ASUS Sabertooth 990FX R2.0 Reviewformerstaff -
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ASUS Sabertooth 990FX R2.0 Introduction:
Usually when a motherboard manufacturer puts its line of wares out there for the public to choose as a nest for that coveted processor, it tends to make things a bit easy for the consumer. The 'King of the Hill' end of the lineup has every bell and whistle soldered to it; the board is littered with sculpted ceramic-covered heat sinks that should take the place of Ellsworth Kelly's Red, Yellow, Blue in any gallery. They are paired with a color scheme that is either beautifully matched, or so loud and gaudy it screams bolt an LN2 pot to me.
ASUS, however, has managed to muddy the waters a bit with the small, medium, and large approach to motherboard offerings with the Sabertooth 990FX R2.0. If this is ASUS' 'medium' in the lineup it is at least an extra medium. The Sabertooth is part of the T.U.F. series. It's an acronym for 'The Ultimate Force' and denotes the use of military grade components known for the ability to withstand certain levels of shock, impact, humidity and otherwise all around abuse. The military standards apply to a high grade and quality of the individual components such as chokes, caps, and MOSFETs. Which military certification the Sabertooth and/or its components underwent can be looked up from an included document I will elaborate on later. The components used in the build of these boards are in fact Military-Standard-Certified.
Accompanying these military grade components and certifications is an appearance to match. This standard ATX form factor 12.0" x 9.6" board is camouflaged a la an Abrams M1A1 tank. Before you think "oh great, heat sinks that poorly emulate .50 caliber rounds or tiny guns that look like they fell off a charm bracelet," let me stop you there. This camo-clad hub is actually tastefully done and looks just plain cool. Sticking to three shades of camo colors (brown-gray-dark chocolate), all of them are just muted slightly enough to give the board a very professional appearance that could be at home in an all out gamer to an office machine depending on what you encase it with.
The heat sinks are covered with what ASUS calls CeraM!X. It's an aerospace grade cooling technology that I am going to guess is a form of a material found on the space shuttle or some vessel of NASA's that has to re-enter the atmosphere. More on this coating a bit later.
ASUS Sabertooth 990FX R2.0 Closer Look:
The ASUS Sabertooth 990FX R2.0 comes to you in a retail package that is just short of the 'super high-end' boards with the peekaboo windows. The box however does have a Velcro-less flap that, when opened up, reveals quite a bit of information regarding the high tech nature and features of the Sabertooth. The mostly black and white box has a prominent T.U.F. insignia next to ASUS' promise of a five-year warranty. Off to the the left side is a half outline of the T.U.F. symbol with a photograph of a cross-section of something mechanical, possibly a transmission of a 1973 Thunderbird (just a guess).
The other sides of the packaging are divided into smaller images and a short paragraph about all of the technologies and capabilities possessed by the Sabertooth 990FX R2.0. Earlier I mentioned that ASUS had blurred the lines a bit between the top level motherboard in the 990FX lineup and the second tier, or the next rung down, and if you were going to make a decision by the information featured on the packaging, you would know why I would say such a thing. The list of features is long and full of new technologies, and then there is the surprise I was in for when I loaded up an FX-8350 in the socket.
Time to have a look at the packaging and get this fierce looking thing out of its hangar to see what military might we are dealing with here.
A Velcro-less flap gets into the nuts and bolts of the features and functions of the Sabertooth. When comparing the flagship ROG board, the Crosshair V Formula-Z, and the Sabertooth you may notice that in some areas the CVF-Z is a blend of the older tech and the new. The Sabertooth incorporates all of the latest tech in all areas of the board. The power delivery is a good example with the CVF-Z being a hybrid of analog and digital power delivery while the Sabertooth R2.0 appears to be all digitally controlled.
Lifting the lid on the box below the flap we find the compulsory anti-static bag wrapping up the Sabertooth. Under the board is the second level of the subdivided box containing the bundled accessories for the Sabertooth. The bundle is about what you would expect for a board of this price range, but like the board itself what immediately stands out is the quality of the items. Included in the bundle are four 90° two-toned SATA cables, an EMI protected I/O plate, install disk, and a full manual. You also get an ASUS Q-Connector for making the connections to the front panel a bit easier, paperwork for the five-year warranty, and a white rub on T.U.F. decal if you wish to show off your brand loyalty.
One more item found in the bundle you don't see everyday is a gold leaf embossed 'Certificate of Reliability' that is more than a gimmick meant to impress or convince the new owner of the quality they just invested their $189 in. The certificate actually spells out the specific military test standards that the chokes, MOSFETs, and capacitors have met to earn the right to be classified 'Military Grade.'
I don't recall ever being so initially impressed with a sub $200 motherboard prior to actually being able to use it. The look, layout, and specifications of the components really inspire confidence. Of course this all sets the performance expectations bar way up there. I have gone around the board and scrutinized it already, and so I will take you on a trip around it starting now.