After all the hype about ASUS' Core Unlocker feature on the M4A89GTD PRO/USB3, the actual physical implementation is nothing too exciting - a simple switch on the PCB that will unlock the 'latent potential' of your AMD processor. You won't even need to go into the BIOS after the reboot. Of course, it only works on processors with 'extra' cores hidden away, like the Phenom II X2. The Turbo Key beside it will then help you auto-overclock the processor. It's certainly a draw for those who are intrigued by the unlocking and overclocking but are hesitant about trying it themselves through BIOS tinkering. From our own less than stellar encounters with unlocking the AMD Phenom II X2, it's perhaps a good thing from ASUS.
Now that we established that the Core Unlocker works as advertised, let's look at the entire board. There's only one word for it - schizophrenic. Our reason is this: despite a number of useful, modern features, it does have some throwbacks to an older era, when jumpers and switch cards were necessary. It makes us wonder whether a committee designed this board or if cost measures ultimately delivered this mix of old and new. Let's get to that in a bit.
You should know that there are quite a few of ASUS' own internal technologies on this board. Check the product webpage or manual for the full list, though we think that you have probably heard of them, like ExpressGate, EZ Flash, etc. Most are not that new and are at least a few iterations old but there is always the rare gem, like the Core Unlocker that's unique.
There's nothing to criticize on the rear interface; more so with ASUS the only board in our trio of AMD 890GX boards to include USB 3.0 support via the usual NEC controller. These blue USB ports are clearly marked and besides this option, one can choose between eSATA and FireWire if your external devices are of that orientation. Without a PS/2 mouse port, we would have welcomed a few more USB ports but it's not too important. There's only space for one optical S/PDIF output; the onboard audio HD CODEC is as usual from Realtek, though it's a relatively new ALC892 that yielded too little information about its specifications on the web. What we managed to find is that the new Realtek chip adds loseless multi-channel CODEC support like Dolby True HD and DTS HD.
The layout of this board is excellent. Like the SATA ports above, care has been taken to ensure that all the ports and connectors are not blocked or interfering with any other devices. Ample space between the various components onboard makes installation of devices a breeze.
Here's the part we aren't fans of - the use of jumpers for clearing the CMOS. As you can tell, it's a bit too close to the neighbouring connectors. Where's the Clear CMOS switch at the rear I/O or even on the PCB? That's what we have been used to from other brands after all; don't blame us from expecting the same from ASUS.
Another 'feature' that appropriately justifies our 'schizo' tag for this ASUS board is the VGA switch card that's required if you only have a single graphics card installed. To get the full x16 bandwidth, you'll need to have the switch card installed as shown below. And we always thought that it's done 'automatically' by motherboards nowadays. It's something we have seen from other vendors, but the last instance was a board from Jetway, and the last thing we expected was to find it on an ASUS board.
To sum up our impressions so far, the ASUS M489GTD PRO/USB3 probably has some of the more advanced features on a AMD 890GX motherboard, from having USB 3.0 support to its own Core Unlocker feature. Integrated graphics with SidePort memory is a given. It's got FireWire and eSATA along with IDE support for those who have a variety of storage devices. A mostly great layout and quality components seem to make it a top contender for this chipset, but ASUS' decision to go with some rather archaic methods of implementing certain features do give us pause. At least it's an interesting board and the quirks should have no detrimental effect on its performance and usability.