Intel DX79SI “Siler” Motherboard Review

Reviews of Intel manufactured boards are something that we rarely come across.  They are not marketed in the same way that other motherboards are; not at all in comparison.  It could be stated that reviews are only seen coming at the start of a new chipset release, corresponding with what we as reviewers get in our media kits from Intel itself.  However, to an enthusiast, it is strange to say that they sell well – consumers or system builders wanting to pair a processor with a board without problems can go straight in at an Intel motherboard and processor combo.  The question is with an enthusiast platform such as X79, would you really want to deal with an Intel motherboard?

DX79SI_Siler_Box

Internally, I have to question how big Intel’s consumer motherboard design team is.  We know their processor and chipset design teams must be comparatively huge to pump out all the products that we see on our shelves.  But to produce only one or two consumer motherboards with each chipset, it comes into question whether an Intel board would contain all the features, updates (cf. BIOS later), performance and competitiveness when compared to products from third party vendors.  In a market where a ‘working product’ should be the actual standard, Intel regularly has tough competition.

Overview

The DX79SI ‘Siler’ motherboard from Intel is a hard one to summarize.  If I was being lazy, I could simply say ‘it works’, however there is more to that than meets the eye.  In some areas, it gives more than standard features e.g. dual gigabit Ethernet.  But with one hand it gives and the other it takes away, with no option for teaming.

Supporters of Intel motherboards in the past will notice the on-going ‘skull’ theme in a blue/black mist of components and connectors, which, unlike previous repititions, do not light up.  The DX79SI sports the bare minimum from the SATA connectors, as well as a lack of thought to the PCIe layout for anyone using more than one graphics card.  The PCIe are only rated for Gen 2, which is not surprising at all as other vendors featuring Gen 3 compatibility are outside X79 specifications for now.

The BIOS itself is simple and functional; however do not expect anything out of the ordinary.  While ASUS, Gigabyte, MSI and the rest have teams of designers for graphical user interfaces, Intel does get left behind in its application of a basic BIOS system.  It is not always clear which part is a menu and which part is not, however one thing we do like is that the text turns yellow when you change it, making it simple to see what the default for that specific option is.  This makes looking at the Auto OC options a lot easier as well.  The ‘Back2BIOS’ switch on the I/O panel is a feature I hope other vendors implement as well.

Performance is nothing to shout about, and the Intel software is, while visually quite easy to navigate, ultimately very limiting.  There are no straight forward menus, requiring the user to have quite a bit of knowledge about motherboards in order to fully utilize it.  No OS fan controls either – those are only accessible through the BIOS.  If the media sample I received for this review is indicative of a retail package, while the mousepad addition is slightly amusing, there are no SATA cables, but a SLI connector and a Bluetooth/WiFi module included.

The Intel DX79SI ‘Siler’ motherboard is expected to retail for approximately R2500.00 – R3000.00 and comes with a 3 year limited warranty.

Visual Impressions

DX79SI_Siler_Straight

If we ignore the skull heatsink at first, the Intel board actually looks fairly messy on the PCB, with almost every nook and cranny filled with some component or another.  As with all X79 products, the area consumed by the socket and memory (in this case, 8 slots, 2 per channel) is just less than half the board in itself.  The power delivery heatsink at the top is by itself and very simple, possibly leading to overclocking issues later on.

The main CPU fan header is at a slightly odd place, to the left of the RAM slots.  This requires the cable to go over the memory, which could be an issue if a user decides to use aftermarket coolers for their memory.  The red fan headers on board actually almost follow four points of a compass, with a rear fan header by the I/O panel, a front header close to the SATA ports, and an auxiliary fan header next to the power and reset switches.

Intel_DX79SI_Motherboard

The PCH is covered by that low profile passive ‘skull’ design, which actually hides a small heatsink underneath, hence the connection via heatpipe to a proper air cooled fin arrangement in the middle of the motherboard.  To the right of this skull design are the SATA connectors – two SATA 6 Gbps (blue) and four SATA 3 Gbps (black) ports.  Users will note that there are no extra SATA controllers on board, so there are no extra SATA ports or eSATA.

Next to the power and reset buttons are a series of LEDs, indicating what part of the POST process is working.  This works with the 2-digit debug LED display also on board. There are no options in the BIOS to turn these lights off.  Depending on the case used (varying from plain to windowed side panels) to house the system, these lights could provide an undesirable effect.

One of the main criticisms with the motherboard is the PCIe slots layout.  In order, we have a PCIe x16, x1, x16, PCI, x16 (limited to x8), x1.  The issue comes into play with double-width, dual graphics card setups, where the graphics cards have to be placed into the x16 slots in a specific order.  This leaves no gaps between the graphics cards for happy airflow.  A lot of motherboard manufacturers in X79 should be placing the first and second PCIe slots at least an extra PCIe width apart, allowing for sufficient airflow, however Intel have gone for the simple route here.

DX79SI_Siler_Sideview

At various levels, the I/O panel is a little disappointing.  It’s very basic, showcasing two USB 3.0, six USB 2.0, dual gigabit Ethernet (Intel NICs of course), Firewire, optical S/PDIF output and audio jacks.  The plus point here is the Back2BIOS button on the left, which when in ‘on’ mode, glows red and always boots into the BIOS.  Another click and the system will boot normally.  This would be handy for certain boards that connect the USB late in the POST sequence, making it a hassle to use the keyboard to enter the BIOS.  There is a big gap in the I/O, suggesting that Intel has skimped on perhaps some more USB 3.0 or eSATA to plug the gap.

In The Box

Intel ‘Skull’ themed mousepad
Two slot length SLI connector
Long SLI connector
Thermal Probe

In terms of what should be included, according to the manuals:

Bluetooth/Wifi Module
Driver CD
User Manual

Even coming with all of these goodies, we see a distinct lack of SATA cables provided.  With a significant proportion of HDDs being sold as OEM (without cables) it is a shock to see a product without SATA cables being provided.

Source: http://bit.ly/rG0eEi

Date: 25 Nov 2011