Intel Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition Sandy Bridge-E CPU
MSI - ASUS - ASRock: X79 Motherboards
For the purposes of this article, we acquired a handful of enthusiast-class X79 Express-based motherboards to give you all an idea as to what type of boards would be hitting the scene when Sandy Bridge-E and the X79 Express is first made available.
First up, we have the MSI X79A-GD65 (8D). Like the other X79 Express-based motherboards featured here, all of the X79 chipset’s features are available on the MSI X79A-GD65 (8D), but MSI works a bit of their own magic as well. The MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) features a mouse-friendly “Click BIOS II” UEFI that’s much easier to navigate than traditional text-based BIOS menus. The board is also in MSI’s “Military Class III” family and features super ferrite chokes, highly conductive polymer capacitors and / or solid capacitors throughout, which should offer increases stability and longevity. MSI also claims the board is PCI Express 3.0 ready.
The MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) also supports “1 second overclocking” thanks to its OC Genie II feature, but the UEFI sports all of the overclocker-friendly features we’ve come to expect from MSI for manual tweaking as well. MSI also includes their new Instant OC Control Center II utility, which gives users the ability the monitor and control system parameters from within Windows, with no need to reboot when making changes.
Other features of the MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) include USB3.0 and CrossFire / SLI support, along with “Super Charger” which allows users to charge USB devices even when the system is powered down. We found the layout of the MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) to be quite good and also like the dark blue and black features on the board. Its accessory bundle is also top-notch and includes additional USB 3.0 ports and numerous cables and manuals.
Next up, we have the Asus P9X79 Deluxe. The P9X79 Deluxe is one of the more feature laden motherboards we have come across. In addition to exploiting all of the features of the X79 Express chipset, the P9X79 Deluxe offers USB 3.0 support, Bluetooth 3.0 and WiFi connectivity, additional SATA 6Gbps ports, and what Asus calls its “Dual Intelligent Processors 3”. The Dual Intelligent Processors consist of Asus’ EPU unit, which we’ve covered in the past, and the TurboV processing unit. The processors work together with the P9X79 Deluxe 16+4+2+2 digital VRM (DIGI+ VRM) and give users the ability to monitor and adjust power delivery across multiple sections of the board. According to Asus, the combination of the programmable digital VRM and Dual Intelligent Processors 3 results in superior efficiency and longevity, as well as better power delivery than previous generation products.
The Asus P9X79 Deluxe also supports SLI and CrossFireX, DTS Surround, and Asus includes a copy of their AI Suite II, which gives users easy access to all of the Asus-proprietary features mentioned here in a single software package. In addition to the aforementioned features, the P9X79 Deluxe also sports an excellent UEFI with one-click overclocking and tuning that’s navigable using a mouse. With their X79 Express-based motherboards, Asus will also be offering their own SSD caching feature, simplified USB UEFI flashing, and their MemOK! and Ai Charger technologies.
As is typical of Asus, the P9X79 Deluxe also ships with an extensive accessory bundle and like other members of Asus’ Xtreme Design family of products, the board is tuned for overclockers. Not only is the layout user-friendly, but the board sports heavy-duty passive cooling, integrated power and reset switches, plenty of I/O connectivity (including Intel Gigabit LAN), and its overclocking capabilities are best-of-class.
Finally, we present the ASRock X79 Extreme 4. Like the other boards shown here that exploit all of the features of the X79 Express chipset, the ASRock X79 Extreme 4 does so as well, and compliments the chipset with ASMedia USB 3.0 controllers that add front and rear USB 3.0 ports. The board, however, does not include a slot- or bay-mountable USB 3.0 bracket so users can access the additional ports on the front or rear of their systems. Firewire is available on the board as well, by way of a VIA controller.
Additional features of the X79 Extreme 4 include integrated power and reset switches, a POST code error reporter, all Japanese solid capacitors, a Realtek 7.1CH HD audio Codec, gigabit PCIe LAN, and a digital 6+2 VRM design. The cooling hardware on the board is also quite good. There is a tall finned heatsink on the VRM above the CPU socket and a low-profile active cooler on the X79 chipset.
The overall layout and color scheme of the ASRock Fatal1ty 990FX Professional is also very good. The black expansion slots and headers are all clearly labeled and the positioning of all of the components is good. The UEFI on this motherboard is also excellent. ASRock has done a great job modernizing the look of the UEFI, making it easy to navigate and outfitting it with plenty of overclocking-related features.