Motherboard makers talk a big game when it comes to component quality and durability. Trust me, I've sat through all the briefings. Each board's capacitors, chokes, and MOSFETs are of the highest quality. These components have been selected because they deliver superior durability and, of course, more reliable overclocking.
Unfortunately, those claims are a little difficult to quantify. Overclocking is largely CPU-limited, at least outside the realm of liquid nitrogen, and the results of meaningful durability testing would be irrelevant by the time they were fit to publish. The durability argument sounds especially hollow when typical motherboard warranties run out after only three years. Premium graphics cards, power supplies, and hard drives offer five or more years of warranty coverage.
Asus decided to walk the walk last year when it announced a new line of TUF-branded motherboards led by the Sabertooth X58. In addition to sporting only the finest electrical components, these TUF boards are backed with five-year warranty coverage, something unheard of in the desktop mobo market.
The egregious use of a lone, PCI-based Gigabit Ethernet controller held the Sabertooth X58 back from true greatness. Still, the board's unique approach had definite appeal for PC professionals and enthusiasts with more old-school sensibilities. Now there's a Sabertooth built for Sandy Bridge, and versions of it with the bug-free B3 stepping of Intel's P67 chipset are finally available. Let's check out some of the tricks Asus' new cat has up its sleeve.
Or shroud. This latest addition to the Sabertooth family wears Thermal Armor, a plastic skin designed to improve cooling performance in certain circumstances. More on that in a moment.
At first glance, the armor gives the Sabertooth a distinctive look all too rare in a world of copycat board designs. It adds a stealthy, Special Forces edge to a color scheme drawn from the Army's camo palette. The resulting aesthetic is a refreshing departure from the black boards and blue accents that permeate the current crop of look-alike P67 products. I've gotta give Asus credit for not going overboard and painting the armor with a camouflage print.
Asus was smart to keep the armor out of the way, too. The shroud encroaches on the socket a little, but it's less than 15 mm tall and shouldn't interfere with aftermarket heatsinks. Neither should the low-profile VRM coolers.
The heatsinks look much better in color, and their chunky design fits right in with the military aesthetic. That theme is carried right down to the chokes, which have been emblazoned with a subtle cosmetic touch that looks pretty slick next to the row of polished capacitors.
Asus includes a Certificate of Reliability with the Sabertooth claiming that the board's capacitors, chokes, and MOSFETs meet no fewer than 12 different military standards for everything from temperature cycling to mechanical shock. The capacitors have even been certified to withstand the corrosive effects of an atmosphere laced with sea salt, should you prefer to do your overclocking from the comfort of an aircraft carrier.
A generous cut-out around each expansion slot ensures that the Thermal Armor won't interfere with expansion cards. There are two PCI Express x16 slots onboard, and you can set the pair in a dual-x8 configuration for CrossFire or SLI. Running a dual-double-wide graphics config will obstruct access to the Sabertooth's only PCI slot, but such things are easy to live without in this day and age.
The edge of the board plays host to a neat cluster of Serial ATA ports color-coded by speed and controller. Only the four to the right offer 6Gbps connectivity, with the white ones tied to Marvell SATA silicon that sits under the same low-profile heatsink as the P67 Express chipset. The green header to the right of the SATA wall will supply compatible front-panel connectors with a couple of SuperSpeed USB ports.
Asus is using the same NEC USB 3.0 controllers as everyone else, but it's put two on the Sabertooth. The other chip feeds a couple of SuperSpeed ports located in the loaded rear cluster. Here, we see Asus try to make up for previous sins by splurging on a swanky Gigabit Ethernet solution—the networking controller embedded in Intel's P67 chipset. The auxiliary PHY chip required to tap the P67's integrated GigE connectivity costs more than a standalone Realtek controller, and we appreciate the upgrade.
Realtek does, however, provide the Sabertooth's ALC892 audio codec, complete with surround-sound virtualization for headphones. You also get a digital S/PDIF audio output, standard and powered eSATA ports, a FireWire connector, and even a PS/2 port for folks still clinging to their original Model M keyboards.
The PS/2 port may be a nod to old-school types, but the Sabertooth's BIOS has a decidedly fresh scent thanks to a very slick UEFI implementation. Asus shares much of the same BIOS code throughout its 6-series motherboard lineup, and it's a real treat to use. The newbie-friendly GUI pictured above looks an awful lot like something you might find in Windows. Switch to the advanced mode, and everything is organized like a old Asus BIOS with the added benefit of a mouse cursor and wheel support for scrolling.
Underneath the polished interface lies a complete collection of clock, multiplier, voltage, and timing controls. All the Sandy Bridge knobs and dials are present, including Turbo multipliers and power limits. Even the fan speed controls are decent. Tweakers can tune temperature limits and speeds for the CPU and two additional system fans.