X299 on mini-ITX

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ASRock’s new mini-ITX board can ac­com­mo­date an 18-core Intel Core i9 CPU, and even quad-chan­nel RAM.

e thought ASRock’s last ef­fort at a high-end desk­top (HEDT) mini-ITX motherboard was ab­so­lutely fan­tas­tic. While it had nearly all the hall­marks of an ATX X99 motherboard, though, it only had one M.2 port and didn’t sup­port quad­chan­nel mem­ory ei­ther.

It also had an elon­gated cooler mount­ing mech­a­nism, which was only com­pat­i­ble with a hand­ful of wa­terblocks and very few air cool­ers. Thank­fully, ASRock has re­turned to mini-ITX with LGA2066, and the X299E-ITX/ac aims to ad­dress some of its pre­de­ces­sor’s lim­i­ta­tions. It now has two daugh­ter­boards – one adds an M.2 port on its side in front of the two net­work­ing ports. The other sports six SATA 6Gbps ports, as well as the USB 3 header, all of which the PCB lacks. Amaz­ingly, ASRock has even man­aged to squeeze a fur­ther two M.2 ports onto the un­der­side of the PCB. All these M.2 ports sup­port 4x PCI-E NVMe SSDs, but only the top slot sup­ports SATA-based M.2 SSDs, and they all lack heatsinks.

The fact that the top M.2 port, SATA 6Gbps ports and USB 3 header have all been moved off the PCB has freed up space, though, and ASRock has made the most of ev­ery square mil­lime­tre. It now uses a full-sized LGA2066 CPU socket, for ex­am­ple, so you can use most air and all-in-one liquid cool­ers. Also, wa­terblock man­u­fac­turer Bit­spower has al­ready launched a full-cover monoblock for the X299-ITX/ac.

The next change has proved rather con­tro­ver­sial. ASRock has ditched the two DIMM slots of the pre­vi­ous board and switched to SODIMM slots – four of them. This setup al­lows the X299E-ITX/ac to of­fer quad-chan­nel mem­ory sup­port. A server-ori­en­tated ver­sion of its pre­de­ces­sor also used SODIMMs for quad-chan­nel sup­port, but the is­sue for en­thu­si­asts is that SODIMM mem­ory is ex­pen­sive and not read­ily avail­able in speeds over 2400MHz.

Also, while the ben­e­fits of quad-chan­nel mem­ory are huge in terms of band­width, very few ap­pli­ca­tions – even ren­der­ing and video edit­ing – make much use of it. Games and other typ­i­cal tasks also ben­e­fit lit­tle com­pared with dual-chan­nel mem­ory, mean­ing this is more of a to­ken achieve­ment than a ne­ces­sity for most peo­ple.

You’ll also only have a very lim­ited choice of mem­ory kits from Cor­sair and G.Skill, with four 8GB 2666MHz Cor­sair Vengeances SODIMMs cost­ing £360 inc VAT; the same speed and ca­pac­ity in a dual-chan­nel kit costs around £320. If you’re after fast RAM, both Cor­sair and G.Skill of­fer mod­ules up to 4000MHz, with Cor­sair of­fer­ing a quad-chan­nel kit specif­i­cally de­signed for the X299E-ITX/ac, al­though it de­mands a huge price of £600 inc VAT.

Apart from this snag, and the fact you’re lim­ited to just one 16x PCI-E slot, the X299E-ITX/ac is an en­gi­neer­ing mar­vel. It sup­ports Intel’s mon­strous Core i9-7980XE 18-core Sky­lake-X CPU, of­fers seven CPU power phases, USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A and Type-C ports, plus dual Intel Gi­ga­bit LAN ports and 802.11ac Wi-Fi. You also get the full count of six au­dio ports, in­clud­ing an op­ti­cal out­put for the Real­tek ALC1220 codec, and there’s a clear-CMOS but­ton on the rear I/O panel too. There are also three 4-pin fan head­ers, one of which of­fers up to 18W of power, which is enough for Laing DDC wa­ter-cooling pump. There’s no on-board light­ing, but you at least get an RGB LED strip header. Per­for­mance ASRock’s EFI is a lit­tle dated-look­ing com­pared with MSI and Asus’ ef­forts, but the fan con­trol sec­tion is ex­cep­tional, of­fer­ing the abil­ity to tweak fan curves and change the tem­per­a­ture sources. Its soft­ware is also sim­i­larly ca­pa­ble, en­abling you to ac­cess many pop­u­lar over­clock­ing set­tings within Win­dows. We man­aged to over­clock our Core i9-7900X to 4.6GHz us­ing a vcore of just 1.24V, which is one of the low­est volt­ages we’ve needed to hit this fre­quency.

We used Cor­sair’s 32GB 4000MHz SODIMM quad­chan­nel mem­ory kit for test­ing, but for com­par­i­son pur­poses, we in­putted a 3000MHz fre­quency and the same tim­ings as our usual mem­ory for X299 board test­ing. These set­tings saw the board per­form roughly in line with other X299 boards, with a sys­tem score of 222,633, which was a lit­tle lower than other X299 boards we’ve tested. Switch­ing up to 4000MHz saw 1,000 points added to the im­age edit­ing score, but the other re­sults were roughly the same.

ASRock has made the most of ev­ery square mil­lime­tre

Once over­clocked to 4.6GHz, though, the CPU pow­ered its way to sim­i­lar scores as sev­eral other full-sized X299 boards. Au­dio per­for­mance was typ­i­cal of Real­tek’s AL 1220 codec too, with a noise level of -104dBA and dy­namic range of 108.5dBA. Mean­while, it was no sur­prise to see our Sam­sung 960 Evo SSD hit 70°C un­der full load with­out a heatsink, al­though that re­sult is still be­low ther­mal lim­its, and our SSD pro­duced solid read and write re­sults of 3,129MB/sec and 1,845MB/sec re­spec­tively. Con­clu­sion ASRock has yet again stepped up to of­fer the ul­ti­mate miniITX motherboard – if you want to build a mini sys­tem with more CPU grunt than Cof­fee Lake or Ryzen, then it’s a great fea­ture-packed choice, de­spite its price. That price can also be ex­cused given the ex­tra leg­work ASRock has made to cre­ate the X299E-ITX/ac.

ASRock has un­nec­es­sar­ily ob­sessed over quad-chan­nel mem­ory sup­port though. The use of SODIMMs does free up PCB real es­tate, and grabs head­lines, but the ben­e­fits are niche, and this choice also se­verely lim­its your choice of RAM. Thank­fully, while SODIMMs are pricier than stan­dard DIMMs, the price dif­fer­ence isn’t enor­mous, which means this isn’t a deal breaker. In most other ways, the X299E-ITX/ ac is a supremely drool­wor­thy tri­umph if you want to build the most pow­er­ful mini sys­tem pos­si­ble, whether you’re run­ning games or work­sta­tion tasks.

Four SODIMM slots en­able quad=chan­nel DDR4 mem­ory The LGA2066 socket can even house a mon­strous 18-core CPU A daugh­ter­board adds an­other M.2 port next to the CPU socket

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