Asus And DFI: Core i7 Micro-ATX Motherboards Compared

ATX Without The Waste

With support for full-sized components and up to four expansion cards, the Micro-ATX format has always been more than adequate for the majority of high-end builds. Yet while enthusiasts have typically cited inadequate quality or design as the primary reason for not considering this option, manufacturers have cited lack of demand as a reason for not putting their best efforts into a board this small. A few attempts by manufacturers to win loyalty among space-conscious enthusiasts have mostly been rejected by a market that maintained its traditional view of the former problems.

The popularity of Micro-ATX portable gaming enclosures is finally starting to break the cycle of negative assumptions as customers are forced to make a decision about what hardware to put inside. Current top products are undoubtedly as feature-laden as many of their full-sized counterparts, incorporating high-end devices and support for even the largest dual-slot graphics cards in CrossFire and SLI. Always a target of upper-range Micro-ATX motherboard sales, professional media and home theater enthusiasts may instead choose to load up to three media-centric devices in addition to a single-slot graphics card. With this much flexibility, confessing that they don’t actually need more expansion room could be the hardest problem for many builders.

Yet few of us will even consider smaller devices until we can see that they function as well in every respect as the larger parts they replace, so today we’ll compare these against the fastest of our full-ATX samples. Before we go into the details of that test, let’s take a closer look at the features we so eagerly endorsed.

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Micro-ATX Core i7 Motherboard Features
 Asus Rampage II GeneDFI LANParty Jr X58-T3H6
NorthbridgeIntel X58 ExpressIntel X58 Express
SouthbridgeIntel ICH10RIntel ICH10R
Voltage RegulatorEight PhasesSix Phases
BIOS0705 (04-09-2009)217 (02-17-2009)
133.3 MHz Bclk133.6 MHz (+0.20%)133.0 (-0.25%)
Internal Interfaces
PCIe 2.0 x162 (x16/x16)2 (x16/x16)
PCIe x1/x40/10/1
Legacy PCI11
USB 2.04 (8-ports)3 (6-ports)
IEEE 139410
Serial Port01
Parallel Port00
Ultra ATA-1331 (2-drives)1 (2-drives)
SATA 3 Gb/s76
4-Pin Fan51
3-Pin Fan05
S/PDIF I/OOutput OnlyNone
Power ButtonYesYes
Reset ButtonYesYes
CLR_CMOS ButtonJumper OnlyYes (by PWR+RST)
Diagnostics PanelExternal Device Header2-Character
I/O Panel Connectors
USB 2.046
IEEE 139410
CLR_CMOS ButtonYesBy Jumper
Digital Audio Out12
Digital Audio In00
Analog Audio66
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA6x SATA 3.0 Gb/s6x SATA 3.0 Gb/s
Chipset RAID Modes0, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 10
Add-In SATAJMB363 PCIe, 1x SATA 3.0 Gb/s, 1x eSATA 3.0 Gb/sNone
Add-In Ultra ATAJMB363 PCIeJMB368 PCIe
IEEE 1394VT6315N PCIe, 2 x 400 Mb/sNone
Gigabit Ethernet
Primary LANRTL8111C PCIe88E8053 PCIe
Secondary LANNoneNone
HD Audio CodecAD2000BALC889
Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • IzzyCraft
    Shame the DFI board didn't do better it help shut up people going where is the Rampage II gene in the Builders marathon.

    Although this review let me have a little more respect for the board I'm still asus and gigabyte all the way.
  • Proximon
    Really nice article! BIOS screenshots are so important when helping someone configure their board on line, and we do a lot of that around here. I thought you hit all the major points and I especially like the conclusion format.
  • andy_mcp1
    Great article. About time the facts were laid on the table. I've not quite got to upgrading to I7 M-Atx yet, but got an Asus P5E-VM (not the best admittedly) and an E8400 which on air is oc'd to 4.1Ghz stable (for the past 8 months), which I’ve on countless occasions used to show my mates who have full atx systems that bigger isn’t always better as my 3dmark and pcmark scores were better than theirs (of comparable full sized board builds).

    Good point, and I agree, that the hardest thing for the market is for those who have idealisms that the atx board with the most slots are best, have to admit that this not the case, that they don’t need and wont likely use them. It’s about time technology moved on and we start shrinking the components. We've come a long way from house sized computers but seems to have got stuck with fridge-sized atx, time to change that and join the 21st century!
  • doomtomb
    The prices between the DFI and Asus are nearly the same, a difference of $20 or $30. The Asus Rampage II Gene wins it in my opinion.
  • SpadeM
    For me, it's about the features and backplate I/O ports not the performance, when it comes to motherboards with the same chipset. The differences between them is so little that it doesn't matter in real life. Plus given the fat that motherboards, like processors, aren't identical I might get one that performs lower/better then what's in this review.
  • Crashman
    IzzyCraftShame the DFI board didn't do better it help shut up people going where is the Rampage II gene in the Builders marathon.Although this review let me have a little more respect for the board I'm still asus and gigabyte all the way.
    Really, the reason the Rampage II Gene wasn't considered for the $2500 PC is that it didn't show up under a Newegg category search (LGA-1366, Micro ATX) and Newegg didn't fix that until this week. It's a good board, and if you need a weird cooler style, supports the more popular LGA-775 coolers.
  • atamanroman
    I like it that uatx is getting more and more attention, since my own i7 uatx cube project is only a few weeks away.

    but im missing the MSI X58M (160€ best prive vs 198€ asus and 190 dfi) here, theres a great review at anandtech. the board really rocks and has only a few weak points (fan control and s3 wake up problem if overclocked). i think ppl would be glad if the msi could be added to this comparison.

    best regards,
  • zehpavora
    Very good article, but I think that the components chosen should be from the same time frame, because I think that the P6T is "too old" compared to the GENE board. Maybe the P6T V2 would be a better idea. Now I fear the Mini-ATXs.
  • avatar_raq
    Nice article..I wonder if you were planning on it for a while or you wrote it in response to our comments in the SBM..And yeah it showed what I always expect from ASUS; top notch mobos.
    P eople go for a full atx build simply because they can (:P), and because larger cases offer better cooling especially for SLI and CF, it's much easier to build and, other than portability, there is no real advantage of a micro-atx build, even the price difference is not worth it in my opinion. But the article does a good job of showing that u-atx boards can be excellent performers.
  • Onus
    Excellent article. Any differences between those boards are molehills, not mountains.
    Personally, I'd probably give up a tiny bit of performance for the more noteworthy reduction in power used by DFI; I like the cooler flexibility of the Asus though. It would be a tough call.