EVGA has been a player in the motherboard game for quite some time now. With Intel’s release of the Sandy Bridge-E CPU’s came with it another chipset, Patsburg (X79). They have again brought to the table its usual lineup for this platform, the SLI (E775), FTW (E777), and the Classified (E779). Today we will look at the formidable FTW and see how it stacks up in the crowded X79 motherboard landscape.
Packaging and First Look
The first thing you would see on the store shelves when looking for this board would be this retail packaging. Like all retail packaging, EVGA notes some major features on the front such as USB3, SATA3/6GB, and PCIe3.0 ready. Flipping the box over shows a picture of the board, as well as some other key features and warranty information. The box is a bit larger than some lesser models as the there are many accessories included as well as the board having its own space below the accessories box. Opening up the box, you can see the accessories mentioned above having its own box as a partition separating itself from the board for safe keeping.
Below are the accessories, manuals, and driver disk that came with the board. As is typical with most boards, you see a compliment of SLI Connectors (from single flexi to triple rigid), front panel USB3, rear panel USB2/eSATA, SATA cables, and the I/O plate. Blue-tooth connectivity is surprisingly, and pleasant I may add, not handled by a small 1x PCIe card, but a small unit on the rear I/O above the USB2 ports.
Tour de Board
My first impression on seeing this board on the web was wow.. thank God they did not move from their black or black/red theme on the motherboards. Below, in my opinion, is one of the better looking boards on the market with its true black PCB, large black PWM heatsink, four black DIMM slots and a large flat black cooler for the PCH area and former Northbridge area which lights up the EVGA symbol with a red, slowly pulsing glow.
You can see from the alternate angle this board is equipped with some features expected from a board with a rich overclocking history such as power on/off buttons, reset CMOS button, and voltage read points. You may be able to see the switches for the PCIe lanes to enable/disable to aid in troubleshooting.
A couple of pretty cool features usually reserved for such high-end boards are onboard switches to help enable or disable PCIe slots (the five DIP switches on the left side). The EVGA FTW has provided those as well as something I have never seen before, switches to disable the DIMM slots. They state this is to ease troubleshooting the memory as you would not have to remove the DIMMs to do so. This would be especially helpful if the ram was under extreme cooling, and just plain old convenient otherwise.
Also pictured below and slightly to the right of the PCIe switches is a mysterious ‘Command Center Port’ which will be ‘…available for power users later’. I’m not sure what exactly this will bring considering EVGA already has the Evbot, but I’m really curious!
A very quick mention since its pictured clearly here is the 24-pin power connector for the board and its orientation. Yeah, EVGA flipped it 90 degrees so you do not have to torque on that garden hosed size power lead coming from your PSU. This should help a bit with cable management for those putting this board inside a case.
Another typical feature for most high(er) end boards are the power/reset/cmos switches which imply use on open benching stations so as not to ‘short out’ the front panel connections for power and reset. The power button glows a nice red when powered on, and the reset button actually doubles as a HDD activity light. I find that addition to be huge when wondering the the PC is even thinking about doing anything when taking a while to boot.
The voltage read points show the typical Vcore, Vtt, VccSA, PLL (right), and has separate read points for the DIMM’s (bottom right) since they are essentially setup as two units.
So lets strip this board down of all the heatsinks and show whats going on under the hood. Notice the large row of VRM’s just north of the CPU? That screams potential to me. And knowing this platform, it also screams that it needs cooled when overclocking heavily. Good thing the heatsink in that area is pretty large.
Notice the two 8-pin CPU power plugs? Something has to give that row of VRM’s power! How about the (typical) gratuitous use of Thermal Interface Material (TIM) on the PCH chip? Ok that may sound a bit negative in a sea of positives, but figured it was worth a mention.
First we can take a closer look at the power delivery area sitting just above the CPU (and below the board). I don’t think this board will have any trouble feeding Sandy Bridge – E (SNB-E) all the juice it needs with its 12+2 configuration. Again, remember the two 8-pin CPU power plugs to the North and Northwest of the CPU (only one pictured below). I saw a post on a different forum from TiN stating that one can be left unpopulated until around 5.2Ghz+/1.6v, then both plugs should be used. My favorite descriptor comes in to play here in regard to the power delivery section, robust. As with most X79 boards, active cooling should be used when overclocking to aid in system stability and pushing to the limit.
Moving on down the board to the exposed PCH area, you can see again the TIM application from the factory was pretty liberal. The heatsink only appears to make contact with the PCH chip only. Second is the chip all cleaned up, and close up. The last picture for this section shows the heatsinks. No fancy guns, no heatpipes, just a heatsink. I do like the passive PCH heatsink which keeps the noise down versus active cooling solutions.
Pictured below are controllers for the USB (Asmedia, USB3) and controller hub (VLI – 4 ports each), as well as the Marvell controller (SATA). There are two of the Chil power controller chips, one for each set of DIMMs, which is the reason you will see in the bios two separate voltages for the DIMMs.
Taking a look at the rear I/O area of the board, starting from left to right, is the blue tooth adapter, 2 USB2 ports, CMOS reset switch, Evbot port, PS/2 port, 2 eSATA ports, 2 1GB NICs, the sound area with an optical out, and a total of 8 USB3 ports spread across the panel. About the only thing missing here is the kitchen sink.
You can see the 6 SATA ports available (2 SATA3 6/GB, 4 SATA2 3/GB) in the second shot. 2 Intel and 4 from Marvell.
Specifications and Features
Listed below are the high level specifications for the EVGA FTW.
(Specifications and Key features information is from the EVGA.com website for this board)
|EVGA X79 FTW Specifications & Features
|Performance||Based on Intel X79 chipset
Supports Intel Socket 2011 Processors
|Memory||4 x 240-pin DIMM sockets
Quad Channel DDR3
Maximum of 32GB of DDR3 2133MHz+
|Expansion Slot||5 x PCIe x16/x8, 1 x PCIe x1|
|Storage I/O||0 x UltraDMA133
6 x Serial ATA 300MB/sec (4x Internal + 2x E-SATA) with support for RAID 0, RAID1, RAID 0+1, RAID5, RAID10 and JBOD
2 x Serial ATA 600MB/sec (2x Internal) with support for RAID 0 and RAID1
|Integrated Peripherals||8 Channel High Definition
2 x 10/100/1000
|Multi I/O||1 x PS2 Keyboard
10 x USB2.0 ports (2 external + 8 internal headers)
10 x USB3.0 ports (8 external + 2 internal headers)
Audio connector (Line-in, Line-out, MIC)
FireWire 1394B (1 external)
|Form Factor||EATX Form Factor
12 x 10.375 in (304.8 x 263.5 mm)
|Product Warranty||This product comes with a 3 year limited warranty. Registration is recommended.|
|Key Features||Intel X79 Express Chipset
4 DIMM Quad-Channel DDR3 2133MHz+ (up to 32GB)
8 Channel High Definition Audio + Optical
100% POSCAP Capacitors
12+2 Phase PWM
PCI Express 3.0 Ready
E-LEET Software Support
EVGA EVBot Support
Triple BIOS Support
EZ Voltage Read Points
Onboard CPU Temp Monitor
CLEAR CMOS, Power and Reset
Dual 8 Pin CPU Power
PCIE/DIMM Disable Switches
I was excited to hear that EVGA has gone to a UEFI BIOS on X79. I was expecting, like its high-end competition, to have a really nice GUI on it. I have to admit however, I was a bit disappointed. No fancy pictures, or colors, just plain old black and white with yellow being the highlighted or selected color. Maybe with Z77 we will see it all dolled up, who knows. This does not take away from its functionality of course, and some may even prefer this appearance over the prettied up GUI’s. Maneuvering around the bios was quite easy and unlike other boards with the fancy interface, there was no delay in trying to manually type in numbers.
Basic UEFI interface aside, the latest bios (32) has turned in to a pretty solid one after the few previous ones for my setup had some (significant) issues in my testing. Memory timings wouldn’t save or save incorrectly, overclocking past 4.5Ghz or so was more difficult to find stable and tend to require more voltage than other boards. But with the newer releases (30 and up), most of those issues have been resolved. The only problem I am having now is with a specific set of memory, so I am chalking that up to incompatibility, and hopefully another bios release will let these 2133Mhz sticks work in that board. But the quad channel DDR3 1600Mhz kit now works like a champ in this board.
Another great feature on this board is the ability for it to hold/use three Bios’. You can corrupt two of them and still have an extra to flash them both back. This is accomplished by a switch on the bottom right hand side of the board. In order to flash the alternate bios’ one would boot to a functional bios, then flip the switch to the bios you want to flash, and flash away. The method I used was in windows and it worked flawlessly every time… and trust me I flashed A LOT. The earlier bios’ that came with this board had a terrible debug 67 code lock when pushing the memory or even high overclocks. It was such a hard lock in fact that you either, A- had to remove sticks of memory and then flash the CMOS, or B- reflash the bios itself. Thankfully EVGA has been diligently working on their bios’ and the latest release, 32, has improved things dramatically from the version that came with the board.
Look at the actual bios below, you can see its not quite as pretty as the other UEFI bios available from others. That doesn’t at all take away from its effectiveness however. Some people prefer the new look others, like their trusty blue, or in this case, black and white bios. The Overview shows high level statuses of CPU speeds, voltages, and temperatures, and some fan speeds (not pictured). Moving over to the left on the top menu bar to Advanced, you can see the options to change ACPI settings, Onboard devices such as NIC, Audio, USB3 ports, firewire port, to enable or disable these features. Digging deeper in this section to the H/W monitor area, it shows CPU/Vreg/System temps as well as all the fan header speeds/settings.
Continuing to slide to the right, we have the Chipset option. Underneath this you can control IOH configs, QPI config, ME subsytem as well as enabling/disabling the CPU temperature monitor. If this is disabled, the debug LED will not show the temperature, but that FF post code. I prefer to leave it on the temperature setting.
Now the part I’m sure everyone web wheeled down to, the Overclocking section (upper left below). In this area is where you control all of the overclocking functions on the board. In the main screen you see options to change Memory configuration, CPU configuration, Bclk configuration, as well as being able to change all the major voltages.
Drilling down in the Memory configuration (top right below) it has options for all the major timings, several sub-timings, and (not pictured) are things I have never seen before in memory. Remember that X79 supports XMP1.3 profiles and is generally what will work best on this platform are XMP1.3 enabled sticks.
In the CPU Advanced features area (bottom left) is where you enable/disable hyperthreading and cores among other items. Inside this menu is the CPU Power Management Configuration section (bottom right). Once inside this you can see the power saving features, turbo mode, and manual adjustment of each core for turbo. Turbo MUST be enabled here to overclock.
Last up are the Boot and Security headers. Not too much to say here as all the options one needs to switch/override boot priority are available and quite frankly, I never use any board security functions, but they are there if needed.
One thing that you may notice is missing in all of this is the power limits that most boards have. These features were available in older bios, but with newer releases they are gone. I’m not sure if there is no limit, or just a high enough one that users do not have to worry about it. I’m actually thankful these are gone as the way they were worded was incredibly confusing to me. It said something like “1/8″ watt power limit… I was never sure if it was 1/8 the value you entered or not, but its gone now, so no worries there. It was a peculiar naming convention, that is for sure. One other item to note in this bios which isnt a big deal but certainly a departure from the norm is the F4 to save and exit the bios. I don’t know about you guys, but F10 is save and exit. Of course, its not a big deal, but something worth mentioning.
EVGA has their own product aptly named ELeet. This tool has been around since at least the P55 days and hasn’t really changed much since then. Recently they have added a splash screen upon start up, as well as supporting the new chipset of course. I had a bit of trouble using the utility with a couple of bios, but with recent releases, that has since gone away and is a great utility to make adjustments from within windows.
You see the familiar CPUz front end (and there is a back-end submission for validation button on the Options tab) and memory tabs. Eleet goes a step further here with a monitoring tab showing all the most important voltages and as well as temperatures including the voltage regulators and fan speeds.
As with any software, sometimes the voltages are not so accurate, so if possible, use a Digital Multi Meter at the voltage read points on the motherboard to get the most accurate number. Surprisingly however, outside of Vcore, it was accurate within .02v. The Vcore was almost .05v volts off on the low side (load) of the software reading.
For windows based overclocking, your basics are covered with BCLK, and multipliers. Moving on to the voltage side of the house you can see everything needed is available including VccIO, VccSA, DIMMs/DQ VRef, and of course Vcore.
With the latest version, they added on a splash screen so at least you know its thinking about starting when you are pushing the limits. Prior to that, due to the applications load time (around 5-10 seconds), I found myself wondering for a few seconds if it froze, or if I even double clicked it properly. That said the application does its job.
- i7 3930K (3960X Review)
- Patriot Viper Extreme Division 4 DDR3 1600Mhz CL8 RAM
- EVGA X79 FTW
- 60 GB OCZ Vertex 2 SSD
- Powercolor HD 7950 PCS+
- Seasonic 1KW PSU
- PA120.2 / MCR320 radiators / Swiftech block
Well, after some better bios’s were released I found getting up to what appears to be the CPU’s ambient limit of 4.8ghz was pretty easy. It of course helps that I have a bit more experience under my belt and knowledge of the chip, but that shouldn’t take away from this board actually benchmarking just the same at this speed. In the UD7 review I completed, the voltages used were a bit higher for these tests as well, especially in the multi-threaded benchmarks. Again one could say this is a function of knowing the CPU better, and that has a bit to do with it, however I dropped the CPU back in the other board and found very similar, higher voltages required for for the same clockspeed.
As was noted earlier I am still having trouble with the memory I have (GSkill RipjawsX 2133 CL7) even posting past 1600Mhz, but other, quad channel kits are having no issue with its stock speed of 1600Mhz, and overclocking those to 1866Mhz. So again, looks like its a memory compatibility issue with those specific sticks as others work past 1600Mhz.
As you can see from the overclock results below, I was able to knock out 4.8Ghz with all the CPU based benchmarks below. This compares, with both clockspeed and results, with the other boards I tested. At the time of publishing, I was not able to take it cold yet to see if it could beat my 5.3Ghz I achieved…I will update in the comments section once that is done. I have no worries this board will take it there, and possibly further so long as the power limits that were removed are set high enough or taken out all together in the background.
I have to admit I’m personally a bit soured on the entire X79 platform at this point in time. There really wasn’t one board in my hands that worked perfectly out of the box. I was having overclocking issues, or memory issues, or both for that matter. Though I’m well aware these are natural growing pains with new platforms, its still frustrating to deal with. As time went on for each of these boards, things did improve and I wouldn’t stray from the platform if I needed, ok wanted, all this horsepower. My experience with the EVGA X79 FTW was no different, but admittedly better than some boards. I can say the support efforts to get the bugs out has been top notch. So when you go out and purchase this board, be sure to go to EVGA’s website and download the latest bios.
With that being said, the latest couple of bios releases really helped knock out some of the issues I and others had with this board as far as memory overclocking/compatibility and overclocking in general. As time goes on and more bios’s are released, things should continue to improve for the board and platform in general.
Negative points aside, you have, per usual from EVGA in my opinion, are very sharp looking boards with its true black PCB, red PCIe slots, and overall appearance. Being able to troubleshoot both your GPUs and DIMMs via DIP switches on the board make doing so while extreme overclocking much easier as you do not have to swap out the parts to see which one went bad. The FTW has what overclockers need to get the job done. The FTW has what extreme overclockers need to get the job done. This board can simply get the job done for those wanting to spend the money ($389.99 + SH @ newegg.com) to jump up to the monster X79 platform.