AMD Releases 790GX Chipset For Performance PCs

Advanced Micro Devices lifted the curtains on its 790GX desktop chipset Wednesday, bringing to market motherboard graphics the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based chip maker is positioning against Nvidia's nForce 750 and Intel's P45 products.

The 790GX targets a "performance" class of gamers and multimedia users a notch below the hardcore hardware tweakers who formed the audience for the 790FX chipset released last November as the high-end platform in the product rollout formerly code named Spider. AMD has since rebranded the Spider family of 7-Series chipsets supporting triple-core and quad-core Phenom processors as part of its Game!, Live! and Business Class hardware platform initiatives, which also include Nvidia chipset options in some instances.

The new platform is an AMD Game! product and adds new overclocking capabilities to the chip maker's OverDrive system-boosting application. These include what AMD calls Advanced Clock Calibration, providing a more direct link between the CPU and the new SB750 Southbridge that comes with 790GX boards, as well as a "more sensible" array of profile settings for revving system performance up or down depending on the task at hand.

"OverDrive always had profile settings, but this is the first time it really makes sense to have a profile for gaming and one for other activities like video watching," said Adam Kozak, chipset product manager at AMD. The chip maker has "changed the factory settings on overclocking so they're much more aggressive" -- to the tune of a 100 to 400MHz boost to clock frequency, according to Kozak.

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"Now that we're one company with the CPU team, we've been able to work at a very low level with them and figured out ways to overclock the CPU," he said.

AMD is pitching the 790GX as both a performance product and, packaged with a Phenom, as a "mainstream" system-in-a-box, which seems a bit like wanting to have your cake and eat it too. But Kozak argued that the scalability of graphics performance on the 790GX, the ability to simply flip a switch between overclocking and underclocking to save 12W or so in power consumption, and the prices anticipated for 790GX-Phenom packages makes the case for the new platform being several things at once.

A barebones 790GX package, featuring a Gigabyte board priced at about $150 and a $205 2.5GHz quad-core Phenom X4 9850, would cost roughly $355, according to the chip maker. AMD compares that figure to mid-July pricing on that put the cost of a Gigabyte P45 and 2.5GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300 at $445.

Next: The Price Range For New 790GX Boards

The barebones 790GX package features integrated ATI Radeon HD 3300 graphics, AMD's Unified Video Decoder, and ATI Avivo HD support for the VC-1, MPEG-2 and H.2641 formats, more than enough of the requisite technology for watching Blu-ray movies on a reasonably priced hardware platform, according to AMD.

Other basic 790GX features include RAID 5 support on the retooled Southbridge, and what AMD claims is a 30 to 40 percent performance boost for the integrated graphics over the older Radeon HD 3200 technology on preceding 7-Series chipsets like the 780G, thanks in part to 64MB of GDDR3 memory that acts as a local frame buffer for the on-board graphics.

Of course, it would seem a shame not to install a graphics card or two, which is how the 790GX makes the leap from mainstream product to performance board in AMD's telling. Like its predecessors, the 790GX supports the pairing of the on-board GPU with a discrete card via ATI Hybrid CrossFireX technology, as well as the straight-ahead CrossFireX tech for synching up a pair of discrete GPU cards or more. pricing on Wednesday pointed to some interesting comparisons between the 790GX and products from AMD's competitors, as well as against its own 790FX line. Leaving out variable vendor shipping charges, a 790GX board from Biostar was the cheapest bearing the name at $99.99. Boards from Foxconn ($127.99), Gigabyte ($144.99) and Asus ($149.99) were the others available.

Meanwhile, the lowest-priced Intel P45 boards ChannelWeb found were also $99.99, coming from Biostar and MSI, with the latter having a mail-in rebate that trimmed the cost to $89.99. MSI was also selling the highest-priced P45, a $274.99 job, again with a rebate to the tune of $25. Gigabyte's top-of-the-line P45 board was $264.99 with no rebate.

Nvidia's nForce 750 lineup for AMD processors included a $100.99 Biostar board at the low end and $144.99 products from Gigabyte, Asus, MSI and Biostar at the top of the ladder. On the Intel side, MSI had an nForce 750i priced at $129.99, while on the other end, EVGA had one for $189.99.

All very interesting, made more so by the representative price range for AMD's 790FX chipsets -- DFI's $134.99 board on the low end and the same board maker's $239.99 product on the high end.

In addition to the four with products already available, other board makers expected to have 790GX products include ASRock, DFI, ECS, JandW Technology, Jetway and MSI. AMD's whitebox channel lineup for new systems includes CyberPower, iBuyPower, Maingear PC, Rain Computers, Velocity Micro and Vigor Gaming, as well as Dell's Alienware.