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ECS X79R-AX

Seven $260-$320 X79 Express Motherboards, Reviewed
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One of the most surprising entries in this mid-market X79 Express motherboard comparison is ECS’ X79R-AX, manifesting the company’s efforts to earn some respect among the enthusiast community. No other board comes close to this one by way of features, though a $310 asking price also puts it near the top of this comparison’s budget limit.

The things Asus had to strip from its P9X79 Deluxe to nudge its Pro model into a mid-market price point (Wi-Fi and twin Ethernet controllers) are proudly made available alongside Bluetooth, four USB 3.0, and two eSATA ports on the X79R-AX’s I/O panel.

When it comes to exposing storage connectivity, ECS shoots for the moon with 12 internal ports. It gets there by adding an ASM1061 PCIe x1 controller to the X79's six native connectors. But it also enables the four SAS ports that we know are part of X79 PCH, but were supposedly disabled by Intel.

But wait, if X79's SAS ports are actually functional, why isn't everyone else using them? It turns out that many vendors actually did design their boards to expose SAS support. However, Intel issued an update during week 32 stating that the company "...will issue an errata on those ports as non-functional for the X79 chipset."

In other words, Intel felt that there was something wrong with those ports, and rather than enumerate the issue, it asked motherboard manufacturers to remove them. A few rumors even mention an upcoming chipset revision that fixes the mysterious errata. Nevertheless, ECS is using the original stepping of X79.

While another site took the time to define the complex method a user must follow to activate those non-bootable ports (enable SCU devices and SCU OpROM, then reinstall Intel RST Enterprise drivers), ECS hints at the amount of faith you should have in them by saying, "the compatibility and stability of SATA port (SAS6G1_2/3_4) may differ by different devices." Our warning is to use the chipset's SAS ports at your own risk. Although there's a chance that they might work perfectly with your hardware, it's certainly not being guaranteed.

Intel’s SAS controller monopolizes some of the processor's PCIe-based connectivity, which explains why ECS doesn’t have a permanent x8 slot. Instead, the two white x16 slots are slaves to the grey ones, stealing eight of the parent slot’s lanes when activated by installing a card.

Our necessary caveats aside, we think the X79R-AX is a gutsy design. ECS is the only firm with the audacity to go up against Intel's bulletin. This is, of course, the same company that called VIA’s bluff over KT266A supply warnings by producing the only mass-market SiS 735-based products way back in AMD’s heyday.

The design isn’t perfect, though, as it’s impossible to install a fourth double-slot graphics card and front-panel USB 3.0 cable at the same time. We’ve sharply criticized past products for this incomprehensible negligence, and we’re not going to let ECS off any easier than its competitors. This little mistake is enough to force many users to either accept unusable front-panel ports or to give up four-way CrossFireX. ECS doesn’t include a four-way SLI bridge, so that configuration wouldn't have been possible anyway.

In fact, ECS’ best-featured motherboard doesn’t even include a three-way SLI bridge, though it does have a printed Wi-Fi antenna and internal extension cable for optimizing signal without external wires. Also included are eight internal SATA cables and a USB 3.0-to-3.5” drive bay adapter, though connecting it prevents the bottom slot from accepting a double-slot graphics card.

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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