ASRock E3V5 WS Review
ASRock supports the new Skylake Xeon chips with this board
Those interested joining Intel’s Skylake adventure will undoubtedly be aware of the Z170, B150 and four other chipsets that stratify this market. Surely, with six chipsets to choose from, there should be one for every possible market slice?
As proven by the ASRock E3V5 WS and its Intel C232 chipset, not necessarily. In addition to the consumer-level chipsets, Intel decided to throw in two additional ones specifically for workstation use: the C236 and C232. These are, in many respects, equivalent to the Z170 and B150 in the general purpose range, and boards using them are priced accordingly.
ASRock’s E3V5 WS uses the C232 chipset, so it has eight PCIe lanes like the B150 offers, but somewhat curiously, the number of USB 2.0 ports has been cut from 12 to just six. There are still six USB 3.0 ports, so that’s hardly a major restriction. And to balance those losses there are some interesting gains for this platform too.
The C232 has Intel’s RAID modes that you only normally get on the Z170, as well as Trusted Execution Technology.
The ability to use the CPU PCIe lanes is much more flexible than the lower-tier consumer chipsets. Where the B150 can only use the 16 PCIe SPU lanes in a single x16 slot, on the C232 they can be 1×16, 2×8 or 1×8+2×4, like the Z170 and Q170 both allow.
But there’s also one other specialist job it shares with its C236 brother, and that’s the ability to handle the latest Xeonclass Skylake-DT processors.
ASRock very kindly included a sample of the new Intel 3.4GHz Skylake-DT Xeon E3-1230 v5 quad-core server CPU to test the E3V5 WS with, and a very interesting chip it is. The base clock turbo boosts to 3.8GHz, it has an 8MB cache, and it consumes a maximum of 80 watts, all for about £230 retail. That’s less than the 3.4GHz Core i7-6700, but that chip does turbo to 4GHz.
What that hints at is the true purpose of the E3V5 WS and the Skylake Xeon processors: to provide a solid high-performance platform that will operate for long periods comfortably.
Supporting that objective, ASRock has designed this board ignoring much of the paraphernalia you might see on a Z170 or B150 gaming platform. Gone are the overly elaborate chip coolers, LEDs and overclocking options; this is all about workstation functionality and running the computing marathon, not a sprint.
You can use non-ECC DDR4 on this platform, but it’s built for ECC-compliant modules, delivering even greater stability.
Testing this platform on both PCMark08 and 3DMark Fire Strike using an AMD R9 290, I got some of the best scores I’ve seen. The system absolutely storms and is way better than a stock consumer Skylake of the same clock speed.
While these numbers solidified my support for the paired-down ethos, some things make me wonder if the drive simplicity has been taken too far in a few respects. The first obvious casualty is the processor’s built-in GPU, because there are no video outputs on this board. Logically, that’s because the GPU on the Xeon silicon has been disabled, presumably to make it run cooler. Consumer Skylake CPUs might have the GPU, but there isn’t any way to access a display, therefore necessitating a discrete video card.
Along with video, the other missing item is an M.2 PCIe slot, common on many consumer chipset designs. Its omission forces anyone who wants to use this extreme performance enhancement to sacrifice some PCIe lanes for a third-party PCIe M.2 card. Those who instead go with the almost identically priced ASRock Z170 Pro4 get that feature but can’t run the Xeon CPU.
And that’s the rub really, because while the E3V5 WS can run any of the new LGA 1151 Skylake processors, including all the Core, Pentium and Celeron versions, it’s only real purpose is the leverage the C232 chipset and support a Xeon Skylake-DT chips.
For whatever limitations it might have, the E3V5 WS does what even the Z170 can’t, should you be looking to build a workstation and not just any ordinary PC. With the relatively small market for workstations, I’m rather surprised that the E3V5 MW doesn’t cost more, and that’s a small blessing to those who’d like to mount a Xeon in their system.
Workstation class motherboard for Xeon-branded processors.
• Server-Grade LAN chip support• ASRock Super Alloy• Supports the Intel Xeon E3-1200 v5 processor and sixth-generation Intel Core Processors(Socket 1151)• Supports DDR4 2133 and ECC UDIMM modules• 2 PCIe 3.0 x16, 3 PCIe 3.0 x1• Supports AMD quad CrossFireX• 7.1-channel HD audio (Realtek ALC892 audio codec), ELNA audio caps• Six SATA-3• Six USB 3.0 (two front, four rear)• Supports full spike protection, ASRock Live Update and app shop.