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Which X79-Based Motherboard Is Right For You?

Seven $260-$320 X79 Express Motherboards, Reviewed
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With 40 lanes of PCIe 3.0 connectivity to host all of our high-bandwidth devices, LGA 2011 certainly qualifies as a premium processor interface. Today we examine seven X79-based motherboards that offer high-end features at a more palatable price.

For as little as $305, Asus' P9X79 Pro provides the best overall performance and best memory overclocking of the boards tested today. Yet, that performance advantage is only 0.1% above the cheapest board in this round-up, Gigabyte’s X79-UD3.

If we were to consider the same cut-rate vendor's $250 price for the X79-UD3, we’d have to disqualify it from this $260-320 motherboard round-up. On the other hand, a $270 price at several of our preferred venders puts it back within this roundup's target price range. We asked Gigabyte about the price spread before placing its board in this price segment, and the company insisted that it's able to compete against higher-end products. If we split the difference and call it a $260 contender, its four-way SLI support would still make it a top value pick with hardcore gamers. Asus has more memory slots, more USB 3.0 ports, and a Bluetooth transceiver to offset its higher price and the loss of four-way SLI, however. So, anyone who can’t afford or simply doesn’t want four high-end graphics cards could find either of these two chief competitors offering similar value.

ASRock’s X79 Extreme6/GB, on the other hand, takes first place in overclocking, in spite of the fact that it was unable to overcome the bug that prevented our CPU from employing multiplier-based overclocking on most boards. We can instead look at the positive side of our overclocking experience, in that the X79 Extreme6/GB demonstrates exceptional base clock-based overclocking, which could make it the best choice for anyone running a Core i7-3820.

Availability of the X79 Extreme6/GB is currently a little awkward, since the only seller currently offering it has a poor customer service reputation. That same seller offers spectacular pricing, though. Unfortunately, we're not able to speculate how much this platform might cost when it reaches some of the other vendors we prefer. Again, we’re left using Gigabyte’s less expensive board as a point of comparison, and for $30 more, an X79 Extreme6/GB buyer gains two rear-panel USB 3.0 ports, loses four-way SLI support, and gets a very nice audio/network card that won’t even fit if you use three-way CrossFire or SLI. While some builders will be willing to sacrifice graphics in order to retain the Creative Core3D secondary audio and Broadcom secondary Ethernet functionality, we’d instead hope to see ASRock's X79 Extreme6/GB available at a more trusted etailer, selling at a lower price, and without the combo card vs 3-way graphics debate.

Honors for the best on-board features go to ECS’ X79R-AX, with its four-way graphics card support (matching Gigabyte), Bluetooth module (matching Asus), and integrated Wi-Fi adapter (trumping both). If we buy it from a vendor we trust, the X79R-AX’s $310 Web price is actually cheaper than what we pay for Asus’ P9X79 Pro. Yet, its lack of three- or four-way SLI bridges, along with a USB 3.0 port that can’t be used when a fourth card is installed, hint at a product designed with more ambition than forethought. Also employing Intel’s unsanctioned SAS controller, the X79R-AX is probably the gutsiest board, and we'd like to see it revised to offer front-panel USB 3.0 connectivity and four-card support simultaneously.

Foxconn’s Quantumian-1 delivers on a good layout and super-stable voltage regulator, but UEFI limits prevent it from gaining notoriety as an overclocking champion. The added value of dual network controllers offsets its lack of four-way SLI support compared to Gigabyte’s X79-UD3, though the two are apparently targeting slightly different buyers with similar budgets. We have to reserve value awards for platforms with fully fleshed-out firmware, and this one's not quite there.

Intel’s $280 DX79SI does most things well, but nothing spectacularly. That’s a great way to keep loyal customers, but a tough way to pick them off from the competition. We like its high efficiency and “Back to BIOS” button. However, mediocre overclocking and pricing garnered lukewarm reactions.

MSI tops our charts in efficiency, and nothing else. Its price fluctuates between $290 and $300, coming in at the upper range of where we think it belongs. Lacking the four-way graphics capability of Gigabyte’s X79-UD3 and the two network controllers on Foxconn’s Quantumian-1, the added value of its eight DIMM slots is offset by a front-panel USB 3.0 connector that blocks a third high-end graphics card from being installed. The inability to reduce Turbo Boost ratios prevented us from getting the best overclock possible.

We conclude this review with a tie between Asus and Gigabyte, depending on the features that matter most to you. While the differences between the customers targeted by these two products are too vast for us to single one out for our “Recommended Buy” award, our “Approved” award can go to multiple products. Today, that’s how we recognize the value leadership both companies share within the $260-320 price segment.

Display all 41 comments.
  • 4 Hide
    Crashman , January 12, 2012 3:16 AM
    Update: C2 CPU is now here!
  • 1 Hide
    jprahman , January 12, 2012 4:13 AM
    So when will we see results with a C2?
  • 3 Hide
    Crashman , January 12, 2012 4:29 AM
    jprahmanSo when will we see results with a C2?
    It's going to take around a month to prepare another roundup...so I guess good news comes with bad news, sorry.
  • 1 Hide
    amuffin , January 12, 2012 5:36 AM
    :o  foxconn boards are pretty good.
  • 2 Hide
    Crashman , January 12, 2012 6:47 AM
    amuffinfoxconn boards are pretty good.
    They've been making decent enthusiast boards on-and-off for a while.
  • -1 Hide
    morne , January 12, 2012 9:17 AM
    Quick coment on looks only (I know its specs that count not looks but oh well)
    ASRock X79 Extreme6/GB - very nice all black looks better than gigabytes atempt
    Asus P9X79 Pro - new baby blue they use on all the boards... not for me
    ECS X79R-AX - looks like my old pentium 2 board with the white slots
    Foxconn Quantumian-1 - i like i like gives a feeling of the ROG ASUS boards
    Gigabyte X79-UD3 - rip of from the ASRock X79 Extreme6/GB (lol) plus the southbridge heatsink looks old fasion and ugly.
    Intel DX79SI - now this board for me looks good actualy more than good looks the best :)  must be the scull lol
    MSI X79A-GD65 8D - also very nice love the blue + Black.

    If you have one of the boards and i insulted it, wasnt the intention, just my view of the board>

  • 3 Hide
    stingstang , January 12, 2012 10:31 AM
    My only question is.. Why do you guys need 6 freaking $1050 processors? Good golly gosh!
  • 0 Hide
    ubercake , January 12, 2012 12:24 PM
    Great descriptive article.

    One thing I'm not sure of is the acceptance and actual usage of eSATA. While practical at some level, is anyone actually using this MB feature or is this one of those things the MB producers can skip out on like parallel and serial ports? I'm not sure enthusiasts are all that into using their eSATA ports?

    Personally, I think this is one of those money saving opportunities MB producers should consider.
  • 0 Hide
    geekapproved , January 12, 2012 12:46 PM
    After the X58 anal pounding, you would be a moron to buy a X79. It's life is predicted to be even shorter than X58.
  • 1 Hide
    morne , January 12, 2012 12:47 PM
    Actualy i agree with you ubercake, i have never used my E-sata, and with usb 3.0 out doubt anyone still uses E-sata if they have before.
  • 0 Hide
    jaquith , January 12, 2012 1:42 PM
    CrashmanUpdate: C2 CPU is now here!

    Here -- where? You guy's may have gotten an early release, but how's that been working far? The official re-release is January 20th to retail. The reason I state this is because the track record has been less than stellar and in some cases often a 'miss-match' the the retail versions; thereby (WE) get ambiguous impressions and folks buying habits are incorrectly forged.

    From the results I've seen, read so far, a ±2FPS~±3FPS can all fall within the margins of error; run the tests 3-4 times.

    Then the reasons for 'choices' as 'best', IMO best must have 8xDIMM, 3-WAY, decent audio, good OC'ing, and adequate plus fast SATA ports. Asus P9X79 Pro and Intel Intel DX79SI, while I appreciate a budget 4-WAY Gigabyte GA-X79-UD3 no one wanting 4-WAY is going to choose it.

    - my 2 cents.
  • 0 Hide
    jaquith , January 12, 2012 1:49 PM
    Oppsy, I meant ASUS P9X79 Pro and ASRock X79 Extreme9.
  • -2 Hide
    heroictofu , January 12, 2012 1:50 PM
    Personally I'd go for the Intel for long term stability if their track record is anything to go buy.
  • 0 Hide
    josejones , January 12, 2012 3:09 PM
    How much better are these new X79 mobos over say the 990's? Are the X79's really that much better and worth all the money? Is there a comparison between them around?

    When will AMD be coming out with mobos with PCIe 3 support?

    http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/296572-30-where-mobos-promised
  • 0 Hide
    g-unit1111 , January 12, 2012 3:43 PM
    heroictofuPersonally I'd go for the Intel for long term stability if their track record is anything to go buy.


    My D975XBX board is still holding strong after like 6+ years of owning it. It's currently sitting in my HTPC.

    I'd definitely go for the Intel for that reason alone, but I've been really impressed with Gigabyte and the way my Z68 system turned out.
  • 1 Hide
    nforce4max , January 12, 2012 4:00 PM
    I think this platform is just to expensive for the result in most tasks even for most users/gamers, and workers for the exception of those that actually need this for a server/workstation. A standard i7 2600k or a cheaper i5 2500k is just fine and good enough for most use even a overclocked i7 920 still has enough to get the job done.
  • 1 Hide
    jaquith , January 12, 2012 5:19 PM
    josejonesHow much better are these new X79 mobos over say the 990's? Are the X79's really that much better and worth all the money? Is there a comparison between them around?When will AMD be coming out with mobos with PCIe 3 support? http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/ [...] s-promised

    1. Not much better, I decided not to mothball my 980X and instead to only replace my GPU's with GTX 600 series when available and then with 3GB vRAM.
    2. Not much with clock-to-clock comparison; e.g. 4.5GHz to 4.5GHz. Sure the SB/SB-E is slightly faster but in most resolutions none of them really impede or bottleneck.
    3. (link) well it seems I was right PCIe 2.x versus PCIe 3.x -> http://www.hardwarecanucks.com/forum/hardware-canucks-reviews/49646-amd-radeon-hd-7970-3gb-review-21.html the GPU's cannot saturate x8 PCIe 2.x so it will be quite a while if not years before PCIe 3.x gains ground to make it useful.
  • 0 Hide
    a4mula , January 12, 2012 5:46 PM
    Nice article, though I think it lacked a few things that would have made it spectacular. I would have loved to see pci-e 3.0 actually being compared to pci-e 2.0 using the 7970 at 5760x1080. I think it'd show that pci-e 2.0 does indeed suffer from bottlenecks at multi-monitor resolutions. I would have also loved to see the ECS 4-way SAS controller tested using 4x ssds. I understand that this functionality isn't guaranteed, but as someone that's considering a LSI RAID card it would have been great to see how this onboard solution fared.
    Nice review though and I understand how both of these things were outside the scope of what was being done.
  • -1 Hide
    ubercake , January 12, 2012 5:56 PM
    geekapprovedAfter the X58 anal pounding, you would be a moron to buy a X79. It's life is predicted to be even shorter than X58.

    I see what you're saying, but during BF3 my good trusty ole i7-960 and my two GTX580s are all hitting 100% at times (until BF4) running on ultra with AA and AA transparency cranked. I'm getting over 100fps at 1080p. I'd say that's a good equipment pairing considering I'm going on year three. If that's what an anal pounding is all about... Thank you sir may I have another!?
  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , January 12, 2012 6:24 PM
    ubercakeGreat descriptive article. One thing I'm not sure of is the acceptance and actual usage of eSATA. While practical at some level, is anyone actually using this MB feature or is this one of those things the MB producers can skip out on like parallel and serial ports? I'm not sure enthusiasts are all that into using their eSATA ports?Personally, I think this is one of those money saving opportunities MB producers should consider.
    I agree, but a few people don't and they do occasionally scream.
    morneActualy i agree with you ubercake, i have never used my E-sata, and with usb 3.0 out doubt anyone still uses E-sata if they have before.
    That's why I agreed :) 
    josejonesHow much better are these new X79 mobos over say the 990's? Are the X79's really that much better and worth all the money?
    Buy an AMD board for AMD processors, an Intel board for Intel processors, and then relax.

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