intel in overall performance, especially with their integrated GPUs.

So I’m not feeling very good about the long term prospects for AMD’s desktop systems. Yes, you can build a good system today based on AMD system, but it won’t have the longevity of an Intel system: the lack of native support for modern interfaces like USB 3.0, PCI-E 3.0, SATA Express, and m.2 can be ignored (I’ve never seen a SATA Express device for sale, anywhere) or worked around with third party controllers (as with the USB 3.0 on this board) right now, but will become problematic in the future.

In the last section I’ll present my conclusion based on the testing and features of this motherboard.


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