Date: Thursday , October 19, 2017
GIGABYTE is one of the largest and most influential computer hardware manufacturers in the world today. The company has been around for decades and established a reputation for building innovative, stable, reliable, and high-performance motherboards. In recent years, the company has diversified its product line and now produces graphics cards, cases, laptops, and other computing oriented peripherals and devices. There was a time when GIGABYTE wasn’t my favorite brand or even a brand I liked. For a long time, GIGABYTE was another name out there in a very large market. Now, there aren’t nearly as many players on the field and GIGABYTE has not only survived a cut-throat market, but has flourished in it. GIGABYTE is not always the first to market with an idea or a product, but GIGABYTE usually hits the ground with its own take on something and is usually successful with it.
As some of you may have noticed, each of the companies producing X399 motherboards is only showing 1 or 2 models at this time. I’ve often been asked if more budget oriented offerings will hit the market anytime soon and frankly, I don’t think those will. Motherboard manufacturers have had to go through R&D of more motherboard platforms this year and in the months preceding these releases than in any other year I can recall in the last two decades. Motherboard manufacturers have had to contend with Z270, X299, X370, X399, and now Z370. That’s a monumental undertaking for all involved. Each of the companies involved have had varying degrees of success with each platform. All of these except for Z270 have had more problems than we are used to seeing. Z270 worked out well because it’s little more than an update to Z170 for a new model year and its changes aren’t anything to write home about. Plus, as I understand it, these were planned well in advance and things went smoothly, which led to a solid launch. X299, X370, and X399 have all been rushed products.
AMD has shaken things up and Intel's gone into a reactionary mode, and is throwing everything that's ready or nearly ready at them as fast as possible. Effectively, the motherboard manufacturers don’t know how well Threadripper will be received over the long run. They’ve got lots of Ryzen options because it’s something that should sell well. Ryzen has a lot to offer and the prices of those CPUs make sense for a variety of motherboard designs. Threadripper is a different beast. There is no cheap Threadripper CPU despite being an incredible value compared to their higher end Intel counterparts. Intel does have cheap HEDT chips to throw on X299 motherboards and as a result, we’ve seen a larger gamut of products on that front. According to AMD's, Threadripper was an afterthought anyway. It stands to reason motherboard manufacturers didn’t have the time or resources to spend on making a whole gamut of models for something that they couldn’t predict would sell well or not.
GIGABYTE currently offers two Threadripper compatible motherboards. The X399 Aorus Gaming 7 and the X399 Designaire EX (which is not for sale at Amazon or Newegg as of writing this). The two motherboards are actually very similar at a glance, or even when you get deep into their specifications. The two are almost identical save for the network controllers and the fact that the X399 Designare has a built in I/O shield similar to what ASUS implements on its ROG Zenith Extreme. The X399 Aorus Gaming 7 utilizes a single Rivet Networks GbE LAN adapter while the X399 Designare has dual Intel NICs on it. Lastly, the X399 Designare has an ASMedia ASM3142 controller added into the mix that the X399 Aorus Gaming 7 does not have. Aside from that, you’ll find a different color scheme but things like the MOSFET and chipset cooling look the same on both models. Today, we are looking at the X399 Aorus Gaming 7 rather than the Designare EX.
X399 Aorus Gaming 7 is based on AMD’s X399 chipset and socket TR4. The X399 chipset is fairly basic as most of the magic of AMD’s HEDT platform is in the CPU itself. Nevertheless, the motherboard supports up to 128GB of DDR4 RAM at speeds of up to DDR4 3600MHz. The chipset provides support for 8x SATA 6Gb/s ports. The X399 Aorus Gaming 7 has three M.2 slots and supports 4-Way SLI and Crossfire. You will also find Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac support, plenty of USB 3.1 ports and so on.
Main Specifications Overview:
Detailed Specifications Overview:
The box for these looks normal on the outside but contains two smaller boxes inside. One box is for accessories and the other one contains the board itself. The latter has foam on the bottom and the cardboard has protrusions which hold the motherboard in place. The board is also placed inside an anti-static bag for safe keeping. Our sample arrived in tact and with the following accessories: (Insert accessory list here.)
In general, the layout of the X399 Aorus Gaming 7 is good. There are a few annoyances but nothing I’d consider a deal breaker. First and foremost, there is an M.2 slot underneath the primary GPU. This board doesn’t support any APUs so this will always be filled. The M.2 slots themselves, have covers which are designed to look like and act like heatsinks. This is nice in theory, but in the limited testing I’ve done with them, I haven’t found such devices to make a lot of difference. I will say that these might work better on drives where there isn’t a label or something in the way of touching the thermal pad and transferring heat properly. I might pull the labels or a cover off the drive to facilitate this in my own system, but I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone for fear of voiding their warranty. The covers use captive screws which is nice. The M.2 screws are always tiny and difficult to find when lost. It’s a nice touch but it comes at a price. The mounting post and thread receptacle for these captive screws is at the type 22110 mounting position on all but one of the three slots. The board doesn’t have extra mounting posts in the box to use for different positions. Plus, the captive screws design doesn’t eliminate the need for the tiny screws and mounting posts, it just adds a second one. This would be fine as it’s just for the cover, unless you have a 22110 drive. In which case this is an awesome solution in every way imaginable. Well, provided you get good thermal transfer on the cover.
I don’t like the location of the 4-pin power connector. It’s not awful, but it’s not in the easiest place to reach. Then again, I rarely see this connector somewhere I’d call easy to reach in most chassis. The location of the USB 3.0 header is not the best. This is something that will vary by chassis, but in mine it might not work well. The bottom left hand corner of the board isn’t a great place as the port is somewhat far back and case manufacturers are notorious for short changing you on front panel cable length. Almost everything I’ve talked about is partly related to the fact that there is only so much PCB real estate and that GIGABYTE had to make some concessions to make it all fit. This further reaffirms my belief that M.2 as a form factor on the desktop is, was, and always will be stupid, and that ASUS is the only manufacturer that’s been able to figure out a "built-in" solution that solves the problem without resorting to using up a PCIe slot with a card adapter.
The PCB offers 9 mounting holes instead of the possible 10. Since the one often omitted these days falls in the middle of the audio solution, you can see why it isn’t there. The X399 Aorus Gaming 7 has 9 temperature sensors, two headers for cables which allow for the user to choose what gets monitored. There are 8 hybrid fan headers on board as well. The water pump headers are split on different sides of the motherboard which is potentially great for people running multiple loops and pumps. The rest of the fan headers are placed in places I think are usually good for modern cases. All fan headers are "hybrid" types according to GIGABYTE, which means they support voltage (DC mode) and PWM control. These fan headers can detect what type of fan is installed, and can be calibrated automatically for proper use. A good piece of hardware should be able to crush small woodland dwelling creatures with relative ease. I’m certain the X399 Aorus Gaming 7 is such a piece of hardware. It’s heavy. It feels well-constructed. The fit and finish is on par with anything I’ve seen this generation. The PCB is straight and offers little give due to the reinforcement offered by the steel armor around the PCIe and memory slots.
In case you are epileptic, I have to warn you that the X399 Aorus Gaming 7 has more lights than the Vegas strip at night. The RGB Fusion feature controls a host of onboard RGB LED’s which are available for control via separate zones. They can also be linked if desired. There are multiple visual effects supported and of course, there are two RGB LED strips. Up to 300 LEDs can be supported using 5v or 12v LED strips which are sold separately. We don’t talk about it much, but there are different ways to light up the motherboard. This board surrounds the RAM and expansion card slots with light in a way that I do like, even if it would keep me up at night to be in the same room with the thing. I think GIGABYTE’s RGB LED solution actually looks the best on its higher end boards right now. Fortunately, if you don’t like it you can turn the feature off in the UEFI and make sure it stays off when the system is powered off, or powered on. Control for the RGB Fusion feature can be done in the UEFI or in the application. In other words, you will only have to chance a seizure the first time you power the system on.
The motherboard uses power phases from International Rectifier, and server level chokes. This includes both digital PWM controllers and 3rd generation PowIRstage controllers. These offer precise power control and thermal efficiency. International Rectifier’s PowIRstage ICs feature its "Isense" technology which features current sensing accuracy and is responsible for evenly distributing the thermal loading between the ICs which prevents overheating and extends component life. GIGABYTE vastly overbuilds it’s VRMs and that their power capabilities are far in excess of what you need for even the most power-hungry CPUs.
The CPU socket area is somewhat cramped, and there isn’t any getting around that. You will either need some monstrous heatsink and fan or an AIO water cooler to handle Threadripper CPUs at stock speeds. AIO barely gets things done when overclocking and really, custom loops are the way to go. If water cooling, the cramped nature of the CPU socket won’t be a problem. If not, you will definitely need lower profile RAM modules for clearance reasons. The MOSFET cooling on this board is substantial and it looks very well made. The attention to detail is obvious. More importantly, GIGABYTE employs a heatpipe cooler to handle the MOSFETS and both banks of these are connected via this heat pipe. The heatsinks are screwed into place and sit flush over the hardware. They make excellent contact and are beefy enough to handle the board’s weight with zero flex. There has been some discussion of CPU socket issues with TR4 and the screws not being long enough to lock things down tightly on some boards. I haven’t experienced that here and Kyle has covered that more than once, here and here in videos.
There are eight 28-pin DDR4 DIMM slots supporting memory speeds of up to DDR4 3600MHz through overclocking. These slots are not color coded to denote dual or quad-channel memory mode operation. GIGABYTE’s "Ultra-Durable Memory Armor" prevents PCB flex and motherboard damage during DIMM installation. It also adds an aesthetic quality that pictures don’t do any justice. This is undoubtedly a decision that’s made for aesthetic reasons. GIGABYTE should put in a system that uses the LEDs to denote the proper DIMM placement for each channel mode. Now that I’ve given them R&D advice for free, it’s time to move on.
The chipset is cooled using a flat heatsink embedded with RGB LED lights. It is adorned with a back lit Aorus Logo. It’s kind of a bird head looking thing that makes me think of Romulans. At any rate, the heatsinks low profile design ensures that it doesn’t interfere with the expansion slot area. The heatsink appears to extend to the left and encompass the 2280 M.2 slot. In reality, the cover and its heatsink are just machined to match the style of the chipset heatsink. In fact, the other M.2 covers are made in the same style. This would all look better if it all looked built into the chipset. The chipset could have a shroud to match the heatsink that covered all this stuff. I’m sure that GIGABYTE would be able to figure out how to throw more RGB LEDs into the mix so that you don’t miss out on those. In front of the chipset, you’ll find 8x SATA ports which are all right-angle ports that support locking cables.
The expansion slots are laid out well, and I’ve already mentioned my one beef with the design. I don’t like the M.2 slot being underneath a graphics card. Other than that, GIGABYTE did a good job here and the point about M.2 slots is harder to make when you are having to put three of these on the PCB. There just isn’t room for these. In any event, GIGABYTE uses a double-locking bracket for its slots. It uses a patent pending design for this as well as an exclusive one-piece stainless steel reinforcement bracket which prevents sheering and relieves PCB stress during card installation. According to GIGABYTE, this design is 1.7x stronger at resisting damages due to shearing force than designs lacking any reinforcement and 4.8x stronger retention capability. Given how many systems I’ve built and tested, I can state my belief in GIGABYTE’s claim even though it comes across as marketing fluff. The reality is, I’ve installed hundreds of, if not more, PCIe cards over the years. Even before that, the process was essentially the same. Up until companies started using these reinforcement schemes, the motherboards would often creak or flex when cards were inserted. That doesn’t happen here.
The PCIe slots have a total of 48 available PCIe lanes. This allows for a 16x8x16x8 PCIe lane configuration and supports 4-Way graphics technology from either AMD or NVIDIA. All of the PCIe slots are x16 length physical. The first four, which were outlined above conform to the PCIe 3.0 standard and are connected to the CPU’s PCIe lanes. The last and final x16 slot, is an x4 slot electrically, and is attached to the PCH. It conforms to the PCIe 2.0 standard. I have talked about the M.2 slots already, but I want to reiterate that they both place the M.2 SSD underneath a graphics card in a 2-Way multi-GPU configuration that leverages x16 lanes for each card. I think GIGABYTE could have done better with at least one of those slots.
The I/O shield is a padded tin affair that’s common these days. It isn’t as nice as the built-in I/O shield that comes with the X399 Designare or ASUS’ ROG Zenith Extreme. Here you will find a dedicated PS/2 mouse or keyboard port. 2x USB DAC-UP ports. There is a dedicated USB BIOS Flashback port for BIOS recovery, 4x USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, 1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A port, 1x USB Gen 2 Type-C port, 1x optical output for digital audio and five mini-stereo jacks for analog audio output. You will also find 2x WiFi antenna ports and 1x RJ-45 GbE network port. The audio jacks are gold plated for optimal sound quality.