review asus rampage iii gene and sabertooth x58 motherboards

Asus’ Rampage III Gene and Sabertooth X58 motherboards

Believe it or not, Intel’s top-of-the-line Core i7-980X Extreme is a pretty compelling value, at least within the context of a high-end system build. That’s uncommon for a halo product that costs an even grand, but we shouldn’t be surprised. The 980X’s Gulftown silicon is a native six-core design built using 32-nano fabrication technology, so it’s as cutting-edge as desktop CPUs get.

Gulftown’s arrival ushered in a renaissance of sorts for Intel’s LGA1366 platform, which includes the X58 Express core-logic chipset. As the original launch vehicle for the first Nehalem-based CPUs, the X58 has been around for just about two years now. Intel’s flagship chipset is still a competent competitor, but with Sandy Bridge lurking just over the horizon, rumors of a six-core derivative swirling, and motherboards based on new 6-series chipsets on display at IDF, the X58 is destined to be deprecated… eventually. Even after Sandy Bridge arrives, the X58 will reign as Intel’s only desktop core-logic chipset capable of supplying a pair of graphics cards with 32 lanes of PCIe 2.0 connectivity.

To keep the X58 Express in tune with the latest fashions, Asus has come up with a couple of new models that have all the latest goodies—USB 3.0 and 6Gbps SATA—plus their own unique perspective on what makes a good enthusiast board. One, the Rampage III Gene, is a microATX midget geared toward gamers and laced with remote overclocking functionality. The other, dubbed the Sabertooth X58, eschews the excesses that weigh down a lot of high-end motherboards in favor of a classic, stripped-down approach. Both boards are available for around $200, putting them firmly at the affordable end of the X58 spectrum. Naturally, we had to find out which is best and whether either is worthy of the high-end system setup you’re thinking about using to justify that 980X upgrade.

The Rampage III Gene
Exhibit A is the most recent addition to Asus’ growing family of Republic of Gamers motherboards. I’d characterize the ROG umbrella as the PC equivalent of BMW’s M division, Audi’s RS line, and Mercedes’ AMG offerings, but that implies an increase in performance that we generally don’t see from premium motherboards. Instead, the ROG badge denotes the inclusion of extra widgets and software, such as a GameFirst app that prioritizes networking packets for multiplayer gaming, onboard voltage probe points for hardcore overclockers, an overhauled AiSuite of Windows tweaking apps, and the ability to overclock and monitor a system remotely with a laptop via ROG Connect.

Premium features don’t come cheap. However, the Rampage’s $225 asking price is pretty reasonable for a high-end motherboard. This isn’t a run-of-the-mill ATX board, either. The Rampage squeezes into microATX dimensions, which should give LAN gamers a little more room in the trunk for an extra-large bag of Cheetos and a couple of cans of their favorite overcaffeinated beverage.

Despite its small footprint, the Rampage has all the accoutrements one would expect from a premium motherboard, and it very much looks the part, all dressed up in black and two different shades of red. I’m not sure if Asus meant the DIMM slots to be slightly more orange than the other red accents found on the board, but the two shades don’t quite match. You’re going to have a hard time spotting a difference between them in a fully loaded system, though.

I don’t mean to dwell on aesthetics, but the Rampage’s funky heatsinks are quite becoming. The north-bridge cooler is nice and chunky, and the dense array of thinner fins that sprouts up from the power regulation circuitry offers loads of surface area. Both heatsinks are a little on the tall side, so you’ll want to avoid aftermarket coolers that taper out aggressively from the CPU socket. Most tower-style designs raise their fins up high enough that clearance shouldn’t be a problem.

To avoid clearance conflicts with longer graphics cards, the Rampage’s DIMM slots only have retention tabs on one side. That’s enough to hold DIMMs securely, at least with the standard-sized modules we used for testing.

Speaking of clearance, note that all eight of the internal SATA ports are lined up along the board’s right edge. This orientation leaves plenty of room for longer graphics cards, but it can be a problem in tighter enclosures that put hard drive cages or other internal scaffolding right next to the motherboard tray. I suspect microATX cases are more prone to a tight fit than the average ATX mid-tower.

The slot stack on the Rampage III Gene is more generous than one might expect from a microATX board. You get two PCI Express x16 slots, each of which has a full 16 lanes of bandwidth. The x4 slot that sits between them is notched to accept longer graphics cards, but since it’s connected to the first-generation PCIe lanes in the south bridge, you’re only getting half the bandwidth of a PCIe 2.0 x4 slot.

Just to the left of the expansion slots lies a very fancy looking X-Fi SupremeFX sticker. Peel it back, and you’ll find a pedestrian Via VT2020 audio codec chip. The Via codec is responsible for handling the hardware side of the Rampage’s onboard audio, while Creative’s SupremeFX software adds support EAX 5.0 positional audio effects and leans on the CPU for any associated heavy lifting. EAX support is a nice touch on a board that targets gamers, but its utility is questionable at a time when few new titles make use of the standard.

At least the Creative audio control panel is slick, and it’s easy to avoid bloat by just installing the necessary drivers. I do wish the X-Fi supported real-time Dolby Digital Live or DTS encoding, though. The only way to get multi-channel audio out of the Rampage’s S/PDIF digital audio output is with content that has pre-recorded audio tracks. Gamers will have to use the analog outputs if they want surround sound.

Although the Rampage III Gene has a pretty good selection of connectivity options, it’s conspicuously missing external Serial ATA ports. There’s certainly room for eSATA, and I suspect most users would gladly give up one of the eight internal SATA ports to get an external option.

A couple of buttons do take up space in the port cluster, but both are important. The one on the left is a handy CMOS reset button, while the one on the right toggles the ROG Connect feature. Just to the right of the ROG Connect button sits the USB port used to connect a secondary system running Asus’ remote tweaking and overclocking software. ROG Connect is undoubtedly a neat technology. However, I don’t see much utility to the remote control capability outside of competitive overclocking circles.

Fortunately, you can still overclock via Asus’ TurboV Windows software or through the BIOS, which is predictably loaded with tuning options.

With a base clock that goes up to 500MHz and support for CPU and DRAM voltages up to 2.5V, even extreme overclockers fueled by liquid nitrogen should find ample headroom in the Rampage’s BIOS. The BIOS is a pleasure to use, too. Most clock speeds and all voltages can be keyed in directly, and there’s an incredible degree of granularity throughout.

An abundance of overclocking controls is hardly uncommon in the motherboard world, but good fan speed controls can be difficult to find. Asus has done a good job here, offering control over the CPU fan’s duty cycle and high temperature trigger. Similar options are available for one of the auxiliary fan headers, and users can choose between three presets for the system fan header. There’s only one problem: you’ll need a four-pin fan to get any level of fan speed control working with the CPU fan header. Three-pin fans will spin, but only at a constant speed.

The Sabertooth X58
Asus’ Sabertooth X58 may share the same chipset and basic feature set as the Rampage III Gene, but this is a different beast entirely. While the Rampage pushes the envelope with the latest and greatest overclocking widgets, the Sabertooth’s approach is decidedly old-school. So is its price. The Sabertooth rings in at a penny under $200, making it cheaper than the Rampage and most other X58 motherboards on the market. Remember when high-end motherboards topped out at $200? Those were the days.

Calling the Sabertooth a retro motherboard doesn’t do justice to the fact that this is cutting-edge high technology. Still, I can’t help but feel like the board is a bit of a throwback—in a good way. The color scheme, for example, looks like it was inspired by the palette from the original Quake.

This latest example of Asus’ military industrial complex is less special ops and more Army ranger. It’s a striking design, and although the choice of colors might not please everyone, I like the fact that Asus is offering a unique look. Besides, the military theme is appropriate. The Sabertooth is a part of Asus’ new TUF series, which includes capacitors, chokes, and MOSFETs that meet a host of military standards for temperature tolerance, moisture resistance, and vibration. That doesn’t mean the board will survive if your water-cooling setup springs a leak while the system is up and running, though.

In addition to featuring higher quality components, TUF boards also undergo “server-grade” reliability testing. I suspect that’s what gives Asus the confidence to cover them with an impressive five-year warranty. The Rampage III Gene only gets three years of coverage.

The Sabertooth’s unique sense of style wouldn’t be complete without matching heatsinks. Appropriately angular hunks of metal flank the CPU socket on three sides, covering the north-bridge chip and the board’s power regulation circuitry. Like the Rampage, the Sabertooth has a 12-phase power delivery system: eight phases for the CPU core, two for its uncore component, and an additional two phases for the north bridge.

Closer inspection of the Sabertooth’s heatsinks reveals a rough finish that Asus calls CeraM!X. Apparently, the only thing more l33t than replacing letters with numbers is throwing punctuation into the mix. @wesome! On a more serious note, Asus says the porous ceramic coating increases surface area by 50%. Asus hasn’t used the increase to make the heatsinks any smaller, so you’ll still need to watch for clearance with larger aftermarket coolers that branch out from the socket. At least the north-bridge cooler makes room for longer expansion cards to stretch behind the top PCIe x1 slot.

A ceramic coating is no substitute for fins, but the cooling requirements of the board’s ICH10R south-bridge silicon are modest at best. The chip’s low-profile heatsink won’t interfere with longer graphics cards, and neither will the edge-mounted Serial ATA ports. Just check to make sure that your case leaves enough room between the edge of the motherboard tray and the drive cage assembly to accommodate all your SATA cabling.

Unlike its Rampage cousin, the Sabertooth doesn’t have luxuries like onboard power and reset buttons or a strip of contact points for multimeter probes. Competitive overclockers might miss those amenities, but the average user who runs his system inside a case probably won’t. That same user may, however, be disappointed to learn that the only way to reset the Sabertooth’s CMOS is with an onboard jumper. Remember those?

This might seem like the sort of board that should come loaded with PCI slots, but it doesn’t. In fact, using a double-wide graphics card in the primary x16 slot will rob you of PCI connectivity completely. Fortunately, there are no fewer than five PCI Express slots available, three of which can accept x16 cards. The third slot only has four lanes of bandwidth running to it, and because those lanes stem from the south bridge, you’re only getting gen-one speeds.

If you do the math, it becomes clear that the X58 Express doesn’t have quite enough PCIe connectivity to cover the Sabertooth’s various slots and peripherals. The bottom x16 slot shares PCIe lanes with the lower x1, while the USB 3.0 and 6GBps Serial ATA chips hang off auxiliary lanes in the north bridge.

Around back, the Sabertooth’s port cluster serves up a little bit of everything. Seriously. Not only do you get a couple of USB 3.0 ports and FireWire connectivity, there are also dual external Serial ATA ports: one with integrated USB power and one without.

The goodness keeps flowing with analog and digital audio outs. Realtek’s new ALC892 codec takes care of things behind the scenes, but like the Rampage, there are no provisions for on-the-fly Dolby Digital Live or DTS encoding. Either would allow folks with compatible speakers or receivers to skirt the onboard codec’s DACs and enjoy pristine multi-channel audio in games—without having to spring for a sound card.

Gone are the days when multiple Gigabit Ethernet ports were common on high-end motherboards; we’re mostly back to single ports now. That’s fine by me, but Asus cut a little too deep when it decided to back the Sabertooth’s one GigE jack with a PCI-based Realtek RTL8110SC networking controller. We’ll see the impact of this poor peripheral choice when we test networking throughput in a moment.

The Sabertooth’s BIOS serves up the same basic feature set, interface, clock tweaking options, and voltage ranges as the Rampage, although it only goes up to 2.1V for the CPU. Pfft. But seriously, that should be more than enough juice for folks cooling with air or liquids other than condensed nitrogen. As an added safeguard, Asus requires that users flip onboard jumpers to gain access to the upper voltage ranges.

Moving to fan speed controls, the BIOS gives users the same options for the CPU and system fan that we saw on the Rampage. However, there are no manual controls for the other onboard fan headers, and there’s no way to enable temperature-based speed control for three-pin CPU fans. Asus’ BIOS-level fan controls have come a long way over the past year, but there’s still work to be done to match what was available more than seven years ago on motherboards built by Abit, an enthusiast darling at the time that’s since exited the market.

Digging into the details
As always, we’ve summarized the essential details of each board’s BIOS and specifications in a couple of handy charts below. This information may not make for engaging reading, so feel free to scroll past it and onto our test results, if you wish.

Rampage III Gene Sabertooth X58
Clock speeds Base: 100-500MHz in 1MHz steps
PCIe: 100-200MHz in 1MHz steps
DRAM: 800-2400MHz in 266MHz steps
Uncore: 2666-5600MHz in 133MHz steps
QPI: slow mode, 4800, 5866, 6400 MT/s
Base: 100-500MHz in 1MHz steps
PCIe: 100-200MHz in 1MHz steps
DRAM: 800-2400MHz in 266MHz steps
Uncore: 2666-5600MHz in 133MHz steps
QPI: slow mode, 4800, 5866, 6400 MT/s
Multipliers CPU: 12-21X in 1X steps (Core i7-920) CPU: 12-21X in 1X steps (Core i7-920)
Voltages CPU: 0.85-1.8/2.5V in 0.00625V steps
CPU PLL: 1.20575-2.05375V in 0.01325V steps

QPI: 1.2-1.8/2.5V in
00625V steps
DRAM: 1.20575-2.10675/2.50425V in 01325V steps
DRAM data a/b/c: -157.5/+200mV in 12.5mV steps
DRAM ctrl a/b/c: -157.5/+200mV in 12.5mV steps

IOH: 1.113-1.908V in 0.01325V steps
IOH PCIe: 1.5105-2.7825V in 0.01325V steps
ICH: 1.113-2.00075V in 0.01325V steps
ICH PCIe: 1.5105-2.05375V in 0.01325V steps
CPU: 0.85-1.7/2.1V in 0.00625V steps
CPU PLL: 1.8-2.5V in 0.02V steps

QPI: 1.2-1.6/1.9V in 0.02V steps
DRAM: 1.2-2/2.46V in 0.01V steps
DRAM data a/b/c: 0.395x-0.63x in 0.005x steps
DRAM ctrl a/b/c: 0.395x-0.63x in 0.005x steps

IOH: 1.1-1.7V in 0.02V steps
IOH PCIe: 1.5-2.76V in 0.02V steps
ICH: 1.1-1.4V in 0.1V steps
ICH PCIe: 1.5-1.8V in 0.1V steps
Monitoring Voltage, fan status, and temperature Voltage, fan status, and temperature
Fan speed control CPU, system: silent, standard, turbo
CPU min/max duty cycle: 0-100% in 10% steps
CPU high temp trigger: 40-90°C in 10°C steps
OPTFan1 low temp: 25-40°C in 5°C steps
OPTFan1 high temp: 60-90°C in 10°C steps
OPTFan1 duty cycle: 40-90% in 10% steps
CPU, system: silent, standard, turbo
CPU min/max duty cycle: 0-100% in 10% steps
CPU high temp trigger: 40-90°C in 10°C steps

As you can see, the BIOSes are pretty well matched. The Rampage as a little extra range and granularity, but the Sabertooth is by no means lacking.

Rampage III Gene Sabertooth X58
CPU power 8x2x2 8x2x2
DIMM slots 4 DDR3-2400* 4 DDR3-2400*
Expansion slots 2 PCIe x16
1 PCIe x4
3 PCIe x16 (x16/x16/x4)
1 PCIe x1
Storage I/O 6 3Gbps SATA RAID 0, 1, 10, 5
2 6Gbps SATA RAID 0, 1 via Marvell 9128
6 3Gbps SATA RAID 0, 1, 10, 5
2 6Gbps SATA RAID 0, 1 via Marvell 9128
Audio 8-channel HD via VIAVT2020
EAX via Creative X-Fi SupremeFX
8-channel HD via Realtek ALC892
Ports 1 PS/2 keyboard
USB 2.0 w/ 4 headers
2 USB 3.0 via NEC D720200F1
1 FireWire w/ 1 header via VIA VT6308P
1 RJ45 via Intel 82567V-2

1 analog front out
1 analog bass/center out
1 analog rear out
1 analog surround out
1 analog line in
1 analog mic in
1 digital S/PDIF out (TOS-Link)
1 PS/2 keyboard/mouse
USB 2.0 w/ 6 headers
2 USB 3.0 via NEC D720200F1
1 FireWire w/ 1 header via VIA VT6308P
1 eSATA/USB via JMicron JMB362
1 eSATA via JMicron JMB362
1 RJ45 via Realtek RTL8110SC

1 analog front out
1 analog bass/center out
1 analog rear out
1 analog surround out
1 analog line in
1 analog mic in
1 digital S/PDIF out (TOS-Link)

Note the differences in the audio codecs and networking controllers. Otherwise, the boards have similar peripheral payloads.

Our testing methods
If the 1066MHz memory speed listed in the chart below seems slow for a Core i7, you’re right. Retail processors are capable of running their memory at up to 1333MHz. Scott’s hoarding all the Gulftown CPUs in Damage Labs, so I’m using a Core i7-920 engineering sample from the original Nehalem launch. Unlike the CPUs you can buy in stores, this chip’s multiplier tops out at 8X. You can’t run the memory faster than 1066MHz without increasing the base clock above its 133MHz default.

With few exceptions, all tests were run at least three times, and we reported the median of the scores produced.

Processor Core i7-920 2.66GHz ES
Motherboard Asus Sabertooth X58 Asus Rampage III Gene
Bios revision 0402 0602
Platform hub Intel X58 Express
South bridge Intel ICH10R
Chipset drivers Chipset:
Memory size 6GB (3 DIMMs)
Memory type OCZ OCZ3G1600LV6GK DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz
Memory timings 7-7-7-20-1T
Audio Realtek ALC889 with 2.52 drivers VIA VT2020 with drivers
Graphics Asus EAH5870 1GB with Catalyst 10.9 drivers
Hard drive Western Raptor X 150GB
Power Supply PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750W
OS Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64

We’d like to thank Western Digital for sending Raptor WD1500ADFD hard drives for our test rigs.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1280×1024 in 32-bit color at a 60Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

Performance, power consumption, and overclocking
Integrated memory controllers have largely leveled the playing field for memory performance, especially when you’re using identical DIMMs running at the same speed and timings. How a motherboard maker chooses to tune an integrated memory controller can influence performance somewhat, but keep in mind we’re dealing with two very similar Asus BIOSes.

As you’d expect, there’s very little difference in memory performance. Throughput is nearly identical between the two boards, and their access latencies differ by no more than a nanosecond.

The Rampage has fewer traces and onboard components than the Sabertooth, but it also has additional features and custom silicon to support them. So, which board consumes less power? To find out, we measured system power consumption, sans monitor and speakers, at the wall outlet using a Watts Up Pro power meter. Readings were taken at idle and under a load consisting of a Cinebench 11.5 render alongside the rthdribl HDR lighting demo. We tested with Windows 7’s High Performance and Balanced power plans.

Part of the extra goodness that comes with the Rampage is Asus EPU power-saving software, which must be run in high performance mode to avoid capping the CPU multiplier at 12X. We ran the Rampage with and without the EPU software enabled.

It didn’t make much difference, though. In fact, the Rampage drew slightly more power with the EPU software enabled. If the only way to actually realize power savings is to impede performance by slamming the multiplier, you’re better off not bothering. The Sabertooth does just fine without fancy software, and it actually draws five watts fewer than the Rampage at idle.

Asus bundles its own automatic overclocking software with mid-range P55 boards, but it hasn’t done so with either of these X58 offerings. The reason? Folks buying into the X58 platform know what they’re doing. That said, the Sabertooth does come with Intel’s latest overclocking utility, which has a measure of auto-tuning built right in.

Instead of letting software do the grunt work for us, we tackled the base clock speed of each board the old-fashioned way: by lowering the CPU and other system multipliers and then slowly turning up the base clock. Along the way, we used Prime95 and the rthdribl HDR lighting demo to test for stability.

210MHz on the Rampage III Gene…

And the very same base clock speed on the Sabertooth

As luck would have it, both boards marched up to a 210MHz base clock without making a fuss. Neither would even post with a 215MHz base clock, however. I fiddled with QPI settings, added voltage here and there, and even relaxed memory timings, to no avail. 210MHz certainly isn’t anything to sneeze at, although given the age of our CPU, I suspect there could be additional base clock headroom lurking in both boards.

Our last stop on the testing front is the wonderful world of onboard peripherals. Here’s how the boards’ most important ports perform:

HD Tach USB 3.0 performance
Read burst
speed (MB/s)
Average read
speed (MB/s)
Average write
speed (MB/s)
CPU utilization
Rampage III Gene 215.8 175.8 60.0 2
Sabertooth X58 214.1 176.1 59.7 2

I used Super Talent’s USB 3.0 RAIDDrive to test SuperSpeed performance, and the Rampage and Sabertooth offered equivalent throughput and CPU utilization. The write speeds above are a little pokey because the RAIDDrive’s flash memory is slow to write, not due to any shortcomings in the USB 3.0 interface of either board.

HD Tach USB 2.0 performance
Read burst
speed (MB/s)
Average read
speed (MB/s)
Average write
speed (MB/s)
CPU utilization
Rampage III Gene 36.2 35.0 24.8 1
Sabertooth X58 36.2 35.0 25.2 1

If your external storage devices are USB 2.0, well, they’ll be slower than equivalent SuperSpeed products. Once more, the Rampage and Sabertooth are locked in a dead heat.

HD Tach Serial ATA performance
Read burst
speed (MB/s)
Average read
speed (MB/s)
Average write
speed (MB/s)
Random access time (ms) CPU utilization
Rampage III Gene 246.2 134.7 135.2 6.9 1
Rampage III Gene (Marvell) 315.3 136.2 84.5 6.9 1
Sabertooth X58 246.5 136.2 135.1 6.8 1
Sabertooth X58 (Marvell) 318.8 136.2 85.3 6.9 1

Oh, look, another set of near identical results. Although there are differences in performance between the ICH10R’s 3Gbps SATA controller and the 6Gbps Marvell chip, the two Asus boards again turn in similar scores. In case you’re wondering, we used WD’s 6Gbps VelociRaptor VR200M as the target drive for this particular test.

NTttcp Ethernet performance
Throughput (Mbps) CPU utilization (%)
Rampage III Gene 930.3 2.6
Sabertooth X58 711.0 2.5

Remember the Sabertooth’s PCI-based Gigabit Ethernet controller? It costs you nearly 220Mbps in throughput versus the Rampage’s Intel networking controller—a drop of close to 24%. The Rampage uses the Intel GigE controller built into the ICH10R south bridge, and it offers comparable throughput to what we’ve observed with PCIe-based controllers from Marvell and Realtek. Tapping the south bridge controller saves Asus a PCI Express lane on the Rampage, and the same approach should’ve been used with the Sabertooth.

RightMark Audio Analyzer audio quality
Frequency response Noise level Dynamic range THD THD + Noise IMD + Noise Stereo Crosstalk IMD at 10kHz Overall score
Rampage III Gene 1 4 4 4 3 1 1 1 2
Sabertooth X58 5 4 4 5 3 4 5 4 4

Ouch! X-Fi or not, the Rampage board’s Via codec does not perform well in our RightMark Audio Analyzer loopback test. A higher score is better here, with six being best. Obviously, the string of ones from the Rampage isn’t good. We made sure Creative’s software layer wasn’t doing any thing funky to the signal by disabling the EQ, EAX effects, and pretty much everything else. RMAA continued to report loads of inter-channel leakage, though.

Oddly, music playback sounds fine on the Rampage. “Fine” being average, or barely satisfactory for anyone with a good ear and decent headphones or speakers. I initially suspected that RMAA might be picking up some issues with the Rampage’s line input, which the loopback test uses to record the waveform it pipes through the front-channel output, but we saw similar results using a Xonar DG at the receiving end of the loopback test.

The Rampage III Gene and Sabertooth X58 are very similar motherboards. Asus builds ’em both, and they share the same socket and core-logic chipset, they sport matching USB 3.0 and 6Gbps SATA controllers, they have largely equivalent BIOS functionality, and they offer virtually identical performance and power consumption. In some ways, however, these two cousins couldn’t be any more distant.

With ROG branding and a microATX form factor, the Rampage seems aimed at LAN gamers and competitive overclockers. That’s a bit of an odd combination, since microATX’s smaller dimensions seem to hold no benefits for folks who super-cool CPUs with liquid nitrogen on open test beds. I’m not sure what gamers are going to do with ROG connect or onboard voltage probing points, either.

Of course, motherboard makers are infamous for piling on extras with their high-end offerings. Some of those additions, like a CMOS reset switch in the port cluster and onboard power buttons, make a lot of sense. But the Rampage is also missing a number of features that would be quite nice to have on a high-end motherboard, especially one whose microATX dimensions limit expansion capacity. Where are the eSATA ports? Where’s the support for real-time Dolby Digital Live and DTS encoding? The X-Fi sticker looks nice and all, but game developers have pretty much abandoned EAX positional audio effects, and the board’s underlying Via codec isn’t the best option around.

Questionable decision making also afflicts the Sabertooth, whose PCI-based Gigabit Ethernet controller is simply inexcusable on a high-end motherboard. Fortunately, that’s the board’s only glaring flaw. The Sabertooth could use a tweak here and there, but it’s very well equipped as-is and seems to be a more focused effort than the Rampage.

You still get extras, but they’re sensible ones, like higher-grade electrical components, two more years of warranty coverage, and a couple of flavors of eSATA connectivity. With a $200 street price, the Sabertooth costs less than the $240 Rampage, too.

Obviously, the Rampage is a better solution for a microATX build. In fact, it may be the best microATX X58 board around. Anyone looking to put together a middleweight system with heavyweight punching power should definitely have the Rampage on their radar. That said, I think the Sabertooth is a superior design overall. It’s certainly a more attractive option for seasoned enthusiasts who have been around long enough to appreciate refined simplicity. I have, which is why I’m giving the Sabertooth our TR Recommended award. Were it not for Asus’ poor choice of networking controller, the Sabertooth would be Editor’s Choice material.

Geoff Gasior

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