The Motherboard Memory Lane series returns today with a look at the Intel X79 platform and the era of Sandy Bridge-E and Ivy Bridge-E architecture processors. The X79 platform was in fact the first update Intel’s High-Performance Desktop (HEDT) segment since the launch of the aging Intel X58 platform. As usual we will examine the platform itself, the most popular motherboards and CPUs of that particular era, and the record scores that were made.
Intel X79: Overview
The Intel HEDT platform became wholly refreshed with the arrival of the X79 platform. HEDT describes a high-end, high-priced offering for enthusiasts that simply want the most powerful system that money can buy. The platform included the promise of hexa-core computing with enough PCIe lanes to support maxed out multi-GPU configurations, plus quad-channel memory.
In terms of architectural design, the platform was largely based on the successful Sandy Bridge architecture that had been powering mainstream processor offerings for more than a year, re-designed and rebranded as Sandy Bridge-E. Codenamed Patsburg, the X79 PCH platform itself was derived from the Intel C600 series PCHs which were developed specifically for the server market. The main difference between the two being that the C606 PCH for example offered Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) and ECC memory support.
The X79 platform arrived in November 2011 supporting Sandy Bridge E processors and the subsequent Ivy Bridge-E series that would replace it. Despite the die-shrink transition from 32nm to 22nm, both processor series offered largely the same features and performance. The new platform arrived with an entirely new socket design, the LGA 2011 socket which represented a radical change in technical design, using a pair of locked levers to hold the new CPUs in place.
A key feature of the X79 platform included support for six-core processors that connected to the PCH via a DMI2.0, 2 GB/s interface. Quad channel memory support for up to 8 DDR3 modules (64GB max) at standard speeds of DDR3-1600 offered more memory bandwidth than previous consumer offerings, making it a solid option for workstation, memory intensive workloads. In terms of PCIe, the platform offered 40 lanes of PCIe Gen 2.0 (Gen 3.0 would debut on the Z77 platform just months later). Configuration options for motherboard vendors included 2x 16 + 1x 8, 1x 16 + 3x 8 and 1x 16 + 2x 8 + 2x 4. An additional 8 lanes of PCIe was available from the PCH itself. Disappointingly for many reviewers at the time, the PCH did not support USB 3.0 natively but packed support for a fairly standard 16x USB 2.0 ports.
The X79 PCH was manufactured using Intel’s 65nm process, had a TDP of 7.8 watts, a surface area of 27mm x 27mm and (apparently) commanded a price north of $70 USD.
Most Popular Intel X79 Motherboards
In the era of the X79 platform we see that as with the platforms that preceded it, ASUS is very much the king of the high-end enthusiast space when it comes to motherboards. The X79 platform featured a new socket, a new processor series and in many respects a fairly big challenge to a motherboard industry that was perhaps more focused on higher volume mainstream platforms. Arguably ASUS came out of the traps faster with comprehensive high speed DDR3 memory support and a complete ROG range that was generally very well met by PC enthusiasts and overclockers.
- -ASUS ROG Rampage IV Extreme – 41.29%
- -ASUS ROG Rampage IV Black Edition – 13.36%
- -ASUS ROG Rampage IV Formula – 6.74%
- -EVGA X79 Dark (150-SE-E789) – 5.60%
- -ASUS Sabertooth X79 – 3.40%
- -MSI Big Bang XPower II – 3.17%
- -ASUS P9X79 Pro – 2.65%
- -ASUS P9X79 Deluxe – 2.64%
- -MSI X79A-GD65 8D – 1.99%
- -GIGABYTE X79-UD3 – 1.82%
In terms of the sheer number of submissions on HWBOT we can see that the ASUS ROG Rampage IV Extreme reigns utterly supreme with 41.29% of the pie. Both runner up and third place finisher belong to the ASUS ROG stables with the Black Edition sequel, and the more affordable Formula also commanding a large percentage of X79 submissions. In total ASUS have six of the top ten X79 platform boards which collectively account for just over 70% of all submissions – a figure that basically describes total market dominance.
EVGA are represented with one motherboard, MSI with two. GIGABYTE seem to have fallen away considerably however with only one board in the top ten. It’s fair to say that GIGABYTE lost substantial ground to ASUS in this particular technological era.
The ASUS ROG Rampage IV Extreme was indeed marketed at overclockers. The product bundle included an ROG OC Key which offered real time on screen monitoring of voltages, clocks and temperatures. The ASUS X-Socket feature (a retention bracket and replacement backplate) allowed previous generation Socket 1366 heatsinks to be used. In terms of feature set and sheer performance the RIVE (as it soon became known) was considered to be as close to perfection as a motherboard ever gets.
Writing for Overclockers.com, this is what Jeremy Vaughan (AKA hokiealumnus) had to say:
”In our benchmarking team’s forum, I remarked, “The RIVE is literally the best motherboard I’ve ever had my hands on, period.” It’s true; this board beats all others that I’ve touched. A longtime senior member of the forum, Gautam, who is known and respected throughout the worldwide overclocking community took that quote and corrected it to read, “The RIVE is literally the best motherboard … ever.” After seeing everything the Rampage IV Extreme is capable of, I’m inclined to agree.
Most Popular Intel X79 Compatible Processor: Intel Core i7 3930K
With previous Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge and Haswell platforms we noted that the most popular processor on HWBOT was pretty easy to predict – being basically the most expensive high-end unlocked ‘K’ model. With the X79 platform however that is most certainly not the case. Looking at popularity in terms of submissions made on HWBOT, the Sandy Bridge-E Intel Core i7 3930K was, and still is number one. It represents 35.73% of all submissions. In second place we find its Ivy Bridge equivalent, the Core i7 4930K with 22.19%.
Looking at the initial Sandy Bridge series at launch, three models were introduced, a fact that kind of made CPU purchase decisions somewhat reminiscent of the story of Goldilocks. Allow me to explain. The three models were the Core i7 3820, the Core i7 3930K and the Core i7 3960X. Let’s consider the relative merits of each.
The Core i7 3820 was cheapest at launch, retailing for $294 USD. The major drawback was that it offered limited scope in overclocking terms – allowing only for BCLK tweaking. The Core i7 3930K was of course unlocked and retailed for $583 USD while the top tier Core i7 3960X was also unlocked but demanded a fee of $999 USD. Despite the Core i7 3930K arriving clocked 100MHz lower with 3MB less L3 cache, it remained the sweet spot for X79 platform overclocking, boasting the same core count and very, very similar performance levels.
This argument is utterly born out by the numbers; the Core i7 3960X is responsible for 10.30% of all X79 submissions, the series refresh Core i7 3970X accounts for 9.19% while the flagship Ivy Bridge-E chip, the Core i7 4960X, featured in only 7.61% of submissions.
ASUS ROG Rampage IV Extreme: Record Scores
We now take a look at the highest scores posted using the most popular X79 platform motherboard, the ASUS ROG Rampage IV Extreme.
Reference clock overclocking was not the most important benchmark in the X79 era, but it remained a reliable way to determine a motherboard’s ability to clock highly. The highest reference clock submitted on HWBOT using a ASUS ROG Rampage IV Extreme motherboard came from Iran’s Behzad Tak. He managed a reference clock of 193.8 MHz, using an Intel Core i7 4930K processor.
You can find the submission from Behzad Tak here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/2635978_behzad_reference_frequency_rampage_iv_extreme_193.8_mhz
Even though raw CPU frequencies are not really treated as true benchmarks, they remain an important performance metric for most overclockers.The highest CPU frequency ever submitted to HWBOT using the ASUS ROG Rampage IV Extreme motherboard came from another Iranian with Amateurs pushing an Intel Core i7 4930K to a 6777MHz, an impressive +99.32% beyond stock settings.
You can find the submission from Amateurs here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/2466905_amateurs_cpu_frequency_core_i7_4930k_6777_mhz
Finally we come to the classic SuperPi 32M benchmark, an important benchmark in terms of historical relevance. The fastest SuperPi 32M run submitted on HWBOT using the ASUS ROG Rampage IV Extreme motherboard was also submitted by Behzad Tak who completed a run in just 5min 32sec 922ms using an Intel Core i7 4930K ramped up to 6,232MHz (+83.29%)
Check out the submission from Behzad Tak here: http://hwbot.org/submission/2456418_behzad_superpi___32m_core_i7_4930k_5min_32sec_922ms
Thanks for joining us for today’s trip down Motherboard Memory Lane. Return next week when we take a look at the Intel Z97 platform.