[section_title title=”Introduction & Closer Look”]
Introduction & Closer Look
With an ever growing market for RGB coming to light, excuse the pun, ASUS have taken it upon themselves to join in for the ride and have brought us the STRIX X99 GAMING, something which aims to catch your eye in more ways than just the board itself. The X99 chipset is of course nothing new, as it was with us for the Haswell-E processors as well, but the with the release of the Broadwell-E processors being the drop-in replacement that they are, you have to try to at least bring something new to the market to try and entice people. It’s like the AM3 motherboards from AMD, they have been on AM3 forever, but you still see a new motherboard popping up here and there to reflect the new age of the manufacturer’s designs and styles. The price of the motherboard is something which the STRIX aims to deliver on, bringing you good value for money but also with that built-in quality that you’d expect from the ROG range of products as well. There are a few features which aim to make this the motherboard of choice when you’re considering an X99 system with a bit of bling. You still get ten SATA 6 Gbps ports, four additional USB 3.0 ports (internal headers) and a whole lot more. So what are we waiting for? Let’s see! The only question is whether or not it can perform, which means there’s only one real way to find out. Firstly, let’s take a close look at the STRIX X99 Gaming to see what’s on offer, and then we can go from there.
What we have in front of us is a somewhat Rampage inspired design, but of course it is lacking a few fundamental features such as the additional heatsink(s) and a few of the overclocker features. However, that is to be expected given that this motherboard is aimed at the gamers and not necessarily the overclockers, extreme or not. It would appear that there is not an awful lot of real estate left to the imagination, it appears to be completely filled to the point of bursting its seams. On top of that, there are various LEDs dotted around the board which can be controlled via software; and to top it off, there’s also an inbuilt header to use LED strips from the likes of NZXT with their Heu+ which Gavin did a video review on towards the end of last year. The header is towards the bottom of the board which I will show you when the PCI-E area is covered later on.
One of the added features on the STRIX X99 Gaming that I would like to discuss with you is the additional headers that ASUS has put on this motherboard. One of them is designed for running your AIO pump as it has a higher current limit, which means you’re less likely to fry your motherboard, it isn’t all that rare and it does happen more often than you might think. It’s not down to a design fault, but rather user error. ASUS have also included OCP (overcurrent protection) integrated circuitry to ensure that your fans do not pull more than the header is designed for. If you really need a high powered fan, there is a header on the motherboard which allows for a high amperage fan to be connected.
Powering the new Intel Core i7 6950X requires a hefty VRM system and a chunky power supply to back it up as well. I’ve seen my sample pull well over 300 watts at 4.1 GHz without an issue, so you had best be sure that your PSU (and your cooling) is up to the task. A total of eight Digi+ III VRMs is there to power your CPU. The ability to deliver 60 amps per phase is key to keeping your processor stable. These CPUs can chew through the power… believe me! This setup should suffice for even the most extreme daily users, and still leave you with plenty of room to spare. Aside from the 8 pin EPS connector, there’s also an additional 4 pin as well. With the 10 core beast that is the 6950X which could be sitting in that massive socket a little further down the board, I can assure you that it is something which you will be wanting on your board. The ‘OC Socket’ (patented) pin design is a part of the STRIX X99 Gaming, which will give you greater voltage control over the standard LGA 2011-3 design, helping to push clocks that little bit further over non-OC Socket motherboards. It is primarily used to control the cache voltage, but it also has other benefits too.
To help with the heat dissipation on the VRM side of the motherboard, there is a back plate to the heatsink assembly. It also helps to make that section of the motherboard more rigid, which is never a bad thing in anyone’s books. The piece that you see in the middle with the Republic of Gamers moniker on it is merely for decoration purposes and serves as nothing else. It does of course allow for the LED lighting to come through, so it can light up in spectacular fashion if you wish for it to do so.
Plenty of RAM is something that X99 offers you regardless of the motherboard in most circumstances. The STRIX X99 Gaming is no different. It features eight DIMM slots which can handle up to 128 GB of RAM, operate at frequencies of 3333 MHz (overclocked) and beyond. ASUS claim that they already have 16 kits on the QVL (Qualified Vendors List) which operate at 3200 MHz. Whether or not you want to subject your CPUs memory controller to the voltage required to run such a kit is up to you, but the board is qualified and ready for high-speed memory chips. I will be testing it with a 3000 MHz kit from Corsair, which will require the 125 MHz BCLK strap to be used due to the 3000 MHz memory divider is notoriously broken on almost each and every single X99 motherboard. The only way to use it is if you are to use the 125 BCLK strap combined with the 2400 MHz multiplier (1.25 x 2400 MHz = 3000 MHz) in this case.
As I mentioned earlier, we have a total of ten SATA 6 Gbps ports on the STRIX X99 Gaming, which are powered by both the Intel X99 chipset and most likely another controller in the form of an ASMedia device. The X99 chipset only provides six lanes natively, but the specs do not tell us what gives us the other four ports. Aside from the SATA 6 Gbps ports, there are a further two options which consist of both a U.2 and M.2 port, both of which fully support NVMe devices for blistering speeds in excess of 2000 MBps. Due to the STRIX X99 Gaming not being as wide as some of the other X99 motherboards on the market as it is an ATX form factor instead of eATX, two of the SATA 6 Gbps ports are located a little further away from the rest of the herd as the U.2 port takes their place instead.
A grand total of six PCI-E lanes are available on the STRIX X99 Gaming, four of which can take x16 devices, and two can take x1 devices. The second PCI-E lane is actually the one provided by the chipset and runs at x4, so it is not to be used for graphics cards. It shares its bandwidth with the other x1 slots and the USB 3.1 EC1 and EA2 connectors too. According to the specs, three-way graphics solutions are possible with x8/x16/x8 and x8/x8/x8 configurations with respective 40 and 28 lane processors. Both options leave the M.2 free to utilise up to 4 PCI-E lanes, as it should be for maximum throughput. The first x16 lane is reinforced in two ways, it has the bracket around the slot and it also has reinforced solder joints, further adding to the longevity of the connection(s). Other important things to notice while we are at this end of the motherboard is the on/off and reset buttons, the LED debugger, and of course the header which we can use for LEDs – the RGB header. Unfortunately, I don’t have any RGB LEDs within my reach, otherwise I’d have happily played around with the feature for your pleasure. There is also another USB 3.0 header down here, along with a few others such as the external ROG header for the OC Panel II (not supplied) that you can find on the Rampage V Extreme. You will of course get the ROG SupremeFX sound chip which ASUS has spent a long time developing to bring you superior onboard sound over their competitors. Oh, in case you think I’ve forgotten, I haven’t. The reason the ends of the PCI-E lanes are a different colour is because they are actually see through, but not entirely. They glow amazingly well when they are lit up with the LEDs that sit beneath them, as I will try to demonstrate a little further on.
Here’s what the LEDs under the PCI-E latches look like in the dark with the standard colour gleaming through them. Pretty neat, huh?
The back of the motherboard features quite an extensive list of inputs and outputs, some of which are a little surprising, such as the four USB 2.0 ports. Either way, they are still very useful for connecting things such as your keyboard or mouse, or even a webcam. USB 3.0 isn’t required for those things, so you may as well make use of the connectivity options native to the chipset instead of implementing an additional USB 3.0 controller for no reason other than to drive up the costs of the product at the end of the day. First and foremost, on the left-hand side working through to the right of the IO, we have the USB BIOS Flashback button, a PS/2 combo port, four USB 2.0 ports and the Ethernet connection that is powered by the Intel I1218V controller that is situated above two USB 3.0 ports. Two more USB 3.0 ports are next, followed by both of the Type-A and Type-C USB 3.1 ports, the Wi-Fi GO! module that supports 802.11 a/b/g/n/AC and Bluetooth v4.0, and lastly we have the audio jacks with an Optical S/PDIF out as well.
ASUS have acknowledged that not everyone likes the decals that come on the motherboard (or on their GPUs for that matter) as standard, and as such, they have included a few variants so that you can choose what works best for you. There are a few colour choices available, which they hope will be enough to either compliment what your colour scheme may be, or to simply change to something more fitting for your personal needs. These stickers are just one of the accessories that come with the STRIX X99 Gaming, so what else is in the box? Lots of stuff, here’s what’s in the box followed by a picture.
You get an LED strip extension cable (for the header at the bottom of the motherboard) with some SATA cables as well. There’s a Wi-Fi antenna for the built-in module at the back of the motherboard, a CPU installation tool, some cable ties, the Q-Connector, an SLI bridge for two-way SLI and some documentation such as the manual, quick start guide and some stickers too. Last of all, we also have some labels for your cabling which can prove to be very useful when you have a lot of connections and a drivers disk which has some useful utilities on it as well.
Here are the stickers that you can change the colour of your system with. I didn’t remove them from the packaging as with my luck, they’d never go back in correctly.
In order to show off the RGB features of this STRIX X99 Gaming, only a video would be appropriate. However, seeing as our very own Gavin has covered this in the past with his overview of the AURA software whilst testing the ASUS Maximus VIII Hero Alpha, so here’s an overview of the AURA software and what it can do;