When Intel introduces a new generation of CPUs, the chips usually come with an updated core-logic platform. That platform is dutifully adopted by motherboard makers, which roll out fresh models to meet the latest CPUs. The recent Ivy Bridge-E launch didn’t fit the pattern, though. Intel’s new family of high-end desktop processors arrived solo, without a new platform attached.
On the one hand, that’s pretty awesome. Folks who bought X79 motherboards for Sandy Bridge-E a couple years ago should be little more than a firmware flash away from being able to drop in the new Ivy-based hotness. It’s hard to complain about getting more mileage out of Intel’s most expensive desktop socket.
On the other hand, I’m kind of bummed out. Although motherboard vendors have updated their X79 offerings since that platform debuted in 2011, it’s been a while since the most recent round of revisions. We’ve been spoiled by the first crop of Haswell motherboards, which boast more mature firmware and software, extra connectivity, and snazzy new features. Older X79 boards look especially dated next to the latest 8-series designs.
Asus apparently agrees. The motherboard giant has released the X79-Deluxe to ensure that Ivy Bridge-E has access to the innovations packed into its latest boards. Naturally, we had to take a closer look.
The bling-on-black color scheme is the first hint that the X79-Deluxe is part of the current generation of Asus motherboards. Most of the firm’s Haswell boards share a similar aesthetic, but they kind of ruin it by using beige slots and ports that don’t quite match the gold heatsinks. On the X79-Deluxe, the beige has been banished in favor of darker tones that blend in with the circuit board—a definite improvement.
With 2011 teeth, dual levers, chunky screws, and a fat frame, Intel’s LGA2011 socket looks pretty hardcore. So do the eight memory slots. The X79-Deluxe hangs two DIMM slots off each of the CPU’s quad memory channels, enabling configs with up to 64GB of memory.
No self-respecting motherboard goes without digital power circuitry and fancy electrical components these days. The X79-Deluxe is no exception. It also has the requisite heatsinks on the VRMs and the obligatory heatpipe linked to the hunk of aluminum sitting on top of the chipset. Although it seems odd to connect the two heatsinks, the arrangement makes sense for multi-card graphics configurations. Stacking cards obstructs airflow around the chipset cooler while simultaneously dumping more heat into the area. The pipe should channel some of that excess heat to the socket area, where it has a better chance of being expelled through chassis exhaust vents.
The VRM heatsinks are relatively short, so they shouldn’t interfere with oversized CPU coolers. Since we can’t test compatibility with every hardware configuration, we’ve taken a few key measurements to help you get a sense of the distances between the socket and important landmarks.
As is the case with pretty much every modern motherboard, the memory slots are very close to the socket. Beware of combining larger CPU coolers with memory modules that have tall heat spreaders.
Also, note the distance between the socket and the first PCI Express x16 slot. That’s a narrower gap than we’re used to seeing on desktop boards, which usually stick an x1 slot up top to provide additional clearance between the CPU cooler and graphics card.
The X79-Deluxe can’t afford to sacrifice space like that; its PCIe x16 slots are carefully arranged to accept three dual-width cards in CrossFire or SLI. The first and second x16 slots can be configured with 16 lanes of PCIe 3.0 bandwidth from the CPU. For a three-way config, the second slot splits its lanes with the fourth one, yielding an x16/x8/x8 setup.
The third x16 slot also gets its PCIe 3.0 connectivity from the CPU, but it’s limited to four lanes regardless of the number of cards installed. That shouldn’t matter in a multi-card config, since running a double-wide card in the second PCIe x16 slot will block access to the third one.
Asus fills the rest of the expansion area with PCIe 2.0 slots fed by the X79 Express chipset. It also peppers the PCB with little extras, like a POST code display and buttons for shutdown, reset, clearing the CMOS, and booting directly to the firmware.
With only two 6Gbps SATA ports (plus four 3Gbps ones) and no native USB 3.0 connectivity, the X79 Express chipset feels a bit antiquated. Fear not, because Asus apparently gets some kind of volume discount on auxiliary peripheral chips. There are three additional SATA controllers, starting with a Marvell chip that adds four 6Gbps ports. A pair of ASMedia controllers kicks in two more 6Gbps ports internally and a couple of similarly speedy eSATA ports for the rear cluster.
Then there are the USB 3.0 controllers—all four of ’em. Three are dedicated to fueling the six USB 3.0 ports in the cluster, while one is reserved for front-panel connectors.
And there’s more. The X79-Deluxe boasts Realtek’s latest audio codec, which combines with DTS software to provide surround sound virtualization for stereo devices and real-time encoding for multi-channel digital output. If you’re going to connect the board to a compatible receiver or speakers via the S/PDIF output, you don’t need to bother with a sound card.
See that little BIOS button in the cluster? That’s for USB BIOS Flashback, a feature that lets you flash the firmware with only a thumb drive and a power supply attached to the motherboard. Pretty slick. Asus also gets props for providing a cushioned I/O shield that won’t slice your fingers or get caught up in the ports when lowering the motherboard into a case. The more PCs I build, the more I appreciate little touches like that… and like this:
Front-panel wiring blocks should be included with every single motherboard. Surely these blocks cost just pennies, and they neatly address what is often the most frustrating part of assembling a new system.
Network connectivity rounds out the X79-Deluxe’s hardware payload. Excess abounds here, too. There are dual Gigabit Ethernet controllers: one from Intel and one from Realtek. 802.11ac Wi-Fi is provided by a Broadcom adapter, and the board also supports Bluetooth 4.0.
Asus’ accompanying Wi-Fi software is particularly robust. In addition to offering the usual client and access-point modes, it has remote desktop and media streaming functionality. The hardware is really only one part of the equation with modern motherboards, so let’s take a closer look at the X79-Deluxe’s firmware and software interfaces.
Asus’ UEFI has evolved steadily since it was introduced with the first Sandy Bridge motherboards. The iteration that debuted with Haswell is a nice incremental improvement, and its upgrades have been passed along to the X79-Deluxe. In fact, Asus’ new firmware features have also trickled down to its older X79 boards. The latest firmware for the nearly two-year-old P9X79 Pro looks identical to the UEFI for the X79-Deluxe.
The EZ interface pictured above has a limited selection of options, but the UI includes a few fancy elements that make good use of mouse input. Unlike on some motherboard firmware, the mouse tracking is smooth, and the UI feels fast and responsive.
Seasoned enthusiasts will want to manipulate their systems via the advanced interface, which more closely resembles an old-school BIOS. The familiar surroundings hide plenty of new features, including a configurable favorites pane.
You can add just about any firmware option to the favorites tab. The process is simple, too: just hit F4 or right click the mouse when the option is selected. Given the sheer volume of variables in the main menus, it’s definitely worth populating the favorites tab.
Most of the enthusiasts I know take notes while tweaking. I’ve seen settings scribbled on hipster Moleskine notepads, on fluorescent Post-it notes, and even on the backs of napkins. Plenty of folks use text editors, too, and Asus puts one right in the UEFI. The Quick Note function allows users to edit, er, quick notes via the firmware interface. Clicking the Quick Note button brings up the basic text editor.
There’s also a Last Modified button linked to a summary of the changes made since the last reboot.
This change log has quickly become one of my favorite firmware features; it nicely counters my OCD tendency to double-check changes while overclocking. The log also pops up automatically when you exit the UEFI, providing confirmation before settings are saved.
We’ve been particularly vocal about recent motherboards defying Intel’s default Turbo multipliers and sneakily increasing clock speeds behind the user’s back. The X79-Deluxe behaves as long as you stay away from the memory frequency. However, if you define the DRAM speed manually, the CPU shifts into “Sync All Cores” mode and applies the single-core Turbo multiplier to all loads. That alteration boosts the Core i7-4960X’s all-core frequency by 300MHz, and Intel considers the practice overclocking.
At least Asus doesn’t hide the change. All the core ratio limits pictured above pop up outta nowhere when the memory speed is defined, suggesting that trickery is afoot. Returning to the default Turbo behavior is as easy as switching the CPU Core Ratio back to Auto, which collapses the ratio limits but leaves the desired memory speed intact.
Asus’ version of illicit Turbo juicing is less annoying than some of the others we’ve encountered, but it still seems silly that changing the memory speed automatically overclocks the CPU. Oh, the things motherboard makers do to inflate benchmark scores.
The funky Turbo nonsense is my only complaint about the firmware. Otherwise, the UEFI has everything enthusiasts need: loads of tweaking and overclocking options, a built-in flashing utility, and support for multiple profiles. The temperature-based fan speed controls are great, too, but they’re easily overshadowed by Asus’ latest Windows software.
Motherboard software used to be pretty awful. It’s improved dramatically in recent years, though, and Asus deserves much of the credit for the revolution. Fan Xpert 2 is a perfect example of why. First, the software tests the fans connected to the board to get a sense of the range of RPMs on tap. You can then drag multiple points along each fan’s speed profile to adjust the reaction to changes in temperature. There are even sliders to adjust how aggressively each fan speeds up and slows down, so users can tune system cooling for responsive performance or gradual acoustic transitions.
Dialing in your ideal cooling configuration has never been easier.
Fan Xpert 2 is part of the Dual Intelligent Processors 4 software that the X79-Deluxe shares with Asus’ Haswell motherboards. This application also has a wealth of performance tuning options.
Even seasoned enthusiasts would do well to start their overclocking exploits with 4-Way Optimization, Asus’ latest auto-overclocker. This multi-pronged optimization tool draws on intelligence gathered by the company’s in-house overclocking efforts to push CPUs to their limits. Clock speeds, voltages, and power settings are all manipulated automatically as the software strives for higher speeds. The automated overclocker tests stability along the way and does a good job of running unattended.
The auto-tuner won’t find the absolute limits of your hardware, but in our experience, it comes pretty close. At the very least, the software provides a good starting point from which to proceed with more aggressive overclocking. Speaking of which…
How’s that for a manual overclocking interface? The TPU tab has a little bit of everything: load-based multipliers, BCLK control, CPU strap options, and voltages out the wazoo. There’s a separate power tab that exposes load-line calibration, phase controls, and various current limits. Loading each tab takes a few seconds—a delay required to poll the system, apparently—but it’s smooth sailing after that. Everything about the UI feels slick and professional.
With many options at our fingertips, we couldn’t resist turning the screws on our Core i7-4960X. Next up: overclocking.
We’re happy to outsource tedious trial-and-error testing to software, so our overclocking adventure began with Asus’ auto tuner. The software did its thing with little drama, rebooting as necessary. Eventually, it settled on a peak Turbo speed of 4.6GHz, up 28% from the Core i7-4960X’s stock frequency. That’s pretty impressive for a process that required no more than a couple of clicks and about 10 minutes of waiting.
Instead of using a blanket multiplier to cover all loads, Asus’ auto tuner selected three different clock speeds for our CPU. The chip ran at 4.6GHz with single- and dual-core loads, 4.5GHz with three or four cores active, and 4.4GHz with heavier loads. We recommend using staggered multipliers when overclocking manually, so it’s nice to see Asus’ auto-overclocking routine take a similar approach.
The auto-tuned config survived our stress test without issue. CPU temperatures spiked up to 81°C under load, but we didn’t observe any thermal throttling. The single fan on our Intel-branded Asetek water cooler did spin up to an audible howl, though.
With a stable baseline established, we moved on to manual tuning. Rather than seeking top speeds with different numbers of cores active, we focused our efforts on pushing the maximum all-core frequency beyond 4.4GHz.
When we tried for 4.5GHz, throttling was detected as soon after we started our stress test. Turns out the auto-tuner was giving the chip more power than it needed. We had to lower the load-line calibration and back off on the CPU voltage a smidgen to get the system to maintain 4.5GHz under load. Those settings also worked with an all-core speed of 4.6GHz, but that proved to be the end of the road.
At 4.7GHz, we got stuck between insufficient power and inadequate cooling. BSOD errors crashed the system until we raised the CPU voltage and tweaked the power settings, but those changes caused CPU temperatures to rise into throttling territory. Maybe we should have used one of those monster air towers Scott strapped to his sample.
The Core i7-4960X CPUs we’ve overclocked seem to be pretty typical of the breed. Asus says that only about 20% of the Ivy Bridge-E CPUs it’s tested so far will hit 4.7GHz on 1.4V. Just 2% are stable at 4.8GHz, while nearly half will do 4.6GHz.
Motherboards typically have little impact on peak CPU frequencies; the processor and cooling solution are usually the limiting factors. The X79-Deluxe nicely illustrates what quality firmware and software bring to the overclocking experience, though. The refined UEFI interface and powerful Windows software should make the tweaking process a joy for newbies and enthusiasts alike.
We’ve found Asus’ prior X79 motherboards to be a little power-hungry, so we were curious to see how the new Deluxe model fared in our power consumption tests. We measured power draw at the wall socket with our test system at idle, then playing a 1080p YouTube video, and finally under a full load combining Cinebench rendering with the Unigine Valley demo.
For reference, we’ve included results from Asus’ older P9X79 Pro. Both boards were tested with their EPU power-saving modes enabled and turned off.
The X79-Deluxe consumes slightly more power than its predecessor at idle and during video playback. However, it draws less juice than the Pro under our full system load. Upgraded power circuitry may be responsible for the Deluxe’s higher power efficiency at full tilt. I suspect the Deluxe’s prolific payload of peripheral controllers is responsible for inflating power draw under lighter loads.
We’ll get a better sense of the X79 Deluxe’s power consumption as we work our way through the other LGA2011 motherboards we have on deck. For now, let’s see how the old and new Asus models compare in a quick round of performance tests.
Both boards were tested in the same system using Corsair DIMMs running at 1866MHz with identical 9-10-9-27-2T timings.
We tested the latest Kraken release, version 1.1, in Chrome 27.
TrueCrypt disk encryption
TrueCrypt’s AES algorithm benefits from acceleration via Intel’s AES-NI instructions, which are supported by our Ivy Bridge and Haswell CPUs. We’ve also included results for another algorithm, Twofish, that isn’t accelerated via dedicated instructions.
7-Zip file compression and decompression
The figures below were extracted from 7-Zip’s built-in benchmark.
x264 video encoding
We’ve devised a new x264 test, which involves one of the latest builds of the encoder with AVX2 support. To test, we encoded a one-minute, 1080p .m2ts video using the following options:
–profile high –preset medium –crf 18 –video-filter resize:1280,720 –force-cfr
The source video was obtained from a repository of stock videos on this website. We used the Samsung Earth from Above clip.
We busted out our Inside the second methods to testing gaming performance. While we aren’t showing all of our fancy latency graphs, we have included results for FPS and the 99th percentile frame time.
Motherboards typically have little bearing on application performance, so we’re not surprised to see such a tight race. For all intents and purposes, the X79-Deluxe is no faster than the old P9X79 Pro in these tests. Let’s see if that statement still holds true when we turn our attention to the onboard peripherals.
Serial ATA performance
Our Serial ATA and USB tests were run on a Samsung 830 Series 256GB SSD. To ensure peak performance, the drive was secure-erased before each batch of tests.
The X79-Deluxe’s Marvell controller is newer and faster than the one on the P9X79 Pro. That said, the SATA ports tied to the X79 Express chipset offer largely equivalent performance regardless of which board they’re on.
The X79-Deluxe and P9X79 Pro both rely on ASMedia controllers to provide USB 3.0 connectivity. They both come with USB Boost software that employs the USAP protocol to improve performance, too. Wouldn’t you know, they offer very similar USB performance.
An Intel Gigabit Ethernet controller with lower CPU utilization than a comparable Realtek chip? You don’t say.
Analog audio signal quality
RightMark Audio Analyzer grades analog signal quality on a scale between “very poor” and “excellent.” We’ve translated those values to a numerical scale that starts at low of one and peaks at six. Higher values are better.
Our first set of results was gathered with the systems idling (apart from the RMAA app, of course). The second batch is based on tests conducted with the system under a combined CPU, GPU, and USB load.
|RightMark Audio Analyzer audio quality under load: 24-bit/192kHz|
|Frequency response||Noise level||Dynamic range||THD||THD + Noise||IMD + Noise||Stereo Crosstalk||IMD at 10kHz||Overall score|
|Asus P9X79 Pro||6||5||5||5||3||5||6||5||5|
Even our RMAA tests show the X79-Deluxe at rough parity with the P9X79 Pro. Heck, the two boards even have comparable DTS implementations.
Psst. Did you see what I did there? I snuck in a bunch of graphs before you hit our difficult-to-digest test methods page. We usually set the stage for our performance results by detailing nerdy motherboard specifications, system configurations, and test methodology. That all makes for rather dull reading, and it totally kills the flow of a review. If you’re curious, all of the information can be found on the following page. Or you could skip ahead to the conclusion for our final thoughts on the X79-Deluxe. Choose your own adventure.
We’ve covered most of the X79-Deluxe’s key specifications already, but here’s the complete list:
|Platform||Intel X79 Express, socket LGA2011|
|DIMM slots||4 DDR3, 64GB max|
|Expansion slots||3 PCIe 3.0 x16 via CPU (x16/x16/x0, x16/x8/x8)
1 PCIe 3.0 x16 via CPU (x4)
2 PCIe 2.0 x1 via X79 Express
|Storage I/O||2 SATA RAID 6Gbps via X79 Express
4 SATA RAID 3Gbps via X79 Express
4 SATA 6Gbps via Marvell 9230
2 SATA 6Gbps via ASMedia 1061
|Audio||8-channel HD via Realtek ALC1150|
|Wireless||Dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi via dual-band Broadcom adapter
|Ports||6 USB 3.0 via 3 x ASMedia 1042A
2 USB 3.0 via internal header via ASMedia 1042A
4 USB 2.0 via X79 Express
8 USB 2.0 via internal headers via X79 Express
1 Gigabit Ethernet via Intel 82579V
1 Gigabit Ethernet via Realtek 8111GR
1 analog front out
1 analog center out
1 analog rear out
1 analog mic in
1 digital S/PDIF output
Real-time digital encoding via DTS Connect
Surround virtualization via DTS UltraPC II
|Overclocking||All/per-core Turbo multiplier: 12-63X
Base clock: 80-300MHz
BCLK strap: 100, 125, 166, 250MHz
CPU voltage: 0.8-1.7V
CPU VCCSA voltage: 0.8-1.7V
CPU PLL voltage: 1.2-1.99V
VTTCPU voltage: 1.05-1.7V
PCH 1.1V voltage: 1.1-1.7V
PCH 1.5V voltage: 1.5-1.8V
VTTDDR voltage channel A/B, C/D: 1.1-1.625V
DRAM CTRL REF voltage channel A, B, C, D: 0.395-0.63V
DRAM DATA REF voltage channel A, B, C, D: 0.395-0.63V
DRAM READ REF voltage channel A, B, C, D: 0.315-0.385V
|Fan control||All: Predefined silent, standard, turbo profiles
CPU: min/max temp, min/max fan speed
System 1-4: max temp, min/max fan speed
No wonder this page scares off some people. Even I find that massive specs table intimidating, and I’ve been reviewing motherboards for more than a decade.
If you dig that level of detail, you might also appreciate a shot of our test system’s hardware. Behold:
Our testing methods
We used the following system configurations for testing.
|Processor||Intel Core i7-4960X|
|Motherboard||Asus P9X79 Pro||Asus X79-Deluxe|
|Platform hub||Intel X79 Express||Intel X79 Express|
|Chipset drivers|| Chipset: 184.108.40.2066
| Chipset: 220.127.116.116
|Audio||Realtek ALC898||Realtek ALC1150|
|Memory size||16GB (4 DIMMs)|
|Memory type||Corsair Vengeance DDR3 SDRAM at 1866MHz|
|Graphics||Asus GeForce GTX 680 DirectCU II with 320.49 drivers|
|Hard drive||Corsair Force Series GT 120GB
Samsung 830 Series 256GB
|Power Supply||Corsair AX850 850W|
|OS||Microsoft Windows 8 Enterprise x64|
Thanks to Intel, Corsair, Samsung, and Asus for providing the hardware used in our test systems. And thanks to Asus for providing the motherboards for review.
We used the following versions of our test applications:
- 7-Zip 9.20 64-bit
- TrueCrypt 7.1a
- Chrome 27.0.1453.94
- x264 r2334
- DiRT Showdown demo
- CrystalDiskMark 3.0.2f
- FRAPS 3.5.9
- RightMark Audio Analyzer 6.2.5
- Cinebench 11.529
- Unigine Valley 1.0
Some further notes on our test methods:
- All testing was conducted with motherboard power-saving options enabled. These features can sometimes lead to slightly slower performance, particularly in peripheral tests that don’t cause the CPU to kick into high gear. We’d rather get a sense of motherboard performance with real-world configurations, though; we’re not as interested in comparing contrived setups with popular features disabled.
- DiRT Showdown was tested with ultra detail settings, 4X MSAA, and a 1920×1200 display resolution. We used Fraps to log a 60-second snippet of gameplay from the demo’s first race. To offset the fact that our gameplay sequence can’t be repeated exactly, we ran this test five times on each system.
- Power consumption was measured at the wall socket for the complete system, sans monitor and speakers, using a Watts Up Pro power meter. Our video playback load used this 1080p YouTube trailer for the movie Looper. The full-load test combined AIDA64’s CPU stress test with the Unigine Valley DirectX 11 demo running in a 1280×720 window.
- The Force GT 120GB SSD was used as the system drive for all tests. The Samsung 830 Series 256GB was connected as secondary storage to test Serial ATA and USB performance, the latter through a USAP-compatible Thermaltake BlacX 5G docking station. The Samsung SSD was secure-erased before each test that involved it. The Corsair drive was also wiped before we loaded our system image.
- Ethernet performance was tested using a remote rig based on an Asus P8P67 Deluxe motherboard with an Intel 82579 Gigabit Ethernet controller. A single Cat 6 Ethernet cable connected that system to each motherboard.
- Analog audio signal quality was tested using RMAA’s “loopback” test, which pipes front-channel output through the board’s line input. We tested while the system was loaded with Cinebench’s multithreaded rendering test, the Unigine Valley benchmark, and a CrystalDiskMark 4KB random I/O test running on the Samsung SSD attached via USB 3.0.
The tests and methods we employ are usually publicly available and reproducible. All tests were run at least three times, and we reported the median of those results. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.
As far as we can tell, the X79-Deluxe is the only new desktop motherboard rolling out alongside Ivy Bridge-E. Gigabyte, MSI, and ASRock are all relying on existing models for now, though at least one of those vendors has something special planned for October. In the meantime, Asus easily has the most up-to-date X79 offering on the market.
Well, almost on the market. Asus tells us the X79-Deluxe will be available for purchase later this week or early next. The board is slated to sell for about $350, which doesn’t seem unreasonable considering the competition. There are plenty of other high-end X79 models priced north of $300, and the Deluxe isn’t exactly short on features to justify the premium.
Let’s take a moment to run the numbers, shall we? The X79-Deluxe has eight memory slots with support for 64GB of RAM. It spreads 32 PCI Express 3.0 lanes across a trio of x16 slots—enough bandwidth for three-way SLI and CrossFire configs. 14 Serial ATA ports pepper the PCB, and 10 of them support 6Gbps speeds. There are eight USB 3.0 ports on top of that, plus 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for good measure. Throw in full-featured integrated audio, great firmware, and the best tweaking utility in the business, and $350 sounds like a pretty good deal overall.
Or, you know, about as good a deal as one can expect from a motherboard designed to accept thousand-dollar processors.
I’m still bummed that Intel didn’t replace the X79 Express with an updated chipset rippling with native 6Gbps SATA and USB 3.0 connectivity. The X79-Deluxe softens the blow, though. Older chipset aside, it feels every bit as fresh as the latest Haswell designs. For PC enthusiasts, the board may even be more interesting than Ivy Bridge-E itself.