Before we get into the ASUS SABERTOOTH 55i proper, let's get the ASUS branded jargon out of the way first. There are quite a few of these proprietary features and technologies on this board. Some are not new to those who are familiar with ASUS' motherboards. Others are unique to the 'TUF' boards. First, there's the CeraM!X heatsink coating that's applied to the heatsinks around the socket and on top of the Platform Control Hub (PCH). This technology and concept was first applied on concept P45 boards which ASUS showcased during events like CeBIT and Computex earlier this year. So to us, it's exciting to see it actually translate into a real motherboard product.
According to ASUS, the micro-porous nature of this ceramics-based coating improves heat dissipation since its rough surface means that there are very small indentations on its surface that together adds up to a larger surface area than a perfect flat heatsink surface. We have found some prior research and application of ceramics as a heatsink material so it's not unheard of but like all tech, the proof is in the pudding and it's something we'll find out in our temperature testing later.
As a premium motherboard, the socket of the SABERTOOTH is inevitably surrounded by ferrite chokes, solid capacitors and MOSFETs (these are also the military grade components touted by ASUS), though there's plenty of space for mounting the CPU cooler. It is comfortably located away from potential obstruction like the graphics cards and on the P55, there's no 'Northbridge' to speak of.
A 12-phase CPU power design is used for this board, with an additional two phases for the integrated memory controller. Together with the switching power design that regulates the voltages for the processor, graphics card and other onboard components, the three make up the 'TUF Engine' as ASUS coins it. Other features that fall under this umbrella are the Efficient Phase Switching power design and T.Probe, the sum of which has to do with managing the power phase loading to ensure temperatures keep to the norm and power efficiency is maximized.
Major vendors like Gigabyte and MSI too have their own, similar power designs to ensure there is sufficient power, especially for overclocking, while taking into account of efficiency during less demanding workloads. Our power consumption results later will shed some light on the power draw during idle and peak performance.
Another ASUS technology is MemOK!, which from the marketing blurb, appears to help reduce memory compatibility issues by first checking and running through various failsafe settings before determining the proper settings for the installed memory module. While it's useful for certain users, we feel experienced enthusiasts have no need for it, especially when Intel's Extreme Memory Profile is supported on this board and enthusiast memory kits will almost definitely have XMP support.
Adding to this, ASUS has introduced a memory cooling fan solution on this board. Designed to cool the memory modules, it is basically an allowance on the board for mounting a fan frame to hold a 40 or 50mm fan. The fan however is not included so users have to get their own. Again, we aren't too optimistic that this feature will be popular since most enthusiast memory modules have their own heat spreaders that work rather well. Adding another fan here just potentially adds to the vibration and noise level without too much benefit.
If you're really into pushing your memory, this switch is something that must be enabled, as it will allow users to set their memory voltage to a maximum of 2.5V, up from the 2.0V ceiling without enabling the switch. We must however recommend caution since such high voltages are quite likely to severely affect the stability of the system, along with the lifespan of your memory modules and possibly even your CPU since it is connected directly to the memory. Also, while it's dangerous to the novice, we really don't feel that it needs to be a hardware switch. One can probably do the same 'lock/unlock' on the voltage settings entirely through the BIOS.
Besides the standard six SATA ports that's found on all P55 motherboards, ASUS' Drive Xpert feature is RAID made easy through a GUI. The caveat is that you have to use the orange and white SATA ports here and the two drives must be data drives, not a drive that contains your OS. The software utility, found in the ASUS DVD, has two modes available, EZ Backup, which mirrors the two hard drives (RAID 1) or Super Speed, which improves drive speed access (RAID 0). This feature is available thanks to an onboard JMicron controller and the GUI definitely makes it more convenient for users.
That just about summarizes the main ASUS features on the SABERTOOTH, not all of which are necessarily new to this board. As for its more mundane features, the SABERTOOTH is quite typical for a P55 motherboard, with the usual SATA, Gigabit LAN, HD audio configuration that's standard for this chipset.
For those who haven't seen too many ASUS boards, there are some nice touches, like the latch mechanism for the graphics card slots and the DIMM slots that make it easier for the components to be removed. We also had no issues with the layout, with ample allowance between the graphics card slots if CrossFireX or SLI is your thing. Floppy drive support has been removed, though surprisingly, we found a COM port present still. The VIA VT2020 HD audio CODEC also appears to be relatively new. With a 10-channel audio configuration consisting of 8 primary and dual secondary streaming channels, this new CODEC looks like to one-up the competition from the Realtek chips in features.