Six $200-$260 LGA 2011 Motherboards, Reviewed

ECS X79R-AX Black Deluxe

ECS' X79-based branding is a little strange. Its “Black Extreme” moniker applies to a high-end part labeled X79R-AX, while its “Black Deluxe” moniker goes to the mid-range part officially called the X79R-AX Deluxe. Those official names come from both the company's Web site and the descriptor labels applied to its boxes. In other words, the Deluxe is a lower-end model than the non-Deluxe, and the word Extreme rarely appears on the top-end variant. In order to keep things simple, we’re ignoring the word Black and going by the label’s official X79R-AX Deluxe designator.

Deluxe could refer to the board’s support for four graphics cards, its four rear and two front-panel USB 3.0 ports, or perhaps its quad SAS 6Gb/s connectors. Two of those features are unique amongst today's contenders.

Pathway switches allow the X79R-AX Deluxe to go from two full-bandwidth PCIe 3.0 x16 links to four x8 connectors by sending eight of each grey slot’s lanes to the corresponding white slot. That only happens when the switches detect a card in the white slot, though.

Of course, four-card arrays aren't for everyone, and they may not even be for anyone shopping in the X79R-AX Deluxe's price range. They certainly can't be used if you also want front-panel USB 3.0 support, since the front-panel header is placed too closely to the fourth graphics slot for a card and a cable to coexist. Three-way CrossFire is still a solid possibility, but the slots are most suitably situated to support two really big graphics coolers.

The CPU’s remaining eight lanes of third-gen PCIe are reserved for on-board devices, with four of them providing a communications pathway for the PCH's SAS controller. These are the same ports Intel decided to disable on desktops, and ECS was the only manufacturer to enable them anyway. These must be enabled in both firmware and by Intel drivers supplied by ECS. Mixed tales of triumph and tragedy have been attributed to the use of these ports, and the tragedies are mostly likely related to the fact that Intel decided not to support them.

In the days to come, Intel will introduce the server/workstation version of this same PCH, which will be largely identical to the desktop version, aside from its name. That'll be the product to look to for official Intel SAS support.

The X79R-AX Deluxe officially supports six drives and actually includes six SATA cables. ECS adds a single SLI bridge. You'll need to look to your graphics vendor for a CrossFire bridge.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • 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
    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 :)
    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).