Just over a month ago, on November 14th, Intel released its latest High-Performance platform, based on their new X79 Express chipset. The launch not only brought new motherboards, but also two new CPUs, the i7 3960X, and the i7 3930K, both of which are 6-core CPUs with Hyper-Threading. Over the next several weeks we'll be taking a closer look at supporting motherboards, and today we explore the first, from none other than ECS. ECS has been a big supporter of TechPowerUp, and they were first to have a board on our doorstep, but it did take us several weeks to get a sample CPU and get our testing underway. Now that we have in our hands a i7 3960X, we spent the last week putting our sample motherboards under the microscope, and pushing it to the limit.
The ECS X79R-AX is from ECS's high-end "Black Extreme" series of products, which in their latest incarnation boasts quite a few unique features. The "Black Extreme" story centers around a tale of two defeated dragons who turned themselves into black holes in order to torment humanity, and have now returned looking to meet the heroes destined to slay them. An epic tale for what may very well prove to be a legendary board. ECS has a mini-site dedicated to the X79R-AX, referring to the board as "The One"; will the X79R-AX be the board to finally banish those pesky dragons once again?
2nd Gen Intel Core i7 processor family for the LGA 2011 Socket
4 x PCIe 2.0 x16 slots (x16/x/x16/x or x8/x8/x8/x8) 2 x PCIe 2.0 x1 slots
2 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s (Intel X79) 4 x SATA 3.0 Gb/s (Intel X79) 4 x Serial ATA 6.0 Gb/s devices (Intel X79 SAS) 2 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s (Asmedia 1061) 2 x eSATA 6.0 Gb/s (Asmedia 1061)
2x Realtek 8111E PCIe Gigabit Lan
10 x USB 2.0 ports (6 at back panel, 4 at front panel) 6 x USB 3.0 ports (4 at back panel, 2 at front panel) 1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo connector 2 x eSATA port 2 x RJ45 LAN connectors 1 x Audio port with 5 audio jacks 1 x SPDIF Output(Optical) 1 x Clear CMOS Button 1 x Bluetooth Antenna 1 x Wireless Antenna
Realtek ALC892 HD CODEC
ATX Form Factor (305 mm x 244 mm)
UEFI BIOS GUI
15μ Gold Contact
Intel X79 Express Chipset
Launched November 14th, 2011, the Intel X79 Express chipset is very similar to the Intel P67 Express and Intel Z68 Express chipsets launched earlier this year. The Intel X79 Express platform supports 40 PCIe 3.0 lanes via the CPU for graphics, while the Intel Z68/P67 Express chipsets support only 16 lanes. Of course, the Intel X79 Express PCH itself supports eight lanes of PCIe 2.0 connectivity for external devices, as well as housing all of the I/O functionality via dual SATA 6 Gb/s ports and quad SATA 3 Gb/s ports, which are managed via Intel Rapid Storage Technology 3.0 for RAID support. USB 2.0/3.0 and HD Audio are also supported as is eSATA and Gigabit Ethernet connectivity.
The SKT2011 CPUs that the platform supports are also very similar to the previously released SKT1155 CPUs, but nearly everything offered in the SKT1155 platform has been doubled up, including cache and core count. Going by the marketing material given out by Intel, the SB-E CPUs (as they are referred to in enthusiast circles) feature eight total processing cores, but two have been disabled to keep power in check, so rather than a total of eight cores active, we find just six, but as these cores feature Hyper-Threading, they appear as 12 separate cores to the OS.
The PCIe on the CPU can be split many ways, including dual x16 links and a single x8 link at the same time, a single x16 link with triple x8 links, or a single x16 link with dual x8 and dual x4 links. Together these options offer the most flexibility for multi-card GPU configurations, with support for up to five total devices connected directly to the CPU. While only four discrete GPUs maximum are supported in current multi-GPU rendering options, the 5th link can be used for an external RAID controller or other PCIe devices that are commonly found in high-end builds.
Of course, that leads to today's product, the ECS X79R-AX. Will the Dragons overcome humanity, or will humanity, and the ECS X79R-AX, prevail?
The ECS X79R-AX comes in one of the largest blue boxes we've seen yet. The board's name is boldly printed on the front in white, with and image of a red dragon just to the right, under which we find a gold "Black Extreme" logo denoting the X79R-AX as ECS's top-level X79 Express product. There are several logos across the bottom, denoting a few specific features as well as a "QR" logo for smartphones that directs users to info about the board. Flipping the box over, we find more detail about the board's included features, with an image of the board itself in the middle. The front of the box has a panel that has some visually descriptive information as well, and opening that panel also reveals a window in the box that allows a view of the board itself, nestled in a standard anti-static bag.
Unlike other boxes, we find the ECS X79R-AX has a couple of laces on the top, tied in a bow and holding the lid shut. Once undone and the lid is lifted, we can slide the inner packaging out, which reveals itself to be a series of pullout drawers.
Once we pulled out the inner drawers, we find the board itself on top, secured in a tray of cardboard with a piece of foam slid between the tray and the board itself to help keep the board in place. Lifting the board's drawer, we find a cardboard divider as seen in the second image above, and under that we find another tray, covered with what appears to be a couple of flaps that lift up from the sides towards the middle. We lifted one side and the entire cover came off, revealing all the board's goodies below, several pounds worth of goodies, in fact.