Redefining What's Possible with Mini-ITX
Note that we didn't include any game results because the Core i7-5960X's advantages are more apparent in photo/video editing and encoding. It isn't really any faster than the LGA1150 Core i7 processors when gaming which made those tests pointless.
The X99E-ITX/ac is an amazing achievement by Asrock that redefines what is possible, though part of us felt the board was a bit pointless when it was announced.
The purpose of the X99 platform is to push the envelope by offering maximum performance, an unprecedented level of features and huge amounts of system memory. To accomplish all that you need a huge motherboard which is why most X99 motherboards are built to the eATX specification.
As exciting as the notion of a Mini-ITX X99 motherboard was, we expected it to deliver limited features, memory performance and ultimately system performance. Furthermore, placing a 140w Core i7-5960X processor on a tiny motherboard in an equally tiny case seemed like a recipe for disaster.
We proceeded with our Mini-ITX build nonetheless and we ended up with something truly amazing.
As expected, memory bandwidth performance fell, by almost 40% in fact. That seems like a huge blow but we've found that this doesn't necessarily impact performance and the Core i7-5960X delivered virtually the same results using dual-channel memory as it did quad-channel.
Therefore, performance-wise the X99E-ITX/ac is as good as any other X99 motherboard on the market.
With the Core i7-5960X and X99E-ITX/ac combo smashing the Core i7-4790K in most of our tests, performance clearly wasn't an issue. The Ultra M.2 slot also allowed us to get the most out of Samsung's SM951 512GB SSD and with 32Gb/s of bandwidth on tap it's going to be a long time before an M.2 drive can saturate that interface.
The next real concern was cooling and to our surprise the boxed cooler did a pretty good job handling the Core i7-5960X. Opting for liquid-cooling is a better option if possible of course as Silverstone's TD03-E was able to drastically reduce temperatures.
Feature-wise, the X99E-ITX/ac isn't really missing anything, especially considering it's a Mini-ITX motherboard and you get an Ultra M.2 slot, 802.11ac WiFi, SATA Express and USB 3.1 out of the box -- what more could you want?
We aren't sure about the board's retail price but early indications suggest around $250, which seems fair given the highly unique design, rich feature set and extras such as the CPU cooler. That price would be quite competitive considering the cheapest base model X99 boards sell for $180.
The Asrock X99E-ITX/ac will no doubt inspire many new Mini-ITX builds over the coming months -- it certainly has us dreaming of all the epic possibilities.
Pros: Asrock's X99E-ITX/ac delivers the performance of a full-sized EATX X99 board in a 170mm x 170mm package that still manages to carry enthusiast trappings from Wi-Fi & Bluetooth to SATA Express & M.2 connectivity.
Cons: The board's limitations include four less SATA ports (six vs ten) and two DIMM slots vs four, though dual-channel RAM doesn't kill the i7-5960X's performance. Be ready to rationalize the expense of a closed-loop cooler.