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Reviews - Featured Reviews: Motherboards
Written by Olin Coles & David Ramsey   
Sunday, 20 November 2011
Table of Contents: Page Index
ASUS P9X79 Pro Motherboard
The Intel X79 Express Chipset
Closer Look: ASUS P9X79 Pro
ASUS P9X79 Pro Details
ASUS UEFI BIOS
ASUS P9X79 Pro Specifications
Motherboard Testing Methodology
AIDA64 Extreme Edition Tests
PCMark Vantage Tests
CINEBENCH R11.5 Benchmarks
CPU-Dependent 3D Gaming
PassMark PerformanceTest
Media Encoding Benchmarks
SPECviewperf 11 Tests
SPECapc Lightwave
Blender and POV-Ray
ASUS P9X79 Pro Conclusion

ASUS P9X79 Pro Details

Keeping with the times, ASUS joined the digital revolution back in 2010 when their Intel P67-series motherboard platform made the transition from analog power. New for the X79 Express platform, ASUS incorporates Dual Intelligent Processors 3 (DIP3) architecture comprised of two onboard micro-processor chips: TPU (TurboV Processing Unit) and EPU (Energy Processing Unit). ASUS TPU (TurboV Processing Unit) relieves parts of process-intensive tasks from the CPU and increases overall performance, while ASUS EPU (Energy Processing Unit) reduces power drain from all system components. Each of these features has its own physical switch on the motherboard, but may also be controlled via ASUS AI Suite II software or enabled in the BIOS. Now into their third generation, TPU and EPU use DIGI+ Power Control technology (formerly DIGI+ VRM) features fully-digital power voltage regulator modules (VRMs) that give the overclocker ultra-precise memory voltage tuning and processor voltage control. DIGI+ Power Control takes digital voltage settings from only the CPU vCore and extends them to CPU vCore, CPU VCCSA, and DDR3 system memory.

These programmable digital VRM controllers make it possible to accurately match multiple digital power signals (SVID) without power transfer loss. DIGI+ Power Control on P9X79 Pro offers 8-phase vCore power for the CPU (16-phase on ASUS P9X79 Deluxe), 2-phase VCCSA power to the processor's integrated memory controller (4-phase on Deluxe), and 2+2 phase VDIMM power for the system DRAM. The switch from an analog to digital CPU and RAM power regulation allows ASUS P9X79-series motherboards to be more energy efficient, because DIP3 reduces total power dissipation, and as a positive byproduct the mainboard components do not create excess heat. With the ASUS DIGI+ Power Control feature, users can choose between an auto Spread Spectrum mode where the VRM frequency is varied dynamically, resulting in lower interference (dBuV) and higher system stability. With DIGI+ Power Control configured with Fixed Frequency Mode, the motherboard allows for greater overclocking potential as the frequency increases towards 500k Hz in precise 10k Hz increments.

The ASUS TurboV Processing Unit is designed to manage processor, memory, and various component voltages. There are few technical details available about the TPU micro-processor other than what the chip is labeled with: TPU 035-CA1. There's also a DIGI+ chip labeled ASP1101-C nearby. ASUS EPU actively manages the power phases and hands off necessary commands to the EPU driver, which coordinates functions with voltage control software to adjust operating frequency and voltage according to the load applied. The ASUS EPU chip is a holdover from P67, keeping the previous branding: DIGI+ VRM EPU ASP1000C (by CHiL Semiconductor Corporation). This level of precision power management allows for longer lasting electronics, better component durability, and a more controlled overclocking environment. Gone are the days when 1.50V meant that your hardware actually received +/- 0.025 volts (or worse), now the requested voltage setting correctly delivers exactly the right amount of power assigned. This becomes especially handy with ASUS AI Suite II, which allows users to specify exact operating limits for their projects.

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Native SuperSpeed USB 3.0 support is finally available to Intel motherboards, but the new X79 Express platform keeps this port in very short supply. Intel's design offers only one pair of ports, so ASUS was quick to include large-scale support for this appropriately named technology by adding a total of six SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports using ASMedia ASM1042 chips. SuperSpeed USB 3.0 file transfer tests have proven 5.0 Gb/s signaling rates are possible, but that wasn't enough for the engineers at ASUS. Their non-proprietary ASUS USB 3.0 Boost goes beyond SuperSpeed USB transfer speeds by using the more efficient USB Attached SCSI (UAS) protocol for more responsive bandwidth. Additionally, ASUS USB BIOS Flashback returns with X79, and enables firmware updates without any CPU/RAM/GPU hardware components installed on the motherboard.

EDITOR'S NOTE 03/01/2012: Some users have reported BSOD/STOP 0x09F problems with 64-bit Windows 7 and the ASMedia ASM1042 USB 3.0 drivers as of version 1.14.4.0. Please help generate attention so ASMedia might correct this issue.

Intel Smart Response Technology, the creative tool for joining an SSD cache drive to a large-capacity hard disk drive, is not supported on Intel's X79 Express chipset. This means that motherboard manufacturers are free to engineer a solution of their own, which is what ASUS SSD Caching accomplishes on the Marvell 9128 controller. Users can benefit from ASUS SSD Caching by using solid state drive speeds to intelligently accelerate frequently-accessed tasks and applications on a hard disk drive. Offering application speeds up to three times faster than mechanical hard drives alone, ASUS SSD Caching features an exclusive user interface and storage control options that boosts performance with one click.

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Another development revealed with Intel's X79 Express chipset is the support for quad-channel DDR3 memory configurations, which places eight DIMM slots onto the motherboard. As 64-bit Operating Systems become the standard and high-density memory modules shed their high price tag, power users will seek out the massive system memory capacities available to push their high-demand applications. Besides the addition of four supplemental DIMM slots beside the processor, there's the option of using some of this memory for inventive purposes. For example, keen users could load their X79 motherboard 64GB DDR3, and use half of this to create a RAM-disk to work with ASUS SSD Caching for improved overall system performance.

With eight hungry DIMM slots, there's the increased possibility that incompatible memory could cause a boot failure. In such a situation, ASUS MemOK! will lend a helping hand. First, the DRAM_LED light will blink continuously near the MemOK! button. By holding down this button until the DRAM_LED begins blinking, ASUS MemOK! will begin automatic memory compatibility tuning to help increase the chances of a successful motherboard boot up. MemOK! determines failsafe settings and improves the chances of system boot-up when they might not be otherwise possible.

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Intel X79 Express brings with it a new processor package: socket LGA2011. This new CPU socket is only compatible with new Intel Core i7 processors 3960X, 3930K, and the soon-to-be-released Core i7-3820. ASUS positions anodized aluminum heatsinks near the LGA2011 socket, using the CPU cooler's fan to help cool power components hiding under the heatsink. The surface of each heatsink is shaped to cover tall VRM's, and several low-profile electronic components. ASUS uses all Japanese manufactured SMD solid state capacitors, containing a solid organic polymer and lower equivalent series resistance (ESR) will likely outlast the useful life of any ASUS X79-series motherboard.

PCI Express 3.0 is supported on X79 Express motherboards, capable of delivering up to 32GB/s on compatible devices across 48 lanes. The integrated PCI-Express controller on Sandy Bridge Extreme processors offers 40 shared PCI-E graphics lanes, and the Intel X79 Express chip adds another 8 shared PCI-Express lanes used for motherboard functions. Both 3-Way/Quad-GPU NVIDIA SLI and AMD CrossFireX configurations are supported, and on the ASUS P9X79 Pro motherboard graphics lanes can be configured into two formations: x16/x8/x16, or x16/x8/x8/x8. These newly added PCI-E lanes enable X79 Express motherboards to operate with full functionality when multiple graphics cards are installed, utilizing USB 3.0 and other mainboard resources without sacrifice.

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The same two native SATA 6Gb/s ports introduced with P67 Express return on X79. The Intel SATA 6Gb/s ports (colored gray: SATA6G_1-2) are joined by four additional SATA 3Gb/s ports (colored blue: SATA3G_3-6) with RAID-0/1/5/10 support. Intel's third-generation SATA storage controller allows performance enthusiasts to enjoy faster top-end bandwidth speeds from capable storage devices, primarily Solid State Drives, and supports RAID-0/1/5/10 functionality. ASUS then adds an additional two SATA 6Gb/s ports (colored gray) by using the Marvell 88SE9128 controller with RAID-1/0 support through Marvell RAID utility (MRU) and driver. The orientation of all eight SATA ports utilizes transverse-mount connections to stem cables outward to the side of the motherboard. This layout works extremely well for all modern video cards, especially those that measure 9.5" or longer that occupy multiple expansion slots.

There are a few unsung heroes hiding behind the scenes. A heatsink where the Northbridge would reside conceals a tiny ICS 9DB403DGLF (Integrated Device Technology) PCI-Express Intel DB400 four-output differential buffer. This cool-running component measure only 9.7mm long by 4.4mm wide and consumes a mere 3.3 volts, which makes the large aluminum heatsink (and attached heat-pipe) quite superfluous. Intel's X79 Express chip rests beneath a much less impressive heatsink at the Southbridge location, where heat output is rather mild. Additionally, a Nuvoton Technology NCT6776F Super I/O chip positioned elsewhere on the board to help monitor several critical parameters in PC hardware, including power supply voltages, fan speeds and temperatures.



 

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