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ASUS Sabertooth X99 Review

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ASUS Sabertooth X99 Closer Look:

The ASUS Sabertooth X99 is built as an ATX form factor board measuring 12 inch x 9.6 inch for use with Intels's Haswell-E socket 2011 v-3 processors. As one of the key players in ASUS TUF strategy, the Sabertooth X99 is equipped with the entire TUF feature set. Most visible to the end user is the military themed TUF Thermal Armor on the front of the PCB and the TUF Fortifier on the back side of the board. This combination is going to eliminate PCB flex that can cause an early death when traces crack in the PCB. Not just a brace for the PCB, the TUF Fortifier is used to help manage the thermal load of the VRM with thermal pads placed strategically that reduce the operating temperature of critical VRM components. Normally a heavily equipped motherboard is going to flex some, but I found that from any angle the board was as stiff as could be expected with none of the flexible flyer bends going on. Starting with ASUS P67-based boards, ASUS started using a proprietary fiber weave design to build a multi-layer PCB that has improved moisture resistance, along with reductions in EMI and voltage leakage. A build component that is right at home on a TUF series motherboard.

 

 

Let's start the trip around the board at the I/O panel. From the left to right there are a quartet of USB 2.0 ports, the TUF Detective Port, and a USB BIOS flashback button that can be used to recover from a corrupt BIOS. Next up are a pair of USB 3.1 ports in teal and four USB 3.0 ports in blue that can be accelerated using ASUS USB 3.1 Boost. Above the USB 3.0 ports are a pair of Gigabit LAN connections; one controlled via an Intel I-218V and the other by way of a Realtek 8111R controller. Both of those are Energy Efficient appliances. Audio connectivity on the TUF is an eight-channel Realtek ALC 1150 audio solution that includes an Optical S/PDIF output and five analog jacks.

Ensuring you do not cook any of the port controllers, ASUS uses its ESD Guard 2 technology that places TVS diodes just behind the ports to keep any static discharges from frying the components. The LAN ports see not only the TVS Diodes, but an anti-surge LAN connector. This is a solution that has been in use for a while, but now is improved.

There are a total of five PCIe slots available for expansion. Three Gen 3 16x slots, one Gen 2 4x, and one Gen 2 1x slot. Depending on which CPU you have (40x or 28x PCIe lanes), the slots can operate at differing bandwidth rates. With a 40 lane processor, like the Core i7 5960X, you can run a three way graphics combination at 16x by 16x by 8x. This drops to 16x by 8x by 4x when dropping in a 28 lane chip, like the Core i7 5820. Four-way graphics solutions are supported when running two multi-GPU cards from AMD or NVIDIA.

Hidden under the Thermal Armor is the bulk of the TUF audio solution based on the Realtek ALC1150 Codec. If you are familiar with ASUS' Redline Moat tech, then you understand what they bring to the table here. Isolated circuitry to minimize interference between the digital and analog layers, separate left and right layers to ensure signal integrity, unique de-pop circuitry, and a special op-amp to improve audio quality for both headphones and speakers.

 

 

The bottom edge of the PCB features a ton of peripheral connectivity. Left to right to start are some of the ASUS 10K Ti caps, the front panel audio, S/PDIF output, Thunderbolt and serial port connections, three controllable fan headers, three thermal sensor connection points, TPM connector, USB 3.0 header, a pair of USB 2.0 ports, and the front panel connections. Above the USB 2.0 ports is another 4-pin controllable fan header. Next to the fan header are several jumpers The CPU Overvoltage and Clear CMOS jumpers are over the USB 2.0 port, and the DirectKey header and Chassis intrusion jumper are right above the front panel connectors. A removable panel in line with the PCIe 1x slot covers up the access point for the M.2 x4 M Key socket that support 2242/2260/2280/22110 PCIe-based devices.

 

The right side of the PCB is loaded heavily with the bulk of the storage options. There are a total of eight SATA 6GB/s ports on this board: two beige, two grey, and four black. The differences here are that the black ports are supported in IRST. The beige/grey combo support IRST 13 technology and can be used to setup a RAID 0, 1, 5, or 10 configuration. A single SATA Express port is available for use as an added storage option. It looks like PCIe-based M.2 or NVMe devices will be the future of drive connectivity. Further up the right side are another of the hardware controllable 4-pin fan headers; another USB 3.0 header; two more fan headers; and the MEM OK! button to power through memory incompatibilities by running an algorithm that takes into account memory timings, voltages, and speed to allow the system to boot. Last up is the 24-pin ATX power connection in beige to match the Sabertooth image.

 

 

The top side of the PCB has a few items of interest. The 8+4-pin EATX power supply connections are in front of an opening in the Thermal Armor to allow airflow into the heat pipe interconnected VRM heat sink. Next up are the CPU, CPU optional, and chassis fan headers. To the right is the assistant fan header that mounts in the Thermal Armor above the other half of the VRM heat sink that sits right behind the I/O connections. Installing this additional included 40mm fan is a way to improve airflow through the Thermal Armor to reduce the temperature of the components underneath. At times it can be a peaky noise-wise, but performs a valid function.

 

 

Just like all of the X99 boards I have looked at, there is a lot going on around the socket. The Sabertooth X99 is no different in that respect. Front and center is the 2011 v-3 CPU socket. ASUS takes this part and improves upon it with the ASUS OC Socket. By adding additional pins and connecting circuitry on the Haswell-E processor, ASUS has enabled a cache bus voltage that helps drive up system performance and reduces voltage droop to the CPU. The OC socket is a unique feature, but there is more in the tank. Using miltiary spec components that run cooler and are built for the long term, you get peace of mind long term. An 8+2+2 phase all digital VRM system allows for precise voltage adjustments and control. Parts of the VRM circuit include miltary rated lower RDS(on) MOSFETs, Black 10K Ti caps that run with a 20% higher and lower temperature tolerance, and a new design TUF X99 choke that features 70% more surface area to keep the choke cool under load. All to deliver that long term performance.

Eight DDR4 DIMM sockets support up to 64GB of DDR4 memory at speeds of 2400/2133MHz. ASUS T-Topology reduces the trace length to these sockets, reduces signal inconsistencies, and improves memory overclocking by having a balanced signal load. If you look at the memory compatibility charts for this board, you'll see it's pretty extensive.

Cooling down the TUF VRM and X99 PCH are basically large, passive heat sinks. The one over the PCH is at best passive with airflow flowing over it and through the Thermal Armor, providing the airflow to keep it cool. The heat sink over the VRM circuit are a pair of heat sinks that are interconnected via a heat pipe to drive the cooling through the rear heat sink. The 40mm assistant fan helps tremendously here.

 

 

There's a lot of really cool stuff going on that is there, but not seen. It's these small and sometime large details that set the Sabertooth X99 up for success.




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