Date: Thursday , October 04, 2018
GIGABYTE is one of the largest and most well known motherboard and PC component manufacturers in the world today. GIGABYTE has diversified its product portfolio over the last decade or so and now makes a range of components and peripherals including motherboards, graphics cards, laptops, mice, keyboards, headsets, cases, solid state drives, memory and even power supplies. Despite the broad product range, GIGABYTE remains known as a motherboard manufacturer. GIGABYTE offers some of the most competitive and feature rich DIY motherboards on the market. Granted, this business is ultra-competitive with similarly excellent offerings from ASUS, MSI and even ASRock.
The X399 market has been a bit different than it has been with most chipsets and platforms. The motherboard manufacturers weren’t sure how successful Threadripper would be and didn’t exactly go all in on it the way they have with other chipsets including X370 and its successor X470. For this reason the motherboard makers typically only created one or two high end socket TR4 motherboards and some (but not all) have supplemented their X399 lineup with a "refresh" model which is optimized and improved for the new 2x00 series Threadripper CPUs. GIGABYTE’s X399 Aorus Xtreme is such a model as it was built to do just that. The previous, high-end offering was the X399 Designare, which is one of the beefiest and nicest of the previous generation X399 motherboards. This motherboard has a few advantages over the Designare, chief among them is in the power delivery.
AMD’s 2990WX is a beast and it punishes VRMs like no processor I’ve ever seen before. Things get out of hand quickly when you start overclocking that monster and we’ve seen power draw in excess of 700 watts at the wall in a fairly lean configuration. If you slapped a couple of high end video cards in a system alongside a ton of storage, water cooling, and other things you could easily require more than 1,000 watts of power. There aren’t too many single PSU solutions that can even handle some possible configurations using that CPU. As a result of this, motherboard manufacturers knew they had to do something and the newer crop of X399 motherboards improve on power delivery, but also MOSFET cooling.
There are also some changing trends in motherboard design which are being leveraged on some of these refreshed X399 motherboards. RGB LED lighting has settled down to more reasonable levels. Most of the changes are aesthetic, but some are more functional beyond the power delivery system. We are seeing even more support for M.2 drives and NVMe RAID, and even 10GbE networking. We saw this in the original crop of X399 motherboards so what we see now is an evolution of those implementations with more motherboards gaining these features than we saw at X399’s launch. Some manufacturers are emphasizing increased memory compatibility as that was an issue previously, although that’s not always the case and I’ll get into that later.
The GIGABYTE X399 Aorus Xtreme is based on AMD’s X399 chipset and supports all current generation and previous generation socket TR4 CPU’s. The layout of the X399 Aorus Xtreme is excellent with very few possible problem areas. Or at the very least, nothing that I can see as being unavoidable. For example; the dual 8-pin CPU power cables aren’t necessarily in an ideal place for some cases as they can be difficult to reach, and you’ve got obstructions such as the heat pipe for the MOSFETs. This isn’t a problem that’s easily avoided by motherboard manufactures, so I can’t lay the blame squarely at GIGABYTE’s feet. I do prefer a side by side arrangement for these connectors, but the cooling solution and PCB design doesn’t allow for that here.
First, we start with the important stuff. The GIGABYTE X399 Aorus Xtreme uses a 10+3 (vCore + SOC) phase power implementation. The vCore and SOC phases uses 50A IR3578’s from International rectifier. The PWM controller is an IR35201 which is also International Rectifier. Phase doubling is employed here which isn’t surprising, but that’s par for the course. Its commonplace in the industry. The IR digital CPU power design includes both digital PWM controllers (IR35201) and PowIRstage MOSFETs from International Rectifier. With each phase being able to output 50A, you end up with a total power output of 650A. The power phases and their operating ranges are 135C (PWM) and 125C (vCore & SOC), with thermal throttling occurring on the latter at 115C. For the RAM, IR3553’s (2+2) are used for memory drivers. 10k rated black low ESR capacitors are used throughout the motherboard for long life and durability.
GIGABYTE’s product page touts the cooling of the MOSFETs as a major feature in the design. The heat sink is comprised of multiple fins which isn’t anything groundbreaking. We saw this on chipsets such as the 680i SLI chipset back in the day. Similarly, this heat sink design uses a direct touch heat pipe and dual-fans to cool the MOSFETs. This solution works well, which I’ll talk more about later.
This motherboard also allows up to 48 PCIe lanes for graphics cards so it's easily a motherboard we can say is multi-GPU friendly. NVMe RAID support is also offered along with USB 3.1, and other technology standards we’ve come to expect from this platform. The motherboard is like any other HEDT offering in that its designed to meet the needs of gamers, enthusiasts and prosumers. To that end GIGABYTE includes two Intel GbE network adapters, one Aquantia 10GbE adapter, and plenty of M.2 slots. Of course, you get lots of RGB LEDs. For the few of our forum readers who hoped for something more reserved than the MSI MEG X399 Creation, you are out of luck. This one is far more garish than that motherboard is, but you can always turn these off and gripe about something else.
Main Specifications Overview:
Detailed Specifications Overview:
The packaging looks like that of any other modern GIGABYTE motherboard offering. It sports the standard Aorus box art and the packaging is relatively simple for that of a premium part. The motherboard sits in a cardboard insert with some foam and an anti-static cover. Our sample arrived (mostly) intact and the box includes the following accessories: Two Velcro straps, user guide, driver disc, multi-lingual guide, sticker sheet, thermal probes, RGB extensions, wireless antenna, SATA cables, Allen wrenches, packs of screws for the M.2 slots, a case badge, and an SLI bridge.
The PCB layout is excellent despite the amount of integrated hardware, ports, headers and slots. There are 8x, 4-pin fan headers. The "Hybrid" headers as GIGABYTE calls them automatically detect the type of device connected to them and can provide flow rates and even water temperatures. There are also two external temperature sensor headers. The PCB features solid-pin power connectors with more metal for better conductivity and the ability to sustain higher power and more heat load. GIGABYTE’s various "armor" implementations can be found on the motherboard which reduce plate bending when devices are installed. The CMOS battery location sucks as its under one of the M.2 slots so the cover and drive (if installed) must be removed to pull the battery. Obviously, this isn’t something you need to do very often if ever. Therefore, it's hardly a deal breaker. We never had to pull the CMOS battery in any of our overclock testing and failures.
The motherboard is aesthetically pleasing, as it features a very striking black and silver color scheme. The motherboard also has a very industrial look with brushed aluminum accents located on the M.2 covers and various heat sinks. You may notice in the photos the lowest DIMM slot is missing part of the locking tab assembly. This is how I found the motherboard in the box, but I’m unsure if this happened while Kyle had it or if it came to him that way. I’ll let him speak to that if it was something he noticed. (Kyle's Note: The locking tab was not in place when the board got to me. It was not in the box either, so it did not come off in transport. I informed Gigabyte of the "issue," but since the board did not have any problems with the RAM on a flat test bench, we did not change our for a new board.) This minor issue had no impact on the functionality of the slot and the module stayed in place during the testing. The slot was still a tight fit and this wouldn’t be a problem unless you switch out modules a lot. I’ve used five different memory kits on this motherboard and the slot is still tight and remember, retention occurs on the locking tab side as well.
One thing I don’t like about some higher end motherboards now is that they are no longer including onboard power and reset controls in some instances. At this price point I’ve gotten used to the feature. This feature isn’t something everyone uses but I find that it comes in handy in an open air test bench environment or while troubleshooting your system while the side panel is removed. I’ve had to do this a handful of times since my own system was built for a couple of reasons. It’s a shame that GIGABYTE didn’t include such controls here. (Kyle's Note: Dan must have missed this, and it is easy to miss. Gigabyte has actually supplied a power button on the IO panel, right above the Clear CMOS button. I used it a lot and it works as it should. You can see the power button on the built-in IO panel picture below.)
The CPU socket area is the same as it is on every other socket TR4 motherboard I’ve ever seen in that the DIMM slots are way too close to the CPU socket to mount excessively large air coolers with confidence that you won’t run into clearance issues with certain types of memory modules. These days, few modules are of the super tall variety for this reason but that’s not to say you can disregard this problem should you desire to use pure air cooling. Frankly, with the price of AIO and high-end air coolers being relatively close, I don’t see any reason to opt for air coolers unless you have no intention of overclocking. Even if you don’t, I’d say you are limiting PB2 and PBO performance which doesn’t make sense to me. The processor used makes all the difference here, with Threadripper 2x00 series processors being more demanding than the older ones and having more headroom for automated overclocking.
The MOSFET cooling hardware surrounds the CPU socket area and its relatively beefy as one might expect. The multi-finned design isn’t the strongest there is so one must exercise caution when handling the motherboard. Many motherboards can practically be picked up by the MOSFET coolers as they are large enough to function like handles. I’m not advocating that, but that would certainly be ill-advised here. The direct touch heat pipes can be seen running through the fins. There is a shroud over the right hand MOSFET cooler which sports the same black and silver color scheme as the rest of the heat sinks on the board. The back or upper MOSFET cooler which covers the bulk of the power phases is partially shrouded by a black and silver plastic assembly. Inside this are two fans for cooling the MOSFETs.
There are eight 288-pin DDR4 slots supporting a total of 128GB of DDR4 RAM. Speeds up to DDR4 3600MHz are supported via overclocking. However, since we are talking about speeds beyond JEDEC specifications your mileage will vary. The memory subsystem features 2+2 driver ICs which are IR3553s from International Rectifier. That means there are two per each set of memory slots.
The memory slots use GIGABYTE’s Ultra-Durable Memory Armor. These slots use single sided locking tabs for memory module retention. This is also necessary as there is insufficient space for clearance between traditional memory module locking tabs and the top most PCI-Express expansion slot. GIGABYTE’s Ultra-Durable memory armor also acts as ESD shielding according to the product page. These steel brackets reinforce the slots preventing PCB plate bending, twisting or warping during memory module installation.
The chipset is cooled with a flat, passive heat sink. This heat sink is adorned with a covering that looks like brushed aluminum. There are two Allen screws which can be removed to reveal an M.2 slot just behind the chipset cooler. Naturally, there are some RGB LEDs in the chipset cooler for aesthetic reasons. In front of the chipset cooler are six SATA 6Gb/s ports and a single 6-pin PCI-Express power connector. This is used for supplemental power for GPUs and other power hungry PCIe devices. The front panel header is also located in this area and is color coded and marked with silk-screening to indicate the proper way to connect the wires and switches to the headers. The LCD post code display is here alongside dual USB 3.0 headers.
The expansion slot area features 4x PCI-Express slots supporting a x16/x8/x16/x8 lane configuration for multiple GPUs or anything you would install. The PCI-Express slots use GIGABYTE’s Ultra-Durable PCIe armor. The armor is a stainless-steel bracket with additional anchor points which provide 3.2x more retention force and 1.7x more sheering resistance than a motherboard that lacks any reinforcement at all. The slots themselves also feature a patented double locking bracket which keeps heavy expansion cards (such as graphics cards) in place. A lock can be found at either end of the expansion slot.
There are also 3x M.2 slots found in the expansion area. These are hidden under what MSI calls the "Aorus M.2 Thermal Guard." The product page shows a graph that shows time and temperature but excludes actual data points. So, the curve can’t be quantified. The upside is that GIGABYTE isn’t really making any substantial claims here. In my experience, these thermal guard solutions have a break-even effect on the M.2 drives. However, the M.2 Aorus Thermal guard covers are thicker aluminum than I’ve ever seen in a solution like this and feature thermal pads. I’ve never experienced reduced performance in these cases from heat, so if nothing else these covers protect the drives from physical damage and are aesthetically pleasing.
GIGABYTE didn’t come up with the integrated I/O shield but I’m glad they are utilizing the idea. The X399 Aorus Xtreme, like many of the GIGABYTE X399 boards before it features this. It makes installation of the motherboard easier and is higher quality than a simple stamped steel insert. The I/O ports are more clearly marked and back lighting and other features are more easily implemented in cases like this.
The back panel is packed with connections as one would expect for a high-end motherboard such as this one. On the back panel, you will find the following controls, connections or ports: 1x Clear CMOS button, 1x Power button, 8x USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, 3x RJ-45 ports, 2x antenna ports for WiFi, 1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A port, 1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C port, 5x mini-stereo jacks which are gold plated and 1x SPD/IF output. All of the ports are very clearly marked. Oddly, there are no vents here even though there are two small fans inside this assembly for the purpose of cooling the MOSFET heat sink. You normally see a vent of some kind in the I/O panel in these cases but not here. There is obviously space for air to flow on either side of the I/O shroud, but this precludes the possibility of pulling cooler air in from the back of the system or exhausting hot air efficiently.