We had the opportunity of getting a sneak peek at Asus’s X79 line-up, back in October 2011, first hand and we came back quite impressed at what they had achieved. Along with the features of Intel’s X79 chipset, Asus has thrown in their own flavour to the mix, making it one of the most feature-rich boards in the market. Today, we’ll be taking their SABERTOOH X79 motherboard for a spin in our labs. This board hails from their TUF series, which focuses on strengthened components, better cooling, etc. It’s also designed to work under extreme temperatures without failing. 

Design and Layout
The SABERTOOTH is based on the LGA Socket 2011, so only the new Sandy Bridge-E CPUs are compatible. Unlike the previous TUF series boards from Asus, the X79 ditches the full “thermal armour”, which is a plastic covering over the entire motherboard to channel air flow to all the components. The reason for this was the lack of space on the motherboard to fasten a full shell properly. Instead, we have cooling for just two areas on the motherboard, the CPU VRM area and the PCH chip at the bottom. Both the heatsinks are made of aluminium with copper pipes, along with low profile fans from Delta used to blow air outwards, away from the motherboard. In order to make room for larger 3rd party heatsinks near the CPU area, the heatsinks around the CPU are connected to the ‘Thermal Armor’ via heat pipes, which exhausts all the hot air directly outside the case through vents in the I/O shield. The design is quite clever and makes the best use of the little space that’s available.

Good cooling solution

Good cooling solution

Coming to rear I/O ports, we have a PS2 combo port, 4x USB 3.0 ports, 6x USB 2.0 ports, FireWire, eSATA, powered eSATA, Optical (S/PDIF) out, 6x audio jacks, Gigabit LAN and BIOS Flashback button. The VRM area is completely covered by the ‘Thermal Armour’ heatsink and you have the choice to fit an optional fan, as well for added cooling. There is sufficient space around the CPU area for third party coolers and we didn’t have a problem installing a water cooler as well. There are four RAM slots on either side for a total of 64GB DDR3 memory in quad-channel mode. The RAM slots also have the fastening clips only on one side, so it’s easy to swap RAM sticks, after you’ve installed a graphics card. 

A good selection of ports

A good selection of ports

For expansion slots, we have 2x PCI-E 3.0 slots that are capable of x16 speeds even in SLI or CrossFire mode. The third PCI-E slot is also x16 but runs in x8 mode if you run three cards together. The same applies to the first two slots as well. We also have two PCI-E x1 slots and a legacy PCI slot. For storage, Asus has provided two SATA III ports, four SATA II ports with support for RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10. Onboard headers include 1x USB 3.0, 4x USB 2.0 and 4x chassis fan connectors. There aren’t any power or reset buttons on the motherboard itself, just a MemOK! button to test the memory. In the box, you get a user's manual, driver disk and utilities, two SATA II cables, four SATA III cables, SLI bridge, Q-connectors, I/O shield, TUF certification and 5yr warranty.

Features
The SABERTOOTH X79 features Asus’s UEFI BIOS, giving you full mouse support and a very easy to use graphical user interface. The X79 boards also come with their new Digi+ VRM for better power distribution amongst components. You can even take a screenshot of the BIOS page you’re in, simply by hitting F12. Since this is from their TUF series, the Choke, Capacitor, MOSFETs are certified by military standard.

Expansion slots

Expansion slots

The SSD caching feature was one of the highlights of the Z68 platform, but that’s been omitted from the X79 platform. However, Asus have added their own utility, in order to make this work. It also has their new USB BIOS Flashback feature, which lets you flash the BIOS by simply pressing a button, you don’t even have to go into the BIOS or use a Windows utility for it.

Test Rig Specifications
Processor: Intel Core i7-3960X CPU @ 3.30 GHz
Motherboard: Asus SABERTOOTH X79
Memory: Kingston HyperX Genesis (16GB) quad-channel kit
Hard drive: WD Velociraptor 300 GB
GPU: AMD Radeon HD 6970
PSU: Cooler Master Silent Pro 1000W

Performance
We tested the motherboard using Windows 7 Ultimate edition. All the drivers were updated to the latest one from Asus’s site as well as the BIOS. Installing all the components wasn’t an issue, as there’s plenty of room to work with.

Good performance

Good performance

We’ve compared the SABERTOOTH’s performance to Intel’s very own mainstream motherboard, the P67. The Gigabyte P67 chipset manages to hold its own when pitted against its higher-end cousin. PCMark 7 shows a minor improvement in the performance, whereas we see a big jump in SiSOFT score, although that’s primarily to do with the CPU, more than the motherboard. Throughout the tests, the motherboard ran very stable, even when stressed. The fans that help cool the VRAM and PCH areas aren’t very audible, even under load.

SATA connectors face outwards making it easy to add drvies

SATA connectors face outwards making it easy to add drvies

As is the case with all Asus boards, you get a whole bunch of utilities for the SABERTOOTH, starting with the DIGI+ Power utility. You can monitor, adjust the voltages, phase control, etc. directly, without having to go to the BIOS. It also lets you perform Load-line calibration set the threshold for the maximum CPU voltage during overclocking. Other exclusive features, include AI Suite II, Anti-Surge, SSD Caching and USB 3.0 Boost.

Verdict
The SABERTOOTH X79 does not come cheap and at Rs. 22,000, it’s quite expensive. But then again, this is no ordinary motherboard. It’s designed and built especially for enthusiasts who want to push their hardware to the ragged edge. In fact, Intel X79 platform itself is a very expensive proposition as the CPU and motherboard alone will set you back north of Rs. 50,000, so it’s not exactly the most practical solution, even if you are an enthusiast. Having said that, Asus seems to have done a good job with the SABERTOOTH X79 and carries forward the legacy of tough and super reliable motherboards. It has a good feature set, is built well and has good performance to boot. The only thing holding it back currently would be the price. 

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