Six $200-$260 LGA 2011 Motherboards, Reviewed

Biostar TPower X79

Often perceived as a contender for extracting some of the best overclocking value, Biostar stepped its game up a bit with its TPower X79 by providing twice as many USB 3.0 ports compared to most competitors. We find six of those connectors on the I/O panel and two available via front-panel header.

Biostar's customers aren’t even forced to give up a bunch of other features to get those extra ports, since the board still features a third-party SATA/eSATA controller, three PCIe 3.0 x16 slots electrically wired to run at x16-x16-x8, a Port 80 diagnostics display for overclocking failure analysis, and integrated power/reset/CLR_CMOS buttons for bench testing.

The TPower X79 even has two high-capacity EPS12V connectors to feed its mid-capacity voltage regulator. Perhaps the most significant compromise is a quartet of memory slots, giving you one shot to grab the quad-channel kit you need and no room for an upgrade. With a Web price of only $230, that sacrifice is fairly small in exchange for such a wide range of added controllers.

Unfortunately, installing a third graphics card will be problematic for performance enthusiasts, since the extra-stiff USB 3.0 front-panel connectors of most cases block the installation of most cards. As with Asus' board, two-way CrossFire and SLI are preferred, and Biostar provides an extra space between the top two x16 slots to assist airflow between a pair of boards.

Competitors could learn a thing from Biostar about low-cost installation kits, as the TPower X79 includes six SATA cables to support all of the chipset’s native ports. But perhaps Biostar could also learn something from ASRock, the company that enables three-way SLI with a bundled bridge and smarter header placement. The TPower X79 is almost exclusively focused on dual-card graphics configurations, though going the single-GPU route is certainly an option too.

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  • 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.
  • hellfire24
    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!!!
  • Achoo22
    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?
  • bartholomew
    ASRock has come a long way!
  • AlexIsAlex
    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.
  • americanbrian
    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 ?
  • crisan_tiberiu
    ASRock = ASUS :)
  • KT_WASP
    crisan_tiberiuASRock = ASUS


    not anymore, asrock is no longer affiliated with Asus and is owned by Pegatron Corp.
  • memadmax
    I wish tom's would do a "best motherboards for the money" or something close to that.
  • Pegatron sounds like a merger between PegASUS + Megatron (or something like that).
  • wysiwygbill
    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.
  • ubercake
    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?
  • josejones
    I'm looking forward to the review of several z77 motherboards. The x79's are far too expensive.
  • csm101
    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.
  • Crashman
    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.
  • bigdragon
    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.
  • tiger6k
    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?
  • bigdragon
    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.
  • Crashman
    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.
  • xtreme5
    asrock look fast....
  • RedJaron
    I've been pleased with my Z68 ASRock board. Happy to see them keeping things up.

    A few things about mboards in general still bug me.

    Why continue to sport the coax digital audio? Am I the only person that doesn't use one? If they want to shave manufacturing costs, that's the first thing I'd ditch ( leave the fiber, of course. )

    I think the IEEE 1394 can be phased out too. With eSATA and USB 3.0 for external drives and devices, how prevalent IS FireWire at this point, specifically to the enthusiast market? I'd easily prefer an additional eSATA port, especially a powered one.

    And again, maybe I'm the oddball, but does anyone really need more than six USB ports ( or even four in many cases, ) on the back of their box? A keyboard, a mouse, a printer, and a scanner ( though those two are quickly becoming combined, ) still leaves two ports open. And with the number of monitors that have USB hubs on them, you can move your keyboard and mouse there. Between front USB jacks, and those on my monitor I've usually got four ports available for flash drives, headsets, my Zune, or anything else that needs a temporary connection. If I'm missing something critical, I'm welcome to learn what, but these boards that offer 8+ ports on the back don't make a lot of sense to me. Again, you could cut them out to save money or put something else more usable in its place.

    And please, please, PLEASE include more than two PWM fan jacks on the board! Yes, my ASRock has a lot of fan control in the UEFI for the 3-pin connectors, but they're still left at a static speed. Two CPU fans and two case fans should be the minimum consideration for an enthusiast board, even the budget enthusiast. I applaud Asus and MSI for doing giving better PWM fan support.
  • jaquith
    Great review Thomas! :)

    I guess we all have our likes, dislikes and 'hot button's' - I've got a thing for non 8xDIMM x79's. However, if you're going to spend $600~$1,000 on just the CPU, in this article $1,000 i7-3960X, then why not spend a little more on a MOBO that completely suites your needs; no compromises. Examples: ASUS R4E, R4F, or P9X79 WS.

    On LGA 2011, +$100~+$180 is nothing in a $2,500~$3,500+ (often much higher) build cost. Budgets go out the window with extreme builds. Ferrari engine with a Camry chassis.

    In contrast, this article IMO is best suited for the 4-core i7-3820. If that were the case then yep all this makes a lot of sense, and offers excellent value choices. The i7-3820 with a strap of 133Mhz can easily keep up with it's 6-core big brothers; 43x * 133MHz goes far above it's vCore limits.

    Then there's the 'acceptable' vCore debate 1.35v, 1.38v...1.4v...1.5Xv; I have only seen confirmed degrading using 1.5Xv vCore's.
  • RedJaron
    478634 said:
    I wish tom's would do a "best motherboards for the money" or something close to that.

    Harder to do. GPUs, HDDs, SSDs, even CPUs have very specific tasks thrown at them so it's pretty easy to compare products in the same price range.

    With mboards you've got a lot more variables with the feature sets ( form factor, CPU interface, connectivity options, internal jack headers, RAM slots, PCI slot count, PCIe 2.0 vs 3.0, etc. ) The $250 point will get you a stripped down X79 board or a very high-end Z68 / AM3+ board. Each serves a different purpose so rating one as "best" is misleading. You'd need roundups based on at least CPU type and possibly form factor ( ATX, micro, extended, ) and market groups ( extreme, budget enthusiast, office / productivity, HTPC, etc. ) That leaves a lot of separate "Best Of" categories.

    Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see something like this as well, but a basic list of award winners might be the best to hope for right now.
  • lp231
    KT_WASPnot anymore, asrock is no longer affiliated with Asus and is owned by Pegatron Corp.

    Even they're not affiliated with Asus anymore, the guys that created ASRock were once part of Asus.
    Notice how the 'AS' in ASRock is almost identical to the AS in ASus