ASRock X99 WS LGA 2011-v3 Motherboard Review

ASRock comes to us with its "Work Station" version Haswell-E motherboard. This time our out-of-box experience with its X99 WS was as rock solid as it could be and did leave us with feelings of getting to work with a quality component. As you all know, we are much more interested in how it performs at high clocks while under stress.

Introduction

ASRock is a well known name brand producing a wide range of motherboards typically at lower price points than its competition. Founded in 2002 ASRock has grown into the world’s third largest motherboard manufacturer. We’ve reviewed a number of ASRock motherboards over the years and have found these to be functional alternatives to higher priced competing products albeit with a few caveats. The biggest caveat is the physical construction quality which is often compromised in the name of lower costs of manufacturing. Usually it’s the PCB that suffers the first major cost hits and as a result ASRock motherboards tend to have among the thinnest PCBs in the industry. Depending on the price point, lower cost chokes, capacitors, and other components may be used in place of higher quality ones to further drive the price down.

Higher end offerings in the ASRock product portfolio are a different story. These are still less expensive than equivalent offerings from other manufacturers but you’d be hard pressed to figure out precisely where the cost cutting was done.

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The ASRock X99 WS is based on the X99 Express chipset and is the most well built ASRock motherboard we’ve seen to date. On the surface the X99 WS appears to be a near carbon copy of ASUS’ earlier "WS" series motherboards. Copying ASUS isn’t a bad thing as the "WS" line from ASUS was always excellent. Like the ASUS versions the ASRock X99 WS can’t figure out who it’s trying to appeal to. The X99 WS isn’t built precisely as a "workstation" motherboard typically is, nor is it built expressly the way an enthusiast motherboard usually is. Either way the ASRock X99 WS is at least on the surface solidly built with sharp attention to detail.

That’s not to say that it is perfect. Once you begin examining the motherboard more carefully and peel back the layers of it you begin to see where ASRock cut the costs. The power and reset buttons look high quality but without backlighting while the system is powered down you can’t see which button is the reset and which is for the power. Dual BIOS ROMs show a desire for redundancy. This is a quality appreciated by enthusiasts and workstation users alike. While functional the cooling system has a very poor finish. While running my fingers across the surface of it the X99 lettering stabbed me. It’s a metal sticker and wasn’t quite flush with the surface of the heat sink.

Despite being called a "workstation" motherboard the feature set still has a focus on overclocking and multi-GPU performance. The X99 WS features a 12-phase power design with 60A chokes, Nichicon 12k platinum capacitors which are used for longevity and stability. Dual Intel NICs provide connectivity for workstations and gaming machines alike. More importantly the X99 WS has official support for ECC memory and Xeon E5 1600/2600 v3 series CPUs. Even the 18 core 160 watt Intel Xeon E5-2699 v3 is supported. The X99 WS supports 4-Way SLI and CrossFire and offers an ideal configuration for even the most powerful multi-GPU setups.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

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The packaging is fairly basic. The usual box flap with additional product information is absent here favoring a more basic box style. Inside the box you’ll find a quick installation guide, software setup guide, driver disc, SATA power cables, SATA data cables, SLI bridges, and an I/O shield.

Board Layout

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The layout of the X99 WS is excellent. My only complaint is with the location of the CMOS battery. Even so this is a minor complaint as many enthusiasts won’t keep the motherboard long enough to worry about replacement and even if they did replacements are infrequent enough to be a non-issue. Still it’s the one notable flaw in the design. I’m also not a great fan of the 4-pin MOLEX style connectors used for auxiliary power.

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The CPU socket area is surrounded by heatsinks but these are low enough on clearance to still avoid any significant problems with most cooling hardware. The power phases here closely resemble the ones used on ASUS ROG motherboards.

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There are eight 288-pin DDR4 DIMM slots supporting up to 128GB of RAM. Both non-ECC and ECC memory is supported. ECC support is only available with the use of Xeon E5 v3 1600/2600 series processors.

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The X99 Express chipset itself is covered by a large flat heat sink that features an embedded heat pipe in the heat sink. The heat sink finish isn’t very good. The finish feels cheap and the machine work isn’t what I’d call spectacular. It isn’t the worst I’ve seen but the edges are a bit sharp on some edges where the finish work just wasn’t all that well done. In front of the chipset you’ll find 10 SATA ports and both BIOS ROM chips which are in sockets rather than being soldered onto the motherboard. The BIOS switch is located just behind these chips.

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The expansion slot area is fantastic. The primary PCI-Express x16 slot has a nice gap separating it and the rest of the expansion area. There are five additional PCI-Express slots which operate in the usual 16x16x0x0x0, 8x8x8x0, and 8x8x8x8.

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The I/O panel has 1x PS/2 keyboard or mouse port, 4x USB 2.0 ports, 4x USB 3.0 ports, 1x eSATA ports, 2x RJ-45 LAN ports 1x optical output and 5x mini-stereo jacks.