ASUS P9X79 Sandy Bridge-E Motherboard Review Socket LGA 2011

6
Posted January 30, 2012 by Patrick Kennedy in Workstation Hardware

Today we are looking at the ASUS P9X79 motherboard for Intel’s LGA 2011 Sandy Bridge-E processors. It is quite likely that this board gets paired with one of two types of chips, first the Intel Core i7-3930K or a lower-clocked Xeon E5 CPU. As we have covered previously ASUS does a great job of segmenting markets by building a basic board design, then adding features for a slight price bump. The ASUS P9X79 is the entry model for ASUS, but it still has a ton of functionality as it should being a Sandy Bridge-E board.

Test Configuration

One thing I wanted to do with all LGA 2011 reviews was to test stability using the maximum number of DIMMs. Frankly, one of the most compelling features of the LGA 2011, single socket Intel Core i7 desktop platform is the ability to utilize up to eight DIMMs, which is something a user would have previously needed a dual socket system or a single socket AMD G34 platform to do.

  1. CPU(s): Intel Core i7-3930K and Xeon E5 8-core 16 thread CPU
  2. Motherboard: ASUS P9X79
  3. Memory: 32GB (8x 4GB) G.Skill Ripjaws X DDR3 1600
  4. Drives: Corsair Force3 120GB, OCZ Vertex 3 120GB
  5. Chassis: Norco RPC-4220
  6. Power Supply: Corsair AX850 850w 80 Plus Gold
Overall, this configuration provides a lot of CPU and memory capacity for users. One other thing is that I tried using a lot of higher-end “value” level components because the P9X79 is positioned as a value board in the Intel Core i7 segment.

Features

The ASUS P9X79 motherboard is a standard ATX size motherboard which practically means that the board is going to be fairly well packed. One has to remember that for single-socket solutions the LGA 2011 platform uses significantly more room than a Sandy Bridge or Ivy Bridge LGA 1155 board. The 8-pin CPU power connector is located at the top of the board. It can be a bit awkward to have the 8-pin power connector in that spot in tight cases or cases that become tight where large radiators and/ or fans are attached above the board.
ASUS P9X79 Top View

ASUS P9X79 Top View

The LGA 2011 socket is physically larger and eight DDR3 DIMM slots take up a lot of space. There is a decent amount of room around the socket. Very large heatsinks on the CPU and memory may interfere with each other.
ASUS P9X79 LGA 2011 Socket and DIMMs

ASUS P9X79 LGA 2011 Socket and DIMMs

Aside from the eight DIMM slots, the P9X79 has three PCIe x16 (two x16 electrical and one x8 electrical) slots which help take advantage of the massive PCIe bandwidth that the LGA 2011 platform offers. One also notices two PCIe slots just below the first PCIe x16 slot which are good for expansion cards like a second NIC. One will likely be covered in the top slot with a dual-slot GPU, but having the second PCIe x1 slot below usually means there will be a smaller card that will not block much airflow next to the GPU. One exciting thing is that the LGA 2011 platforms will support PCIe 3.0 when the specs become final, so these slots will double bandwidth potential over PCIe 2.0 over time. Between the second and third PCIe x16 slots is a legacy PCI slot. With the Intel X79 boards, PCI slots are certainly less than plentiful these days. If you need PCI compatibility on a X79 platform, the P9X79 is going to be one of the few options.
ASUS P9X79 Expansion Slots

ASUS P9X79 Expansion Slots

In a configuration similar to the ASUS consumer LGA 1155 line, the P9X79 has six SATA ports in the lower right portion of the board. These ports all run parallel to the PCB which makes cable management easier, especially with front-of-chassis drive bays. The light blue ports are SATA II 3.0gbps and the white ports are SATA III 6.0gbps. The huge PCH heatsink really does show the fact that Intel was originally expecting the X79 chipset to support eight SAS 2 6.0gbps ports and a RAID engine, but that support was pulled just before launch. Some vendors are enabling this functionality, but I would be wary as Intel obviously pulled this feature for a reason.
ASUS P9X79 SATA Ports

ASUS P9X79 SATA Ports

The rear I/O panel has a legacy PS/2 port again helping with backward compatibility. As a forward looking feature the P9X79 has four USB 3.0 ports and six USB 2.0 ports. One of the USB 2.0 ports is used for a feature called BIOS flashback that one can use when one needs to re-flash the BIOS. Specifically the BIOS flashback feature uses standby PSU power to perform the flash, without other components installed. I found this to be very useful the one time I tried it for the review. There are two eSATA ports (one powered) controlled by an ASMedia ASM1061 controller which is probably not my top choice in terms of compatibility, but sticking to Windows one should be fine. ASUS has put a big emphasis on using Intel gigabit NICs on their boards, and the P9X79 is a great example with its single Intel 82579V controller. I strongly prefer (as do many others) Intel to Realtek NICs so this is a big plus. 7.1 audio is provided by the Realtek ALC892 and two features ASUS is pushing throughout its X79 line, dts UltraPC II and dts connect. Both of these features from DTS Inc. more or less serve to take an audio source and up mix it to 7.1 or take a 7.1 source and mix it for headphones, stereo speakers and the like.
ASUS P9X79 Rear IO Ports

ASUS P9X79 Rear IO Ports

One thing that should be called out Overall, the ASUS P9X79 has a great list of features for a “low-end” board in a given platform’s lineup. Frankly, I expect better features on an ultra-high-end LGA 2011 platform versus a FM1, AM3+ or LGA 1155 platform simply because the overall costs are much higher.

Software

Probably the most interesting piece of software is the UEFI interface that ASUS provides. For those accustomed to standard BIOS that have been used for decades, the ability to use a mouse is welcome. I did find though that using a mouse was almost necessary as navigating by keyboard was not as slick as old AMI, Phoenix, and Award BIOS implementations. The UEFI interface provides a simple mode (called EZ mode) that shows things like boot order, and lets a user change profiles between a power saving profile, balanced profile, and performance profile.

ASUS UEFI BIOS

ASUS UEFI BIOS

Beyond the UEFI interface, ASUS provides a suite of software including AISuite II  and ASUS Fan Xpert+. Plenty of details can be found on ASUS’s site, but the highlights from this software are the abilities to:

  • Monitor system information from fan speeds, temperatures, voltages, clock speeds and etc. and set alerts.
  • Overclock the CPU if desired either manually or using a CPU auto tuning feature. The base clock can be increased too by a small amount as 100MHz to 103MHz base clocks are generally obtainable from a 100MHz base. One cannot change the multiplier with K series CPUs on the C206 chipset much like the Intel H67 chipset.
  • Set the EPU power saving profiles and features. The EPU is a feature of ASUS motherboards meant to intelligently reduce power consumption.
  • Set and test fan speeds using Fan Xpert+. This can be useful if one wants to set thresholds and test them for quieter idle fan speeds ramping up as the workload increases.

Overall I found these utilities to be fairly useful and given the minimum of 8 threads one has with the LGA 2011 platform, performance is not an issue with these having fairly low CPU requirements. One should note that best practice will be to install each utility and driver individually as ASUS does include a small amount of bloatware with their automated installation.

Looking at the “next step up” from ASUS

As mentioned previously, ASUS has a great product strategy of offering a base board, like this P9X79 and then adding additional functionality at higher price points. That strategy always invites looking at the next step up in price and features. Upgrading to the ASUS P9X79 Pro version costs about $50 more gets you a few nice upgrades, especially at this class of board:

  1. A heat pipe plus heatsink design for cooling VRM and PCH
  2. The Pro version trades a PCI slot for a PCIe x16 physical slot
  3. Internal power and clear CMOS buttons
  4. Debug LED display
  5. A front panel USB 3.0 header
  6. Losing the PS/2 port for additional USB ports on the rear I/O backplane
  7. Two more SATA III 6.0gbps ports that allow one to use SSD caching
  8. An additional powered eSATA port on the rear I/O backplane
  9. ASUS’ bluetooth feature
Now that extra functionality comes at a relatively small price premium in that it is $50 more. $50 in the mainstream market is actually a big deal when one spends maybe $100-$280 on a CPU and motherboards are in the low $120 range. With LGA 2011, the price of entry is considerably higher at $600+ for a six-core CPU (I am omitting the 4C/8T from consideration here just because I think the LGA 1155 is better suited to that configuration at the moment) and $280+ for a motherboard. $50 in the mainstream market is something like a 20% premium while in the LGA 2011 segment it is well under 10% of the CPU/ motherboard cost.

Conclusion

Stating the obvious, I ran the ASUS P9X79 through a few tests like Folding@Home multi-day number crunching exercises and it did not flinch which I think is a necessity at this class of motherboard and platform. I expect stability from a $280 board and the ASUS P9X79 delivered even filled with eight DIMMs. I also really liked the fact that the board was able to take Xeon E5 CPUs with up to eight cores and think that is a really compelling use-case for them. Most of the Xeon E5 motherboards will be server oriented with few consumer features. The P9X79 is a relatively low cost X79 platform with some awesome features that would be great for someone looking to purchase an 8-core 16-thread Xeon CPU just as much as someone on a budget with an Intel Core i7-3930K. I think this is a solid board because it works, and has a nice set of features, including a PCI slot for those still concerned with backwards compatibility. One thing I would strongly urge users to do is to look at the $300+ tier for LGA 2011 motherboards also if looking at getting in this platform as vendors do offer a bit more “nice to have” features at that price point. Still, with a sub-$300 price, the P9X79 performed well and was very stable for me making it a good option in that price category.

ASUS P9X79 Summary

ASUS P9X79 Summary


About the Author

Patrick Kennedy

Patrick has been running ServeTheHome since 2009 and covers a wide variety of home and small business IT topics. For his day job, Patrick is a management consultant focused in the technology industry and has worked with numerous large hardware and storage vendors in the Silicon Valley. The goal of STH is simply to help users find some information about basic server building blocks. If you have any helpful information please feel free to post on the forums.

6 Comments


  1.  
    Eski

    Will you get to look at other ASUS boards???? I need 64GB DDR3 for some CFD programs I run but want more from a board if it costs that much




  2.  
    Allan Goph

    i just like the colors of the board. wish it had more pci-e




  3.  
    Edward

    Needs second lan, usb 3 front panel and bluetooth :-( good review and suggestion on upgrading to the pro and deluxe models




  4.  
    skillz

    More SNB-E motherboard reviews please Patrick. Also, any more info on xeon performance?




  5.  
    jze71

    he posted some info on xeon performance although didn’t say what board was used.

    I don’t get the point of saving 50 bucks on this versus a pro or deluxe when ur spending more than 1k on the board processor and memory. asus should have just made the pro their base model.

    looking at new egg reviews of this board versus the better ones right now is like 1 for this board and more than 12 for the pro so peeps aren’t buying these as much




  6.  
    John

    Will this board work with VMDirectPath?





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