Asus P67 Sabertooth Motherboard Review – Built to survive almost anything

Posted Mar 17, 2011
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Imagine if you will a company decides to design a motherboard that will survive in a war zone. It populates the board with military grade components and even bundles the test report which attests this together with the board. It even goes as far as to provide an armor cover over the motherboard to ‘enhance’ cooling. Many would call of this gimmickry on the scale larger than Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. The company in question is Asus, the number one motherboard maker in the world. Is Asus’s use of exotic components and armor which alleges to improve cooling legitimate? Read on to find out

The Asus TUF series: Salient Features & Features Unique to P67 Sabertooth

Sabertooth P67 is not the first Sabertooth board. There exists a P55 and an X58 variant. This is what Asus says about its Sabertooth “TUF” series boards:

The TUF series delivers a “tough” image. With the unique design & high quality components (military-standard), TUF series is born for pursuing the preeminent stability, all-round compatibility, and extreme durability.”

What basically constitutes a “TUF” design is the use of special ‘military’ grade component in the form of capacitors, chokes and Mosfets. They are especially designed to work in higher ambient temperatures, work with less harmonic distortions, less susceptible to frequency oscillations and provide more current. According to Asus the ‘Tuf’ chokes supports 40 amps of current which is 25% more than conventional chokes.

Features that are unique to the P67 Sabertooth board as compared to the rest of the series include:

1. Thermal Armor: A plastic like cover over the motherboard that helps isolate and dissipate heat. Works best with a top down cooler or with a tower cooler and an assist fan.

2. Thermal Radar: 12 sensors are strategically located on the motherboard that measure and report temperature via AI Suite II. These work in conjunction with thermal armor to regulate fan speed and display temperature warnings.

3. Efficient Switching Power (ESP) Design: Switching power allows for finer control of power distribution. If a component requires only x watts, it will only be provided with this much power, rather than all the power the component can maximally draw. This reduces heat generation and improves efficiency.

4. DIGI+ VRM: Though not unique to the Sabertooth series, the components used in the DIGI+ voltage regulation modules for this board do make this stand out from the rest of the Asus p67 crowd. This board has an 8 phase power regulation to the processor and 2 phase regulation to the memory. Some might be surprised to learn that the power regulation on the plain vanilla p67 boards from Asus have a 12+2 design. Heck even Maximum IV Extreme (M4E) has an 8 phase CPU power design. What gives? The answer is quiet simple! The components used on this board (as well as the M4E) can regulate more power than the run of the mill components found on other boards. Thus the 8+2 design either meets or exceeds the performance of the 12+2 design used on other boards. The digital architecture reduces signal noise and energy consumption.

Features Unique to Asus P67 boards:
The following features are not exclusive to the Sabertooth line of boards and can be found on other p67 boards manufactured by Asus:

1. Mem OK! This nifty button on the board allows one to the boot the board with modules that are apparently incompatible.

2. Extra SATA Ports: The p67 chipset supports 4 Sata 2nd generation and 4 Sata 3rd generation ports. Asus uses a Marvell controller to provide two additional Sata 3rd generation ports.

3. USB 3.0: The motherboard not only includes rear panel USB ports, it also includes motherboard connectors for front USB ports. However a front USB header is not provided for these ports.

MOTHERBOARD SPECIFICATION

PROCESSOR:

Intel® Socket 1155 for Intel® 2nd Generation Core™ i7 Processor/Core™ i5 Processor/Core™ i3 Processor/
Support Intel® 32nm CPU

Supports Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0



CHIPSET:

Intel® P67Express Chipset

MEMORY:

4 x DIMM, Max. 32 GB, DDR3 1866/1800/1600/1333/1066 Non-ECC, Un-buffered Memory

Dual Channel memory architecture

Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)

EXPANSION SLOTS:

2 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (single at x16 or dual at x8/x8 mode)

3 x PCIe 2.0 x1

1 x PCI

MULTI GPU:

Supports NVIDIA® Quad-GPU SLI™ Technology

Supports ATI® Quad-GPU Cross-Fire-X™ Technology

STORAGE:

Intel® P67(B3) Express Chipset

2x SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports (brown)

4x SATA 3Gb/s ports (black)

Intel® Rapid Storage Technology Support RAID 0,1,5,10

Marvell® PCIe SATA 6Gb/s controller

2x SATA 6Gb/s ports (gray)

JMicron® JMB362 SATA controller

1x Power eSATA 3Gb/s port (green)

1 external SATA 3Gb/s port (red)

LAN:

Intel® 82579 Gigabit LAN

AUDIO:

Realtek® ALC892 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC

– Absolute Pitch 192khz/24bit True BD Lossless Sound

– BD Audio Layer Content Protection

– Supports Jack-Detection, Multi-streaming, and Front Panel Jack-sensing

– Optical S/PDIF out port at back I/O

IEEE 1394:

IA® VT6308P controller supports 2 x 1394a port(s)

USB:

NEC USB 3.0 controllers

– 4 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports (2 ports at mid-board for front panel support; 2 ports at back panel [blue])

Intel® P67(B3) Express Chipset

– 14 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports (6 ports at mid-board, 8 ports at back panel)

BACK PANEL:

1 x PS/2 Keyboard/Mouse Combo port

1 x External SATA 3Gb/s port (red)

1 x Power eSATA 3Gb/s port (green)

1 x IEEE 1394a

1 x LAN(RJ45) port(s)

2 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports (blue)

8 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports

1 x S/PDIF Out (Optical)

8 -Channel Audio I/O

ACCESSORIES:

User’s manual

2 x SATA 3.0Gb/s cables

2 x SATA 6.0Gb/s cables

1 x Q-Shield

1 x Q-Connector (2 in 1)

1 x ASUS SLI bridge cable

1 x TUF Certification card

1 x TUF 5 Year Warranty manual (by region)

4 x screws for Assistant Fan

INTEL P67 PLATFORM CONTROLLER HUB

The p67 is not exactly a chipset. It is no longer the north bridge as the memory controller is now on the processor. In its new role it acts as the platform controller hub (PCH). It provides USB 2.0 connectivity. The USB 3.0 connectivity is not native to the p67, but comes from an independent NEC controller on all p67 boards that support USB 3.0 (read all of em!). It provides SATA 2nd and 3rd generation ports as well gigabit LAN connectivity.
As you can see the p67 PCH does not support the GPU of the 2nd generation core processors. For that you’ll need to buy a board with a H67 or Z68 PCH. The former does not support processor over clocking, while the latter supports over-clocking the processor as well as the graphics core.

THE DREADED SATA BUG!

All motherboards that initially shipped with the 2nd generation Core processor launch had a buggy p67 PCH. Intel says that it expects a 5% failure rate over 3 years. All existing boards with the buggy revision (B2) of the p67 will be replaced free of cost by all manufacturers. This is true for Pakistan as well as other countries. Until these boards are replaced it is recommended that end users utilize SATA 3rd generation ports which provide 6 gbps of bandwidth.

PACKAGING

The box retains the traditional TUF motherboard color scheme. The front of the box adorns the “TUF” logo. Various logos including 5 years warranty are also present on the box.

Lifting the front lid reveals more info regarding what makes this a ‘Sabertooth’ board.

The back of the box highlight Sabertooth specific features of the motherboard (Thermal Armor, Thermal Radar and TUF components).

MOTHERBOARD DESIGN

This board is unlike anything that this reviewer has seen before. All that you see on the board are the processor socket, several cooling heatsinks, expansion, power connectivity and memory slots. The rest of the board is covered by a plastic thermal armor as mentioned before. The board together with the shield has the usual camouflage color scheme. This works for some, others love to hate it! Personally I like it because it is different. It gives the board a novel look. Even without the thermal armor the color scheme is unusual and thus stands out in the crowd. With almost all manufacturers using some form of blue on their board, it is nice to see a board that at least bunks the trend!

BACK PANEL I/O

Rear panel IO provides loads of connectivity. It has two USB 3.0 ports, 8 USB 2.0 ports, 2x ESATA ports (1 being power ESATA port) and 8 channel audio including SP/DIF connectivity. A legacy PS/2 Mouse/Keyboard port is also present. Audio is provided courtesy of ubiquitous Realtek ALC892 audio codec.

SOCKET AREA

The socket is virtually identical in appearance to the LGA 1156. The mounting holes of for heat-sink fan assembly are exactly in the same position as on an LGA 1156 board. This is excellent news for those who are upgrading from the latter to an LGA 1155 platform. The heatsinks on the power regulation circuitry are of the low profile type and will not interfere with aftermarket cooler installation. What will probably interfere is the thermal armor, especially if you use a push pin system of assembly as found on the stock Intel cooler.
The socket itself comes from Lottes. Those with elephantine memories will remember problem with Foxconn sockets in early LGA 1156 boards. Lottes at that time was the preferred socket.
Power regulation circuitry carries the Tuf logo. All caps have the Tuf labeling.

PLATFORM CONTROLLER HUB

The PCH is located where the south bridge used to reside. It is covered by an extra-large heatsink which is visible through the thermal armor (the thermal armor has a cut out here). The heatsink is very flat and will not interfere with extra long graphics cards.

MEMORY SLOTS

The board has 4 memory slots, all in camouflage colors. As the processor supports dual channel memory only, 2 slots must be populated at a time to make optimum use of bandwidth. There is good separation between the memory slots and processor socket. Still memory sticks with tall heat sinks (or fins) might not work with exotic coolers like the NH-D14 or the Silver arrow.

POWER CONNECTORS

The 8 pin CPU power connector is located at the edge of the board near the CPU socket. It has its locking latch on the outside. This might be a problem for tight fit cases as it will be a pain to unhook the connector. Asus’s other P67 boards have the latch on the inner side making the process a little easier. This was probably not possible on the Sabertooth as the thermal armor gets in the way if the latch direction is reversed
The 24 pin connector is in its usual place at the front of the board.

EXPANSION SLOTS

The board comes with 2 PCI-e x16 v2.0 expansion slots which are SLI or CrossFire X ready. They work as x16 /x0 or x8/x8. The board also has 3 PCI-e x1 slots. However one of the slots shares its lane with USB 3.0 and only the USB port or the slot can be used. There is a lone PCI connector at the bottom.
Quiet honestly I would have preferred if Asus had gone with 3 x16 connectors with the 3rd being x4 rather than populating the board with x1 slots, like it does the P8P67 pro. It provides more useful expansion opportunities as well as the option of using a primary graphics at full x16 and a phys-x at x4.

STORAGE CONNECTIVITY

8 90degree angled SATA ports are present along the front edge of the board. 4 are SATA 3gbps while the other 3 are SATA 6gbps. Also along the front edge is an internal USB 3.0 header. Unfortunately the board does not ship with a USB header.
3 USB 2.0 headers are located along the left edge of the board (right next to the SATA ports).

FAN CONNECTORS

There are two 4pin PWM fan connectors at the right edge of the board adjacent to the 8 pin CPU power connector. 1 is for the CPU fan, while the other is for the case fan. There are 3 other fan connectors on the board. 1 case fan, 1 power fan and 1 ‘assist’ fan connector. The last is a fan that can be placed over the little hole in the thermal armor (needs to be unscrewed) to improve airflow in case a tower air cooler is used. Again one is not bundled with the motherboard which is really unfortunate. Though Asus does bundle 4 screws with the board to attach this fan!!

BACK OF THE BOARD

The back of the board is pretty even. The socket area does not have any extra long projections and should be okay with most heat-sink fan back plates.


MISCELLANEOUS CONNECTORS

There is an internal IEEE 1394 header, SP/DIF header, USB headers, front panel audio connector as well as power, power LED, HDD LED and reset switch connectors. A memory compatibility switch (mem OK!) is located at the front of the board. This allows the board to accept (almost) any memory even that which is not officially supported work with the board. Asus provides a nifty ‘Q’-connector which makes the attachment of control cables a breeze!

THERMAL ARMOR

Perhaps the feature that will be most talked about and most controversial (with regards to utility) is the thermal armor. This plastic plate enshrouds the motherboard only exposing connectors, slots, sockets and the PCH heatsink. It can thankfully be removed from the board by removing 9 screws from underneath the board. The armor provides containment of heat generated by different components in their respective cavities. It also allows for channelization of air to these components. It works best in collaboration with Thermal Radar software (which forms a part of AI Suite II) by controlling fan speed and optimizing motherboard temperatures. Asus recommends either using a top down cooler or an assist fan, but it apparently ‘forgot’ to bundle one with the board.
Apparently it seems as if the board is coupled to a tower cooler and used without an assist fan with the armor on, the temperatures will rise. Testing will show if this statement is true, or has Asus stumbled on a little pot of R&D gold!

DESIGN IMPRESSIONS

As has been mentioned the color scheme works for some and not for others. It works for this reviewer! Board layout is pretty decent. Reverse latch 8pin CPU power connector would have been better, but is not a major issue.
Expansion opportunities could definitely have been better 3 x16 slots (x16, x8/x8 and x4). Asus should have definitely bundled an assist fan. It would have raised boards’ profile more as compared to the cost incurred of including a fan.
Thermal armor is definitely a novelty. If nothing else it gives the motherboard a very sleek look. Even if it does not lower the temperatures, it definitely adds to styling.

BUNDLED ACCESSORIES

Asus ships the board with:

  • User’s manual
  • 2 x SATA 3.0Gb/s cables
  • 2 x SATA 6.0Gb/s cables
  • 1 x Q-Shield
  • 1 x Q-Connector (2 in 1)
  • 1 x ASUS SLI bridge cable
  • 1 x TUF Certification card
  • 1 x TUF 5 Year Warranty manual (by region)
  • 4 x screws for Assistant Fan
  • Support Disk

The TUF certification is an independent report on the performance of ‘special’ components on the motherboard. Q-shield is the IO back-plate without the protruding metal bits. This is definitely welcome as it prevent bloody fingers at the end of installation

BUNDLED SOFTWARE: THERMAL RADAR SOFTWARE & AI SUITE II

Thermal radar reads temperature reading off 12 sensors located on the board. It translates these into 12 temperature readings. These work best with the thermal armor as the software can adjust fan speeds to best cool motherboard components.


Apart from thermal radar, the bundled AI suite II provides control over power circuitry just like the bios does.
It can also be used to monitor various temperatures (apart from thermal radar).
BIOS… err… WHAT BIOS?
BIOS is officially dead. At least if you own a non Gigabyte board (for now). It is replaced by UEFI which stands for Universal Extensible Firmware Interface. For the end user it offers the ability to use hard-disks of capacity greater than 2.2TB. Asus’s UEFI implementation is excellent. It offers an excellent mouse driven interface which is easy to use. There are some fundamental changes necessitated by the change in the way the menus are controlled.

Upon first entering the UEFI the user is presented with a simple graphical interface that looks quite a lot like the Asus AI Suite II menu (follows similar color scheme). This can be switched to an advanced view by a click of a mouse. (The snap shot is taken from the board’s manual. It explains most of the basic features which is the aim of the basic view!)


Apart from the usual control options the UEFI offers an excellent AI tweaker. It allows adjustment of voltages, memory speed and timings as well turbo multiplier (for K series of processors). Over-clocking a 2nd generation core processor (nee: Sandy Bridge) is different due to the locked (it’s not exactly locked in the sense that you can’t change it, its locked because changing it changes all clocks including PCI, PCI-e which leads to system instability) base clock. For any meaningful over-clocking one needs a K series processor (see our Intel Core 2600K processor review). Once armed with the right processor, over-clocking is simply a matter of selecting the correct turbo multiplier and adjusting the voltages.

The advanced view allows configuration of various motherboard components as well as the processor.

OVER-CLOCKING

AI tweaker offers the usual over-clocking features like voltage and memory speed/ timings adjustment, load line calibration etc. It also offers some new features like VRM frequency adjustment, phase control, duty control and CPU current capacity (which is especially useful for over clocks over 4.6GHz). All features to make the life of the over-clocker a tad easier.

We were able to push our 2600K to an impressive 4.5GHz on stock air cooling and 4.8GHz using a Cooler Master 212+.

Because the memory speed and CPU speed are now independent of each other, the memory can run at 1333MHz without affecting processor over clocking at all. This is a definite advantage of this platform, as one can save money on high speed memory and invest in a better processor or graphics card as the need maybe.

AUTOMATIC OVER CLOCKING (OC TUNER)

Automatic over clocking seems to be all the rage these days. Either software or UEFI based (or BIOS based), these over clocking algorithms are designed to take the effort of over clocking away from the user.
Asus utilizes an Over-Clock Tuner (OC Tuner). This hardware based tuner automatically sets various parameters to achieve over clocking. Using the OC Tuner our 2600K was able to achieve an impressive 4.4GHz. The problem was that this over clock was never stable. Turns out that the OC tuner was changing the base clock from 100 to 103, which was the cause instability. By changing the base clock to 100 and changing the turbo multiplier and keeping other values as set by the OC Tuner we were able to achieve stability at 4.4GHz.

BENCHMARKS

Benchmarking a motherboard is a very difficult process. Apart from over-clocking leverage (which again is processor dependent as well), there is usually little else that separates its performance from its contemporaries. Memory performance is also a thing of the past as the memory controller is on the processor rather than the chipset. However additional features like extra SATA ports etc might function differently if the controller used is different.
With these caveats in mind and over-clocking out of the way we’ll talk about basic IO performance and how the utility of the thermal armor.
For those interested in numbers they are presented in this review as well, but keep in mind they are more processor dependent than board dependent!
We will be comparing the Sabertooth P67 with another P67 board, the Asus P8P67 and one X58 board, the venerable Rampage II Gene.

TEST SETUPS

Processors

Core i7-2600K

Core i7-950

Boards

Asus Sabertooth P67 (Core ix-2xx series)

Asus P8P67 (Core ix-2xx series)

Asus Rampage II Gene (Core i7-950)

Memory

Corsair DDR3-1333MHz 2×4 GB. Total 8 GB

Corsair DDR3-1333MHz 3×2 GB. Total 6 GB (950)

Video

ATi 6950-2GB

Hard Disk

Seagate ST31000528AS

Power Supply

Corsair HX620

Cooler

Stock! Cooler Master Hyper 212+

OS

Windows 7 x64

Test Suite

Synthetic

Sandra 2011

X264 Benchmark (HD V3)

Cinebench

3Dmark11 –Physics Test

Real World

7-Zip

IO Performance

SATA –HD Tune

USB –Crystal Mark 3

Thermal Performance

Thermal Radar with/ without Thermal armor

Legend

X58/950

Core i7-950 + X58 (Rampage II Gene)

S67/2600K

Core i7-2600K + P67 (Sabertooth P67)

P67/2600K

Core i7-2600K + P67 (P8P67)

*All results rounded off to the nearest round figure.

SANDRA 2011

Sandra is a multi-purpose utility that offers benchmarking of multiple parameters.

X264 BENCHMARK HD V3

This benchmark measures the encoding performance of the processor. It offers a standardized benchmark as the clip as well as the encoder used is uniform.

CINEBENCH R11.5 TEST
Cinebench is based on Maxon’s Cinema 4D. It is used to compare graphics as well as processor performance.

3DMARK11 –PHYSICS TEST
This is the latest incarnation of one of the oldest graphics benchmarking suites. The latest incarnation supports DirectX 11. It has a physics test that emulates physics on the processor.

REAL WORLD
Some might argue against using 7-zip’s compression and decompression benchmark as a ‘real world’ test. But if you try and think about it for a minute, the benchmark does show how fast the program will either compress or decompress, while negating the impact of disk transfers.

7-Zip: COMPRESSION

7-ZIP: DECOMPRESSION

RESULT IMPRESSIONS

There is to be surprised about here. The two P67 boards from Asus perform neck and neck. Obviously the X58 is held back by the aging 950 but nothing can be done about this until Intel launches its successor (sometime later this year).

I/O TESTS

USB TESTS

USB performance was compared between boards. As our X58 board only features USB 2.0 ports no USB 3.0 tests could be performed on it. Thus it serves as a comparison between USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 performance characteristics
Crystal Mark V3 was used in conjunction with a USB 3.0 compliant Kingston Data Traveler (Ultimate 16 GB)

Again the two p67 chipset boards are neck and neck.

SATA PERFORMANCE
HD Tune was used to assess SATA performance.

Again the P67 boards show identical performance! There is no separating the two boards. For testing the Intel P67 based SATA generation 3 ports were used. For the X58, ICH10R based SATA generation 2 ports were used.

THERMAL ARMOR
What makes this board stand out from the crowd is its thermal armor. According to Asus this can lead to lower board temperature as well as better compartmentalization of heat. However to achieve lower temperatures one has to either use a top down cooler or use an assist fan, which Asus does not provide with the board.
Given that the performance of almost all top down coolers is lower than that of their tower counterparts not many will be using the former for what is an enthusiast grade board.
Our testing was done using a tower cooler without an assist fan as one is not bundled with the board. We monitored temperatures using Thermal Radar in the background while running 3DMark Vantage. The highest temperatures achieved are shown below.

Hmm, things do not look so good when Asus’s recommendations are not followed. Playing the devil’s advocate we added an assist fan to see how things would fare:

Things have definitely turned for the better. We are seeing multi digit improvements here. But what is missing from the chart is the whining noise associated with a high rpm small diameter fan. Asus should definitely up the ante on this and include a fan in the box!

FINAL IMPRESSIONS

Thermal Armor
I am not sure what Asus was thinking when they thought of the thermal armor. It surely works, but not the way Asus bundles it or intends for you to use it. Top down fans are not the most popular with over-clockers and an assist fan is not included in the box.

TUF Components
The ‘TUF’ components do bring a lot to the table, especially in hot climates where their higher working ambient temperatures would be an asset.

Expansion capabilities
There are ample SATA connectors that come off the P67. Asus adds two additional SATA 3rd generation ports (Marvell) and 2 additional eSATA ports (JMicron). There is an internal header for USB 3.0 ports, but no headers are provided. As for as expansion slots are concerned Asus could certainly have added a third PCI-e x16 (physical) slot to the mix. If there is one thing that annoys me the most about this board, it is the lack of afore mentioned PCI-e slot.

Over-clocking
The board over-clocks well no doubt about it. Though over clocking is also dependent on the processor, the board was able to match the over-clocks achieved by another P67 board (Asus P8P67). We had absolutely no problems getting the 2600K to reach an over-clocked speed of 4.8GHz. We were only held back by lack of cooling, lest we could have probably reached 5.0 GHz on this board.

Miscellaneous
Asus markets this board somewhere between the ‘Maximus’ and the ‘Pxx’ series. As such its feature set should lie somewhere in between. For most of the part this holds true, but the mess with expansion slots leaves a slightly bad taste in the mouth.

RATINGS

PROS

  • TUF components which have proper certification
  • Thermal Armor that works provided you install an assist fan
  • Over-clocks well

CONS

  • What happened to the 3rd PCI-e x16 slot?
  • Assist fan should be bundled in the box!

If you can live without the 3rd PCI-e x16 slot and do not have a problem running the board bare or with an assist fan the Sabertooth P67 is an ideal board. However there are options out there that are from the same manufacturer, cheaper and bring more to the table.

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