Sapphire and ECS X79 Motherboard Review

BluePanda - 2012-07-17 19:53:37 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: BluePanda   
Reviewed on: September 3, 2012
Price: $259_$350


The 2011 socket is a breed entirely on its own. The desktop processors are for larger wallet enthusiasts with the i7 3820, 3930K, and 3960X ranging from $305 - $990 in price. The upper of the two have six cores or twelve threads while the lower end 3820 has only four cores or eight threads. They all start with a relatively high clock and an even higher boost speed for those who can afford them. The 2011 socket is probably more known for its server abilities as we all know more processing power is often needed in such field; there are about a dozen or so CPUs to choose on that spectrum of things. However, most of you aren't here because you have a server chip and are looking for motherboards -- you're here because you've got a desktop chip and need a new board to support it. The X79 market has about the same variety of boards and options as the rest of the sockets so it isn't quite as simple as picking one out of a barrel of a few. Today we'll be taking a look at a board from ECS, the X79R-AX Black Deluxe, and a board from Sapphire, the Pure Black X79N. The ECS board is on the lower end of the pricing scale but still has a ton of features to offer. The Sapphire board on the other hand is a little higher up in the price listings, but also has quite a bit to offer.


Closer Look:

Looking at the ECS and Sapphire boards we should get a pretty good idea of what each company has available for the 2011 socket. We will see if price will amount to performance and exactly how much more you get with a $350 board compared to a $250. Perhaps you will find something to add to your shopping cart, or perhaps you will keep to what you have. Let's dig in and see what these two boards really have to offer in terms of performance and how extensive the feature set is for the Extreme user.







Let's start out with ECS X79R-AX Black Deluxe.

Closer Look:

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.

Closer Look:

Recently I've had reviews for video cards from Sapphire, and though I see it as a well doing company I still tend to forget Sapphire as a motherboard manufacturer. Sapphire does have an interesting line of motherboards and today we'll be looking at the Sapphire Pure Black X79N, one of its higher end boards and likely one of the more expensive X79 boards on the market today. The box is a black and chrome-esque style that attempts the premium look. Some circuitry drawings pull from the edges of the box to the center where they meet up with a Black X79N shield. The bottom edge of the box runs through the standard Intel support, chipset support, PCIe support, etc. The back of the board continues with the black and chrome-esque look as it outlines some of the "PURE" Features with an icon and brief description. The standard big blue Sapphire logo takes the lower right corner of the box. This is a box that begs to be opened – it looks elite without bragging about it on the box, and only a little flashy bling.










Opening up the box, as with any motherboard box, you are led to yet another box to open; this one is black and simple. Opening it up there's a neat bundle of cables, a USB 3.0 bracket, a back I/O panel cover, some Sapphire literature as well as a X79N Manual. Beneath all that is the board! However, with a "Pure Black" edition board, I was kind of expecting to not see a lot of color. There seems to be a bit of Sapphire Blue on this Pure Black design. I hate to say it but it's harder and harder to find another all-black board after retiring my Gigabyte 990FX board last year; at least the PCB appears to be all black.



Pulled out of the packaging we can get a closer look at the goodies that came inside. The manual and driver CD sit with the Sapphire ad that will eventually go unfound months down the road. The manual is something good to hang on to if you can – figuring out the right plugs for your chassis I/O panel is not a fun guessing game. The I/O panel is well labeled to help you out when at the back and aren't exactly sure what you're doing – I was expecting this to be black though, yet it's on the back so no one will see it. There are eight black SATA cables included all with clips to keep them securely in place while you wire your mess up. The USB 3.0 mount comes in a bracket to be installed in a 5.25" bay; however, if you don’t want to muddle up the front, nor have the space, it comes with an additional bracket to install it in a rear expansion slot.

The I/O panel cover is a little more interesting than most. If you look at it closely it has a little bit more to it than just a pressed metal piece. It actually has a layer of EMI foam; it reduces the electrical noise between the motherboard and your outputs. I'm not sure exactly how great it will work but it is an interesting concept.




With the board out of the static bag it most definatly isn’t the "Pure Black" board I was imagining. The lighting even gives a tinge of brown to the PCB with blue slots and red SATA connectors. But this review isn't all about how it looks, though I find that a strong selling point often – it is more about what this board has to offer and how well it performs. It has the standard X79 socket as expected and dual-channel memory settling two sticks on either side of the CPU. There are six PCIe slots that run the length of the board, a southbridge fan, and cooling on the MOSFETs. There's definitely a lot here and a lot to talk about – we'll get more into it with some close ups. As far as the back of the board goes – there isn’t too much to really look at, pretty bare, except for the LOTES back plate. You can see the holes in the board for any 2011 socket style CPU cooling mount and you know with a metal backing plate you won't break it or wear it out.



If we rotate the board around a bit we can get an up close look at the I/O panel. You start up with your typical PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port, six USB 2.0 ports, four USB 3.0 ports, an S/PDIF Coaxial output, an optical output, dual gigabit LAN, two e-SATA ports, Bluetooth 2.1, and six audio outputs. Now that was a mouthful of features; not shorted at all. Moving down the side of the board, need you reminding, there are six full PCIe slots; three at x16 and three at x8 (I'll explain more how this works later). What you need to know now is this board appears to be nothing but a beast!



There is a 6-pin power connector on the board sitting below the left RAM slots and just above the six PCIe slots. As you guessed it is additional power to feed the semi-unhealthy video card purchases you may make. It is right in the middle of the board so other than having an ugly cable job, it shouldn’t be an issue to get a cable to reach. Back down to the PCIe slots let's discuss a little how the x8 versus x16 works. There are six total expansion slots that all utilize the PCIe x16 interface. However, only three of the slots support the full x16 bandwidth while the other three run at half that, x8. Looking at it slot by slot: Slot 1 runs at x16, Slot 2 runs at x8, Slot 3 & 5 run at either x16/x8, while Slots 4 & 6 run only at x8. Filling this setup would be pretty difficult but as a work machine you could have several CUDA cards or perhaps RAID cards to fill it up. For now video wise you are limited to CrossfireX for multi-card use (limited to 3-way as well) as there is still no support for SLI. Just keep that in mind when setting up your monster rig with this one.

Looking at the bottom edge of the board we can see the input and output buttons and headers. There is a display for POST codes to help troubleshoot the hardest problems, a COM1 header, and a 3-pin fan connector (shown in the second picture below). The third picture below further shows off the onboard power and reset buttons as well as the CMOS reset button – no need for correctly connecting case I/O pins or jumping pins to get what you need; it’s a nice setup. You can also see the optional BIOS select tool so if you do manage to mess up – you've got a backup. To the other edge of the board you have your typical USB 2.0 and 3.0 headers as well as a color coded and labeled front I/O chassis header.




There are eight total right angle SATA ports onboard. Six of the ports are controlled by the chipset while the other two are controlled by an on-board Marvel chip. The red ports utilize the 6Gb/s interface while the black feed from the 3Gb/s interface – so be sure you pick the right one to go fast during your setup. As for RAID, there is native support for RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10.


Moving up near the socket and dual-channel RAM we've got a bit more to cover. Looking at the top corner there is your usual 24-pin connector right next to one of the mounting points of the board (a nice sturdy point). There are six jumpers each corresponding to a PCI slot on the board to allow you to enable or disable each individually (you can see this at a couple different angles below). There are also nine test points on the board for voltage checks via a multimeter. Hold the ground and one lead on the component you wish to check and you can see exactly what problems you may be having or causing. Looking behind the tall Sapphire VRM heatsink you’ll find the 8-pin board connector that you’ve probably been trying to find in all these pictures – well here it is, don’t forget to plug it in. Overall there is a lot going on around the socket here on the board but the cooling is sufficient and looks to be ready for a little abuse.




Looking a little closer at the cooling options here on the board I wanted to leave you with a couple close ups. The VRMs are extensively cooled by a neat little heatpiped heat sink that sits nicely above the socket. The southbridge not only has its own little heatsink on it but has its own fan cooled heat sink to keep temperatures down low. I'm not sure why they decided to put a fan here – it just creates noise. I would have rather seen a full heatsink to dissipate heat rather than a small fan, which tends to be whiny and often doesn't have a long life.



Overall this is a beast of a board. It has a few flaws here and there, but I've yet to see the "perfect" board. It comes down to exactly what you need from a board that makes it perfect from one build to the next. The appearance of the board was a disappointment for a "Pure Black" but again this isn't all about looks – let's get on to seeing what this board can handle.

Closer Look:


The ECS board comes with a utility to allow you to update your BIOS within Windows. When you open up the utility you will see your processor information, motherboard information, BIOS version, and your current operating system. If there are no recommended updates, your window will look like the first image below. You can force it to check for updates by clicking on "Check Update." When I clicked it, there was an update for me! It shows the type of update, in this case a system BIOS update, the current version compared to the available version, and exactly how large a download it will be. If you check the box you can start the update. Another little window will pop up confirming system information and then you can click "start" to search for the updates. This will then take you to the ECS website to get the newest supporting BIOS and or software for the board. You will no longer have to look things up manually.












Once you install the ECS software you can see a little more information. The little application gives you four simple tabs: Monitor, Easy Tune, Advance Tune, and Options. The Monitor tab shows you the current system and CPU temperature on little graphical icons. The Easy Tune allows you to change the CPU Frequency in Windows with a slider mechanism. It also reports system voltages and allows you to return to previous settings. Advance Tune allows you to control the voltages you found on the easy tune page and apply them immediately. Under Options you can set the delay for the apply button to actually apply settings, enable the software to start on boot, and whether or not to apply the settings when resuming from sleep.




Another feature that comes with the ECS software is a fan controlling application. There are four preset fan options based on full, normal, quiet, and silent speeds. The profiles are automatically set when you click on them. A graphical representation is also shown when looking at the different profiles. Each button has a type of aircraft to give you an idea of the fan noise; a jet to represent full, a carrier to show normal, a helicopeter for quiet, and a paper airplane for silent. It is pretty cute and clever. You can also adjust the graphical representation for a custom setting under the "custom" button.



EZ Charger is an application is an application that is used to manage the charging process for portable devices including many popular devices, especially iPad, iPhone and iPod. Three times the current of a traditional USB connection is available to the supported USB ports onboard to provide this method of charging your devices. The icon in the system tray is used to provide a visual indication of the charging status of the device.




Sapphire's TriXX is has been a popular alternative to MSI's Afterburner software when you are looking at video cards. Sapphire has put together a version of TriXX to support its motherboard line up and offers up a way to tweak the system performance while in the OS. Monitoring functionality is incorporated to give the end user a way to monitor voltages and temperatures without having to use an aftermarket utility. A widget for TriXX is installed as part of the installation package so that the full window can be minimized yet the monitoring functions are still open for the user in the widget tray.


Closer Look:

Jumping into the BIOS, it’s a little friendlier looking than what most of us may have been used to without the blue and black. You’ll have full control with lots of graphics and can even use your mouse! Okay so this whole UEFI thing isn’t really all that new and novel but I’m not really a huge fan of it either. I still prefer my keyboard interaction only (which can still be done here). I just feel the more friendly the BIOS appears, the more trouble one may find themselves – but it’s nice to see more people "playing." You have options for language, option to set default settings, a standard just boot option, and "advanced"to launch you into the actual BIOS for settings. That is where we shall go…















Into the Main screen you can change system language here as well as check the date and time on your BIOS. The Advanced Tab allows control of LAN options as well as SATA and ACPI settings as needed. Going into the SATA Configuration you can ensure AHCI is enabled or IDE/RAID depending on your particular setup. You can even setup a staggered spin-up on boot to have multiple drives spin up at various steps to lower draw on your systems power supply – keeping you from having your max power use at boot. This was pretty neat – I could really see using this on a system with multiple drives even, such as my home theater (which has eleven drives running from it now) and struggles a bit at boot sometimes.



Moving into the Chipset tab a couple of options are avialabe here. We can play with the PCH Configuration or the ME Subsystems. Opening up the PCH Configuraiton you can ensure your rig stays down when a power outage occurs or to have it come back up – but I’d highly recommend you just let it stay down. I’m sure most of you know, or can at least agree, having your rig cycle up and down with a lightning storm does nothing good.



The M.I.B.X (MB Intelligent BIOS X) tab opens up what I call the fun parts of the BIOS. Here we’ll be able to Configure the CPU, OC, and change Memory settings. If you want to change your memory run speeds up or down you can do it here at the MIBX screen. Opening up the CPU Configuration gives us the Ratio Setting Controls (such as by Turbo Boost or not) as well as that specified ratio. You can then set your core ratio limits accordingly and your power limit overrides. Opening up the Memory OC panel we can setup different XMP Profiles for your memory settings. There’s tons of settings and plenty of room to fine tune if you have the skill – though 95% of these will often go untouched.




The Boot tab looks like it has a bunch of options but in reality it’s not too many. Here you can decide how the keyboard numberpad or lack of numberpad works (NumLock State) – a personal preference type deal. You can also set your preferred boot order if you have multiple inputs. You have options for HDD, CD/DVD, USB, USB HDD, USB CD, USB Flash, and Network. So it definitely has some perks if you are trying to install an OS from a USB stick versus the "standard" CD format. The Security tab really doesn’t have mouch – just allows you to password protect the rights to the BIOS.

The Save & Exit tab really has more than just the Save function to it; it actually allows you to save multiple profiles for different OC settings, or in progress settings. But it also has the standard Save and Exit features as well as the Discard feature to get rid of anything you may have changed. Overall there are more than enough options in this BIOS to keep you happy.



Closer Look:

The Sapphire BIOS is another UEFI type with mouse enabled activity; though not limited to the little mouse alone. The main screen shows you your basic information including BIOS vendor, Core version, and even your build date and time (though I assume this changes anytime the CMOS is reset). There is a little memory information provided and a spot to denote the current access level – here I’m accessing the BIOS at the "admin" level.

Moving on to the performance tab we get a little more to play with. Here we have some access to the CPU configuration as well as memory and voltage configurations as well. Opening up the memory configuration specifically you can change XMP profiles, memory speeds, timings, and all the little things if you have the talent and/or patience. The voltage settings allow you to configure loadline controls, vcore, and memory frequency and voltages. Along the bottom this whole time you are able to see quick current settings on voltages on the CPU FSB, CPU, DIMM, and even frequencies and temperatures respectively. It’s nice to not have to flip back and to be able to easily monitor things while in menu.















The advanced tab opens up for some more fun. From the main list you can enable boot options, change ACPI settings, configure CPU, SATA and USB, as well as check onboard device configurations. There seems to be a lot to work with. Under CPU configuration you can see the current CPU speed settings and whether or not 64-bit is supported. You can enable/disable hyper theading, change the CPUID limit, change the number of active cores, as well as enable/disable Intel Virtual Technology. The next window shows off the marvell controller and its settings. You can control the LAN ports and even the three USB 3.0 controllers. This page also allows you to disable/enable Bluetooth for whatever devices you may have. Be sure to also note the PS/2 port type connection here as well; you’re able to tell it whether you want to recognize it as a mouse or a keyboard. The chipset tab really only has a couple of options so I tossed it in here as well. You can allow for Virtualilzation I/O or I/OAT.




Boot and security are the next two tabs to take a look at. The main boot screen allows you to change prompt time out, two boot priority options, and how to deal with USB, CD, and DVD drives on boot. Going into the boot option page you can set a specific drive to boot from as well as what exactly you would like it to try to boot first (or second). The security page allows you to setup passwords for the admin, and or a user. If only the admin password is setup only access to setup will ask for a password upon entering setup. If only a user has a password set then a password will be asked for on boot or to enter setup. However, the user will have admin rights to the setup. The only requirement on the password is length: 3-20 characters. The final exit tab allows for exactly that – allows you to save and exit, discard, or restore defaults – all very common yet useful.




Supports 2nd Gen Intel Core i7 processor family for the LGA 2011 Socket
DMI 5.0GT/s
Intel® X79 Express Chipset
Quad-channel DDR3 memory architecture
4 x 240-pin DDR3 DIMM socket support up to 64GB, per one DIMM support 16GB
DDR3 2500(OC)/2400(OC)/2133(OC)/1800/1600
*Due to the operating system limitation, the actual memory size may be less than 4GB for the reservation for system usage under Windows® 32-bit OS.For Windows® 64-bit OS with 64-bit CPU, there is no such limitation
Expansion Slots:
4 x PCI Express x16 Gen3.0 slot (2 slots run at x8 bandwidth)
2 x PCI Express x1 slots
Support by Intel®X79
    • 2 x Serial ATA 6.0Gb/s devices
    • 4 x Serial ATA 3.0Gb/s devices
    • 4 x Serial ATA 6.0Gb/s devices(SAS6G1_2, SAS6G3_4) *
    • RAID0, RAID1, RAID5, RAID 10 configuration
Support by ASMEDIA ASM1061
    • 2 x Serial ATA 6.0Gb/s devices
    • 2 x eSATA 6.0 Gb/s ports
*User please be notice due to chipset limitation, the compatibility and stability of SATA port(SAS6G1_2/3_4) may differ by different devices.
Realtek ALC892 8-Ch High Definition audio CODEC
Compliant with HD audio specification
Ethernet LAN:
Dual RealTek RTL 8111E Gigabit LAN
Rear Panel I/O:
4 x USB 3.0 ports
6 x USB 2.0 ports
2 x eSATA 6.0Gb/s ports
1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port
2 x RJ45 LAN connectors
1 x Audio port (1x Line in, 4x Line out, 1x Optical SPDIF Out)
1 x Wireless LAN Dongle
1 x Bluetooth Dongle
1 x Clear_CMOS button
Internal I/O:
1 x Power on button
1 x Reset button
1 x 7S-LED Display
1 x 24-pin ATX Power Supply connector
1 x 8-pin ATX Power Supply Connector
1 x 4-pin power connector for VGA card
2 x 4-pin CPU_FAN connector
1 x 3-pin SYS_FAN connector (with smart fan)
2 x 3-pin PWR_FAN connector
4 x Serial ATA 3Gb/s connectors(90 degree)
8 x Serial ATA 6Gb/s connectors(90 degree)
2 x USB 2.0 headers support additional 4 USB ports(Gray One support EZ Charger)
1 x USB 3.0 header supports additional 2 USB 3.0 Ports
1 x COM header
1 x SPDIF out header
1 x Front panel switch/LED header
1 x Front panel audio header
1 x Clear CMOS header
1 x Buzzer
6 x Voltage measure points
Form Factor:
ATX Size, 305mm*244mm
OS Support:
Windows Vista (32/64) bit
Windows 7 (32/64) bit





Information Provided By:






Supports Intel LGA 2011: Unlocked Intel Core i7 Series processors
Intel® X79 Express Chipset
Dual –BIOS
32 GB Max.
Quad Channel 240 pins DDR3 up to 1600+MHz, non-ECC, Unbuffered
Expansion Slots:
3 x PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots
3 x PCI Express 2.0 x8 slots
4 x Serial ATA III 6Gb/s connectors
4 x Serial ATA II 3Gb/s connectors
Realtek ALC892 HD Audio CODEC with 8-Channel
Ethernet LAN:
Dual Marvell 88E8057 PCI-Express Gigabit LAN
Rear Panel I/O:
6 x USB 2.0 port
4 x USB 3.0 port
1 x SPDIF Coaxial OUT
1 x Audio I / O ports
1 x SPDIF Optical Out
1 x Supporting Bluetooth® 2.1 + EDR by Atheros AR3011
2 x e-SATA port
PS/2 KB/MS combo port
Dual RJ- 45 Gigabit LAN with ESD
Internal I/O:
4 x USB 2.0 headers
4 pins CPU PWM Fan connectors
3 Pin Chassis Fan connectors
24-pin ATX Power connector
8-pin ATX 12V Power connector
1 x COM headers
Control (Front) panel headers
2 x USB 3.0 headers
Audio I/O (Front) header
SPDIF out header
Power Button
Reset Button
CMOS clear Button
Dual BIOS select switch with indicator LED
Form Factor:
ATX, Size 304x 244 mm
OS Support:
Windows 7 (32/64) bit




Information Provided By:




Testing the ECS X79R-AX Black Deluxe and Sapphire Pure Black X79N will involve running them 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:

Testing Setup: Intel Core i7 Socket 2011



Overclocking each of these boards required similar tactics and revolved around proven means to overclock the SB-E Core i7 3960X. After looking at the lack of a heat sink over half of the VRM package I was leery of pushing too hard on the ECS X79R-AX. But push it did and offered up a higher overclock than the Sapphire Pure Black X79N by over 100MHz. The ECS BIOS allows the user to adjust the voltages in positive or negative increments instead of a fixed value for the CPU. By adjusting the vcore up and enabling LLC I was able to push the Core i7 3960X to 4653MHz using 1.46v. If working in the BIOS is a little daunting than ECS' eOC tool is another way to boost the performance of the system. BClock and voltage adjustments are available but not multiplier adjustments. It is a light weight utility and will allow for fine tuning the settings needed for stability at the chosen overclock.

Sapphire's Pure Black series boards have been surprising overclockers in the past but this board seemed to offer some resistance to the maximum capable speeds of the 3960X. Only able to reach just over a 100MHz bclock, the board yielded an overclock of 4543MHz; still a 1GHz plus overclock over the rated speed of the Core i7 3960X. Turning on LLC and adjusting the vcore again to 1.46v delivered the overclock. Sapphire's TriXX utility is familiar to many with the coverage it sees on the myriad of Sapphire video card reviews on the web. What most people do not know is that it is available for its motherboard suite as well. Much like the ECS eOC utility, Sapphire's TriXX utility offers bclock and voltage tuning. Each board is going to deliver performance once overclocked that fits in a small envelope with the differences only measurable in benchmarks but not actual use. With a 100MHz differential between the ECS and Sapphire boards maximum overclocks the choice based on performance is a toss up.



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.



Scientific & Data:

  1. PCMark 7
  2. HD Tune 5.0
  3. AIDA64 2.20
  4. Sandra 2011
  5. X264
  6. Handbrake
  7. USB 3.0
  8. 3DMark 11


  1. DiRT 3
  2. BF3



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.








Surprisingly yet not so surprising the two boards performed about the same in PCMark 7. The only difference between the scores was near negligible and doesn't definitively give us a win either way.


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.




Again there seems to be no defining moment for either board in these tests. One doesn't really win one way or the other. The amount the boards' scores are apart is minimal and likely only of marginal error at this point. Unfortunately nothing is showing that more money gets us much more number wise at this point -- just more physical features.


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.




Still nothing to pull the boards apart in rankings; they both sit neck and neck with little to draw one versus the other as "better." I was hoping to see a little more discrepancy this far into testing yet; they are essentially the same when you get past the features offered.


Moving data to and from an external device is something we all do as a means of backing up sensitive data whether it is family pictures, movies, music, or projects. The speed with which this transfer occurs is measurable and can improve with different board partner specific tools. I will be using ATTO version 2.47 to measure an external drives read/write performance through the USB 3.0 interface. The default test algorithm is used for this test.



















Finally! The Sapphire board decided to show up and knocks the pants off the ECS board in the USB 3.0 test. The controller on the Sapphire board is clearly superior to that of the ECS board. Speeds in read and write were significantly faster in almost every access size. Only in one situation is the ECS board "better" but likely only due to the fact that the boards are so similar at the small sample size the "win" is within sampling error. Overall the Sapphire board takes the win on this one. As the bclock is increased during overclocking the performance increases to a point then degrades as seen in the overclocking results.


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.









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.





Battlefield 3 is a first-person shooter video game developed by EA Digital Illusions CE and published by Electronic Arts. Battlefield 3 uses the Frostbyte 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.





Without too much surprise the boards are back to neck and neck with the video performance testing. With both boards capable of running 16x PCIe and quad-channel memory the results are as expected.

Conclusion: ECS

Overall the ECS board performed well. The 2011 socket is really there for an interesting select few among the community. If you have the budget to support it, it is most certainly something fun to monkey with; otherwise it's just another processor that is a little better than the last. The only real downfall for the ECS board was the USB 3.0 scores as it was beaten out by a large amount each time. This probably doesn't matter to most of you, as to be perfectly honest the USB 3.0 devices still haven't exactly taken over the market. Few devices really find profound amounts of improvement from USB 3.0; until they do, I don't mind too much.

Support is in hand for both Quad CrossfireX and Quad-SLI - you can run about whatever you can imagine. The only downside here is the lack of full 16x speeds with multiple cards. At a full quad pace each slot is only electrically 8x so scores and gaming may be a little less impressive; though the more common two card setup can be completed with 16x speeds no problem. It does support SLI, which was an issue some earlier boards I've owned had that made them a little less worthwhile.

The SATA setup on this board is phenomenal, though. It loses out on the USB 3.0 scores, but it has a lot of options here with ten SATA ports; four of them 6Gb/s and two with SAS capabilities. This is a great board for a RAID setup and the cost is quite fine as well. Overall, the ECS X79R-AX is a heck of a board that is well worth a buy if you've got a 2011 chip.








Conclusion: Sapphire

The Sapphire X79N comes to the plate with a higher price tag, which lead me to think there would be a higher performance margin compared to the "lesser" ECS board. Unfortunately the only defining test between the two was the USB 3.0 test segment. I'm not sure this really qualifies the board to be twice the value in cost, nor would I personally get up to buy this board for its features at such pricing.

There are more PCIe slots, which would lead me to think it were to be a better board but I was again defeated when I found out there was no support for SLI and I would also be limited to 3-way CrossfireX. It doesn't seem worthwhile to have the extra slots if I can't hardly use half of them. However, to be fair I can do x16 for all three cards whereas the ECS board could only handle three at x8 (via the Nvidia NF200 PCIe bridge chip that can hamper performance because of its additional latency), but to be fair yet again, no SLI support? Not sure there is a "fair" here.

There are a lot of things to play with on this board including voltage check points, CMOS reset buttons, and even power buttons on the board itself. Unfortunately I don't think I can justify the additional cost over the ECS for the little additions. Sadly I think this board is great, but with the features it has or is lacking, it isn't worthy of its higher price tag.