The prowess of Asustek can be judged from the fact that it holds a 70% market share when it comes to X79 based motherboards. Asus's brand presence as a motherboard manufacturer has a major role to play in its market dominance. Asus sells more boards than its competitors combined together which is saying something.
Today we’ll be taking a look at the company’s P9X79 Pro board.
Motherboard –Quick Facts
|ProcessorSupport||All current LGA 2011 processors (3 launched)|
|Memory||DDR3 8 Slots (Official Support of up to 2400 (OC) MHz)|
|Features||Digi+ Power ControlUSB EFI FlashbackBT Go!8 phase CPU power regulation2 phase systems agent power regulation|
|Slots||PCI-e x16 (4) Generation 3 compliantPCI-e x1 (2)|
|RearI/O||USB 2.0 (6) & USB 3.0 (4)E-SATA 6Gbps (2)Bluetooth module|
As always Asus is not content with offering a ‘standard’ board. You get more USB 3.0, SATA 6 Gbps and Bluetooth module as compared to Intel’s standard offering.
Packaging & Accessories
The board comes in a black ‘themed’ Asus box which the company has been using since for its Sandybridge line of motherboards. The flip lid box details what makes the Asus board stand out from its competitors. The board lies in an antistatic bag and is accompanied by a set of accessories, manuals and the obligatory DVD. Asus includes no less than 6 SATA 6 Gbps cables (it also includes 2 SATA 3 Gbps cables), 2 and 3 way SLI bridges as well as the very useful “Q” connector.
The motherboard continues with the black PCB, with blue components theme seen on almost all recent Asus boards. This full length ATX features all solid caps. Power circuitry is passively cooled. As is mentioned in the table above, the board has 8 phase power regulation for the CPU, and 2 + 2 phase power regulation for system agent (2 phase for memory controller and 2 phase for PCI-e). As the processors powering this board feature a quad channel memory controller, 4 banks of memory slot are located in front and behind the CPU socket.
The LGA 2011 socket requires a dual locking mechanism to ensure enough pressure is applied to the processor. The heat-sink mounting mechanism is also different and features a ‘screw in’ design as opposed to the push-pin design seen on all other Intel processors.
The socket is banked between the memory slots and the heat sinks for power regulation circuitry. The heatsinks are paired in two by heat pipes. The X79 heatsink connects to the power regulation heat sink, while another heat pipe links the other two heatsinks over power regulation components. There is enough clearance around the socket to fit large aftermarket coolers, though extra tall memory heatsinks might be problematic.
The 24 pin power connector is located in front of the memory slots.
The front edge of the board features 4 SATA 3Gbps ports as well as a four 6Gpbs SATA ports. The two ‘extra’ ports come from a Marvel 9128 controller. All the ports are right angled. A 4 pin fan connector and an internal USB 3.0 connector complete the tour of the front edge of the board.
The left edge of the board has the usual USB and front panel connectors. Onboard power & reset buttons as well as clear small ‘red’ CMOS button are located on the left edge as well. A EPU-TPU selector switch puts the board in turbo or power saving mode. Another 4 pin fan connector together with diagnostic LED display completes the functions of this side of the board.
The X79 (described below) is located in front of the USB ports. It is covered by a low profile heatsink which connects via a heat pipe to the power regulation heat sink.
The board features four PCI-e x16 slots of which two (blue colored) offer full x16 bandwidth. The white slots run in x8 mode. However if the user populates the two blue slots as well as one white slot, the second blue slot switches to x8 mode. Thus for 3 way multi GPU configuration, the best the board can do is x16/x16/x8. The two full speed slots are quiet far apart. Asus does provide a ‘long SLI bridge, but not an XFire bridge. This can be a headache for those who would like to use two AMD (ATi) cards in a XFire configuration while using the blue (full speed) PCI-e x16 slots. Two PCI-e x1 slots lie on either side (left) of the blue PCI-e x16 slots. X16 slots are PCI-e 3.0 compliant.
The board has 6 fan connectors which are color coded in red. All are 4 pin PWM type and have the excellent Fan Xpert control.
The rear IO area is very busy. The most interesting features is the back 2 bios USB flash functionality (enabled on the white USB 2.0 port located at the lowest level on the left stack). 6 USB 2.0 ports,4 USB 3.0 ports. 2 E-SATA ports (green, 6 Gbps), blue tooth, audio ports and an Intel powered Gigabit Ethernet port complete the round up.
Asus uses the same EFI among all of its Sandybridge boards. This is not necessarily a bad thing as Asus’s implementation of EFI is one of the best. One of the best features is the ability to take snap shots of EFI screens –God send for reviewers!
Software & Overclocking
Asus provides the quiet useful AI suite II with the board. It works exactly like AI suite bundled with Sandybridge boards.
All our over-clocking was done via the EFI interface which does offer an ‘AI Tuner’. Enable it and selecting a suitable base-clock multiplier together with the implied target speed automatically adjusts various voltages.
We were able to achieve a 4.2 GHz (by raising the BCLK) with the assistant without much fuss.
The Intel X79: A handicapped Z68
Intel employed a two chip solution for their last generation enthusiast platform (X58 with ICH 10R). This time around Intel uses a more ‘traditional’ PCH. The X79 is almost a mirror image of Z68, with the lack of one very important feature. The X79 does not feature Smart Response Technology (SRT). SRT increases hard-disk through put by using a small SSD as a cache drive. The X79 provides all IO connectivity bar USB 3.0. Asus uses its own Asmedia controller for USB 3.0 functionality.
Testing motherboards is not an easy task. No matter what types of test are done the CPU’s performance does come into play. Testing IO is basically only testing the ability of the PCH. Thus what separates motherboards these days is their ability to provide functionality you need (read over clocking potential, RAID, multi GPU setup etc). But as the saying goes; when in Rome do as Romans do; we’ll put up some numbers to prove that we did spend time testing the board to dissect the ‘quantum’ difference between it and its peers!
|Motherboard||Intel DX79SIAsus P9X79 ProMSI X79 GD65-8D|
|Video||Nvidia GTX 480|
|Memory||G.Skill RipJaws-X DDR3-2133|
|Hard Disk||Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1TB|
|Power||Thermaltake Tough-power 775 XT|
|OS||Windows 7 (Service Pack 1)|
|Synthetic||Sandra 2011X264 Benchmark (HD V3)Cinebench3Dmark11 –Physics Test|
|Real World||7-ZipFar Cry 2Crysis -Warhead|
|IO Performance||SATA –HD TuneUSB –Crystal Mark 3|
|Asus||Asus P9X79 Pro|
|MSI||MSI X79 GD65-8D|
Sandra is a very competent stress testing and benchmarking suite.
The three boards perform about the same and only exhibit minor differences.
X264 HD V3 & Cinebench R11.5
X264HD benchmark measures the encoding performance of the processor. It offers a standardized benchmark as the clip as well as the encoder used is uniform. 2nd pass results are shown below
Cinebench is based on Maxon’s Cinema 4D. It is used to compare graphics as well as processor performance. The multi-threaded performance is shown below.
The minor performance differences are not enough to justify ranking. All products do equally well.
3D Mark 11 –Physics Test & Games
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.
The base line for all tests is a Core i7-950 processor running at its default speed (100%)
Far Cry 2
|Far Cry 2||1680x1050|
|Benchmark||Inbuilt ‘Ranch Small’ CPU|
|Rendering Path||DX 9 –Medium|
|Rendering Path||DX 9; Physics Set to Enthusiast|
The situation does not change when testing games. All boards are neck ‘n’ neck.
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. Compression test result are shown below
IO Tests: Storage
USB performance was compared between boards. Crystal Mark V3 was used in conjunction with a USB 3.0 compliant Kingston Data Traveler (Ultimate 16 GB)
HD Tune was used to assess SATA performance (using SATA ports powered by the X79 PCH)
Just like the previous generation motherboard comparison, benchmarks cannot alone help separate winners from also rans. The decision must be based on extra features, ease of use as well as the price at which these amenities come.
Asus like always has an excellent implementation of X79 chipset at a price point that does not break the bank. It is hard to fault the board, but if one were to nitpick an extra Gigabit Ethernet port together with slightly better PCI-e x16 slot layout would come to mind. Apart from these minor quibbles the X79Pro is an excellent board with excellent performance. Asus EFI stands among the best in business and the easiest to setup. We at WCCFTech heartily recommend this board to all prospective X79 customers.