Three-Way X99 LGA 2011-v3 ATX Motherboard Shootout

MSI X99S Gaming 7

A great-looking product with four PCIe 3.0 graphics card slots, the X99S-Gaming 7 is both the most feature-packed and expensive product in today’s round-up. A $30 premium over the competing Gigabyte sample buys another four USB 3.0 ports, a four-lane Ultra M.2 PCIe 3.0 slot, a Killer E2205 network controller and, for a limited time at Newegg, a free MSI Steelseries Mouse valued at $30.

X99S Gaming 7 owners also get a digital system code display, on-board power/reset/OC-profile buttons, and a selector switch to choose between two soldered-on firmware ROMs. Even if we ignore the temporary single-vendor mouse offer, the X99S Gaming 7 looks like it just might be worth more than its $30 price premium.

Yet, MSI is also the company known for most blatantly inflating its slot count through PCIe pathway sharing, and the X99S Gaming 7 is no exception. The Ultra M.2 interface shares lanes with the fourth PCIe 3.0 slot, so that installing a card there turns off all of the M.2 interface’s PCIe 3.0 lanes. Your PCIe-based SSD doesn't disappear though, because the X99S Gaming 7 instead switches it over to two of the chipset’s PCIe 2.0 lanes.

The illusions don’t end there. Supposing you have a 40-lane CPU like the Core i7-5960X or -5930K, MSI wants you to configure your three-way SLI in the motherboard’s first, second, and fourth slots. That gets you a x16/x16/(x0)/x8 configuration, while crippling the bandwidth of the M.2 slot.

Anyone who thinks that’s a rude thing to do to a potentially-32 Gb/s SSD will want to use the first, second, and third PCIe 3.0 slots for their graphics cards. The third slot borrows half of the first slot's lanes, yielding a x8/x16/x8 graphics configuration, no lanes to the bottom slot, and full PCIe SSD performance.

Value-minded enthusiasts who opt for the Core i7-5820K’s 28 lanes instead get a x16/x8/x0/x4 configuration. You'd need to drop to x16/x8/x0/x0 (no card in the forth slot) to get full Ultra M.2 performance, but you can still donate half of the top slot's bandwidth to the third slot for a x8/x8/x8/x0 three-way SLI configuration. Apart from the middle slot having only eight lanes, this is the configuration MSI recommended against when using a 40-lane CPU.

Could all of these marketing-based configuration recommendations be the reason why MSI calls this a three-way, rather than four-way board? Perhaps it’s just as likely that the single-slot spacing between PCIe 3.0 slot three and four is the culprit. Either way, MSI could have avoided the mixed configuration recommendations and M.2 bandwidth inconsistencies by leaving out the fourth slot. We might not prefer the board to have that alteration, but at least I wouldn’t have spent three paragraphs explaining it and an hour or so with a graphics card and an SSD confirming it.

The rest of the X99 Gaming 7’s layout is close to spot-on, including a forward-facing USB 3.0 front-panel header that tucks easily under the top graphics card, and a second USB 3.0 header above that serves two more front-panel ports.

If we consider this a three-way SLI/CrossFire product, layout deficits become extremely minor. The upper half of the X99X Gaming 7 only has three fan headers (including CPU and rear panel) where we’d have preferred four, and the front-panel audio jack is still just a little too far into the bottom-rear corner to connect with the slightly-short cables of certain cases.

MSI provides a generous six SATA cables in two different lengths with the X99S Gaming 7, and even adds an optional power input cable to help boost audio output current. But the company is not as generous when it comes to SLI bridges. Rated for three-way SLI, the board lacks the extra-long third cable needed to jump from the top card to the bottom card.

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24 comments
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  • dgingeri
    "LGA 2111-v3"??

    Did something change?
  • west7
    In the 3D gaming page it should been i7-5760x not i7-4790 and fix the LGA 2111-v3 typo and why there in no SLI/crossfire test?!
  • Amdlova
    12 Phases Six Phases Eight Phases what!
  • Daniel Ladishew
    Can't wait for them to review some of the other manufacturer's products in the X99 category. The ASUS board especially.
  • chiefpiggy
    Noob question: would my socket 1150 i5 4670k work with one of these motherboards or do I need one of the Haswell-E processors?
  • sportfreak23
    1637560 said:
    Can't wait for them to review some of the other manufacturer's products in the X99 category. The ASUS board especially.


    +1
  • InvalidError
    312980 said:
    "LGA 2111-v3"?? Did something change?

    LGA 2011 uses DDR3 while LGA2011-3 uses DDR4 so the sockets are different to prevent people from putting the wrong CPU in the wrong motherboard.

    I think there were other changes but this is the big obvious one.
  • firefoxx04
    it should be mentioned (and maybe it was, just not on the first page) that you only get the 40 pci e lanes if you purchase the two higher tiered haswell-E chips. The lowest end model does not support 40 lanes, I think it supports 28.
  • dgingeri
    I was commenting on the typo of "2111" vs "2011".
  • vincevdc
    The MB grid on page one shows that the MSI X99S Gaming 7 mb has an Intel Z97 Express chipset. This is a typo...
  • Computer LVR
    @west 7 and Thomas Soderstrom it should be 5960x not 5760x
  • Crashman
    1335368 said:
    12 Phases Six Phases Eight Phases what!
    There aren't any lines to separate columns, only spaces. Editors can't fix that. Hopefully you'll be able to separate things visually using the spaces.

    1637560 said:
    Can't wait for them to review some of the other manufacturer's products in the X99 category. The ASUS board especially.
    Asus won't come back for this price range, but I expect they'll want to be in the higher-priced and lower-priced roundups.

    1476856 said:
    Noob question: would my socket 1150 i5 4670k work with one of these motherboards or do I need one of the Haswell-E processors?
    1150 is less than 2011. The socket is smaller, mostly because it has 2/5 as many lanes and 1/2 as many DRAM channels.

    211300 said:
    it should be mentioned (and maybe it was, just not on the first page) that you only get the 40 pci e lanes if you purchase the two higher tiered haswell-E chips. The lowest end model does not support 40 lanes, I think it supports 28.
    There was a whole paragraph on the first page dedicated to this limitation. Second one below the chipset diagram.
  • Gurg
    Question I have when looking at this is why don't manufacturers design a board that addresses what standard users need with a 5820. How about sufficient usb3s for mouse, keyboard, printer backup drive, bluetooth and maybe a couple extra. How about sata6 for four internal drives. How about just two 16/16/8 for crossfire/sli. Wouldn't this provide high performance gaming with a 5820 while keeping costs reasonable?
  • Azotsky
    LGA 2011-3 = LGA 2008
    I see what you did there Intel :P
  • Crashman
    1279836 said:
    Question I have when looking at this is why don't manufacturers design a board that addresses what standard users need with a 5820. How about sufficient usb3s for mouse, keyboard, printer backup drive, bluetooth and maybe a couple extra. How about sata6 for four internal drives. How about just two 16/16/8 for crossfire/sli. Wouldn't this provide high performance gaming with a 5820 while keeping costs reasonable?
    You mean a cheaper board? Because the ASRock board has the stuff you were looking for, if you ignore the Ultra M.2 slot, but you have to pay more.

    It has the features you need because your keyboard and mouse are USB 2.0, not "USB3".
  • Eyeshield
    MSI definitely improved so much and should be an elite brand!
  • Crass Spektakel
    Gigabyte fixed BULLSHIT.

    The Firmware-Downgrade-Bug is present since P55 boards and I saw it on EVERY generation, be it 50, 60, 70, 80 or 90 series boards. Not necesserilly on every version of the chipset, e.g. I saw it on a P65 but not on a G61 chipset. But if you have the bug then rest assured they will NEVER fix it.

    The P65 was especially nasty, it downgraded the bios even when actually nothing went wrong and all BIOS settings were "default". EG I once pressed Reset and voila, back to F3. Also happens if I disconnect from power, even if the system is actually already shut down. Only way to avoid this is to power down the system safely by the OS. But then you have to switch the system on at least every couple of days or it will downgrade to F3 immediatly after power on.

    Gigabyte? No thanks.

    (writing this from my old P35 gigabyte system, my last gigabyte in private use)
  • Crashman
    1467218 said:
    Gigabyte fixed BULLSHIT. The Firmware-Downgrade-Bug is present since P55 boards and I saw it on EVERY generation, be it 50, 60, 70, 80 or 90 series boards. Not necesserilly on every version of the chipset, e.g. I saw it on a P65 but not on a G61 chipset. But if you have the bug then rest assured they will NEVER fix it. The P65 was especially nasty, it downgraded the bios even when actually nothing went wrong and all BIOS settings were "default". EG I once pressed Reset and voila, back to F3. Also happens if I disconnect from power, even if the system is actually already shut down. Only way to avoid this is to power down the system safely by the OS. But then you have to switch the system on at least every couple of days or it will downgrade to F3 immediatly after power on. Gigabyte? No thanks. (writing this from my old P35 gigabyte system, my last gigabyte in private use)
    Gigabyte occasionally released a firmware update that modified the detection scheme so that BIOS downgrade is less likely to happen on past products. As you've indicated, they haven't fixed every board and the fix doesn't work for every configuration.

    Gigabyte also has true dual-BIOS motherboards at the high-end, where the forced downgrade can be disabled. You've probably just missed that little tidbit if you think all Gigabyte boards are like this one.

    This is the worst board Gigabyte has sent in a long time, and the first one that I've had to recommend against buying. It's been a few years since I've had a Gigabyte board fail after continuous forced-downgrades.
  • akula2
    I'm interested in Asrock X99 WS and Asus X99-E WS. But I don't find the latter in the market yet. Anyone knows when will it arrive? Thanks
  • dgingeri
    8708 said:
    Gigabyte occasionally released a firmware update that modified the detection scheme so that BIOS downgrade is less likely to happen on past products. As you've indicated, they haven't fixed every board and the fix doesn't work for every configuration. Gigabyte also has true dual-BIOS motherboards at the high-end, where the forced downgrade can be disabled. You've probably just missed that little tidbit if you think all Gigabyte boards are like this one. This is the worst board Gigabyte has sent in a long time, and the first one that I've had to recommend against buying. It's been a few years since I've had a Gigabyte board fail after continuous forced-downgrades. Gigabyte obviously doesn't like that we told you any of this. But to not tell you would be to lie. Its PR are nice people, but I can't lie for them, so it looks like they'll probably pack up their toys and go home.


    Gigabyte PR people might be nice people, but there's only so much one can do about pumping up poor hardware design.

    I've had four Gigabyte motherboards, and I've had hardware compatibility issues with them all. I've had bios issues with three, where I've needed a new bios to support a new generation of processors, but the new version doesn't work well. The latest one was my x79-UP4 board, where it didn't like my EVGA GTX 680 with the F2 bios, and the F4 bios caused the screen saver and power saver features to never turn on, and it took their support nearly two weeks to get me a program that would allow back dating the bios to the F3, which finally worked. The audio plugs never detected when speakers were plugged in, so I couldn't use the on-board audio. Finally, after 9 months of annoyances, it stopped giving power to the USB ports and the PCIe x1 slots, so I lost access to pretty much everything. It was a slow, horrible death for a bad motherboard. I'm not buying a Gigabyte product again.

    They don't need PR. They need to get their heads on straight and engineer their boards better, and test better. Testing is a basic necessity for any technology design. I am a systems admin for three test labs for enterprise level hardware and software. I have seen how many bugs we find and exterminate through our testing, and I have seen how it has affected the quality of our products as management decided to reduce the complexity of our testing. Above all, I have seen how it has affected our sales. Gigabyte has never been very good at their testing. If they want to compete, they need to get off their high horse and confront the criticisms for what they are: a chance to change. If they're pulling their products from being reviewed on this site because of these criticisms, then they have shown their attitude, and nobody should be buying from them anyway.

    The response from APC on the power strip teardown shows how a successful company reacts to criticism. Gigabyte's reaction will show if they're up to the task of staying in business.
  • g00ey
    Well I've had a lot of issues with MSI motherboard. I have RMA:ed all motherboards I've ever bought from them and I've heard a lot of stories from people with MSI laptops. I wonder where we are with MSI today, my expectations are not very high though.
  • lp231
    It's pointless to create a new thread for every x99 board that comes out, so I'll post this here
    Asus x99 Pro
  • Eric Schwartz
    My Asrock X99 Extreme 4 board is truly an amazing board. Overclocking, features and stability are rock solid!
  • Gurg
    Initially bought an Asrock but had a bent CPU pin. RMAd for the Gigabyte which after a bios update has worked great.