Computing

REVIEW AND TEST OF THE MOTHERBOARD ASUS PRIME X299-A

Written by Tyler Rondman

REVIEW AND TEST OF THE MOTHERBOARD ASUS PRIME X299-A

We have already written about the new motherboards of the ASUS Prime series related to the Intel X299 chipset. The first one we reviewed was the DELUXE version. However, in the product line, there is also a simpler version – ASUS Prime X299-A, which is inferior to the older model, but allows to saves you loads of money when bought.

The main changes in the X299-A are the upgraded two-wired network adapter. Further, the built-in wireless Wi-Fi and Bluetooth modules are removed, the number of USB ports, especially high-speed USB 3.1 Gen2, is reduced, and there is a small “design” change, as the OLED display and several LED lights did not fit into the budget of the simplified modification of the board.

The designs been bundles and reduced and it lost the remote thermal sensor, Thunderbolt cards, and Fan Ext. Certain technical limitations also affected the used PCI-E lines, but discussed in more detail in the corresponding section.

PACKAGING

The box with the motherboard has the usual style for the Prime series with the dominant black color and the large name displayed on the front. The front part focuses on the support of ASUS AURA Sync technology for synchronizing the LED illumination of several devices. On the reverse side, you find the key features, applied technologies, and equipment information of the I/O ports.

As with the older model, ASUS deems it necessary to pay attention to the buyer’s support:

  • 5-sided optimization for fast complex overclocking of the processor and RAM in a couple of clicks on the corresponding buttons in the ASUS AI Suite software or UEFI BIOS tools
  • Optane Memory technology with the use of Intel’s caches, accelerating the loading of operating systems and the operation of storage subsystems
  • Intel Virtual RAID on CPU (VROC) technology for working with RAID arrays SSD
  • LED strip systems AURA Sync
  • Dual M.2 with a theoretical bandwidth limit of 32 Gbps
  • Quality playback of audio using the Realtek S1220A codec with Crystal Sound 3 technology

Inside the box, a cardboard spacer separates the lower compartment and accessories. For protecting the motherboard they have, bubble wrapped it.

EQUIPMENT INCLUDED

Comes with a motherboard ASUS Prime X299-A modest set:

  • Detailed user instructions (English only
  • DVD-ROM with drivers and utilities
  • Four SATA cables (two with straight connectors, two with “G” -shaped)
  • Rear end I/O port cover
  • SLI bridge on two video cards
  • Guide for vertical mounting M.2-drive
  • A socket for convenient connection of service cables from the front panel of the case

APPEARANCE AND DESIGN FEATURES

The appearance of the motherboards similar to the Prime X299 with the black color combined with white plastic covering the back panel of the ports and the LED AURA band near the chipset.

The board’s dimension corresponds to the ATX form and has nine mounting holes. With a detailed approximation, the metal radiators of the processor, chipset, and M.2 drive subsystem, on the X299-A, are identical to those in the DELUXE model.

However, the plastic covers are slightly different. The X299-A, audio codec in the lower left corner of the board is not covered with a plastic overlay. The decorative white insert between the CPU socket and the bottom heat sink is simplified. They replace the OLED display available in the older model with a luminous rectangular strip in the “A” modification.

The LED bands smaller and remains on the bottom radiator. As for the design of the Textolite, the black colors reduced with white diagonal strips, everything still looks stylish. The model name (PRIME X299-A) and the revision (hardware revision 1.01) of the motherboard that came to the review are painted white below the first PCI-E slot.

The rear panel I/O port group and BIOS startup button using a drive installed in one of the USB ports covered with a white plastic decorative cover. Unlike the DELUXE version, there is no highlighting of the AURA.

Ports and the button, soldered to the board:

  • Button USB BIOS Flashback (to flash BIOS from USB media connected to the lower USB 2.0 port)
  • Two USB 2.0 ports
  • One LAN RJ-45
  • Two USB 3.0 ports
  • One USB port 3.1 Gen2
  • Two USB 3.0 ports
  • One USB port 3.1 Type-C
  • One optical S / PDIF Out
  • Five 3.5-inch mini Jack connectors for audio

The Intel Core-X processors for the LGA 2066 socket of the graphics core has a clean design without soldered connectors on the motherboard for connecting output devices, a discrete PCI-E video adapter is required for operation.

The LGA 2066 socket is very similar to its LGA 2011-3 predecessor, retaining the principle of clamping the processor to the pads, and the overall dimensions of the mounting holes for coolers. Thus, the owners of the old productive cooling systems retain the opportunity to transfer them to a new socket without bothering to find added fixtures. In the upper right corner of the metal frame of the socket cover, a triangle engraved for the correct orientation of the CPU during installation.

On the reverse side of the motherboard, there is nothing remarkable: the stiffness plate of the nearest space and mainly the wiring of the components disconnected from the front side of the board.

Despite the absence of remote thermocouples in the kit, as in the DELUXE model, the X299-A retained the possibility of their connection, leaving a special through hole in the central part of the socket and the T_SENSOR connector at the bottom of the board for overclockers working with extreme cooling systems.

On the left and right of the socket, there are 4 slots for RAM modules. A detachment from the mounting holes of the socket should suffice for the comfortable mounting of massive tower coolers.

The user’s guide lists the recommended installation locations for the RAM modules for correct operation. This depends on the modification of the CPUs and their support and given in the instructions. Furthermore, it might differ depending on the processor model and the number of processing cores.

Un-buffered non-ECC DDR4 DIMMs with capacities of 2, 4, 6, and 8 GB are supported. The maximum amount of RAM is 64 GB when working with a quad-core processor, and 128 GB when working with six-core or more processors.

On the motherboard ASUS Prime X299-A there are six PCI-Express 3.0 slots, running in different directions, depending on the installed CPU and expansion cards.

With CPUs that have 44 PCI-E lines:

  • 3 x PCIe 3.0 / 2.0 x16 (x16, x16 / x16, x16 / x16 / x8)
  • 2 x PCIe 3.0 x4 (maximum in x4 mode)
  • 1 x PCIe 3.0 / 2.0 x1

With CPUs, which has 28 PCI-E lines?

  • 3 x PCIe 3.0 / 2.0 x16 (x16, x16 / x8, x16 / x8 / x1)
  • 2 x PCIe 3.0 x4 (maximum in x4 mode)
  • 1 x PCIe 3.0 / 2.0 x1

With CPUs that have 16 PCI-E lines:

  • 3 x PCIe 3.0 / 2.0 x16 (x16, x8 / x8, x8 / x8 / x1)
  • 2 x PCIe 3.0 x4 (maximum in x4 mode)
  • 1 x PCIe 3.0 / 2.0 x1
  • 1 x PCIe 3.0 / 2.0 x1 (mode x1)

In this case, the following features considered:

  • PCIEX4_1 in x1 mode,
  • PCIEX4_2 in mode up to x4

  • PCIEX16_3 divides the lines with PCIEX4_1 when the processor is installed with 28 or 16 lines

  • PCIEX1_1 divides the lines with the USB 3.1 GEN connector 2 ports on the front panel

  • The ASM1480 chips, which act as PCI-E slots, are grouped slightly below PCIEX16_1

For the motherboards of the upper price segment, the installation of PCI-E x16 slots in the reinforced version has become customary. The ASUS Prime X299-A is no exception. The first, fourth and sixth slots are reinforced with metal plates, which is important when installing large video cards with heavy cooling systems.

The main motherboard power supply is a standard 4-pin ATX. Additional power for the processor is connected via two connectors: one 8-pin EATX12V_1 and one 4-pin EATX12V_2.

Unlike the Prime X299-Deluxe on the Prime X299-A, the processor’s power supply subsystem is organized in seven rather than an eight-phase scheme. The same IR3555M transistors made using DrMOS technology and controlled by Extreme Engine Digi + PWM controller models ASP1405I.

For their cooling, a relatively compact heatsink with a two-screw fastening is used, without a reinforcing plate on the back. The thermal interface is a thermal pad. In the memory power circuit, they use the 4C09B “MOSFET.”

The motherboard is based on the X299 chipset, which is under the compound cooling radiator, and has the following design:

  • Decorative cover of white color, covering the LEDs AURA
  • The main part, cooling itself is a set of system logic
  • An additional section for storage media in slot M.2

Contact with the cooled surface goes through the thermal pads. In the M.2_1 (SOCKET3) connector, it is possible to install an SSD drive up to 80 mm long inclusive, longer form factor drives 22110 will have to be connected vertically to another connector – M.2_2 (SOCKET3).

Cooling SSD in the M.2 slot is a great option, moreover, the hot temper of high-speed drives can be cooled by printing on a 3D printer a special mount and installing an additional 40mm fan (not included). Appropriate printing templates are available on the ASUS website.

Next to the chipset is a TPU chip control overclocking parameters characteristic for ASUS motherboards.

Eight SATA III 6 Gbps connectors used to connect media and in a single block in the lower right corner of the board. To the left of them is a connector for connecting the hardware key VROC_HW.

To the right of the right block of RAM slots, the second M.2 slot (M.2_1) with holes for fixing a complete vertical metal rack for a drive up to 110 mm in length.

As with the Prime X299-Deluxe, the Prime X299-A motherboard supports Intel Virtual RAID On CPU (VROC), the essence of which is to use PCI Express 3.0 processor lines to create a RAID array of high-speed M.2 x4 drives, thus a virtual drive with a data transfer rate of up to 128 Gbps.

This technology will work only with Skylake-X processors from six cores and more if there is a special PCI-E card HYPER M.2 x16. Unfortunately, at the time of publication of the review, there is a significant limitation, expressed in the support of only a few models of M.2 drives manufactured by Intel.

In addition, depending on the type of RAID being created, you will also need to purchase a non-expensive hardware key installed in the VROC_HW_KEY connector.

The audio subsystems based on the Realtek S1220A audio codec with the high-quality Japanese electrolytic capacitors from Nichicon that make up the Crystal Sound 3 system. Traditionally, for modern motherboards with high quality “sound,” part of the board related to the audio path is separated from the rest of the Textolite by the physical separation of the conductive layers. In addition, the diversity of audio channels in different layers, which positively affects the minimization of electromagnetic interference and interference from other components?

The network capabilities of the card are represented by a single wired gigabit adapter placed on the Intel WGI219V chip – the LANGuard hardware protection chip supplements this. There is no Wi-Fi or Bluetooth on the board.

As far as the USB ports go they are equipped with modern standards, everything is modern enough, there are two USB 2.0 ports, four USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports and two USB 3.1 Gen2 ports, one of which is USB Type-C type.

There is no integrated support for USB 3.1 Gen2 in the Intel X299 chipset, so ASMedia ASM3142 (occupies two PCI-E processor lines) and ASM1543 (for the Type-C connector) are located next to the connectors.

One more ASM3142 is installed at the opposite end of the board, not far from the connector of the external USB 3.1 port of the front panel of the case of the U31G2_E3 system unit.

For connection of fans and pumps or water-cooling systems, eight connectors are provided, one of which allows EXTFAN to connect an external expansion board with additional connectors. The contact four-pin connectors CPU_FAN and CPU_OPT can work simultaneously, which is important when using dual fan fans. A four-pin W_PUMP + connector are provided for connection of the PSO pump fans are advised to connect the fans from the radiators to the four-pin AIO_PUMP.

 

In order to adjust the acceleration parameters, in addition to the ASUS TPU chip, the ASUS PRO Clock II controller chip is installed on the board, which acts as an additional base frequency generator (BCLK). Like the Deluxe version of the board, the BIOS is soldered under the PCIEX16_3 slot.

Since the boards of the Prime series are often used as test benches, a two-segment POSTcode indicator and a power button are installed at the bottom of the motherboard. To the right of them, the CPU_OV jumper is also set, which cuts off the CPU power supply voltage, allowing it to do an “overvolt.”

By the way, despite the absence of the ASUS ThunderboltEX 3 remote card in the package, the TB_HEADER connector for its connection is saved and is in the lower right corner of the board.

At the top of the board is the MemOK button this is the working selection of timings of operative memory and LED indicators of intermediate stages of initialization of devices.

BACKLIGHT

The backlight on the motherboard is made in the form of four LEDs, three of which are lined up in a vertical row behind the PCH radiator and one is located slightly higher in the improvised “window,” which has replaced the OLED display DELUXE modification.

In addition, two 12V four-pin connectors for RGB-tapes are made, one at the top (RGB_HEADER1) and the lower (RGB_HEADER2) part of the board. The backlight is fully customizable with ASUS Lighting Control. By default, it works in the running multicolored strip mode.

The location of the LEDs on the left side of the radiator does not look spectacular, on the decorative plastic casings there were transparent areas, under which the LED tapes in the DELUXE version of the board are attached and there it looks much more interesting, but one should not forget about the difference in the cost of the boards.

BIOS

Used in the motherboard ASUS Prime X299-A, they use a UEFI BIOS. Traditionally, the basic interface is loaded in a simpler version of EZ Mode, which displays basic information about the components and status of the connected cooling systems. In addition, allows you to change some parameters such as the XMP RAM profile, fan speed (QFan Control) or several specified performance settings EZ System Tuning).

For rapid overclocking, without a deepening in the details of the process, you have the EZ Tuning Wizard, answering a few questions about which cooling systems used and typical scenarios for using with the PC and auto-selection of the optimal parameters takes place. For novices and unsophisticated users, this option will be most convenient.

The UEFI BIOS interface is multilingual, including the translation into Russian, though not completely. Many deep settings contain hints and descriptions only in English.

Enthusiasts and advanced users can take advantage of detailed settings by switching to Advanced Mode. It presents the parameters for fine-tuning of all components of the motherboard and for controlling the operating modes of the connected devices.

The most frequently changed parameters for users can be assigned to the “Favorites” section by pressing the F3 key so that each time they do not move into the sub-menu of different sections each time.

In the “Advanced” section, the parameters of peripheral equipment and integrated controllers are grouped in the submenu.

The monitoring of the sensors built into the motherboard, as well as the voltage in key directions, is carried out in the “Monitor” section. It also houses Q-Fan Configuration, a high-speed manager for the fans connected to the board and the CBO pump, which allows you to plot the voltage dependence of the voltage on the CPU temperature, thus optimizing the noise/cooling efficiency.

In the “Boot” section, the parameters associated with the PC boot process and the order of the bootable media search with the operating system is grouped. There is also a 4G Decoding option allowing you to bypass the lack of resources when using the motherboard in the rigs with more than 4 video cards.

Auxiliary utilities, such as ASUS EZ Flash 3 for firmware updating of BIOS, Secure Erase for zeroing SSD disks, ASUS OC Profile for saving overclock profiles and several others are found in the “Tool” section.

Save and cancel changes, restore factory settings and load EFI shells from USB storage devices are found in the last section – “Exit.”

CONCLUSION

The motherboard ASUS Prime X299-A is a good option for the transition to the platform of the system logic X299 without spending too many funds. The board is suitable for enthusiasts who study the performance difference between the multi-core processor improvements on the LGA2066 socket and the more popular top-end options on the LGA1151 socket in the home segment.

At least in the ASUS lineup, the Intel X299 is the most affordable option offered at the time of the review. The differences from the Prime X299-DELUXE are obvious. This has not only affected the simplification of the bundle, but also part of the integrated ports, and the visual design of the illumination with the OLED display.

It should be noted that the same Thunderbolt and the external board of additional connectors for fans and temperature sensors are specialized, but they were not completely abandoned on the Prime X299-A while retaining the interface connectors for connecting external controllers.

The ASUS Prime X299-A is well equipped with SATA III and M.2 connectors, and supports Intel Optane Memory and VROC technologies, having lost only U.2 port in comparison with DELUXE version.

In general, the basic functionality of the ASUS Prime X299-A contains everything necessary for a stable and comfortable use, with the exception of, perhaps, the built-in Wi-Fi adapter. Wireless networks are important in our modern day era. Therefore, it is irrational for the production platform to bypass this type of communication side.

Pros of ASUS Prime X299-A:

  • High quality of execution
  • Reliable component base
  • Good opportunities for overclocking
  • AURA lighting
  • High-quality sound subsystem Crystal Sound 3 (Realtek S1220A)
  • A good set of utility utilities from ASUS (Dual Intelligent Processors 5 and Fan Xpert 4)

Cons:

  • Installation of SSD size 22110 is only possible on the vertical rack of the slot M.2_2 (SOCKET3)
  • Lack of built-in wireless interfaces

About the author

Tyler Rondman

When he isn't enjoying the beautiful Northwest outdoors, you can find Tyler on business and tech sites, writing about the latest news, analyzing trends, and generally making the Internet a more interesting place.