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Intel X79 Chipset, Gigabyte G1.Assassin2
Unlike the original Sandy Bridge processors that launched with multiple chipsets, the LGA2011 platform will be supported by a single chipset -- or should we say by a single chip.
Similar to the relatively new Z68 chip of the LGA1155 platform, the X79 is a Platform Controller Hub (PCH) and will take on the full responsibility of a southbridge along with some of the duties of a northbridge.
So what does the Intel X79 have in store for us? We had heard rumors that the PCH would include more than a dozen SATA ports and most would be 6GB/s capable and ready to accommodate SAS drives.
Unfortunately what we have on hand is very different. The X79 fails to differentiate itself from the Z68 as users still only get six SATA ports and shockingly just two of them are 6Gb/s capable. USB 3.0 support is nowhere to be found but you get the same 14 USB 2.0 ports as on the Z68.
All in all the chipsets are near enough to identical, which is disappointing for Intel's new flagship platform. If you compare the features of the X79 to the older X58/ICH10R chipset combination, it's hard to believe after 3 years so little has changed. Essentially users are getting two extra USB ports, two extra PCIe x1 lanes and a pair of SATA 6Gb/s ports, though the overall amount of SATA ports remains the same.
Although the Intel X79 is very bland, motherboard manufacturers still have a chance to jazz it up with third-party controllers providing better network support, USB 3.0, additional SATA 6Gb/s support, and so on. Today we are testing the Core i7-3960X with the Gigabyte G1.Assassin2 which is the latest member of their G1.Killer range.
When Gigabyte launched their Sandy Bridge motherboard series they reconsidered their traditional baby blue and white color scheme and opted for a more aggressive black theme for their high-end products. Boards such as the P67A-UD7, P67A-UD5 and P67A-UD4 got the matte black PCB treatment which was complemented with all-black connectors.
The new G1.Assassin2 is Gigabyte's new flagship G1.Killer motherboard and as such will likely be the most expensive. The board offers support for 2-way/3-way CrossFireX and SLI depending on your preference. The board also incorporates a Creative SB X-Fi Digital Audio Processor (20K2) on-board supporting X-Fi Xtreme Fidelity and EAX HD 5.0.
Gigabyte has included Bigfoot Networks' Killer E2100 NIC, which is featured on all G1.Killer motherboards. Whether that translates into any real-world benefit is debatable but Gigabyte is the only manufacturer implementing the Killer NICs onboard.
Storage support has been enhanced. Apart from the six SATA ports attached to the Intel X79 chip, an additional two SATA ports have been included. Unfortunately, the Marvell 88SE9172 controller has been embedded rather than the newer and faster 88SE9182. The included chip provides an additional two onboard SATA ports that support 6Gb/s speeds as well as RAID0 and RAID1 arrays.
The G1. Assassin2 is brimming with USB connectivity, exceeding the dozen standard USB 2.0 ports courtesy of two Fresco FL1009 controllers that supply four USB 3.0 ports -- two at the rear and another two using a bundled 3.5" front mounted bracket.
The G1.Assassin2's matte black PCB gives it a unique look, as does its black and green component design. Aesthetics aside, we have no real complaints about the board's layout. Perhaps the only issue with the design is its placement of the DIMM slots and CPU socket, which are virtually on top of each other.