The release of the X299 platform means we have lovely new motherboards to drool over. Much has been said about the X299 platform. While the CPUs tend to run hot and chew a lot of power, there’s no doubt they are very capable performance wise, but with core counts all the way up to the 18 core 7980XE, and power demands to match, your choice of accompanying motherboard is more important than ever. Reliability is always a key consideration and if you want reliability, then you’ll be taking a good hard look at Asus’ TUF series.
Here for review we have the Asus X299 TUF Mark 1. At first glance, you might think its just another motherboard with an extra layer of marketing, but Asus has put their money where their mouth is. The TUF Mark 1 has an industry leading five year warranty, which is no small thing. Excellent!
Lets face it. A lot of motherboards are quite similar. Socket 1151 and its accompanying Z270, B250 and several other chipsets means the market is swamped with models with similar specifications and ‘me too’ designs. It’s always nice to look at something truly different which is what we have in the Asus TUF Mark 1.
Asus has always been willing to take a risk and bring something a bit different to the market. We absolutely loved the unique nature and capabilities of the Maximus IX Apex. Indeed the ROG series has the best reputation of any motherboard branding. Their Impact ITX boards are class leading, with high end features (and supreme memory overclocking). Then there was the Sabretooth series.
Motherboard makers have tended to go all out with their Gaming branding. While gamers are an important market, there are tons of regular users interested in PCs for other reasons. These users tend to prefer less bling and more substance and are a natural marketplace for a series like the TUF series, which is how they are referred to instead of the now defunct Sabretooth name. Key to the concept is a five year warranty.
The TUF Mark 1 comes with a very nice feature list given its relative affordability (There are no cheap X299 motherboards). The full specification list can be found here
You’ll need to pay close attention to the PCIe lane allocations due to Intel’s confusing CPU tiers.
The Intel X299 Platform CPU Family
Before we get to the Asus X299 TUF Mark 1, lets take a brief look at the X299 platform, and what’s in store for the future. X99 has been put to pasture. Intel has introduced the all new X299 chipset with Skylake-E and Kaby Lake-X processors plus the new LGA2066 socket.
Intel have greatly expanded the range of CPUs available now and towards the end of the year. The Socket 2066 range starts at 4 cores, all goes all the way up to the yet to be released 18 core i9-7980XE. Note that the i9 branding makes its debut for the first time, though the 7800X we are using is still designated with i7 branding.
There’s no doubt that the announcement of AMD’s Threadripper CPU lineup with up to 16 cores really did catch Intel off guard. A business as large as Intel has the turning circle of a Maersk container ship. At Computex all we saw was a simple slide announcing CPUs with up to 18 cores, likely a number chosen to one up AMD. Beyond core count, nothing was revealed. We now have a clearer picture on the specifics of the higher core count CPUs with the flagship 7980XE reportedly due to arrive in October. Even if Intel was caught off guard, this is a great thing for the consumer. We now have an arms race which is something we’ve been wanting for the last decade, brought about by a resurgent AMD.
As we see below, the fundamental features are quite similar to the outgoing X99 chipset. Official memory support has been bumped up to 2666Mhz, The DMI interconnect between the processor and chipset has been doubled in bandwidth (4GBps).
The PCIe lane allocation is a bit of a joke really. With AMD Threadripper offering a full 64 PCIe lanes across the range, Intel’s decision to cripple the lower end processors for commercial reasons is exactly why we need a competitive AMD.
- Kaby Lake-X CPUs get 16 PCI-Express 3.0 lanes (LOL)
- Skylake-X six and eight core CPUs get 28 PCI-Express 3.0 lanes
- Skylake-X ten core CPUs get 44 PCI-Express 3.0 lanes
We’ve talked previously about Kaby Lake-X which has copped a lot of criticism, some justified, some not. The truth is, single thread performance still matters. It just wasn’t right that a 4790K or 6700K or 7700K could wipe the floor with a 5960X or 6950X despite the former costing a fraction of the latter. At least users now have the option to choose between the best lightly threaded performance and the best multi threaded performance.
What’s criminal is the crippling of Kaby Lake-X. 16 PCIE lanes and dual channel memory is a joke really. Now if they had the full complement of PCIe lanes and quad channel, and a slightly more palatable price, then they’d be compelling options. Remember, there are no bad CPU’s, only bad prices. A 7740X at $300 would be something to seriously consider!
Unboxing and Overview
The key selling point of the board, the five year warranty, is prominently displayed along with some of the major features, including Asus’ Aura Sync RGB lighting, which we’ll go into later.
Around at the rear of the box, a lot of the distinctive TUF series features are covered in great detail.
Moving onto the included accessories, we have one of the most comprehensive bundles we’ve seen accompanying a motherboard. First up we have SLI bridges for two and three way setups, the two way bridge is a HB version that supports the 650Mhz SLI interface for Nvidia Pascal GPU’s. It is recommended for high resolutions. Then we have something a little more unique, a graphics card support bracket and a M.2 vertical bracket/holder and accompanying screws. This is for use with the M.2 slot that sits at the bottom right of the motherboard.
That’s not all there is, as you can see below. At the top we see the Asus Q connector which is used for connecting to case headers, there’s a couple of stickers, the I/O shield, PCIe slot dust covers, user manual and driver disc, four SATA 6GB/s cables and M.2 screws.
The TUF Mark 1 comes with a coupon that gives 20% off a CableMod purchase, quite nice if you like to bling up your system. There’s also a Bluetooth dongle (WiFi would have been a real sweetener) and finally a certificate listing the battery of test the boards’ components must go though to reach the required reliability standard. There are things like moisture tests, thermal shock tests and even a salt spray test. MSI does something similar with their ‘Military Class’ though unlike MSI, Asus puts its money where its mouth is and offers a 5 year warranty.
Here’s the board itself. As you can see at first glance, there’s a few things that separate the TUF Mark 1 from its competitors.
Most boards have something like 5 fan headers, or thereabouts. The TUF X299 Mark 1 has no less than TEN fan headers. Wow! There’s a dedicated water pump header and a high amperage one that can provide over 1A (12w) Others also support the TUF ‘Thermal Radar which sets fan speeds according to onboard temperature sensors if enabled.
Asus doesn’t go overboard with the RGB on the TUF series, preferring a different aesthetic to the gaming oriented Strix series. There’s just a single row of lighting embedded within the central heatsink, to the left of the socket in the picture below.
You probably noticed a PCH fan, something that was standard in years past but very rare on consumer motherboards these days. This is likely there to compensate for the extensive plastic shielding which completely covers what would normally be a metal PCH heatsink. Is the covering there for protection, or just aesthetics? We’ll let you be the judge.
We like the ability to cover up unused PCIe slots. Over months and years its not impossible to have these get dust or hair in them. Also, here you can see the metal cover that hides a 2280 M.2 slot. Actually it’s more like a compartment. The drive sits very well secured in here with airflow from the PCH fan coming through the indented slots on the top of the shield itself which has a large thermal pad for contact with the drive. Testing this is probably better suited to a separate article comparing other M.2 cooling solutions, though on inspection alone, this solution looks first class. The CMOS battery is also located under this shield, between the two 16x slots.
The TUF Mark 1 features a fairly standard compliment of PCIe slots. These include metal reinforcing of the primary PCIe 3.0 16x slots.
Asus have implemented a reasonably standard audio solution with the Realtek ALC 1220 at its heart. This codec is a lot more capable than some of the Realtek parts from the past and when given a proper implementation like Asus have done, including PCB isolation, Nichicon caps, proper shielding and dedicated headphone amp, this will serve you well if you are not used to higher end solutions.
The TUF Mark 1 has a nice number of rear I/O ports. On the left is a Clear CMOS button, then something called the TUF detective port. This is a dedicated port where you can connect a mobile device with an accompanying mobile app. The app displays the system POST and status. This would be particularly useful for a headless system such as a mining rig, though you probably be using a low end system rather than X299 for that. It is perhaps a bit gimmicky but given the marketing of the board towards 24/7 use and reliability, we’re sure there are people who will appreciate this.
Continuing on, we have a pair of USB 3.1 ports (Type-A and C), then we have four USB 3.0 ports, next we have a pair of Intel LAN ports (I219V and I211) and finally we have the audio ports including optical S/PDIF. Asus have added additional ESD protection to all the LAN and USB ports above what standard motherboards are equipped with.
Here’s something interesting. This is a M.2 slot, an additional one from the aforementioned covered one. This is where you would mount a drive along with the bundled M.2 holder we saw earlier. This is an interesting way of mounting a drive and certainly takes up less motherboard PCB real estate compared to traditional horizontal mountings. The benefit of this mounting direction is the drive is likely to receive case airflow, which some drives, buried under hot graphics cards may not get. Manufacturers are paying attention to M.2 cooling though so the problem is less of an issue than it once was.
The TUF X299 Mark 1 has a good robust PWM solution. Asus have never really been caught up in the phase count war. Implementation and component selection is much more important than just saying it has 666 phases. The Mark 1 uses a 8+2 phase solution with capacitors, chokes and MOSFETs all passing an array of torture tests in order to meet the requirements of a 5 year warranty product. There’s an extra 4 pin connector that helps to provide the extra current required by Skylake-X and in particular the yet to be released higher core count models.
Below are the memory slots you use if you are using a KabyLake-X processor, which are dual channel only. Note on the right is the ‘Memory OK’ button and a series of diagnostic POST LEDs. The memory OK Button is useful if you have troublesome RAM. The board will cycle through safe settings until it finds something that can boot. If your memory won’t even boot at safe 15-15-15 DDR4-2133 settings, something is probably fishy.
On the left is a USB 3.1 case header.
SATA Express is dead, and it appears that U.2 is stillborn as well. It looks like we’re back to 6-8 SATA ports on the majority of motherboards, with M.2 making up the rest. Maybe its just us, but the idea of M.2 becoming the defacto high performance drive seems a touch flawed. They suffer from heat issues, particularly when sandwiched under hot graphics cards. That also means they aren’t easy to swap out or install. They take up valuable motherboard real estate and there’s a lack of compatible USB adapters and disk docks. Anyway, M.2 seems like it’s here to stay. The TUF Mark 1 has 8 SATA ports and a USB 3.0 header.
The rear of the board features a very large backplate. There is a thermal pad between this plate and the PWM components which will help with cooling given the very large surface area of the plate.
Asus have a proven track record with their BIOS implementations and they haven’t made many changes over the last couple of years. We think that Asus BIOS’ have a steeper learning curve compared to the likes of MSI, though the Asus UEFI BIOS have always been full of settings, some of which are so esoteric we’re sure most of the Asus engineers couldn’t tell you what they do. You can’t complain that The TUF Mark 1 is lacking in features. The BIOS is well laid out and clear for the more commonly accessed settings. You may have to deep dive a bit on occasion to find a less common setting. The colors, fonts and contrasts are easy on the eye and many settings have accompanying descriptions which makes things a hell of a lot easier for a less technically adept user.
In addition to the default EZ mode that we see in the screenshot below, there are 8 main pages, some of which have their own subsections. Asus have placed the commonly accessed first boot up settings on the EZ mode page. These are the ones you would typically set and forget upon powering up the system for the first time. Cooling functions, RAM & XMP setting and boot configuration are here. If you want to access the more advanced settings, you will press F7 to take you to the main BIOS.
The default screen that is seen when entering the advanced section of the BIOS is called the ‘My Favorites’ tab. As the name suggests, the settings you access most are displayed here for easier access.
Below is the ‘Main’ page. Here is where you can see basic system information.
Here we have the ‘AI Tweaker’ menu. This is the major overclocking settings page. Despite belonging to the TUF range, there are a massive amount of overclocking settings to be found here. Compared to the ROG range, there are some RAM and OC profiles missing but unless you’re pushing 7ghz+ on liquid helium, as Asus have been known to do, the the TUF Mark 1 has every feasible OC setting relating to the CPU, memory, voltages and configurations. You’ll run into thermal limitations well before the board hits the wall.
Below is the ‘Advanced’ page. Most of these settings relate to the onboard devices and peripherals. including the USB, storage, networking and a whole lot more.
The ‘Monitor’ tab is where you will find real time reporting of voltages, temperatures and fan speeds. Quite a lot of these can be configured, for example, a warning when a temperature goes above a desired level.
The ‘Boot’ tab is fairly self explanatory. The boot order, overrides and startup settings are found here.
Next up is the ‘Tools’ tab. Here you can set OC profiles and update the UEFI. Note that the graphics card information selection only shows the information of ASUS graphics cards.
Finally there is the ‘Exit’ menu.
Asus continues to update their very good AISuite software. there’s a full range of monitoring, overclocking, fan control and power saving options available, all with the traditionally intuitive and nice looking interface.
This is our first look at Asus RGB control software, simply called Aura Sync. The lighting on the TUF X299 Mark 1 is limited but it still functions well and has a very good range of effects. We particularly like the Starry Night effect, where the lights would periodically flash bright. Cool!
Our test RAM kit, a 32Gb set of Geil EVO X 3466Mhz has RGB lighting too. Plugging the four modules into the onboard header on the motherboard gave a great result, with the RAM doing exactly what the software told it to do, with the color and effects both synchronized.
Test Setup and Benchmarks
Our test setup configuration can be seen below. Comparing different CPU’s and platforms can get a bit tricky. Our method is to apply the highest default turbo mode for the 7800X on the three X299 motherboards. In this case, a flat 4Ghz. This allows for a more indicative clock for clock comparison of the X299 boards instead of having offsetting fluctuating turbo modes or manufacturer ‘cheats’ with all core turbo affecting default settings.
The other systems run at their default settings, of course the non X299 platforms are dual channel only, though memory clock speeds were kept at the same DDR4-3000Mhz across all testing.
SuperPi is pretty much irrelevant in today’s PC world, but it’s still a darling of the OC community despite its age. It doesn’t have too much relevance to day to day performance, but it is still a good indicator of single thread performance. The Intel CPUs are much faster here, maintaining their edge.
Superpi is very sensitive to memory timings. As we see here, the TUF X299 Mark 1 is 2-4 seconds ahead of the other two boards tested. This indicates the Asus is more aggressive in its memory subtiming settings. We’ll see this in the file compression test below that is similarly heavily influenced by memory bandwidth.
Cinebench is one that really shows the strength of the Ryzen CPUs. Even the much cheaper 1600X gets within striking distance of the higher clocked and much more expensive 7800X. The 7700K with its higher speed is left in the dust with its 4 core handicap.
We see a similar situation in POV Ray, a popular ray tracing benchmark. The quad channel memory architecture makes a difference here.
File compression and decompression is an application that makes significant use of available memory performance, including the quad channel memory architecture. The 7800X is very strong here and as mentioned, the Asus (relatively) pulls quite a way ahead due to its aggressive default memory settings. AMD’s Threadripper should do well here.
Here’s a really strong result for AMD. One of the prime reasons for owning a PC in 2017 is video capability. The 7800X is certainly capable, but consider the additional cost for just a couple of FPS advantage over the ‘lowly’ 1600X. The Ryzen 1800X is well beyond the 7800X here.
Here’s a good result for Intel. 3DMark’s physics test shows a good result, though this is again helped by the quad channel advantage over the other dual channel platforms.
Moving onto gaming, at high resolutions and settings, all the platforms are pretty much the same as is to be expected with graphics being by far the limiting factor here.
Dropping the resolution though, and we continue to see the handicap AMD has in gaming, though again, will you really care about 126 vs 140 fps when the platform costs twice as much?
We tried the auto OC feature that can be selected in the BIOS’ AI overclock tuner menu. You are then prompted to select your typical usage scenario (gaming) and then the type of cooling (watercooling). This overclocked the CPU to 4341Mhz with all threads and set the memory to DDR4-2692, not bad for an auto OC, but it would be better if it set the RAM to XMP as well.
Manual OC behavior is the same as it was on other X299 boards we’ve tested. Beyond 4.6Ghz, the voltage requirements, and hence temperatures present a barrier rather than the motherboard. This CPU can bench up to 4.8Ghz but it requires above 1.34v at which point temperatures become critical.
We’d also note that we struggle to hit XMP settings on a couple of our high speed RAM kits. Our test Geil DDR4-3466 4x8Gb kit would run 3466 but not without some tweaking. We have a kit of G.Skill DDR4-3866 that also would not post at its rated speed, though we might be asking too much of Skylake -E when that kit is specced for Z270.
The Asus TUF X299 Mark 1 is something a bit different, and that’s something we like to see in a market full of gaming crazed options. Some people just want a system that works with no fuss, with great reliability, a long warranty and a proven track record of successful models. That’s exactly what you get with the Mark 1. The TUF brand continues to impress and delivers the peace of mind that is the trademark of the Sabretooth, now TUF series.
We’re still not too enamored of the CPUs. The truth is, fundamentally they are excellent, with great multithreaded and single threaded performance, but by gee, do they run hot and suck some juice when you OC them, even a bit.
If you want a reliable motherboard that isn’t just a load of marketing hot air, then you need to consider the X299 Mark 1. Asus doesn’t just talk about reliability, passing military standard testing and throwing on a dust cover. It is obviously very confident in their product, enough to offer a 5 year warranty. This is no minor thing in a highly competitive razor thin margin industry. For Asus to offer 5 years, is enough in itself to trust the board to perform and endure, long term.
The Asus TUF X299 Mark 1 is available for around $589 SG, which is not exactly a cheap motherboard, but nowhere near the most expensive X299 models.
- 5 year warranty
- Very good clock for clock performance
- 10! Fan headers
- Distinctive design
- Lots of I/O
- Traditionally solid Asus BIOS
- M.2 cooling design
- High speed memory support needs some tuning
- Could do with Wi-Fi