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ASUS Sabertooth P67 B3 Sandy Bridge Motherboard Review

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Eldonko

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As you may recall, the X58 Sabertooth came out last year and provided users with a unique alternative to the more common boards on the market. That board boasted a unique design, some interesting features and an ultra long warranty which all combined to make it one of the more popular late-model X58 products on the market. ASUS has now released yet another Sabertooth but this time is concentrating upon the P67 chipset.

With just a quick glance you can clearly the one item which allows this new Sabertooth to really stand out: the TUF Thermal Armor. This is essentially an air duct covering all of the most important components of the board which provides air circulation while blocking external heat from video cards. In addition to thermal armor, the Sabertooth has what ASUS calls “TUF Thermal Radar”. Marketing jargon aside, this feature uses a total of 12 onboard sensors to give users a clear picture of the entire board’s thermal status.

Another feature that makes the Sabertooth stand out is yet another marketing catch phrase that has firm roots in reality: Ultimate Durability. Components on the Sabertooth P67 have been tested above and beyond normal conditions and as a result ASUS provides a long 5-year warranty on all Sabertooth products. Additionally, higher quality “TUF” components tested to military standards such as caps, MOSFETS, and chokes lead to better power design through the 8+2 Phase DIGI+ VRM.

In terms of price, the Sabertooth P67 incredibly hits an affordable price of around $225 at the time of this review but we have actually seen it for as low as $190. There may be plenty of competing products at this price point but from a features standpoint, ASUS’ unique board may have them all beat clean.

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Eldonko

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Specifications

Specifications

Before jumping right into photos and testing, let’s take a look at the specifications for the Sabertooth P67.

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Eldonko

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ASUS Sabertooth P67 Features

Sabertooth P67 Features

A few notable features on the ASUS Sabertooth P67 include: TUF Thermal Armor, TUF Thermal Radar, UEFI BIOS, ASUS AI Suite II, 8 + 2 phase DIGI+ VRM, USB 3.0, SATA 6.0, and Quad-GPU SLI and Quad-GPU CrossFireX support. A brief summary of each of these features and other board features is as follows:

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Eldonko

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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories

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If the box of the Sabertooth P67 looks a little familiar, it is because you may have seen the X58 version which has a lot in common with this one in terms of packaging. ASUS stuck with the grey military styling theme with yellow block lettering black. On the box’s underside the features are explained in detail.

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Taking a close look at the front of the box we wee that ASUS highlights that the board is a new P67 B3 revision and the 5 year warranty is also highlighted next to The Ultimate Force logo.

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The Sabertooth box has a flip up cover which highlights key features such as USB 3.0, UEFI BIOS, DIGI+ VRM, TUF Components, Thermal Armor, and Thermal Radar.

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Inside the box we find it containing the usual anti-static bag while the board is held firm with a cardboard holder. Below the motherboard the accessories are found.

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The Sabertooth P67 doesn’t have a ton of accessories, just the basics. There is an SLI bridge, but no CrossFireX bridge since this generally comes with an AMD video card. The board comes with a Certificate of Reliability and a booklet for the 5 year warranty so users can see the extra testing that has gone into board components.

As you will see in the “A Closer Look” section the Sabertooth has a spot to attach a 50mm fan. However, ASUS doesn’t include this fan yet has added the screws necessary to hold one in place. We were told that if ASUS were to include a fan it would have to have been TUF certified which would have added to the cost of the board. One other item that seems to be missing from the accessory bundle is a USB 3.0 bracket.
 
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Eldonko

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Included Software

Included Software

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The software that comes with the Sabertooth P67 consists mainly of ASUS AI Suite II and a few smaller items. AI Suite II is an all-in-one interface that integrates several ASUS utilities and allows users to launch and operate these utilities simultaneously.

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The TurboV tab in AI Suite II allows you to overclock the BCLK frequency, CPU voltage, IMC voltage, and DRAM Bus voltage in Windows and takes effect in real-time without exiting and rebooting the OS. More voltages such as VCCIO, PLL, PCH, etc. are available by clicking the Advanced mode.

ASUS DIGI+ VRM allows users to adjust VRM voltage and frequency modulation to enhance reliability and stability. It also provides power efficiency, generating less heat to provide longer component lifespan and minimize power loss.

With the DIGI+ VRM panel, crucial settings for stability and power saving can be adjusted. These include: DIGI+ VRM Load-line Calibration, DIGI+ VRM CPU Current Capability, DIGI+ VRM Frequency and Spread Spectrum, DIGI+ VRM Phase Control, and DIGI+ VRM Duty Control.

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The Sensor Recorder tab allows temperatures to be monitored and recorded along with voltages, and fan speeds over specified time periods for precision monitoring.

The ASUS Update is a utility that allows you to manage, save, and update the motherboard BIOS in Windows environment. Using the ASUS Update utility, users can update the BIOS directly from the Internet, download the latest BIOS file from the Internet, update the BIOS from an updated BIOS file, save the current BIOS file, and view the BIOS version information.

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With the MyLogo tab in AI Suite II, users can utilize their own images in the BIOS Flash ROM and have a customized splash screen when booting.

The System Information tab is similar to a program such as CPU-Z where motherboard, CPU, and memory information is shown.

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Last but certainly not least, AI Suite II comes with the Thermal Radar. This is exclusive to the Sabertooth board because of the additional temperature monitoring features placed throughout the board. This utility can monitor a dozen temperatures around the motherboard as well as fan speeds and voltages.
 
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Eldonko

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A Closer Look at the Sabertooth P67

A Closer Look at the Sabertooth P67

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Above is a map of the Sabertooth P67 motherboard layout with descriptions of the various parts. In this section we will take a close look at the entire board starting at the I/O panel and go around clockwise looking at each section in detail.

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The I/O panel contains a PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port, a eSATA port (red), a power eSATA port (green), a IEEE 1394a port, a LAN (RJ45) port, two USB 3.0 ports (blue), eight USB 2.0 ports, an optical S/PDIF out, and 8-channel audio I/O. A map of the I/O panel is above.

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Looking at the board with the TUF Armor installed, you can see that most of the it is covered or “protected” as ASUS likes to call it. The only openings are at the CPU socket, memory slots, chipset cooler, PCI/PCIE slots, and connectors such as power and SATA. The TUF Armor looks pretty slick; we especially liked the cover over the I/O panel with the TUF and Sabertooth logos.

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Typical to most motherboards, the top right corner of the board has the 12v power connector in a very easily accessible location provided your case has a bit of breathing room in its upper reaches. Here you also find a few fan headers and two heatsinks covering the VRM area.

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Removing the TUF Armor and having a look at heatsink coverage we can see that the top heatsink covers the chokes and MOSFETS and the heatsink on the right sits behind the chokes and covers the DIGI+ VRM area. The two heatsinks are connected via heatpipe and are held on the board with plastic push pins. The resistors between the CPU socket and caps in the above left image are a good spot to take vCore measurements with a digital multimeter.

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Breaking down the board a bit further and looking at the cooling system we can see that the heatsinks have thermal pads where they make contact with MOSFETs. From the indentation, it looks like there is good contact; however, there are no thermal pads between the chokes and the heatsinks nor the DIGI+ VRM and the heatsinks.

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Beneath the Heatsinks we have the DIGI+ VRM EPU along with 10 chokes, drivers and MOSFETS (one for each phase). DIGI+ VRM acts as a digital controller eliminating digital-to-analog conversion lag. Compared to analog designs, a DIGI+ VRM offers more flexibility and faster system response times so adjustments to voltages can be more accurate and safer to implement. Eight of the phases are DIGI+ VRM phases (vCore) plus two for vDRAM/QPI.

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You may notice that the VRM components on the Sabertooth look a bit different than most other ASUS boards. This is because these are higher quality TUF alloy chokes, capacitors, and MOSFETs which are put through rigorous “military grade” tests to ensure superior life-span even under the most demanding conditions. The VRM components are certified by an independent laboratory, which is ISO & IEC/IECQ certificated. Compared to standard ferrite chokes, the TUF alloy chokes maintain higher inductance for a more stable power supply which in turn gives higher efficiency. Higher quality chokes become very beneficial at high loads (40a) where inductance begins to drop.

Despite the board having 8+2 phases compared to some others boards that have 12+2, 16+2 or even 24 phases, the TUF-certified components of the VRM provide quality power and durability that matches many higher priced boards on the market. Remember that more phases does not always equate to better power delivery since the quality of the components plays a big part as well.

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The DIGI+ VRM EPU chip is labeled DIGI+ VRM EPU ASP1000C-08 and is made by CHiL Semiconductor Corp. The DIGI+ fully integrates Intel’s VRD12 specifications and features a digital programmable microprocessor, matching Intel’s VRD12 digital power signal (SVID). The digital PWM design also allows for fast transient response for Intel’s Turbo Boost technology (ramping up and down of the CPU multiplier) and the DIGI+ VRM’s power design balances power phase loadings by detecting per phase (choke + driver + MOSFET = 1 phase) VRM temperatures. Compared to linear power, Efficient Switching Power (ESP) can provide higher power efficiency and by adding TUF components to the system, ESP contributes to a longer component lifespan.

The DIGI+ VRM works alongside the Dual Intelligent Processors design. The first of the two co-processors is the EPU (Energy Processing Unit). The EPU allows users to decrease the power consumption of the system whenever possible by actively monitoring loads, voltages, temperatures, etc. of all key components including CPU, VGA, chipsets, DRAM, fan, and HDD. EPU can accurately detect the CPU load in real-time and intelligently manage the balance between performance and power consumption. EPU also manages voltage supplied to key components according to the respective load on the components and allows the user to adjust vCore, chipset voltage, and so on.

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Physically located of the opposite side of the board, the second co-processor is the TPU (TurboV Processing Unit) hardware controller. The TPU offers real-time adjustments and hardware monitoring of system frequencies such as multipliers, BCLK, and corresponding voltages such as vCore, DRAM, and VRM specific voltages. The TPU also enables the OC Tuner feature which is an auto overclocking algorithm.
 
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Eldonko

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A Closer Look at the Sabertooth P67 p.2

A Closer Look at the Sabertooth P67

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Moving down to the bottom right corner we come to the DDR3 memory slots, there’s another fan header, the MemOK! button, a DRAM LED, and a buck controller chip. The uP6203B chip above the MemOK! Button is a compact dual-phase synchronous-rectified buck controller designed to deliver voltage up to 60A.

Somewhat unique to ASUS boards is that only one side of the memory slot has the typical clip to hold the memory in place. The other side of the memory slot is simply a slot with no clip. This is a nifty change since one clip is plenty to hold the memory from coming loose. ASUS recommends using the beige memory slots before occupying the brown slots.

The MemOK! button is for troubleshooting boot issues when the memory kit is the root cause and quickly ensures memory boot compatibility. This memory rescue tool determines failsafe settings and improves your system boot success.

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Moving left we pass the 24 pin power connector and come to a USB 3.0 header. If you have a case that has USB 3.0 support for the front panel you can use this connector or you can purchase a panel to fit in the rear of the case. For some reason ASUS did not provide this with the Sabertooth. The NEC D720200F1 chip nearby is the USB 3.0 extended host controller for the USB 3.0 header.

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The P67 chipset and chipset heatsink actually sits flush with the TUF Armor. The chipset is passively cooled by a green and black heatsink which matches other heatsinks and connectors on the board.

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Moving left across the bottom of the board we come to the SATA ports. The two white ports on the right are SATA 6.0 Gbps running off the Marvell 88SE9172 controller (hidden below the PCH heatsink) and the two brown ports are SATA 6.0 Gbps running directly off the PCH. The remaining four ports on the left in black are SATA 3.0 Gbps ports and also run directly to the PCH. The Z68 chipset can only run two SATA 6.0 Gbps ports natively so any additional ones need a third party controller.

At the bottom left corner of the board are the front panel connectors, the TPU chip that we saw earlier in the voltage section, the BIOS chip, and the clear CMOS jumper.
 
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Eldonko

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A Closer Look at the Sabertooth P67 p.3

A Closer Look at the Sabertooth P67

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Just above the TPU chip, is a large chip marked Nuvoton NCT6776F. The Nuvoton NCT6776F monitors several parameters, including power supply voltages, fan speeds and temperatures. This chip also supports the Smart Fan control system.

Moving up the left side of the Sabertooth is where ASUS has placed the IEEE 1394 port (firewire) and three SATA 2.0 ports. If you need more SATA ports, this is where you find them.

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The audio chip on the Sabertooth is the Realtek ALC892. The ALC892 is a multi-channel High Definition Audio Codec with lossless content protection technology while providing ten DAC channels that simultaneously support 7.1 channel sound playback and 2 channels of independent stereo sound output (multiple streaming) through the front panel stereo outputs.

To the right of the audio chip are the VIA VT6308P and ASMedia ASM1083. The VIA VT6308P is the controller chip for the IEEE 1394 high-speed serial bus and the ASMedia chip is a x1 PCI Express to 32-bit PCI Bridge, and allows the legacy parallel bus devices to connect to the advanced serial PCI Express interface.

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Consistent with many ASUS boards, the PCI-E and PCI slot spacing offers full compatibility for graphics cards sporting oversized heatsinks and there will be plenty of space for any pair of GPUs out there to run SLI or CrossFireX. In total there are two PCI-E x1 slots, three PCI-E x16 slots and two PCI slots.

Moving toward the I/O panel we come to a tiny Intel chip, the Intel WG82579V. This is an integrated Gigabit LAN controller which is among the fastest and most reliable on the market.

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The last chip to take a look at is another NEC D720200F1. This is the USB 3.0 hub controller for the USB 3.0 ports on the I/O panel.

Flipping the board over we can see that the TUF Armor is held on the board with several tiny silver screws and the chipset heatsink is connected via black screws with springs. The springs are to prevent users from over-tightening the chipset heatsink. The VRM cooling system is attached via black plastic pushpins and a pair of pliers is required to remove the pushpins.

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One last feature of the Sabertooth P67 we want to take a look at is the 50mm fan port. There is a small door in the middle of the TUD armor in which a 50mm fan fits if users want a little extra cooling. It may look like an odd position since the fan won’t be actively cooling any one component but this fan actually draws in cool air to push under the entire lower portion of the TUF armor.

There is also a header to connect the fan although we are not sure where the wire is supposed to go. The Sabertooth comes with screws for a 50mm fan but no fan.
 
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Eldonko

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Hardware Installation

Hardware Installation

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To show you how your hardware is going to fit on the P67 Sabertooth we installed a Zalman CNPS10x Flex, a 4GB kit of G.Skill memory, and two GTX 460 video cards. The Zalman is an average-sized aftermarket CPU cooler so it should provide a good reference and the G.Skill kit is taller than most so we can see if there any clearance issues.

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When it comes to the board’s heatsinks, there are no clearance issues at all and pretty much any cooler will fit without any problems. As for memory, we even occupied the slots closest to the CPU cooler and the oversized memory still fit fine. The only issue a user may run into is if all four memory slots are occupied and their CPU cooler has two fans installed. This would however be quite rare and could be worked around by simply removing the fan on the side of the memory slots.

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Adding two video cards to the mix really shows how much space we have to work with as there is plenty of clearance between the cards. It looks like even the largest of GPUs will fit without a problem for SLI or CrossFireX setups. The video cards also do not block anything you need to get at and since the SATA ports are side mounted they are easily accessible.

The GPU release buttons on the Sabertooth are quite handy since they can be depressed from both sides. This avoids having to remove the first video card to get at the second one.
 
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Eldonko

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BIOS Rundown

BIOS Rundown

Similar to other recent ASUS boards, the Sabertooth P67 has the latest in BIOS technology: a UEFI interface. UEFI is a user-friendly interface that goes beyond traditional keyboard-only BIOS controls to enable mouse input. Users can easily navigate the UEFI BIOS with the same smoothness as their operating system. UEFI not only is easier to navigate, it also features capabilities such as support for boot drives above 2.2TB and the potential for faster boot times.

The BIOS version used at the time of these screenshots is version 9901, dated 04/21/2011. This is a beta BIOS received from ASUS which has a minor bug fix on the user interface.

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The UEFI BIOS can be used under two modes: EZ Mode (pictured above left) and Advanced Mode. You can change modes from the Exit menu or from the Exit/Advanced Mode button in the EZ Mode/Advanced Mode screen. By default, the EZ Mode screen appears when you enter the BIOS setup program and provides an overview of the basic system information, and allows you to select the display language, system performance mode and boot device priority.

The Advanced Mode naturally provides more advanced options for experienced end-users to configure the BIOS settings. The Main menu provides you an overview of the basic system information, and allows you to set the system date, time, language, and security settings. You can also set Advanced Mode as default under the Boot menu.

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If you plan on overclocking your system at all, the page that you will spend the majority of your time is the Ai Tweaker page. The Ai Tweaker menu items allow you to configure overclocking-related items such as clock speeds and voltages. The top of the page shows the target CPU and memory speed in yellow and the first setting is Ai Overclock Tuner. You set this to manual for manual overclocking and BCLK and multi adjustments become available. Other items like DRAM configurations, Load Line Calibration, VRM Frequency and Phase Control are also found within the first part of Ai Tweaker.

Further down the page, you will find voltages such as CPU voltage, memory voltage, VCCIO voltage, PLL voltage and PCH voltage. CPU voltage has two modes, manual mode in which you set an exact vCore and offset mode in which you set a CPU offset voltage. VCCIO voltage helps to improve the overclocking capability of the IMC / DRAM. A 1.20v setting is more than adequate to maximize memory overclocks in most cases. The other voltages can be left on auto however it is possible CPU PLL voltage could help a little when attempting to max a BCLK overclock.

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Above is a table of voltage ranges along with corresponding warning text colors. Use extreme caution when using those red voltages.

The CPU Power Management submenu has the Enhanced Intel Speedstep Technology setting and CPU Ratio. Naturally, you can disable Enhanced Intel Speedstep Technology to stop the multi from dropping under idle.

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The last submenu page of the Ai Tweaker is DRAM Timing Control. Here is where you set main and subtimings for your memory.

Moving over to the Advanced menu we have several submenus which allow you to change the settings for the CPU and other system devices.
 
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