Go beyond the usual – the natural desire of enthusiasts who take only the maximum frequencies, memory, the number of cores, video cards, drives and all that will provide previously unattainable performance. It is for this audience that Intel recently introduced the HEDT-platform LGA2066 with a set of corresponding processors. The declared capabilities of the new platform can be realized only with the help of the corresponding motherboard. The producers of the latter have a special responsibility here. How GIGABYTE solved this problem, we’ll look at the example of the older model of the new line of the manufacturer – GIGABYTE X299 AORUS Gaming 9.
Contents of delivery
GIGABYTE X299 AORUS Gaming 9 is offered in a large box with a tilting top cover.
The board is expected to have an extended set of additional accessories. In addition to the device itself, you can find in the box a detailed manual, a driver and software CD, six SATA interface cables, a pair of extension adapters for RGB tapes and one adapter for addressable LED garlands (5V and 12V), a SLI HB Bridge bridge for a pair of video cards GTX 10xx, two external thermocouples, an amplifying antenna for the wireless module, a G-Connector for easy connection of controls and indicators, a mounting kit for M.2, and a pair of reusable branded cable ties.
In addition, an adapter with M.2 to U.2 and an additional PCI-E x4 expansion card with M.2 connector and overall heat sink is included in the package. Fans may like a huge sticker with a set of diverse labels in the style of the game series AORUS.
Design and layout
GIGABYTE X299 AORUS Gaming 9 is made in the classic form factor ATX with dimensions of 305 × 244 mm. Exterior design is very calm. Black PCB, the same color elements of the cooling system and additional connectors.
The importance of the power subsystem for the LGA2066 platform is hard to overestimate. For already presented processors, high enough TDP are claimed. In particular, for the Skylake-X chips, the thermal package is 140 W, and for future CPUs this parameter will be even higher. This means that you need a good supply of power for the power regulator and here primitive schemes can not be dispensed with.
The VRM block of the board in question is made using an 8-channel scheme. The chain uses IR3556 power packs from International Rectifier, Cooper Bussmann chokes and 10K Black Metallic capacitances, and IR35201 controller is used to control the parameters of the stabilizer.
MOSFET assemblies are lined up in a row at the top edge of the board. Of course, the power elements have an additional cooler, while the design uses two radiator units connected together by a heat pipe. One directly covers the components, the second is located behind the interface panel. Improved heat removal efficiency is very relevant here.
GIGABYTE X299 AORUS Gaming 9 is equipped with a pair of 8-pin connectors for additional power. This configuration is good for experiments with overclocking the most energy-intensive chips.
Eight slots for memory modules allow up to 128 GB of RAM. Lists of validated sets are very large. For the Kaby Lake-X chips in the list are indicated sets up to DDR4-4400, whereas for Skylake-X 4-channel sets appear up to DDR4-4200.
In terms of compatibility of high-speed modules, the situation here is much better than in the case of AMD Ryzen chips, but it is still worthwhile to make sure beforehand that the corresponding set is supported. Especially if you plan to use 4 or 8 modules. Recall that LGA2066 allows you to use 4-channel access mode and a maximum of 8 memory slots with a Skylake-X processor. While using 4-core Kaby Lake-X processors, it is possible to set up a 2-channel mode, and the total number of modules should not exceed four.
The slots have a two-way fixation, however the connectors for DIMM are far enough from the first PCI Express x16 slot, so even with a video card installed it is quite possible to manage memory modules.
The metal casing on the connectors for DIMM sophisticated users is no longer surprising. GIGABYTE previously used this technique to increase the strength of the connectors, to strengthen the PCB area around the processor socket and add some design accents.
The board has five PCI Express x16 expansion slots. Of course, the processors for the LGA2066 platform have an increased number of PCI Express lines, but even in the maximum version, you can not do without restrictions. Two slots can work in x16 mode, another one in x8 mode, and the remaining ones – x4.
The board supports multi-adapter graphic configurations (SLI / CrossFire), allowing up to three video cards with NVIDIA or AMD chips. Again, the capabilities depend on the number of PCI-E 3.0 lines available to the processor.
All expansion slots have a metal sheath to increase the strength of the connectors.
The board has a pronounced game direction, but it would be strange not to find on the device of this class at least basic options for managing the system in an open stand. At the bottom edge there are buttons for switching on, rebooting, and also activation of the acceleration mechanism and ECO mode.
In the lower right corner there is also a CMOS reset button. To display the progress of the self-test at the start of the system, a segment indicator Debug LED and four status LEDs are displayed, displaying in the express mode possible problems with the processor, memory, video card or drive. That is, enthusiast options in this case, like they do not stick out, but their set is quite typical for devices, used, including for experiments with overclocking.
GIGABYTE X299 AORUS Gaming 9 is expected to be equipped with two microcircuits with firmware. This option is available on GIGABYTE cards for $ 50, so in this case, nothing surprising.
But what the developers decided to surprise, so it’s an abundance and variety of illuminations.
In addition to the area for memory modules, the interface panel cover, the plug itself, the audiotrack zone, the chipset radiator and even all PCI Express x16 slots are highlighted.
For each zone, you can use a different mode of operation. The RGB Fusion utility lets you fine-tune the lighting effects. At the same time, it is possible to create entire sequences and save the final profiles for the further reconstruction of the light show.
The board allows you to use additional illumination. The PCB has a pair of connectors for connecting LED strips. Here you can use both traditional RGB-tapes, and versions of RGBW with additional white LEDs, providing a higher brightness of the glow.
Another 5-pin connector allows you to connect the addressable RGB-tape with a voltage of 12 V or 5 V.
GIGABYTE X299 AORUS Gaming 9 offers a solid arsenal of tools for tuning the cooling system. The board provides seven built-in thermal sensors on various nodes of the system, as well as two connectors for external thermocouples, supplied with the board.
To connect the fans there are eight 4-pin connectors with a hybrid speed control system. One of the connectors allows you to connect fans or pumps of high power, which require currents of up to 3A.
The system Smart Fan 5 allows you to perform a primary calibration of the connected fans and, if necessary, adjust the algorithm and the conditions of their operation. The controller used allows the fans to be switched off under certain temperature conditions.
The only thing that’s a little confusing is the incorrect display of the current CPU temperature. The value is understated by 8-12 degrees. This should be taken into account when tuning the algorithm of the cooling system. We hope this error will be corrected in the next version of the software.
To connect the drives at the right edge of the PCB, a whole line of 8 SATA ports 6 Gb / s is built. The connectors are oriented perpendicular to the PCB plane, allowing you to connect the interface cables without any special difficulties, even when using multiple graphics adapters.
For high-speed drives, three M.2 ports are provided, which cover additional radiator units. Increased heating of productive controllers – the reality with which the owner of SSD, connected via PCI Express, has to face.
Aluminum bar will increase the heat dissipation area, thereby improving chip cooling. Efficiency and absolute temperatures will depend on the SSD used and the conditions inside the system unit, but in any case, additional radiators will reduce the temperature of the SSD. It’s worth noting that chillers are offered for all three slots, and not one of them uses aluminum alloy profiles 3-4 mm thick instead of thin tin plates.
With regard to the operating modes of the presented M.2 ports, the connector in the central part of the board (M2P_32G) allows the use of drives up to 80 mm in length with data transfer via PCI-E or SATA. In the latter case, one of the SATA ports on the common plate will be deactivated (SATA3_0). The connector located between the PCI Express x16 slots is ready for use only with high-speed PCI-E drives, but allows the installation of SSDs up to 110 mm in length. The port (M2Q_32G) located next to the chipset is omnivorous (SATA and PCI-E), but the device length should not exceed 80 mm. After connecting any SSD on the board with it, four SATA ports out of eight will be deactivated: SATA3_4, SATA3_5, SATA3_6 and SATA3_7. Alas, the number of I / O lines is not infinite, therefore, when configuring the storage subsystem, it is worth considering such features of the board. However,
GIGABYTE X299 AORUS Gaming 9 allows you to organize the RAID array Intel VROC, using for the drives processor lines PCI Express. The PCB has a separate connector for a special key, which must be purchased separately.
Of course, Intel Optane drives are also supported. Recall that consumer devices of this type so far have a capacity of 16 GB and 32 GB, and they are designed primarily for caching access to data stored on hard disks.
Without abandoning the idea of using high-speed SSD in U.2 format, the manufacturer offers an adapter M.2-U.2 with the board. Perhaps 2,5-inch productive drives will nevertheless become widespread in the consumer segment, but so far they have been successfully replaced by M.2 x4 NVMe. So it’s no surprise that the developers bet exactly on M.2, although they left the opportunity to use U.2.
In addition to the GIGABYTE X299 AORUS Gaming 9, an additional expansion card with a massive heatsink is also available, allowing you to connect the M.2 drive via the PCI Express x4 slot. This unit can be useful not only in cases where the free M.2 connectors on the board are already out. First of all, this is an opportunity to cool the SSD, which is especially hot.
To test the effectiveness of this approach in practice, we used the ADATA GPX SX8000 256 GB based on the Silicon Motion SM2260 controller.
Remove the radiator by unscrewing the four screws from the back.
We install the drive into the socket and fix it in the seat. Before installing the radiator unit, it is important not to forget to remove the insulating film from the heat-conducting plate. We fix the cooling unit with screws and install the module in the free slot of the motherboard.
If you have a whole set of M.2 drives, you should pay attention that the second full-length PCIE4_1 slot divides the PCI-E lines with the central M.2 port. Although, it is unlikely that you will have an idea to place the adapter with an SSD close to a two-slot video card.
After installing the SSD in the adapter, the temperature under load increased to 50C, instead of the usual 70C. The result is very good, taking into account that no additional blowing of the structure was required.
We also evaluated the efficiency of the additional radiators used for all M.2 ports. When installing the drive in the connector located next to the chipset, the capabilities of the cooler were barely enough to keep the temperature of the SSD controller at the required level.
With long data recording sessions, the controller warmed up to 66-68С. Temperature protection operates at 70-75C, because such conditions can already be considered limiting for a particular model of SSD with a very heat-insulating controller. Just for such situations, an external adapter card with a radiator block can be very useful.
For the gaming model, the sound subsystem looks very natural. Often, this is a little that really justifies using the term Gaming in the name of the motherboard. The platform is based on Realtek ALC1220, but the top-end codec is a necessary, but insufficient condition for a high-quality audio subsystem. Very important extra strapping. And so with the GIGABYTE X299 AORUS Gaming 9 it’s all very good.
The circuit utilizes the ESS SABRE 9018K2M digital-to-analog converter, as well as the Ti Burr-Brown OPA1622 and LME49720 opamp. Specialized capacities of Wima and Nichicon, as well as Savitech SV3S1018A are used to accurately determine the input resistance of the connected device and the choice of the gain factor. To exclude clicks when the system is turned on, an additional relay NEC UC2 is provided. As a result, the sound quality is much higher than what the integrated subsystems can often offer. Subjectively, this level of discrete solutions with good characteristics and a large margin of power.
With the software setting, you can use the new Creative Sound BlasterX 720º audio pad with a set of effects that allows you to noticeably change the sound.
To connect to a wired network, there are two Gigabit Ethernet controllers. Intel i219-V reveals the chipset’s capabilities, and the new Killer E2500 offers a set of additional options if there is a desire to experiment with the priority of traffic and the minimum ping. In addition, the board is equipped with a dual-band module Killer Wireless-AC 1535 with support for wireless networks Wi-Fi 802.11a / b / g / n / ac (up to 867 MB / c) and Bluetooth 4.1.
For peripheral binding, the board uses a pair of additional ASMedia ASM3142 controllers that provide four USB 3.1 Gen2 ports.
In this case, one of the controllers is used for the internal connector, which allows to get USB 3.1 on the front panel of the case.
There are as many as five USB 3.1 Gen2 connectors on the board’s interface panel, one of which is USB Type-C. To obtain such an amount of ports of the high-speed bus, additional Realtek RTS5423 hub is used.
Of the features of GIGABYTE X299 AORUS Gaming 9, we also note the support for USB DAC-UP 2 technology. The manufacturer several years ago began to practice increasing the power stability for some USB ports, and the second generation of the mechanism allows even compensating for power losses when connecting devices using long conductors. In this case, the USB DAC-UP 2 can compensate for the voltage by 0.1-0.3 V. This functionality is available for a pair of USB 3.0 connectors on the panel, which are marked with yellow plastic inserts, and internal USB 3.0 connectors for outputting the ports to the wall of the housing .
As we have already said, the interface panel has an individual set of LEDs for backlighting and does not require an additional plug when installing the motherboard into the chassis. The composition of the connectors is very representative. This is a combined PS / 2, four USB 3.0, five USB 3.1 ports (one is Type-C), two Ethernet outlets and outputs for connecting an external antenna of the Wi-Fi module.
The board supports the ability to update the firmware from a USB drive without using the processor, memory and video card. When using the Q-Flash Plus mechanism, you must use one of the USB 3.0 ports, which is highlighted with a white plastic insert.
For acoustics, the board has five 3.5 mm connectors, and also has a digital optical S / PDIF output.
On the reverse side, the printed circuit board is covered with a metal plate. For cooling elements it is not used, at the same time increases the overall strength of the structure and protects the back side of the PCB from accidental mechanical damage.
In the work
The UEFI graphics shell is customary for GIGABYTE motherboards. The grouping and arrangement of the parameters are somewhat specific, but this is purely “tasteful.”
The number of available options is slightly lower than for purely enthusiastic models, but as for a device from a nominally gaming line here is full order. Of the key options, we note the ability to adjust the voltage of the Vcore processor within 0.5-1.7 V in steps of 0.001 V, while memory modules can be supplied from 1.0 V to 2.0 V with a resolution of 0.005 V.
Curiously, the latest version of F6d available at the time of publication of the BIOS did not contain presets for automatic overclocking of the processor. Here it is necessary to practice independently. However, often the proposed profiles are not optimal, because if you want to speed up the CPU, you can not do without experiments.
It is possible that you will only need to specify the desired final frequency of the processor, and the power options for the board will be selected automatically. In particular, while testing a platform with a 10-core Core i9-7900X processor, we managed to get a relatively stable chip performance with a frequency increase of up to 4600 MHz with Vcore 1.25 V.
In this mode, the chip successfully passed stress tests in the Intel Extreme Tuning Utility, but during the torture in AIDA64 or OCCT it inevitably overheated (95-100C) and started to work. For Core i9-7900X you need the most effective cooling system from those that are available to you. Because even in the regular mode of the chip, the air cooler Thermalright Archon Rev.A cope with the heat removal is not without difficulties – at peak loads the CPU temperature increased to 75C. In this case, experiments with overclocking are very limited by the efficiency of the cooler. PSO is highly recommended here.
During the test, we were still more interested in the behavior of the motherboard in such conditions, rather than the behavior of a particular processor instance. After such overclocking of the 10-core CPU, the pyrometer indicated an increase in the temperature of the main radiator on VRM elements to 63 ° C. According to the internal sensor located in the VRM area, the power elements were heated up to 72 degrees. Yes, the temperature is not as low as one would like to see, but still the mode is quite acceptable for a system with overclocked Core i9-7900X. Composite radiator on VRM with an additional heat pipe here was very appropriate. At least we are not talking about overheating of the stabilizer subsystem, even without additional blowing.
In general, it is worth considering that the LGA2066 bundled with Skylake-X is a very energy-intensive platform. For the increased productivity it is necessary to pay the corresponding price. For example, at rest, the total system consumption with the Core i9-7900X is about 65-70W. Radiators on the VRM remain well-warm even in this mode (50-55С), the temperature of the chipset is kept at a similar level. Under load only on the CPU, the consumption easily increases to 250 watts. This energy needs to be dissipated and removed, therefore, when choosing LGA2066, it is worthwhile to thoroughly choose not only the motherboard and the processor model, but also the cooling system.