ASRock X99E-ITX/ac Conclusion

When we first reported that the X99E-ITX was announced, we got a clear coarse reaction in the comment section. On one side of the equation were a group of users who were waiting for this sort of product to hit the market. Something small that could cater to SFF builds but still retains premium performance – a great video from Linus and Luke at LinusTechTips shows how this board can fit into something like a shoebox with an 18-core E5-2699 v3 CPU with off-the-shelf water cooling, 32GB of ECC memory, dual SSDs and an NVIDIA Titan X graphics card as well.

The other side of the crowd, and by far the biggest, expressed an element of WTF and dismissed the product as either a stunt or a waste of money based on the Haswell-E features that a user would not get by going with something this small, namely multi-GPU setups or quad-channel memory. At the time, users also stated that it was ‘a board just for Ian’, based on my own personal thoughts on the matter.

Perhaps it can be construed as true. I like engineering, and something that combats the performance/size curve is interesting even if it isn’t relevant. I have approached all the major motherboard manufacturers since the launch of X79, asking them all more than once about whether a mini-ITX board on the high-end platform was possible and if one would be made. All of them came back with comments similar to the second lot of users I describe above, stating that the drop in memory channels or the lack of multi-GPU use would cross such a product off of the list for potential X99 customers. Volumes would be considered too small compared to the engineering required, and many wrote it off in a similar fashion – even ASRock at first.

That being said, ASRock is a company that over the years has always dared to do something a little different to the competition. Motherboards such as the X79 Extreme11 with tons of SATA ports or the X99-E/WS 10G with built-in 10GBase-T Ethernet are two such examples. If I were to have put money on a manufacturer going for a high end mini-ITX platform it would have been them. Seems like I could have made $50 on that bet.

Even though part of me wants to think I’m responsible for requesting this, ASRock has stated that I wasn’t the only person asking. Even then, based on the ‘finally!’ moment I had when it came to market, I thought twice about even reviewing it, in case any bias crept into the review. In that regard, I want the results to do the talking.

The base line arguments when we started were surrounding a lack of multi-GPU and dual channel memory limiting the bandwidth total capacity. The first one cannot be helped in such a small form factor, but we can address the second.

Our results show that memory bandwidth, moving from quad channel to dual channel, does not cut benchmark results in half. Almost all our benchmarks are still CPU bound, and almost all regular workloads are too. For enthusiast users working on specific software packages, there may be fringe results that see a loss, but on the whole, even in gaming, we saw little to no difference. Transcoding large frames saw a small 10% deficit, and something smaller in WinRAR, but that’s about it.

For capacity, at the time the X99E-ITX was announced, there were no 16GB UDIMM modules on the market – we were wholly thinking along 8GB DIMMs, meaning 16GB total. That changes with 16GB UDIMMs, as it now allows 32GB total. That being said, dual channel kits of 16GB modules are not in the market yet, and we might have to wait for future platforms to come to market before that happens.

Motherboard performance for USB, audio, DPC Latency and POST times are all within the regular X99 window and we do not see any detriment in that regard. As this is the first USB 3.1 motherboard we have tested, it comes top of that chart unsurprisingly.

I mentioned at the start of this review that the other motherboard manufacturers will be looking at the ASRock X99E-ITX to see whether the small form factor ITX market is bigger or smaller than their internal numbers suggest. At this point in time, it becomes a recommended motherboard by virtue of it being the only X99 mITX motherboard on the market, and is currently available for $250 ($300 MSRP). To supplement some of the initial backlash, ASRock has at least designed it well with some high-end features and it seems to be getting a lot of exposure. The results show that dual channel memory is not a problem in many situations, and the inclusion of a narrow-ILM CPU cooler and magnetic CLC bracket gets around the socket issues.

Based on feedback, there will always be detractors for this type of product. For everyone wanting a small-form-factor machine on the high-end platform, there is only one choice.

Gaming Performance 2015
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  • leexgx - Wednesday, June 24, 2015 - link

    needs to be DDR4 ECC RDIMM (registered but not buffered) not buffered or Chipkill (the link you posted seems buffered or a chipkill like ram) Reply
  • bebimbap - Wednesday, June 24, 2015 - link

    I remember on one of the asrock boards, the z97e itx ac, had its M.2 on the back of the motherboard.
    With a x99 platform, if you save 16 for the cpu you have at least 12 lanes to work with, so reasonably you could add 3 M.2 slots on the back, or 6 M.2 slots each with pcie3.0-4x.
    I understand there is probably a Z height restriction on the back of the board, and probably costs, since you have to plan 2 sides of the board, routing, flexing, etc. However I believe if a M.2 slot can fit, i'm sure most of the transistors and chips such as the sound, LAN, a lot of resistors, wifi, maybe another 2 slots of memory on the back, or all 4, flat of course, and maybe even the PCH with a revised heatsink of course can fit. If more items were on the back of the board, you could fit the CPU socket closer to the pcie slot and allow for all 4 channels of memory. It would be a monster of a rig. 4 channels of ddr4 + 3-6 M.2 pcie3.0x4 in raid0 + pcie3.0x16

    Though it might be $400+, I'm sure there would be some interest a fractional proportion to the all out x99 extreme11 series. It would certainly interest me.
    Reply
  • WithoutWeakness - Wednesday, June 24, 2015 - link

    I love this board. I've had it for a little over a month now running my Plex server/NAS. I had an i5-4440 on an mITX Gigabyte board but it could only handle ~3 1080p transcodes before it started to struggle. Once ASRock released this board I grabbed it and tossed a i7-5820K in and now it has no issues transcoding 6+ streams. I haven't even gotten around to overclocking the 5820K yet.

    Absolutely amazing how they managed to cram that socket and the powerful VRM solution on this board and still have enough space to fit things like the M.2 slot. ASRock has some impressive engineers on staff. For my use case I needed as many cores as possible in the smallest space as I had already invested in my Node 304 and really didn't want to move to another case. I did need to buy an SFX power supply as I was concerned about my ATX power supply blocking the right-angle SATA ports but that specific issue is due to the layout of the Node 304.
    Reply
  • DCide - Wednesday, June 24, 2015 - link

    If it's like their mATX board, just start with the slowest (4GHz) OC pre-set in the BIOS. It runs very stably for me.

    You can fine tune it later if you want to, but in the meantime you can get significant performance benefits right away.
    Reply
  • Samus - Thursday, June 25, 2015 - link

    I can't wait to get mine. Just ordered it after reading this review, which provided proof of what I suspected all along...quad-channel doesn't provide much in the way of general performance, just like triple-channel didn't provide much performance on X58.

    Of all the things dual-channel will bottle-neck, the only program I use that would be affected is WinRAR and that's negligible.

    ASRock gets a LOT of street cred for making such a bold product. This is the kind of thing DFI or ABIT would have made if they were still around. An ultra-enthusiast, niche, and risky product. It's possible they won't even break even on this considering the amount of engineering that went into it. Margins are already razor thin on motherboards so they need to sell tens of thousands of these to make any money, even at $250 a pop.
    Reply
  • BubbaJoe TBoneMalone - Wednesday, June 24, 2015 - link

    I'm surprised the other manufacturers are not giving ASRock any competition with their own X99 Mini-ITX motherboard. Reply
  • T1beriu - Wednesday, June 24, 2015 - link

    Where's your Fury X review?! :(

    Where's your Radeon 300 series review?

    Have you lost your contacts with AMD PR or lack of time?
    Reply
  • Ian Cutress - Wednesday, June 24, 2015 - link

    Check the first sentence of the review. Reply
  • just4U - Wednesday, June 24, 2015 - link

    Is that something he's been battling for a bit now? We had this flu going around in Canada this past winter that easily throws you for a loop for 3 weeks.. just as you start to think your getting better it knocks you on your ass even worse. Nasty little virus.

    heh.. he's going to be a busy little beaver.. He mentioned something about the 960 review coming up this week as well.
    Reply
  • Samus - Thursday, June 25, 2015 - link

    When I get sick, I get sick for weeks, too. Fortunately it's only once a year for me. Reply

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