The Haswell-E/X99 platform has become a popular choice among enthusiast users when considering their next system build. Unfortunately, the price associated with building a system based around this new platform can be a deal breaker for a lot of people. In an effort to ease that pain a bit, ASUS offers up their more affordable X99-A motherboard. Don’t let the affordability of the X99-A fool you though… it’s still packed with a lot of enthusiast-level features the more discerning user looks for. So, let’s take a close look at the X99-A motherboard and see what ASUS brings to the table this time around.
Specifications and Features
Here are the specifications as provided by the ASUS website. As you can see, the motherboard comes complete with the latest storage technologies that include M.2 socket 3 and SATA-Express. Additionally, there are plenty of multi-GPU options available, memory support up to 64 GB at speeds as high as DDR4-3200 (OC), an enhanced audio solution, and Intel’s latest LAN solution in the I218-V.
|ASUS X99-A Motherboard Specifications|
|CPU||Intel® Socket 2011-v3 Core™ i7 Processors
Supports Intel® 22 nm CPU
Supports Intel® Turbo Boost Technology
|Memory||8 x DIMM, Max. 64GB, DDR4 3200(O.C.)/3000(O.C.)/2800(O.C.)/2666(O.C.)/2400(O.C.)/2133 MHz Non-ECC, Un-buffered Memory
Quad Channel Memory Architecture
Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)
|Multi-GPU Support||Supports NVIDIA® Quad-GPU SLI™ Technology
Supports NVIDIA® 3-Way SLI™ Technology
Supports AMD Quad-GPU CrossFireX™ Technology
Supports AMD 3-Way CrossFireX™ Technology
3 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (x16, x16/x16, x16/x16/x8)
3 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 ( x16, x16/x8, x16/x8/x4)
1 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (x4 mode)
2 x PCIe 2.0 x1 (x1 mode)
New Intel® Core™ i7 Processors:
1 x M.2 Socket 3, , with M Key, type 2242/2260/2280/22110 storage devices support (Support PCIE SSD only)
Intel® X99 chipset:
1 x SATA Express port, , compatible with 2 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports
8 x SATA 6Gb/s ports
Support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10
Supports Intel® Smart Response Technology, Intel® Rapid Recovery Technology
|LAN||Intel® I218V, 1 x Gigabit LAN Controller|
|Audio||Realtek® ALC1150 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC featuring Crystal Sound 2
– Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel Jack-retasking
– High quality 112 dB SNR stereo playback output (Line-out at rear) and 104 dB SNR stereo playback input (Line-in)
– High-fidelity audio OP AMP
|USB Ports||Intel® X99 chipset:
5 x USB 3.0/2.0 port(s) (4 at mid-board)
Intel® X99 chipset:
8 x USB 2.0/1.1 port(s) (4 at back panel/4 at mid-board)
ASMedia® USB 3.0 controller:
5 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports (5 at back panel)
|Back I/O Ports||1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port
1 x LAN (RJ45) port
6 x USB 3.0 (blue)
4 x USB 2.0
1 x Optical S/PDIF out
5 x Audio jacks
1 x USB BIOS Flashback Button
|Internal I/O Ports||1 x AAFP connector
2 x USB 3.0 connectors supports additional 4 USB 3.0 ports (19-pin)
2 x USB 2.0 connectors supports additional 4 USB 2.0 ports
1 x SATA Express connector: gray
1 x M.2 Socket 3 with M Key design, type 2242/2260/2280/22110 storage devices support (Support PCIE SSD only)
1 x TPM connector
1 x COM port connector
8 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
1 x CPU Fan connector (1 x 4 -pin)
1 x CPU OPT Fan connector (1 x 4 -pin)
4 x Chassis Fan connectors (4 x 4 -pin)
1 x S/PDIF out header
1 x Thunderbolt header
1 x 24-pin EATX Power connector
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power connector
1 x EZ XMP switch
1 x System panel (Q-Connector)
1 x Chassis Intrusion connector
1 x DRCT header
1 x MemOK! button
1 x Thermal sensor connector
1 x TPU switch
1 x EPU switch
1 x CPU/DRAM overvoltage jumper
1 x Power-on button
1 x Reset button
1 x Clear CMOS jumper
1 x 5-pin EXT_FAN (Extension Fan) connector
|OS Support||Windows® 8.1 86×64
Windows® 8 86×64
Windows® 7 86×64
|Form Factor||ATX Form Factor
12 inch x 9.6 inch ( 30.5 cm x 24.4 cm )
A quick glance at the motherboard overview shows many of the same features ASUS implements on their more expensive offerings. You have a few less SATA ports and a few less USB 3.0 ports; but other than that, the motherboard is well appointed.ASUS has been making a big deal of their patent pending OC Socket, and rightfully so. The two previous ASUS X99 motherboards we’ve reviewed seem to have benefited from this feature. ASUS claims memory performance and overclocking are greatly improved because of the OC Socket design. All below images and descriptions courtesy ASUS.
Because of the T-Topology circuit design and the OC Socket, ASUS is able to boast support for memory speeds up to 3200 MHz (OC). Memory compatibility is tested in conjunction with all major memory manufacturers, which should ensure a wide variety of memory can be used.
The ASUS 5-Way Optimization tool can take a lot of guess work out of setting up your system for performance, energy savings, or quiet operation. If you’re not comfortable altering BIOS settings, 5-Way Optimization can help you get the most from your system at the click of a button. If you prefer, you can optimize your system from the desktop manually using the Dual Intelligent Processors 5 option, which is part of the AI Suite 3 software package we’ll explore later in the review.
As mentioned above, both SATA-Express and M.2 storage solutions are available on the X99-A. The single SATA-Express port offers transfer speeds up to 10 GB/s, and the PCI-E x4 M.2 port offers speeds up to 32 GB/s.
The ASUS X99-A hasn’t left the gaming crowd out in the cold either. The Crystal Sound 2 audio houses a Realtek ALC1150 CODEC that provides audio shielding, EMI protection, an audio amplifier, and even a unique de-pop circuit to reduce the popping noise often heard during system start-up and shutdown.
ASUS HomeCloud is another useful suite of programs that allow you to access your PC remotely, stream media, or even turn your system into a home server.
The retail packaging does a nice job of explaining the capabilities of the X99-A. There is a large picture of the motherboard on the front, and around back is a very detailed list of specifications and features. The box sides are home to additional branding.
Once the box is opened, the motherboard is found sitting on top and wrapped in an anti-static bag. At the bottom of the box is where the limited accessories are found. The accessory bundle includes the following, which is enough to get the system up and running.
-4 x SATA 6Gb/s Cables
-1 x SLI Bridge
-1 x Q-connector (2 in 1)
-OC Adrenaline Sticker
Before we take an up-close look at the ASUS X99-A, here are a few pictures taken from various angles. As you can see, it’s comprised of a mostly black and white theme.
The ASUS X99-A Up Close
Starting at the lower-left corner of the X99-A, we can see the Crystal Sound 2 area along the left side. If you look closely, you can see the separation line that isolates the audio components from the rest of the motherboard to reduce interference. The rest of the components you see are the Japanese-made audio capacitors, Op-Amps, and the EMI shield covering the Realtek ALC1150 CODEC.
Turning the corner to the bottom of the motherboard, we see the front panel audio header and the S/PDIF header just above it. Next are the fan extension card (optional) connector, COM port connector, and the onboard power/reset buttons. The post code LED display can also be seen from here.
The lower-right corner has the TPM header, the first of two front panel USB 3.0 connections, two USB 2.0 connections, and the headers for the case wiring. Just above that area are two jumpers. One is for clearing the RTC, and the other is the CPU Over Voltage jumper that provides a higher CPU voltage setting in the UEFI BIOS. The three switches you see are for the EZ XMP, TPU, and EPU features. The EZ XMP switch can be used to set your memory to its XMP profile without even having to enter the UEFI BIOS. The EPU switch is used for automatic detection of the current system load and intelligently moderates the power consumption. The TPU switch offers automatic overclocking via CPU ratio only (position 1) or by adjusting CPU ratio and BCLK (position 2). Located just above those three switches is the M.2 Socket 3 SSD port. With its x4 PCI Express 3.0/2.0 bandwidth, transfer speeds up to 32 GB/s are said to be possible.
Making the bend and heading up the right side of the X99-A, we find a 4-pin fan header, six SATA 6 GB/s ports, and the SATA-Express block of connectors. If you don’t use the SATA-Express feature, the two SATA 6 GB/s ports in that block can be used as normal SATA ports if needed. All of the storage options on the X99-A are native to the Intel chipset.
Heading up to the top-right corner, there are two more SATA 6 GB/s ports, the second USB front panel USB 3.0 connector, another 4-pin fan header, the 24-pin ATX power socket, and the MemOK! button. Memory incompatibility can potentially be overcome by pressing this button, which will initiate automatic memory compatibility tuning.
Turn the corner to the top of the X99-A, and we come to the 8-pin CPU AUX 12V power connector.
Turning our attention to the top-left corner, we come to the two 4-pin CPU fan headers, and that’s about all there is at the top. Around the corner are all the I/O connections, which are best described by the images below. Of note are the Intel I218-V LAN controller, the BIOS Flashback button, and six total USB 3.0 ports. Five of the USB 3.0 ports are provided by ASMedia, and one is native to the Intel chipset.
Moving to the center area of the motherboard, we land at the expansion slot area. There are four PCI-E x16 slots and two PCI-E x1 slots. Just next to the top PCI-E x16 slot are two more 4-pin fan headers.
The X99-A supports quad-SLI, but you’ll need a pair of dual-GPU video cards to accomplish that. Past that, tri-SLI and Tri-CrossfireX are supported as well. The speed at which the cards will run varies according to the CPU you have installed. Below is a breakdown on how it works for 28-lane and 40-lane CPUs.
The CPU socket area is pretty wide open and will accommodate most air coolers on the market. Just pay attention to memory height if using a mammoth cooler that overhangs the DIMM slots. As far as water cooling goes, I can’t imagine a CPU water block that wouldn’t fit here.
Also viewable in the below pictures are the eight DIMM slots. Up to 64 GB of Quad-channel DDR4 memory is supported at speeds ranging from 2133 MHz to 3200 MHz (OC).
The heatsink covering the PCH is plenty large to handle the task at hand. Once removed, we found the pink TIM that ASUS most often uses in this location. The heatsink covering the MOSFETs uses a thermal pad, and it was well applied and making good contact with its target points. At the back of the motherboard is a thermal plate that adds additional cooling to the MOSFETs. The other heatsink by the I/O area is pretty much for aesthetics only, as there really isn’t anything for it to keep cool in that area. There is no thermal pad on the bottom of it, and it doesn’t actually contact anything on the motherboard.
With the X99-A stripped down, we can have a better look at the 12-phase power design. Eight phases are dedicated to the CPU, and each bank of four DIMM slots get their own two power phases as well. The chokes are ASUS’ “BlackWing Chokes” that can handle up to 60 Amps per phase. Additionally, 10K Black Metallic capacitors are used, which are rated for 10,000 hours. There are three all digital DIGI+ VRM controllers found on the motherboard, one for the CPU power phases and one for each bank of four DIMM slots.
Because the storage options on the X99-A are native to the Intel chipset, we don’t have a lot of third party controllers on the motherboard. There are a couple of ASMedia ASM1074 ICs found on the board, which provide additional USB connectivity. The Intel I218-V LAN controller is also found hiding under the aesthetic heatsink we talked about earlier.
The nuvoTon NCT6791D IC handles all the super I/O functions, and there is also a replaceable Winbond 25Q128FVIQ BIOS chip. Even though the need for a replaceable BIOS chip has diminished with the advent of the BIOS Flashback feature, the “old school” in me still likes to see them.
The ASUS UEFI BIOS
If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to perform basic system setup, then the EZ Mode screen should have everything you need. EZ Mode offers system information and real-time monitoring of critical system components. System setup options include setting XMP profiles, fan control, and boot priorities. If you choose the EZ Tuning Wizard option, you can set up a raid array or even do a little automatic overclocking if you like.
Pressing the F7 key will get you inside the Advance Mode area, where you get access to eight different menus. Across the top of every page you visit are shortcuts to to the My Favorites setup screen, Qfan control, and Quick Notes, just to name a few. The first menu is My Favorites, which can be used to create quick access shortcuts to your most visited areas of the UEFI BIOS. The Main menu is the next one over, which mainly consists of information about your system and the security setiings.
All your overclocking is done inside the AI Tweaker menu, and the options here are plentiful. Multiplier, BCLK, memory, and voltage options are all found in the AI Tweaker menu. Three sub menus include DRAM Timing Control, DIGI+ Power Control, and Internal CPU Power Management. The sheer number of memory timing options is staggering and includes primary, secondary, third, and miscellaneous setting groups. The DIGI+ Power Control sub menu gives you complete control over the CPU and memory power phases. Load-line calibration (LLC), switching frequencies, and current capabilities are just a few of the many options available here. The CPU Power Management sub menu has the EIST, Turbo Mode, Power Fault, and internal power settings. Peruse the thumbnails below for a detailed look at all the available options in the AI Tweaker menu.
The Advanced menu has nine sub menus dealing mostly with system configuration. CPU, Chipset, System Agent, and Onboard Device configuration options are all located here. Again, all the options located here can be seen by touring the thumbnail images below.
The Monitor menu is were you can get real-time temperature, voltage, and fan speed readings. The highlight in this menu is the Qfan options, which give you a variety of ways to set fan speeds. You can choose any of the monitored temperatures as your target source as you set duty cycle and temperature thresholds that control the fan speed. As far as fan control through the UEFI BIOS, Qfan is tough to beat.
The Boot menu is where you find everything related to system post behavior.
Moving over to the Tools menu, we find several useful utilities. GPU Post give you information on any expansion cards installed in the system. The EZ Flash 2 utility makes flashing the UEFI BIOS firmware an easy and safe task. Inside the Overclocking Profile utility, you have the ability to save up to eight profiles. An unlimited amount of profiles can be saved to a USB device. The ASUS SPD Information utility gives you the JDEC and XMP information programmed into the installed system memory.
The last menu in the UEFI BIOS is the Exit menu. Pretty standard stuff here for the most part. One cool feature is when you choose to save changes, a pop-up window appears that lists all the modifications you have made during the current session.
Bundled Software – AI Suite 3
AI Suite 3 offers up perhaps the best motherboard software suite there is. AI Suite 3 is highlighted by its Dual Intelligent processors 5 (DIP5) utility, which provides an extensive list of overclocking, fan control, and power saving options. You can choose to let DIP5 configure your system automatically using 5-Way Optimization or take manual control of the process using the TPU feature and the plethora of options it affords. If you go for the 5-way optimization, you still have plenty of control over the way the automatic tuning is performed. For example, you can choose to have the automatic overclocking stop when it reaches a certain CPU voltage or temperature. You can also control the type and length of the stress test performed after each phase of the process. Another cool feature found in DIP5 is the Turbo App, which allows you to tailor system performance, network priority, and audio settings specific to an application. Once you set this feature up and launch the application, the settings you configured for that application are automatically applied.
DIP5 also features Fan Xpert 3 for unparallelled control of any fan hooked to one of the motherboard’s headers. All of the fan control options can be customized specific to each fan’s specifications once you send them through the Fan Tuning process. From there, you can manually set the fan speed based on temperature thresholds using any of the monitored temperatures as the source. You can even assign each fan to the actual location inside your case where it’s installed.
The thumbnail images below will show you the vast majority of options available within the DIP5 utility. Suffice to say, it provides everything you need for total system optimization right from the desktop.
The rest of AI Suite 3 provides several useful utilities worth checking out. On the USB side, there are a couple different USB charging utilities and a USB 3.0 boost utility. The System Information and Version utilities provide details on your system’s motherboard, CPU, memory, and all the AI Suite 3’s utility version numbers. EZ Update can check the ASUS server for any software, UEFI BIOS, or driver updates and offers to install them for you. Push Notice can be customized to send alerts to your portable devices when a specified system event occurs.
For bandwidth prioritization, Turbo LAN offers complete control over bandwidth allocation. This joint effort between ASUS and cFOS provides a pretty detailed set of options should you need them. Turbo LAN can potentially help to lower ping times, assign bandwidth priority to any application, and provides many other useful networking tools.
Benchmarks and Overclocking
|Test System Components|
|CPU||Intel i7 5960X Haswell-E|
|Memory||G.SKill Ripjaws 4 DDR4-3000 MHz 4X4 GB kit|
|SSD||Samsung EVO 500 GB SSD|
|Power Supply||Corsair HX1050 Professional Series|
|Video Card||EVGA GTX 780 Ti Classified|
|Cooling||EKWB Supremacy EVO Water Block – 360 mm Radiator – MCP35X Pump|
Our usual set of benchmarks to test compression, rendering, and video conversion will be run on the X99-A. We’ll also toss in some 2d benchmarks as well. We don’t usually see any notable differences when comparing motherboards, especially when the same CPU, chipset, memory, and GPU are used. To that end, we’ll simply provide screenshots of the stock and overclocked benchmark runs. This is basically a search for any abnormalities the motherboard may exhibit during the benchmark runs. We’ll spot check the benchmarks results against other X99 motherboards we’ve reviewed to make sure everything is in line.
With just a couple voltage adjustments and a few modifications in the DIGI+ Power Control area, overclocking the CPU to 4.75 GHz was a relatively painless affair. Because of the 3000 MHz memory in the test system, the motherboard defaults to the 125 BCLK setting, which all X99 motherboards we’ve seen so far do. So, we’ll run with the 4.75 GHz overclock for the purpose of the overclock results below. We’ll see how much farther we can get in the Pushing the Limits section of the review. The stock benchmarks were run with the turbo speed of 3.5 GHz locked down, which is typically how we like to do the stock testing.
Compression, Rendering, and Video Conversion Benchmarks
Cinebench R10 – R11.5 – R15
x264 Pass 1 and 2
PoV Ray R3.73
7zip Compression Benchmark
Wprime 32M and 1024M
SuperPi 1M and 32M
Aida64 Cache & Memory
Going back and comparing the results above to other X99 motherboards we have reviewed, the results are perfectly in line. Performance is just as one would expect with no issues found. Nothing to complain about on the performance front!
Pushing the Limits
The ASUS X99-A happily pushed the CPU to its brink of 4.9 GHz, which is right where all the other X99 motherboards have taken it as well. It’s certainly not completely stable at that speed, but I was able to get a suicide run of wPrime 32M and SuperPi 1M completed. It would probably take a good 1.5 V to the CPU to stabilize things, but I think it’s doable.
With the release of the X99-A, ASUS made a strong argument that a high performing and well appointed X99 motherboard doesn’t have to break the bank. If you don’t need all the frills the more expensive X99 motherboards have, then this motherboard is right up your alley. That’s not to say the X99-A doesn’t have a good feature set of its own, because it surely does. Crystal Sound 2 onboard audio, the OC Socket, and support for multiple GPU setups are just a few of the high-end features the X99-A offers. The Intel I218-V network controller, SATA Express support, and M.2 SSD support round out an impressive set of features. And lest we forget, AI Suite 3 and its useful set of utilities and tools add even more value to the product.
I’m sure most of our readers are concerned with the overclocking potential the X99-A offers. Well, it did as well as any other X99 motherboard we’ve tested to date. All of our performance testing showed the X99-A to be rock solid stable under stock and heavily overclocked conditions, and it threw out some great benchmark scores too.
On the pricing front, the X99-A is currently selling for $275 at Newegg, which lands it perfectly positioned against competitor offerings. I think it’s priced just about right for the features and performance it offers.
If the cost of entering into the X99/Haswell-E platform seems intimidating, have a look at the ASUS x99-A. You don’t have to sacrifice performance in order to get a budget-friendly X99 motherboard, ASUS made sure of that with the X99-A. It’s an easy call this time around… Overclockers Approved!