With the release of Intel’s X99 platform, there has been a groundswell of new boards from every manufacturer. Most of the emphasis has been placed on boards modeled for gaming, thereby leaving boards for professionals to the wayside.
Workstation boards offer some unique features and additional GPU support that can be used for gaming or GPU functions.
With X99, there are even more additions to what is usually an already stacked product line. Not to mention the ability to use the absolute best processors available in a desktop form factor.
ASRock was ready to rock and roll on X99 launch day by dropping not one or two boards but instead a full lineup of seven X99 gaming and professional boards.
We will look at the Asrock X99 WS workstation motherboard, a workstation board designed for those requiring a bit more than any standard gaming board could provide. We are excited to see what ASRock has in mind for professionals and gamers that take their craft to the max.
ASRock X99 WS Workstation
- Form Factor: E-ATX
- VRM: Digi Power, 12 Power Phase design
- CPU Support: Intel Core i7 and Xeon E5-1600/2600 v3 Processor
- Socket: LGA 2011-3 Socket
- Audio: 7.1 CH HD Audio with Content Protection
- LAN: Intel Dual Gigabit LAN
- Ports: 6 USB 3.1 Gen1 (2 Front, 4 Rear), 8 USB 2.0 (4 Front, 4 Back)
- Color Theme, Board cooling
- UEFI, HDD Saver
- Easy & stable overclocks
- M.2 support
- Price compared to other X99 boards
- More PWM fan headers
- M.2 Placement not good
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 the Intel CPUs, there were limited options on what board makers could do about the limited number 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 number of lanes will be determined by which Haswell-E processor you 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); those who wish to install 3 or more GPUs will run headlong 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 who opt not to include the PCIe2 X8 slot will have 8 lanes for other devices and features. Another M.2 slot would be nice.
X99 brings an increase in internal and external storage options 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 in power usage.
As manufacturing techniques get better over time, DRAM density usually increases alongside it. We have already seen some very high-density DDR4 kits in the server market, which 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. Some very attractive 4x16GB 64GB packages are also available 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 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. 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. 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.
Select Xeon chips will also work in the X99 platform to make it a true workstation. 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 16 core powerhouse with a variety of TDPs to match your needs.
There are a couple of ways to squeeze a bit more processing power from your CPU. Software-based overclock tools, Auto Overclock using UEFI, or manually setting everything yourself.
Most often, a higher overclock can be achieved using the manual method; however, it requires a bit more know-how and understanding of the platform, which is why it isn’t for novices.
Using the A-Tuning software ASRock provided, a novice can get a bit extra without the level of risk involved with manual overclocking. A-tuning makes it crazy simple to do; just press the start button, and the A-tuning software will take over from there and display the final overclocking result. In my case, it overclocked the 5820k to 4.3 in about a minute.
Reaching 4.4GHz in the UEFI was pretty easy. You just alter the multiplier and increase voltage, save, and reboot. Of course, there are more complicated and in-depth ways to reach a higher overclock using the BLK and other settings. I just wanted to top whatever result in the A-Tuning software achieved. The system was stable at this speed. I was able to run Prime95, Unigine Heaven, and PCmark8 with no hanging or lag. CPU Temps were in a good range too.
Here are a couple of quick scores using the R9 290s in Crossfire and the 5820k with stock settings. Again this is just for you to get a rough idea of performance if you are planning a building close to what I am using. If you switch to 780 TI’s or 290x’s, you should expect your scores to be much higher.
I think it is almost time to pick up one or two more R9 290s. The X99 WS can support it, so why not take advantage of it after I switch to the higher-end 5930k? The 40 PCIe3 lanes are sorely needed.
The introduction of X99 raised the bar a bit higher on what we think of as an enthusiast class and what we can demand from our systems. Having massive amounts of raw CPU power sounds great and will attract many to the X99 platform; however, the features X99 offers may be more important than just having multi-core hyper-threading and a big cache.
Some of the features will go unnoticed and unused by the nonprofessional, but others will be fully utilized by the hardcore gamer.
For example, Take DDR4; both the gamer and the professional can benefit from speeds up to 3200+MHz and a 128GB capacity available to an X99 system, yet only one of them will even consider using the ECC support.
It still isn’t a wasted feature; think of it as not one that is utilized at that moment by that person, but it can be if needs change over time.
Versatility is what X99 WS brings to the table. Gamers, Overclockers, and Professionals alike can take full advantage of what they need to be the best at their craft and the ability to adapt if needed.
Even though the WS is lacking exotic golds, greens, yellows, or even oranges, the X99 WS is not plain.
ASRock laid on just enough blue on top of all black to make the X99 WS an attraction board, saving the ostentatious themes for others.
I’m not saying anything is wrong with the more ornate styles, but sometimes you require something simpler.
I am very pleased for ASRock focused more on features than the color theme, mainly the 6 PCIe slots, M.2, and a very functional UEFI interface.
I was able to navigate, locate and execute everything I attempted to do without searching all over or finding out it either wasn’t offered or didn’t work correctly.
Compared to other UEFIs I have used, ASRock’s approach may appear to some as minimalistic when it comes to overall advanced options.
In this case, it makes more sense because it is, first and foremost, a workstation board.
Getting the board running was fairly simple using the UEFI driver tool to go to ASRock’s website and place the drivers on the drive where Windows 7 resided.
I didn’t have to guess which drive was for me or not. It also notified me of a BIOS update once all of the applications were installed. ASRock also made overclocking easy by offering two simple methods; one in the A-tuning tool and the other within the UEFI. Both were simple clicks of a button, and both ran very stably.
Along with the features listed already, the ability to run full-fledged Xeon processors will no doubt be a draw to professionals of all types.
No need to rely on “server” boards that will break the bank. If you are looking for a solid workstation or gaming rig that can support large GPUs, top-of-the-line CPUs, and the maximum capacity of memory, the Asrock X99 WS motherboard should be seriously considered. Another motherboard you may like is Asrock X370 Taichi.