Six $200-$260 LGA 2011 Motherboards, Reviewed

We know that Intel's X79 Express platform hosts the fastest desktop processors in the company's portfolio. But can it be made more affordable? We round up the least-expensive $200-$260 motherboards to determine how much you have to give up for cheap X79.

Motherboard designers can approach cost-cutting from several different angles. They can selectively lop off certain features or change their layouts, facilitating fewer PCB layers. They can pare back value-added bundles or even offer mail-in rebates that a majority of folks never take the time to redeem. We've seen these approaches work really well on mainstream platforms, and we're sometimes surprised to find exceptional reliability persisting, despite the need to shave off precious dollars and cents. But Intel's LGA 2011 interface is a different animal entirely. Its four memory channels feed a complex processor, which attaches to a more expensive PCH. Together, that all results in a higher starting price for Core i7-3000-compatible motherboards.

And then you have to take the cost of Intel's processors into account. Even the lowest-end Core i7-3820 is expected to sell for close to $300, and that's a quad-core mode. Consequently, we can't expect too many enthusiasts to tolerate a cut-down, incomplete motherboard to complement any Sandy Bridge-E-based chip. 

Pricing and quality expectations come to a head in the sub-$260 LGA 2011 market, where some buyers will certainly wonder why an entry-level board still costs $100 more than LGA 1155-based platforms with seemingly similar on-board extras. 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.

X79 Motherboard Features
 ASRock X79
Extreme4
Asus
P9X79
Biostar
TPower X79
PCB Revision1.031.015.0
ChipsetIntel X79 ExpressIntel X79 ExpressIntel X79 Express
Voltage RegulatorEight Phases10 PhasesSix Phases
BIOSP1.70 (02/02/2012)0906 (12/22/2011)X79AE118 (01/18/2012)
100.0 MHz BCLK100.0 MHz (+0.00%)100.1 MHz (+0.10%)100.0 MHz (+0.00%)
Internal Interfaces
PCIe 3.0 x163 (x16/x16/x8)3 (x16/x16/x8)3 (x16/x16/x8)
PCIe 2.0 x16NoneNoneNone
PCIe x1/x42/02/02/0
Legacy PCI211
USB 2.03 (6-ports)4 (8-ports)2 (4-ports)
USB 3.01 (2-ports)None1 (2-ports)
IEEE-13941NoneNone
Serial Port111
Parallel PortNoneNoneNone
SATA 6.0 Gb/s523
SATA 3.0 Gb/s444
4-Pin Fan261
3-Pin Fan4None2
FP-Audio111
S/PDIF I/OOutput OnlyOutput OnlyOutput Only
Power ButtonYesNoYes
Reset ButtonYesNoYes
CLR_CMOS ButtonNoNoYes
Diagnostics PanelNumericPass/Fail LEDNumeric
I/O Panel Connectors
P/S 2211
USB 3.0246
USB 2.0662
IEEE-139411None
NetworkSingleSingleSingle
eSATA12 (1-Powered)1 (Powered)
CLR_CMOS ButtonYesYesNo
Digital Audio OutOptical + CoaxialOpticalOptical + Coaxial
Digital Audio InNoneNoneNone
Analog Audio666
Other DevicesNoneNoneNone
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA2 x SATA 6Gb/s
4 x SATA 3Gb/s
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
4 x SATA 3Gb/s
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
4 x SATA 3Gb/s
Chipset RAID Modes0, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 10
Add-In SATA2 x ASM1061 PCIe
3 x SATA 6Gb/s
1 x eSATA 6Gb/s
ASM1061 PCIe
2 x eSATA 6Gb/s
ASM1061 PCIe
1 x SATA 6Gb/s
1 x eSATA 6Gb/s
USB 3.02 x ASM1042 PCIe2 x ASM1042 PCIe4 x ASM1042 PCIe
IEEE-1394VT6315N PCIe
2 x 400 Mb/s
VT6315N PCIeNone
Gigabit Ethernet
Primary LANBCM57781 PCIeWG82579V PHYRTL8111E PCIe
Secondary LANNoneNoneNone
Audio
HD Audio CodecALC898ALC892ALC898
DDL/DTS ConnectNot SpecifiedDTS ConnectNot Specified

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X79 Motherboard Features
 ECS X79R-AX
Black Deluxe
Intel
DX79TO
MSI X79A-
GD45 8D
PCB Revision1.012.0
ChipsetIntel X79 ExpressIntel X79 ExpressIntel X79 Express
Voltage RegulatorSeven PhasesSix PhasesEight Phases
BIOS79D1B29A (11/29/2011)SI0424P (01/27/2012)V10.2 (01/31/2011)
100.0 MHz BCLK100.0 MHz (+0.00%)100.0 MHz (+0.00%)100.0 MHz (+0.00%)
Internal Interfaces
PCIe 3.0 x164 (x16/x0/x16/x0
or x8/x8/x8/x8)
2 (x16/x16)3 (x16/x16/x8)
PCIe 2.0 x16NoneNone2 (x1/x1)
PCIe x1/x42/03/01/0
Legacy PCINone1None
USB 2.02 (4-ports)4 (8-ports)2 (4-ports)
USB 3.01 (2-ports)None1 (2-ports)
IEEE-1394None1None
Serial Port1None1
Parallel PortNoneNoneNone
SATA 6.0 Gb/s622
SATA 3.0 Gb/s444
4-Pin Fan245
3-Pin Fan3NoneNone
FP-Audio111
S/PDIF I/OOutput OnlyNoneNone
Power ButtonNoYesYes
Reset ButtonNoYesNo
CLR_CMOS ButtonNoNoNo
Diagnostics PanelNoneNumericNone
I/O Panel Connectors
P/S 21None2
USB 3.0422
USB 2.0666
IEEE-1394None1None
NetworkSingleSingleSingle
eSATANoneNoneNone
CLR_CMOS ButtonNoBack to BIOSYes
Digital Audio OutOpticalNoneOptical + Coaxial
Digital Audio InNoneNoneNone
Analog Audio536
Other DevicesNoneNoneNone
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA2 x SATA 6Gb/s
4 x SATA 3Gb/s
4 x SAS 6Gb/s
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
4 x SATA 3Gb/s
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
4 x SATA 3Gb/s
Chipset RAID Modes0, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 10
Add-In SATANoneNoneNone
USB 3.0TUSB7340 PCIe
TUSB7320 PCIe
D720200F1 PCIe2 x D720200F1 PCIe
IEEE-1394NoneVT6315N PCIeNone
Gigabit Ethernet
Primary LANRTL8111E PCIeWG82579LM PHYWG82579V PHY
Secondary LANNoneNoneNone
Audio
HD Audio CodecALC892ALC892ALC892
DDL/DTS ConnectNot SpecifiedNot SpecifiedNot Specified


Feature tables tell a lot about what each motherboard offers. But design and implementation make some features more valuable than others. We’re now ready to examine and detail the design, performance, and overclocking capabilities of these six not-quite-economical products.

Before we move on to the next page, though, we want to point out that, finally, all six of these vendors are on-board with similar three-year warranties, satisfying our former criticisms about a lack of value in the form of support.