Which X79-Based Motherboard Offers More Value?
Today’s motherboards range from Intel’s $210 DX79TO to a $260 price shared by Asus, MSI, and ECS. Gigabyte’s X79A-UD3 might have also fit within our qualifying range, had its board not already been used for our $260 to $320 roundup. If you want to know more about the Gigabyte platform, check out Seven $260-$320 X79 Express Motherboards, Reviewed.
Because all of today’s boards exhibit similar performance, a price-per-performance chart primarily reflects price.
For $5 more than Intel's baseline, ASRock’s X79 Extreme4 adds three-way SLI, front-panel USB 3.0, rear-panel digital ports, twice as many analog audio jacks, three more SATA ports, and eSATA. While all of those features are worth several times as much as the price difference, we're left wondering how much money ASRock saved by leaving out the second set of DIMM slots.
Biostar’s TPower X79 goes a step further by integrating four more USB 3.0 ports compared to the X79 Extreme4. It still has only a single set of memory slots, however, and we’re unhappy to find its front-panel USB 3.0 header located less than one space below its third graphics slot. While most builders at this budget level don’t plan to use three graphics cards, we like to leave that option available when the slots are there. Furthermore, the TPower X79 is an extraordinarily troublesome overclocker. All of these things diminish the value of its added peripheral connectivity, compelling us to choose between ASRock and Intel.
Asus’ P9X79 splits the difference between the two most value-oriented boards by offering four rear-panel USB 3.0 ports but—strangely—no front-panel USB 3.0 headers. The board also comes up two SATA ports shy of the X79 Extreme4, and its super-valuable USB BIOS Flashback feature is so infrequently needed that it alone can’t justify its significantly-higher $260 price.
Nobody needs a win right now more than MSI, and the firm does beat its competitors with impressive efficiency. Like the TPower X79, MSI’s X79A-GD45 also has the problem of an unfortunately-placed front-panel USB 3.0 header. Anyone who knows for certain that they’ll never place a conflicting card in the bottom PCI Express slot should consider its superb efficiency as a reason to buy, though we find it hard to justify a $45 mark-up (compared to the similarly-featured X79 Extreme4) for its second set of memory slots.
ECS’ X79R-AX Deluxe faces several challenges compared to the competition, beginning with the fact that it was the only board to require a firmware update simply to support our new CPU. Anyone who orders a new processor with this board could potentially suffer the same fate. This is one of those instances where a feature similar to Asus’ USB BIOS Flashback could truly be useful, but ECS doesn’t have it. That could explain why the X79R-AX Deluxe is out-of-stock everywhere we looked.
This leads us back to a race between ASRock’s X79 Extreme4’s added features and the extra memory slots provided by Intel’s DX79TO. We could try to use the DX79TO’s higher efficiency to offset its lack of front-panel USB 3.0 support, but we prefer to have both. We were also disappointed that Intel chose to use only 32 of the CPU's 40 PCIe lanes by leaving off the third graphics slot. Add superior CPU overclocking to its superior feature set, and ASRock’s X79 Extreme4 takes the value crown.