The P9X79 platform is ASUS' offering for the enthusiast market on Sandy Bridge-E. We'll be taking a look at the base model P9X79 board and the highest-end Deluxe version, and we'll also take a close look at the P9X79 family as a whole to see where each model fits into the grand scheme of things, and which one would be the best fit for you. We also examined a wide range of performance and usability attributes which we will go into detail about after the break.
The P9X79 Family
One of the puzzling aspects we saw from Gigabyte's GA-X79 family was the mixed bag of features each model included. It wasn't clear what components or features were being upgraded in each model, and the more expensive models were seen lacking features of cheaper models, such as SLI, which added further complication to choosing a particular board they were offering.
P9X79 Base Specifications [Courtesy ASUS]
From the base specs listed, the PRO model adds SSD Caching, BTGO! for Bluetooth, two 6GB/s Marvell SATA ports, trades two USB 3.0 ports for two USB 2.0 ports, trades a power e-SATA for a regular e-SATA port, adds power and reset buttons on the board, and comes with two more SATA cables and a Tri-SLI bridge. The Deluxe then adds Wi-Fi, CMOS reset buttons, an additional Realtek 8111E NIC, two USB 3.0 ports, and two SATA cables from the PRO version. Further differentiation by ASUS is made in the form of offering their own USB 3.0 Boost technology, as well as the ability for SSD caching (not available by default on X79) on the Pro and Deluxe models.
We like ASUS' family planning of their motherboard lineups, and the P9X79 family is no exception. ASUS' philosophy for the P9X79 family is that for each step up in price, there should be an appropriate justification for the price difference. When comparing the spec sheets, we can see how clearly this is demonstrated.
Each model has feature "stacking," where features are simply added onto the core architecture. Each model up from the base adds flexibility and functionality, but the core components, those which ultimately dictate performance, remain the same across all models. The "changelog" from each model in Gigabyte's family gets a bit messy, because core components change as well as featuresets. For example, the X79-UD3 features Quad-SLI but only 4 DIMM slots, then the UD5 model drops to Tri-SLI but bumps to 8 DIMMS (as well as other mixed changes), and similar changes are seen in the UD7 model. It's far harder for us to recommend to a reader which Gigabyte board would be best for them without a detailed description of how they'd use it.
Additonally, ASUS didn't want the less expensive models to be limited or handicapped in any way. For instance, the cheapest motherboard, the regular P9X79, will perform identically to the P9X79 Deluxe in nearly every facet, it only lacks the added features found in the Pro and Deluxe models, such as built-in Blutooth or wireless or SSD Caching. This, we believe, is true family planning; where the base model has everything you'd need to overclock your processor to its full potential, has the same utilities available, and where cheaper doesn't necessarily mean worse, and then the family is built up from there. You then essentially get the same performance across the board, and you can pay up to the additional features you'd like.
What also differentiates this approach is that a step up to the next model does not simply entail an artificial "upgrade," as the components, from the SATA controllers to the Intel NIC, will be the same all the way through each model. This creates a methodical and planned upgrade "map," which makes it easier to choose what's right for you, and also assures you that the base model will carry the same core performance as the higher-end models.
This varies from other approaches where there are also component upgrades as you step up, which adds complexity to determining the value of each model against its respective price. Even more frustrating is when a lack of BIOS options or software utilities act as "governors" on the motherboard performance, and you pay more simply to unlock the functionality that is already there or should be there, but capped off on the software side or left out as a cost-saving measure.
ASUS' approach may not lead to greater profits on the base models, but adds commonality between motherboards across the family, which also allows them to do more thorough compatibility and validation testing, something ASUS prides themselves upon. For instance, let's say motherboard A is the entry-level model, and B and C were the mid and high-level boards, respectively. If each had component AND feature upgrades, then you end up with very different motherboards across the family. Even though they may be sold under a single family label, they're very different from one another. This makes for a particular challenge for the manufacturer, which trickles down the the end user. To do compatibility testing, you'll need to run each model through the full gauntlet, which becomes expensive very quickly, and it then follows that the compatibility testing may often not be as thorough as you'd like, and may ultimately lead to issues with the endless combinations of hardware available today.
Now, let's revisit the example, but instead the core components of the A, B, and C motherboards were the same. Now you can compatibility test any of the core motherboard functions, and it applies to all other members of the family. The commonality creates a support advantage in a true "family" of motherboards.
There are a number of "marketable" value additions here which might often be overlooked, and we've seen that its these factors that have made ASUS such a successful motherboard designer. In terms of hardware, the Intel NIC presents a step up from NIC offerings from Realtek, Marvell, or Atheros. Others have followed suit to include Intel NICs in their X79 boards, such as the GA-X79-UD3. Additional flexibility and support is seen with the awesomely-flexible Fan Xpert utilities which allow dynamic fan speed profiles which are completely configurable. The USB 3.0 boost technolgoy is seamless, and again, others have tried to implement similar features in their boards. Value is added in compatibility as well, and this can be a "priceless" intangible. The UEFI design, flexibility, and suite of options is also currently leading the industry. The SPD memory status tool in the BIOS has proven to be valuable in diagnosing issues and testing memory overclocking settings. These all go a step past "just performance," and will benefit any user and any type of usage, not just the hardcore gamer, builder, or overclocker.
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