ECS X79R-AX Motherboard
The X79 platform is currently the flagship desktop product line and is a testament to any enthusiasts search for extreme performance from their PC. That said, most enthusiasts tend to overlook some companies in favor of others because of their status in the market. One such company is ECS, which isn’t really well-known for offering [...]
The X79 platform is currently the flagship desktop product line and is a testament to any enthusiasts search for extreme performance from their PC. That said, most enthusiasts tend to overlook some companies in favor of others because of their status in the market. One such company is ECS, which isn’t really well-known for offering high-end components but that’s changing as ECS has been aggressively bolstering their line-up of products from motherboards to graphics cards, slowly introducing newer and better technologies and quality components in their products in hopes to shed their entry-level status in the market.
Today we have ECS’s solution in the high-end Sandy Bridge-E platform: the X79R-AX. Packing a whole array of features and connectivity, ECS hopes that this member of their Black Extreme™ series helps put the company in hot contention in the enthusiast market. Those not familiar with ECS might want to known that the company is one the long-running motherboard manufacturers in the business and offer a wide array of products, most of which aimed at the budget and entry-level segment of the market. This has made ECS a go-to company for budget-minded consumers. As mentioned earlier, they have recently resorted to aggressive marketing to help instill their presence and help increase awareness of their ever-improving quality and internal standards in creating products. Will the X79R-AX make ECS a contender in the SB-E space, let’s check it out and make this showy! [toggle title="Specifications"]
|CPU||º Supports 2nd Gen Intel Core i7 processor family for the LGA 2011 Socket º DMI 5.0GT/s|
|CHIPSET||º Intel® X79 Express Chipset|
|MEMORY||º Quad-channel DDR3 memory architecture º 4 x 240-pin DDR3 DIMM socket support up to 64GB, per one DIMM support 16GB º 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 SLOT||º 4 x PCI Express x16 Gen3.0 slot (2 slots run at x8 bandwidth) º 2 x PCI Express x1 slots|
|STORAGE||º 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 º Support by ASMEDIA ASM1061 • 2 x Serial ATA 6.0Gb/s devices • 2 x eSATA 6.0 Gb/s ports º *User please be notice due to chipset limitation, the compatibility and stability of SATA port(SAS6G1_2/3_4) may differ by different devices.|
|AUDIO||º Realtek ALC892 8-Ch High Definition audio CODEC º Compliant with HD audio specification|
|LAN||º Dual RealTek RTL 8111E Gigabit Lan|
|REAR PANEL I/O||º 4 x USB 3.0 ports º 6 x USB 2.0 ports º 2 x eSATA 6.0Gb/s ports º 1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port º 2 x RJ45 LAN connectors º 1 x Audio port (1x Line in, 4x Line out, 1x Optical SPDIF Out) º 1 x Wireless LAN Dongle º 1 x Bluetooth Dongle º 1 x Clear_CMOS button|
|INTERNAL I/O CONNECTORS & HEADERS||º 1 x 24-pin ATX Power Supply connector º 1 x 8-pin ATX Power Supply Connector º 1 x 4-pin power connector for VGA card º 2 x 4-pin CPU_FAN connector º 1 x 3-pin SYS_FAN connector (with smart fan) º 2 x 3-pin PWR_FAN connector º 4 x Serial ATA 3Gb/s connectors(90 degree) º 8 x Serial ATA 6Gb/s connectors(90 degree) º 2 x USB 2.0 headers support additional 4 USB ports(Gray One support EZ Charger) º 1 x USB 3.0 header supports additional 2 USB 3.0 Ports º 1 x COM header º 1 x SPDIF out header º 1 x Front panel switch/LED header º 1 x Front panel audio header º 1 x Clear CMOS header º 1 x Buzzer º 6 x Voltage measure points º 1 x Power on button º 1 x Reset button º 1 x 7S-LED Display|
|SYSTEM BIOS||º AMI BIOS with 64Mb SPI Flash ROM º Supports Plug and Play, STR (S3) / STD (S4) , Hardware monitor, Multi Boot º Supports ACPI & DMI º Audio, LAN, can be disabled in BIOS º Support ECS M.I.B X Utility º Support EZ Charger º Support eBLU º Support eOC º Support eDLU º Support eSF|
|FORM FACTOR||º ATX Size, 305mm*244mm|
Straight off ECS’s website. [/toggle] ECS has put up a mini-site for the X79R-AX, it’s quite adorable really. Check it out here: http://www.ecs.com.tw/extra/x79rax/index.html
[tabs tab1="Packaging" tab2="Closer Look"]
TEST SETUP and OVERCLOCKING
|Processor||Intel Sandy Bridge-E i7-3960X 3.3Ghz (Turbo up to 3.9Ghz)|
|Motherboards||ECS X79R-AX, Intel DX79SI, AsRock X79 Extreme3|
|Cooling||Intel RTS2011LC ALC by Asetek, Corsair H80|
|Power Supply||Silverstone Strider Plus ST65F-P 650W|
|Memory||Kingston HyperX Genesis Quad-Channel DDR3-1600|
|Video Cards||Sapphire HD6850 PowerColor HD7770 PCS+|
|Hard Drive||Kingston HyperX SSD 120GB, Western Digital VelociRaptor 1TB|
|Operating System||Windows 7 64-bit SP1|
Our test processor is Intel’s top model in the Sandy Bridge E line-up, the i7-3960X. This processor features an unlocked multiplier amongst its other features and is what makes this a very flexible processor. The ECS X79R-AX features a Quick OC feature as well as three overclocking profiles: Light, Medium and Heavy. These profiles basically make changes to the BCLK amongst other things to achieve an overclock but nothing spectacular so we proceed by overclocking manually. Sadly, this is where it gets tough. The ECS X79R-AX’s overclocking options is stubborn and the stock BIOS was certainly lacking a few options. A BIOS update gave us more options. Still, manually setting the voltages is a challenge all on its own. The settings will sometimes revert to automatic and lose any customizations we’ve set. We’ve basically had it with that and just went ahead and ussed the Quick OC option which fortunately gave us a stable 4.5Ghz overclock via Turbo Boost on all cores.
[tabs tab1="SiSoft SANDRA" tab2="WPrime" tab3="CineBench" tab4="SuperPi" tab5="Video Conversion"]
The ECS X79R-AX has shown us it can hang with our other Intel X79 boards, performing within the same range as the others. Compared to Intel’s DX79SI, it was quite close and are negligible. Overclocking our 3960X gave us a better look at how this motherboard performed and it started to trail behind the DX79SI. Speaking of overclocking, this is one the board’s low points. Couple that with some quirks in the UEFI, working with the X79R-AX’s UEFI is, for a lack of a better word, difficult.
Most of our issues came from the overclocking options itself, with the stock BIOS version having lots of issues. A BIOS update fixed that for us and gave us some new options but we still encountered issues most notable the inability to save custom voltage settings. Another issue with the stock BIOS was problems with nVidia cards showing up garbage onscreen. ECS however redeems itself with its one-touch automatic overcloking options which managed to bring us to a stable 4.5GHz. We felt we could’ve gone higher but our Corsair H80 and Intel’s RTS2011LC just couldn’t tame the temperatures to let us go further. A much more refined BIOS would’ve really helped the X79R-AX achieve a lot more. In a more positive light, ECS’s choice of including a rich assortment of connectivity to this motherboard really makes it stand-out. With twelve SATA ports, 2 eSATA ports, 2 Gigabit LAN ports, 6 USB3.0 and 10 USB2.0 ports in addition to built-in Wifi and Bluetooth, this is a really, really solid board with plenty of options for connectivity. We could’ve wished that ECS had went with 8 DIMM slots as well as a larger VRM heatsink. I was also disappointed with the Qooltech IV thermo-reactive styling on the VRM heatsink. The Qooltech strip remained red/orange all throughout usage and with large cooling solution, this will most likely be obscured and out of view. Value-wise, this board retails for around $300 and no word of local availability. The X79R-AX contends in its price range with plenty other X79 motherboards but the majority of which lack the rich connectivity that this board comes with out of the box. Personally, I would pair this board with a 3930K and use it in the office for everyday use.
In closing, the X79R-AX is recommended for people going the X79 path with a 3820 or 3930K and have no intention of doing some major overclocks and aren’t too concerned about a 2-5% performance gap with other solutions. Hopefully ECS will put out a BIOS revision that will help unleash the X79R-AX maximum potential and make it a true Extreme motherboard.