- Review Price: £227.51
The ASRock X58 SuperComputer motherboard gets its name from the Nvidia Tesla Personal Supercomputer which promises to bring super computing to the desktop. The idea is that you load up a PC with an epic amount of graphics power using three Tesla C1060 cards to shift the computing load from your CPU to the GPUs.
In essence a C1060 is a GTX 280 with 4GB of GDDR3 memory and no graphics outputs. You also need to include a fourth graphics card in the shape of a Quadro so you have somewhere to connect your displays et voila you have your own Super Computer. The key features that you need in a motherboard when building an Nvidia Tesla are support for four widely spaced PCI Express 2.0 graphics slots so the ASRock SuperComputer fits the bill admirably.
Support for Tesla C1060 is limited to Windows XP and Linux with no option for Windows Vista but the major stumbling block is the price as each Tesla C1060 costs £1400. This means that you’ll be spending more than £5000 on your new toy which lifts it out of reach of most people. So, being a consumer focussed website we can pretty much ignore the SuperComputer model name.
Once we’ve taken the Tesla out of the equation we’re left with a Core i7 motherboard with four long PCI Express slots and the usual features we associate with the X58 chipset such as six SATA ports with Intel RAID. The SATA ports and single IDE connector are laid down so the cables won’t interfere with your graphics cards, which is always a good start.
With so much emphasis on the graphics support it comes as something of a surprise to see that ASRock has supplied no less than three PCI slots. One PCI slot will be blocked by each double slot graphics card but even so the odds are that most people will have one or two slots available for expansion which is very generous.
Likewise, you’re most unlikely to use all of the PCI Express slots for graphics so there will be one or two available for PCI Express expansion cards such as a TV tuner, a sound card or, if you are dabbling in the Super Computing, more likely a RAID card.
ASRock doesn’t supply any expansion card brackets in the package so you’re restricted to the ports on the I/O panel along with the headers for case mounted ports. Everything looks pretty much as you would expect in this department with dual Gigabit LAN, two PS/2 ports, integrated audio with coaxial and optical digital connections, six USB ports, one Firewire and an eSATA port. In fact there is an oddity as the eSATA port doubles up as a USB port (something often seen on notebooks) so there are actually seven USB ports on the I/O panel. The three USB headers on the board support a further five USB ports which is odd as these ports usually go in pairs (presumably the sixth port is being used by the joined eSATA/USB socket – Ed.).
The rest of the layout is quite typical of X58 motherboards although the front panel headers are in an unusual location next to the main power connector. Considering the price of this motherboard we would have appreciated a set of micro buttons for power and reset.
We tested the X58 SuperComputer with a Core i7 965 processor along with 3GB of Qimonda DDR3-1066 memory, a Radeon HD 4870 X2 graphics card and an Intel 80GB X25-M SSD running Windows Vista Ultimate.
Our first task, as usual, was to update the BIOS. It was clear to see on the POST screen that we had version P1.30 installed and that version P1.40 was available but the updating process was unclear. Once the download was complete and the folder was unzipped we had four files that looked like they were intended for a boot-from-floppy DOS update. In fact the AMIBIOS updating utility ran within Windows quite happily and the process was entirely painless. It’s not as sophisticated as the methods employed by Asus, Gigabyte and MSI but it got the job done without fuss.
The BIOS update improved performance significantly at standard clock speeds but it is also intended to assist overclocking. In the BIOS there are the usual options for setting the CPU multiplier (provided you are lucky enough to have an Extreme Edition CPU) and you can also adjust the base clock, PCIe bus, memory and QPI speeds. In addition you can use the EZ-OC function in the BIOS where you pick a desired clock speed and let the system sort out the settings depending on the CPU that you have installed. We were sent a YouTube link by ASRock to demonstrate the feature but when we visited the site we got the message that the ‘content has been removed by user’.
The options for 3.2GHz Core i7 965 went from 3.6GHz to 4.0GHz in 100MHz steps so we gave them a whirl. At 3.6GHz the settings changed from 24x133MHz to 20x180MHz with the RAM running at 1080MHz. The next step was 3.7GHz=20x185MHz and a RAM speed of 1110MHz and then we tried 3.8GHz which used speeds of 20x190MHz and a RAM speed of 1140MHz. Although the system ran Windows at this speed it restarted during benchmark tests.
At 3.9GHz the ASRock refused to POST and froze solid, forcing us to clear the BIOS using the CMOS jumper which was rather inconvenient.
Using the same manual settings that we used on the Gigabyte EX58-UD4P we were able to run the ASRock at 3.77GHz which is disappointing when our CPU will usually hit 3.9GHz without any fuss. We have seen claims on the web that the ASRock will overclock a Core i7 965 Extreme to 4.262GHz (21 x203MHz) if you are prepared to run a core voltage of 1.528V but we feel that is a huge amount of voltage to shove into a processor that costs more than £800.
The ASRock SuperComputer certainly sounds impressive and could potentially make for a great mini-super-computer. However, without the £5000 worth of graphics cards needed to achieve this, this motherboard is otherwise mediocre, especially in the overclocking stakes. Add in the fact it’s uncomfortably expensive and you have a board that should only be considered if you are trying to make it live up to its name.
Score in detail
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