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Ultimate X79? Five $320+ LGA 2011 Motherboards, Reviewed

Sandy Bridge-E And X79: The Best Intel Has To Offer

Value seekers are definitely appreciating the fact that Intel launched its most advanced desktop CPU technology in the mainstream space first. Meanwhile, enthusiasts with more exacting platform needs can breathe a sigh of relief now that X79 Express supports the same architecture at the high-end. If you haven't yet read about it, check out Intel Core i7-3960X Review: Sandy Bridge-E And X79 Express.

Perhaps we should replace the word “high” with “extreme,” however, since the cheapest LGA 2011-based CPU currently sells for about $600 bucks. It only stands, then, that exorbitant CPU prices would give way to expensive platforms. Fortunately, the connectivity enabled by Sandy Bridge-E and X79 Express is also more expansive than anything ever seen before from Intel.

A CPU-based quad-channel memory controller and 40 CPU-based third-gen PCIe lanes with built-in four-way SLI/CrossFireX support make X79 platforms stand above their Z68 siblings in the desktop segment, and we believe that anyone with the money for either a $600 or $1000 processor will also have the cash to spend on the best possible platform to support it. And yet, our announcement that the first X79 motherboard round-up would focus on flagship models to match Intel's introduction was met with a collective “What?!” by most manufacturers.

How could we expect the best products so soon after launch? With a little more time, a lot of vendors expected they could deliver a true masterpiece. But we were just as baffled by their responses, since most companies we talked to earlier in the year started X79-based motherboard development efforts last spring.

Most companies let us know that their flagship models were not finished, and that claim stood even after we announced a one-week grace period for late submissions. Imagine our surprise when several of those supposedly unfinished motherboards landed on Newegg before their manufacturers were willing to let them compete! What we ended up with was an interesting collection of premium (albeit non-flagship) models with high-end feature sets that help justify decidedly enthusiast-oriented prices.

X79 Express Motherboard Features
ASRock X79 Extreme9Asus P9X79 DeluxeAsus P9X79 WSGigabyte G1.Assassin2Gigabyte X79-UD5
PCB Revision1.041.031.031.01.0
ChipsetIntel X79 ExpressIntel X79 ExpressIntel X79 ExpressIntel X79 ExpressIntel X79 Express
Voltage Regulator16 Phases20 Phases10 PhasesNine Phases14 Phases
BIOSP1.40 (11/17/2011)0802 (11/15/2011)0603 (11/14/2011)F4 (11/02/2011)F3 (11/01/2011)
100.0 MHz BCLK100.0 MHz (+0.00%)100.1 (+0.10%)100.0 MHz (+0.00%)100.0 MHz (+0.00%)100.0 MHz (+0.00%)
Internal Interfaces
PCIe 3.0 x165 (x16/x0/x16/x0/x8 or x8/x8/x8/x8/x8)4 (x16/x8/x0/x16 or x16/x8/x8/x8)6 (x16/x0/x4/x16/x4/x0 or x8/x8/x4/x8/x4/x8)3 (x16/x8/x16)3 (x16/x8/x16)
PCIe 2.0 x16NoneNoneNoneNoneNone
PCIe x1/x41/02/00/02/02/0
Legacy PCINoneNoneNone11
USB 2.02 (4-ports)4 (8-ports)2 (4-ports) +1 (1-port)3 (6-ports)3 (6-ports)
USB 3.02 (4-ports)1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)
IEEE-13941None1None1
Serial Port1None1NoneNone
Parallel PortNoneNoneNoneNoneNone
SATA 6.0 Gb/s64446
SATA 3.0 Gb/s44444
4-Pin Fan26653
3-Pin Fan4NoneNoneNone2
FP-Audio1 (On Riser)1111
S/PDIF I/OOutput OnlyOutput OnlyOutput OnlyOutput OnlyOutput Only
Power ButtonYesYesYesNoYes
Reset ButtonYesYesYesNoYes
CLR_CMOS ButtonNoYesNoNoNo
Diagnostics PanelNumericNumericNumericNoneNone
I/O Panel Connectors
P/S 21None211
USB 3.046222
USB 2.06488 (2 shared w/eSATA)8 (1 shared w/eSATA)
IEEE-13941None1None1
Network1 (+1 On Riser)2211
eSATA22None2 (USB-Powered)2 (USB-Powered)
CLR_CMOS ButtonYesNoNoYesYes
Digital Audio OutOptical/Coaxial RiserOpticalOpticalOpticalOptical
Digital Audio InNoneNoneNoneNoneNone
Analog Audio4 (On Riser)6655
Other DevicesNoneBluetooth/Wifi Module USB BIOS FlashbackUSB BIOS FlashbackBluetooth/Wifi Card Dual BIOS Switch O/C ButtonBluetooth/Wifi Card Dual BIOS Switch O/C Button
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA2 x SATA 6Gb/s 4 x SATA 3Gb/s2 x SATA 6Gb/s 4 x SATA 3Gb/s2 x SATA 6Gb/s 4 x SATA 3Gb/s2 x SATA 6Gb/s 4 x SATA 3Gb/s2 x SATA 6Gb/s 4 x SATA 3Gb/s
Chipset RAID Modes0, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 10
Add-In SATA88SE9220 PCIe2 x SATA 6Gb/s 3 x 88SE9172 PCIe4 x SATA 6Gb/s 2 x eSATA 6Gb/s88SE9128 PCIe 2 x SATA 6Gb/sASM1061 PCIe2 x eSATA 6Gb/s88SE9128 PCIe 2 x SATA 6Gb/s2 x 88SE9172 PCIe2 x SATA 6Gb/s 2 x eSATA 6Gb/s3 x 88SE9172 PCIe4 x SATA 6Gb/s 2 x eSATA 6Gb/s
USB 3.02 x TUSB7340 PCIe3 x ASM1042 PCIe 1 x VL810 4-Port Hub2 x ASM1042 PCIe2 x FL1009-2Q0 PCIe2 x FL1009-2Q0 PCIe
IEEE-1394VT6315N PCIe 2 x 400 Mb/sNoneVT6315N PCIe 2 x 400 Mb/sNoneVT6308P PCI 2 x 400 Mb/s
Gigabit Ethernet
Primary LANBCM57781 PCIeWG82579V PHYWG82579V PHYKiller E2100 PCIeWG82579V PHY
Secondary LANBCM57781 PCIeRTL8111E PCIeWG82574L PCIeNoneNone
Audio
HD Audio CodecCore3D PCIe DSPALC898ALC898X-Fi CA20K2 PCIeALC898
DDL/DTS ConnectNot SpecifiedDTS ConnectDTS ConnectDDLNot Specified
Warranty
3-Years Limited (all brands)
  • lradunovic77
    Something is wrong with your ASRock Extreme 9 testing. You article states that you used BIOS 1.40 however first release for this Motherboard was 1.60 and they also recently released 1.70. Bios 1.40 is for ASRock Extreme 4 which i own as well. Again in mean time they updated BIOS for ASRock Extreme 4 to version 1.50 which greatly improves overclocking. I have C1 and i am hitting 4.4Ghz easily. (1.50 BIOS ASRock Extreme 4).

    You might want re check the facts.

    Thanks.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    lradunovic77Something is wrong ...You might want re check the facts.Please do verify the facts beginning with the first X79 Extreme9 UEFI screenshot on page 3, showing version P 1.40 . The latest public firmware was downloaded for every motherboard on November 18, which is before ASRock says its P1.60 was even published. And, if you check Newegg, you'll find that Newegg was actually selling the X79 Extreme9 before firmware P1.60 was published.

    How could that happen? ASRock has repeatedly removed previous BIOS versions from its website and labeled the replacement as the initial release.

    This review was published after many hours of collaboration with ASRock, and some of the problems with this specific CPU are further detailed in the overclocking section. ASRock acknowledged the problem exists with a portion of the C1 CPU supply and has begun issuing patched BIOS to fix the multiplier issue, according to ASRock engineer William Yu.
    Reply
  • oxxfatelostxxo
    I have C1 and i am hitting 4.4Ghz easily. (1.50 BIOS ASRock Extreme 4).
    Not to mention that they didnt say they couldnt hit 4.4ghz, they just stated they didnt get that high without going beyond 1.35v

    Kinda wish we got to see a MAX overclock for air before temps got out of control =P
    But then you get various coolers involved... yada yada... but PLEASE anyway
    Reply
  • clonazepam
    This was a fun article to read. I wanted to quote a few bits here and there just to point out I enjoyed the humor in it, but that would have been a lot of quotes. It's subtle, tasteful way to add personality to the piece.

    I had to comment on something. I can't really comment on the hardware as its so enthusiast and SB-E is well beyond my needs. I can't comment too much on the bios because I still barely understand mine, but I am seeing the trend that it might be best to stick with what you know, or risk having to translate the various names/definitions of settings across different products. I'm not that smart nor that patient. I liked the comment on the 6.00...lol... %! I never would have thought. I think that just deciphered half of my bios options, thanks. /wink
    Reply
  • In the comparison table on the ASUS : "6 (x16/x0/x4/x16/x4/x0 or x8/x8/x4/x8/x84/x8)" -- x84 seems somewhat unlikely ;-)
    Reply
  • gmcizzle
    Not surprised both Asus boards came out on top performance wise, on most of these mobo roundups they usually do.
    Reply
  • Steveymoo
    Without trying to sound critical, wouldn't it be prudent to test SLI scaling on these enthusiast boards? 1, 2, and 3 way SLI, extra PCI-E bandwidth is one of the main reason why people even bother splashing out the extra cash on these chipsets. (Aside from the extra epeen++)

    Just sayin'
    Reply
  • Crashman
    shstoneIn the comparison table on the ASUS : "6 (x16/x0/x4/x16/x4/x0 or x8/x8/x4/x8/x84/x8)" -- x84 seems somewhat unlikely ;-)Thanks. Yes, the x4 stays the same. Fixed!SteveymooWithout trying to sound critical, wouldn't it be prudent to test SLI scaling on these enthusiast boards? 1, 2, and 3 way SLI, extra PCI-E bandwidth is one of the main reason why people even bother splashing out the extra cash on these chipsets. (Aside from the extra epeen++)Just sayin'You obviously don't understand the value of those +++'s!
    Reply
  • AstroTC
    AsRock has the better looking MB by far...

    Question does tht little fan on the motherboard get loud? If it does that would be a deal breaker for me
    Reply
  • CaedenV
    the problem with testing mobos is that they all have the same core (in this case the x79) which is what determines the raw speed of the system and busses, so they are all pretty well bunched together with no possibility of seeing any real world difference between boards. The things that differentiate the boards is in their feature sets, and as they are all rather different there is no proper way to test them against one another. Add to that the fact that these are all brand new boards which will see improvements with new UEFI releases, and there is really no way to pick a clear winner.

    On a side note I would love to see how these boards look assembled :)
    Reply