I just finished building a new machine based around the Asus P6T7 mainboard. What follows is my initial impressions along with a few of the glitches that I've come across in building the machine. I hope this information helps anyone thinking of building a machine around this board.
I've been in the market to build a new machine for about 5 years to replace my aging coppermine-based Asus CUV4X-D that has lasted a whopping 10(!) years a usable machine (running Linux on it has prolonged its longevity quite nicely). In any event, lately I've found both the justification and means to build a new machine, so I started doing my research on motherboards, processors and all things peripheral.
Having had exceptionally good experience with Asus products, I thought my first step would be to start looking at their motherboards, but still wanted to investigate other vendor's alternatives. A few motherboards started to make it onto the short-list of workstation-class boards. Once I had made up my mind that I was really in market for a board with the X58 chipset, the alternatives really ended up being the Asus P6T6, P6T7 or EVGA quad PCIe x16 mainboards.
My decision making process from there was to start looking at what each of the boards offered, and out of those three, the P6T7 was what I was looking for. My rational was that while it didn't have USB3 or Sata 6gb/s, I could really overlook that, considering the 7 PCIe 16x slots that can all be used with 8x lanes. Yes, it would be fun to stick four Tesla units in those slots, but I doubt I'll ever use them for that purpose. I've learned from past PC builds to choose mainboards with a great deal of expandability; it really prolongs their usefulness.
The other reason that I chose the P6T7 is that it supports other LGA 1366 processors besides the i7... While I didn't plan on this initial build using a Xeon, I will at some point probably upgrade to on one so that I can put 24 GB of ECC memory in the box.
So having explained the selection process I used for this board, the rest of the stuff that I put in this machine was decided upon in an attempt to hit a price point of $800-$1000 (USD). Having found a great deal on an open-box P6T7 at a local retailer, I was pretty sure I could hit my price-point using the following components:
* Asus P6T7 mainboard
* Intel Core i7 960
* Triple-channel kit Crucial DDR3 - 1333 (3x2Gb)
* EVGA GeForce GTX 550 Ti
* WD Baracuda SATA 3Gbps, 1Tb
* Antec 620 watt PS
* Antec 200 ATX case
Well, I came in around $900 for the initial components, a little more than I was expecting... I should have probably priced the case and power supply online rather than buying it in-store. When I got the stuff home and started putting things together there were two problems I had, the first of which was a mechanical problem with the board fitting into the case correctly with the top-mounted case fan (140mm x 140mm x 25mm) *barely* giving enough clearance for the board to fit in against it. I had to remove the fan, mount the board, and then remount the fan. Not a biggie, but somewhat inconvenient... For anyone wanting to use this board, you may want to go with a larger case than an ATX mini-tower.
The second issue was quite a bit more dire, in that the LGA socket was missing a few pins, which cause the board's diagnostic unit to come up with the dreaded 'F.F.' diagnostic code, and promptly caused me to return this board to the store and order one from newegg instead.
After nearly a week of waiting, I got the new mainboard and built up the machine around it for the second time. Something I should note is that the board I received was a revision '2.0G' board, and had some minor differences from the original board I bought at the store. The most notable difference was that Asus placed a Molex connector on the corner of the board, presumably to give the memory some more juice for the enthusiasts out there... I guess this may resolve some of the issues that I've seen in forums about the board not recognizing memory. In any event, I spent some time looking for documentation regarding the new rev of the board, and couldn't find much on Asus's site, in the supplied documentation or on the web. If any of you out there know anything about it, I'd love to know!
When I actually started to assemble things, this time I was a bit more methodical, mounting the processor on the board & checking the diagnostics before proceeding any further, then adding component after component until the system passed a POST.
This process was a bit interesting... One of the things that this board lacks is an on-board speaker, so unless you think ahead of time to order one, you'll never get that audio-affirmation that things are functioning properly. What Asus does provide you with in the package is a diagnostics daughtercard that slides over the TPM header and provides a little LCD display of the various BIOS POST codes, as its initializing the system. In addition to this, the board itself has a number of blue-led's next to various components, and the one next to the component that is malfunctioning will come on if there's a problem. I can verify, as I was adding components, that I saw the one next to the memory slots and the one next to the video card slot as I was building the machine.
Once I actually got the thing to post and get into the BIOS, one of the first things that I did was disable the on-board SAS controller. Unless you need it, this should be one of your first moves when bringing up this board, it takes 20-30 seconds off of your boot time
From there, I went through the usual issues that you go through in bringing up a new box... running memtest, installing an OS (I chose Ubuntu 10.10, but have a feeling that that will change soon).
Once I had a workable OS on the box, I wanted to put the cooling system of this board through its paces. Being that I am only using Intel's stock heat sink on the 960, I had my doubts about how well the board would hold up under extreme load, and took it a bit slowly. I started by running short bursts of the cpuburn-in program across all of the threads & cores, watching what the board's sensor's were reading. Sure enough, the stock cooling isn't quite adequate to really keep the 960 within its recommended thermal envelope. On top of that, the sensor for the mainboard temperature appeared to be a little on the high-side under resting conditions (~40C). I poked around with an infrared thermometer and it appears that the hottest part of this board is actually the area between the processor and the first PCIe slot... I guess that is where the actual sensor is located. I was measuring temperature from the underside of the board, not where the heatpipe fins are on the top side.
To deal with the processor cooling issues, I bought a couple of Scythe fans to replace the standard case cooling fans. Coupled with the stock heatsink for the 960, they seem to be able to keep it under about 75C under high load. The only drawback here is the noise these high-air-flow fans generate. I'll be looking to replace the heatsink with something better down the road, but for now, the low-cost solution seems to work.
So, at this point, after a day or two working through minor issues on this new machine, I can say I'm actually very impressed with it. The mainboard is everything that I thought it would be, albeit a bit warmer than I anticipated. Having done some rudimentary benchmarking (mostly unscientific timing of linux kernel compilations), I can say I built what I set out to build, which is a fast workstation that will be used for compiling things. Perhaps in the upcoming days I'll be able to benchmark some things, but I don't think that my numbers would be all that useful to anyone other than a software engineer. So to summarize my experience here it is:
* Extremely expandable board that will have no problem taking any PCIe 16x or below expansion card that comes out in the next 5 years
* Great deal of headroom for processor upgrades from the core i7 and xeon series
* Passive cooling system keeps the X58 & NF200's relatively cool, with the right processor cooling solution (read: after-market)
* You'll have a very difficult time maxing out this board unless you have thousands of dollars to through at it.
* Asus has lived up to what I have come to expect from them.
* The documentation on the V2 motherboard is non-existent. I would really like to know when and when not to apply power to that Molex connector on the V2 board. Really, Asus, couldn't you add a one-page supplement to the documentation? I'm kinda a stickler for this type of thing.
* The board runs hotter than you would expect, and makes me wonder how much sense it really made to go with a passive cooling solution, being that you're going to need larger case fans.
* The CEB form factor, while compatible with ATX might cause problems with some ATX cases. Expect some mechanical issues if using a regular ATX tower/mini-tower.
* The on-board SAS controller really doesn't do much for the board... Between the fact that its only 2 ports, having it enabled dramatically increases boot times and does not seem (from the benchmarks I've seen) to perform better than the on-board SATA. (If anyone would like to lend me a pair of 10Krpm SAS drives to verify this statement, please let me know
* The price tag of the board, coming in around $400 USD is a bit steep. I think that it's reasonable for what you are getting out of this board, but for someone looking for a quad video-card gaming rig, there are other boards better suited and cheaper for them.
* The splash screen you get at boot-up says: 'Asus: Rock-Solid*Heart-Touching'... I know they're a Taiwanese company, but really, get some better slogan people... I have to see this every time I boot.
Congrats on your purchase and thanks for the detailed review
It's strange though that it lacks an on-board speaker,anyway have you tried OC'ng your CPU ? if so then how were the results with this board ?
I'm nowhere near the point at which i'm comfortable overclocking... Getting 8 instances of cpuburn-in to not melt the processor is about as far as i've gotten. Before I think about upping the clock, I'd like to get a decent aftermarket heatsink. I've not yet done the research on that, but i will. I did my homework, reading just about every review of this board on the net & come to a basic conclusion... While this board can be used effectively by an enthusiast/gamer for tweaking & overclocking, it really wasn't meant for that market. As such, i've seen a lot of reviews of the board catching fire/ram not being recognized/no post, etc...
This board's thermal design *isn't* meant to be OC'ed... its meant to scream with stock Intel stuff and enough airflow through the case. Once I'm comfortable enough with the thermal performance of an after-market heatsink, i may apply a modest overclock to it, but my goal was to build a machine that will last me 8-10 years. Overclocking doesn't help with that goal.
I'm seeing a lot of the new asus boards missing the speaker... Part of me wonders whether this is so that their customer support can demand you have one before proceeding with an RMA