Sapphire and ECS X79 Motherboard ReviewBluePanda - September 3, 2012
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The Black Series really helped ECS become a part of the quality market, and today we are looking at another quality member: the X79R-AX . The box on ECS boards changes from launch to launch so each time it has a "new" look to it. Even I still have an old ECS board mobo box – and the only similarity is the classy dragon, not bad considering the three year lag. Anyway, the box has a unique prism effect that really allows it to stand out on a retail shelf. It glimmers left to right as you move side to side and has a bit of "sparkly" nature to it; thankfully no vampires. Jokes aside the front shows off the 4-way GPU support, quad-channel memory support, higher frequency currents, and long lasting ruggedness. The back flips over to reveal 18 different features with each having its own unique icon image. Among the first to come to sight are: EZ Charger, Intel Rapid Storage Technology, and ECS GUI UEFI BIOS, which will all be covered ahead.
Opening up to find what glories may be inside, I'm first stopped to find a user guide and BIOS setup visual direction pamphlet . I generally toss these to the side with most packages, but the motherboard ones are good to hold on to – never know when you might have to hook up something new. Beneath the cardboard is a collection of the real goodies: six black SATA cables, the back I/O shield, an SLI bridge, and of course the motherboard itself! It's a bit on the "slim pickings" side of added accessories but there is at least enough to get you up and running.
Pulling the board from its happy home inside the static-free bag we find the black edition is truly black! I honestly love all black boards and even this mix of greyscale coloring leans to satisfying my tastes. First things to pop out at me are the lack of VRM cooling and a MOLEX connector on the board? I am happy to see, as promised, the four channel memory support as well as the four PCI-E Gen 3 slots. There are also ten SATA ports to support any of your RAID needs; I'll get to the coloring rational a bit later (I'm sure you know it's related to speeds).
Looking at the I/O panel you'll find a little more than usual. There are six standard USB 2.0 ports and four USB 3.0 ports nicely colored in blue. I appreciate the color coding as I still have a few older products I occasionally use that don't play well with USB 3.0. You still have your PS/2 mouse/keyboard connection for those of you with PS/2 keyboards or mice (if you have both, you’ve likely already picked only one as most boards only have one PS/2 port these days). You also have your Ethernet port with a flashy indicator light to help troubleshoot. Your onboard sound allows output for 5.1+mic and still have a bonus Toslink optical output for some of you audio junkies.
There are four PCIe 3.0 slots capable of running 4-way SLI on NVIDIA setups and Quad CrossfireX on AMD setups. However, the four slots aren't quite electrically the same – the two grey slots are 16x where the white slots are only 8x slots. Nonetheless you can still run SLI or CrossfireX on two cards with maximum performance (three cards will run 16x/8x/8x, four cards 8x/8x/8x/8x, and two cards 16x/16x). ECS is a little ahead of the game planning for those of you who will be running more than two cards; an extra power connector (Molex plug) is on board to support the additional cards. However you only have to plug it in if you are using three or more cards.
The board also has two PCIe x1 slots nested between the x16 slots for any RAID cards, soundcards, or network cards you may have. The CMOS battery and jumper are worked in this area as well space for a diagnostic LED that comes on the Deluxe model. Along the bottom edge you can see some of the standards output headers: the front audio, S/PDIF, standard COM, USB 3.0 (shown in first picture), the ME_UNLOCK (factory use), SPI_DEBUG (factory use), the two front panel USB connections, and the generic front I/O panel connections (shown in the second image), which will require some manual reading to connect up properly. The last picture shows a little close up of the LED post display to help work out any odd issues you may come across.
Getting back to the SATA ports I casually dropped hint at earlier we get a closer look at exactly what we have going on. This board really has a lot of options here with ten total SATA ports. The lower four grey ports are SATA 3Gb/s directly connected to the SATA controller. The four white ports in the middle area have the SATA 3.0 interface capable of 6Gb/s off the SATA controller. The last two ports, seemingly the same as the lower four, are actually SAS ports (Serial Attached SCSI), which are capable of running SATA 6Gb/s speeds and basic compatibility with SAS devices. From the RAID perspective, SAS will support RAID 0/1, the SATA 6Gb/s ports handle RAID 0/1/5/10 and the 3Gb/s ports support RAID 0/1/10. So whatever your RAID fancy is, it’s here, at least standard wise. The southbridge behind the SATA ports has a nice standard heat sink on it, which you can see again from the other side. It’s a nice gunmetal grey that really supports the theme ECS has going with this board. I really like that it doesn’t have some stupid logo on it or some dumb "gun" design. It’s nice and clean.
Enough on SATA – looking down at the socket the happy shipping protector plate is right in place protecting the pins. If you've ever bumped a pin or had to re-align one you can appreciate this little piece of plastic as much as I can. There are four RAM slots with two on either side of the socket showing off the quad-channel circuitry. Unfortunately this means with any cooler you have to deal with double the "RAM in my way" problem, but having twice the bandwidth is nice. Rotating the board around we can get another look at the RAM slots with DDR3 clearly marked on the board. From this angle we can also see three fan headers; two system fans and a power fan. The 24-pin connector is solidly mounted between two mounting screws so you won’t have to worry about any bending of the board when connecting it up. Rotating the board again you can see the second CPU fan header, fan2, with a nice 4-pin connector allowing for PWM control, and if you slide up the board to the second RAM slots there's the first CPU fan, fan1, which is also a 4-pin connection.
The ECS X79R-AX isn't too shabby looking at all. Overall it has a nice themed greyscale appearance without the gaudy yellows and kindergarten colors plastered about. The performance options also seem to really be there as well; with four PCIe slots and quad-channel memory it really isn't a bottom barrel board. I'm excited to see how it performs as it's a board that most definitely catches my eye.