Earlier this month Intel quietly launched its W680 chipset, the company's workstation-focused chipset for its 12th Gen Core (Alder Lake) processors. Unlike the current generation of consumer desktop chipsets such as Z690, H670, B660, and H610, the W680 adds the capability to use ECC DRAM, including both DDR5 and DDR4 variants. At present, there haven't been many W680 motherboard announcements, although a couple of vendors, including ASRock Industrial and Supermicro have a few options listed. So we're giving you the lowdown on W680, what it has to offer, and what technologies it brings for users looking to build a workstation-class desktop with Intel's latest Alder Lake architecture.

The Intel W680 Chipset: Enabling Alder Lake Workstations

Typically when Intel launches a new series of processors for the desktop market, it releases multiple chipsets with varying levels of features. For its 12th Gen Core family, Intel initially launched its CPUs and premium Z690 chipset, and followed that up with its more affordable H660, B660, and H610 chipsets. In most generations the product stack is rounded out a bit later with a W-series workstation-focused chipset, and finally a variety of Xeon-E series.

Enter the Intel W680 chipset, which is Intel's designated workstation chipset for its 12th Gen Core platform. The Intel W680 chipset is interesting for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that that it formally opens up ECC memory support for Intel's Alder Lake-S desktop processors.

Intel W680 Chipset Block Diagram

Some of the main features of the W680 chipset include a PCIe 4.0 x8 DMI link, which connects the processor to the chipset for improved bandwidth over Intel's previous W-series chipsets. Other features include support for up to eight SATA ports and integrated Wi-Fi 6E PHY/2.5 GbE MACs for vendors to hook in the latest networking controllers. Intel includes support for 16x PCIe 5.0 lanes from the CPU, with the usual 16/0 or 8/8 bifurcation options.

Intel W680, Z690, W580, and W480 Chipset Comparison
Feature W680 Z690 W580 W480
Socket LGA1700 LGA1700 LGA1200 LGA1200
uArch Alder Lake Alder Lake Rocket Lake Comet Lake
PCIe Lanes (CPU) 16 x 5.0
4 x 4.0
16 x 5.0
4 x 4.0
20 x 4.0 16 x 3.0
PCIe Lanes (Chipset) 12 x 4.0
16 x 3.0
12 x 4.0
16 x 3.0
24 x 3.0 24 x 3.0
PCIe Specification (CPU) 5.0/4.0 5.0/4.0 3.0 3.0
Memory Support DDR5-4800B
DDR4-2933 DDR4-2933
ECC Memory Y N Y Y
DMI Lanes x8 4.0 x8 4.0 N/A N/A
Max USB 3.2 (Gen2/Gen1) 10/10 10/10 6/10 6/10
USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 (20 Gbps) Y Y ASMedia ASMedia
Total USB 14 14 14 14
Max SATA Ports 8 8 8 8
Memory Channels (Dual) 2/2 2/2 2/2 2/2
Intel Optane Memory Support Y Y Y Y
Intel Rapid Storage Tech (RST) Y Y Y Y
Integrated Wi-Fi MAC Wi-Fi 6E Wi-Fi 6E Wi-Fi 6 Wi-Fi 6
Intel Smart Sound Y Y Y Y
Overclocking Support Y Y N N
Intel vPro Y N Y Y
ME Firmware 16 16 15 14
TDP (W) 6 6 6 6

Other features with W680 include native support for USB 3.2 Gen2x2 (20 Gbps) Type-C connectivity. However, most of the cost and implementation of networking and connectivity still rely on vendors using solutions through proprietary CNVi connections. This is much the same story on regular Z690, H670, B660, and H610 options, the cost for the target market is a massive factor here on what vendors decide to include or omit. The point is the capability is there should a vendor wish to utilize it.

Intel W680: Now with Official Overclocking Support for CPU & Memory

On the whole, there isn't much difference between the W680 and Z690 chipsets when comparing technical specifications. This includes package size (both are 28 x 25 mm), USB, PCIe, and storage support, but interestingly there's a new addition to Intel's latest desktop workstation chipset. This 'new' inclusion is official support for overclocking, which is something both of the previous W-series chipsets – W580 and W480 – omitted.

While the last couple of W-series chipsets allowed users to overclock the memory on supported processors, Intel has opened this up to unlocking the core frequency when combined with its K-series processors on W680. And while this functionality is appreciated, it's admittedly unlikely users will want to significantly overclock an already hot running and high-powered Alder Lake processor, especially on a motherboard that doesn't have a robust power delivery system like Z690 motherboards do.

The point to this is Intel is giving users a choice, and while it sounds nonsensical in practice, it's a pretty big move for conservative Intel. It should be noted that its H610 chipset doesn't support CPU overclocking; it's an interesting shift from Intel's previous standpoint when it comes to overclocking.

W680 Motherboards: What's Currently Announced (As of March 9th)

Despite Intel opting for a slow ramp up for its W680 chipset, a few motherboard options are officially listed, including from ASRock Industrial and Supermicro. As time goes by, and perhaps when Intel pulls the trigger on its obligatory Xeon E-3300 family of processors, motherboard vendors might opt to officially announce more models.

The key element with W680 is that while they offer support for existing Alder Lake-S processors, they are designed around its Xeon series, which aren't usually overclockable. These models generally feature lower core frequencies and TDPs, given their greater focus on reliability versus performance.

ASRock Industrial W680

As it stands, ASRock Industrial has four W680 motherboards listed at the time of writing. This includes one thin-ITX model (IMB-X1233-WV), one mini-ITX model (IMB-X1231), one micro-ATX model (IMB-X1314) and one full-sized ATX model (IMB-X1712).

The ASRock Industrial IMB-X1712 ATX (W680) motherboard.

All of ASRock Industrial's W680 options include support for ECC DDR4-3200 memory and offer varying levels of PCIe 4.0 and storage support. The PCIe 4.0 support depends on the form factor as the ITX sized offerings are limited to just one full-length PCIe 4.0 slot, while the IMB-X1314 and IMB-X1712 have two full-length PCIe 4.0 slots available. For the ITX sized models, both benefit from dual 2.5 GbE, while the larger models have three 2.5 GbE controllers, all of which use Intel I225-LM controllers to power each Ethernet port across all models. It's worth noting that the IMB-X1712 includes two PCI slots for legacy devices.

The ASRock Industrial IMB-X1231 mini-ITX (W680) motherboard.

Both the IMB-X1233-WV and IMB-X1231 ITX sized offerings allow support for Alder Lake-S processors with a maximum TDP of 65 W, while the micro-ATX IMB-X1314 and ATX IMB-X1712 enable users to use processors with a base TDP of up to 125 W. Support and compatibility here are aligned and determined by the base frequency TDP rating on these models.

At the time of writing, ASRock Industrial hasn't announced any availability or pricing for any of its W680 models.

Supermicro W680

For Intel's W680 chipset launch, Supermicro has listed two motherboards designed around the new chipset. This includes the X13SAE and the X13SAE-F motherboards. These models are ATX in size and include support for DDR5-4400 memory, both ECC and non-ECC DRAM types.

The Supermicro X13SAE ATX (W680) motherboard.

Despite both the Supermicro X13SAE and X13SAE-F featuring the same base specifications, including dual Ethernet, one powered by an Intel I225-V 2.5 GbE and the other by an Intel I1219-LM Gigabit controller pairing, there is one key difference. The Supermicro X13SAE-F includes IPMI functionality which is powered by an ASPeed AST2600 BMC controller and includes a supplementary Realtek RTL8211F management LAN port.

Both of the Supermicro X13 (W680) allow users to use Alder Lake-S processors with a base TDP of 125 W, and both are using a Realtek ALC888S HD audio codec. They share the same connectivity options, including HDMI 2.1, DisplayPort 1.4, and DVI video outputs, as well as three USB 3.2 G2 Type-A and one USB 3.2 G1 Type-A port on the rear panel. 

At the time of writing, Supermicro hasn't shared any information regarding the availability or pricing on its X13 (W680) motherboards.

For other LGA1700 options such as Z690 motherboards, below we have a list of our detailed Intel Alder Lake coverage:

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  • lemurbutton - Thursday, March 10, 2022 - link

    Why would anyone want this? Get a Mac Studio.
  • The Von Matrices - Thursday, March 10, 2022 - link

    No ECC and also a lot more expensive.
  • mode_13h - Thursday, March 10, 2022 - link

    Aside from the matter of price, buying a M1 Mac means being trapped in Apple's walled garden. I'm certainly not about to pay a premium price for that privilege, thank you.

    There's a half-baked Linux port for the M1, but that still doesn't even have a proper GPU driver. And I don't know if anyone has even gotten to try it on the Studio, yet.
  • Silver5urfer - Friday, March 11, 2022 - link

    It's BGA dumpster with zero IO for PCIe and no Storage options as well, everything must go through the stupid Thunderbolt. Nope. And second it has no future expansion options, a used Xeon will run for decades as many use the 2012 ones today for PLEX and for demanding workloads people opt for later Xeons.

    Mac is trash and it's only fit to be in Apple's utopia where sheep are blinded. Pay $6000 for a 12900K + 3090 class that too in limited workloads, that's not how PC works.
  • shadowx360 - Tuesday, May 3, 2022 - link

    Exactly. Speaking of Plex, Alder Lake S on W680 will allow ECC support + QuickSync, which was previously not possible on the vast majority of Xeons. Only certain generation i3s and the extremely rare Xeon G/E series had both. No more idling a GTX/RTX only for nvenc transcoding.
  • TeXWiller - Saturday, March 12, 2022 - link

    The bigger Pro model is still coming. You may want to wait for that.
  • shadowx360 - Monday, May 2, 2022 - link

    Literally the whole point of the article - ECC support. Also for actual workstation purposes, Apple has zero regard for data integrity. They patched fsync() on macOS to only flush data to disk and not the disk cache as well, so in event of a sudden power loss, it’s bye bye data. I’d love to buy a nice shiny Mac Studio instead of paying out the wazoo for Xeons but when you’re dealing with scientific workloads involving tens of terabytes, a single bit flip in memory or storage can be catastrophic. There is no Apple equivalent of ReFS/ZFS, as the only implementation of openZFS doesn’t support M1 silicon. Mac Studio is a joke for non-creative workloads.
  • heartinpiece - Friday, March 11, 2022 - link

    I'm surprised that a separate chipset is required at all for the ECC. We've had integrated memory controller since Nehalem (?) on the CPU, and so I don't understand what role the chipset plays here.

    Does anyone have an insight here?
  • AdrianBc - Friday, March 11, 2022 - link

    The chipset does not have any role beyond identifying the motherboard as a workstation motherboard.

    During initialization, the Intel CPU checks the type of the chipset and it enables ECC only when finding a W680.

    The only reason for this is to force all who want ECC to pay more for it, by buying a more expensive motherboard. The difference goes to Intel, because they sell W680 at a higher price than the non-workstation chipset.

    Having the market segmentation done only by the chipset and not by the CPU is more convenient for Intel, because they do not have to guess how many Xeon CPUs and how many Core CPUs will be sold.

    The W680 chipset is made in an older process and it is much cheaper than the CPUs, if they guess wrong and they make too many W680 or too few, the losses are far less than for a wrong guess of the number of CPUs that will be sold.
  • mode_13h - Friday, March 11, 2022 - link

    This is not new. Their i3's have traditionally supported ECC on a capable motherboard.

    > market segmentation done only by the chipset and not by the CPU is more convenient for Intel

    It's clearly not that simple, because they also opted to allow overclocking on these motherboards. So, it's like having the option of ECC without the typical Xeon downsides.

    I've already said why I think it's sort of a non-issue for ECC to be tied to the chipset, and that's because ECC support has always been tied to the motherboard. Even back in the days of LGA 775.

    So, as long as the price delta between chipsets is relatively small, I think it's a non-issue. The main price-gouging on these motherboards will be done by their manufacturers, not Intel.

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