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Gigabyte Z390 Aorus Xtreme Review: On the Edge of Excellence

Software and Firmware

Gigabyte App Center remains the launching point for most of Gigabyte’s software, but today we’re only looking for the things that make the Z390 Aorus Xtreme different from Gigabyte’s other boards. We began with its EasyTune, for which the differences in firmware and motherboard capability could potentially alter its settings.

The 5.20 GHz profile of EasyTune pushes CPU stability by using a 1.40V CPU core, which is certainly enough voltage for that overclock, but is far too much voltage to keep the processor within its thermal threshold while running Prime95 small-FFTs. That test is important to us only because when we say something is 100 percent stable, we want to be certain that this statement is true.

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Manual tuning via EasyTune is still available within the full range of the motherboard’s firmware, and clicking the little static icon still brings up a Hardware Monitor that consumes the right edge of the desktop. We split that screenshot so it would fit more easily into an image box.

Hardware Monitor is still a part of Gigabyte’s System Information Viewer (SIV), so that clicking its “return” icon opens SIV rather than returning the user to EasyTune.

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SIV forces users to sit through a fan optimization test at first use, after which full access is granted to fan profile and custom fan settings, system monitor alert settings, and a logging app for component temperatures, voltage levels, and fan speeds.

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RGB Fusion’s changes for the Z390 Aorus Xtreme focus on its integrated RGB LED panels and lighting strip outputs. DRAM RGB can be set either synchronously or independently of the board’s settings, but the synchronous menu items for wave patterns weren’t compatible with our modules. There’s also no chase sequence that could follow the motherboard’s LEDs onto our modules.

Firmware

The Z390 Aorus Xtreme’s firmware opens the first time to its Easy Mode GUI, but changing any of its advanced settings causes it to open to Classic Mode at the next entry. Switching between these is enabled by the keyboard’s F2 key.

The Gigabyte Motherboard Intelligent Tweaker is home to its overclocking submenus. We reached the expected 101 MHz base clock at 49x CPU ratio at a 1.30V CPU core, but the firmware could not overclock our Kingston DDR4-2933 memory. We used a different memory kit to show that it does indeed support higher data rates, even if it can’t push our slower 2933 kit to the same DDR4-3800 that most other boards (including previous Gigabyte samples) have accomplished.

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The first indication of an overclocking problem was that, after initially supporting a 5.0GHz CPU overclock prior to an eventual crash, the board wouldn’t come up at all no matter what we tried. It kept displaying a memory error code with a black screen, even after draining the CMOS battery. I tried replacing the memory, and even retested remaining components on another board. I eventually replaced the CPU with a different model, got the system back up, put the old CPU back in, and only then discovered the problem this version F4 firmware was having with our DDR4-2933. There was no such issue with our old set of DDR4-3866, however.

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The Advanced Voltage Settings submenu brings up another level of submenus, where we found that the CPU Vcore Loadline Calibration setting of “High” allowed too much voltage sag under load to keep our overclock stable. Shooting for a 1.30V CPU core under load, we picked the “Turbo” Loadline Calibration mode, which overshot loaded voltage by 20mV, so we compensated by setting VCore to 1.280V. DRAM voltage also overshot its setting, but only by 10mV, so that its 1.34V setting provided 1.35V at the DIMM slots.

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After four days of fighting the firmware to overcome a compatibility problem with our memory,  we came to the conclusion that users who think they might push their overclock to the point that the system hard-locks should make sure to disable Gigabyte DualBIOS first, so that the second firmware IC’s settings aren’t somehow corrupted by the errors of the first ROM.

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Other firmware options include programmable fan settings that are both PWM- and voltage-mode capable across all eight onboard headers.

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Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.