Asus Z9PE-D8 WS
For this test, Asus supplied us with the Z9PE-D8 WS, one of their 'server’ range motherboards, though it is referred to as a ‘workstation’ type card. It’s equipped with the Intel C602 chipset, previously known under the name Patsburg-A. The first thing you notice is of course its size. It’s in the E-ATX format. At 30.5 cm, it’s the same height as a traditional ATX motherboard. The width however increases from 24.5 to 33 centimetres. This increase in size is of course obligatory so as to be able to get both sockets and the associated memory in there. It goes without saying that such a card requires a casing that is specifically compatible with the EEB standard. A single large tower casing, as big as it might be, won’t be enough if it isn’t explicitly EEB compatible.
There are two LGA 2011 sockets on the motherboard with the main socket on the right. To recap, while Intel used a QPI interconnect to link the processors to the chipset with Nehalem, this is no longer the case on the SNB-E platform as here the main socket is linked to the chipset by a DMI bus (a PCI Express 2.0 x4), like on the socket 1155 platforms.
Each socket is surrounded with four memory slots, with Asus limiting itself to one DIMM per channel on this model to contain the size of the card. Models with two DIMMs per channel (namely eight memory slots per socket, 16 in all on a bi-socket motherboard) also exist. Note that for the power supply each socket has its own P8 type power supply connector. While the big power supplies generally have two connectors of this type, this isn’t necessarily the case on all models. You can however buy 6-pin PCI Express to P8 power supply connector adaptors.
On the storage side, like the X79, the C602 chipset has six Serial ATA connectors, two 6 Gb/s and four 3 Gb/s ones. The SCU (Storage Controller Unit), an additional block added to the chipset, adds four additional ports. In practice these ports are therefore particularly limited. To compensate for this, Asus has added a Marvell 9230 controller with four 6 Gb/s ports. A particularity here is that the controller is connected to the chipset on two PCI Express lanes and not one.
There are seven PCI Express ports on the motherboard and they're configured in a particular way. To recap, SNB-E processors each have 40 PCI Express 3.0 lanes. Here the first four slots are linked to the main socket and the next three to the second socket. With two processors you therefore have access to the four blue slots of four times 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes. If all the slots are used, they're limited to x8 mode.
The back panel looks more standard with a PS/2 connector and six USB 2.0 ports. There are also two Gigabit Ethernet ports, each running on an Intel 82574L gigabit controller.
One of the particularities of this controller is the VT-d support, as long as you have the appropriate drivers. For the rest it’s more standard with two USB 3.0 ports running on an ASMedia 1042 controller as well as six assignable jacks and an S/PDIF connector running on a Realtek ALC 898 (with a DTS encoding option). While these features may seem standard on a desktop motherboard, this isn’t necessarily the case for workstation or server boards.
In terms of internal connectivity you can connect two additional USB 3.0 ports (ASMedia 1042), six USB 2.0 ports, two Firewire headers and two connectors for series ports. More originally, there’s also a VGA header on the motherboard, running off an ARM SOC Aspeed AST2300
which serves as a basic 2D controller for a server room screen and allows remote control without requiring an additional graphics card.
There are two processor fan connectors and six chassis fan connectors, all in 4-pin format, as well as debugging leds and power/reset switches, which can come in very handy.
Finally the Asus bundle includes no fewer than fourteen (!) Serial ATA cables, SLI bridges, Tri SLI and Quad SLI, two brackets for COM ports, a bracket with two USB 2.0 ports and a Firewire port as well as a thick manual which covers the workings of LSI MegaRaid, pretty extensively though this isn’t actually included, and other particularities of the board. For the rest, the manual is similar to the Asus consumer manuals.
Note that there’s no USB 3.0 bracket in the bundle. It would also have been nice to see an adaptor for the VGA header.