EVGA isn't the only one with an enthusiast-friendly, dual-socket workstation board designed for Intel's new Sandy Bridge-EP Xeons. Asus has officially lifted the lid on the Z9PE-D8 WS, which offers two LGA2011 sockets, eight DIMM slots, and seven PCI Express x16 slots. Unlike the EVGA board, the Asus model is already selling at Newegg, albeit for a pricey $599. You didn't expect a dually Xeon board to be cheap, did you?
The Z9PE-D8 WS is based on Intel's C602 platform hub, an updated version of the X79 chipset released last year. We expected the C602 to offer a broader array of storage connectivity options, and it seems to have more SATA ports. However, Intel's official ARK entry for the chip says only two of the 10 Serial ATA ports support 6Gbps speeds, a fact echoed by Asus' mobo specifications. Perhaps that's why the Z9PE-D8 WS also comes equipped with an auxiliary Marvell storage controller that serves up four more 6Gbps SATA ports. Asus provides SSD caching through that Marvell controller, functionality that doesn't appear to be available for the C602 chipset just yet. Intel hasn't brought its Smart Response caching tech to the X79 chipset, either, although support for that platform is due to arrive in a drive update this year.
Strip away the extra ports, slots, and socket, and the Z9PE-D8 WS looks like an enthusiast board. An ASMedia USB 3.0 controller feeds two ports at the rear and two more for a front-panel connection. Realtek provides the DTS-compatible integrated audio, while Intel kicks in a couple of Gigabit Ethernet controllers. We haven't seen the board's firmware interface, but we've been told that overclocking options are included. If recent Asus EFIs are any indication, the GUI should be pretty snazzy, too.
The Z9PE-D8 WS is built on an EEB form factor that measures 12" x 13", making it more compact than EVGA's Classified SR-X, which has a 13.6" x 15" footprint. Surprisingly, the SR-X is actually based on a slightly different chipset—the Intel C606, which has fewer 3Gbps SATA ports than the C602 but similar specifications otherwise. The SR-X boasts fewer auxiliary 6Gbps SATA ports but more USB 3.0 connectivity, and it costs about $50 more based on the price listed on EVGA's site.