Gigabyte Z390 Aorus Xtreme Review: On the Edge of Excellence

Benchmark Results and Final Analysis

Our policy is that all tests should be as clock-for-clock fair as possible, particularly since the performance of an automatic overclock would mislead anyone picking a board for manual overclocking. Though no automatic overclocks were employed by the Z390 Aorus Xtreme, we remind readers that we always disable these, as well as enabling the CPU’s specified power-saving features, prior to running our basic performance and power use tests. XMP memory mode is also disabled since it used to be tied to a CPU overclock on some previous-generation motherboards.

Synthetic Benchmarks

Garnering anything more than a marginal performance gain is impossible with overclocking disabled, and we’re happy to report that there weren’t any configuration issues large enough to drag any of today’s boards in the other direction. Memory timing optimization is still possible, but it affects only a few synthetic benchmarks such as Sandra Cryptography and, of course, Sandra Memory Bandwidth test.

3D Games

All three Gigabyte boards have a slight lead in Ashes, but that lead is too small to cause alarm and doesn’t carry through to other games. Overall, performance for all of the boards falls within expected margins.

Timed Applications

Nothing to see here? Apart from the competing Z390 Phantom Gaming 9’s slightly accelerated completion times in our Adobe InDesign and MS PowerPoint tests, our timed application results appear rather boring. But the Z390 Aorus Xtreme’s consistency is good news!

Power, Heat, & Efficiency

Though additional onboard devices appear to push the Z390 Aorus Xtreme’s idle power less than 1 percent above-average, those few watts are hardly a factor compared to the CPU’s full-load power consumption. Yet even without a noticeable increase in full-load power use, we still see the Z390 Aorus Xtreme pushing a relatively high full-load CPU temperature.

Percent scores are based on all twelve previously-reviewed boards, including the five that are presented today. Some of the cheaper boards had worse power readings, which has allowed all six high-end boards here to exceed the efficiency average. While the Z390 Aorus Xtreme ends up fourth in efficiency, it’s nice to see that its added parts put it only 0.3 percent behind Gigabyte’s Z390 Designare in this metric.

Overclocking

A great way to determine the nature of the Z390 Aorus Xtreme’s resistance to overclocking our DDR4-2933 was to try overclocking the memory via BCLK. No combination of settings would allow the board to boot at anything above its rated ratios (DDR4-2933 is 11x 4/3 x 100MHz x2), so that setting it to DDR4-3000 (15x 100MHz x2) at the stock 100 MHz BCLK resulted in repetitive boot failures. Meanwhile, leaving it at its rated (11x 4/3) ratio while increasing BCLK to 104 MHz allowed it to reach DDR4-3051. Since DDR4-3051 is greater than DDR4-3000, we can be assured that something is wrong with the firmware, at least regarding how it treats our test memory.

The Z390 Aorus Xtreme hit the same thermally-constrained 4949 MHz under the ultra heavy load of Prime95 small-FFTs as we’ve seen on other top boards, edging out the Z390 Designare along with both ASRock models.

A lower memory overclock means, well, less memory bandwidth when overclocked. The same limits didn’t apply to our alternative kit however, and we’re not certain whether our Kingston DDR4-2933 is the only kit impacted by this overclocking problem. Your RAM results may vary.

Final Thoughts

We started out saying that it would have been hard for Gigabyte to justify a price exceeding $400 based on the Z390 Aorus Xtreme’s onboard hardware. And the company's own Z390 Designare shows us why: Both boards have Intel’s top-model Thunderbolt 3 controller, but the Designare costs only $270. The Aorus Xtreme’s 10GbE controller is a $90 upgrade at best, we'd tack on about $20 for the larger voltage regulator, and the remaining $20 needed to take the board to $400 can be seen scattered about as various lesser improvements.

For the upgraded installation kit to support the Z390 Aorus Xtreme’s $550 asking price, the combination of Aorus RGB Fan Commander and Gigabyte OC Touch controller would need to be worth $150. We didn’t find the RGB Fan Commander available separately to get its price, and the OC touch requires a custom interface built only into this board. We could hazard a guess that Gigabyte's charging a $50 assessment for the privilege of owning a top board, but that would only be a guess.

The best of the best usually still qualifies for an award simply by being the best. But this particular sample, with this particular firmware, didn’t meet expectations for our specific memory. The tragedy is that we picked this DDR4-2933 kit to overcome a problem our previous DDR4-3866 kit had encountered when retesting a different Gigabyte motherboard, the X470 Aorus Gaming 7 WiFi. 

Now, it's impossible to say for certain whether any other RAM models would have similar issues as Kingston kit. But the fact that we've encountered memory hiccups with two Gigabyte boards and two different memory kits in just over four months a strong indication that the company could do with some more strenuous internal testing. Because while this issue could be fixed by the time you read this via a BIOS update, the last thing you want to deal with after blowing $1,100 on a top-end CPU and a top-end board is being forced to buy a whole new set of memory, or live with sub-optimal speeds until the company rolls out a fix.

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