ASUS Sabertooth 990FX R2.0 Review

formerstaff - 2013-02-02 13:30:19 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: formerstaff   
Reviewed on: June 27, 2013
Price: $179.00

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.

ASUS Sabertooth 990FX R2.0 Closer Look:

The ASUS Sabertooth 990FX R2.0 is a standard ATX form factor board at 12" x 9.6" and, as I eluded to on page one, is loaded with features and tech to go with the high military grade components outlined on the Certificate of Reliability you receive with the accessory bundle. You might not think of the board I have thus far described as understated, but the Sabertooth is actually very tastefully schemed and colored.

The Sabertooth is outfitted with four full length PCIe 16x slots and a single PCIe 1x slot in between the first and second PCIe 16x. A single legacy PCI slot is found near the bottom as well for those older audio cards cards you just can't bare to part with. The PCB is a true black multi-layered with tracers only visible only by texture and not the copper coloring. The Sabertooth seems to have an inordinate amount of large white font spelling out the model and all of the major systems and features as well as a large white T.U.F. symbol between the first and second full length PCIe slots. The board itself is populated with high quality shock tested, moisture resistant capacitors, MOSFETs, and inductors that have a swipe of the camo-themed colors of the rest of the board.

The back of the board reveals only the heavy backplate for the mounting of cooling solutions, a very heavy gauge metal bracket for the spring loaded screw downs for the VRM heatsink, and about 4,000 solder points.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Around the back of the Sabertooth we have a very well connected I/O panel. In total the connectivity you are looking at is: one PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port, two eSATA 6Gb/s ports, one Ethernet port, four USB 3.0 ports, eight USB 2.0 ports, one Optical S/PDIF out, six audio jacks, and one USB BIOS Flashback Button. The Sabertooth's connectivity keeps pace with boards that are in the north of $200 range.

 

 

The connections for discrete graphic options are plentiful with the Sabertooth R2.0. Four PCIe 2.0 16x slots (three being double slotted) facilitates three card Crossfire and SLI. When occupying two PCIe slots, the configuration is at 16x/16x electrically. When using three of the slots the configuration runs at 16x/8x/8x.The second black full length PCIe slot is 16x mechanically and runs at 4x electrically. In between the first and second full length PCIe slots is a single PCIe 2.0 1x slot for sound cards, capture cards, or other devices.

The full length 16x slots use a securing mechanism ASUS calls Q Slot; a fishtailed-style locking mechanism that flips forward to a 45 degree angle when fully locked in and is pushed flat towards the PCB to release the device. A single legacy PCI slot can still be found on the Sabertooth. I look for these to disappear completely in the near future along with the CD/DVD player.

 

 

Along the bottom of the PCB we come to the majority of the front panel connectivity. Having a look from left to right we have a 4-pin SPDIF_out. Below this is the 10-1 pin AAFP connector. To the right marked 'TB_Header' but not called out in the board connection scheme listing is a Thunderbolt header. Next is the 20-1 TPM header. The LED next to it is a green standby power LED. Moving to the right is the first of a pair of 10-1 pin USB 2.0 connections (the second is on the adjacent image). They are USB 1314 and USB 1112, respectively. Next to the right is the Clear RTC RAM 3-pin jumper marked (CLRTC). This jumper allows you to clear the real time (RTC) RAM of all system information (date, time, etc) as well as all system parameters that are controlled and kept 'live' by the on-board CMOS battery.

Up next is the Serial port connector 10-1 pin (Com 1). The DirectKey button just adjacent to the right lets you instantly gain access to the BIOS for quick changes or overclock profiles. To the right of this sits the 20-pin system panel connector. Just above and to the left of the front panel connections is the direct connector (2-pin DRCT); with this connection you substitute your front panel reset button as the DirectKey function. In other words with this connected the reset button will take you directly to the BIOS for any changes that may have caused a crash and make changes before saving and exiting. This option lets you access the otherwise onboard DirectKey button from the front panel and not have to enter the chassis to activate.

 

 

Just above the row of front panel connectivity we just covered is the single socketed BIOS. That's right, there is only a single BIOS chip there, however on the rear I/O panel is the BIOS Flashback feature that is capable of flashing a damaged BIOS back in shape. The BIOS Flashback feature can be used to update or recover a damaged BIOS. Using only standby power, you can update or re-flash your BIOS, or try out a new BIOS with a Flash drive containing the BIOS version you wish to update to. Upon inserting the Flash memory you just press the BIOS Flashback button on the rear I/O panel and hold it for three seconds.

The BIOS will be automatically updated and an LED on the Sabertooth will flash green when successfully flashed. BIOS Flashback can even update the BIOS without a CPU or memory installed, and be activated to check for and update to the latest BIOS automatically. This is a hardware-based solution and you can see the BIOS support chip directly above the socketed BIOS just above the PCIe slot in the image below.

 

 

Moving to the lower right side of the PCB we find the eight SATA 6Gb/s ports to go with the two eSATA ports on the rear I/O panel. Six of these (brown) are AMD SB950 controlled and support RAID function 0,1,5, and 10, while two of the SATA 6Gb/s (white) are controlled by ASMedia ASM1061 controller. The layout of the SATA ports is very good and causes no interference when three of the longest graphic cards are installed.

 

 

Higher up from the SATA 6Gb/s ports are the quad DIMM slots of the Sabertooth R2.0. The dual channel architecture supports 32GB of DDR3 1866/1600/1333/1066 MHz ECC, Non-ECC, Un-buffered Memory. The DIMMs use what ASUS calls Q-DIMM. In essence this is an operating lock down on only one end of the DIMM. This makes for an easier installation with a better positive lock on the memory modules. On the outside edge of the DIMMs are the dual inductors for the Sabertooth R2.0 dedicated two phases of power delivery for the system memory. The update of the Sabertooth also includes the architectural implement of DDR3 'T-Topology' design. This feature does not show up in the manual or on the Sabertooths product page, but I suspected it was incorporated given the accompanying features and did a bit of digging. Lo and behold it is. This means that ASUS has made the DIMM tracer distance the same for all four DIMMs.

To illustrate this I took a memory tracer snapshot from an older ASUS motherboard that is a lighter color so the tracers can be seen more readily. What the T-Topology system does is at a hardware level makes the distance traveled from both channels of the dual channel memory to the CPU the same distance, reducing or eliminating data synchronization and latency issues. In other words you don't have some signals or data waiting on the data from the channels that are farther away from the CPU. The old method of memory layout is called daisy chain. T-Topology arranges the routing of the tracers to a parallel system to facilitate data that is being read or written together to arrive together at the CPU or memory modules.

This helps with latency issues and aids in more stable overclocks. ASUS claims an average of 15% additional overclock headroom for the system memory. In turn higher and more stable memory overclocks means higher overall overclocks. Also new in the R2.0 is native support for 1866MHz memory. The 990FX chipset supports HyperTransport 3.0 and a transfer rate of up tp 5.2 MT/s. On the outside of the four DIMMs are the 20-pin USB 3.0 connector and the larger camo-beige connector of the 24-pin main ATX power.

 

 

 

At the heart of the ASUS Sabertooth 990FX R2.0 is the AM3+ socket that supports AMD processors up to 140W rating. The pin outs on the 990/950 chipset boards have been increased from .047 to .053 inch, with the 990 chipset ostensibly to provide better compatibility with pre-FX CPUs and better contact. Presumably those considering a board of this caliber and price range will be purchasing an FX processor or carrying over a previous flagship CPU and the likes of the Phenom II 970, 1100T, and the Bulldozer FX models are all compatible with the Sabertooth 990FX R2.0. The standard lever and tension plate is employed here, along with black standard AM3+ mounting brackets for various CPU cooling solutions that make use of it.

 

 

And now a look at how all of this powered and how it gets form your PSU to your CPU. The ASUS Sabertooth 990FX R2.0 is an 8+2 phase digital power design. Remember that the components used in the power array (the MOSFETs, capacitors, and chokes/Inductors) are all of military grade specifically spelled out by testing standards on the accompanying certification. I will be looking to see how these components and the efficiencies of the updated technology, such as E.S.P., will handle the added voltage and heat of a hopefully extreme overclock. In theory all of this should add up to higher overclockability and performance with less voltage pushed through the system. 

The power is controlled by multiple digital voltage controllers for both the CPU and DRAM, the 'Dual Intelligent Processors.' For the CPU and the DRAM they work by changing the switching frequencies as the VRM, CPU, and DRAM tuning occurs. Also implemented with the digital power delivery is VRM EMI reduction. This reduces electromagnetic interference to surrounding components. The result is much more precise voltage to the components as the power delivery profile changes and the overclocking changes are made. ASUS gives you complete control of this aspect in the BIOS where you can choose between 10% to 30% more capacitance to the memory, CPU, CPU/NB, and DRAM.

 

 

 

A power feature that ASUS states is exclusive to the Sabertooth T.U.F. series is E.S.P. (Efficient Switching Power) Design. I frankly can't see this remaining exclusive for very long if it produces the claimed results. There is not a lot of technical information available about E.S.P included with the Sabertooth so bear with me. Basically with the faster and more efficient phase switching the digital control brings with it, E.S.P. works by (or as a result of the ability to perform faster power switching) requiring less electrical input on the front end pre-filtering to deliver the needed voltage on the back end.

In short, if a component requires 6W of energy, the increased and more efficient switching frequencies with the increased efficiencies of the 'filtering' components needs only 6.6W of input to produce those six watts. Comparatively, previous or standard technology required 10W of input to produce the 6W the component needed. Obviously this is increased efficiency and reduced heat as well as longer component life and lesser cooling solutions, if I might extrapolate on those last two points. As power supply efficiency has reached 90%+ with capacitor and choke/inductor efficiencies, I am surmising that the MOSFETs are where the majority of efficiency advancements have been made with the E.S.P. system. This is a technology I will be following with great interest to see how efficient this can be made because one of the more interesting aspects of this tech is that it works for not only the CPU and DRAM, but also the graphics, USB 3.0, and LAN systems.

 

 

Topping off all of the heat producing components are the hefty and specially designed heat sinks on the Sabertooth 990FX R2.0. While being large finned and of varying asymmetrical shapes, the heat sinks on the Sabertooth are also covered with an innovation ASUS calls CeraM!X. CeraM!X, according to ASUS, is an aerospace innovation that conducts heat away from the heated surface faster as well as being rough in texture, creating even more surface dissipation areas (up to 50%). The CeraM!X coating can be found on the VRM and heatpipe-connected Northbridge, as well as the Southbridge heat sinks.The heat sinks of the Sabertooth are also held in place by hefty spring loaded screws. The heavier VRM/Northbridge is secured to a heavy gauge metal bracket on the back of the motherboard. This is a feature I for one appreciate as it eliminates the chance of the heat sink being bumped and tilted to the side, breaking the bond with the thermal tape or compound as well as keeping the PCB from warping from all of those heat-up and cooldown cycles.

 

 

 

The Southbridge heat sink, while being covered with the same CeraM!X material, has a large aluminum placard with the ASUS logo/insignia. In the right image you can see the screw and spring mounting system for the heat sinks. The red arrow apparently denotes the "TUF ENGINE!" Power Design.

 

Up in the right hand corner of the Sabertooth R2.0 are a couple of important and impressive features. Highlighted in red in the second image is the second of two digital controllers for the DRAM system memory. This in tandem with the new T-Topology not only allows for more precise voltage control, but affords higher overclocks at lower voltage and is good news for those of us that like to or need large amounts of system memory. This makes large amounts of memory and fast memory/CPU frequency no longer a 'pick one' proposition. Below the digital voltage control chip are the +2 phases of the 8+2 power phase scheme.

Just above and to the right of the digital voltage controller is one of the most impressive features I have found on a motherboard to date in the form of the MemOK button. In the case of faulty or unstable RAM settings, a press of the MemOK button will use a set of checks and algorithms to find a bootable configuration and allow you to boot up and change memory settings if needed. Also along the top edge are three of the six 4-pin fan headers and the 8-pin ATX12v power connection.

 

 

Rounding out the trip around the perimeter of the Sabertooth R2.0 takes us to the audio area of the board and the Realtek ALC892 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC. The Sabertooth's audio supports jack detection, Multi-Streaming, and the retasking of the front panel jacks through the Realtek software. The onboard audio features include Absolute Pitch 192kHz/24-bit True BD Lossless Sound as well as ASUS Noise Filter and Blu-ray audio content protection.

 

The second revision of the Sabertooth brings with it many innovative and exclusive technologies that are designed to produce higher performance and at the same time efficiencies in energy savings and reduction of heat. Next we'll have a look at the software side of things and the options you have at your disposal to put it to use. After that it will be back to the hardware side as we lock in the AMD eight-core flagship FX-8350 and see how far we can take it.

ASUS Sabertooth 990FX R2.0 Closer Look:

ASUS takes its software very seriously from looks to functionality. The AI II Turbo EVO Suite II looks as powerful as it is. Organized in an intuitive manner, it puts just about any voltage, temperature, or resource usage nearby. Even some of those who are not traditionally fans of overclocking in a software environment will find the ease and option rich environment a bit much to pass up. One thing that ASUS does wonderfully is to animate overclocking adjustments as they are made and carried out. You always know and can watch in real time as that next attempt at a higher frequency is carried out and the heat and voltage being generated and used.

When you open the Sabertooth Turbo EVO you are met with the E-Z Overclocking mode. Here you have control over the reference clock and the unlocked multiplier complete with a cylindrical portrayal GUI that illustrates what you are adjusting . You can also adjust voltages for the memory, APU, NB, and SB. Under the GPU boost tab you can adjust the frequency of the on-die GPU. The CPU multiplier tab lets you choose the cores you want to OC and features a real time animation to illustrate the settings you change. Here you can set the parameters for an auto clock, whether you want it fast or more conservative, or give the program 'Extreme' liberties to manipulate the voltages for the CPU and other functions. When you find a profile that works (or seemingly works) you can name it and store it for later use or updating. Clicking the advanced tab replaces the the fancy GUI on the bottom half with adjustments for more detailed sliders for voltages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

Taking things in your own hands, EVO in concert with the TUF Engine Digital Power gives you the options to change the capacitance for the CPU, CPU/NB, and the DRAM. This raises the level of power available for higher overclocking and more stability by changing the VRM switching frequencies. As in the BIOS, the capacitance adjustments are in 10% increments that range from 100% to 130%, save the phase control that is adjustable to 140%.

 

 

 

Of course while all of this overclocking is taking place, you want to keep an eye on such things as temperatures and voltages to make sure nothing goes awry. ASUS has some of the most thorough real time monitoring programs available today. ASUS EVO Probe II is a complete package that not only monitors temps, voltages, and fan speeds, but also provides the adjustment control to set thresholds for all of them and sets an alarm if they drop below or exceed the tolerance you set. While doing a previous review with the ASUS Digital Power,  ASUS Probe II popped up a warning box in the bottom right corner letting me know that the SB voltage had momentarily dropped below the 1.0V I had set. There is also a History Record tab that lets you log the voltage, fan, and temperatures of everything so you can reference it later and see if you need a fan on the VRM/NB heat sinks or not.

 

 

Sticking to the monitoring and adjusting theme, ASUS FAN Xpert is a highly customizable fan profile program that lets you enter and change custom fan curves for every fan that draws from the motherboard headers. The idea is made simple with a graphical interface that you drag and drop your fans' temperature setting and RPM on an X-Y axis, and changes take place in real time.

 

A new application that we did not see with the EVO Suite II accompanying the Formula-Z is the Thermal Radar program. The ASUS Thermal Radar has a GUI that has different spots on the motherboard pinpointed to the location of various sensors around the board. Mousing over them will name the sensor and the result, while on the left is a readout from all of the designated sensors. The Thermal Radar covers fan speeds, V-core, and voltage rails, as well as temperature.

 

 

If you are not a heavy duty all out overclocker and prefer to apply an easy overall theme to your operations, ASUS EPU may be more your speed. The GUI is set as a radar graph with different aspects from 'performance' to 'energy saving' to 'tranquility' in operation. On the side there is a CO2 emissions saved readout. While that is not exactly my kind of thing, if you become skillful at this program and being green you can save a tree or two.

 

ASUS USB BIOS Flashback is a utility that allows you to flash a corrupt BIOS or update and even simply try out a BIOS version. You can also schedule a check for new BIOS versions and download them. The Clear CMOS button on the rear I/O panel is held down for three seconds while a USB drive with a BIOS file is plugged in and the BIOS is updated or flashed back, without the machine even having to be powered on. In fact, the BIOS can be flashed without a CPU or system memory being in place. Paired with BIOS Flashback is ASUS update. From this utility you can update the BIOS from your choice of three ways: directly from the Internet, a download, or from a BIOS file. Choose your method and the program will walk you through a BIOS flash.

 

 

ASUS AI Charger enables up to three times the normal charging speed for devices that are compatible, most notably the iPad, iPhone, iPod, etc. It can easily be enabled or disabled from within the software suite. USB 3.0 Boost enables faster transfer rates via UASP protocol and automatically detects the devices' compatibility to take advantage of it. The GUI shows the USB port on the rear I/O panel that is highlighted with a green border to highlight the USB Charger+, so all you have to do is plug into the corresponding port for faster charging than the 4.5-5W routed to a standard USB port. You can also choose the settings for charging under sleep or hibernate modes.

ASUS USB 3.0 Boost boosts transfer speeds for USB storage devices automatically for devices that support it. ASUS claims that with the utilization of both UASP and BOT protocol, read performance is much closer to the rates seen with the use of SATA 6Gb/s ports or up to 170%. ASUS Network iControl optimizes your Internet connection and can prioritize your current network program.

 

 

Remote GO! connects absolutely everything electronic (your PC, tablets, smart phones, and TVs) and lets them all communicate, be controlled, and share with each other. All of this can be set up from an existing LAN cable and router setup. It is the definition of 'being wired.'

 

Again with the Sabertooth 990FX software suite and its new additions, I continue to be impressed with the functionality and how ASUS literally leaves no stone unturned to give the most control of its hardware. The AI Suite II is even more polished than its immediate predecessor and I believe is far and away the best in the industry.

ASUS Sabertooth 990FX R2.0 Closer Look:

I continue to think the evolution of the UEFI BIOS has been interesting. Every time I pop into one I think that the days of having a peek behind the DOS curtain is gone. Today when overclocking is one of if not the main selling feature, the UEFI BIOS is a study in a hardware company's parsing of taking the user from a scary behind the curtain DOS looking "yikes I can really screw things up here," to a comfortable place to be in control of their hardware. If it has been a while or if you are having your first look at the ASUS UEFI BIOS and utilities, it may take you some time to get acquainted with it, only for the number of options at your disposal. Even the most seasoned overclocker needs to ferret out what exactly the difference between 110% and 120% DRAM capacitance actually means in real overclocking and for that matter, energy and heat demand. As they evolve one of the biggest problems I have encountered is that some of them are what I would call clunky; hard to get in and out of, not holding values steady if taking the entered value at all. In previous incarnations of the ASUS UEFI BIOS these aspects have been excellent. Let's see if the tradition continues with the Sabertooth 990FX R2.0.

Entering the BIOS under EZ Mode you can choose basic function settings from energy saving, normal, and extreme. You can also focus your system performance towards quiet, energy saving, or high performance on an animated radar graph. Above you get basic system voltages and temperatures, below you can rearrange the boot order by simply doing a drag-n-drop of your storage devices depicted in graphic form. From here you also have the option of entering the advanced mode by hitting F7. You can also save a copy of any page of the UEFI BIOS by installing a USB Flash drive and pressing F12 when in the current page you want saved. The main tab in the advanced mode is for very basic CPU, memory capacity, speed, and BIOS information. Here you set the system clock and security level; that's about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Under the main tab there is some basic information on the BIOS, including BIOS version and date, the CPU make and model, and the speed and amount of system memory installed. This is the place to set the system time and language, as well as the basic security level for access.

 

Upon clicking the Advanced mode, you are met with six tabs. The second is where most of the action takes place for the hardcore overclocker, in the form of ASUS AI Tweaker. ASUS has its own take on the UEFI BIOS, which incorporates of course the TUF Digi+ Power Control delivery to the usual options of raising multipliers and voltages. Here you can unlock just about everything and give the system permission to 'go extreme' if you wish with voltages.

Opening up Digi+ Power in the AI Tweaker tab opens up options that will be new to some users and can be looked at as the fine tune controls for power delivery. Here you control the capacitance for the CPU, CPU/NB, and the DRAM. Adjustments for the aforementioned capacitance can be made in 10% intervals, from 100% to 130% (140% in the case of phase control). Not only does this allow greater voltage to be used, but changes the switching frequencies for faster response and the stabilization of higher overclocks. Getting even more finely tuned, you have a separate setting that changes the switching frequencies for faster transient response. This level of control is great news for those of us, who in the course of our computing, used to have to choose between large amounts of RAM and high overclocks.

 

 

 

 

 

Moving down the list of power delivery options and optimizations are CPU Power Phase Control, which delivers increased stability to the CPU, or enable VRM Spread Spectrum for lower emission of EMI (electromagnetic interference), which also increases stability by limiting interference to surrounding components. CPU Power Duty Control allows the VRM to balance the loads applied onto each power phase to correspond to either the temperature or the current draw of each power phase. CPU Power Thermal control prevents the damage to the CPU power delivery components. You can see that digital power offers new and different implementations and protections, along with the ability to control how the power is delivered to the CPU, NB, and DRAM. The best way I found to overclock with this system is to set the parameters for the digital power delivery in the BIOS, and then do the fine tuning in the ASUS TurboV EVO Suite II. As I said, most of the controls are intuitive, but it may be worth some time invested to experiment incrementally to find how these values interact with each other when manually overclocking.

 

 

 

The Advanced tab is your configuration and function screen. Here you can set up and configure everything from the CPU to your SATA devices, Northbridge and Southbridge configurations, as well as LAN and network onboard devices. You can also control the behavior of USB ports. Two functions for the overclocker are here as well, in the CPU core on/off and the ability to enable or disable Application Power Management.

Under the CPU configuration are all the settings for the various AMD power saving features, such as Cool'n'Quiet, C1E, C6, and APM, among others.

 

 

 

The next tab over is your Monitor tab and it is a what you see is what you get. All of the main voltages are listed here and fluctuate in real time. I like to check these against the OS-based software monitoring to make sure they are reading the same from time to time.

 

Under the Boot tab you find all of your options and boot override options, as well as information on detected drives and their capacities and model numbers. This function can be taken care of in EZ mode by simply dragging and dropping the drives in the order you desire.

 

 

The last tab in Advanced mode is the Tool tab. Here you can store up to eight overclock profiles and label them for easy loading when you wish. This is a great feature for BIOS overclockers who like to try out several types of approaches to OCs and can be accessed quickly through the DirectKey button on the motherboard or the DRCT front panel modification if it is supported.

 

 

That rounds out a look at the Sabertooth 990FX R2.0 UEFI BIOS. The arrangement and organization of the BIOS is well polished and intuitive, as well as being option rich. ASUS provides a BIOS and software that makes overclocking as fun and drawn out as you want to make it, or will entirely suck the fun out of it with built in auto-tune and algorithms that can be set in the BIOS or TurboV EVO that will find a stable overclock for you, if that is more to your liking.

ASUS Sabertooth 990FX R2.0 Specifications:

 

CPU
AMD AM3+ FX™/Phenom™ II/Athlon™ II/Sempron™ 100 Series Processors
Supports AM3+ 32 nm CPU
Supports CPU up to 8 cores
Supports CPU up to 140 W
AMD Cool 'n' Quiet™ Technology
Chipset
AMD 990FX/SB950
Memory
4 x DIMM, Max. 32GB, DDR3 1866/1600/1333/1066 MHz ECC, Non-ECC, Un-buffered Memory
Dual Channel Memory Architecture
* Refer to www.asus.com or user manual for the Memory QVL (Qualified Vendors Lists).
* Due to OS limitation, when installing total memory of 4GB capacity or more, Windows® 32-bit operation system may only recognize less than 3GB. Install a 64-bit Windows® OS when you want to install 4GB or more memory on the motherboard.
* Due to CPU spec., AMD 100 series CPUs support up to DDR3 1066MHz. With ASUS design, this motherboard can support up to DDR3 1333MHz.
System Bus
 
Up to 5.2 GT/s HyperTransport™ 3.0
Multi-GPU Support
Supports NVIDIA® Quad-GPU SLI™ Technology
Supports AMD Quad-GPU CrossFireX™ Technology
Expansion Slots
3 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (dual x16 or x16/x8/x8) *1
1 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (x4 mode, black)
1 x PCIe 2.0 x1
1 x PCI
Storage
AMD SB950 controller :
6 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), brown
Support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10
ASMedia® PCIe SATA controller :
2 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), gray
2 x eSATA 6Gb/s port(s), red
LAN
Realtek® 8111F, 1 x Gigabit LAN Controller(s)
Audio
Realtek® ALC892 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
- Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel Jack-retasking
Audio Feature :
- Absolute Pitch 192kHz/ 24-bit True BD Lossless Sound
- Blu-ray audio layer Content Protection
- ASUS Noise Filter
- Optical S/PDIF out port(s) at back panel
USB Ports
ASMedia® USB 3.0 controller :
2 x USB 3.0/2.0 port(s) (2 at mid-board)
ASMedia® USB 3.0 controller :
4 x USB 3.0/2.0 port(s) (4 at back panel, blue)
AMD SB950 controller :
12 x USB 2.0/1.1 port(s) (8 at back panel, , 4 at mid-board)
Special Features
TUF ENGINE! Power Design :
- 8 +2 Digital Phase Power Design
- TUF Components (Alloy choke, Cap. & MOSFET; certified by military-standard)
- ASUS DIGI+ Power Control Utility
- E.S.P. : Efficient Switching Power Design
Ultimate COOL! Thermal Solution :
- TUF CeraM!X Heatsink Coating Tech.
- TUF Thermal Radar
ASUS Exclusive Features :
- Remote GO!
- USB BIOS Flashback
- MemOK!
- AI Suite II
- Ai Charger+
- Anti-Surge
- ESD Guards
- Front Panel USB 3.0 Support
- ASUS UEFI BIOS EZ Mode featuring friendly graphics user interface
- Network iControl
- USB 3.0 Boost
ASUS EZ DIY :
- DirectKey
- ASUS O.C. Profile
- ASUS EZ Flash 2
- ASUS MyLogo 2
- Multi-language BIOS
ASUS Q-Design :
- ASUS Q-Shield
- ASUS Q-LED (CPU, DRAM, VGA, Boot Device LED)
- ASUS Q-Slot
- ASUS Q-DIMM
- ASUS Q-Connector
Back I/O Ports
1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port(s)
2 x eSATA 6Gb/s
1 x LAN (RJ45) port(s)
4 x USB 3.0 (blue)
8 x USB 2.0
1 x Optical S/PDIF out
6 x Audio jack(s)
1 x USB BIOS Flashback Button(s)
Internal I/O Ports
1 x USB 3.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 2 USB 3.0 port(s) (19-pin, moss green)
2 x USB 2.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 4 USB 2.0 port(s)
1 x TPM connector(s)
1 x COM port(s) connector(s)
8 x SATA 6Gb/s connector(s)
1 x CPU Fan connector(s) (1 x 4 -pin)
1 x CPU OPT Fan connector(s) (1 x 4 -pin)
4 x Chassis Fan connector(s) (4 x 4 -pin)
1 x S/PDIF out header(s)
1 x 24-pin EATX Power connector(s)
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power connector(s)
1 x Front panel connector(s)
1 x System panel(s) (Q-Connector)
1 x DirectKey Button(s)
1 x DRCT header(s)
1 x MemOK! button(s)
1 x Clear CMOS jumper(s)
Accessories
User's manual
ASUS Q-Shield
4 x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s)
1 x SLI bridge(s)
1 x Q-connector(s) (2 in 1)
1 x TUF Certification card(s)
1 x TUF 5 Year Warranty manual(s) (by region)
BIOS
 
64 Mb Flash ROM, UEFI BIOS, PnP, SLP2.1, DMI2.0, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 2.7, ACPI 2.0a, Multi-language BIOS, ASUS EZ Flash 2, F12 PrintScreen, F3 Shortcut Function and ASUS DRAM SPD (Serial Presence Detect) memory information
Manageability
WfM 2.0, DMI 2.0, WOL by PME, WOR by PME, PXE
Support Disc
Drivers
Anti-virus software (OEM version)
ASUS Update
ASUS Utilities
Form Factor
 
ATX Form Factor
12 inch x 9.6 inch ( 30.5 cm x 24.4 cm )
Note
 
*1: When running dual graphics cards, be sure to insert the card in the first and third PCIex16 slot to get the best performance.

 

ASUS Sabertooth 990FX R2.0 Features:


DirectKey

 

ASUS Boot Setting
 

CeraM!X - Heatsink Coating Tech.
 

TUF Thermal Radar
 

UEFI BIOS
 

TUF Components (Alloy Choke, Cap. & MOSFET; Certified by Military-standard)
 

E.S.P. Efficient Switching Power Design
 


MemOK!

 


Front Panel USB 3.0 Support
 

Network iControl
 

Quad-GPU SLI and Quad-GPU CrossFireX Support!
 

 

Additional Exclusive Features:

 

All Information provided by ASUS USA:http://www.asus.com/SABERTOOTH_990FX_R20/#specifications

ASUS Sabertooth 990FX R2.0 Testing:

Testing the ASUS Sabertooth 990FX R2.0 will involve running it through OCC's test suite of benchmarks, which includes both synthetic benchmarks and real-world applications, to see how each of these products perform. The gaming tests will also consist of both synthetic benchmarks and actual gameplay, in which we can see if similarly prepared setups offer any performance advantages. The system will receive a fully updated, fresh install of Windows 7 Professional 64-bit edition, in addition to the latest drivers for each board and the latest AMD Catalyst drivers for the XFX HD 7970. To ensure as few variables as possible, all hardware will be tested at their stock speeds, timings, voltages, and latencies – unless otherwise stated. Turbo Boost is disabled to make a fair comparison without skewing results.

 

Testing Setup:

 

Comparison Boards:

 

Overclocking:

 

Overclocking with the ASUS Sabertooth 990FX R2.0 was a lot fun, and a big surprise. I opted in this case for a simple multiplier overclock and edged it up with a few ticks of the FSB for a final overclock of 5187MHz. To my surprise, this is the highest stable frequency I have been able to get out of this particular FX-8350. I am convinced that if I had more time and more cooling than the H-100 on my test rig, I could have gotten even more out of it. As it was I was pushing the cooling for all it was worth. I could tell after dissecting the board and power delivery that I was probably looking at a healthy overclock with the Sabertooth, but beating out the CVF-Z by a good 150MHz was a bit of a shock. Not to take anything from the Sabertooth to be sure, however I think this particular result may be a case of this CPU and chipset getting along in a rare pairing. In other words the Sabertooth is turning out to be a great overclocking board, however your mileage may vary, act now, supplies are limited, so on and so forth.  As always, all of the power saving features and APM were disabled and the final overclock was tested with an hour of P95 blend mode, stressing the CPU and memory controller.

 

 

Maximum Overclock:

Each CPU and motherboard has been tested for stability at the clock speeds listed, when in an overclocked state. These clock speeds will be used to run the test suite and will show the performance increase over the stock settings in the overclocked scoring.

 

Benchmarks:

Scientific & Data:

  1. PCMark 7
  2. HD Tune 5.0
  3. AIDA64 2.50
  4. Sandra 2012 SP6
  5. x264
  6. HandBrake 9.8
  7. ATTO 2.47

Video:

  1. DiRT 3
  2. Battlefield 3
  3. 3DMark11



 

We have our maximum overclocks. Time to heat'em up and see how a comparison of the same chipsets shake out..

ASUS Sabertooth 990FX R2.0 Testing:

PCMark 7 is the latest iteration of Futuremark's popular PCMark system performance tool. This version is designed for use on Windows 7 PCs and features a combination of 25 different workloads to accurately measure the performance of all PCs from laptops to desktops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

 

  

  

 

 

Not much of a difference here either as we would expect from the identical chipsets, with the exception of the ASUS Sabertooth R2.0 in its super-clock mode. This is obviously going to be the trend throughout with the rare exception of those application or modes where the extra overclock will make little difference.

ASUS Sabertooth 990FX R2.0 Testing:

HD Tune measures disk performance to make comparisons between drives or disk controllers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

  

  

 

 

AIDA64 Extreme Edition is a software utility designed to be used for hardware diagnosis and benchmarking. I will be using the CPU Queen test that looks for the solution for the "Queens" problem on a 10x10 chessboard. This tests the branch-prediction capabilities of the processor. The FPU Mandel test measures double precision floating point performance through computation of several frames of the "Mandelbrot" fractal.

 

  

  

 

The Sabertooth shows its stripes and takes the lead in the Queen and Mandel test with its superior overclockability.

ASUS Sabertooth 990FX R2.0 Testing:

SiSoft Sandra is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level to be more helpful. For this benchmark, I will be running a broad spectrum of tests to gauge the performance of key functions of the CPUs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overall Score

  

 

X.264 Benchmark: This benchmark is used to measure the time it takes to encode a 1080p video file into the x264 format. The default benchmark is used with an average of all four tests on each pass taken as the result.

  

  

 

 

 

HandBrake 9.5 is an open source application used to transcode multiple video formats to an h.264 output format. The test file size is a 4GB full length movie that is reduced in size to a 1.5GB file.

  

  

 

 

A close but, in order of overclock frequency finish here between the three, with an ever so slight lead to the two flagships in the stock clocked benches. These are two tests that show relatively little difference for the extra 100MHz+ OC the Sabertooth affords, however the Sabertooth R2.0 leads the way in overclocked mode nonetheless.

ASUS Sabertooth 990FX R2.0 Testing:

Moving data to and from an external device is something we all do as a means of backing up sensitive data, whether it be family pictures, movies, music, or projects. The speed with which this transfer occurs is measurable and can improve with different tools. I will be using ATTO version 2.47 to measure an external drive's read/write performance through the USB 3.0 interface. The default test algorithm is used for this test. Motherboards that support a boost to the USB spec, such as USB 3.0 Boost on the ASUS offering and XFast USB on the ASRock, will be used as they show the maximum potential speeds.

ATTO:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

  

  

 

The results in this test are interesting, as they show how well each manufacturer's USB 3.0 speed boost technology works. ASUS' implementation has the edge in larger file sizes, while the Extreme 4 does incredibly well using smaller file sizes. Overall, using Turbo Mode in ASRock's XFast LAN software is one way to increase throughput throughout the whole usage range, although if you are transferring data to and from an external drive, you most likely are using larger file sizes. The Sabertooth leads the way by a modest margin as the block size goes up. Either way, the boost in performance is a point of difference.

ASUS Sabertooth 990FX R2.0 Testing:

3DMark11 is the next installment for Futuremark in the 3DMark series, with Vantage as its predecessor. 3DMark11 was designed solely for DirectX 11, so Windows Vista or 7 are required alongside a DirectX 11 graphics card in order to run this test. The Basic Edition gives unlimited free tests on performance mode, whereas Vantage only allows for a single test run. The Advanced Edition costs $19.95 and unlocks nearly all features of the benchmark, while the Professional Edition runs for $995.00 and is mainly suited for corporate use. The new benchmark contains six tests, four of which are aimed only at graphical testing – one that tests physics handling and one that combines graphics and physics testing together. The open source Bullet Physics Library is used for physics simulations and although not as mainstream as Havok or PhysX, it still remains a popular choice.

The new benchmark comes with two new demos that can be watched; both of which are based on the tests, but unlike the tests, contain basic audio. The first demo is titled "Deep Sea" and involves a number of vessels exploring what looks to be a sunken U-Boat. The second demo is titled "High Temple" and displays a location similar to South American tribal ruins with statues and the occasional vehicle. The demos are simple in that they have no story, but really demonstrate testing conditions. The vehicles have the logos of the sponsors, MSI and Antec, on the sides, helping to make the Basic Edition free. The four graphics tests are slight variants of the demos. I will use the three benchmark test preset levels to find the performance of each card. The presets are used because they are comparable to what can be run with the free version, so results can be compared across more than just a custom set of test parameters.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DiRT 3 is the third iteration of this series. Published and developed by Codemasters, this game uses the EGO 2.0 game engine and was released in the US on PC in May of 2011.

Settings

 

 

 

Battlefield 3 is a first-person shooter video game developed by EA Digital Illusions CE and published by Electronic Arts. Battlefield 3 uses the Frostbite 2 game engine and is the direct successor to Battlefield 2. Released in North America on October 25, 2011, the game supports DirectX 10 and 11.

Settings

 

 

 

You can pinpoint the extra frequency the Sabertooth is able to pull from the FX-8350 from the CPU or GPU dependence of the application. In the 3DMark11 tests the Sabertooth takes the lead in every overclocked version of the benches while things largly remain the same in the more GPU dependent DiRT 3. In Battelfield 3, which is more CPU dependent for performance, the extra MHz buy a few extra frames at 1920x1080. In my own benching it brought another 5-7 FPS at larger resolutions such as 5760x1080.

ASUS Sabertooth 990FX R2.0 Conclusion:

I am not entirely sure what to think about the Sabertooth R2.0. I have had this same FX-8350 placed in the AM3+ sockets of just about every high end 990FX motherboard produced and yet the Sabertooth, affectionately known as the "Saberkitty" among the forums, was able to pull another 125-150MHz out of the same processor. In fact the only reason I stopped pushing was because as benchmark practice dictates obviously that the same peripherals are used in all motherboard testing, which of course includes the cooling solution.

Whether or not I could grab another Sabertooth 990FX R2.0 and FX-8350 off the shelf at MicroCenter and replicate the same results I don't know, but from my experiences with this board and in speaking with a good number of Sabertooth owners here and abroad, I have reached the conclusion that it is an excellent overclocking board, among other things. I think this is a perfect example of what full digital power delivery brings with it. The only issue for the user is the learning curve all of this control over how those volts are delivered to the various components. It will take a little time for the newcomers to overclocking to ferret out just what active full stage phase array and transient response is, how it works, and what effect it has when the VRM fixed frequency is set to 425kHz; well, you get the idea. I have seen people who purchase this board on day one of its release break their own overclock record just last week, without a break in tweaking. You literally could tweak for months with the Sabertooth R2.0 if you wanted to. Then again ASUS can remove that process some of us call fun and auto-tune an overclock for you.

The components used are high grade components and are certified by a third party under military testing and standards, which are spelled out specifically in the certification that comes with the board's bundle. I am not sure if the Sabertooth merely highlights this with this board or if some of them are exclusive, however the high current Alloy chokes with a single piece enclosure are found on other ASUS boards, as well as the solid capacitors and same grade of MOSFETs. It may be that these have been sent somewhere to be certified as part of the T.U.F. series. 

In the looks department a military camo-themed board usually garners an eyeroll from me because its treatment is taken way over the top. Not the case with the Sabertooth R2.0 as it is actually understated and tastefully done. If you prefer that your Southbridge looks like several rounds of faux .50 caliber bullets, this is not the board for you. Speaking of looks the very large and stylish heatsinks about the Sabertooth R2.0 are covered with a compound called CeraM!X (yes that is how it's spelled) that not only is used on things that need to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere in all likelihood, but draws the heat away from its source faster and creates 50% more surface area for cooling due to its rough texture. CeraM!X is another good example of ASUS leaving no stone (in this case ceramics) unturned.

As far as very real and tangible time savers offered, the Sabertooth R2.0 has a few that anyone who tweaks for performance will use eventually, if not on a regular basis, in the form of MemOK. I have used this a few times before being a performance tweaker and it is maybe the best onboard feature found on a PCB yet in my opinion. If your memory for any reason has a conflict that will not allow it to boot, a press of this button allows it to patch the problem and boot, or return to the BIOS to investigate. I have no idea how it works but I will stick with my explanation of  "a complex set of algorithims" for now and ask ASUS as soon as I get a chance. The second is BIOS Flashback; the ability to flash or re-flash a BIOS with a USB stick and standby power is a real time saver as well. The same can be said of DirectKey, an on-board button that takes you directly to the BIOS for those of us that spend a lot of time there. Above the DirectKey button is a 2-pin connector that you can place your front panel reset connection to for external access.

As usual of late with ASUS motherboards, the con list is very short, as in nonexistent. I really cannot find anything to complain about. The deeper you dig into the Sabertooth 990FX R2.0, the harder it gets to find something you can't access, adjust, or upgrade to. Superior overclocking, efficient, versatile, and sub $200. Not a bad package at all.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: