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Gigabyte X99-Designare-EX Review

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Gigabyte X99-Designare-EX Closer Look:

The Gigabayte X99-Designare-EX is a full ATX form factor board measuring 9.6 x 12 inches in size and should fit into just about any chassis designed to fit an ATX form factor board. The PCB is built on Gigabyte's Ultra Durable Platform. As such we get a robust PCB that uses a pair of 2oz copper layers for lower impedance, improved cooling potential, and reduced power droop when overclocking. The black PCB is offset with white accents with blue highlights on the shrouds that should help the end user see the Surround Ambient LED coloring from around the board. The layout is pretty much standard fare on an X99 board. The DDR4 DIMM sockets flank the 2011 v-3 CPU socket and allow for the use of up to 256GB of DDR4 memory. You will need to use registered DIMMs to get the max capacity. There are five 16x PCIe slots cloaked in the company's Ultra Durable PCIe armor to support large graphics cards like the Windforce-equipped GPUs. The black PCB stays black even when you get some bright light on it, ensuring a deep black base for the Ambient LEDs.

 

 

The I/O package on the X99-Designare-EX gives you all the normal connectivity and then some. To start, Gigabyte is still giving those with old school peripherals a chance to retain them with the combination mouse/keyboard PS/2 port above two of the four USB 3.0 ports on the I/O. Next up is a DisplayPort input. Since Broadwell-E processors do not have a built-in IGP like their mainstream counterparts, Gigabyte is using this input to interface with the Thunderbolt 3 controller and push a display signal out on this interface.

The WIFI antenna connections for the Dual Band wireless controller sit above the USB 3.1 Type-C port. By using Power Delivery 2.0, this USB 3.1 port can deliver up to 36W of power versus a 4.5W max on a standard USB 3.1 port. Gigabyte supplies both Type-C and Type-A USB 3.1 ports. These ports are controlled with an Intel controller + Power Delivery 2.0 that provides up to 32Gb/s worth of total bandwidth using up to four PCIe lanes. The white USB 3.0/2.0 connector is used to flash the BIOS via Gigabyte's Q-Flash Plus optionin the BIOS. The red connector is the second USB 3.1 port and is managed via the Intel controller. There are two RJ-45 Gigabit LAN ports controlled by Intel controllers. Intel i218v and i211-AT controllers are used to manage the wired traffic. The sound solution is a Realtek ALC 1150 design using audio grade capacitors to deliver an -115dbr 7.1 solution.

Expansion capabilities come via five PCIe 16x slots and a single 1x slot. Three of the 16x slots run at 16x, while one runs at 8x, and all four support the PCIe 3.0 standard. The final slot runs at 4x and is PCie 2.0 compatible. Of course there are limits if you are not using a processor with 40+ PCIe lanes. This configuration suports both quad-GPU SLI and CrossFireX in a two card configuration. There is also support for 2 and 3-way GPU solutions for both AMD and NVIDIA, should you choose to run a multi-GPU setup. The audio codec of the AMP-UP Audio solution is hidden up under the shroud extension, but is there.  

 

 

Gigabyte's Ultra Durable PCIe Armor is used in a couple different ways. There are two locking tabs through the PCB and additional attachment points through the PCB with the one piece PCIe Armor shields. What you get is a 1.7x improvement in shear resistance with 3.2x increase in retention strength. This should help keep the slots from pulling away from the PCB when you put in an aftermarket or factory backed cooling solution equipped video card. Something along the lines of the R9 290 Devil 13 comes to mind, as it is a beast of a card. The cover between the rear shroud and the PCH heat sink covers the M.2 slot and the Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac 2.4/5 GHz Dual-Band wireless card on the X99-Designare-EX.

 

 

Across the bottom of the PCB you get a full compliment of connections. From the left are the front panel audio header, the S/PDIF output, a system fan header, Trusted Platform Module header, LED power output for use with LED strips, a pair of USB 2.0 headers, a pair of USB 3.0 headers that support up to four ports, a fan header that can be used as a system fan header or used to supply the power to an LCS pump, and ast but not least is the front panel header. By using the G-Connector you can make just one connection rather than trying to push the individual plugs into place.

 

 

Drive connectivity covers the whole spectrum, with a single SATA Express connector and six SATA 6Gb/s connectors that support RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, and RAID 10. There are also four SATA 6Gb/s connectors supporting IDE and AHCI modes only on ports 0-3. A single M.2 connector supports M key type 2242/2260/2280/22110 devices. There are a pair of U.2 connections, but you are limited to the use of one if an i7-5820K or i7-6800K CPU is installed. Moving up the right side of the PCB there is a 24-pin ATX main power connection, the server grade chokes, and some of the DuraBlack solid capacitors. The DIMM slots are encased in Gigabyte's Ultra Durable Memory Armor that helps improve PCB stability and offers a measure of ESD protection.

Across the top of the PCB are the CPU optional fan/water pump headers that can be set to PWM control or can be calibrated with voltage control algorithms. An 8-pin 12v auxiliary power connection for the CPU is in the usual spot. The top end of the heat sink package covers the all-digital VRM power supply circuits.

 

 

As part of the Ultra Durable feature set, the 2011v-3 socket has the contact pins coated in a 15 micron thick layer of gold to improve corrosion resistance over the long term. We know that gold is more resistant to oxidation than copper or brass, so this proves to be a good choice of material for this purpose. A black chrome coating is used to allow the socket to blend in with the theme of the board and honestly looks much better than the barely chromed parts I see on some boards. Eight DDR4 DIMM slots that support a quad-channel memory architecture can be populated with up to 128GB of memory (256GB with registered memory) at speeds of up to 3600MHz(OC), with support for memory modules in the following speed bins: 3600(OC) / 3400(OC) / 3333(O.C.) / 3200(O.C.) / 3000(O.C.) / 2800(O.C.) / 2666(O.C.) / 2400(O.C.) / 2133MHz. Looking closely you can see Gigabyte's Ultra Durable Memory Armor used on the DIMM slots. This feature uses a one piece stainless steel shielding design to prevent bending of the PCB or twisting of the slot to reduce the damage from an overzealous installation.

 

The cooling solutions used on the X99-Designare-EX is a combination of passive heat sinks that rely on airflow through the chassis or directed at each heat sink to remove the thermal load. At the lower right of the PCB is a large flat heat sink that is grooved and covered with a shroud to keep with the theme of the board. At the top left it is used as the attachment point for the cover over the M.2 drive slot. A small heat pipe is used to interconnect this heat sink over the X99 PCH to the heat sink over the all-digital VRM at the top of the board. Visually, the design with the covers looks good, but may well impact functionality.

 

 

Using proprietary build techniques and integrating it into a solid package, the Gigabyte X99-Desinare-EX should perform well and last for quite some time. Let's see what kind of performance it can deliver.




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