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First Looks: ASUS M5A97 EVO – Mainstream Evolution
By Lionell Go Macahilig - 7 Jul 2011
Launch SRP: S$189

First Looks: ASUS M5A97 EVO – Mainstream Evolution

AMD’s 9 Series Rises

Last month at Computex, ASUS’ booth not only showcased an army of Intel-based motherboards, but also a slew of platforms from AMD. Among which are the boards based on the AMD 9 series of chipsets, the 990FX, 990X and the 970. In this edition of First Looks, join us as we take a glimpse at the 970-based M5A97 EVO motherboard from ASUS.

The ASUS M5A97 EVO’s packaging may appear quite small in the photo but do not mistake the motherboard for a micro ATX type. Measuring 305 x 244mm, the board is already compliant with the ATX standard.

Aesthetics-wise, the M5A97 EVO board sports a black and blue color scheme, similar to ASUS’ mainstream P67-based motherboards.

Ocular Inspection

On the M5A97 EVO’s box, you can already see the features that ASUS is hyping about the motherboard. Most conspicuous among these is ASUS’ Dual Intelligent Processors 2 with DIGI+ VRM. Combining the capabilities of two chips, namely the EPU (Energy Processing Unit) and the TPU (TurboV Processing Unit), the M5A97 EVO provides precise adjustments for Vcore PWM, integrated graphics voltages, and frequency module with minimal power loss. The tweaking process is done through the system BIOS.

Here is a closer look at the processor socket region. Do take note that the M5A97 EVO already incorporates an AM3+ socket. Although it is backwards compatible with AM3 chips, it is best for AMD’s latest Bulldozer processors.

From left to right: a keyboard-mouse combo PS/2 connector, optical audio out, FireWire, USB 3.0 ports, USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, and audio connectors.

Looking at the entire layout, the M5A97 EVO could have looked more unassuming, if ASUS had omitted the expansive heatsink near the processor socket. Designed to support AMD’s Zambezi processors that are based on the new Bulldozer microarchitecture, the M5A97 EVO incorporates an AM3+ socket that contains 942 pins (hence, it is also known as Socket 942). The original AM3 has only 941 contacts. Noticeably, the board is riddled with solid capacitors and there is no room for regular electrolytic types.

Adjacent to the processor socket is a quadruplet of DIMM sockets, all of which can host a maximum DDR3 capacity of 32GB at 2133MHz when overclocked. Of course, the system should be running on a 64-bit version of Windows 7.

Two PCI-Express x16 slots are ready to accommodate a CrossFireX setup in quad-GPU configuration. SLI users are not welcome to the party.

The Board In Further Details

On the connectivity front, the M5A97 EVO is teeming with a variety of interfaces, all of which are essential for a more convenient computing experience. There is no display output, simply because AMD’s 970 chipset does not support the feature. Most abundant on the rear panel are USB connectors, eight of which are still based on the USB 2.0 standard. There are two USB 3.0 terminals and these are linked to an ASMedia controller, instead of the more ubiquitous one from NEC.

Gamers and PC enthusiasts who are looking at the M5A97 EVO as their rig’s next foundation will be limited to setting up a CrossFireX configuration. The two PCI-Express x16 slots, one of which runs at x4 speed, can support a quad-GPU CrossFireX setup by accommodating a pair of dual-GPU AMD Radeon HD graphics cards. Other options for expansion include two PCI-Express x1 slots and two PCI slots.

ASUS has totally eliminated the use of SATA 3Gbps on the M5A97 EVO, except for the twin of eSATA terminals on the rear panel. The six onboard SATA 6Gbps connectors are all hooked up to AMD’s SB950 controller. The eSATA terminals, on the other hand, are controlled by a JMicron JMB362 chip.

It has been a while since the last time that we talked about ASUS MemOK! button. This function simply ensures memory boot compatibility with the push of a button. Near the MemOK! button is the EPU switch and this one is responsible for enabling/disabling ASUS’ power-saving solution.

On the other hand, the TPU switch, which simplifies the overclocking process, is placed adjacent to the SATA connectors. In other ASUS incarnations, such as the older P8P67 Deluxe, the TPU switch sits near the MemOK! button.

Final Thoughts

Based on looks alone, the M5A97 EVO is one of the less assuming offerings that ASUS’ stable has to offer for AMD fanboys. The board has a more mainstream look compared to ASUS’ other 9 series offerings, namely the M5A99X EVO and the Sabertooth 990FX motherboards. Locally, the board retails for the price of PhP 6,790 (and about S$189 in Singapore).

While the ASUS M5A97 EVO is backwards compatible with older AM3 chips, we are more interested on seeing this board run on an AM3+ processor. At the moment, we are already in the process of procuring one. We’ll provide you with an update once we get our hands on it.

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