The Intel Core i7 processors that came in the socket LGA 1366 package ruled the enthusiast and workstation segments for a long time. The final releases were the six-core Core i7-970 and 980X, which presented power users with a great upgrade option. Despite being a generation old, these processors and compatible motherboards based on the Intel X58 chipset are still going strong in the market because they offer incredible value for money. Those who are looking forward to building powerful workstations or desktop PCs for extremely intensive workloads now have an option to go in for the Intel Core i7-3960X, which boasts a whopping 8 cores.
Those on a lower budget can opt for the six-core Core i7-3930k. The new processors pack more punch and are more energy-efficient than the previous generation models. However, they use a new socket design (LGA 2011) and chipset (Intel X79), which calls for new motherboards. Some of the key features of the latest chipset are support for quad-channel memory, 3-way SLI and CrossFireX, and SATA 6 Gb/s. Support for USB 3.0 is still via discrete controllers. Some motherboards boast eight RAM slots that can take up to 128 GB of memory, whereas a few other more affordable models have four slots. All the leading motherboard brands are already out with their latest offerings, albeit in limited numbers.
In this roundup of X79 chipset-based motherboards, we compared 10 models from various brands. We used a battery of synthetic and real world tests to evaluate the performance of each motherboard. The scoresheet details all the benchmark scores, but if you want to read more about the top two boards, scroll down further
Scoresheet (Click to enlarge)
ASUS Rampage IV Extreme
No other motherboard comes close to the Rampage IV Extreme when it comes to features. It sports a black and red theme which is typical of the ROG brand. You get support for up to 64 GB of RAM, four SATA 3 Gb/s ports, two SATA 6 Gb/s ports and 12 USB 2.0 ports (four via headers). There are discrete controllers for two additional SATA 6 Gb/s ports and two eSATA ports on the rear panel. Eight USB 3.0 ports (four via headers) are also courtesy discrete controllers. The rear panel also features a Bluetooth adapter, Gigabit Ethernet port, audio jacks and buttons for BIOS reset and ROG connect.
An overclocker's dream!
Asus has gone in with five PCIE x16 slots to provide support for up to 4-way SLI and CrossFireX. The first and third red PCIE slots run at full x16 speed and the other two red slots and the black slot run at x8 speed. 4-way SLI/CrossFireX is supported in x16/x8/x8/x8 mode thanks to 40 PCIE lanes integrated into the processor. As for overclocking, we’ve seen 7-segment debugger and voltage check points before.
The new features are OC Key – a small device that gives users the ability to monitor and tweak values without consuming system resources; Subzero Sense – on-board digital thermometer that reads out values via an on-board connector (requires a separate cable to check values); and VGA Hotwire – for tweaking the graphics card’s voltage directly from the BIOS. The overall performance is top notch, as is the layout of the components.
Chipset: Intel X79; Memory support: DDR3-2133, 64 GB max; Multi-GPU support: 4-way SLI and CrossFireX; PCIe slots: x16 x 5; USB: USB 2.0 x 12, USB 3.0 x 8; Audio: Realtec ALC 898, 8-channel; BIOS: Graphical UEFI.
Pros: Excellent feature set, great layout, plenty of overclocking features.
MSI X79A-GD45 (8D)
The X79A-GD45 is a powerful motherboard at a reasonable price. It may not be very feature-rich, but it performs with excellence. It is based around Intel’s X79 chipset, which features eight DIM slots, that support up to 128 GB of RAM. Three x16 PCIe slots supporting CrossFireX and SLI can run at x16, x8 and x8 modes. These two features can help make a powerful gaming rig or workstation. There's no support for eSATA or built-in Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Other features include an 8-channel audio output driven by the Realtec ALC 892 audio codec, 14 USB ports (of which four are USB 3.0), UEFI graphical BIOS, and automatic overclocking.
Great performance and good pricing
On the layout front, the board scores a full 5 on 5 with good spacing around the RAM slots and CPU socket and well placed headers, power sockets and SATA ports. The layout allows neat cabling and good air-flow inside the case. The X79A-GD45 performed quite well; the real-world scores, when compared to the Asus Rampage IV Extreme, show that the motherboard is almost at par. Even the Synthetic tests show the motherboard lagging the best performer by barely a few points. Considering the overall layout and great performance, while ignoring a few basic and almost unnecessary features, the MSI X79A-GD45 motherboard easily bags the best value title in this roundup. This motherboard is ideal for those wanting to build a good gaming rig or a powerful workstation.
Chipset: Intel X79; Memory support: 128 GB, 1866 MHz; Multi-GPU support: CrossFireX and SLI; PCIe slots: x16 x 3; USB: USB 2.0 x 10; USB 3.0 x 4; Audio: Realtec ALC 892, 8-channel; BIOS: Graphical UEFI.
Pros: High RAM capacity, good component layout, great performance.
Cons: Slightly low on features such as missing Bluetooth, Wi-fi and eSATA.
So, there you have it – if you're in the market to build an extremely high-end rig, then one of these boards might be the one for you.
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