The Intel Core i7-3960X processor is quite literally the fastest desktop processor that Intel offers right now and as such we will be primarily focusing on this processor in our review, not forgetting that there is a more affordable non-extreme i7-3930K sexa-core variant and another i7-3820 quad-core variant. Our system setup for this review will be mostly consisted of Intel components, but we will be reviewing other X79 boards as well.
Our system that we did this review with was based on the following parts:
The DX79SI is a reference board which is designed to still support those who want to overclock. The board itself has 8 DIMM slots, multiple USB ports, audio ports, and PCIe slots. In general, this board is designed like most motherboards out there with a few caveats that we believe aren't necessarily good design decisions.
Here is the CPU with the heatsinks and 8 DIMM slots, with the blue slots being the primary coming in from right to left (from this perspective).
Our first complaint about this board was that Intel opted for only two USB 3.0 ports on the back of the board when there is clearly room for at least 2 more. Engineers also went for a very poor/odd placement of the CPU power and CPU fan headers. The CPU power connector is located in the almost dead center of the board which makes it unlike most other boards out there and also goes against the way that many cases' cable management is designed. Because the CPU power is located there, in many cases people may have a very hard time connecting the CPU power connector after they've installed their cooling solution inside of a case.
If the cooling solution is water, it will be somewhat easier. Thankfully, our Dimastech bench allows us to basically run our cables from the left or right side of the board which enables easy installation of the CPU power connector regardless of its location.
The two USB 3.0 ports (Blue) and the fan header (red) as well as the dual gigabit LAN, firewire, and audio.
This brings us to the CPU fan header and its poor location. Normally, the CPU fan header is located next to the CPU socket where Intel decided to place the CPU power connector. This switch presents a problem for multiple reasons. First of all, the fan header is located to the left of the first 4 RAM slots which means that if any RAM is installed(which there will be), the cable will have to go around the slots and snake its way all the way around the socket to the actual fan. The problem for us was that the fan cable that comes off of the Intel provided liquid cooling solution is just barely long enough to connect to this header without any RAM installed and with RAM installed it is physically impossible. As such, we were forced to use a different CPU fan header and switch the settings in the BIOS.
You can clearly see the unpopulated silkscreen part of the board where SATA (or SAS) headers clearly belong.
Since Intel decided that their Patsburg (X79) chipset wouldn't have more than two SATA 3.0 ports and four SATA 2.0 ports natively, they effectively made their reference board one that is extremely limited from a storage standpoint as you can only essentially get 1 CD/DVD drive, 2 SSDs in RAID 0, and 3 more hard drives. Anything beyond that will essentially amount to needing to purchase a 3rd party SATA controller which seems a bit ridiculous to us considering the price of this board and the processor in it.
We also didn't like the PCIe slot layout of the board in the fact that the board placed the PCIe X16 slots (when in SLI/CrossFire mode) too closely together. It has been the standard design practice of most motherboard manufacturers to leave quite a bit of room between the X16 enabled slots in order to promote better cooling. The problem for us, though, is that this board doesn't accommodate our water-cooling setup of our EVGA GTX 480's which simply cannot be placed so closely together as the Intel board requires in order to have dual X16. If we wanted to place our cards on this board in their proper configuration, they would have to be in the X16 and X8 slots which would slow down our cards' performance on a platform that is supposed to make them faster.
The one thing we are glad to see in this board's design is a very good heatsink design that isn't obnoxious, but at the same time still gets cooling of critical board components done. Some X79 boards out there are either hideous in their aesthetics or they have active cooling with an added fan on one or more places on the chipset which seems unnecessary when you consider that Intel's own reference design doesn't have a fan.
Intel Goes Liquid Cooling
When it comes to liquid cooling, there's no doubt that Intel made the right, at and easy decision of going with an Asetek LCLC-HP (High Performance Low Cost Liquid Cooling) solution. Intel's branded solution is named the RTS2011LC for LGA 2011 liquid cooling. This cooler will also fit on previous generations of Intel's processors such a 1366, 1155 and 1156. Unfortunately for the legacy 775 users, you're going to get left out.
This cooling solution itself isn't anything special or anything to write home about other than the fact that it has a unique blue fan and the Intel logo in blue on the combination block/pump assembly. From our experience in the past, these LCLC solutions have performed pretty well and general perform nearly identical to each other in terms of thermal performance. As such, we expect to be able to get some decent mild overclocks with this cooler but nothing extreme. We will detail our results in our temperature and power section towards the end of the review.
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