Finally we are able to bring you the first of our reviews of Intel’s new X299 High End Desktop (HEDT) platform. The release of Skylake-E CPUs with core counts from the 4 core i5-7640X all the way up to the as yet unreleased 18 core i9 7980XE means a new chipset, new socket and a full range of super impressive, though expensive motherboards. The first in our series of X299 motherboard reviews is the ASRock X299 Taichi. We’ve been impressed by ASRock’s Taichi boards in the past. It’s unique looks, updated feature set and relatively affordable price should see it end up on many buyers shortlists. How does it stack up? Read on to find out.
Its taken some time to bring this review to you. Intel were unwilling to work with VRZone so we had to rely on sourcing a CPU from one of the motherboard partners before we could bring this review to you. We have to say we are really disappointed by this. Nevertheless, here we are, and its full steam ahead.
The Taichi is a little different in that it doesn’t fit into a manufacturer trendy gaming series, overclocking or workstation series, but is a standalone product. We’re sure its one that ASRock no doubt is quite proud of, with its combination of good looks and affordable feature set, making it a good value contending motherboard. Indeed the name itself, Taichi essentially means balance, and this applies well to the of price and features balance that defines the board.
The silver and black design has changed a little from the previous Taichi models and its subtle looks should blend well into a variety of case colors and themes.
The X299 Taichi specification list is very detailed. We have a great range of features that bring the HEDT right into 2017, with the list including many features absent from some early X99 boards, which are now several years old. The full list of specifications can be found here.
The Intel X299 Platform CPU Family
Before we get to the ASRock X299 Taichi, lets take a brief look at the X299 platform, and what’s in store for the future. X99 has been put to pasture. Intel has introduced the all new X299 chipset with Skylake-E and Kaby Lake-X processors with the new LGA2066 socket.
Intel have greatly expanded the range of CPUs available now and towards the end of the year. The range starts at 4 cores, all goes all the way up to the 18 core i9-7980XE. Note that the i9 branding makes its debut for the first time, though the 7800X we are using is still designated with i7 branding.
There’s no doubt that the announcement of AMD’s Threadripper CPU lineup with up to 16 cores really did catch Intel off guard. A business as large as Intel has the turning circle of a Maersk container ship. At Computex all we saw was a simple slide announcing CPUs with up to 18 cores, likely a number chosen to one up AMD. Beyond core count, nothing was revealed. Even now we have very limited info on the specifics of the higher core count CPUs. They could be months away still. All this is still good for the consumer though. An arms race is something we’ve been wanting for the last decade, brought about by a resurgent AMD.
As we see below, the fundamental features are quite similar to the outgoing X99 chipset. Official memory support has been bumped up to 2666Mhz, The DMI interconnect between the processor and chipset has been doubled in bandwidth (4GBps).
The PCIe lane allocation is a bit of a joke really. With AMD Threadripper offering a full 64 PCIe lanes across the range, Intel’s decision to cripple the lower end processors for commercial reasons is exactly why we need a competitive AMD.
- Kaby Lake-X CPUs get 16 PCI-Express 3.0 lanes (LOL)
- Skylake-X six and eight core CPUs get 28 PCI-Express 3.0 lanes
- Skylake-X ten core CPUs get 44 PCI-Express 3.0 lanes
What’s up with Kaby Lake-X?
Intel have copped a lot of criticism for including Kaby lake-X CPUs in this launch. We think there are two ways of looking at it. On one hand we think it’s a head shaking decision to cripple the 7640X and 7740X. Limiting them to dual channel only and a pathetic 16 PCIe lanes are not befitting a CPU belonging to a high end platform.
On the other hand, the 7740X is the highest clocked CPU in the entire range. Single thread performance still matters. Intel was obviously concerned that comparative reviews showed the 4790K, 6700K, 7700K etc, consistently beating the 5960X & 6950X etc in many benchmarks, despite the latter costing many times the former. This just didn’t fit the narrative that HEDT was the best platform available. For this, we commend Intel for providing the option, which also provides an effective upgrade path. The problem is, Intel shot themselves in the foot. The benefits of having blistering single and lightly threaded performance is offset by the ridiculous crippling of the two models.
Knowing what we know about the 7640X and 7740X, we certainly wouldn’t be recommending them in their current form. HEDT should be able to run dual GPU at 16x/16x along with a M.2 or two and not have to compromise. When you consider the cost of the platform, there is pretty much zero reason to recommend them unless you require the absolute highest single thread performance or wish to upgrade to one of the mega multi core CPUs later in the year.
Unboxing and Overview
Ok, lets get on with the Taichi itself! The box is quite subtle as far as motherboard boxes go. It’s quite refreshing to see a box devoid of snarling beasts and lasers and basically devoid of any marketing at all. As many readers would know, the Taijitu symbol for Yin and Yang is a prominent Chinese symbol representing duality, or interconnected opposites. Our knowledge of tech is much better than our knowledge of Chinese philosophy so we’ll stick to the motherboard!
Around the back of the box we have a good list of all the major features of the board.
One of the things we really like about ASRock motherboards is the way they pack their boards into a foam shell, secured with zip ties. This adds a an extra level of protection when shipping the board. It means if the product is dropped or the courier thinks he’s Lionel Messi, the board is well protected and adds that little extra piece of mind.
Moving onto the included accessories, we have manuals and quick installation guide with a driver disc, a post card, I/O panel, four SATA cables, Wi-Fi antennas, a regular 3 way SLI bridge and high bandwidth SLI bridge, which is designed to be used with Nvidia’s GTX 1000 series cards. The HB bridge supports Pascal’s 650Mhz SLI interface and are recommended for use with high resolutions. This is a nice value add from ASRock. Finally we have a set of screws for securing M.2 drives to the motherboard.
Now for the motherboard itself. We really like the way motherboard manufacturers are moving to more discrete designs with neutral colors. This makes it easy to blend the board into different themed builds with the modern obsession with RGB lighting. Overall the board likes nice and clean. We’re pleased to see ASRock have gone for dark capacitors compared to the X99 Taichi, which had silver caps, detracting from that design a little.
The board features five fan headers, and we’re happy to see there are two at the bottom end of the board. With the variety of case configurations and designs available, having this flexibility is essential. One of the fan headers is designated as an optional water pump header. It provides up to 1.5A output. It provides variable voltage and can be manually set according to temperature or from a list of modes ranging from silent mode, to full speed mode. These options are found in the H/W Monitor page in the BIOS.
Generally the layout is pretty good, with few boards having issues after years of refinement. We like to see the M.2 slot above the graphics card so it does not get sandwiched underneath, which can lead to excess heat and throttling.
There are ten SATA 6Gb/s ports. The pair on the left are controlled by a ASMedia ASM1061. It becomes a little complicated if you are using M.2 SATA drives. In this case, SATA ports 0,1, and 7 share their connections with the M.2 slots if a SATA based M.2 drive is used.
There is one right angled USB 3.0 header and one straight angled USB 3.0 header just to the right of the pic below. These are controlled by a ASMedia ASM1074 USB 3.0 hub.
ASRock uses a quality PWM solution on the Taichi. We have a 12+1 phase configuration controlled by an Intersil ISL69138 controller. This is a digital solution that should react better to the large current swings that higher core count CPUs are expected to bring when overclocked. Ideally we’d like to see a second 8pin EPS power connector, but then this isn’t really an OC focused board. We drool over what the teased X299 OC Formula might be capable of with its expected flagship PWM design.
We should also note that the heatsink is screwed down and is free of plastic adorning garbage that does nothing but impede cooling. Overclocked X299 CPUs need appropriate cooling so a proper metal heatsink is vital.
Moving onto the rear panel, we have from left to right: Two USB 2.0 ports and a PS/2 port, WIFI antenna connectors, BIOS Flash Back button and Clear CMOS button, then four USB ports, two Gigabit Intel LAN ports, USB 3.1 type-A, USB 3.1 Type-C, and finally gold plated 7.1 audio jacks with S/PDIF out.
Looking at the bottom of the board, we have many headers available.
There’s the usual front panel audio connector, CMOS clear, an RGB header (white), Thunderbolt header, Trusted Platform Module header, then a pair of USB 2.0 headers, fan headers, a POST display LED and the case headers.
The Taichi supports four way CrossfireX and three way SLI, though due to Intel’s ridiculous PCIe lane allocation across different CPU’s (44, 28 or 16 lanes depending on the CPU), the actual allocation is going to be dependent on your components. It is highly recommended that you visit the ASRock website or read the manual for a full breakdown of the PCI lane allocations.
The audio section has been upgraded to the latest Realtek ALC1220 codec with PCB isolation, Nichicon caps and a dedicated Texas Instruments headphone amplifier.
ASRock haven’t changed too much of their UEFI layout in recent times. It is still well laid out and clear, especially once you become used to it. The colors, fonts and contrasts make it easy to read and navigate.
There are 8 main pages, each with their own subsections. The first one is seen below. It is the default screen that is seen when entering the advanced section of the BIOS. The BIOS version, CPU and memory configurations can be seen here.
Scrolling one page to the right brings us to the OC Tweaker page. As the name suggests, all the relevant overclocking controls can be found here. Note the four major sub menus that have options for the CPU configuration, memory configuration, FIVR (fully integrated voltage regulator) and voltage configuration.
The BIOS profiles are also located on this page.
The next page is the Advanced Settings page. There are many submenus here, all related to the onboard devices and this is one you’ll need to visit upon setting up the system for the first time.
The Tools page contains the RGB onboard control, BIOS flash tool and various utilities. Also noteworthy is the UEFI tech service. selecting this option presents a page that can be filled out and sent directly to ASRock’s support department. This is quite a nifty little feature. The dehumidifier function is missing. Perhaps ASRock thought this feature was unnecessary.
The next page shows the hardware monitoring and settings. Here you can see all the relevant system temperatures and voltages, along with the fan control options. You can set custom fan curves here, which work quite well on the ASRock boards we’ve tested. The options relating to the main CPU fan header/water pump header are also found here.
Next is the Security page. This one is pretty self explanatory.
The Boot page below is also self explanatory. The boot sequence and fast boot settings are the primary options here.
The last main page is the Exit menu, where you can .. that’s right.. exit, and also reset to the bios defaults.
ASRock includes a nice little utility called the App Store, where all the company’s driver and bios updates can be downloaded along with some extra utilities like Chrome that many will download. There’s quite a bit of potential for this app, but there are probably licensing or legal issues. We’d like to see things like CPUZ, Skype, Line, Viber etc offered here along with other common apps.
Below is ASRock’s A-Tuning utility. It has almost all of the Windows controllable OC, fan controls and settings in one application. We like the design. There is no garish eyeball burning design here as has been the case in the past. It just looks really professional and has been refined across the last few generations to the polished software it is today.
Here is ASRock’ss RGB control app. Unlike some other 2017 boards, the RGB lighting on the Taichi is positively sparse.
Test Setup & Benchmarks
Our test setup configuration can be seen below. Comparing different CPU’s and platforms can get a bit tricky. Our method is to apply the highest default turbo modes for the 7800X on the two X299 motherboards. In this case, a flat 4Ghz. This allows for a more indicative clock for clock comparison of the X299 boards instead of having offsetting fluctuating turbo modes or manufacturer ‘cheats’ with all core turbo etc.
The other systems run at their default settings, of course the non X299 platforms are dual channel only, though memory clock speeds were kept at the same 3000Mhz across all testing.
SuperPi is pretty much irrelevant in today’s PC world, but it’s still a darling of the OC community despite its age. It doesn’t have too much relevance to day to day performance, but it is still a good indicator of single thread performance. The Intel CPUs are much faster here, maintaining their edge.
Cinebench really shows the strength of the Ryzen CPUs. Even the much cheaper 1600X gets within striking distance of the higher clocked and much more expensive 7800X. The 7700K with its higher speed is left in the dust with its 4 core handicap.
We see a similar situation in POV Ray, a popular ray tracing benchmark. The quad channel memory architecture makes a difference here.
File compression and decompression is an application that makes significant use of available memory performance. The 7800X is very strong here and the MSI board seems to enjoy a slight advantage in memory bandwidth. Once AMD gains quad channel memory support with Threadripper, this will be an interesting battle.
Here’s a really strong result for AMD. One of the prime reasons for owning a PC in 2017 is video capability. the 7800X is certainly capable, but consider the additional cost for just a couple of FPS advantage over the ‘lowly’ 1600X. The Ryzen 1800X is well beyond the 7800X here.
Here’s a good result for Intel. 3DMark’s physics test shows a good result, though this is again helped by the quad channel advantage over the other dual channel platforms.
Moving onto gaming, at high resolutions and settings, all the platforms are pretty much the same.
Dropping the resolution though, and we continue to see the handicap AMD has in gaming, though again, will you really care about 126 vs 140 fps when the platform costs twice as much?
Here’s a quick test with a Samsung 960 Evo 1tb NVMe SSD. These speeds really kick ass.
Much has been written about Intel’s OC capabilities on X299. Our general thoughts are largely similar. These processors run hot, and suck a lot of power which is not helped by the use of pigeon poop as the thermal interface material between the die and heatspreader. Cooling is the limiting factor, though not the only one. If your cooling is good enough, you’ll need a beefy PWM to handle the current to power them adequately. Thankfully the ASRock Taichi gave us no problems when overclocking. We ran into thermal limits well before the board itself broke a sweat.
As below, 4.6Ghz is easy, 4.8 and higher needs a big jump in vcore and corresponding cooling requirement. Our triple fan 360mm cooler gave up at 1.35v.
Memory OC is very very good. You should be fine with a set of DDR4-4000 and XMP. Even higher should be doable. Its good to see a new (rushed?) platform and the Taichi being capable on the memory side. Usually top speeds are sacrificed in the hunt for stability and compatibility at the launch of a new platform.
A few words about power consumption and temperatures. We are yet to test higher core count CPU’s, but assuming they follow the characteristics of the lowly 6 core 7800X, its clear you will need a very good cooler and a very good motherboard PWM, ideally with twin 8pin connectors to handle the extra current requirements. Forget about a 140w TDP when overclocking. Think 300w+!
Our temps were well into the 80’s at 1.3v and the PWM heatsink of the Taichi was getting quite warm even with a fan on it. This worries us a lot to be frank.
The ASRock Taichi felt like a really mature motherboard with a strong BIOS and effortless OC capabilities. This is really great to see on a new platform, which typically takes a few BIOS releases to iron out the kinks, particularly when it comes to memory support.
The Taichi brand continues to impress. They have great features including WiFi, dual LAN, plenty of ports and no extra superfluous ‘gaming’ extras, all with a very competitive price. Actually its one of the cheaper X299 motherboards around at about $569 SG.
While we like the board itself, we’re not so convinced on the CPU’s. They are hot, power hungry and expensive. The 7800X may be the best of the lot due to its relatively low price, but the PCI lane allocation lets it down. The higher core count CPUs are certainly desirable and capable performers, but beyond the 7900X, they are MIA, and we have AMD’s Threadripper coming, which on paper should be worth the wait. There’s also the upcoming Coffee Lake 8th generation models coming later in the year. Perhaps a 95w 6 core/12 thread at a much cheaper price point will be the real return punch from Intel.
Essentially, the ASRock Taichi is a highly recommended motherboard to pair with your new mega core CPU. its refinement is something to note at dawn of the platform, something that not enough boards get right without many bios updates or a revision 2.0.
Features for the price Inc WiFi, dual LAN
Refined BIOS and general feel
OC is just too easy
Subtle design in the era of RGB nightclub laser shows
CPUs are hard to recommend
Onboard power and reset switches would be nice