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ASRock X99 Taichi Motherboard Review

The release of Broadwell-E has brought with it a flurry of accompanying X99 motherboard updates. This presents a great opportunity for motherboard manufacturers to add features more common to year 2016 PC’s than those found on X99 boards released in 2014. One of these new motherboards comes from ASRock, the X99 Taichi that we will be reviewing today. ASRock proudly showed off this board at Computex in June. It’s unique looks, updated feature set and affordable price should see it end up on many buyers shortlists. How does it stack up? Read on to find out.

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Introduction

Much like purchasing a car, it almost always makes sense to purchase the latest updated model, rather than the first of a new platform generation. X99 saw the introduction of DDR4 memory to the desktop market. Now, 2 years later, engineers have had time to study and learn the intricacies of the platform’s DDR4 standard. Additionally, While X99 was always designed with support for Broadwell-E in mind, it is only when the CPU’s are actually available to the manufacturers that 100% compatibility and performance can be unlocked. When you add in other increasingly prevalent technologies such as USB 3.1, Type-C connections and NVMe drives and it becomes clear that first generation electrical designs and BIOS implementations can certainly be improved from the 2014 boards compared to those available now.

We have always applauded ASRock’s willingness to push the unconventional. The company’s X99 range alone include an ITX model and a behemoth workstation model with dual 10 Gigabit LAN. We also consider their OC Formula boards to be some of the very best motherboards available. 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, and one that ASRock no doubt is quite proud of, with its combination of good looks and affordable feature set, without the sky high HEDT price.

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The full specification list is very detailed. The full list can be found here.

Unboxing and overview

The box is quite subtle as far as motherboard boxes go, its quite refreshing to see a box devoid of snarling beasts and lasers.. something a little more subtle! As many readers would know, the Taijitu symbol for Yin and Yang is a prominent Chinese symbol representing duality, or interconnected opposites. We’re not quite sure how this applies to the motherboard, so we’ll focus on the tech rather than delve too deeply into Chinese philosophy!

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Around the back of the box we have a good list of all the major features of the board, all of which we’ll go into in more detail.

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Moving onto the included accessories, we have manuals with a driver disc inside, I/O panel, four SATA cables, Wi-Fi antennas, and three SLI bridges, a triple, a single and the nice inclusion of a high bandwidth SLI bridge, which is designed to be used with Nvidia’s new GTX 1000 series cards. These new bridges support Pascal’s 650Mhz SLI interface and are recommended for use with high resolutions. This is a nice value add from ASRock.

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Now for the motherboard itself. The black and white design is quite neat and clean. It reminds us a little of MSI’s Krait motherboards, which in our opinion, look really fantastic in a nice clean system. While the motherboard world is heavily into RGB lighting on current generation motherboards, the X99 Taichi hearkens back to those users who wish for a little more subtlety. We think dark capacitors would have looked a little better instead of the gold colored ones.

The board features five fan headers, all of which are found on the top half of the board. We always like to see at least one fan header around the bottom half of the board to cater for various case configurations.

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.

A nice little touch is the centering of the battery to the inner gear of the silk screening on the board.

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ASRock have gone with a 12 phase system for the X99 Taichi. It is controlled by an Intersil ISL6379 six phase controller which is doubled to the full 12 with the use of additional controllers.

Our astute readers would know that Broadwell-E pulls some serious current when overclocked, so a quality PWM is a must. This is quite a powerful PWM design as it has to be to drive a 10 core overclocked 6950X.. ASRock’s CPU support page also list out of the box support for the Xeon E5-2699 v4, which is 22 core CPU that cannot  be paired with cheap PWM.

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The Taichi supports 3-way SLI and CrossfireX. It is becoming increasingly common to see metal reinforced slots to support the weight of heavy GPU’s these days. We know from experience that monster size and weight graphics cards like MSI Lightnings or the Asus triple slot Direct CUII put a lot of pressure on the PCIe slots, particularly when they are shipped in a system that couriers don’t often treat with the greatest respect. Expect to see these more and more in the future.

At the bottom edge of the board, we see dual BIOS chips with a switch selector and a case front panel audio connector.

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The Taichi supports eight memory modules with a maximum capacity of 128Gb at speeds up to 3333Mhz+. ECC is also supported when paired with a Xeon E5 CPU making the Taichi an affordable workstation option for those who opt for it.

We also see the front USB 3.0 header and on the left and what appears to be PCB space for power and reset buttons on the right. As reviewers usually working with open test benches, we love to see these on all but cheap motherboards, though in actual fact their absence is far from a prospective purchaser’s deal breaker.

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The board has a total of 10 SATA 6GB/s ports. eight of which are the 90 degree type as seen below. The other two are vertical, and can just be seen to the right of the chipset heatsink. SATA Express is also supported, though as we continue to say, this connector is still born with no devices available. We’d like to see this connector phased out in favor of a U.2 port, which would seem to be the logical progression of the traditional plug in port and one we’d like to see become the defacto standard in the absence of SATA 4.

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Below is one of the two Ultra M.2 slots found on the Taichi. With a 40 lane CPU, they will both run at PCIe 3,0 x4 and with a 28 lane CPU one will revert back to SATA mode. There shouldn’t be any real compromise there as your boot drive will still run at the full PCIe 3.0 x4 speed no matter which CPU you use.

You’ll also note the POST code display, the USB 2.0 headers, a COM port, TPM header and front panel connectors on the left.

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With a few exceptions, most high end motherboards are using a Realtek ALC1150 audio codec. ASRock call their implementation ‘Purity Sound 3’ which uses additional components such as a DAC with 115dB signal to noise ratio, Texas Instruments NE5532 headset amplifiers with support for 600 ohm headsets, Nichicon capacitors and PCB isolation.

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Finally we have the rear I/O panel. From left to right we have dual USB 2.0 ports and a PS/2 port, WiFi antenna ports, a clear CMOS button, USB 3.1 Type-A and C ports, dual Gigabit Network ports with another USB 2,0 port and three USB 3.0 ports, and finally the audio ports, which consist of analog connectors for 7.1 audio and a S/PDIF port.

The network controllers are both Intel controllers, specifically, a i211AT and a i218v which can be teamed for improved throughput. ASRock notes that teaming with Windows 10 is not supported at this time.

The WiFi controller supports dual band 2.4/5Ghz with a maximum speed of 433Mbps and Bluetooth 4.0

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BIOS Overview

Below is the default screen that’s seen when entering the BIOS for the first time. Most of the relevant accessible settings are found here, though it does look a touch cluttered.

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ASRock haven’t changed too much of their BIOS 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 7 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 CPU and memory configurations can be seen here.

 

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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. These last two could probably be combined, but its not exactly a hassle.

The BIOS profiles are also located on this page.

The automatic overclocking setting is also seen here. We’ll go into that later with our test i7 5960X and see how it goes.

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The next page is the Advanced Settings page. There are many submenus here, all related to the onboard devices.

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The Tools page contains the BIOS flash tool and various utilities, including a dehumidifier function which our Asian readers will appreciate. It periodically powers up the board to keep it above ambient temperature so moisture doesn’t have the chance to form on the board. 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.

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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 aforementioned options relating to the main CPU fan header/water pump header are also found here.

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Here is an example of the fan control customization. You will notice the fan speed percentage on the Y axis and the temperature on the X axis. Setting a slope type spin up would be beneficial to avoid sudden jumps in fan speeds. You get four control points, which allows you to set a slow ramp up from something like 10 or 20 % to 100% depending on the temperature.

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Next is the Security page. This one is pretty self explanatory.

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The Boot page below is also self explanatory. The boot sequence and fast boot settings are the primary options here.

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The last main page is the Exit menu, where you can .. that’s right.. exit, and also reset to the bios defaults.

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Software

ASRock includes a nice little utility called the app store, where all the company’s software and a few extras can be downloaded.

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This is ASRock’s A-Tuning utility. It has almost all of the Windows controllable items in one application. We like the design. There is no garish eyeball burning design here.

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Test Setup

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Special thanks to Zotac, G.Skill and Thermaltake for helping with our test systems!

Benchmarks

We compared to a Gigabyte X99 SOC Champion motherboard with the same CPU clocks and XMP profile applied. As we see, the results are well within a small margin of error as we’d expect of a now mature platform.

We added a 4770K for comparison clocked at the same 4Ghz, though of course, being a DDR3 platform, the RAM speeds and timings are different. Notice that several of these benchmarks scale linearly with the number of cores. As the 4770K and 5960x are both Haswell architecture CPU’s, we’d expect single core clock for clock performance to be pretty similar, as shown here.

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For Shadow of Mordor, we set the resolution to 1080p and dialed down the detail to medium, to better illustrate a potential CPU bottleneck. Again, the results are pretty much the same as we’d expect.

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As we move forward, we plan to completely overhaul our test suite and methodology. Moving to Windows 10 v. 1607 is just the beginning! We have a nice USB 3.1 SATA RAID card on hand that we’ll use for USB testing, a NVMe drive for disk I/O and a much more reliable power consumption meter. We also plan to go back and update our GPU library with modern 2016 era games. it’s a lot of work, but we love it! Bring on Kaby Lake and Zen!

Overclocking

The X99 Taichi is not aimed at overclockers, so we did not spend the time going over the nuances of its BIOS as we might with an OC focused board like the OC Formula. Nevertheless, the 8 core 5960X and even more so, the 10 core 6950X generate a tremendous amount of heat when overclocked, so a user on air or watercooling is going to run into thermal limitations or a clock wall well before the board itself breaks a sweat. Our particular sample can run all but the most intensive multithreaded benchmarks at 4.5Ghz, but this requires above 1.3vcore and even with our  capable triple rad Thermaltake Water 3.0 Ultimate cooler, temperatures quickly escalate to uncomfortable levels. Bear in mind, 4.5Ghz is a 50% overclock. 8 cores and 16 threads at 4.5Ghz 24/7 is pretty nice!

A word also about the automatic overclocking setting in the BIOS. With this set, our 5960X went straight to 4.0Ghz with the XMP applied. Everything worked correctly and it passed a couple of CPU heavy tests without issue. This is good to see!

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Conclusion

The ASRock X99 Taichi combines a great looking design, a comprehensive feature set and an affordable price into a serious challenger in the entry level X99 motherboard market. It’s definitely worth a look if you are on a budget.

The Yin Yang inspired design looks great, though it won’t suit those into fancy 2016 era RGB lighting and excess bling. It’s feature set includes all the the things you’ll need for a current PC. With its twin PCIe 3.0 M.2 slots, built in WiFi as well as USB 3.1 with Type C, we think this has you covered. The nitpicker might say it could use a little faster wiFi and a U.2 connector if it ends up becoming popular.

You can also use this board as an entry level workstation, that is, if you can call Xeon CPUs worth thousands of dollars entry level hah!

Functionality wise, the BIOS performed well, its BIOS feels mature as you’d expect of a board built on mature platform. The automatic overclock worked without issue and there are some nice bits of software included, and a high bandwidth SLI bridge too for GTX 1000 series SLI.

If you’re after a budget X99 motherboard to suit your Broadwell-E build, the ASRock X99 Taichi is well worth a look!

The ASRock X99 TaiChi is currently selling for $219.99 at Newegg.

 

Pro’s

Great Price

Great looks

Flawless automatic overclocking

Nice BIOS

Fan control works well

 

Con’s

No U.2 port

No onboard power/reset

Faster WiFi would be nice

 

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