Today we are looking at the ASUS P9X79 WS which is a workstation motherboard built around Intel’s X79 chipset and the LGA 2011 Sandy Bridge-E processors. Unlike the previously reviewed ASUS P9X79, this is a higher-end part, with a lot more functionality built-in. Unlike the base model, the ASUS P9X79 WS contains workstation-centric features such as additional PCIe slots and dual Intel network controllers that provide a lot of extra versatility. All of this versatility does mandate that the ASUS P9X79 WS is a big board measuring up to SSI CEB size specs. In this review, we will look at some of the features that make the board unique.
One thing I wanted to do with all LGA 2011 reviews was to test stability using the maximum number of DIMMs. Frankly, one of the most compelling features of the LGA 2011 and its Intel Xeon and Intel Core i7 CPUs, single socket desktop platform is the ability to utilize up to eight DIMMs, which is something a user would have previously needed a dual socket system or a single socket AMD G34 platform to do.
- CPU(s): Intel Core i7-3930K and Intel Xeon E5 8-core 16 thread CPU
- Motherboard: ASUS P9X79 WS
- Memory: 32GB (8x 4GB) G.Skill Ripjaws X DDR3 1600
- Drives: Corsair Force3 120GB, OCZ Vertex 3 120GB
- Chassis: Norco RPC-4220
- Power Supply: Corsair AX850 850w 80 Plus Gold
Aside from the PS/2 ports, ASUS also includes rear I/O and an internal header for IEEE 1394a Firewire ports which some users will need others will not. Personally, I would not prioritize Firewire over other features these days. One big point for those users looking at that rear panel and thinking something is missing, there are no eSATA ports available on the rear panel. ASUS does include a PCI bracket if someone does need connectivity in the rear of the chassis. I would have liked to see ASUS drop the Firewire ports in favor of adding Bluetooth and/ or WiFi.
Probably the most interesting piece of software is the UEFI interface that ASUS provides. For those accustomed to standard BIOS that have been used for decades, the ability to use a mouse is welcome. I did find though that using a mouse was almost necessary as navigating by keyboard was not as slick as old AMI, Phoenix, and Award BIOS implementations. The UEFI interface provides a simple mode (called EZ mode) that shows things like boot order, and lets a user change profiles between a power saving profile, balanced profile, and performance profile.
Beyond the UEFI interface, ASUS provides a suite of software including AISuite II and ASUS Fan Xpert+. Plenty of details can be found on ASUS’s site, but the highlights from this software are the abilities to:
- Monitor system information from fan speeds, temperatures, voltages, clock speeds and etc. and set alerts.
- Overclock the CPU if desired either manually or using a CPU auto tuning feature. The base clock can be increased too by a small amount as 100MHz to 103MHz base clocks are generally obtainable from a 100MHz base. One can also change the CPU multipliers.
- Set the EPU power saving profiles and features. The EPU is a feature of ASUS motherboards meant to intelligently reduce power consumption.
- Set and test fan speeds using Fan Xpert+. This can be useful if one wants to set thresholds and test them for quieter idle fan speeds ramping up as the workload increases.
Overall I found these utilities to be fairly useful and given the minimum of 8 threads one has with the LGA 2011 platform, performance is not an issue with these having fairly low CPU requirements. One should note that best practice will be to install each utility and driver individually as ASUS does include a small amount of bloatware with their automated installation.
Breaking this board down, I would have to recommend the ASUS P9X79 WS over the standard P9X79 if one wanted to build a big platform. VMware workstation and Hyper-V virtualization solutions are going to be an increasingly interesting option for developers as one can fill this board up with 64GB of RAM and have more virtual machine RAM available than with ESXi 5.0 which is limited to 32GB total. I would urge ASUS to look at trying to fit the board in an ATX form factor and to come up with a plan to phase-out the Firewire functionality in favor of Bluetooth and possibly WiFi. The number of users with mobile devices that are both Bluetooth and WiFi enabled probably outnumber those that have Firewire devices several-fold at this point. With that being said, having so many PCIe x16 physical slots is great and the board has lots of expandability options and nice software features. I do think the board is expensive, but a platform like this costs three times as much for a common CPU and memory configuration versus a LGA 1155 board, so a motherboard that is 50% more does not seem too onerous. Buyers know that it is a lower volume platform, and more complex as one can easily see eight DIMM slots. At sub-$400 I think the board is still priced fairly.