Three-Way X99 LGA 2011-v3 ATX Motherboard Shootout

More, Less Or Just Different?

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.

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X99 Mainstream Motherboard Features
Row 0 - Cell 0 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 2221
USB 3.0468
USB 2.0442
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 x34 (x16/x0/x16/x8, x8/x8/x16/x8) SLI x4, CrossFireX x44 (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 x34 (x16/x0/x8/x4, x8/x8/x8/x4) SLI x3, CrossFireX x44 (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
S/PDIF I/ONoneOutput OnlyNone
Internal ButtonsNoneNonePower, Reset, OC-Genie
Internal SwitchNoneNoneAudio power source
Diagnostics PanelNoneNoneNumeric
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
Primary LANWGI218V PHYWGI218V PHYKiller E2205 PCIe
Secondary LANNoneNoneNone
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.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • 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
    14199415 said:
    Can't wait for them to review some of the other manufacturer's products in the X99 category. The ASUS board especially.

  • InvalidError
    14199118 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...