Intel DX79SI Review: The Default X79?by Ian Cutress on November 18, 2011 1:10 AM EST
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Reviews of Intel manufactured boards are something of a rarity. They are not marketed in the same way other motherboards are – almost not at all in comparison. It could be argued that reviews are only seen coming at the start of a chipset release, coinciding with what we as reviewers get in our media kits from Intel itself. However, to an enthusiast, it is strange to say that they sell well – consumers or system builders wanting to pair a processor with a board without hassle can go straight in at an Intel motherboard/processor combo. The question is with an enthusiast platform such as X79, would you really want to deal with an Intel board?
Internally, I have to question how big Intel’s consumer motherboard design team is. We know their processor and chipset design groups must be comparatively huge to pump out all the products we see on our shelves. But to produce only one or two consumer motherboards with each chipset, it comes into question whether an Intel board would contain all the features, updates (cf. BIOS later), performance and competitiveness when compared to products from third party vendors, for which motherboards are their main business. Our last reviews of P55 and H57 show that Intel usually plays it safe – having a working product on their end is more important than bells and whistles. However in a market where a ‘working product’ should be the de facto standard, Intel invariably has tough competition.
The DX79SI ‘Siler’ motherboard from Intel is a hard one to summarize. If I were being lazy, I could merely say ‘it works’, however there is more to that than meets the eye. In some areas, it gives more than standard – e.g. dual gigabit Ethernet. But with one hand it gives and the other it takes away, with no option for teaming.
Users of Intel boards of past will notice the continuing ‘skull’ theme in a blue/black miasma of components and connectors, which unlike previous iterations do not light up. The board sports the bare minimum from the SATA connectors, as well as a lack of thought to the PCIe layout for anyone using more than one GPU. The PCIe are only rated for Gen 2, which isn’t surprising – other vendors sporting Gen 3 compatibility are outside X79 specifications for now.
The BIOS itself is simple and functional; however do not expect anything spectacular. While ASUS, Gigabyte, MSI and the rest have teams of designers for graphical interfaces, Intel does get left behind in its application of a basic system. It is not always clear what is a menu and what is not, however one thing I do like is that the text turns yellow when you change it, making it easy to see what default is. This makes looking at the Auto OC options a lot easier. The ‘Back2BIOS’ switch on the IO panel is a feature I hope other vendors adopt as well.
Performance is nothing to shout about, and the Intel software is, while visually quite easy to navigate, ultimately limiting. There are no ‘easy’ menus, requiring the user to know the ins and outs of a motherboard in order to use it. No OS fan controls either – those are strictly in the BIOS. If the media sample I received for this review is indicative of a retail package, while the mouse mat addition is slightly amusing, there are no SATA cables, but an SLI connector and a Bluetooth/wifi module included.
The Intel DX79SI ‘Siler’ motherboard is expected to retail for approximately $290-$300 and comes with a 3-year limited warranty.
If we ignore the skull heatsink for a second, the Intel board actually looks fairly busy on the PCB, with almost every nook and cranny filled with a trace to some component or another. As with all X79 products, the area consumed by the socket and memory (in this case, 8 DIMMS, 2 per channel) is just under half the board in itself. The power delivery heatsink at the top is by itself and very simple, possibly leading to overclocking issues or throttling later on.
The main CPU fan header is at a slightly odd place, to the left of the DIMMs. This requires the fan cable to go over the memory (hopefully your fan cable will be long enough), which could be an issue if a user decides to actively cool their memory. The red fan headers on board actually almost follow four points of a compass, with a rear fan header by the IO, a front header by the SATA ports, and an auxiliary fan header next to the power/reset switches.
The PCH is covered by that low profile passive ‘skull’ design, which actually hides a relatively small heatsink underneath, hence the connection via heatpipe to a proper air cooled fin arrangement in the middle of the board. To the right of this skull design are the SATA ports, all from the PCH, so two SATA 6 Gbps (blue) and four SATA 3 Gbps (black). Users will note that there are no extra SATA controllers on board, so there are no extra SATA ports or eSATA.
Next to the power/reset buttons is a series of LEDs, indicating what part of the POST process is working. This works in conjunction with the 2-digit debug LED also on board. I have much use for this in case errors arrive, however there are no options in the BIOS to turn these lights off. Depending on the case used (varying from bland to windowed) to house the system, these lights could provide an unwelcome aesthetic effect.
One of my main criticisms with the motherboard is the PCIe layout. In order, we have a PCIe x16, x1, x16, PCI, x16 (limited to x8), x1. The issue lies in double-width dual GPU setups, whereby the GPUs have to be placed into the x16 slots by order. This leaves no gap between the GPUs for happy airflow – during my dual GTX580 tests on an open bench test bed, I was surprised and worried about the heat generation, which would only freak me out if it were in a case. A lot of motherboard manufacturers in X79 should be placing the first and second PCIe slots at least an extra PCIe width apart, allowing for sufficient airflow, however Intel have gone for the ‘it works’ route here.
At various levels, the IO panel is a little disappointing. It’s very basic, showcasing two USB 3.0, six USB 2.0, dual gigabit Ethernet (Intel NICs of course), Firewire, optical S/PDIF output and audio jacks. The plus point here is the Back2BIOS button on the left, which when in ‘on’ mode, glows red and always boots into the BIOS. Another click and the system will boot normally. This would be handy for certain boards that connect the USB late in the POST sequence, making it a hassle to use the keyboard to enter the BIOS. There is a big gap in the I/O, suggesting that Intel has skimped on perhaps some more USB 3.0 or eSATA to plug the gap.
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Blaze-Senpai - Friday, November 18, 2011 - linkI always thought Intel made their boards as a "reference" like Nvidia makes "Reference" cards; great if you want a basic but reliable board that doesn't have 9001 features you can mess with and set something on fire with at least.
As for All Intel Branding... if only Intel made RAM...
Bristecom - Saturday, November 19, 2011 - linkWow, the price of motherboards has really gone up. My top of the line Intel mobo from 2004 (D875PBZ) and my brother's top of the line Intel mobo from 2008 (DX48BT2) were only about $150; now they're double!
BTW, I'm kind of surprised you didn't mention the audio here. But I guess nobody cares about onboard audio anymore since they're all basically the same Realtek codec?
Anyway, thanks for the review AnandTech, you always have the best reviews on the net!
Bristecom - Saturday, November 19, 2011 - linkGuys, I just had a look at Intel's Product Brief on this motherboard here: http://www.intel.com/content/dam/doc/product-brief...
It says UV Reactive SATA Cables ARE included! Also, strangely, it lists under "Hardware Management Features" that it has "Processor Fan Speed Control" and "System Chassis Fan Speed Control!" AND it lists PCI Express 3.0 for all three ports! So if these specs are indeed correct, this review needs to be updated. Perhaps the reviewer got a crappy pre-release model/prototype?
rallyhard - Saturday, November 19, 2011 - linkDon't mean to be rude, but I expect a little more out of AT than:
"However, to an enthusiast, it is strange to say that they sell well "
"While ASUS, Gigabyte, MSI and the test have teams of designers for graphical interfaces"
"I can much use for this in case errors arrive"
"A lot of motherboard manufacturers in X79 should be placing the first and second PCIe slots at least an extra PCIe width apart"
"There is a big gap in the I/O"
...and that was only on the first page.
Are other commenters just holding their tongues to be nice, or...?
marraco - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link-I love how small those chips are getting. Each year they appear more and more like if they were printed on the PCB.
-They should put the first PCI slot nearest to the processor, because is the only one place which can be used to plug video cards without being blocked.
That would need extra space on the case for the last video card, if it takes 2 slots, but most cases have that extra space, so I think that blocking a potential PCI slot is worse that blocking a potential third card.
You do not want to put a triple video card system on a small case, because of airflow and cooling constrains. But if you spend all that money, is more probably that you also will invest on other cards, like decent sound.
-As ever, Intel motherboards are crappy and expensive.
Questor - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - linkWhile I agree, dual LAN without teaming seems a bit silly at this point in history and missing other bells and whistles (new BIOS type) at it's price point is a bit disappointing. However, unless I read this review cross-eyed (trust me, I have sleep problems, it's possible), this Intel board performs better than most of the 3rd party manufacturers who have much bigger groups working on developing their bread and butter products. Slot placement has seemingly always been a gripe by consumers from every board maker at various releases and certainly not an exclusive to an Intel board. I am not defending it, I am just saying, I have seen (maybe not here) board become recommended even though slot placement was a con many times.
Maybe I am missing something here, but when a board is rock solid reliable, overclocks decently (if that is a feature a customer wants), and out-performs and/or is on par with 3rd party board performance at or near the same price point, isn't that a win?
I have never owned an Intel board in my life. If I read around the 'Net and see similiar performance comparisons, this could be my first.
soltys - Monday, November 21, 2011 - linkWhile I agree with some points, 2 things i'd like to point out:
- looking at the /relatively/ slim and non-bloated software controls - they are already a reason for some award ('common sense' one perhaps ?). Relatively to the bloat other companies can stuff ... one often avoids using them because they are essentially a few checkboxs / sliders weighting heavy tens or hundreds (CCC, *cough*) megabytes; leaving aside well guessed reasons
- subjectively, I've always considered a front panel with knobs as a proper method to control fans, not a software
ReySys - Tuesday, November 22, 2011 - linkI always use this motherboards. In last times I was hoping to try a Asus. But Intel MB are very stable. The warranties are excellent. Fail is a rarity in this motherboards. I agree is rare to see a review. In the weekend, I see the 2 new enthusiast boards & I correct my decision to try Asus. What I like of this brand is they always are in emergent markets as Mexico. For so many years. You can try his technology. Asus in the other side only bring the cheap models. Maybe a disttributor in a rare ocasion brings a premium model. The price is high but is worth it. My desktops rigs endure almost 2 or 3 years with me. Then I resell the rig and my clients fight for it. They keep the anothar 2-3 years. The value of a self made desktop is very high. First his performance is better than any standard desktop, so you only need to change it when is leap forward in technology. The resell value is high too. In self-made you can always change a part to improve performance. This is the reason why I don´t like iMacs, so closed mind devices. I you feel the power, you are a hard to eclipse person. I always tell my boss that bringing my self-made equipment becasue his Enterprise Hp desktops are a shame. The idea is if you follow company guidelines you are going to be very behind of reality & speed. Have a nice week!
bellends - Saturday, January 4, 2014 - linkThis mobo DOES support teaming. WTF dude
Rodofhot - Tuesday, September 2, 2014 - linkThey prob dont even know what teaming is they are just repeating some early reviews they read.
There r two kinds of people ones who like Intel everything and they seem to remember the pros of an intel board and thoes who want a cheap alternative to an intel mb and they seem to recall any cons of an intel board even though those cons may be a farse. I've read this mb doesn't support PCI 3.0 and also that it does support it in this articles' comments. Notice the guy who states PCI 3.0 is supported includes a link. Like me he must be the type who remembers the pros I guess as a fan of intel I must go uncover the truth. My guess is maybe a relase bios left ver 3.0 unsupported as with the teaming.