Packaging & Appearance
Asus packaging is usually very well designed and attractive and once again we see this is the case with the Sabertooth. The front of the box features the main logo on a pair of dog tags with a kick plate style background. The TUF emblem can be seen in the top right hand corner along with Windows 7 ready. Flipping the box over, Asus display the specifications of the mainboard along with the key features of the product including Ceram!x. CoolMem, TUF Caps and MOSFETS and E.S.P.
Like other flagship boards, the packaging of the Sabertooth features a flip up lid explaining the features in greater detail. Asus are keen to market the Ceram!x feature which consists of the main heatsinks being coated in, you guessed it, ceramic material which Asus claim enhances heat dissipation. CoolMem is a set of brackets that can be fitted near the memory sockets, allow a fan to cool memory modules directly. E.S.P is not something out of Ghostbusters, instead E.S.P stand for Efficient Switching Power which affords optimal power efficiency for the key components.
Removing the separate motherboard compartment of the box we are greeted with a compartmentalised area which houses a comprehensive list of components: USB bracket, IDE cable, CoolMem brackets, Multi GPU bridge, padded I/O shield, Asus Q-connect, 6 SATA cables, driver CD, motherboard manual and even a certificate of authenticity! I have criticised Asus in the past for skimping on cheap SATA cables but the new design look much more prestigious so credit is owed to Asus for taking notice.
The motherboard itself is a break from the norm as far as Asus motherboards go. Gone are the blue/white slots of old, replaced with a military style colour scheme of brown, olive green and black. This special forces colour scheme sounds odd but it works surprisingly well and is very pleasing to the eye. Everything appears to be in the right place with all slots being placed to best make use of the space and all power/SATA connectivity being placed around the leading edges of the mainboard. The rear of the board, while busy, should not present too many difficulties when fitting a CPU cooling backplate.
The CPU socket area appears very cramped thanks to the14 phase power design. The MOSFETs are all cooled via two ceramic coated aluminium heatsinks which add to the theme of the board and are linked via a flattened heatpipe. The two tone brown memory sockets have made use of the single latch design which is becoming increasingly popular and posed no problems during setup. Below these sockets which can house a maximum 4x4GB of ram are two screw holes for the CoolMem brackets. This contraption can support 40 and 60mm fan sizes. I do worry at the actual real world benefits of such a bracket as unless you intend on overvolting the memory to dangerous levels, additional cooling is rarely required. Add to this that a 40mm fan would be noisy and provide little cooling anyway and the usefulness is called into question. It is also worthy of note that no fan is included in the accessories.
The PCIe area is again, well laid out with top to bottom, PCIe 1x, PCIe 16x, PCIe 1x, PCIe 1x, PCIe 16x, PCI, PCI. I would liked to have seen at least one 4x PCIe port instead of one of the three PCIe 1x ports but this is only a minor criticism in what is a very good setup. To the bottom right of the board we see the main heatsink covering the P55 chipset which is again ceramic coated complete with matching colour scheme. The Asus Q-connector header is in-situ along with 8 SATA ports, 4 on the leading edge and a further 2 perpendicular to the board. Should you wish to take advantage of an easy raid setup utilising Asus Drive expert, then the red and white SATA ports should be used courtesy of JMicron.
THE I/O area of the mainboard is well featured having: PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports, 8 USB ports, Firewire, e-SATA, Gigabit ethernet, optical out and 3.5mm audio jacks courtesy of VIA VT2020 10 channel supporting DTS and surround sound audio. My only real criticism in this area is that there is no co-axial, something one would expect on a motherboard at this price point. The board can be operated via the on-board LED illuminated power and reset switches. Disappointingly there is no CMOS clear switch to be found, instead you will have to rely on blind faith (power off/on) or on-board old skool jumpers.
A nice little safety(!) feature is a switch near the memory slots allowing a further 0.5v to be set to the memory. With this switch set to disabled then a maximum 2.0v is allowed which should be plenty for 99% of users but for those looking for a little more than this switch will afford you that option. Removing the heatsinks was easy thanks to the push-pin design on the MOSFET coolers and the spring loaded screws on the chipset heatsink. Thermal tape is the preferred method for most manufacturers MOSFET coolers and Asus are no different. The thermal paste on the chipset cooler was adequate enough but I was disappointed to see that the coolers were all aluminium by design.
The contact on the chipset was very good thanks to the mounting design but even though the P55 chipset runs relatively cool I would have liked to have seen a more substantial cooling method used for ultimate cooling. It appears Asus have concentrated more on aesthetics here than actual cooling capability. One area which oozes quality is the CPU socket. The massive array of MOSFETS, chokes and capacitors is geek porn but more importantly should ensure the power delivery to the CPU is nigh on perfect, providing ultimate stability.
All in all it is clear that the whole package is a quality item. While there are a few short comings, namely no CMOS clear button and no included fan, the message of this motherboard is clear, it is designed to offer the best current technology has to offer and should by all accounts hold true to that statement. We will give you our own take on this when we come to overclock the motherboard....