Most high-performance motherboards can be also described as gaming gear, but Asrock’s $499.99 TRX40 Taichi takes it literally: Like many of the company’s other Taichi boards, this third-generation Ryzen Threadripper platform is designed with actual gears etched and mounted prominently on the heatsinks, shrouds, and elsewhere. Featuring support for no fewer than six M.2 Key-M solid-state drives and a deluxe thermal solution, the TRX40 Taichi looks promising if not for gamers (third-generation Threadripper is a mighty overkill platform for that use alone) then for pro content creators and serious storage-speed mavens. But I found that its minor creature-comfort flaws for builders, while relatively few, knock it down a bit, in light of the lofty price.
Seriously Geared Up: Design & Aesthetics
In addition to the gears stenciled in various places, The TRX40 Taichi has physical fake gears placed over the chipset that stand out particularly well. They don’t move or serve any real purpose, but they certainly do catch the eye with their shiny gold appearance.
The bling continues with a surrounding silver shroud and some RGB LEDs located right beside the gears, and a row of RGB lights runs down the right edge of the board.
Still, while the board does have a bit of flair, I wouldn’t describe it as flashy. The Taichi has significantly fewer RGB LEDs than many competing solutions, and the predominantly black and silver appearance gives it a more professional or industrial look. If you want more lights in the system, though, you do get two RGB LED headers, as well as two addressable LED headers, on the board. For a few dollars more, you can bling out your build to the max.
Featuring 16 power phases and 90A chokes, this board has a high-end power-delivery system that is actively cooled by a large heatsink, a heatpipe, and a pair of small fans. I don’t typically experiment with radical overclocking in motherboard reviews, but with such a lavish thermal solution, I was quite tempted. If I hadn’t already killed one Threadripper chip in the process of this review (no thanks to a defective cooler), I probably would have.
The chipset and M.2 storage devices are also well cooled on this board, especially the former—it’s covered by a heatsink with a heatpipe and an array of aluminum fins that extends out below one of the M.2 heatsinks.
Between the first and second PCI Express x16 slots rests a heatsink that wraps around the lone PCIe x1 slot. Beneath this sits one M.2 Key-M slot as well as an M.2 Key-E port that is occupied by a Wi-Fi minicard. A second M.2 Key-M slot resides between the second and third PCIe x16 slots and is also covered by a heatsink.
In addition to the M.2 ports, you’ll find six SATA 3.0 ports on the right side of the board. A few years ago I would have expected a high-end board like this to have more than the standard six. With the rise of M.2, however, six SATA ports should be plenty for most builders.
If you feel the need for even more storage, though, Asrock ships this board with a PCIe x16 M.2 riser card that can hold up to four more M.2 SSDs. The card is built almost like a thin graphics card, with a large aluminum heatsink covering the entire card and a small fan that actively cools any installed drives.
To help with troubleshooting issues, Asrock also equips the TRX40 Taichi with an “88”-style LED. There are also dedicated power and reset buttons on the motherboard, along with a clear-CMOS button and a BIOS-flashback button on the rear I/O panel.
The back of the board is also stiffened very well with metal plating over much of its surface area. This is crucial for TRX40 boards like this one, given the huge size of the Threadripper sTRX4 socket and the thermal solutions that need to be bolted over them.
Finally, the RAM support. The eight DDR4 slots (four on either side of the sTRX4 socket) support up to 256GB.
A Peek at the Ports: The Rear I/O Panel
The TRX40 Taichi’s rear I/O panel is fairly standard, with five 3.5mm jacks, an optical S/PDIF port, and a smattering of USB ports. Two of the USB Type-A ports here operate at USB 3.2 Gen 2 speed, whereas the remaining four are of the USB 3.2 Gen 1 variety. The lone Type-C port is a USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 port, which makes it the fastest port on the rear I/O, with up to 20Gbps of bandwidth.
Naturally, the rear I/O panel also has the board’s networking connections, which include a pair of RJ-45 jacks and antenna hook-ups for the Wi-Fi chip. Featuring an Intel 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 module, this board is able to transmit data over the Wi-Fi network at a fast rate of 2.4Gbps, but its wired network performance is even higher. The main Ethernet jack is powered by a Realtek Dragon TRL8125AG NIC that supports connections up to 2.5Gbps. The slower secondary RJ-45 jack is connected to a common Intel i211AT Gigabit controller.
Asrock equipped this board with two audio controllers. The audio jacks on the rear I/O connect to a Realtek ALC1220 codec. This chip is used in essentially every high-end and many midrange motherboards nowadays. Its widespread acceptance as a quality audio solution speaks volumes (no pun intended) about its performance. The second audio controller is a Realtek ALC4050H. Information about this codec is fairly limited, but it’s used in conjunction with an NE5532 amplifier to supply audio to the front I/O ports.
The Building Experience
Building a system around the TRX40 Taichi is fairly challenging due to a few poorly placed headers—and when I say poorly placed, I mean plugging cables into this board in places can be a royal pain.
Take the eight-pin power connectors: The placement of these sockets is the absolute worst. These sit on the left and right side of the VRM heatsink at the top of the board. Both of these power connections sit close to the heatsink itself, which results in the heatsink making it difficult to plug in the power cables. Plugging in power cables to the contacts on the right side of the board isn’t all that troublesome, but the one on the left is a nightmare. (Not to mention squeezing the release tab to get the cable back out again, should you need to.)
The port is crammed between the heatsink, the rear I/O shroud, and the top of the case, which leaves you with extremely little room to work with. Your case may have more clearance up here, and I hope it does. Long story short, this is the most difficult CPU power connection I’ve ever encountered, and I’ve built dozens of computers. To get the cable in place, I was forced to remove the top of the case, and even then the cable was extremely difficult to plug in. Ultimately I was able to get it connected, but in the process I acquired several scratches on my fingers, as well as a small cut from the heatsink.
Asrock also opted to place the CPU fan headers in a difficult-to-access location directly below the CPU socket. At first this may not seem problematic, but after you install the CPU cooler, RAM, and a graphics card, this space gets extremely cramped. In a best-case scenario in which you are just using a water cooler, it’s not all that bad, as you can connect the fans before adding RAM and a GPU. If you are using one of the very few air coolers for third-gen Threadripper, though (such as the sTRX4-compatible Noctua NH-U14S TR4-SP3), then connecting the fans gets significantly more difficult as the heatsink and fans will likely cover the fan headers. This placement will also make it troublesome to change the CPU fan down the road without removing other hardware.
A Brief Look at the BIOS and Software
The BIOS of the Asrock TRX40 Taichi reflects the gear-themed aesthetic of the board itself. The main screen is relatively limited, with just a few basic hardware details.
The OC Tweaker section is somewhat lacking in information, but provides a wide range of controls. Most high-end boards provide information on the current CPU clock speed, voltage, and other info in the overclocking menu. Asrock’s layout is rather inconvenient, but it doesn’t prevent you from overclocking the CPU and RAM with the wide range of controls available.
Asrock also added a few extra tools to the BIOS including a nifty SSD secure erase tool for clearing all data on a solid-state drive. You can also update the BIOS from here using a USB flash drive or Internet connection, but this feature is so common on high-end boards that it would be weird not to have that functionality.
After getting Windows installed, the drivers included with this motherboard installed without issue, as did the bundled software. I didn’t encounter any issues with either the drivers or software utilities, but I personally would skip some of these apps if I planned to use this as my personal computer.
To me, the least appealing piece of software included is Norton Security, which is just a limited 60-day trial. Unless you plan to actually buy Norton Security, there isn’t much reason to install this application in the first place.
One application you probably will want to install, however, is the one dubbed Quad M.2 Card Utility. This is designed to control the quad M.2 controller card that I discussed earlier, letting you tweak the on-card fan speed.
Asrock also includes its A-Tuning software with this board. This app gives you the ability to overclock your CPU from within Windows, and it will list details of your system’s specs and current operating conditions.
Another program, App Shop, essentially just points you to other programs you can install. I’m not sure it’s worth installing, but it also checks for driver updates for you, which could come in handy. Your call.
Last but not least, you also get Asrock’s Polychrome RGB software, which is essential if you want to manually control any RGB LEDs connected to the system.
The TRX40 Taichi is a handsome motherboard, and during my time with it, I didn’t encounter any serious issues with the board or any of its bundled software. Though functionally stable, however, it wouldn’t be my first choice for a TRX40 motherboard due to the problematically placed CPU power connections and four-pin CPU fan connections. Sure, they’re only going to be a problem when first assembling your system. But getting the power cables connected was such a time-consuming task that I’ll remember the Taichi specifically for that.
If you like the Asrock’s looks (and I must admit, they are seductive) and its extensive M.2 support, it’s certainly worth considering, but I’d check my chassis clearance, as well as the price of the competition. TRX40 boards for the latest Threadripper chips are far from cheap (they start around $400, at this writing), but a high-end, high-priced board like this shouldn’t put a squeeze on your digits.
Asrock TRX40 Taichi Specs
|CPU Socket||AMD sTRX4|
|Maximum Supported Memory||256 GB|
|No. of DIMM Slots||8|
|Maximum Memory Speed||4666 MHz|
|PCI Express x16 Slots||3|
|PCI Express x4 Slots||0|
|PCI Express x1 Slots||1|
|USB 3.0 or 3.1 Ports Onboard (Rear Panel)||7|
|USB 3.0 or 3.1 Ports Supported Via Header||3|
|USB 2.0 Ports Onboard (Rear Panel)||0|
|USB 2.0 Ports Supported Via Header||2|
|USB Type-C Header||Yes|
|Thunderbolt 3 Ports (Rear Panel)||0|
|Onboard Audio Chipset||Realtek ALC1220 + Realtek ALC4050H|
|No. of Audio Channels||7.1|