ASUS has several motherboard series, created in order to satisfy the needs of different user types, but further subdivisions are often created in order to cater for the requests of the widest possible audience. This covers almost every imaginable scenario, and you’d have an exceptionally hard time finding a suitable product that ASUS doesn’t have in its product gamma. The cream of this story and the major piece of evidence thereof are mini-ATX motherboard targeting overclockers and gamers, which can be overclocked to hell and are replete with various expensive technologies reserved for the very best models. Even these admittedly peculiar products get updates as soon as a new chipset is presented, and they’re far from being lower-priority. ASUS just doesn’t allow itself the luxury of faltering at any one time, which is why they have to saturate the press with new models every month. This is the one company that hasn’t lost its initial momentum since the presentation of Intel’s X79 chipset, and new models seem to be churned out every couple of months, which is fascinating to say the least. In accordance with that, we got yet another two competitors signed by ASUS, one of which belongs to the Republic of Gamers family, while the other one represents the Sabertooth series.
ASUS Rampage Gene IV
This motherboard is the ultimate choice as far as mini-ATX motherboards go, and serves the purpose of breaking – no, obliterating – all prejudices tied to this format, which usually gets dismissed by advanced users as “something cheap and lacking”. Let’s be honest, this is also by far the most expensive mini-ATX motherboard in existence, which means that we can’t expect Rampage Gene IV to underperform in any way in terms of functionality.
The packaging is identical for every Rampage model, but also RoG models in general, and we can’t say that anything is missing. Besides the standard manual and driver disc, there’s a plethora of additions to make your life with this motherboard easier: a SLI bridge, four SATA III and two SATA II cables, various stickers and other exclusive gimmicks such as the Q-connector and similar. The motherboard speaks for itself – it’s choke full of elements dispersed over a red-and-black PCB, typical of RoG models. The sheer number of elements is bewildering; it seems as if ASUS simply crammed a full ATX motherboard into a smaller space, with no compromise whatsoever. The layout is fantastic, despite its looking rather tight, but other than cabling, this feature doesn’t impact anything at all.
The first thing you’ll notice is the CPU socket, in its LGA2011 version. It’s surrounded by the Digi II+ power unit with voltage filtration in eight phases, which is amazing. The NextFet technology is used, achieving an exceptionally high efficiency level where room is scarce, and with the new coil type, it manages to provide a power output stronger by 20 A. The digital voltage control goes without saying, and ASUS has provided four controllers for the CPU and RAM. Four memory slots are also placed around the socket, supporting DDR3 modules with frequencies up to 2400 MHz. The maximum supported memory capacity is 32 GB, which is more than enough for any user.
If you have a closer look at the motherboard’s cooling system, you’ll see that it’s pretty complex for a mini-ATX model. Of course, there was no room left for active elements, but the motherboard still contains four separate cooling profiles, two of which are connected by heatpipes. Although this passive cooling system knew well how to heat up, we’re still prone to claiming the cooling system on Rampage IV Gene impressive. As far as PCI-Express slots are concerned, although this is a frequent issue on mini-ATX motherboards, as their extension capabilities usually can’t match full ATX competitors, Gene IV would make the latter run for cover. Three PCI-Express 3.0 slots, two of which work in x16 mode, while the remaining one is limited to x8 – that’s what we call serious. Besides all this, there’s even a small x4 slot for less demanding hardware, in case that all other slots are occupied.
We have to admit that we have immense appreciation for the fact that virtually all RoG-exclusive details are present. For instance, Gene IV has Start and Reset buttons on the PCB, two BIOS chips and a POST screen (the latter admittedly placed somewhat awkwardly). Simply enough, this sort of details on a tiny motherboard have to exhilarate even the most conservative users who think lowly of mini-ATX models. Another feature is the Supreme III sound subsystem, as competent as ever when it comes to outputs: six audio connectors and S/PDIF.
Speaking of connections, you’re unlikely to end up disappointed, as the motherboard comes with a wad of connectors, the likes of USB 3.0/2.0, eSATA and other standard ones. All in all, this model really has no flaw, and especially not when it comes to overclocking. Suffice to say that it has ASUS’ tried-and-true UEFI BIOS, something of a benchmark in terms of interface quality and modern capabilities. With all potential drawbacks, we managed to reach a BCLK of 132 MHz with our sample CPU, which is a lot, and more than most full ATX models are able to squeeze out, even when compared to ASUS’ own models. Of course, there’s the question of price, and a casual glance will reveal why everything can be as good as it is – for just under 300€, we’d be surprised to come across any sort of compromise, but luckily, that wasn’t the case here whatsoever.
ASUS Sabertooth X79
If you belong to the sort of users who appreciate motherboard capabilities, but set reliability as the utmost requirement, then Sabertooth models are for you. They pride themselves on five-year warranty, and the quality of components they use is top-notch in every regard. These components carry the TUF signature, which is short for The Ultimate Force, meaning that they have to pass a series of tests to prove they meet military-grade standards. Basically, what this means is that Sabertooth models are fit for working in the least desirable of conditions, which is a guarantee of quality in itself. One look at the packaging is sufficient to instantly identify this model as a Sabertooth one, as it has a peculiar military design and colour combination, just like the motherboard itself. The contents of the box are pretty much identical to the previously presented Rampage Gene IV, which means – adequate in its price range.
This motherboard is definitely dominated by the huge cooling system, called Thermal Armour, which incorporates two active elements, heatpipes and several separate cooling profiles. The general idea behind Thermal Armour is to “chase away” the heat as far away from the motherboard as possible, which is achieved through a particular plastic shield installed across the entire back I/O panel. It serves the purpose of directing the hot air outside the enclosure, while the air current is created by a tiny fan. Quite expectedly, we were unsure about this solution, as our experiences with smaller fans on motherboards aren’t too bright, historically speaking. Simply enough, our track record shows that these tend to go bust within the first two years since the purchase, and even worse, tend to get progressively noisier during that period, as dust is their mortal enemy. However, ASUS affirms that coolers on Sabertooth X79 are specially made to be able to work incessantly for at least five years, regardless of conditions, which makes sense, having in mind the warranty. If this almost dreamlike claim is true, then it’s excellent news, but only time can tell, as we have yet to see such a good result. Anyway, the cooling is really top-notch in itself, and with the Thermal Radar technology, which monitors temperatures in key stops and adjusts fan speeds accordingly, it manages to perform adequately in any situation.
The LGA2011 socket is surrounded by the expectedly good power section, comprised of TUF components (coils, MOSFETs, capacitors), and voltage filtering is done in “8+2+2+2 phases”; we’d really prefer ASUS to abandon the practice of confusing customers with these specifications, as it’s very unclear what these phases mean. Basically, the first eight refer to the CPU cores themselves, as well as all other CPU elements except the memory controller. The two phases which follow refer to the memory controller, whereas the final four go to each of the memory slot pairs. It should be noted that all phases are digitally controlled, which has become customary for ASUS’ high-end products. The power unit itself isn’t bleeding-edge technology; however, the first generation of Digi+ is of proven quality nonetheless.
Eight memory slots are placed symmetrically on either side of the CPU socket, which brings us to a maximum capacity of 64 GB RAM this motherboard supports. As far as PCI-Express slots are concerned, it’s interesting that the number of 3.0 slots is the same as with the smaller Gene IV model. The first two slots work in x16 mode, while the third one works in x8. Two x1 slots are present too, as well as a single PCI slot, which is fully in accordance with today’s standards and the ordinary PCI’s slow, but certain retirement.
The number of SATA connectors is hefty, with a total of six provided by Intel’s controller, two of which are SATA III (6 Gbps). There’s also an additional Marvell controller to provide an additional two SATA III connectors, which brings the total to eight (four of which SATA III). Of course, eSATA ports are a must, so it’s no wonder that Sabertooth has two of them, both latest-gen. The back panel contains everything you could ever need, including oft-omitted connectors such as Firewire, optical S/PDIF and PS2. Standard ports include four USB 3.0, as much as six USB 2.0, and gigabit LAN. Realtek’s ALC892 codec is in charge of sound; this is a frequent choice among motherboard manufacturers, and can be deemed a decent solution by all means. The back panel also contains the BIOS flashback button, which resets the BIOS to its default values.
Speaking of BIOS, everything we said about Rampage is valid here as well, bar certain details in the overclocking segment which are exclusive to RoG models. This was hardly a hint for us, so we managed to overclock our sample CPU to 4.8 GHz. Truth be told, the maximum BCLK was a bit lower than with Gene, but this was to be expected. After all, a maximum of 125 MHz is hardly shameful; what’s more, it’s an excellent result in this category. With all that, the maximum BCLK isn’t even that relevant, as we were able to reach 4.8 GHz through increasing the multiplier exclusively.
Specs & results
|Specifications||ASUS Sabertooth X79||ASUS Rampage Gene IV X79|
|CPU||Socket LGA2011||Socket LGA2011|
|Chipset||Intel X79||Intel X79|
|Dimm slots and maks. mem.||8 max. 64GB DDR3 2400MHz||4 max. 32GB DDR3 2400MHz|
|MultiGPU support||CrossFireX x3, TriWay SLI||CrossFireX x3, TriWay SLI|
|Expansion slots||2x PCI-Express 3.0 x16, 1x PCI-Express 3.0 x8, 2x PCI-Express x1||2x PCI-Express 3.0 x16, 1x PCI-Express 3.0 x8, 1x PCI-Express x4|
|SATA/ATA ports||4x SATA 6Gbps, 4x SATA 3Gbps, 2x eSATA 6Gbps||4x SATA 6Gbps, 3x SATA 3Gbps, 1x eSATA 3Gbps|
|Audio||Realtek ALC892 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC||SupremeFX III built-in 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC|
|Network||Marvell Ethernet controller||Intel Ethernet controller|
|USB||6x USB 3.0, 14x USB 2.0||4x USB 3.0, 12x USB 2.0,|
|Onboard connections||4x USB 2.0, 2x USB 3.0, 3x Fan (CPU, Chasis), 1x 24pin power, ATX 12V power, Audio (Front panel)||4x USB 2.0, 2x USB 3.0, 3x Fan (CPU, Chasis), 1x 24pin power, ATX 12V power, Audio (Front panel)|
|Back panel||PS2, 6x USB 2.0, 4x USB 3.0, S/PDIF, 1x LAN, 6x Analog audio, S/PDIF, 2x eSATA 6Gbps, BIOS Flashback||PS2, 6x USB 2.0, 2x USB 3.0, S/PDIF, 1x LAN, 6x Analog audio, S/PDIF, 1x eSATA 3Gbps, CMOS Reset, 1 x ROG Connect|
|Price [€]||~ 300||~ 290|
|Results||ASUS Sabertooth X79||ASUS Rampage Gene IV X79|
|3DMark 11 Physics Score||11.914||11.899|
|3DMark Vantage CPU Score||36.955||36.876|
|Aida64 Extreme 2.00|
|Memory read/write/copy [MB/s]||16.498 / 15.067 / 16.009||16.702 / 15.192 / 16.301|
|Memory latency [ns] **||59.3||59.2|
|7-Zip 7.20 x64 komp./dekomp. [kB/s]||27.089 / 333.296||27.054 / 333.528|
|x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 encoding [fps]||55,2||55,2|
|Winrar x64 4.10 Beta 2 Benchmark test||4.201||4.276|
|Blender x64 [sec] **||134.1||134.3|
|Cinebench R11.5 1 CPU / OpenGL||10,6 / 82,7||10,5 / 82,5|
|True Crypt 7.1|
|** less is better|
|Intel Core i7 3960X, Kingston 4 x 2GB HyperX DDR3 2133MHz, Radeon HD6870 1GB, AMD Catalyst 12.1 preview, Windows 7 64bit Ultimate|
As you’re able to see, both these models are flawless, both in capabilities and action. If we absolutely had to choose, we’d go for Sabertooth, although these two motherboards aren’t directly comparable. Simply put, from all ASUS models we’ve tested so far, this has been the only model sufficiently trusted by the company to be given a five-year warranty, which separates this motherboard from all others, even those who have better performance or a higher price. This alone was the decisive factor in favour of Sabertooth, although you shouldn’t think for a second that Gene IV is inferior in any way. It’s just that Sabertooth seems better as the first truly long-term solution.