|ASUS Sabertooth X79 TUF Motherboard|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Motherboards|
|Written by Olin Coles & David Ramsey|
|Monday, 14 November 2011|
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ASUS Sabertooth X79 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. On the Sabertooth X79 Express platform, ASUS incorporates an onboard micro-processor chip: TPU (TurboV Processing Unit). ASUS TPU relieves parts of process-intensive tasks from the CPU, and increases overall system performance. Now into its third generation, TPU uses 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 Sabertooth X79 offers 8-phase vCore power for the CPU, 2-phase VCCSA power to the processor's integrated memory controller, 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 DIGI+ Power Control 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. 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.
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 additional 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.
Intel X79 Express brings with it a new processor package: socket LGA2011. This new CPU socket in 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. Combined with US Military specification electronics, 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.
Native SuperSpeed USB 3.0 support in 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 two more SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports using an ASMedia ASM1042 chip. 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.
Intel Smart Response Technology, the creative tool for joining a 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 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.
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. While the Sabertooth X79 user manual describes support for Quad-GPU configurations, this is only possible if you're pairing two graphics cards that each house two GPUs, such as NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 590 or AMD's Radeon HD 6990. Three-way NVIDIA SLI and AMD CrossFireX configurations are supported, and on the ASUS Sabertooth X79 TUF motherboard PCI-E 3.0 graphics lanes can be configured into a x16/x16/x8 formation. Theses 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.
The same two native SATA 6Gb/s ports introduced with P67 Express return on X79. The Intel SATA 6Gb/s ports (colored dark brown: SATA6G_1-2) are joined by four additional SATA 3Gb/s ports (colored black: 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 white) 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.
Intel's X79 Express chip rests beneath the black plastic shroud of an actively-cooled heatsink at the Southbridge location, where heat output is rather mild. This Southbridge fan can be controlled using ASUS Thermal Radar software, as well as all other sensors and fan headers on this motherboard. Additionally, a Nuvoton Technology NCT6776F Super I/O chip positioned elsewhere on the board to help monitors several critical parameters in PC hardware, including power supply voltages, fan speeds and temperatures.