X99 Brief Overview
A few months ago we received the ASRock Z97 Killer gaming board to support the newly released Devils Canyon CPUs. With Z97 we saw some great additions to Intel’s ever growing product stack such as M.2 and SATA Express. While these were welcome there was still a glaring shortcoming, PCIe3 lanes. As the PCI-e lanes are tied directly to the controller built inside of the Intel CPUs, there were limited options on what board makers could do about the limited amount of lanes. This left board makers having to make hard choices. Some boards had M.2 and SATA express, others left one of these off in favor of 3-way SLI or Crossfire support.
Behold one of the most attractive features of the X99 platform, up to 40 PCIE Gen 3 lanes. Most didn’t learn how this would work until right before the X99 launch resulting in some rethinking of which chip to grab. The maximum amount of lanes will be determined by which Haswell-E processor you opt to install. The lower cost 6-core 5820K will be limited to just 28 lanes. Dual GPU configurations will not be affected by this limitation (if you can call it that), it is those that wish to install 3 or more GPUs that will run head long into the lane restraint. In this case you must invest in no less than the 5930K to take full advantage of PCIe Gen3 lanes. Opting to stick with the 5820k will have you running at a slower PCIE 3 configuration. We will get into this more later as some of this is dependent upon the board maker’s decisions on which features to add to the board. Quad GPU support is also limited to the higher end models with 40 PCIe3 lanes. Based on the spec sheet for X99, 5×8 configurations can be installed if the manufacturer uses additional hardware to support it. That would make for an insane level of GPU and GPGPU potential.
There is of course a lot of emphasis put on the PCIe3 lanes but we cannot forget about the venerable PCIe2 spec. Some boards will still include a combination of PCIe2 and PCIe3 slots to offer the maximum amount of GPU support. Those that opt not to include the PCIe2 X8 slot will have the 8 lanes to use for other devices and features. Another M.2 slot would be nice.
X99 brings an increase in internal and external storage option with up to 14 total USB ports (6 USB3, 8 USB2), 10 SATA 6Gbps, M.2 and eSATA. Finally we see SATA 3Gbps phased out in favor of all SATA being of the 6Gbps variety. For greater security and selective usage, all of the SATA and USB ports can be individually enabled or disabled. Only need 4 SATA ports? Great, turn off the ones not being utilized. Disable USB ports to remove threats from the insertion of uncontrolled data devices. I prefer this level of control instead of the standard method of disabling the entire controller.
Even bigger than the increase in PCIe lanes, is the introduction of the newest standard of memory, DDR4. With every new generation, comes an increase in speed and a reduction of power usage. As manufacturing techniques get better over time, density of DRAM usually increases right alongside it. We have already seen some very high density DDR4 kits in the server market and those will slowly make their way into the desktop market as more affordable Quad Channel variants. As of now that 4x32GB 128GB kit is out of reach for almost everyone other than large corporations. More realistic options are the 16 and 32GB kits, coming in 4x4GB/ 4x8GB at 2133 MHz. There are some very attractive 4x16GB 64GB packages available as well for those doing real work on their X99 setup.
Even though 2133 MHz was the max native speed of DDR3, DDR4 should still outperform by an order of magnitude at the same rated speed. DDR4 represents a culmination of years of work from JEDECC, Intel’s desire to press the bleeding edge and basically a doubling of density and transfer rates within the first generation of products. The new standard for DDR4 lowers the power draw by 20% to a very low 1.2v. This will decrease the heat generated by the memory under load and once DDR4 makes it to notebooks and tablets, the decreased draw will increase battery life. However, on the horizon, speeds are expected to top out around 2x faster than those we see during the DDR4 release. Yes I said double, as in over 4100MHz. Let that number soak in for a bit as we move along.
X79’s socket 2011 had a very long and successful run but the time came to make a change. Welcome to the performance party Socket 2011-v3. Previous “Extreme” and Xeon chips will not work, as X99 is a major release. A new board, CPU and memory will be required to get a system up and running. Therefore moving to this platform is not for the faint of heart or empty of pockets because you may be risking the wrath of a loved one and possibly eating Cup of Ramen for the next month. It just might be worth it too.
The three major release CPUs that are being billed for the desktop segment are the i7-5820K, i7-5930K and the new king of desktop chips, the i7-5960k. To make it a true workstation, select Xeon chips will also work in the X99 platform. As of now we know the E5-1600/2600 v3 Xeon family will work in socket 2011-V3 up to 160w. That means the monster 145w, 18 core, 36 thread, 45MB cache E5-2699 v3 Xeon should also fall into the list of compatible parts when it is released sometime in Q4 ’14. If that is a bit higher than you are willing to spend there is a complete range of E5-2600 V3 chips, from E5-2640 quad core up to 10, 12, 14, and an 16 core powerhouse with a variety of TDPs to match your needs.