Broadwell-E is here, giving Intel's high-end desktop platform an impressive shot in the arm. This refresh bumped the top-end X-series part to ten cores—each now sporting Intel's Broadwell microarchitecture—all while fitting into the same LGA2011-v3 socket that we welcomed with Haswell-E. Part of Broadwell-E's appeal is the fact that the chip is a drop-in replacement for its Haswell-based predecessors. Existing X99 boards should require no more than a firmware update to work with the latest processors.
That said, motherboard manufacturers are taking this opportunity to release refreshed X99 boards. This new breed has been spruced up with all the latest hotness in storage and peripheral connectivity that their predecessors lack. In particular, we're seeing support for standards like USB 3.1 Type-C, Thunderbolt, and U.2 ports on some boards. One example of this refresh wave is Asus' X99-A II, the Broadwell-E refresh to Asus' X99-A. That board won our coveted Editor's Choice award when it was the new thing on the market. Let's dig in to see if the sequel is as good as the original.
Asus has kept the same monochromatic visual theme going with the X99-A II as we've seen from its previous X99 and Z170 boards. The company has made a few cosmetic tweaks compared to its first-generation X99 boards, though. Instead of heatsinks clad in matte black and white, Asus has gone with silver and white to match is current crop of Z170 "pro" boards. The printed circuit board itself is still completely black, however.
The X99-A II makes full use of every square inch of board real estate. Alongside the huge LGA2011-v3 CPU socket, Asus' engineers managed to squeeze in the full allotment of eight DDR4 DIMM slots. This also lets Asus make use of all nine ATX mounting holes. If builders need to apply pressure to the board when it's mounted in a case, the X99-A II's PCB won't flex like some narrower ATX motherboards might.
Flipping the board over reveals several clusters of surface-mounted components, a second Asus TPU chip, and a row of LEDs for the under-board lighting. The back of the board also clearly shows that all the heatsinks are held in place with screws. There's even a large backplate on the underside of the main VRM heatsink. This should ensure that the electrical components make adequate contact with the metal above.
On the topic of voltage regulation, it's worth pointing out that Broadwell-E, like the previous Haswell-E, makes use of Intel's fully-integrated voltage regulator (FIVR) technology, although it's presumably a more advanced iteration than what we saw with Haswell. The motherboard-based VRM components are found underneath the two VRM heatsinks, the second of which is hidden underneath a large plastic shroud that extends all the way to the rear port cluster. This shroud is purely cosmetic, and it's secured with just three screws on the underside of the board. Removing it could improve airflow to that left VRM heatsink. It also gives the X99-A II a more blacked-out look.
One difference compared to Asus' original X99-A is that the board is fitted with two CPU power connectors: one eight-pin EPS12V and one four-pin ATX12V. Both of these connectors need to be occupied for proper operation of the board. When we stop to consider the potential power draw when overclocking Intel's top-end ten core Broadwell-E part, this move certainly makes sense.
This power-connector requirement caught me off guard as I opened the X99-A II's retail box. Thankfully, a quick trip to my box of cables, connectors, and miscellany rectified the situation with a handy Molex to four-pin ATX12V adapter, since my Cooler Master V750 is only fitted with a single eight-pin ATX12V connector. Be sure to check your power supply, and your cables box, before opening your wallet for this motherboard.