Hard drive performance
All the motherboards in this roundup have one or several additional controllers, as well as the hard drive controller integrated in the chipset, to add two Serial ATA 6 ports or manage an eSATA port on the back panel.
Serial ATA 6 Gb/s controllers
We measured the performance of the Intel chipset (in 6 and 3 Gb mode) as well as the performance of the various additional controllers. All the mobos use a PCI Express 2.0 x1 Marvell controller, but the model differs from one card to another. While Asus and Gigbyte both use the Marvell 88SE9172 (2x 6Gb/s), ASRock uses the 88SE9120 and MSI the 88SE9128. What differences are there? Let’s look with CrystalDiskMark which meansures sequential and random speeds of a Vertex 3 Max IOPS:
Hold the mouse over the graph to view random 4K QD32 scores
Although the performance level of the 9172 is more or less the same on the models using it, the 912X models are significantly down for write speeds. The Marvell 912X series is a controller that mixes the two Serial ATA 6 ports with an IDE interface (not implemented either by ASRock or MSI). The 9128 also has RAID support. More recent, the 9172 only has support for two Serial ATA 6 ports in RAID. In practice, it’s still quite a long way down on the native performance of the Intel controller. In random mode, the 912Xs are once again slower for writes though they do well in reads.
eSATA implementation differs quite a bit depending on the model. While MSI doesn’t include it, Asus uses a JMicron JMB362 controller (PCI Express 2.0, Serial ATA 3 Gb/s), Gigabyte sacrifices one of the Intel chipset Serial ATA 3 Gb/s ports, which is routed to the back panel. The ASRock implementation is the most original, with one of the two Marvell 88SE9120 ports mentioned above shared as an eSATA port. Again, we measured the sequential speeds of a Vertex 3 Max IOPS connected to the eSATA:
None of the solutions is ideal, but note the outstandingly poor performance of the JMicron controller chosen by Asus. Gigabyte's approach offers the most balanced read/write performance, though it does sacrifice one port on the motherboard.