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Which X79-Based Motherboard Offers More Value?

Six $200-$260 LGA 2011 Motherboards, Reviewed
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Today’s motherboards range from Intel’s $210 DX79TO to a $260 price shared by Asus, MSI, and ECS. Gigabyte’s X79A-UD3 might have also fit within our qualifying range, had its board not already been used for our $260 to $320 roundup. If you want to know more about the Gigabyte platform, check out Seven $260-$320 X79 Express Motherboards, Reviewed.

Because all of today’s boards exhibit similar performance, a price-per-performance chart primarily reflects price.

For $5 more than Intel's baseline, ASRock’s X79 Extreme4 adds three-way SLI, front-panel USB 3.0, rear-panel digital ports, twice as many analog audio jacks, three more SATA ports, and eSATA. While all of those features are worth several times as much as the price difference, we're left wondering how much money ASRock saved by leaving out the second set of DIMM slots.

Biostar’s TPower X79 goes a step further by integrating four more USB 3.0 ports compared to the X79 Extreme4. It still has only a single set of memory slots, however, and we’re unhappy to find its front-panel USB 3.0 header located less than one space below its third graphics slot. While most builders at this budget level don’t plan to use three graphics cards, we like to leave that option available when the slots are there. Furthermore, the TPower X79 is an extraordinarily troublesome overclocker. All of these things diminish the value of its added peripheral connectivity, compelling us to choose between ASRock and Intel.

Asus’ P9X79 splits the difference between the two most value-oriented boards by offering four rear-panel USB 3.0 ports but—strangely—no front-panel USB 3.0 headers. The board also comes up two SATA ports shy of the X79 Extreme4, and its super-valuable USB BIOS Flashback feature is so infrequently needed that it alone can’t justify its significantly-higher $260 price.

Nobody needs a win right now more than MSI, and the firm does beat its competitors with impressive efficiency. Like the TPower X79, MSI’s X79A-GD45 also has the problem of an unfortunately-placed front-panel USB 3.0 header. Anyone who knows for certain that they’ll never place a conflicting card in the bottom PCI Express slot should consider its superb efficiency as a reason to buy, though we find it hard to justify a $45 mark-up (compared to the similarly-featured X79 Extreme4) for its second set of memory slots.

ECS’ X79R-AX Deluxe faces several challenges compared to the competition, beginning with the fact that it was the only board to require a firmware update simply to support our new CPU. Anyone who orders a new processor with this board could potentially suffer the same fate. This is one of those instances where a feature similar to Asus’ USB BIOS Flashback could truly be useful, but ECS doesn’t have it. That could explain why the X79R-AX Deluxe is out-of-stock everywhere we looked.

This leads us back to a race between ASRock’s X79 Extreme4’s added features and the extra memory slots provided by Intel’s DX79TO. We could try to use the DX79TO’s higher efficiency to offset its lack of front-panel USB 3.0 support, but we prefer to have both. We were also disappointed that Intel chose to use only 32 of the CPU's 40 PCIe lanes by leaving off the third graphics slot. Add superior CPU overclocking to its superior feature set, and ASRock’s X79 Extreme4 takes the value crown.

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  • 4 Hide
    Anonymous , February 27, 2012 5:00 AM
    I like Asrock boards. I have an 880GM-LE mATX and a Z68 Pro3 Gen3 ATX and both are good performance and price-performance wise.
  • 2 Hide
    hellfire24 , February 27, 2012 5:36 AM
    Asrock is dominating both high end and mid range market.extreme3/gen3 1155 is awesome and cheapest pci-e 3.0 sli capable mobo.Asrock FTW!!!
  • 0 Hide
    Achoo22 , February 27, 2012 6:02 AM
    Quote:
    Quite simply, the costs associated with Sandy Bridge-E are higher, in part because of Intel's prices and also because the boards are more difficult to design.


    Since the boards all have vastly superior profit margins, your statement is misleading. Why is everyone too afraid to reveal the truth about motherboard pricing?
  • 4 Hide
    bartholomew , February 27, 2012 6:38 AM
    ASRock has come a long way!
  • 6 Hide
    AlexIsAlex , February 27, 2012 6:43 AM
    Would it be possible, in future motherboard reviews, to include a measure of the cold boot (POST) time? This is something that different bioses can be differentiated on, and UFEI offers the potential for very fast boots if manufacturers take advantage of it properly.

    A comparison of the time between the power button being pressed and the installed bootloader starting would be very interesting to me. I was thinking it might be easiest to measure this by having no OS on the boot media and measuring the time to the "please insert boot media" message, but I'm sure you can think of other ways of doing it.

    I'm also informed that on some boards the boot time varies dramatically dependent on whether any Overclocking is enabled, as compared to the stock settings - that would also be worth knowing.
  • 3 Hide
    americanbrian , February 27, 2012 7:47 AM
    your feature table says the asrock extreme 4 comes with an 8 phase voltage regulator, but the text of article says 10 phase...which is it ?
  • -7 Hide
    crisan_tiberiu , February 27, 2012 7:49 AM
    ASRock = ASUS :) 
  • 9 Hide
    KT_WASP , February 27, 2012 8:24 AM
    crisan_tiberiuASRock = ASUS


    not anymore, asrock is no longer affiliated with Asus and is owned by Pegatron Corp.
  • 7 Hide
    memadmax , February 27, 2012 9:34 AM
    I wish tom's would do a "best motherboards for the money" or something close to that.
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , February 27, 2012 11:37 AM
    Pegatron sounds like a merger between PegASUS + Megatron (or something like that).
  • 1 Hide
    wysiwygbill , February 27, 2012 12:40 PM
    I'd like to see one of these x79 motherboards mounted in a case with a rear mounted 120MM radiator. I'm concerned that the memory slots might be blocked by a thick radiator + 120MM fan inside the case.
  • 1 Hide
    ubercake , February 27, 2012 12:47 PM
    Great informative article.

    But I'm wondering why AMD continues the ATI brand on the ASrock motherboard? Seems odd. They had everyone replace the CCC as soon as they rebranded and here we are looking at the ATI logo on the ASrock board.

    Also, even though there is so little difference when comparing boards using the same architecture, why no BF3 in the gaming section of the review? I thought this was one of the games mentioned in the 2012 goals for Tom's when reviewing gaming performance?
  • 0 Hide
    josejones , February 27, 2012 1:00 PM
    I'm looking forward to the review of several z77 motherboards. The x79's are far too expensive.
  • 0 Hide
    csm101 , February 27, 2012 3:03 PM
    i realy dont see a reason why i should go for a X79 from my X58 board. even with the next gen vga for AMD is out that say PCI 3.0 compatible, (assume same for the nvidia as well) i can put those cards on my board. so thats leave the quad channel and the more efficien i7 gen 2 cpu's. still will i see a huge FPS gain in games. i dont think so. so i think i can safely leave out this whole year without upgrading my mobo. in fact since i have a i7 950 im actually wating it to go down in the CPU hirearchy one more level.
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , February 27, 2012 5:14 PM
    americanbrianyour feature table says the asrock extreme 4 comes with an 8 phase voltage regulator, but the text of article says 10 phase...which is it ?
    Eight, thanks
    ubercakeGreat informative article. But I'm wondering why AMD continues the ATI brand on the ASrock motherboard? Seems odd. They had everyone replace the CCC as soon as they rebranded and here we are looking at the ATI logo on the ASrock board.Also, even though there is so little difference when comparing boards using the same architecture, why no BF3 in the gaming section of the review? I thought this was one of the games mentioned in the 2012 goals for Tom's when reviewing gaming performance?
    New benchmarks are considered when a new chipset is launched. Keeping the old benchmark means you can compare current results with former results of previous roundups.
  • 0 Hide
    bigdragon , February 27, 2012 5:49 PM
    I like this review. It's good to see that most of the motherboards perform about the same with nobody sticking out or lagging behind for the most part. There's such a wide variety of prices for the LGA 2011 platform that I certainly didn't want to wind up with an overpriced POS.

    I settled on the ASRock Extreme4-m. I did have to wait for a new BIOS chip to arrive in order to make use of it though. They overnighted one to me last week and I got my system up and running over the weekend. So far so good. I've been quite happy with it now that it's working. I can't say that I've tried the overclocking features.

    wysiwygbillI'd like to see one of these x79 motherboards mounted in a case with a rear mounted 120MM radiator. I'm concerned that the memory slots might be blocked by a thick radiator + 120MM fan inside the case.

    With the ASRock Extreme4-m the memory slots and CPU 8-pin power connectors are very close to the radiator. I went with the Intel liquid cooler for my build. It's a 120mm fan and radiator. I placed these in a Silverstone FT03 as exhaust from the top of the case. It's important to pick out RAM that doesn't have any crazy fins or spikes on it. I went with some Kingston HyperX DDR3 1600 4x4GB that were on the official support list. There is a 4 to 5 mm gap between the RAM and radiator. it is plenty of room for the 8-pin wires to clear without touching the RAM or radiator. It's tight, but it works. I originally was going to buy GSkill RAM that was $20 cheaper, but there's no way the big red fins on those sticks would have fit.
  • 0 Hide
    tiger6k , February 27, 2012 5:56 PM
    I really wish Tom's Hardware would do more reviews of mid-range components. Especially with Ivy Bridge being compatible with Socket 1155, why wouldn't they do a review on some good z68 boards out now that will do well with Ivy Bridge, if you're looking to get a cheap rig now (G630/G860) and then upgrade later. All this 2011 stuff though are there really that many people that spend $600+ on a CPU?
  • 1 Hide
    bigdragon , February 27, 2012 5:59 PM
    ubercakeAlso, even though there is so little difference when comparing boards using the same architecture, why no BF3 in the gaming section of the review? I thought this was one of the games mentioned in the 2012 goals for Tom's when reviewing gaming performance?

    I don't blame them for skipping BF3. Since the most recent video drivers I've been having all sorts of issues with BF3. It's the only game on my machine to display a "Something went wrong" error and crash the entire system. I'd imagine it's hard to benchmark such an unstable game. My Extreme4-m, i7 3820, and Radeon 7950 system has no trouble with Just Cause 2, GTA IV, Crysis, and others, but BF3 has this remarkable capability to come up with the most ridiculous of error messages and strange behavior. That game still has issues.
  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , February 27, 2012 6:12 PM
    Tiger6kI really wish Tom's Hardware would do more reviews of mid-range components. Especially with Ivy Bridge being compatible with Socket 1155, why wouldn't they do a review on some good z68 boards out now that will do well with Ivy Bridge, if you're looking to get a cheap rig now (G630/G860) and then upgrade later. All this 2011 stuff though are there really that many people that spend $600+ on a CPU?
    Z68 has been covered fairly well, and Z77 will be next. Manufacturers will provide the information on Ivy Bridge compatibility for their Z68 motherboards.
  • 0 Hide
    xtreme5 , February 27, 2012 6:19 PM
    asrock look fast....
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