Seven $260-$320 X79 Express Motherboards, Reviewed

LGA 2011 Motherboards, Just A Little Cheaper

When Intel launched its Sandy Bridge-E-based processors and platform, the company sampled its $1000 processor exclusively. Certainly the top-end Core i7-3960X is a worthy successor to the Gulftown-based Core i7-990X that it replaces.

As we all know, though, paying a premium to get that flagship part isn't the direction most enthusiasts go. Instead, it's more common to buy down the stack and overclock, extracting real value from less-expensive parts. Last generation, it was common to see power users buying pricey motherboards and affordable Core i7-900-series chips, turning them into 4+ GHz speed demons.

Intel's new high-end platform is no different. The Core i7-3930K is a much more attractive high-performance prospect than the -3960X. And now that we've seen what a -3930K can do, we're ready to have a look at some of the less expensive LGA 2011-based motherboards more appropriate for the second-fastest CPU's more attainable price tag.

As we wait for Intel to push its least-expensive Core i7-3000 CPU into retail, today's round-up sees seven mid-priced motherboards put to the test.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
X79 Motherboard Features
Row 0 - Cell 0 ASRock X79 Extreme6/GBAsus P9X79 ProECS X79R-AXFoxconn Quantumian-1
PCB Revision1.
ChipsetIntel X79 ExpressIntel X79 ExpressIntel X79 ExpressIntel X79 Express
Voltage Regulator12 Phases10 Phases14 Phases14 Phases
BIOSP1.00 (12/16/2011)0802 (11/15/2011)79R1B29A (11/29/2011)B47F1P01 (11/01/2011)
100.0 MHz BCLK100.0 (+0.00%)100.1 (+0.10%)99.8 (-0.2%)100.0 (+0.00%)
Internal Interfaces
PCIe 3.0 x163 (x16/x16/x8)4 (x16/x0/x8/x16 or x16/x8/x8/x8)4 (x16/x0/x16/x0 or x8/x8/x8/x8)4 (x16/x8/x16/x0 or x16/x8/x8/x8)
PCIe 2.0 x16NoneNoneNoneNone
PCIe x1/x41/02/02/01/0
Legacy PCI2NoneNone1
USB 2.03 (6-ports)3 (6-ports)2 (4-ports)2 (4-ports)
USB 3.01 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)
Serial Port1None1None
Parallel PortNoneNoneNoneNone
SATA 6.0 Gb/s5484
SATA 3.0 Gb/s4444
4-Pin Fan2621
3-Pin Fan4None35
S/PDIF I/OOutput OnlyOutput OnlyOutput OnlyOutput Only
Power ButtonYesYesYesYes
Reset ButtonYesYesYesYes
CLR_CMOS ButtonNoYesNoNo
Diagnostics PanelNumericNumericNumericNumeric
I/O Panel Connectors
P/S 22None11
USB 3.04442
USB 2.04666
eSATA12 (Powered)22
CLR_CMOS ButtonYesYesYesYes
Digital Audio OutOptical + CoaxialOpticalOpticalOptical + Coaxial
Digital Audio InNoneNoneNoneNone
Analog Audio6 (Onboard) +4 (Card)656
Other DevicesNoneBluetooth V2.1+EDRBluetooth V2.1+EDR 802.11b/g/n WiFiNone
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/s 4 x SAS 6Gb/s2 x SATA 6Gb/s 4 x SATA 3Gb/s
Chipset RAID Modes0, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 10
Add-In SATA2 x ASM1061 PCIe3 x SATA 6Gb/s1 x eSATA 6Gb/s88SE9128 PCIe 2 x SATA 6Gb/sASM1061 PCIe2 x eSATA 6Gb/s2 x ASM1061 PCIe2 x SATA 6Gb/s2 x eSATA 6Gb/sASM1061 PCIe2 x SATA 6Gb/sJMB362 PCIe2 x eSATA 3Gb/s
USB 3.01 x TUSB7340 PCIe 1 x ASM1042 PCIe2 x ASM1042 PCIe 1 x VL810 4-Port Hub1 x TUSB7340 PCIe 1 x TUSB7320 PCIe2 x D720200F1 PCIe
IEEE-1394VT6315N PCIe 2 x 400 Mb/sNoneNoneNone
Gigabit Ethernet
Primary LANBCM57781 PCIeWG82579V PHYRTL8111E PCIeWG82579V PHY
Secondary LANBCM57781 PCIe (Card)NoneRTL8111E PCIeRTL8111E PCIe
HD Audio CodecALC898 (Onboard) Core3D PCIe (Card)ALC898ALC892ALC892
DDL/DTS ConnectNot SpecifiedDTS ConnectNot SpecifiedNot Specified
Row 51 - Cell 0 Three Years

Swipe to scroll horizontally
X79 Motherboard Features
Row 0 - Cell 0 Gigabyte X79-UD3Intel DX79SIMSI X79A-GD65 8D
PCB Revision1.011.1
ChipsetIntel X79 ExpressIntel X79 ExpressIntel X79 Express
Voltage RegulatorNine PhasesEight Phases12 Phases
BIOSF4 (11/21/2011)SI0380P (11/28/2011)V1.3 (11/22/2011)
100.0 MHz BCLK100.0 (+0.00%)100.0 (+0.00%)100.0 (+0.00%)
Internal Interfaces
PCIe 3.0 x164 (x16/x8/x16/x0 or x16/x8/x8/x8)3 (x16/x16/x8)3 (x16/x16/x8)
PCIe 2.0 x16NoneNone2 (x1/x1)
PCIe x1/x42/02/01/0
Legacy PCI11None
USB 2.03 (6-ports)4 (8-ports)2 (4-ports)
USB 3.01 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)
Serial Port1NoneNone
Parallel PortNoneNoneNone
SATA 6.0 Gb/s624
SATA 3.0 Gb/s442
4-Pin Fan345
3-Pin Fan2NoneNone
S/PDIF I/OOutput OnlyOutput OnlyNone
Power ButtonNoYesYes
Reset ButtonNoYesNo
Diagnostics PanelNoneNumericNumeric
I/O Panel Connectors
P/S 21None1
USB 3.0222
USB 2.0868
CLR_CMOS ButtonNoBack to BIOSYes
Digital Audio OutOptical + CoaxialOpticalOptical + Coaxial
Digital Audio InNoneNoneNone
Analog Audio656
Other DevicesNoneNoneNone
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/s
Chipset RAID Modes0, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 10
Add-In SATA3 x 88SE9172 PCIe4 x SATA 6Gb/s 2 x eSATA 6Gb/sNoneASM1061 PCIe2 x SATA 6Gb/s
USB 3.02 x FL1009-2Q0 PCIe2 x D720200F1 PCIe2 x D720200F1 PCIe
IEEE-1394NoneVT6315N PCIe 2 x 400 Mb/sVT6315N PCIe 2 x 400 Mb/s
Gigabit Ethernet
Primary LANWG82579V PHYWG82579LM PHYWG82579V PHY
Secondary LANNoneWG82574L PCIeNone
HD Audio CodecALC898ALC892ALC892
DDL/DTS ConnectNot SpecifiedNot SpecifiedNot Specified
Row 51 - Cell 0 Three Years

The Trouble With Overclocking

Between the Tom's Hardware editors, we have several Sandy Bridge-E-based chips. Editor-in-chief Chris Angelini has a Core i7-3820, -3930K, and two -3960Xs, Don Woligroski has a Core i7-3960X, and I have three Core i7-3960X processors. Two are C0 processors, but the other represents the retail-class C1 stepping. Naturally, that's the one most representative of what you'll find on shelves.

Unfortunately, not all processors are created equal, even within the same stepping. Furthermore, not all flaws qualify as show-stopping defects. After receiving a second unlocked processor that wouldn't take a manual multiplier adjustment on a majority of motherboards, we contacted the first engineer we could find for a full diagnosis.

Simply increasing the multiplier causes both this C1 processor and Don's to hang while loading Windows 7, even when trying to boot from the Windows 7 DVD. A few changes to the power settings prevents UEFI initialization, and a few additional power management changes sees some motherboards to read the processor at 91° Celsius, the point at which it throttles. On most platforms, the only multiplier range that works starts at the lowest Intel Turbo Boost ratio (36x) and goes downward.

Our friendly engineer then started testing every processor he could get his hands on and noted that around 1 out of 40 C1-stepping samples exhibited the same behavior. Not willing to settle on a single source, we went on to contact the representative of a second motherboard manufacturer and, without reporting the information from the first, were told that approximately 2% of Intel’s retail C1-based processors exhibit the same behavior. Rather than split hairs over the exact number of affected chips, we searched the Internet to find two overclockers who reported the same problem to online forums with their retail builds.

Both of our processors work perfectly at default settings. So, they can't be returned for replacements under warranty, even though their elevated multipliers don't work. One of our CPUs still manages to hit 4.4 GHz using BCLK adjustments. The other stretches as high as 4.7 GHz at 1.35 V. Since the flaw is out there, in the wild, we proceeded with our testing using the better of the two C1-based chips. When necessary, we used the BCLK to hit highest stable frequency on each motherboard.

Now that C2-stepping processors are becoming available, you can look forward to us trying our luck with Intel's new stepping in our next round-up.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • Crashman
    Update: C2 CPU is now here!
  • jprahman
    So when will we see results with a C2?
  • Crashman
    jprahmanSo when will we see results with a C2?It's going to take around a month to prepare another I guess good news comes with bad news, sorry.
  • amuffin
    :o foxconn boards are pretty good.
  • Crashman
    amuffinfoxconn boards are pretty good.They've been making decent enthusiast boards on-and-off for a while.
  • morne
    Quick coment on looks only (I know its specs that count not looks but oh well)
    ASRock X79 Extreme6/GB - very nice all black looks better than gigabytes atempt
    Asus P9X79 Pro - new baby blue they use on all the boards... not for me
    ECS X79R-AX - looks like my old pentium 2 board with the white slots
    Foxconn Quantumian-1 - i like i like gives a feeling of the ROG ASUS boards
    Gigabyte X79-UD3 - rip of from the ASRock X79 Extreme6/GB (lol) plus the southbridge heatsink looks old fasion and ugly.
    Intel DX79SI - now this board for me looks good actualy more than good looks the best :) must be the scull lol
    MSI X79A-GD65 8D - also very nice love the blue + Black.

    If you have one of the boards and i insulted it, wasnt the intention, just my view of the board>

  • stingstang
    My only question is.. Why do you guys need 6 freaking $1050 processors? Good golly gosh!
  • ubercake
    Great descriptive article.

    One thing I'm not sure of is the acceptance and actual usage of eSATA. While practical at some level, is anyone actually using this MB feature or is this one of those things the MB producers can skip out on like parallel and serial ports? I'm not sure enthusiasts are all that into using their eSATA ports?

    Personally, I think this is one of those money saving opportunities MB producers should consider.
  • geekapproved
    After the X58 anal pounding, you would be a moron to buy a X79. It's life is predicted to be even shorter than X58.
  • morne
    Actualy i agree with you ubercake, i have never used my E-sata, and with usb 3.0 out doubt anyone still uses E-sata if they have before.