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ASUS X99-A Review

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ASUS X99-A Closer Look:

The ASUS X99 Deluxe is an ATX specification motherboard, measuring 30.5 cm x 24.4 cm for use with Intel's latest Haswell-E Socket 2011-v3 processors. Visually, the X99-A looks slightly different than the X99 Deluxe as far as the color scheme goes with a white and black theme that, to some, a vast improvement over the gold and black theme from the last gen boards. In the PCB of the X99-A, ASUS continues to use a proprietary fiber weave design to build a multi-layer PCB that has improved moisture resistance, along with reductions in EMI and voltage leakage.

ASUS' own OC Socket, which includes extra pins to improve the overclocking potential of the cache ring ratio and memory overclocking on this board. A welcome addition, since it keeps the overclocking experience and performance levels consistent from the top to the bottom of the stack. With 28 to 40 PCIe lanes at your disposal, depending on the processor installed, you get graphics options up to Quad SLI or CrossFireX, using dual GPU cards or 3-Way SLI or CrossfireX with three individual cards. The cooling solution on the X99-A is not as robust as that seen on the X99 Deluxe, but is up to the task when paired with the additional cooling / backing plate used on the back of the PCB to keep the Digi+ VRM components cool. Normally seen on the front of the PCB, ASUS added the second half of the TPU circuitry to the bottom of the PCB. Different location, but no less effective.

 

 

 

I/O Connectivity from left to right, we have: the USB BIOS Flashback button, a quartet of USB 2.0 ports, a combination keyboard mouse port, an Intel I218V controlled Turbo LAN managed gigabit LAN port, six USB 3.0 ports, and add-on ASmedia controller (5x). The audio connectivity rounds out the I/O connections with analog and optical SPDI/F digital ports for the Realtek ALC1150-managed 8-channel Crystal Sound 2 audio solution, which supports DTS Ultra PCII and DTS Connect. Each of the connection points that can be accessed externally feature ESD Guards; a feature that just might save your hardware, should you end up with that all to familiar static discharge.

ASUS' Crystal Sound 2 audio system features premium Japanese-made audio capacitors, unique de-pop circuitry, audio amplifiers, and dedicated audio PCB layers that separate the left and right channels in the PCB. All those are to provide a rich, warm sounding audio solution. System expansion really depends on the processor you choose and whether it has 28 or 40 PCIe lanes. Multi-GPU capabilities on the X99-A include Quad GPU support when using a pair of dual GPU cards from NVIDIA or AMD. Most of us will not be going that route, but 3-way combinations are supported with the PCIe lane availability from your CPU, determining the amount of lanes per card in the 16x slots. There are four 16x slots available (three PCIe 3.0 and one PCIe 2.0) for use on this board, complimented by a pair of PCIe 2.0 1x ports. The 16x PCIe 3.0/2.0 slots run in the following configuration: when running a 40PCIe-lane CPU x16 (x16, x16/x16, x16/x16/x8), and falls back to 3.0/2.0 x16 (x16, x16/x8, x16/x8,/x4) with a 28-lane CPU, such as the Core i7 5820.

 

 

Along the bottom of the PCB, there is a lot to see. You have the Nichicon Audio capacitors used in the Crystal Sound 2 audio solution, digital and analog audio outputs, external fan connector header for use with an add-in board to increase the amount of Fan Xpert III controlled headers, Com header, power and reset buttons, Q-LED diagnostic LED, and a TPM connection. Further on the right, are a lot of options in a small amount of space, much like we saw on the X99 Deluxe. Up next is a USB 3.0 header that supports two ports and a pair of USB 2.0 headers controlled by the X99 PCH, and the front panel header that is easy to connect when using ASUS Q-Connector. A trio of switches are above the front panel header and offer up another way to manage motherboard performance.

These three switches are used to enable or disable functionality. From left to right are the EZ XMP switch enables or disables the XMP profile of the installed memory without entering the UEFI BIOS. The EPU switch enables the energy saving mode on the X99-A, once again, avoiding the BIOS. And finally, the TPU Switch is a three-position switch, which allows the user to disable Turbo Boost frequency when to the left, enable it in the middle, and enable bclk and multiplier adjustments when in the right position. Just to the left of the switches are the CMOS reset jumper and CPU over-voltage jumper. Also in the area, are the Direct Key header, Thermal sensor connection, and chassis intrusion header. Just above the added connectivity is the M.2 (x4) socket for use with M.2 drives from 42mm to 110mm in size.

When compared to the X99 Deluxe the X99-A contains a good bit of the functionality of its less budget conscious cousin.

 

 

On the right side of the PCB, you will find all of the storage connectivity. From the bottom, there are six SATA 6Gb/s ports and a single 10 Gb/s SATA Express drive connections. A total of eight SATA 6Gbps SATA drive connections are ready for use, but the black ports do not support irst, although the grey ports support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10. Intel's Smart Drive technologies are supported for the fastest drive connections possible. The additional two 6Gb/s ports are just above the USB 3.0 header that supports an additional pair of USB 3.0 ports. This header is in an ideal spot to minimize cable clutter for a front panel connection.

Further along is the 24-pin ATX Power connection, another Fan Xpert III controlled chassis header, and the MemOK button. Pressing this button allows the start up process to run through a series of tests and adjustments to allow the memory to boot successfully.

 

 

Across the top of the PCB, there is not a whole lot going on. An 8-pin EATX power connection, the CPU fan header, and optional fan header for the CPU, that is about it. The heat sink for the Digi+ VRM circuit is small by comparison to the X99 Deluxe and is not interconnected with the balance of the VRM cooling. .

 

 

The CPU socket area is pretty clear thanks to the use of ASUS 8+4 phase Digi+ VRM circuit and the large retention system for the LGA 2011-v3 socket. If you are upgrading from an X79 platform to take advantage of the additional core count on the Core i7 5960X, you can use the same cooling solution, as long as it can handle the additional thermal load. ASUS has made some changes to the CPU socket with its OC Socket design. Adding several pins to the socket to connect with certain pads on the LGA 2011-v3 Haswell processor, ASUS was able to improve overclocking margins on both the CPU and DDR4 memory, while delivering a near 0V vdroop under load. This is just one more plus ASUS brings to the table. Memory overclocking is some serious fun and over the past few years, ASUS T-Topology has been often imitated. ASUS uses this key design feature to improve memory overclocking by equalizing the trace length, balancing power, and reducing signalling noise that ultimately improve overclocking margins. Populating all eight DIMM slots allows you to run up to 64GB of DDR4 memory at speeds up to 3200MHz right out of the box. Higher speeds can be achieved with modules that are capable, and a robust memory controller on your CPU.

 

The heat sink package on the X99-A is a bit less robust than the design I saw while working with the X99 Deluxe. Instead of a large shrouded sink that traveled down the left side of the PCB, we have a trio of heat sinks on the X99-A. The VRM heat sinks at the top of the PCB and just behind the PCB are small in stature, but carry the load well enough to keep even the 5960X running fine with a modest overclock. Any higher will require direct airflow to keep the Digi+ VRM power circuits cool. The balance of the board cooling comes in the form of a low profile assembly covering the X99 PCH. In my testing, the cooling proved adequate for the task at hand. Just remember to keep some air flowing over the VRM heat sinks when liquid cooling the CPU.

 

 

When you take a look at the X99-A on the surface, it's a little bit like Cinderella before the ball. I guess to understand that comment, you have to take a look at the X99 Deluxe first for a better frame of reference. However, after you get a chance to play with it, and understand the functionality that goes with the polished feature set that lies hidden just below the surface, it is waiting to shine. With that expectation, the board is fully capable of delivering all the CPU and memory performance your combination can deliver for the long haul thanks to ASUS' 5x protection package among other things. Time to take a look at the software side of the package with ASUS' well thought out utilities and the outstanding CrashFree UEFI Bios.




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