Articles

ASUS ROG STRIX X399-E Gaming Motherboard Review

Author:Daniel Dobrowolski

Editor:Kyle Bennett

Date: Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The ROG STRIX X399-E Gaming promises to be a lower cost options for AMD’s Threadripper processors. This is a "less is more" approach to motherboard design than the exquisite and expensive ROG Zenith Extreme. The ROG brand has always been a premium brand. With these lower cost STRIX boards, does this remain true?

Introduction

ASUS is one of the world’s most well known and respected motherboard brands. It’s been operating since the 1980s and grew into an absolute powerhouse of a company within the computing industry. ASUS is influential, not just because it sells a lot of motherboards, but because it is the leader in producing innovative designs that push technology forward. Indeed, ASUS has come up with many features over the years that have often been approximated or even outright copied. In my 11 years of reviewing motherboards I’ve probably seen ASUS do more to improve the basic standards of the industry than probably any other motherboard manufacturer. The current expected industry standard for audio implementation for integrated audio was once the basic design you found only on ROG motherboards. The standards for things like fan control, voltage monitoring, LN2 modes, and many other features were pioneered by ASUS. There are many features that ASUS may not have come up with, but certainly popularized.

I’ve said it many times before, the ASUS Republic of Gamers motherboards tend to represent the pinnacle of technology, reliability, and innovation within a given motherboard generation. It’s rare for the competition to build a better motherboard than what we see in the ROG family. Of course, things are changing in that regard. In my opinion, the once premium ROG brand has been diluted with too many products. At one time, ASUS had no more than one offering for any given chipset at a time and in some cases a given CPU socket. Initially, motherboards in the ROG family had names not model numbers. Of course, repurposing the names inevitably leads to numbers the same way movie titles get sequential numbers for sequels. That’s in no way unreasonable, but eventually, ASUS tried to leverage the branding for lower-cost markets including the midrange. To do that, it had to create motherboards that were a compromise on cost and component selection in order to achieve lower costs and maintain reasonable margins. No longer do I think of ROG motherboards as being special in any way. Now, on the upper echelon of the spectrum my earlier comments stand. Those motherboards are absolutely fantastic, first rate, and push the envelope for technology and innovation. But now we have a situation where you have motherboards that represent like a low, medium, and high end. Now we have motherboards with Prime and STRIX names with numbers in the product name. Effectively, what was once an almost no-compromise, no-holds barred, premium brand, has now changed a bit.

The ASUS ROG STRIX X399-E Gaming is based on AMD’s X399 platform. Therefore, the ASUS ROG STRIX X399-E Gaming is only capable of supporting AMD’s Threadripper CPUs which use the TR4 socket. Naturally, this platform supports up to 128GB of memory using four channels. It supports NVMe, SATA 6Gb/s, USB 3.1, PCI-Express 3.0, and all the modern standards and features you would expect from AMD’s latest and greatest. The ROG STRIX X399-E Gaming uses an 8-phase power design. It uses black metallic capacitors. If you clicked on the product link I just provided above, you’ll note that ASUS’ product page is seriously lacking. Almost no details or marketing fluff features to talk about. Of get into that in a little bit. However, the ROG STRIX X399-E Gaming does support everything AMD’s X399 platform has to offer for the most part. That’s something else I’ll have to get into. Suffice it to say, the ROG STRIX X399-E Gaming does give you access to all the PCI-Express lanes the platform can offer as well as the core features of that platform.

Main Specifications Overview:

Detailed Specifications Overview:

Packaging

Even when I examine the motherboard closely I do not find any serious or significant problems with regard to the layout. The box for the ROG STRIX Z370-I Gaming is standard issue for the ROG STRIX offerings. Inside, you will find the following items and accessories: User's manual, M.2 2242 mounting kit, I/O Shield, 4x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s), 2x M.2 Screw Package, 1x CPU installation tool, 1x ROG addressable LED strip (30cm), 1x ASUS 2T2R dual band Wi-Fi moving antennas (Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n compliant), 1x SCD, 1x Panel cable and 1x STRIX series sticker.

Board Layout

If you didn’t skip past the introduction of this article, I talked about the ROG family not feeling special anymore. The PCB feels thin, it’s a bit wavy, and the standoffs that hold the heat sink cover to the motherboard are held in by wishful thinking alone. One of these broke off, while I tried to install them to drive into the slot under the chipset cover. Given the amount of PCB flex in this area, it almost seemed inevitable that the post was going to fall out. I can probably repair it with a very tiny washer and a rubber grommet or something but in the end, I just went on without it. While I think this is still a decently built motherboard for the most part, evidence of cost-cutting is definitely here.

You still get 6 fan headers and two dedicated water pump headers and even a fan extension connector. The usual RGB header is also present. You still get a solid layout and PCIe slot reinforcement. At a glance it looks like any other ROG motherboard, albeit one of the less expensive ones. People who dislike the RGB header craze will be pleased to note that there are fewer RGB lights on this board than the bulk of ROG boards of seen lately. I am not a fan of where the LCD post code display is located. If you’re using your expansion slot area at all, or you have a bunch of cables plugged into the ports that line this area it will obscure the POST code display. It’s smaller than what I normally see on motherboards. The CMOS battery is in a good location. In general, headers ports and plugs are all thoughtfully located. The location of the CPU power cables is unusual, but I don’t have any problems with where these are located. There are very few layout issues but for an ASUS board I think there are a few more here than I’m used to seeing on ROG branded motherboards.

Unlike the more expensive ROG Zenith Extreme, the ROG STRIX X399-E Gaming lacks ASUS’ excellent DIMM.2 feature and associated slots. The DIMM.2 slot, for those who don’t know, is a DIMM-like slot that accepts a daughter board which houses an M.2 device on it. You can use up to two M.2 devices per DIMM.2 card allowing for up to four drives on some models. The ROG STRIX X399-E Gaming is less innovative here as it uses a standard type 22110 M.2 slot. However, it does have a single vertical M.2 slot like I first saw on the ASUS X99 Deluxe back in the day. I’m not a big fan of the method used for retention against the bracket. DIMM.2 is more desirable, but it’s an obvious increase to a motherboard’s cost and that’s why I think it was omitted here.

The CPU socket area is relatively clear of obstructions. One positive aspect of the ROG STRIX X399-E Gaming’s quality is its MOSFET cooling hardware. The heat sink is cool looking and appears to be nicely made. Machine work is competently executed as is its finish. There’s kind of a rough looking plated heat pipe running underneath the I/O shroud. There is an active fan underneath the shroud to cool the MOSFETs.

There are eight 288-pin DDR4 DRAM slots supporting a total of 128GB of RAM at speeds up to DDR4 3600MHz through overclocking. There isn’t much to say here except that ASUS is once again using slots featuring a single locking tab for module retention. The slots are not color-coded to denote proper dual or quad channel memory mode operation. This is likely done for aesthetic reasons and while I’m used to it and understand the reasoning behind it I prefer color coding. In front of the forward most bank of DIMM slots you’ll see the vertical M.2 slot I spoke of earlier.

The chipset is found in the standard location. It is in the bottom left hand corner of the motherboard if you’re looking at it the orientation pictured above. This looks like a very beefy chipset cooler, but it really isn’t. The actual heat sink is relatively small. What you see in the image is as a cover that has two purposes. The first is to be aesthetically pleasing, the second is to cool an M.2 drive. Thermal padding is on the bottom of the cover for better cooling. As I said earlier, there are three posts that secure the chipset heatsink cover in place. The front to are located in part of the motherboard that is more rigid than the area where the back post is mounted. There is very little to hold this post in place. Basically, just snaps and from what I can tell. There is very little surface area to work with and it looks to me like any flex in the mounting hole where that post resides will cause it to fall out. I’ve been able to snap it back in place but keeps falling out. I’m not a fan of this design. Keep in mind, I’m working with a sample of one. Therefore, your mileage may vary. This could very well be isolated to my individual motherboard. That said, the design just doesn’t look very good to me. I feel like it’s probable others will have the same experience I have with this. You don’t really need that rear post doesn’t do much for you. It’s not as though it’s used for drive retention and the cover will remain relatively secure using just the front two screws.

The expansion slot area is excellent. I have few complaints with this part of the design. The CMOS battery is in a good spot. The allocation of PCIe x16 slots is well thought out for multi-GPU systems. Steel brackets are used to reinforce the mounting area around where the PCIe slots make contact with the PCB. The only real issue I have with this, is that three of the six slots lack the reinforcement brackets and therefore look different. This is a complaint about the looks more than anything.

The I/O panel almost looks barren, but this was intentional. You can see in the image above that there is a heat sink and fan that uses part of the I/O panel for an intake. There are still many ports here. You’ll find. 8x USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports and 1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C port and 1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A port. There are also 5x mini-stereo jacks, 1x optical output, two wireless antenna jacks, 1x clear CMOS button and an RJ-45 network port. The audio jacks feature plastic rings around them, color coding each of the ports. However, these are not gold plated, and there are no fancy RGB LEDs embedded inside them. There is no built-in I/O shield either. Obviously, some of the features found in more expensive motherboards and are not expected here.