Today we are looking at the ASUS P8B WS motherboard for Intel’s E3-1200 series Xeon CPUs. Based on the C206 chipset, the P8B WS is able to utilize the Xeon CPUs with a five as the last number (e.g. Xeon E3-1235) and take advantage of Intel’s onboard GPU. By enabling the Sandy Bridge graphics engine, the ASUS P8B WS makes a strong play for single processor workstation applications. As with the C206’s sister chipset on the consumer side, the H67, the C206 does not have overclocking potential like a P67 or Z68 motherboard. On the other hand, most workstation users prioritize stability over overclocking so the inability to overclock the CPU a great deal is more than compensated for by the ability to utilize ECC DRAM for greater stability.
For this test configuration I had to use a Xeon E3-12×5 CPU to enable the onboard video and decided to use the E3-1235. The reason for this was simply that I believe the E3-1230 and E3-1235 are currently the best value ECC enabled CPUs on the market.
- CPU: Intel Xeon E3-1235
- Motherboard: ASUS P8B WS
- Memory: 8GB ECC 1333MHz CL9 DDR3 (4x2GB)
- OS Drive: OCZ Agility 2 120GB
- Additional NICs: Intel Gigabit CT PCIe x1 network adapter, Intel Pro/1000 GT PCI network adapter
- Enclosure: Norco RPC-4224
- Power Supply: Seasonic X650 (650w Gold level power supply)
A quick recap of the Bromolow platforms shows that the C206 chipset, unlike the C202 and C204 chipsets does support the onboard video of the Xeon E3-12×5 series chips (e.g. the Intel Xeon E3-1235) so one is likely to want an Intel Xeon CPU with HD graphics over other competitors.
The ASUS P8B WS is a standard ATX size motherboard that has a lot of very desirable features into a relatively small form factor.
Probably one of the first things that one notices looking at the board is that there are a ton of PCIe expansion slots, especially for a Sandy Bridge motherboard, somewhat similar to the P8P67 WS Revolution. The P8B WS has four PCIe X16 physical slots one PCIe x1 and one legacy PCI slot. In contrast the P8P67 WS Revolution has the same four PCIe x16 physical slots with three PCIe x1 slots. One of the biggest differences between the two boards is how the slots are wired. The P8P67 WS Revolution uses the NVIDIA NF200 as a PCIe switch while the P8B WS has two x16 physical slots running in x4 electrical mode and two slots that either run in x16 and not populated or x8 and x8 electrical configurations. There are certainly use cases for both, but as we all know, the NF200 chip found on the P8P67 WS Revolution does not allow for ESXi pass-through so for some users, the P8B WS is going to be significantly more attractive.
In a configuration similar to the ASUS consumer line, the P8B WS has six SATA ports in the lower right portion of the board. These ports all run parallel to the PCB which makes cable management easier, especially with front-of-chassis drive bays. The light blue ports are SATA II 3.0gbps and the white ports are SATA III 6.0gbps. The two SATA III and four SATA II port configuration is common for the C204, C206 server/ workstation and P67, H67, and Q67 consumer/ business chipsets. For those wondering from the picture below, the 4-pin fan header next to the SATA ports is very easy to access even with six SATA cables attached.
One feature I always call out can be found between the ASUS EPU switch and the front pannel connectors. Those are two internal USB headers. the internal headers allow one to insert USB flash drives, for example, into ports located inside the chassis. For operating systems like unRaid and some professional programs, one needs a USB drive or accessory tied to a license installed at all times. Having that important USB drive installed inside the chassis is important if one is trying to keep it safe.
The rear I/O panel of the ASUS P8B WS offers a lot of connectivity. One has a combo PS/2 keyboard/ mouse port, eight USB ports (two of which are USB 3.0) and an IEEE 1394a firewire port (connected to ta VIA 6308S controller that also provides connectivity to the internal header.) The DVI out is a solid way to leverage the C206’s Intel HD video because it can be converted to other formats like HDMI. Audio is handled by the Realtek ALC 892 8-Channel HD CODEC and one can see the six 3.5″ mini jacks and coaxial/ optical S/PDIF outputs on the rear I/O panel. The two LAN ports are supported by Intel 82574L controllers, which are perhaps one of, if not the most used onboard server NICs around. As such the Intel NICs work with Windows, Linux, FreeBSD, Solaris, and VMware ESX(i) so that is a major positive for this type of board.
Probably the coolest feature of the P8B WS (aside from the ones previously mentioned) is the inclusion of a diagnostic board that can be used to show error codes and also provide power and reset switches during setup and troubleshooting.
I have used the diagnostic board on a few ASUS motherboards, especially in conjunction with the ASUS MemOK! feature to troubleshoot memory problems at boot-up. Since diagnostic LEDs emit light, I tend to like the ability to remove them from the motherboard once I am done using them to cut down on light emanating from the system.
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, AICharger+, 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 cannot change the multiplier with K series CPUs on the C206 chipset much like the Intel H67 chipset.
- 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.
- Enable fast charging (up to 3x faster claimed) using AICharger+
Overall I found these utilities to be fairly useful and given Sandy Bridge’s performance, and the fairly low CPU requirements of the utilities, they are worth installing. 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.
The ASUS P8B WS is a solid board for the single processor workstation market. The new Sandy Bridge CPUs provide ample speed at low power. Unlike many server boards based on the C202 and C204 chipsets with on-motherboard graphics, the P8B WS, by leveraging the C206 chipset and Xeon HD graphics can provide an acceptable graphics solution for those that do not need gaming quality graphics. The ability to put multiple PCIe x16 cards into the motherboard will be very attractive to many users if they need fast storage I/O, Tesla cards or the like. Using things like all solid capacitors shows that ASUS was aiming for long-term stability and reliability with the P8B WS, a goal further bolstered by the ability to use unbuffered ECC DIMMs with the motherboard. Overall the P8B WS is worth a look if you are in the market as it combines some of the best features from the consumer space with single processor workstation must-haves.