ECS X79R-AX Deluxe Review

Author: Chris Ledenican
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Monday, May 7th, 2012
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/ECS_X79R-AX_Deluxe/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Since ECS first introduced their Black Series motherboards, their product quality in this market segment has started to improve. Today we are looking at one of their flagship motherboards, the X79R-AX. Like other X79 motherboards, the X79R-AX supports Intel’s latest Second Generation Intel Core i7 processors based on the LGA-2011 socket.

As with previous motherboards released in the Black Extreme series, the X79R-AX utilizes a black PCB along with white and grey expansion slots and heatsinks. This of course gives the board a sleek look, but beyond the aesthetics the X79R-AX also includes high-end features such as a 14-phase Driver MOS MOSFET that improves the power efficiency by integratting a driver IC and two MOSFETs into an ultra-compact and small package for higher current and frequency at lower temperatures. The design also includes all solid capacitors, 10 SATA connectors and support for up to 64GB of 240-pin DDR3 memory. In addition, the ECS X79R-AX has ample USB 3.0 ports and an all new UEFI BIOS interface, all of which make the $259 MSRP extremely palatable.

Specification
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 Slots 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
Ethernet 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 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
Special Features 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
OS support Windows Vista (32/64) bit
Windows 7 (32/64) bit

The packaging used by ECS is not entirely different from what they have used in the past. This means the X79R-AX comes in a standard-sized box with a reflected surface, along with main features at the bottom and a large logo in the middle. The listing from from right to left highlights the support for 4-way Crossfire/SLI, DDR3 memory up to 2500MHz (OC), quad-channel memory, high frequency current and the use of gold plating throughout the CPU and memory sockets.

The back of the packaging goes more into depth about the specifications and features utilized by the board. As you can see, each specific technology listed on the back is highlighted by an icon on the left, followed by a small paragraph that goes into detail about the technology. This ensures users understand all the board has to offer. Inside the box, ECS has bundled installation guides, a manual, SATA cables, and the I/O cover. Overall, the bundle is not entirely impressive, but it is more than enough to get the job done and since the X79R-AX is relatively cheap for a X79 based motherboard, the included accessories should suffice for most users.

 

Right off the bat you can tell the ECS X79R-AX is a high quality motherboard as it uses all 100% Japanese solid capacitors, robust on-board power regulator and maintains a spacious layout between the four PCI Express slots. However, the uppermost PCI slot is still extremely close to both the bottom of the CPU socket and memory DIMMs, which could cause some spacing issues there. Aside from this though, all the other features serve to increase the motherboard's performance, power efficiency, ease of installation and possibly make for a high overclocking ceiling.

The board alse uses the Driver MOS, which is different from the traditional discrete MOSFETs design that integrate a driver IC and two MOSFETs into an ultra-compact and small package for higher current and frequency, and lower temperature to meet the growing demand for power. It is qualified by Intel Driver MOSEFTs specification, and the peak efficiency is up to 94% higher than discrete Diver MOSFETs which should offer higher switching frequencies and stability for gamers.

One issue we did find with the design however was the lack of a heatsink on the top VRM. The issue here is that this could allow the VRM to get excessively hot when increasing the voltage to the processor, which can result in lower overclocking headroom due to overheating. For most users this shouldn't be an issue, as long as the case being used for the setup has ample airflow.

 

Since the X79R-AX motherboard is based on the X79 platform, it utilizes the LGA-2011 socket which supports all Intel Core i7 desktop processors. To ensure proper power is supplied to the board and CPU, ECS has included a robust phase design that spans both the front and back of the PCB, along with all solid capacitors and 24+8 pin power connectors. In total there are 14 phase Driver Mos VRMs that can support up to 130 watts, and all 14 are dedicated to powering the processor while an additional two are delegated to the memory controller.

The CPU area also features four memory DIMMs that support a maximum of 64GB 240-pin DDR3 memory rated up to 2500 (OC). The memory DIMMs are divided into two channels to support dual-channel architecture. Since the DIMMs are not all located next to each other, ECS has not color coded them per-channel, but instead simply placed the corresponding DIMMs next to each other. To the right of the fourth DIMM slot are four voltage check points that allow the user to read the voltage level of  the 1x Ground, 1x Vcore, 1x VSA, 1x VTT, 1x PCH 1.1V, and VDIMM.

 

The rear I/O panel includes a host of USB ports, but beyond that expansion is limited. In total, the ECS X79R-AX includes a single PS/2 keyboard and mouse port along with six USB 2.0 ports, four USB 3.0 ports, a , dual RealTek RTL 8111E Gigabit LAN connector and the rear audio jacks. For the most part this configuration is acceptable, but the lack of a clear CMOS button is unfortunate especially for a board of this caliber where it is a certain that some overclocking will at least be attempted on the part of the user!

The ECS X79R-AX has native support for both SLI and CrossFireX multi-GPU scaling via four PCIe x16 lanes. The board can support both 4-way SLI and Crossfire at PCIe x16 Gen.3 bandwidth. With dual cards installed the bandwidth will run at x16/x16, but with three and four cards the bandwidth is set to 16x/8x/8x and 8x/8x/8x/8x, respectively. Multiple graphics cards can be a major drain on the system so to ensure proper stability, ECS has included a 4-pin power connector that supplies additional power to the graphics cards. This option only needs to be used when running three or more cards. 

The X79R-AX also has two PCIe x1 slots nestled between the x16 slots. This area includes a clear CMOS jumper, the CMOS battery and an area for an on-board LED diagnostics LED. The  diagnostics LED is not included with this model, but it does come standard with the X79R-AX Deluxe model.

 

The on-board storage options consist of ten SATA ports at a 90° angle, all of which are found at the bottom right of the motherboard. Of the ten connectors, the upper four white ports utilize the SATA 3.0 interface, and are connected via ASMedia ASM1061 SATA III 6Gbps controller. The four grey ports below are standard SATA 3Gb/s ports and are all connected directly to the SATA controller in the Sandy Bridge Extreme processor. The upper grey ports however are SAS ports (Serial Attached SCSI), which were originally intended to be included with the X79 platform, but dropped by Intel due to compatibility issues. These ports are said to run at SATA 6Gb/s speeds and have some compatibility with SAS devices.

When it comes to RAID, the top SAS ports support RAID 1/0, the SATA 6Gb/s ports support RAID 0/1/5/10 and the SATA 3Gb/s porst support RAID 0/1/10. 

Upon entering the BIOS we can see ECS has finally updated from the standard layout to the latest UEFI interface, as the board includes the AMI BIOS with 64Mb SPI Flash ROM support. In addition, the new BIOS supports plug and play functions and works with both the keyboard and mouse. 

Upon entering the BIOS, the first screen presented to the user is the "Main" menu which has only a few functions consisting of being able to change the language used in the BIOS, and the CMOS date and time. In order to access the other menus you can use either the mouse or keyboard to scroll through the tabs at the top of the screen.

The next option is the "Advanced" menu, which is where the majority of changes to the system on-board components are made. From within the menu you can change the LAN configuration, check the system temperatures and status, as well as change the ACPI, SATA USB and I/O configurations. In order to make a change you must first select the proper menu corresponding to the component you would like to change. From there you can navigate to the specific component and set it to best fit your needs. 

The Advanced menu is so named because because most users will never need to access this option, but if you do ECS has included all the option necessary to properly set up the motherboard.

   

  

  

  

The "Chipset" tab is a relatively simple menu that allows the user to make changes relating to the chipset. This menu only consists of a few options, but it does allow the user to change to change options relating the HD audio and AC power loss. 

The next menu is the "M.I.B. X" sub-menu, which is where all the overclocking is done. This menu has a vertical layout, so the user has to scroll down in order to access the area that they want to overclock. However, the top does have an overclocking profile that can be used to automatically overclock the system. If manual overclocking is your thing, then the options below will suit you best. You can change the base clocks and multiplier for the CPU, memory and VGA, as well as adjust the voltage levels of all the add-on and on-board components. 

This menu also allows you to change more in-depth option such as the memory timings, Hyper-Threading support and so on. 

 

The Last three options are "Boot", "Security" and "Exit". These three options are self-explanatory, as they allow you to set a boot device, set a security password and allow you to set the proper parameters before exiting.

Test Setup:

Intel Core i7 "Bloomfield" (Socket 1366)
  • Intel Core i7-3960X processor
  • XFX Radeon HD 6970 videocard
  • Seagate 750GB 7200.11 hard drive
  • Corsair AX 1200 Power Supply
  • 4x4GB Mushkin DDR3-1600 9-9-9-24-1T memory

Comparison motherboards:

  • Sapphire Pure Black X79N
  • Intel DX79SI
  • ECS X79R-AX

Benchmarks:

  • SiSoft Sandra Professional 2010
  • 7-Zip
  • PCMark 11
  • Handbrake
  • POV-Ray
  • Cinebench
  • HDTune
  • PCMark Vantage
  • Crysis 2
  • Far Cry 2
  • DiRT 3

Overclocking:

Overclocking a system to its maximum performance level takes more than just a highly overclockable processor. In fact, components such as power supplies, memory and the motherboard are also very important when it comes to achieving a stable clock speed. The motherboard is perhaps the most important piece of the overclocking bundle, as it is the command center for all the add-on parts. It is for this reason that many companies have started to add features such as improved cooling solutions, better voltage regulation modules, and more to their products. These all aid in achieving the highest possible overclock and can be the means to pushing your processor beyond what is possible.

For overclocking I will be using a Corsair H100 thermal solution in a dual fan configuration, and increased the voltage as necessary until the maximum frequency is reached.

 

ECS X79R-AX:

The ECS X79R-AX did an excellent job overclocking our Intel Core i7 3960x processor. In our labs we easily increased the CPU's frequency to its threshold of 4.75GHz with the voltage set at 1.375V. The X79R-AX also did reasonably well when it came to adjusting the bclock, but since most overclocking is done via the multiplier only a fraction of the total overclock was done through bclock adjustment.

7-Zip:

7-Zip is a compression program, much like WinRAR. It features a built-in test, which gives a score for compression and decompression.

At stock the ECS X79N performed very closely to the other X79 based motherboards, which means the board is utilizing the full potential of the i7 processor. This is exactly what we want to see. Once overclocked, the additional performance was substantial.

Handbrake:

HandBrake is an application that converts sound and video files to other formats. It makes use the many available threads so it can exploit the processor to its full potential.

HandBrake also yielded similar stock results, and the performance continued to scale very well once overclocked.

POV Ray:

POV-Ray, for Persistence of Vision Raytracer, is a 3D rendering software that has impressive photorealistic capabilities.

The ECS board was at the bottom of our chart in POV-Ray, but the total difference btween it and the Intel model was only around 2%.

Cinebench:

Cinebench 10 is another rendering program, also optimized for many-core processors. I will run both the single-threaded benchmark as well as the multi-threaded.

Cinebench showcased simlar results to POV Ray, as the ECS board was slightly slower than both the Intel and Sapphrire models we have previously tested.

Sisoft Sandra 2010:

Sandra, by SiSoftware, is a tool capable of benchmarking about every component found inside a computer. The processor arithmetic and multi-core efficiency will be ran as well as the memory bandwidth and latency benchmarks.

The stock performance performance of the ECS board was average for an SB-E system across the CPU and memory performance benchmarks. Once overclocked however, the performance was greatly increased. When overclocking the system for a motherboard review we tend to focus on the stable clock speed of the processor, which is why the memory scores did not see as dramatic an increase compared to those for the CPU.

POV Ray:

POV-Ray, for Persistence of Vision Raytracer, is a 3D rendering software that has impressive photorealistic capabilities.

Cinebench:

Cinebench 10 is another rendering program, also optimized for many-core processors. I will run both the single-threaded benchmark as well as the multi-threaded.

In both the hard drive tests, the ECS board performed equally to the other motherbaords we have tested using the same chipset. 

PCMark Vantage:

PCMark resembles a lot to the 3DMark suite from FutureMark, except the fact that it includes many other tests like hard drive speed, memory and processor power, so it is considered as a system benchmark and not just a gaming benchmark.

Once again the ECS board performed on par with the other X79 based motherboards, but it did receive a lower score when it came to the Entry level test.

Crysis Warhead:

Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack of the original Crysis, at that time well known for requiring the most powerful hardware to play at maxed settings. It uses an enhanced version of the same engine.

The gaming performance of the ECS board was better than the Sapphire model, and just slightly under the performance of the Intel X79 based board.

FarCry 2:

Far Cry 2 is another first person shooter that has been developed by Ubisoft. The story takes place in Africa, where the ultimate goal is to assassinate an arms dealer.

DiRT 3:

DiRT 2 is the most recent driving game in the Colin McRae series. It features a built-in benchmark consisting of displaying a race of computer players using the same view as the gamer would.

In both Far Cry 2 and DiRT 2, the ECS X79R-AX perfomed at the same level as the other boards we have tested.

ECS really has come a long way in improving their reputation in the enthusiast market, and the X79R-AX simply reaffirms this. It was just a few years ago that ECS launched their first Black series motherboards, and at the time the models being released were still behind other manufacturers in terms of features and build-quality. Fast forward to today and the Black series is much more competitive on both fronts, but it is their build quality which has seen the most improvement. The X79R-AX Deluxe utilizes all high-quality components such as solid capacitors and a 14-phase Driver MOS MOSFET. All of these features along with the new UEFI BIOS helped improve the quality and stability of the motherboard, which in turn allowed us to increase the clock speed of our Intel 3960X to its 4.75GHz threshold at 1.375V.

In addition, the ECS X79R-AX Deluxe performed equally with the other motherboards we have tested based on the same platform. Breaking it down by the benchmarks, there were a few where the ECS model was ahead, and some where it was behind. However, the difference only ranged from 1% to 2%, so for all intents and purposes the performance was right where it should be for a board of this calibre.

The ECS X79R-AX Deluxe is the designed to be an enthusiast motherboard, but as the little brother of the X79R-AX it does have a slimmed down feature-set. For the most part the missing features will go unnoticed to all but the most demanding overclockers, as the options cut from this SKU consist of an easy access CMOS reset button, a diagnostics LED and cooling on the MOSFET. However, the non-Deluxe version also has two additional SATA connectors and it comes with on-board Bluetooth, so not all the missing features are dedicated specifically to overclocking. Still, since the Deluxe version doesn’t come overloaed with extra features, it can retail for a reasonable $259 USD.

Overall the ECS X79R is a great board, and while it doesn’t come with all the bells and whistles it is cheaper than most X79 based motherboards, and performs at roughly the same level to boot. Of course for slightly more money there are better alternatives on the market that have more robust feature-sets. So, while the quality of ECS products has improved they can still stand to add more features to their motherboards, which in turn would make them even more competitive in today’s market.

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