ASRock X299 Extreme4 and X299 OC Formula Motherboards Review – One Feature Rich Board For Core-X Platform Under $200 US and The Other Designated For Overclockers
ASRock X299 Extreme4 / ASRock X299 OC FormulaQ3 2017
Over the years, Intel has undoubtedly taken control of the entire PC desktop market. They offer specialized platforms to both mainstream and enthusiasts consumers. Earlier this year, Intel released their 200-series platform for mainstream consumers and it turned out to be a modest jump in terms of performance and features, something that we have come to expect from Intel during the recent years.
While mainstream desktop buyers got their platform cycle refresh earlier this year, enthusiasts are receiving the update in the second quarter. In 2014, Intel released X99 and it was a big leap in term of features compared to X79. It was the first platform to feature support for DDR4 memory, some thing that mainstream consumers would get a whole year later. It was also the first platform that pushed the core count on Intel processors from 6 to 10. While expensive, the competitors had no answer to Intel's enthusiast platform which gave Intel another market to take control over.
Come 2017, three years after the launch of X99, Intel offered another grand enthusiast platform. This time, it's known as X299 and we can expect the same sort of updates that we saw from X79 to X99. Intel is offering processors with lots of cores, lots of PCIe lanes, lots of storage capabilities and very high clock speeds but there's one issue as someone or something has definitely risen up.
In 2017, after a troublesome 6 years and lots of delays in the process, Intel's only competitor in the PC desktop market has woken up. AMD is back and they have a new core known as Zen which has put them back in the competition with performance on par with Intel CPUs. The performance gap that was increasing slowly but gradually between Intel and AMD processors has worn out and AMD can now tackle Intel at multiple playing fields.
AMD devised a pretty nice strategy to take on Intel. They first tackled the mainstream processors with their Ryzen 7 and Ryzen 5 processors, offering high core count processors on a fresh new platform and offering great multi-tasking performance at brilliant prices. Take for comparison a Ryzen 7 1700 with 8 cores, 16 threads for $329 versus the Core i7-7700K with 4 cores and 8 threads for $349. And the performance of that AMD processor is actually closer to an 8 core X99 part while featuring a much lower PC assembly cost. The difference is there and Intel is really taking the heat from AMD chips this time around.
Problem number two for Intel is that AMD isn't just stopping at mainstream platforms, they are for the first time entering the enthusiast HEDT segment. Their new lineup is called Ryzen Threadripper and features up to 16 cores. Now let me tell you something about the Intel X299 platform and the Core-X family. The Intel Core-X family includes several processors based on two different Uarch's. There's Kaby Lake-X based on 14nm Kaby Lake and Skylake-X based on 14nm Skylake. The former is more of a budget aimed series while the latter is where the HE (High-End) part of the HEDT brand lies.
I had talks with many manufacturers working close to Intel about the Core-X family and X299 platform. Till the time the first rumors of AMD's HEDT platform arrived, there were no plans for Intel to produce a chip with a greater core count than 10. When the rumor mill finally started reporting that AMD had plans to prepare a HEDT processor lineup with up to 12-16 cores, we started receiving information that Intel had asked their engineers to produce or in-reality, modify server level Xeon chips into Skylake-X parts with higher core counts.
That happened much later in the X299 production roadmap, to be precise, it was just few weeks before launch and Intel knowing that AMD won't stop at 12-16 cores, and that they can re-purpose more higher core Xeon variants into HEDT parts, Intel gave the go ahead to their engineers. What does this show? Intel finally facing the heat of competition and it might turn out to be good for us all. Competition prompts companies to release products that are better than their competitors at great value and both Intel and AMD would try to best one another at this game in the long term.
Today, I will be testing out the ASRock X299 Extreme4 motherboard which brings back the value proposition back to Intel's HEDT platform alongside the ASRock X299 OC Formula which is a true X299 overclocking-specific motherboard.
Intel X299 HEDT Chipset - The Top Brass of Intel's 2017 HEDT Family
The Intel X299 HEDT chipset is powering the enthusiast platform this year's launch. It's easy to tell given the time frame these enthusiast platforms last that the chipset will run for at least 2-3 years before being replaced by a new one. Intel's X299 chipset includes support for both Skylake-X and Kaby Lake-X processors but some vendors have decided to restrict Kaby Lake-X support on their high-end X299 motherboards since it doesn't make sense to go for a $499 US+ motherboard with chips that cost below $350 US.
There are also some various restrictions and features that are not available on Kaby Lake-X when compared to Skylake-X and those are detailed below.
Intel X299 PCH Features
Intel’s new X299 chipset will be the latest PCH to support the enthusiast processors. The X299 platform will be centered around the LGA 2066 socket which will be compatible with at least two generations of processors. In specs, the X299 chipset offers up to 24 PCIe Gen 3.0 lanes. The chip also offers up to quad channel memory with speeds up to DDR4-2667 MHz (native). Kaby Lake X series processors will only support dual channel RAM and will stick to the native speeds of 2667 MHz.
This difference is due to the IMC on the Kaby Lake-X chip architecture that only allows support for dual channel memory. Intel basically swapped the Kaby Lake die from the smaller mainstream chip to the larger enthusiast chip. This means that the underlying architecture remains the same.
Aside from that, Intel X299 has full support for CPU overclocking which is a bonus. While that's a plus, independent testings performed prior to our review revealed that the chips don't feature in chip soldering and use thermal paste as a layer that connects the die with the heatspreader. This may result in higher temperatures but we have to find that our in our own tests.
The Basin Falls PCH also offers maximum of 14 USB ports (10 USB 3.0 Max), 8 SATA 3.0, and Intel LAN (Jacksonville PHY) controllers. The chipset can also drive three M.2 drives with Intel RST tech. Additional features include Enhanced SPI, SPI, LPC, SMBus and HD audio which are integrated underneath its hood.
Intel X299 Chipset Features:
|Chipset||Intel X79 “Patsburg”||Intel X99 “Wellsburg”||Intel X299 "Basin Falls" With KBL-X||Intel X299 "Basin Falls" With SKL-X|
|SKU Focus Segment||Enthusiast Desktop||Enthusiast Desktop||Enthusiast Desktop||Enthusiast Desktop|
|CPU Support||Sandy Bridge-E / |
|Haswell-E / Broadwell-E||Kaby Lake-X||Skylake-X|
|CPU Core Options||4, 6||6, 8, 10||4||6, 8, 10, 12, 14,16, 18|
|Max Chipset PCI-E Lanes||8||8||24||24|
|Max CPU PCI-E Lanes||Up To 40||Up To 40||Up To 16||Up To 44|
|Memory DIMMs||Quad Channel (8)||Quad Channel (8)||Dual Channel (4)||Quad Channel (8)|
|Intel Turbo Boost 2.0 Support||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Intel Turbo Boost Max 3.0 Support||No||No||No||Yes|
|Intel Optane Technology||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|Intel Rapid Storage Technology||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Intel Rapid Storage Technology For PCIe Storage Drive Support||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|Intel Smart Response Technology||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Integrated LAN||Yes||1 GbE||Integrated MAC||Integrated MAC|
|Total USB Ports (Max USB 3.0)||N/A||6||10||10|
|Total USB Ports (Max USB 2.0)||14||14||14||14|
|Max SATA 6 Gbps Ports||6 (2 Rated at Full 6 Gbps)||10||8||8|
Intel LGA 2066 Socket - Supports All Intel Core-X Series Processors
On the socket front, Intel has finally replaced the older LGA 2011 with LGA 2066. The LGA 2011 saw several revisions as it was first featured on the X79 platform and slightly redesigned for X99 in the form of LGA 2011-v3. Enthusiasts running older HEDT Intel platforms cannot use a older processor on the new platform and would have to purchase a new one to allow compatibility.
The latest LGA 2066 socket features 2066 pins which support both Skylake-X and Kaby Lake-X CPUs but doesn't allow compatibility with Intel Xeon processors. The Intel Xeon class processors that are part of the Skylake-SP family will be featured on the much different LGA 3647 socket which is huge compared to LGA 2066.
Cooler Compatibility With LGA 2066 Socket
Since the change in number of pins is smaller, the socket remains as the same dimensions as the LGA 2011 and LGA 2011-v3 socket. This means that users can equip their older retention brackets from LGA 2011 socket coolers on the LGA 2066 socket with ease. The process remains largely the same.
On the cooler front, while Intel hasn't historically offered any cooling solution on their HEDT CPUs, they do provide their own boxed solutions for users that are interested at a price ranging between $85-$100 US. The said cooler is Intel's TS13X which is a liquid cooling solution and termed as a high performance thermal solution for enthusiasts. The cooler features a 120mm radiator fitted with a 120mm fan that operates at up to 2200 RPM. It's a nice option but there are plenty more similar or better priced solutions in the market that are compatible with LGA 2066.