In this review we looked at the Gigabyte X99 Designare-EX. This motherboard is part of an X99 refresh to support the launch of the Intel Broadwell-E processor and has taken a special approach to how a motherboard should be designed.This new model boasts a new board design and theme for the GIGABYTE motherboard family and is the current flagship of their X99 lineup.
Motherboard layout is rather unique in that for once the LGA 2011 v3 platform is not all about running multiple video cards. In fact this board only supports 3-Way SLI but does so with 16x lanes of PCI Express at each slot. To accomplish this Gigabyte has added a PLX PCI Express switch with the express intent of using the extra lanes to support triple NVMe SSD drives over a combination of M.2 and U.2 storage interfaces.
Together with the X99 chipset is support for DDR4 memory. DDR4 will offer timings far higher than DDR3 but at a lower voltage which starts out 1.2v. Most DDR4 memory will be XMP2.0 ready and make setting and getting the rated speeds easy. Also, as mentioned, Haswell-E supports quad-channel memory which offers more bandwidth than its normal dual-channel configurations. Couple that with the higher speed ratings of DDR4 and you get more memory bandwidth at lower voltages.
- Supports Intel Core i7 6950X Processor Extreme Edition
- Support Intel Turbo Boost Max Technology 3.0
- Quad Channel, Registered / Non-ECC Unbuffered DDR4, 8 DIMMs
- Intel USB 3.1 with USB Type-C & PD 2.0 36W Support
- Premium 3-Way PCIe x16 Multi-Graphics Support
- Triple NVMe SSD Support
- 3-Way SLI Support at 16x
- Triple Network Connections
- Great Styling
- Metal Reinforced Expansion Slots
- I/O and Audio Covers
- Onboard PLX Switch
- LED Lighting Effects
- No onboard power & reset buttons
- Mobo heatsinks get HOT
- Washed out LED colors
- Some LED lights you will never see
The Designare is a curious board. On the one hand, it’s loaded with many high-speed storage connections, multiple network controllers, lots of full-length PCIe slots, and generally things desirable in a server or professional workstation board. On the other hand, a meaty power regulator for CPU overclocking, RGB lighting effects, and 3-way 3.0 x16 GPU support suggests it would be a PC gamer’s dream board instead.
The Designare uses an improved power regulation design over the X99P-SLI by using eight phases instead of just six. It doesn’t have the extra power control pins, but it really doesn’t need them. Also, like the X99P-SLI, the Designare has a 5mm heat pipe that connects the voltage regulator heatsink to the one over the chipset, increasing heat dissipation even under heavy overclocking and power draw.
The Designare offers a bevy of storage options. The usual 10 SATA ports through the X99 chipset are present, all along the front edge, including two ports synced together for SATA Express. In between the SATA ports are two U.2 jacks offering PCIe storage for 2.5" drives. Finally, just below the top PCIe slot, and under the aluminum thermal shield is an M.2 slot that can accept up to 110mm modules. Storage enthusiasts will be happy to know both U.2 jacks and the M.2 slot can all operate at PCIe 3.0 x4 bandwidth with a 40-lane CPU. The lower U.2 jack is completely disabled when using a 28-lane CPU.
Fan and Environment Controls
The fan headers are nicely laid out for the most part. Four of the headers are close to the corners, convenient for just about any fan and radiator configuration. The prime CPU header is just below the CPU socket, like the X99P-SLI, making it somewhat troublesome to plug in the fan on large air coolers after mounting them. Fan controls are better on the Designare than on the X99P-SLI in that you now get three PWM headers (main CPU, CPU/pump optional, and system fan 3). Fan configuration still uses the same UEFI control as the X99P-SLI, which is a hassle.
The GIGABYTE X99-Designare EX is loaded with features including USB 3.1 from Intel's Alpine Ridge, 32Gb/s M.2, two 32Gb/s U.2 ports, WirelessAC/BT 4.2, and a new UEFI. I will say this, the implementation of Alpine Ridge on this motherboard is setup for Thunderbolt 3, the proper hardware is in place. There is even a DisplayPort input only for the controller so it can be used for Thunderbolt 3. The reason GIGABYTE isn't advertising Thunderbolt 3 might be because certification takes months, so I wouldn't be surprised if they officially support it in the future.
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