ECS X79R-AX (Black Extreme) Review

by Ian Cutress on 1/13/2012 12:30 PM EST
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  • connor4312 - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    Good mobo, great price (relatively). Now if only the 3930k would come back in stock... Reply
  • Ratman6161 - Monday, January 16, 2012 - link

    That may not be true if you want a 32 GB memory configuration. With 4 Dimm slots you need 8 GB modules where with the boards with 8 slots you can use cheaper 4 GB modules. Checked NE and saw 4x8 kits going for about $100 more than 8x4. If 16 GB is enough for you (and honestly, how many people really NEED more than 16 GB) then this won't matter. But if you want to go for 32 it may actually come out cheaper to buy a more expensive mother board with 8 slots. Reply
  • gw33dz - Friday, January 20, 2012 - link

    That's a good point, on the other hand, if your going the way of 2011 then your going for performance, and i believe (correct me if i'm wrong) that 4 populated ram slots will perform better than 8, in quad channel. I've based this on the principals of dual channel, and I would actually appreciate confirmation either way if my assumption is correct. Those 8GB module kits are pricey at the moment, but another benefit (if you need the 32GB) will be lower power consumption and therefore less heat generation.
    It's interesting to note with this mobo the dual GB Network adapters, I really wonder why most other x79's are neglecting this feature.
    Reply
  • flipmode - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    There are some golden rules to follow once it comes to building your own computer. One of those golden rules is:

    Do *NOT* buy ECS.

    ECS sucks. I don't care if they accidentally did an "OK" job this time. Surely their BIOS support will be a total disappointment just as it is already clear that they cut a bunch of corners on this board to begin with.

    Do *NOT* buy ECS.
    Reply
  • AssBall - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    I dunno if you had some bad experiences or what, but I have done a few builds with ECS and thought the quality and reliability were pretty good. Also always an excellent value.

    I never tried one of their enthusiast boards though.
    Reply
  • futurepastnow - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    Years ago, ECS merged with another company, PC Chips, which many years earlier infamously sold 486 motherboards with fake caches and counterfeit chipsets.

    Some geeks never forget.
    Reply
  • estover - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    futurepastnow said:

    "Years ago, ECS merged with another company, PC Chips, which many years earlier infamously sold 486 motherboards with fake caches and counterfeit chipsets.

    Some geeks never forget."

    Yep I'm one of them. When I think of ECS, I think shit!
    Reply
  • iamkyle - Saturday, January 14, 2012 - link

    They're called 'Extreme Crap Systems' for a reason, you know. Reply
  • piroroadkill - Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - link

    Yeah. PC Chips boards were absolute bottom of the rung, and so were ECS.

    I know about the fake cache chips on the boards too.
    Reply
  • Wesleyrpg - Sunday, January 15, 2012 - link

    i remember this, im fact im sure i switched boards from VLB to PCI, and still ended up with a board with fake cache (on both boards).

    Was around August 1995 if i remember correctly! (i was in uni at the time and didn't have alot of money for an expensive board)

    Maybe i should send ECS an invoice for two motherboards...... :)
    Reply
  • theangryintern - Monday, January 16, 2012 - link

    I fell victim to their low prices a few times, and every time it was a complete crap product. I've had a few friends that have had nothing but trouble with their products as well. Definitely one company I will stay way away from and I never recommend their products to anyone I know. Reply
  • darwiniandude - Sunday, January 15, 2012 - link

    I built an 'el cheapo box in late 2001 based around an ECS K7S5A motherboard, SiS chipset, AMD cpu, it was the cheapest of the cheap at the time. Was mostly used as an office machine, but it's never had any hardware replaced until I replaced it with something good a few months ago. Was mostly on 24/7.

    Obviously, I'm sure this the exception rather than the rule, but I was still pretty impressed.
    Reply
  • LoneWolf15 - Sunday, January 15, 2012 - link

    The K7S5A wasn't a bad board --provided you got a good one. The design was fair --the quality control, like many other ECS products, was all over the map.

    I'm sure ECS can design an okay board, should they choose to do so. However, one segment of their production is cut-rate low-cost boards (which does nothing to inspire confidence) and if you combine that with inconsistent quality control, I don't trust their top-end stuff based on the other things they make.

    MSI, Gigabyte, and others have much higher consistency in quality control even in their value $70-100 mainboards.
    Reply
  • JediJeb - Sunday, January 15, 2012 - link

    I am currently using one of the ECS L7S7A2 motherboard, matter of fact posting from it right now. It isn't and extreme overclocker but I have been running my AthlonXP2400M overclocked from 1.8ghz to 2.3ghz for the last 6 years or so 24/7. Before that I was using an ECS K7S5A which ran for several years overclocked until it was hit by lightening and popped one of the MOSFETs. I guess I have been one of the lucky ones to get two good boards in a row. Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, January 16, 2012 - link

    What a lot of people nursing grudges from a decade+ back fail to acknowledge is that when the number of board makers consolidated heavily in the early part of the last decade that the surviving companies with bad engineering reps were able to gobble entire design teams from companies that produced quality products but didn't have enough volume to sustain themselves in the market with the result that even the budget brands now have decent hardware quality. Reply
  • Nfarce - Monday, January 16, 2012 - link

    Glad I'm not the only one who thinks ECS is crap. Made the mistake of buying one at Fry's several years ago for a buddy's E8400 build. Worst mobo I've ever bought since my first build during the Pentium II days. ECS has always been the cheap mobo, and the very idea of them coming off with a $300+ X79 is laughable. Fool me once, shame on me... Reply
  • popej - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    This could work at office PC, but i doubt if enthusiasts would buy motherboard with no expansion capability. Reply
  • MrTeal - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    Maybe not, but even for most enthusiasts 16GB shows little or no benefit over 8GB. By the time the you start wanting 32GB you'll probably be wanting Haswell-E or 32GB of DDR4 anyway. Reply
  • Nihility - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    I disagree.

    My PC almost always uses 7.5 GB out of the available 8 GB. And I have to constantly close programs to make sure my system doesn't begin swapping.

    Maybe 12 is enough, but 8 is not enough.
    Reply
  • cjl - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    What on earth are you doing where that much memory is in constant use? Either you have an enormous memory leak in several programs, or you are a very atypical user.

    That having been said, I would say that a SNB-E system should be built with at least 16GB (4x4GB), since 4GB RAM sticks aren't that expensive these days. A case could even be made for 32GB (4x8GB), since even 8GB sticks aren't that bad, and SNB-E is likely to be used primarily by pretty heavy users anyways.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    I currently have a 7GB commit charge on my box. Biggest offenders currently are:

    2,000MB Opera
    520MB Firefox
    188MB Outlook
    170MB FF Plugin container
    135MB Catalyst control center (ATI GPU app)
    122MB Steam
    8x104MB Einstein @ Home CPU work units
    102MB DWM
    96MB Display Fusion (multi-monitor taskbar)
    84MB Core Boinc Client
    77MB Einstein @ Home nVidia GPU work unit
    ...

    Opera currently has 65 open tabs (ranges between 50-100); and shortly before heap fragmentation brings it down (typically after a few weeks) reaches ~3.5GB commit.

    Before I disabled it, one of the other E@H CPU apps took ~250MB/instance.

    Add in memory use from the game of the night and I'm almost to the point of needing to stick my old 2GB Dimms back in to go from 12 to 18GB total. I am worried that 16GB won't be enough long term when I replace my I7-930 with an i7-3700 in a few months.
    Reply
  • SmartyPants - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    I think that's pretty atypical...

    Unless 'typical' has changed in the last few years and I'm just behind the times.
    Reply
  • bearxor - Monday, January 16, 2012 - link

    No, you're not behind the times. That's not what I would consider typical.

    I think you could make the argument that it might be typical for a large percentage of customers in the market for a X79 board, however.
    Reply
  • popej - Sunday, January 15, 2012 - link

    Yes, basically you repeat "640kb ought to be enough for anybody".

    The price of this motherboard is equivalent of about 50GB DDR3. Something is wrong, if the more expensive part of PC limits its capability.
    Reply
  • ExcaliburMM - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    Great looking board. Would love to put one of these in a white Fractal R3, black and white NZXT RB fans and sleeving to match on all the cables. Reply
  • dtgoodwin - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    I'm confused. I thought Intel disabled the extra ports due to compatibility issues. Are the extra ports truly SAS? Is there any concern about their stability? If not, this board is certainly in a league of it's own with having those ports active and present. Reply
  • DanNeely - Friday, January 13, 2012 - link

    The current mess of jumper wires is my biggest pet hate with the current ATX spec. I've seen OEM systems with a monolithic ribbon, but presumably because the standard doesn't enforce a fixed layout, never in a retail case. ASUS's QConnector helps a bit but it's far too easy for wires to pop off while you're trying to maneuver it into place in a crowded box.

    With molex connectors showing up again on sub-ultra premium boards again to boost power I assume work on an ATX refresh probably going to start soon if it hasn't already done so. Instead of just approving the keying shape for a 12 pin 12V connector I wish they'd standardize the front panel connectors layout so a single ribbon connector would be possible.

    Beyond that, and I know I'm just dreaming now, but with PCI finally going away there aren't any (major?) 3.3V consumers left on the mobo, -12V is pointless without RS232, and 5V is only needed for USB. As a result the base ATX power header with 4x +3.3V, +5x5V, 1x -12V, and only 2x +12V is an increasingly poor fit for current systems.

    By dropping the -12V entirely (the handful of boards that need it can synthesize it with their power hardware just like the handful of ISA(?) boards continued to make -5V after that pin was removed), and heavily reducing the number of +3.3/5V wires (to 1 and 2 respectively, or drop 3.3V entirely?) would give room to hack 8 to 12 pins (depending on how many grounds can be cut as well) resulting in either a much smaller 12-16pin connector or a new 16-20pin model with enough additional + 12V wires that mainstream systems would no longer need a separate +12V plug for power.

    This would result in easier cable management for everyone, more space on the mobo to cram all the 10 zillion addon devices that make up an enthusiast board, and marginal cost savings everywhere (only a few bucks/box max but margins are paper thin for budget retail boxes).

    Unfortunately with the failure of BTX there's probably zero chance the major hardware vendors will be willing to risk any breaking changes in the future.
    Reply
  • fluxtatic - Saturday, January 14, 2012 - link

    To your first comment - yeah, I'd call that atypical. I got 8GB when I upgraded, but I don't know that I've ever seen usage above 3GB (I have a separate screen that tracks it in real time, along with clock speed and temp). I haven't seen Opera go to 1GB for me, although I typically have 30 tabs or less open.

    As to this - not the worst idea I've heard, but I don't see it happening soon. I got a Brazos board a while back, and it's got an ATX +12V - does a CPU with an 18W TDP really need a dedicated 12V connection? As to all the many grounds in a ATX connector, you could possibly cut as many of those as you have the + pins. I may be way off base, but I believe they are used as insulators between pins of varying voltages, similar to IDE ribbon cables. Once IDE started operating above a certain frequency, they moved to 80-wire ribbons, alternating ground and + lines for isolation. The old 40-pin cables got too noisy to be reliable.

    Keep in mind that there are still quite a number of boards using RS232, etc., that fit the ATX spec. They're used in embedded systems, industrial control machinery, etc. You don't see them because they're sold in non-retail channels - if you look at Via's site, you can tell that's their bread and butter. Why else have a Mini-ITX board where a third of the rear I/O panel is eaten up by a serial port (or two)? Similarly, I about did a spit take at work when a customer said they needed floppy disks. When I asked what they could possibly be using them for, the reply was "we use them in our ATMs" This was last year...

    For me, give me a reliable right-angle ATX connector at the very edge of the board and I'm good. I've only ever seen one, and one of the company engineers said those are a lot harder to do than you would think, although he didn't elaborate, as I recall.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Saturday, January 14, 2012 - link

    The ATX-24 plug has 11 pins with positive voltages that could conceivably carry significant amounts of current (4x3.3, 5x5, 2x12) and only 8 ground pins; it's not 1:1 presumably because the odds of all 11 power lines being maxed at once was considered negligible. The fact that it's not a simple 1:1 is why I wasn't able to put a number on how many could safely be dropped. THe +12V ones probably each need a dedicated ground since major current draws on them are possible. If the amount of +5 left is scaled to the number of USB ports the grounds there would probably also need to stay 1:1.

    The layout of the pins themselves wouldn't work well for suppressing RF noise/cross talk like in a ribbon cable; and there shouldn't be any high frequency signals running on the power cable that would need suppressed.

    I know RS232 is still alive and well in the embedded world; but its marketshare is a tiny fraction of mainstream systems just like Via's share of x86 itself. Mobos/PCIe cards already make virtually all the voltages their chips actually use already, and the cheapness of USB-RS232 dongles means that creating a negative voltage from a positive one can't be much harder than just dropping to a lower positive voltage. As something almost everyone pays for, but noone uses it's due to be moved out of the mandatory part of the spec.

    The right angle ATX connectors challenge is almost certainly due to mechanical stress from the cable on the socket due to the extremely stiff nature of the fat cable. A vertical socket is easily able to xfer the load directly to the PCB and a big heat sink puts a stronger torque on it so the mechanical strength needed is already there for free. The right angle connector would need extra attachment points to the board beyond those of the power leads going through the PCB itself; and cramped cases with the board jammed up against the drive cage would require tighter average bends on the cable increasing the amount of torque on the socket. Building a right angle connector in the cable itself would be problematic as well since it would need an opposite orientation for mass market cases where it came in from above and larger enthusiast cases where it was routed behind the mobo and then just popped up.
    Reply
  • Sabresiberian - Saturday, January 14, 2012 - link

    I'm a bit confused here.

    I don't understand why any mainboard would get any kind of recommendation when it clearly has problems pointed out in the review. Regardless of whether or not you want to manually overclock, a sign of problems in any one area puts the whole package in question.

    Feature set does not make up for a lack of quality.

    I also don't understand why saving as much as $70 puts this board in league with the Asus P9X79. Why would anyone want to build an X79 rig and try to save money when there are much less expensive options which give overall similar performance? Build on Z68 (for example) and use a CPU that costs half as much. Or less. If you want the highest level of performance that X79 offers right now for some applications, then saving $70 on the heart of your computer doesn't make much sense to me.

    There are also other boards that are available that have a price similar to, or lower than, this one. Even assuming that saving $70 on the heart of your X79 rig makes sense to you, why would you choose this board over what else is available?

    I'm confused.

    Or, maybe not.

    ;)
    Reply
  • PhoenixEnigma - Sunday, January 15, 2012 - link

    Agreed.

    When I see an Anandtech Editor's Choice award, I expect whatever product is to be substantially above average in most, if not all, regards. They're pretty rare, and carry a good deal of weight in my eyes.

    Seeing something like this be given one devalues that. Performance is middling at best, expandability is mixed, warranty is below average, and the EFI appears to be a steaming pile of crud - even clearing CMOS is faulty!

    It's a cheap board (if you trust the MIR), but it seems to be in both price and quality, corners have been cut all over. Short of Ian verifying those are indeed SAS ports, I have a hard time imagining how this is "Editor's Choice" better than, say, the GA-X79-UD3 - which doesn't need a MIR to hit the same pricepoint.
    Reply
  • IanCutress - Sunday, January 15, 2012 - link

    This is only the second award I've given in twelve months over 20+ reviews - the other being the ASUS P9X79 Pro. After testing the board, I'd be happy to stick it into a system, use the one button 4.5 GHz overclock and leave it there, and still have access to 12 SATA ports (I should add ECS doesn't guarantee SAS compatibility with these, for all intents and purposes they are best left to be used as SATA), dual gigabit Ethernet, Wifi and Bluetooth. The GA-X79-UD3 you mention in comparison has 6 SATA ports, a single Ethernet port, no Wifi or Bluetooth, a comparatively worse automatic overclock system, not a full range of fan controls and perhaps questionable software.

    Editor's Choice awards aren't there just for the biggest, best and brightest - otherwise we'd be putting them on every board at the highest price point that checked all the boxes. They're meant for hardware that as a reviewer, I'd happily use, and it ticks all my boxes. These may not be the same boxes as yours, sure, but a board that caters for one group of users may not suitable for another group, meaning that I have to levy my judgement over my experiences with what I'm happy with.

    This is why I've given so few over the past 12 months - the ECS board has been given a Bronze award while the rebate is in place, as the price is a big factor given the comparison to other products. I've yet to give a gold award at all, because no one board I've seen has been a perfect (features, performance, price) must buy. You may disagree with my choice to give this ECS board an award, which is your right. But in my opinion, after testing the board and conversing back and forth on some of the finer points with ECS, that it deserves one at the $260 price point.
    Reply
  • kloudykat - Sunday, January 15, 2012 - link

    Back in April 2009, I was building a new system.

    I scanned newegg and eventually settled on a brand new "enthusiast" motherboard from ECS.

    It was the ECS BLACK SERIES X58B-A, the 1366 chipset one.

    I bought it because I had built a few pc's for other people using ECS boards, so I knew it would work.

    Here are the other components if anyone is interested:

    Intel Core i7-920 Bloomfield 2.66GHz LGA 1366 130W Quad-Core Processor
    G.SKILL 6GB (3 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10666) Triple Channel Kit
    BFG Tech BFGEGTX260MC896OCE GeForce GTX 260
    CORSAIR Enthusiast Series CMPSU-650TX 650W Power Supply
    Pioneer DVD Burner
    Bunch of hard drives, 1x 360 gb main drive, 2x 1.5TB and 1x 1TB storage drives

    Once I got it all installed, I found I was unable to overclock it at all.

    Now I am not an OC king or anything, but I have managed to successfully OC some systems in the past.

    No matter what I attempted to do in the BIOS, manual or auto OC, it would fail to boot.

    With that said, if I left it alone and kept it at the stock frequencies, it worked great. It still works great.

    Heck, I am posting this on it right now.

    But what rubbed me the wrong way was that ECS marketed this as an OC friendly board, when in reality, it was nothing of the sort.

    I agree with Ian, the bios OC options are confusing as hell, at least on my board.

    I made sure to update to the latest BIOS and that didn't help anything.

    I even made it a point to contact ECS customer support for assistance.

    I followed the guidelines they emailed me and it still didn't work.

    When I contacted them again to inquire about replacement/money back/etc, I was told basically tough luck.

    Ok, thats it. That is my 2 cents. So yeah, I agree with you Ian. It is a good board. I have used it as my

    main pc for 3 almost 4 years in a row. It has done nothing but good things for me. I just hope that

    you have better luck out of this model than I did out of mine.
    Reply
  • AlexIsAlex - Monday, January 16, 2012 - link

    What would be nice, in motherboard reviews, would be a measure of the cold boot (POST) time. This is something that different bioses can be differentiated on, and UFEI offers the potential for very fast boots if manufacturers take advantage of it properly.

    Would it be possible to report, for comparison, the time between the power button being pressed and the installed bootloader starting? I was thinking it might be easiest to measure this by having no OS on the boot media and measuring the time to the "please insert boot media" message, but I'm sure you can think of other ways of doing it.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - link

    I'd like to second this request, and that it include both normal and overclocked times. My current LGA1366 system spends almost half its boot time posting and half loading the OS from my SSD. (20s power to beep, 10s beep to appearance of OS loading screen, 20s more to login). At stock speeds the first interval is less than half as long. Reply
  • Lugaidster - Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - link

    I wonder why boot time is not included given that it should be affected by the firmware. At least I would expect bigger differences than the results on the computation benchmarks. Reply

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