ASUS ROG Zenith Extreme Alpha Motherboard Review With AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX – The Alpha Predator of The X399 Series



ASUS ROG Zenith Extreme Alpha

Type Motherboard
Price $699.99 US

It was the beginning of 2017, Intel thought the year would go really smoothly for them in regards to their mainstream and high-end desktop launches. Intel launched their 7th generation core family, offering consumers the same architecture, slightly enhanced process and slightly higher CPU clock speeds, calling it a day. What they didn't know was that their rival, AMD, was going to make an epic return just a few months after and when they did, Intel's worst fears had come to life.

While Ryzen was anticipated to arrive on the mainstream consumer platform, offering IPC on par with Intel's latest generation processors, it was Threadripper that no one, even the press had not expected. A full-fledged lineup of high-end desktop processors designed to tackle Intel's Core X line up. AMD's Ryzen Threadripper and the accompanying X399 platform is designed for enthusiasts, it offered features that are not available otherwise at an incredible value while the new Zen cores delivered CPU performance on par with Intel's modern core architectures.

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A year later, AMD  launched its 2nd Gen Ryzen Threadripper processors. In a similar fashion, the 2nd Gen Ryzen Threadripper processors disrupt the market once again with beastly performance at an unprecedented value which has yet to be seen.

Featuring the highest core count we have ever witnessed on a consumer platform, in a way, AMD's HEDT is now a more grand scheme of things and a platform which is the pinnacle of enthusiast and workstation grade performance. Some features of the new platform are listed below:

  1. 12 nm LP process technology 
    - 1st generation Ryzen and 1st generation Threadripper were manufactured using 14L LPP (Low Power Plus) process technology of GLOBALFOUNDRIES, whereas 2nd generation Ryzen Threadripper based on Zen + microarchitecture was manufactured by GLOBALFOUNDRIES 12 nm LP (Leading Performance) process technology adopted. If the same power consumption is higher than the first generation Threadripper, AMD is appealing that it can realize lower power consumption than the first generation Threadripper for the same clock.
  2. Precision Boost 2 
    - The automatic clock-up technology "Precision Boost" adopted by the 1st generation Ryzen and the 1st generation Threadripper had the operation clock determined by the number of loaded cores, but this time the CPU voltage, current, core It has been redesigned to detect the temperature and select an appropriate operation clock. As a result, regardless of the number of cores under load, clock up according to the situation.
  3. XFR 2 (Extended Frequency Range 2) 
    ~ "If the CPU temperature condition permits," XFR "to operate with a higher clock beyond the maximum clock of Precision Boost becomes the 2nd generation, and as with Precision Boost 2, the number of cores is restricted lost. Depending on the performance of the CPU cooling system, the performance will improve up to 7%
  4. Reduction of access delay of cache and the main memory Access delay to cache and main memory is smaller for first-generation Threadripper. Up to 13% improvement in L1, up to 34% in L2, up to 16% in L3, up to 11% in main memory, resulting in a 3% increase in instruction execution count (IPC, Instruction per Clock) per clock It is said that

While you'd expect to see a new generation of motherboards and chipsets to support the newly launched Threadripper processors, AMD and their partners are offering refreshed designs which feature the same socket and chipset. This means two things, first, all previous motherboards that are based on the X399 chipset can support the 2nd Generation Threadripper processors. Second, the new motherboards would allow for a vastly better experience in terms of clocks & overclocking capabilities.

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ASUS never actually introduced a new HEDT motherboard in the ROG lineup since their original X399 and X299 ROG offerings but earlier this year, they simultaneously launched boards for both Intel and AMD HEDT platforms. ASUS also revealed that they are trying to retain feature set parity across both boards which is something interesting to see since both boards are geared towards completely different platforms.

So for this review, I will be testing one of the two new HEDT motherboards that they introduced, meet the Alpha Predator, the ASUS ROG Zenith Extreme Alpha!

AMD X399 HEDT Chipset -  Continuing Support To 2nd Generation Ryzen Threadripper CPUs

X399 is the next generation and the first AMD high-end desktop platform designed for enthusiasts and power craving users. It is an entirely fresh platform which brings with itself a load of new tech and features that I haven't seen on high-end platforms for a while now. To start off with details, the X399 platform is very similar to AMD's server end EPYC platform.

It features support for AMD Ryzen Threadripper chips in which AMD is using the top 5% dies for HEDT consumers, the same monolithic SP3 socket, known as the TR4 and the many PCIe lanes that we should expect on server level platforms.

The platform is made in a way that it can cater not only to HEDT consumers but also to the workstation community. In terms of features, the X399 socket now supports up to 32 cores and 64 threads and there's no doubt that we will get more cores and threads on the same socket and platform in the future with future iterations of the Zen core.

It can support chips with up to 250W TDP and can deliver full 64 PCIe lanes to users. This means for the first time, we have a platform that can drive four graphics cards with full native x16 link speeds.

This marks a major revolution and a win-win for AMD. In addition to that, we get 8 PCH PCIe lanes, support for NVMe and NVMe RAID, quad channel memory, up to 12 SATA 3 ports and 14 USB interfaces. The only rival on the market for X399 is X299 and honestly speaking, the X399 takes the lead in terms of raw specifications and features.

A year later, we are looking at a slew of new refreshed designs, specifically built for the 2nd generation HEDT processors. For existing motherboards, partners have released new BIOS firmware that enables support on them (read more here).

AMD X399 PCH Features

(Ryzen Threadripper)
Intel Core X
Pinnacle Ridge
Summit Ridge
Target PlatformHEDTHEDTMainstreamMainstream
SocketTR4LGA 2066AM4 (PGA)AM4 (PGA)
Socket Pins4094 Pins (LGA)2066 Pins (LGA)1331 Pins (PGA)1331 Pins (PGA)
Max CoresUp to 32Up to 18Up to 8Up to 8
Max ThreadsUp to 64Up to 36Up to 16Up to 16
Max L3 Cache64 MB24.75 MB16 MB16 MB
TDPUp To 250WUp To 165WUp To 105WUp To 95W
CPU PCI-E Lanes64442424
PCH PCI-E Lanes82488
PCI-E NVME SupportYesYesYesYes
NVME RAID SupportYes (Firmware Update from AMD webpage)Yes (Locked, Key Required)NoNo
DDR4 Channels4 Channel4 Channel2 Channel2 Channel
SATA 6 Gbps8+486+26+2
USB 3.1 Ports2222
USB 3.0 Ports61066
USB 2.0 Ports61466
LaunchQ3 2017Q2 2017Q1 2018Q1 2017

The HEDT TR4 (LGA 4094) Socket - Supports All Ryzen Threadripper Processors

The AMD TR4 socket is the same as their server end SP3 socket which has been repurposed for the HEDT market. It is a monolithic design that features 4094 pins in the LGA (Land Grid Array) design and looks absolutely beast.

Cooler Compatibility With The TR4 Socket

Since the socket hasn't changed, all coolers that were previously compatible with Threadripper CPU would run fine with the 2nd Generation Threadripper chips. Despite that, new coolers are going to be available by various manufacturers since the WX series have TDPs of up to 250W. Those require better heat transfer and cooling solutions and I will be testing my sample chip with a range of air and water cooling solutions.

Initially, there were only 9 manufacturers who were offering support for TR4 socket with their coolers but now, the list has expanded and you can find many TR4 socket coolers with ease. Following is a list of cooler manufacturers who are offering TR4 socketed products:

(More details on the cooling solutions here):

  • Noctua
  • Enermax
  • Swiftech
  • Raijintek
  • BeQuiet!
  • Liqtech
  • DeepCool
  • Arctic
  • Cooler Master
  • Corsair
  • Cryorig
  • EVGA
  • Fractal Design
  • NZXT
  • Thermaltake
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