Asus Sabertooth X79: Overview
Intel's latest world beating beast, the Core i7-3960X, has arrived and so has its X79 chipset.
And that means a raft of fancy new motherboards based on the equally box-fresh X79 chipset. Intel's own DX79SI aside, our first taste of an X79 mobo comes in the form of the Asus Sabertooth X79.
Like previous Sabertooth branded boards, the emphasis is on bang for buck.
Well, relatively speaking.
All boards based on Intel's new X79 chipset are high end by definition. But compared to Asus's silly money RoG boards, the Sabertooth X79 is positively parsimonious.
Earlier Sabertooth boards like the P67 model model were distinct thanks to the so-called "Thermal Armour" feature which enclosed the vast majority of the PCB in a fan-cooled jacket, the better to manage airflow across critical components.
As we'll see, that's not a feature Asus has carried over for the X79 flavour.
But the Sabertooth still has plenty to offer.
Asus Sabertooth X79: Benchmarks
We pit this first X79 board against one of Asus's Republic of Gamers boards with a hex-core Gulftown chip at its heart.
The performance boost of the new chip is tangible at stock speeds but almost mind-blowing at the top overclocked settings of 4.8GHz.
Multi-threaded rendering performance
Single-threaded rendering performance
CPU encoding performance
Asus Sabertooth X79: Verdict
The arrival of Intel's Sandy Bridge E might be a little perplexing in terms of Intel's new core-fusing strategy. We certainly weren't expecting Intel to roll out an eight-core chip with two cores turned off.
However, as far as the platform goes, it does represent a major overhaul.
Most obviously we've got a new socket, the pin-tastic LGA 2,011. But the socket isn't the only big change.
There are at least two further major upgrades and it just so happens that they push in opposite directions in terms of board design.
The first is the introduction of a quad-channel memory controller.
Whether it's worth any extra performance over the triple-channel controller of LGA1,366 is frankly a moot point. We're stuck with it. But what we can say for sure is that it makes board design a lot busier.
As a consequence the Asus Sabertooth X79 sports fully eight memory DIMM slots. That's two per channel.
Some X79 manufacturers are limiting their overclocking boards to four DIMM slots, claiming not adding in extra slots will aid overclocking. With the 4.8GHz we got out of our 3.33GHz rated chip that doesn't seem to be a problem for the Sabertooth X79.
Pushing the other way regards design complexity is the X79's single-chip architecture.
However, it's not enough to offset those extra DIMM slots and the upshot is that the Sabertooth X79 has lost the "Thermal Armour" cladding seen in the Sabertooth P67. There just isn't space to plumb in the fan.
Instead, Asus has rigged up an enclosure around the rear panel, complete with a small fan to extract the worst of the hot gases from the chipset.
Further cooling efforts involve beefy heatsinks throughout.
Another highlight of Asus's implementation of the X79 chipset is a new take on SSD caching.
Think of it as a more user-friendly version of Intel's smart cache. Asus's effort is much easier to set up. In fact, you can add it any time you want after installing the OS on a normal magnetic hard drive.
Simply connect your caching SSD. Fire up the Asus app, click "cache" and that's it. You can carrying on working while the system sets up the cache and you don't even have to reboot on completetion. Clever, eh?
Finally, in the name of improved stability, Asus has extended its digital power management from the Vcore to the memory controller.
That should make using aggressive settings a more realistic long-term solution.
Elsewhere, it's largely standard X79 fare.
That means support for both NVIDIA's SLI and AMD Crossfire X multi-GPU platforms amd native SATA 6Gbps (the SSD caching features leverages a Marvell 6Gbps controller) but no native USB 3.0 (the latter comes courtesy of a third party chip).
Asus's RoG boards are all very well if money's no object. Back in the real world, the Sabertooth series offers a much more realistic compromise between performance, features and price.
The chipset cooling and overclocking support look very solid. We certainly squeezed some great numbers out of the new Core i7-3960X.
Not a great deal, if we're honest.
One thing you will miss if you're in the habit of improvising rigs is are onboard power and reset switches. They don't appear here. It's also difficult to know precisely how good the performance is with so few current frames of reference.
As X79 boards go, the Sabertooth is competitively priced, has all the crucial features and looks built to las.