Three-Way X99 LGA 2011-v3 ATX Motherboard Shootout

Buyers of Intel's X99 platform, which supports Intel's Haswell-E and new DDR4 memory, were probably prepared to pay a premium for mid-market boards. Are any of these $240 to $300 models worthy of Intel’s latest CPUs?

Let's say you read Intel Core i7-5960X, -5930K And -5820K CPU Review: Haswell-E Rises, and really liked the idea of Intel's latest-gen enthusiast-oriented processors. But what's the price premium on X99 motherboards (not to mention DDR4), and what does it get you? A quick look at the specs show that LGA 2011-v3-based platforms priced between $240 and $300 sport close to the same added features as a Z97-based board selling between $120 and $180.

At least from the motherboard angle, that sounds like a fairly mainstream recipe to me. But it's the technology built into Intel's newest Core i7s that make them so high-end.

You get up for 40 PCIe 3.0 lanes, for example, allowing advanced graphics configurations like four-way SLI. You’d have to pay an extra $60 to get a lane-multiplying switch enabling that feature from Z97 Express, and the price premium on these boards is only twice as high. You also get ten SATA 6Gb/s ports, and the extra four ports are connected directly to the X99 PCH instead of sharing a couple of 5 Gb/s PCIe lanes, as they would on Z97. And then there are those four channels of DDR4 memory, compelling motherboard companies to build beefier circuit boards.

Perhaps the biggest cost-adding feature on X99-based desktops is all of that PCIe connectivity. You actually pay twice for it, since the controller is built into your expensive Core i7 processor. If that doesn’t make complete sense, consider that the entry-level LGA 2011-v3 processor, Intel’s $390 Core i7-5820K, has only 28 lanes rather than 40. If you want the same number of cores to connect all 40 PCIe 3.0 lanes, you’re forced to buy the $590 -5930K.

Yet, the motherboard market is so competitive that price-gouging is nearly impossible. Intel consequently gets credit for adding most of the complexity and performance, and then getting to charge for it. You can’t have one without the other.  And now that we’ve acclimated ourselves to the high cost of a mainstream motherboard for Intel’s high-end socket, we’re ready to look at how motherboard manufacturers have addressed its additional interfaces.

X99 Mainstream Motherboard Features
 ASRock X99 Extreme4Gigabyte X99-UD4MSI X99S Gaming 7
PCB Revision1.021.03.1
ChipsetIntel X99Intel X99Intel X99
Voltage Regulator12 PhasesSix PhasesEight Phases
BIOSP1.34 (08/26/2014)F7 (08/26/2014)V17.2 (08/29/2014)
100.0 MHz BCLK99.94 (-0.06%)100.19 (+0.19%)99.98 (-0.02%)
I/O Panel Connectors
P/S 22
21
USB 3.0468
USB 2.0442
Network111
CLR_CMOS Button1None1
Digital Audio OutOpticalOpticalOptical
Digital Audio InNoneNoneNone
Analog Audio555
Other DeviceseSATA 6Gb/sAntenna BracketNone
Internal Interfaces
PCIe 3.0 x16
(-5960X, -5930K)
3 (x16/x16/x8, x16/x16/M.2)
SLI x3, CrossFireX x3
4 (x16/x0/x16/x8, x8/x8/x16/x8)
SLI x4, CrossFireX x4
4 (x16/x16/x0/x8*, x8/x16/x8/x8*)
SLI x4, CrossFireX x4
*Forces M.2 to PCIe 2.0 x2
PCIe 3.0 x16
(Core i7-5820K)
3 (x16/x8/x4, x16/x8/M.2)
SLI x2, CrossFireX x3
4 (x16/x0/x8/x4, x8/x8/x8/x4)
SLI x3, CrossFireX x4
4 (x16/x8/x0/x4*, x8/x8/x8/x4*)
SLI x3, CrossFireX x4
*Forces M.2 to PCIe 2.0 x2
PCIe 2.0 x161 (4-pathways)NoneNone
PCIe 2.0 x113 (+1x M.2 WIFI)2
USB 3.01 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)2 (4-ports)
USB 2.02 (4-ports)2 (4-ports)2 (4-ports)
SATA 6Gb/s10 (Shares M.2, eSATA)10 (Shares M.2/SATA-E)10 (Shares M.2/SATA-E)
SATA ExpressNone1 (Uses 2x SATA)1 (Uses 2x SATA)
4-Pin Fan255
3-Pin Fan4NoneNone
FP-Audio111
S/PDIF I/ONoneOutput OnlyNone
Internal ButtonsNoneNonePower, Reset, OC-Genie
Internal SwitchNoneNoneAudio power source
Diagnostics PanelNone
NoneNumeric
Other DevicesUltra M.2 (SATA x1 or PCIe 3.0 x4), TB Header, Serial COM portM.2 (Shares SATA-E), TB HeaderUltra M.2 (SATA x2 or PCIe 3.0 x4 or PCIe 2.0 x2), Sup. Audio Power
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA10x SATA 6Gb/s
(Includes M.2, eSATA)
10x SATA 6Gb/s
(Includes M.2, SATA-E)
10x SATA 6Gb/s
(Includes M.2, SATA-E)
Chipset RAID Modes0, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 10
Add-In SATANoneNoneNone
USB 3.0Chipset-onlyuPD720210 PCIeVL805 PCIe
ASM1042 PCIe
Networking
Primary LANWGI218V PHYWGI218V PHYKiller E2205 PCIe
Secondary LANNoneNoneNone
Wi-FiNoneNoneNone
BluetoothNoneNoneNone
Audio
HD Audio CodecALC1150ALC1150ALC1150
DDL/DTS ConnectDTS ConnectNoneNone
WarrantyThree YearsThree YearsThree Years

MSI doesn’t call its X99S Gaming 7 a four-way SLI board, and there are a couple reasons for that. Still, our experience with multi-GPU graphics arrays suggests three cards is often the sweet spot for big-spending gamers. We’re not going to go too hard on MSI’s technical marketing team over the nomenclature (or the missing quad-SLI bridge), but this does leave Gigabyte’s X99-UD4 as the only four-way SLI-capable solution in our round-up.

One of the companies you might have expected to appear told us that it wanted a few more days for firmware development before seeding review sites with its most price-appropriate model. Sure enough, the other three manufacturers all sent new firmware builds a few days after we started testing. Unfortunately, catering to every firmware change starts an update loop that keeps us from completing stories, since updates are often issued in the middle of our comprehensive testing.

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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.