Table of Contents
ASUS continues its assault on the X99/Haswell-E motherboard scene with the release of their new TUF Sabertooth X99 motherboard. If enthusiast-level performance coupled with server grade stability and reliability is something that catches your eye, then ASUS thinks they have the answer in the TUF Sabertooth X99 motherboard. The motherboard has everything you’d expect from a Sabertooth offering, but also offers new technologies like support for NVMe and USB 3.1. Sound good? Let’s go find out just how good!
Specifications and Features
Below are the specifications as provided by the ASUS product page. All the technologies the X99/Haswell-E platform offer are present and accounted for. Dual LAN ports, dual USB 3.1 ports, M.2 SSD compatibility, and support for the up and coming NVMe storage technology all make the TUF Sabertooth X99 ready for any of the latest technologies.
|ASUS TUF Sabertooth X99 Specifications|
|Back I/O Ports|
|Internal I/O Ports|
The features can be broken down into three main categories – ultimate cooling, durable design, and tested reliability.
Under the ultimate cooling feature, ASUS lists the TUF Thermal Armor, TUF Fortifier-Cooling Assistance, TUF Thermal Radar 2, and TUF ICe. All images and descriptions below courtesy ASUS.
The Durable Design feature set includes TUF Detective, USB 3.1, Dust Defenders, and TUF Audio. If you’re interested in what kind of performance USB 3.1 can offer, visit our ASUS USB 3.1 testing review.
Under the Tested Reliability features, we find TUF ESD Guards 2, TUF Fortifier-Structure, TUF Components, Server Grade Testing, and the 5-year warranty.
It’s still in development stage, but ASUS is about to release what they call the Hyper Kit. This device will allow you to install a SFF-8639 2.5″ NVMe SSD by using the M.2 port and offer full PCI-E x4 transfer speeds. We’re not sure if it will end up being bundled with their motherboards, but the TUF Sabertooth X99 will support it when available.
The retail packaging has the familiar TUF Sabertooth look to it. The top has product branding and several icons describing several high-level features. At the bottom is detailed product information similar to what we’ve talked about above, which gives the potential buyer a good idea of the motherboard’s capabilities. All four sides of the box are reserved for additional product branding.
The inside of the box is a three-tiered affair with a hard plastic shelf sitting on top. The plastic shelf doubles as a holder for the bag of Dust Defenders and a protector for the top of the motherboard. The next tier is where the motherboard is found, which is wrapped in an anti-static bag. Below the motherboard is where the remainder of the accessories are located. Here is a list of all the accessories included.
|User’s manual||Accessory Guide|
|ASUS Q-Shield||6 x SATA 6Gb/s cables|
|ASUS 2-Way/3-Way SLI bridge||Support DVD|
|Q-connector (2 in 1)||Assistant Fan (40mm)|
|TUF Certification card||TUF 5 Year Warranty manual|
|TUF Inside/STAY COOL BE TUF stickers||3 x Thermistor cables|
|Included Dust Defender Dust Covers|
|2 x PCIe x16 slot||4 x DRAM slot|
|1 x PCIe x1 slot||1 x PCIe x4 slot|
|1 x collection (onboard USB 3.0, LAN)||2 x On board USB 2.0 connector|
|11 x back I/O USB 2.0 connector||9 x On board SATA connector|
|1 x SATA Express connector||5 x Audio connector|
Before diving in to our customary up-close tour of the TUF Sabertooth X99, here are several pictures taken from various angles. Like most TUF motherboards, a light brown and black theme dominate the aesthetics. You also get a good look at the TUF Armor and TUF Fortifier as you peruse the images.
The ASUS TUF Sabertooth X99 Up Close
In order to have a good look at the TUF Sabertooth X99, we need to remove the TUF Armor and TUF Fortifier. If you need quick access to the battery or M.2 port, there is an easily removable cover that can be taken off. The TUF Armor and TUF Fortifier are screwed together with the motherboard sandwiched between them. The TUF Fortifier adds an enormous amount of rigidity to the motherboard and also has a thermal pad that contacts the underside of the MOSFET area for an additional cooling effect.
At the bottom-left corner of the motherboard, we find the front panel audio and SPDIF output headers, Thunderbolt connection, serial port connection, and three 4-pin fan headers. Just above the fan headers are the T-Sensor headers that can be used with the three included T-Sensor cables found in the accessory stack. The bottom-right corner contains the TPM header, the first of two USB 3.0 connectors, a pair of USB 2.0 connectors, the first of five 4-pin assistant fan headers, and the chassis wiring headers. There are several jumpers located in this area used for the CPU overvolt feature, chassis intrusion, etc.
Heading up the right side, we land at the SATA port area. All 10 SATA 6 GB/s ports are native to the Intel X99 chipset, and there is full support for SATA Express as well. Above the SATA ports are the second 4-pin assistant fan header and the second USB 3.0 connector. Farther up the right side, we have the MemOK! button, the third assistant 4-pin fan header, another 4-pin chassis fan header, and the 24-pin ATX power connector. If memory problems are preventing your system from booting, the MemOK! button can automatically load fail-safe settings, which may allow the system to post.
At the top of the motherboard, we have 8-pin and 4-pin CPU AUX 12 V connectors, a pair of 4-pin CPU fan headers, and the last two assistant fan headers. The assistant fan header on the end is intended to be used with the included 40 mm fan found in the accessories.
The left side of the motherboard is where all the I/O connections are found. Highlights here include dual LAN ports (Intel I218-V and Realtek 8111GR), dual USB 3.1 ports (ASMedia), BIOS Flashback, and the vertical USB 2.0 port used for the TUF Detective feature.
The bottom-left corner is home to the TUF Audio feature, which is based off the Realtek ALC1150 CODEC. Multi-lateral interference is held in check by shielding the audio components from the the rest of the motherboard components. The left and right channels sit in their own PCB layer to protect the quality of audio signals. An audio amplifier is used to help the sound quality when using both headphones or speakers. Also built into the TUF Audio circuit is a de-pop feature that should eliminate or reduce the popping sound heard when the system is started or shutdown.
Moving to the center of the motherboard, we land at the PCI-E expansion slot area. There are three PCI-E x16 3.0 slots, one PCI-E x4 2.0 slot, and one PCI-E x1 2.0 slot. Below is a picture of the area and a table showing how lane distribution is handled with 40-lane and 28-lane CPUs.
Just behind the SATA ports is where the M.2 port is located. The port will accept M-Key type 2242/2260/2280 PCI-E x4 SSDs only – no M.2 SATA III support. The M.2 port shares bandwidth with the bottom PCI-E x16 port, which is important to remember if 3-way SLI/Crossfire is to be used.
The CPU socket area is relatively open and accommodating to the vast majority of air coolers on the market. Water cooling CPU blocks of just about any flavor shouldn’t be a problem either. The Socket 2011-v3 also incorporates ASUS’ patent pending OC Socket feature, which provides unique cache bus voltage adjustments, less voltage drop under extreme voltage scenarios, and is said to enhance memory overclocking capability. The below pictures also give you a good look at the eight DIMM slots that support up to 128 GB of DDR4. While the official specifications call for memory speeds up to 2400 MHz, the user’s manual provides QVL information on memory up to 3333 MHz.
The passive cooling solution consists of a single heatsink over the X99 PCH and a dual heatsink affair for MOSFET cooling. All of the heatsinks are held in place with screws as opposed to the less desirable push-pin method. The PCH heatsink uses the thick pink thermal pad we often see used here. The MOSFET heatsink uses a narrow thermal pad that spans the width of the MOSFET IC area. The two MOSFET heatsinks are joined by a heatpipe, but only the heatsink along the top of the board makes contact with the actual MOSFETs. The other heatsink rests behind the I/O area and dissipates any heat that travels through the heatpipe, which can be aided further by installing the 40 mm fan inside the TUF Armor.
The TUF Sabertooth X99 uses a 12-phase power design (8+2+2). Eight power phases are dedicated to the CPU, while each bank of four DIMM slots get two power phases each. CPU power phase voltage regulation is provided by the all digital DIGI+/EPU controller, while the memory voltage regulation is provided by an additional pair of DIGI+ VRM controllers.
Looking at a few of the ICs that provide many of the motherboard’s capabilities, we’ll start with ASMedia’s contribution. We found the ASM1142 controller for USB 3.1 connectivity, ASM1074 for USB 3.0 hub functions, and ASM1480/ASM1440 for PCI-E lane switching.
Super I/O functions are handled by the nuvoTon NCT6791D, and a removable Winbond 25Q128FV1Q chip houses the UEFI BIOS firmware.
The dual LAN comes courtesy of Intel I218-V and Realtek 8111GR. As mentioned previously, the TUF Audio feature is based off the Realtek HD 8-channel ALC1150 CODEC.
All said and done, the TUF Sabertooth X99 has an excellent layout. You might notice a post code display is missing, but the the Q-LED feature makes up for that somewhat. There are several Q-LEDs scattered about the motherboard that correspond with CPU, memory, GPU, and boot device. If one or more of those lights stay illuminated under a no post condition, you’ll know where to start looking for the problem. If you really need to view post codes, you can always use a smart device with the TUF Detective APP to view them.
The ASUS UEFI BIOS
Your initial entrance into the UEFI BIOS will land you at the EZ Mode page. For the novice user, this has almost everything you need for quick and easy initial setup. From here you can setup boot orders, set the time/date, control fans, and get basic real-time monitoring information. There are EZ Tuning options available from here as well, which will guide you through automatic overclocking and RAID setups if needed.
The more seasoned users will want to jump into Advanced Mode where an almost limitless set of options await. The first tab is My Favorites, which allows you to setup shortcuts to any page within the UEFI BIOS via a setup tree map. A real time saver!
The Main tab is mostly informational in nature, but the language, date and time, and security settings are located here.
The Ai Tweaker tab is where all the overclocking goodness is located. All the voltage control, memory settings, CPU multiplier options, and much more are located here. There are three sub-menus for fine tuning memory timings, power delivery to the CPU and memory, and CPU power management. There are enough options in Ai Tweaker to keep even the most demanding users occupied for quite some time.
The Advanced section contains 10 sub-menus dealing with system configuration. Here you’ll find configuration settings for CPU, chipset, system agent, NVMe, and the ability to enable/disable onboard devices. There are a slew of other options here that can be viewed by perusing the thumbnail images below.
Sliding over to the Monitor section, you’ll find just what the name suggests. From here, you can keep an eye on real time readings for temperatures, voltages, and fan speeds. One of the industry’s best set of fan control options built into a UEFI BIOS can be found in this section. You can choose from pre-configured settings or manually set things based off any of the available target source temperatures. There are also settings for the Dust De-Fan feature where you can set the duration between initiation and how long the fans will run in reverse rotation.
Next up is the boot tab where you’ll find everything related to system start-up behavior. You can set your boot device priorities and several other options that affect system post behavior from here.
The Tool tab has a few useful utilities for updating the UEFI BIOS firmware, saving up to eight profiles, viewing installed GPU information, and a SPD table for the installed memory.
The last area of the UEFI BIOS is the Exit tab. Most of this is pretty common stuff, except for when selecting “save changes and reset.” When doing that, a pop-up window will appear showing you all the changes made during the current session. This gives you an opportunity to review any changes before making them live.
Bundled Software – AI Suite 3 and TUF Detective
The AI Suite 3 software bundled with the TUF series motherboards uses Thermal Radar 2 in lieu of 5-Way Optimization, which is found on the ROG and Channel series iterations of AI Suite 3. Because the TUF line of motherboards are geared towards product longevity and stability, we can understand where ASUS is coming from by using Thermal Radar 2. This means any overclocking will be through the UEFI BIOS as there are no overclocking options with this iteration of AI Suite 3. We always overclock using the UEFI BIOS anyway, so this obviously isn’t a big deal.
With the software launched, the home screen has icons you can click to enter any of the utilities included in AI Suite 3. Thermal Radar 2 is the headliner here and offers thermal tuning, fan control, thermal status, a recorder, and several DIGI+ power control options. Thermal tuning is designed to test all fans hooked to a motherboard header and then produce profiles that will produce the best cooling with the lowest noise. There are ten temperature sensors on the motherboard that you can choose as the target source for any fan. Additionally, the accessory stack comes with three thermocouple cables you can use as a target source giving you a total of 13 sources to work with.
Other features of Thermal Radar 2 include the ability to identify where each fan is located inside your case and assign it a name. The software also has the Dust De-Fan controls and Fan Overtime parameters available. ASUS even includes the ability to control the fan on your video card, as long as it’s a compatible ASUS brand card. Looking at the thumbnail images below will give you a good idea of what all this looks like and how it functions.
The rest of AI Suite 3 is self explanatory by looking at the thumbnails below, and we’ve covered these many times in past reviews. USB utilities include a couple of charging utilities and USB boost 3.0. BIOS Flashback, EZ Update, Push Notice, and a couple informational utilities round out AI Suite 3.
For bandwidth prioritization, an ASUS skinned version of cFOS makes up their Turbo LAN utility. The main page allows you to choose outgoing priority between VoIP, streaming, gaming, or file sharing. There is an additional Advanced Settings area that allows for a tremendous amount of network management options.
TUF Detective is an APP for your mobile device that will allow you to view real-time system information, post codes, and a lot more. You have to use a USB cable to connect your mobile device to the dedicated USB port on the motherboard. The APP does everything from that point, and there is no software to install on the computer. TUF Detective can stay active even while the computer is shut down, and you can use it to start and restart the computer. When the system is powered off, you can even use the APP to clear CMOS or load optimized defaults. It’s a pretty slick APP that’s definitely worth checking out.
Benchmarks and Overclocking
|Test System Components|
|Motherboard||ASUS TUF Sabertooth X99|
|CPU||Intel i7 5960X Haswell-E|
|Memory||G.SKill Ripjaws 4 DDR4-3000 MHz 4X4 GB kit|
|SSD||Samsung 840 Pro 256 GB SSD|
|Power Supply||Corsair HX1050 Professional Series|
|Video Card||EVGA GTX 780 Ti Classified|
|Cooling||EKWB Supremacy EVO Block–360 mm Radiator–MCP35X Pump|
|OS||Windows 7 Professional x64|
We’ll perform our normal set of benchmarks that test compression, rendering, video conversion, and memory performance. We’ll also toss in some 2D benchmarks. We don’t typically see much difference when comparing motherboards, especially given we keep the same CPU, chipset, memory, and GPU standardized. So, just as we normally do, we’ll simply provide screenshots of the stock and overclocked benchmark results. This basically boils down to being a search for any abnormalities the motherboard may exhibit during the benchmark runs. We’ll spot check the results against previously reviewed X99 based motherboard to make sure performance is where it should be and report any discrepancies.
With just a couple voltage adjustments and a few modifications to the power delivery options, overclocking the CPU was a painless affair. For a 24/7 stable overclock, we landed at 4.75 GHz. The XMP profie for the DDR4-3000 MHz kit we use defaults the BCLK to 125, just as all X99 motherboards will do. So, we’ll use 4.75 GHz for the overclocked results you see below. Once we get to the Pushing the Limits section of the review, we’ll see how much is left in the tank. The stock benchmarks were run at the CPU’s turbo speed of 3.5 GHz locked down, which is typically how we like to do the stock testing.
Compression, Rendering, and Video Conversion Benchmarks
Cinebench R10 – R11.5 – R15
x264 Pass 1 and 2
PoV Ray R3.73
Wprime 32M and 1024M
SuperPi 1M and 32M
Aida64 Cache & Memory
The TUF X99 Sabertooth performed quite admirably in our suite of benchmarks. As we went back and compared the performance numbers against previously reviewed X99 motherboards, it actually performed slightly better in many of the benchmarks. Absolutely nothing to complain about on the performance or overclocking fronts. Top notch stuff here!
Pushing the Limits
We’ve done enough X99 motherboards reviews that we pretty much know where our i7 5960X CPU tops out. Most of the motherboards we’ve tested will take our CPU to 4.9 GHz, but a select few have been able to go as far as 4.95 GHz. You can include the TUF Sabertooth X99 as one of the select few. We were able to complete our suicide runs of wPrime 32M and SuperPi 1M at 4.95 by setting the BCLK setting to 127 and using a multiplier of 39, which also gave us a little memory overclock of around 50 MHz.
The ASUS TUF Sabertooth X99 proved to perform just as advertised. Server grade stability and reliability topped off with enthusiast-grade performance make it stand out in the crowded X99 motherboard market. All the latest technologies are supported, including M.2 PCI-E SSDs, USB 3.1, and the newly released NVMe storage interface. The 5-year warranty is a terrific value add and is a testament to the quality components used, and the extensive testing these motherboards go through. As usual, ASUS provides an impressive software package in AI Suite 3 and the TUF Detective APP for your portable device – both of which worked perfectly.
As far as pricing goes, the TUF Sabertooth X99 sells for $309 at Newegg. That’s a very competitive price given the features, warranty, and performance capabilities the motherboard offers.
The Sabertooth line of motherboards have had a loyal following for many years, and this motherboard will likely only serve to strengthen that legacy. Great performance, all the latest technologies onboard, and server-grade reliability all add up to Overclockers approved!
Click the stamp for an explanation of what this means.