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Six $200-$260 LGA 2011 Motherboards, Reviewed

Six $200-$260 LGA 2011 Motherboards, Reviewed
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We know that Intel's X79 Express platform hosts the fastest desktop processors in the company's portfolio. But can it be made more affordable? We round up the least-expensive $200-$260 motherboards to determine how much you have to give up for cheap X79.

We know that Intel's X79 Express platform hosts the fastest desktop processors in the company's portfolio. But can it be made more affordable? We round up the least-expensive $200-$260 motherboards to determine how much you have to give up for cheap X79.

Motherboard designers can approach cost-cutting from several different angles. They can selectively lop off certain features or change their layouts, facilitating fewer PCB layers. They can pare back value-added bundles or even offer mail-in rebates that a majority of folks never take the time to redeem. We've seen these approaches work really well on mainstream platforms, and we're sometimes surprised to find exceptional reliability persisting, despite the need to shave off precious dollars and cents. But Intel's LGA 2011 interface is a different animal entirely. Its four memory channels feed a complex processor, which attaches to a more expensive PCH. Together, that all results in a higher starting price for Core i7-3000-compatible motherboards.

And then you have to take the cost of Intel's processors into account. Even the lowest-end Core i7-3820 is expected to sell for close to $300, and that's a quad-core mode. Consequently, we can't expect too many enthusiasts to tolerate a cut-down, incomplete motherboard to complement any Sandy Bridge-E-based chip. 

Pricing and quality expectations come to a head in the sub-$260 LGA 2011 market, where some buyers will certainly wonder why an entry-level board still costs $100 more than LGA 1155-based platforms with seemingly similar on-board extras. 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.

X79 Motherboard Features
 ASRock X79
Extreme4
Asus
P9X79
Biostar
TPower X79
PCB Revision1.031.015.0
ChipsetIntel X79 ExpressIntel X79 ExpressIntel X79 Express
Voltage RegulatorEight Phases10 PhasesSix Phases
BIOSP1.70 (02/02/2012)0906 (12/22/2011)X79AE118 (01/18/2012)
100.0 MHz BCLK100.0 MHz (+0.00%)100.1 MHz (+0.10%)100.0 MHz (+0.00%)
Internal Interfaces
PCIe 3.0 x163 (x16/x16/x8)3 (x16/x16/x8)3 (x16/x16/x8)
PCIe 2.0 x16NoneNoneNone
PCIe x1/x42/02/02/0
Legacy PCI211
USB 2.03 (6-ports)4 (8-ports)2 (4-ports)
USB 3.01 (2-ports)None1 (2-ports)
IEEE-13941NoneNone
Serial Port111
Parallel PortNoneNoneNone
SATA 6.0 Gb/s523
SATA 3.0 Gb/s444
4-Pin Fan261
3-Pin Fan4None2
FP-Audio111
S/PDIF I/OOutput OnlyOutput OnlyOutput Only
Power ButtonYesNoYes
Reset ButtonYesNoYes
CLR_CMOS ButtonNoNoYes
Diagnostics PanelNumericPass/Fail LEDNumeric
I/O Panel Connectors
P/S 2211
USB 3.0246
USB 2.0662
IEEE-139411None
NetworkSingleSingleSingle
eSATA12 (1-Powered)1 (Powered)
CLR_CMOS ButtonYesYesNo
Digital Audio OutOptical + CoaxialOpticalOptical + Coaxial
Digital Audio InNoneNoneNone
Analog Audio666
Other DevicesNoneNoneNone
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA2 x SATA 6Gb/s
4 x SATA 3Gb/s
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
4 x SATA 3Gb/s
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
4 x SATA 3Gb/s
Chipset RAID Modes0, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 10
Add-In SATA2 x ASM1061 PCIe
3 x SATA 6Gb/s
1 x eSATA 6Gb/s
ASM1061 PCIe
2 x eSATA 6Gb/s
ASM1061 PCIe
1 x SATA 6Gb/s
1 x eSATA 6Gb/s
USB 3.02 x ASM1042 PCIe2 x ASM1042 PCIe4 x ASM1042 PCIe
IEEE-1394VT6315N PCIe
2 x 400 Mb/s
VT6315N PCIeNone
Gigabit Ethernet
Primary LANBCM57781 PCIeWG82579V PHYRTL8111E PCIe
Secondary LANNoneNoneNone
Audio
HD Audio CodecALC898ALC892ALC898
DDL/DTS ConnectNot SpecifiedDTS ConnectNot Specified

.

X79 Motherboard Features
 ECS X79R-AX
Black Deluxe
Intel
DX79TO
MSI X79A-
GD45 8D
PCB Revision1.012.0
ChipsetIntel X79 ExpressIntel X79 ExpressIntel X79 Express
Voltage RegulatorSeven PhasesSix PhasesEight Phases
BIOS79D1B29A (11/29/2011)SI0424P (01/27/2012)V10.2 (01/31/2011)
100.0 MHz BCLK100.0 MHz (+0.00%)100.0 MHz (+0.00%)100.0 MHz (+0.00%)
Internal Interfaces
PCIe 3.0 x164 (x16/x0/x16/x0
or x8/x8/x8/x8)
2 (x16/x16)3 (x16/x16/x8)
PCIe 2.0 x16NoneNone2 (x1/x1)
PCIe x1/x42/03/01/0
Legacy PCINone1None
USB 2.02 (4-ports)4 (8-ports)2 (4-ports)
USB 3.01 (2-ports)None1 (2-ports)
IEEE-1394None1None
Serial Port1None1
Parallel PortNoneNoneNone
SATA 6.0 Gb/s622
SATA 3.0 Gb/s444
4-Pin Fan245
3-Pin Fan3NoneNone
FP-Audio111
S/PDIF I/OOutput OnlyNoneNone
Power ButtonNoYesYes
Reset ButtonNoYesNo
CLR_CMOS ButtonNoNoNo
Diagnostics PanelNoneNumericNone
I/O Panel Connectors
P/S 21None2
USB 3.0422
USB 2.0666
IEEE-1394None1None
NetworkSingleSingleSingle
eSATANoneNoneNone
CLR_CMOS ButtonNoBack to BIOSYes
Digital Audio OutOpticalNoneOptical + Coaxial
Digital Audio InNoneNoneNone
Analog Audio536
Other DevicesNoneNoneNone
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA2 x SATA 6Gb/s
4 x SATA 3Gb/s
4 x SAS 6Gb/s
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
4 x SATA 3Gb/s
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
4 x SATA 3Gb/s
Chipset RAID Modes0, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 10
Add-In SATANoneNoneNone
USB 3.0TUSB7340 PCIe
TUSB7320 PCIe
D720200F1 PCIe2 x D720200F1 PCIe
IEEE-1394NoneVT6315N PCIeNone
Gigabit Ethernet
Primary LANRTL8111E PCIeWG82579LM PHYWG82579V PHY
Secondary LANNoneNoneNone
Audio
HD Audio CodecALC892ALC892ALC892
DDL/DTS ConnectNot SpecifiedNot SpecifiedNot Specified


Feature tables tell a lot about what each motherboard offers. But design and implementation make some features more valuable than others. We’re now ready to examine and detail the design, performance, and overclocking capabilities of these six not-quite-economical products.

Before we move on to the next page, though, we want to point out that, finally, all six of these vendors are on-board with similar three-year warranties, satisfying our former criticisms about a lack of value in the form of support.

Display all 41 comments.
  • 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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