ASUS M4A79T Deluxe Motherboard
Before we get started we need to explain the format of our reviews over the past six years. Readers will have noted that an entire review is laid out on one long page instead of 15-20 short pages. While it takes longer for a single page of this length to load we have designed the layout so that text appears first and graphics last so you can start reading before completion of loading. We decided not to split over 15-20 pages as many people find it annoying to have interruptions once they start getting into a review. It also means you can use the bullet list of contents above to go straight to parts that are of interest. We'd like our readers to let us know which method they prefer by providing feedback in our Forums. In any case, by the time you finish reading this paragraph the page should have loaded. Another thing we try to do is shield our readers from a barrage of numbers so instead of the exact result of every benchmark, our charts show comparative performance without being speckled with numbers - although in each case the Y-Axis is clearly labeled so that information is readily available if needed. We also prefer to let benchmarks speak for themselves rather than over-analyzing in detail that may put off some readers.
Buying a motherboard these days is quite a difficult task since, in terms of performance, there is very little to choose between the top contenders. Brand loyalty is one route but leaves the feeling that something good could be missed out on through lack of awareness of the various offerings. Manufacturers have had a tricky time and most have been forced into an "arms race" of adding more and more features to make their boards stand out. A recent example is the trend towards putting large amounts of copper onboard with little performance gain to show for it but at a disproportionate cost. Why did they do it? Simply because people choose motherboards based on reading the specifications in a quantitative fashion. We think that far greater value for the customer can be attained by putting features (software and hardware) in the package that gives them tangible benefits.
ASUS are a prime example of this. Their strategy is to lead through innovation and not follow the herd. Readers will already be familiar with products such as the Eee range and other home entertainment products they have developed. The ROG (Republic of Gamers) brand is rapidly gaining popularity with extreme gaming and overclocking workshops and seminars being held in many countries. The selection of prizes given out at these events shows how closely ASUS understand the needs and aspirations of their target audience. We've been impressed for some time now with the feature set of ASUS motherboards and think it's now time to review them with a focus on those features and not a plethora of benchmarks comparing 20+ boards that happen to perform within 1% of each other. Today the board in question is the M4A79T Deluxe, a socket AM3 motherboard for all socket AM2/AM2+/AM3 processors and the first to support DDR3 memory (up to 1600MHz) for AMD processors
A brief summary of the main features follows:
CPU, Chipset and Graphics features
Phenom™ II/Athlon™ II/ Sempron™ 100 Series Processors (socket AM3)
CPU, Chipset and Graphics
ASUS Power Solutions
ASUS Green Design
ASUS Overclocking Tools
ASUS EZ DIY
ASUS Crystal Sound
The box comes in a nice package that prominently displays the ROG logo showing that this is an enthusiast and gamers motherboard.
The pedigree is readily apparent with a feature list boasting quad crossfire. The peculiar shade of green seems to absorb light like some exotic dark matter regardless of our powerful camera flash. The emphasis is on quality with long life Japanese capacitors (if only Sky would use them in their HD Satellite boxes they wouldn't get so many dead units after almost exactly 18 months - just outside warranty).
There are so many features to list that it takes an full ATX form factor to fit them all on.
The elaborate connected heat pipe does a good job of passive cooling while leaving enough room to not interfere with even the largest cooler. Our Corsair H50 looks quite tiny when in place on the socket. Using the red DIMMs is recommended for overclocking as they are slightly closer but if you are using a big cooler then you may be stuck with the black memory sockets but in practice we do not know of anyone finding a practical difference in speed with the two sets. There is a ten phase power design consisting of eight phase CPU power, one phase VTT power and one phase memory power. There are 5 SATA-2 ports and an E-SATA port header. The four DDR3 slots operate in dual channel mode and support memory up to DDR3-1600 through the BIOS. The red button allows for recovery without clearing the BIOS if memory settings are too extreme during overclocking. The ASUS M4A79T features 100% High-quality Japan-made Conductive Polymer Capacitors, with an estimated 5,000hrs lifespan @105°C; 500,000hrs @65°C. They contain a solid organic polymer, have a low equivalent series resistance (ESR), and their service life rating means they will likely last as long as any of the components on the motherboard. All are through-hole mounted types, which are a lot easier to replace than surface mount devices (SMD). It's not common, but people have experienced board failures when a SMD capacitor gets knocked off accidentally. On/off and reset buttons are provided on the board and very handy they are for overclocking but could be bigger and more colorful. The combination of straight and 90 degree SATA connectors will please all users and overcome issues with drive placement in combination with long graphics cards.
PS/2 keyboard connectors are the only look to the past and 8-channel audio is fully supported and configurable when the full audio drivers are installed. Firewire and E-SATA along with SPDIF and a single LAN connector round things off. The trading of an extra LAN port for digital audio output is not a bad thing when all is considered. The addition of a CMOS clear button on the back panel will please over lockers and save tension reaching for a jumper with a pair of long-nosed pliers while holding a torch between teeth and aiming it with tongue manipulation....
A back panel is provided for some connectors but we would have liked to see more SATA cables and for the connectors to be the newer ones with metal bars that hold them securely and can be pressed for easy release. The inclusion of an IDE cable shows the differing market for AMD and Intel motherboards with AMD users expecting to upgrade less frequently and re-use existing components. Thus the M4A79T has a floppy and IDE connector for legacy devices. After all, if you have a perfectly good IDE DVD-RW then there is no need to splash out on a new SATA one just to get it work with a new motherboard.
Here's a summary of the test systems:
BIOS & Overclocking
Socket AM3 processors are not renowned for their overclocking capabilities so we started with few hopes for our Phenom 2 X4 630 on this board using the extensive options available in the BIOS and we recommend viewing this YouTube video here and if your appetite is whetted for more information you can download the manual from the ASUS Support Site.
The AI Tweaker menu is where the real overclocking work is done. It is designed to allow one factor (CPU or Memory) to be overclocked and the other adjusted for automatically. This is done to avoid confusing newcomers to overclocking and protect them from the complex interactions of the various ratios and timings. In practice setting both to manual allows every parameter to be adjusted with many settings being direct entry (if pressing page up/down does not work with a setting then it is probably because a direct entry is required).
DRAM timings are in a submenu of AI Tweaker and great care must be taken to ensure the right settings are applied. The use of MemSafe is recommended to test every new tweak.
The BIOS can be updated even from non-bootable media and custom BIOS profiles can be stored for future use.
Overclocking proved to be relatively easy with our processor hitting 3.4GHz with moderate increase in voltage and 3.7GHz with larger increases. Gains beyond 3.7GHz were minimal despite high increases in temperature.
We conducted our tests at stock speeds though to allow readers to make comparisons on a fixed baseline.
We should explain why we have selected certain tests and why we repeated them for 1, 2, 3 and 4 cores. People buy motherboards for different uses and whether you are a gamer who can make do with 2 cores or an avid video editor who will max out 4 cores determines which processor you will pair the board with.
We always advise not skimping on motherboard selection and purchasing a high end, fully featured one like the M4A79T Deluxe provides the greatest flexibility as we will see. The benchmarks will show which processor is best suited for particular uses. We are comparing the ASUS Maximus III Gene (Intel i7-870) with the ASUS M4A79T Deluxe (AMD X4 630).
The advantage of DDR3-2000 versus DDR3-1600 and the Dual channel memory can be clearly seen. Synthetic benchmarks eliminate other bottlenecks and show the true potential of increasing cores. Only users of the AMD platform will be able to replace their current CPU with a 6-core "Bulldozer" one next year. Since the differences are nowhere near as great in real life we can only conclude that this test favors the Intel architecture.
Similar situation with very linear scaling. Given the low price of AMDs most basic X4 processor there is no real reason to skimp and get a 3-core CPU.
The number of cores has no effect on memory bandwidth (fortunately there are no single core Athlons in the AM3 configuration).
The results here are quite interesting and a leveling off after 2 cores for the i7-870 but more linear for the slower AMD X4 CPU. The results are above average for motherboards with these chipsets.
Far Cry 2 is widely acknowledged as being the game to bring any system to its knees and we deliberately tested at the highest settings for each resolution and with 8x anti aliasing. Frame rates are perfectly playable at all resolutions (we don't have a 30" monitor for the ultra high resolutions).
Contrasting the FPS of Far Cry 2 is Tom Clancy's HAWX which is a cross between flight simulator and air combat game and we achieved over 60 frames per second at all resolutions.
Horror games are currently popular and Resident Evil 5 has a great benchmarking function built in. The board performed very well in this test. The AMD X4 630 even outperforms its Intel rival costing 3 times as much.
We've deliberately avoided getting bogged down with dozens of benchmarks comparing many motherboards as this is one component where the performance varies by usually less than 1% across the range. Readers looking to see these types of benchmarks are pointed in the direction of AnandTech and similar sites. We have already explored in depth and rest assured that the ASUS M4A79T Deluxe is in the top 3 of AM3 contenders in virtually every test in available benchmarks. Instead we are focusing on the added features and bundled software that add unique value to each motherboard.
AMD system owners tend to have a very different outlook to Intel ones, value for money is a much greater consideration for them and they would be very annoyed if AMD switched sockets every year as Intel seems to be doing. The fact that older AM2 processors will work fine on this board, and upgrading to the new 6-core ones next year will be a cinch, means that purchasers of the M4A79T Deluxe will be able to upgrade their processors for some time to come (and DDR3 support is important here) without changing motherboard. The inclusion of floppy and IDE connectors mean that upgraders need not throw away old components thereby saving further cost. The onboard audio is very good quality and gives a good experience for audiophiles with DVD and Blu Ray playback. Users desiring crossfire can simply add an extra (or three) PCI-E cards to increase performance without significant upfront commitment.
When everything is taken into account we are convinced that the ASUS M4A79T Deluxe is the best socket AM3 motherboard supporting DDR3 memory currently available and is a bargain given its feature set and future upgradeability.
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