Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing
When I first heard ASRock was going to launch a Mini-ITX X99 motherboard, I was a bit taken aback. Intel's X99 platform is an extreme high-end one; it eats power, produces a lot of heat, and tends to be very expensive. Mini-ITX is meant to be low power, silent, and cost effective and on paper these things disqualify the X99 chipset from being considered for a Mini-ITX motherboard.
However, not everything is black and white. In most cases Mini-ITX is found either in home theaters, offices, or industrial complexes, but there is a new movement aimed at miniaturizing powerful PCs. The movement wasn't very popular in the past because of the lack of Mini-ITX performance products and lack of Mini-ITX cases. Now when I search Newegg, there are 156 Mini-ITX cases, a wide variety for those who want to build a mobile LAN machine or a sleek yet elegant office box.
To build a quality Mini-ITX motherboard, you need experience in doing so. ASRock's long time experience in the motherboard industry coupled with their history of bringing Mini-ITX motherboards to the market, places them in a unique position to bring out a rebellious little motherboard.
For its tiny 17cm x 17cm size, this motherboard packs a lot of features. All of the latest features like USB 3.1, Ultra M.2, SATAExpress, dual Intel NICs, and even wireless AC are crammed into this little board. One feature is missing, that is quad-channel DDR4. With only two DIMMs, the X99E-ITX/ac can only run dual-channel, like the Z97 platform.
The ASRock X99E-ITX/ac is $290 on Newegg at the time of writing which puts it in the mid-range of X99 motherboards. It is by no means the least expensive X99 motherboard either.
Packaging and the X99-Pro
Packaging and the X99E-ITX/ac
The box is almost as tiny as the board. The box shows all the main features of the X99E-ITX/ac including the free heat sink which is included and the X Series OC socket. Everything is packaged very securely, and it's quite fun to unpack everything.
Accessories are plenty; DYNATRON LGA2011-V3 U2 CPU cooler, 2x SATA6G cables, IO Shield, socket adapter for Cooler Master Seidon 120/V AIO Watercooling kit, AzureWave Broadcom BCM94352HMB 802.11/ac/867Mbps WLAN + BT4.0 card with bracket, WIFI/BT Antenna Kit, USB3 to USB2 internal header converter, manuals, case badge, and driver DVD.
I have circled all three fan headers on the board in red; they are all 4-pin PWM headers. Full control of the headers through the UEFI and Windows is provided by ASRock. The board is super tiny, and the funny thing is that it boasts features that even many full sized boards don't carry. Granted that this is a Mini-ITX board, it is still a little let down that there aren't four DIMMs or more than one PCI-E slot. The heat sinks are very low profile, I will see if they do their job later on in this review. The blue aesthetics will be covered up when the system is installed as all the slots will be filled up. The back of the board isn't bare, and it usually isn't on Mini-ITX board since there is so little PCB real-estate.
The back panel IO features a 2x 1GBit NIC (2xIntel), 2x USB 3.1 ports, 4x USB 3.0 ports, 2x USB 2.0 ports, eSATA 6G, PS/2 keyboard or mouse, a 7.1 TOSLINK for audio with S/PDIF out, mini-PCI connector for WIFI/BT, and a Clear CMOS button. The IO panel has the holes for the WIFI/BT antennas.
The PCI-E layout on this board is the most simple of all boards since it only supports one GPU. The single GPU will get 16X PCI-E 3.0 from any X99 CPU. There is also a SATA Express connector which can be used as two normal SATA6G ports if you are not using SATA Express. A USB 3.0 front panel header is located above the SATA Express port.
Four SATA6G ports are located in the lower right corner along with a chassis fan header. Near the VRM heat sink are the front panel headers along with a USB 2.0 header and a CPU fan header. Another chassis fan header is located near the DIMMs. Notice that this is a special server socket, with the extra pins and a different layout for coolers.
The DIMMs are located at the top of the board and the 24-pin connector is right above them. This is a special X Series OC socket which features many more pins than the normal Intel LGA2011-V3 socket. The extra pins help with cache overclocking and reducing required IMC voltages for high speed memory overclocks.
The M.2 slot is located behind the IO panel and you can also get a glimpse of the Nichicon audio capacitors for the audio and the HD front panel audio header. The positioning of the HD audio header means it will be a tight fit when a GPU is installed. The image on the right showcases the included U3 to U2 converter, which will turn the internal USB 3.0 header into a USB 2.0 header.
I installed the AzureWave Broadcom BCM94352HMB 802.11/ac/867Mbps WLAN + BT4.0 Half Mini PCI-E card and hooked up the antenna kit.
This is a DYNATRON U2 Socket 2011 cooler meant for high performance servers. It is included free with the board.
The cooler comes with a powerful little fan and thermal paste already applied. For my testing, I used the stock thermal paste. It's also quite easy to assemble; it literally just snaps together.
All the heat sinks on this board seem really tiny; however they do their job well.
X99E-ITX/ac Circuit Analysis
In this section I will start off with the voltage regulators and then move to other important circuits.
This board has a very powerful VRM, capable of 650W (calculated using the same method as ASRock uses for their 1300W claim on their other X99 motherboards). ASRock is using 60A low profile power inductors. Twelve low profile POSCAP tantalum capacitors are used for a total of 3960uF output capacitance. Each of the power stages is fully integrated to save board real-estate.
ASRock has been using the Intersil ISL6379 Digitally Controlled 6-Phase PWM for most of its X99 lineup. It's a very good PWM with many of the latest technologies. For the power stages, ASRock is using the Fairchild DrMOS, FDMF5821DC, which is capable of 60A. Judging by the datasheet, this DrMOS has low power loss at high current ratings.
The memory VRM is powered by two Texas Instruments CSD87588N NexFETs, and controlled by a AMPW8720D which is a single phase buck controller. The DDR4 VPP rail is supplied by MPS MPQ8632 step-down converter.
Another MPS MPQ8632 is used for the PCH power.
This is the ASMedia ASM1142 which is a USB 3.1 controller connected to the backpanel USB 3.1 ports.
A Realtek ALC1150 is complemented by five Nichicon high quality electrolytic audio capacitors. A Texas Instruments NE5532 is located on the back of the board and amplifies the front panel audio output signal.
An Intel i218v is Intel's latest PHY to compliment the GBit MAC in the PCH; it provides one 1GBit NIC port. The other port is driven by an Intel i211AT.
This ASMedia 1480 PCI-E quick switch allows for the teaming of the two Intel NICs. A Winbond 128Mbit (16MB) BIOS ROM is located in a DIP socket so it can be replaced if needed.
The nuvoTon NCT6791D handles SuperIO tasks (voltage and temperature monitoring and fan support) and supports the PS/2 keyboard or mouse port on the backpanel.
BIOS and Software
ASRock's UEFI it's quite extensive and provides a large variety of options for tweaking. If you are a novice overclocker, there are two profiles in the UEFI; one for a 3.8GHz OC and one for a 4GHz OC with XMP.
A trick that another editor at TweakTown taught me is to go into the storage configuration and set each drive to SSD mode if it's an SSD, because by default the ports are set to HDD mode for compatibility. Changing the drive mode to SSD will improve SSD performance. I found by manual measurement that LLC level 3 gives the least deviation from the set voltage. The BIOS was easy to work with and I didn't encounter any major issues that need to be reported.
ASRock provides an APP Store where you can update drivers and applications, and even download other applications outside of ASRock's own productions such as Chrome. ASRock's XFast LAN is also provided which is like cFOS.
A-Tuning also works on this board and lets you do everything you can on a larger motherboard, such as overclock and change system settings. Most of ASRock's applications are launched through A-Tuning.
Test Setup and Overclocking
A big thanks to Corsair for sponsoring the case, fans, SSD, USB drive, and PSU!
This is the new test bench, and it is designed to test every aspect of the motherboard and IO. I have designed it so that the motherboard sits in a case and is cooled by fans always on at a constant rate to keep the conditions similar for all tests. I have cut out part of the case behind the motherboard so I can get thermal images of the back of the PCB where the VRM heat spreads. System and CPU power measurements are now digitally logged.
I am also using a Netgear Nighthawk X4 AC2350 for our network (including wireless AC) tests. The latest M.2, SSD, and USB technologies are also being utilized to test the maximum potential of the motherboards that are being tested.
So for the benchmarks and overclocking things aren't typical. First off there is only 1 GPU instead of 2, and there are only 2 DIMMs instead of 4. This means that overall performance in gaming benchmarks and memory benchmarks is going to take a huge hit compared to other X99 systems. When I first started reviewing for TweakTown I only had one GTX 980, so I have gone back and removed the SLI results and added in the original single card results from previous reviews. However memory is still half the density and half the channels as other boards in the benchmarks (except the sole Z97 board).
In this section, I will go through overclocking this board.
Max CPU Overclock is found by setting the VCore to 1.5v, Input voltage to 2.1v, cache voltage to 1.15v, booting with a CPU multiplier of 45x and disabling any features that would result in CPU frequency fluctuation. I then proceed into Windows and use software to increase the multiplier; in this case I opted to use ITXU.
4.9GHz was my maximum overclock which is kind of impressive considering the cooling.
Maximum AIDA64 Stable Overclock (BIOS settings below for this):
I wasn't able to pull off my normal 4.5GHz overclock because of the cooling. Anything over 1.25v and the CPU would overheat because of the low profile cooler. Even 4.2GHz is pretty impressive for this system. The VRM wasn't the limitation, so with better cooling, I am sure you can hit the same high overclocks as a normal ATX board.
Boards with the extra pins in the socket can overclock the cache further; on the X99E-ITX/ac I was able to OC the cache to 4.4GHz, while the core was 4.7GHz. Cooling was the issue; I could have hit 4.5GHz if I could have used my watercooling.
I recommend that people who buy this board for overclocking buy the Cooler Master Seidon 120V, as the board comes with an adapter to make mounting the AIO water cooling unit possible.
CPU, Memory, and System Benchmarks
AIDA64 AES and HASH
PCMark8 Home Test
3DMark: Cloud Gate
3DMark: Fire Strike
Resident Evil 6
Overall, performance is actually quite strong for what it is, even with two DIMMs/dual-channel versus four DIMMs/quad-channel. The DDR4 is still faster than the DDR3 of the Z97 system, and it doesn't seem to hurt in most benchmarks.
System IO Benchmarks
Diskbench USB 3.0:
ixChariot Network Throughput:
IO performance is very good. Since there is no bandwidth sharing and most ports are directly routed to their controllers, performance is great. I don't have a USB 3.1 testing setup yet, however, I tried my USB 3.0 drive in the USB 3.1 port and I saw a tiny boost. The Broadcom controller in the WIFI gives good wireless AC results as well.
Audio RMAA 5.5:
I disable all audio features, set the correct bitrates, and then test the audio with a loopback test.
Sound Judgment by Ear: Excellent. Surprisingly, this is the best audio performance I have seen in RMAA for an ASRock X99 motherboard, perhaps due to the proximity of the audio codec to the ports.
There are 5 ratings for audio: 1. Problems, 2. Okay, 3. Acceptable, 4. Very good, 5. Excellent
Temperature and Power Consumption
System power usage is measured at the AC/DC PSU (the Corsair AX1200i) which I have connected to another system to measure the test system and as a backup I have a wall meter to verify. The CPU power is measured through the 8-pin connect which is hooked up to a hall effect IC which measures current and puts out a voltage in proportion to the current. That voltage is logged by a National Instruments ADC which logs the DC voltage level, which I then convert into current.
Note on Thermal Images: In the temperature section, we use our Seek thermal imaging camera to capture the surface temperatures of major components on the board; I look at the VRM and then all other things that light up the screen. If there is something to worry about then I will state it, otherwise I will just show the hotter running parts of the board for fun. Unless some component is over 80-90C then there really isn't anything to worry about.
All systems will act differently, so I will look for commonalities, such as how far from the VRM the heat spreads through the PCB and the difference in temperature between the front side and backside of the PCB. Keep in mind that the majority of the heat from the VRM goes into the PCB as it is a giant soldered on copper heat sink. As long as the front of the board is warmer than the back of the board, the heat sink is doing its job pulling the heat away from the PCB.
Thermal Testing at Stock Speeds:
The image on the left is always at idle and the image on the right is at load.
Up-close of the front of the VRM.
Up-close of the back of the VRM.
Thermal Testing at 4.2GHz Overclocked Speeds:
Up-close of the front of the VRM.
Up-close of the back of the VRM.
First off for this review, I set the fan slopes manually in the UEFI, with the fan at its lowest percentage (21%) until 70C when I had it ramp up to full speed which sounds like a jet engine. In almost all cases, the PCH heat sink actually got hotter than the CPU heat sink, which only means the VRM isn't getting that hot. The CPU VRM heats up a bit during stock conditions compared to other X99 motherboards, but still within totally acceptable ranges (below 60C is totally fine). At stock, the back of the PCB never got hotter than the front, which means the heat sink on the VRM is doing its job.
When I overclocked the system to 4.2GHz, things got a bit more heated, but nothing to worry about. In both cases again the backside of the PCB never got warmer than the front; even with the heat from the CPU creeping its way towards the VRM, the tiny heat sink did its job. Any higher on the overclock and this temperature delta would have reversed, but still I think this VRM can support a 24/7 4.5GHz overclock, in my case the cooler limits the CPU's thermals, not the VRM.
If you have gone on YouTube lately, you might have seen a video of a bully getting beat up by a victim half his size, with the victim knocking out the bully with a single punch. In some sense, I think of the X99E-ITX/ac as the little underdog that packs a strong punch. This board's greatest advantage and its greatest disadvantage is its tiny size. The facts are that it only has two DIMMs, a U2 server socket, and a single PCI-E slot. There is no way to fit more DIMMs or PCI-E slots on a board of this size; it hasn't been done and it won't be anytime soon.
While these limitations are that of all Mini-ITX boards, they still need to be taken into consideration when purchasing an X99 motherboard. If you want more than two DIMMs and you want more than one GPU, then this board isn't for you. However, if you are willing to take an X99 system with a single PCI-E slot and DDR performance above that of DDR3, but below that of quad-channel DDR4, then the X99E-ITX/ac might be worth a look. You can see from the benchmarks that the memory difference doesn't really hurt overall performance.
This system is without a doubt the fastest Mini-ITX system to date, you just can't go higher in the Mini-ITX playing field than this board. It packs a ton of features including USB 3.1, wirelesses AC, SATA Express, and Ultra M.2 while providing the proper hardware for high overclocks. Its VRM has extremely high power density, and CPU cooling will hold you back before the VRM does on this board.
Sure, it's limited by its size, but that doesn't keep the X99E-ITX/ac from performing like any other X99 motherboard. I think that the price of the X99E-ITX/ac at $290 is a bit on the high side for a Mini-ITX motherboard, but comparing its feature set to other X99 motherboards, you can start to see why the board comes with such a price tag.
I really like that ASRock provides the CPU cooler, as most people would have to go buy a special one just for this board, which brings me to my final point. If you want the highest performance in the smallest form factor and are willing to make the needed sacrifices along the way, you want the ASRock X99E-ITX/ac.
|Performance (including Overclocking)||91%|
|Quality including Design and Build||93%|
|Bundle and Packaging||94%|
|Value for Money||87%|
The Bottom Line: If you want the highest performance in the smallest form factor and are willing to make the needed sacrifices along the way, you want the ASRock X99E-ITX/ac.
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