Intel's upcoming Sandy Bridge-E processor isn't out yet, but motherboard makers are already jockeying for position. A batch of X79 motherboards designed for the processor is waiting in the wings, and we weren't supposed to talk about specifics until the official launch. However, leaks elsewhere have loosened the restrictions on the embargo, which means I get to tease you with details about some of the boards in Asus' X79 lineup. There are numerous models, including fresh additions to the Republic of Gamers and Sabertooth families.
The Sabertooth line has become a favorite of ours for its high-grade electrical components, additional temperature monitoring sensors, and five-year warranty coverage. Those perks return in the Sabertooth X79, which offers a new take on the Thermal Armor concept that didn't work out so well for the Sabertooth's P67 incarnate. Rather than covering the entire board, this new Thermal Armor only shrouds the area around the rear port cluster. A fan is included this time around, and it's apparently quite an expensive little number that's been designed specifically for the Sabertooth and qualified for five years of operation.
Asus has also slapped a blower-style fan on the Sabertooth's chipset, which strikes us as odd because some of the company's X79 boards seem to get by just fine with passive chipset cooling. We're told the fans are quiet, and they'll at least be backed by robust temperature-based speed control.
Higher up the line, the Rampage IV Extreme wraps the X79 in the black and red colors of Asus' Republic of Gamers family. Although it doesn't appear that a final price has been set, this will undoubtedly be the most expensive board of the bunch. As you can see, the Rampage also features active chipset cooling. With enough PCI Express x16 slots to support four-way graphics configurations that can throw a lot of heat toward that area of the board, including a blower probably isn't a bad idea.
Asus has a few new tricks up its sleeve for the Rampage, but we can't discuss them today. Instead, let's have a look at the P9X79 Deluxe.
The Deluxe has the same core features as the other boards, including digital power delivery circuitry that now covers the DRAM modules. Eight DIMM slots will be standard across Asus' X79 lineup, which is a departure from the cheaper four-slot boards being offered by some manufacturers.
Although it won't be available on all of Asus' X79 models, the Deluxe features an SSD caching scheme similar to the Intel Smart Response Technology pinned to the Z68 chipset. The Asus implementation skips the chipset in favor of a Marvell controller with dual 6Gbps SATA ports: one for the SSD and one for the hard drive you want to accelerate. Some folks will recall that Marvell had its own HyperDuo caching scheme before SRT stole the limelight. Asus tells us that its implementation is different; the software and caching algorithms were all developed in-house.
We'll have to test Asus' caching system to see how it compares to Smart Response. Naturally, we'll be taking a closer look at several X79 motherboards when the platform makes its official debut.