Gigabyte's new X99 motherboard range uses processors from Intel’s Haswell-E family of chips. The 'E' allegedly stands for Enthusiast, however it could also be short for 'Expensive' given the price of most compatible processors. Thankfully Gigabyte also provided a Core i7-5820K CPU and Corsair Vengeance 4x4GB DDR4 memory kit to go with an X99-Gaming G1 WIFI model for this lab test.
The CPU socket used by this platform is LGA2011-3. It's not to be confused with the older LGA2011 socket, which has the same physical number of pins but electrically distinct CPUs, so don’t try cramming an older generation chip in there. However, you will be able to use CPU coolers which were designed for the older LGA2011 socket.
One of the drawcards of the X99 platform is the ability to use up to 40 PCIe lanes for a multi-GPU Crossfire or SLI arrangement, positioned in a 16/16/8 three-way or 16/8/8/8 four-way configuration, as opposed to 16/8/8 or 8/8/8/8 on a lesser platform.
Does that make a huge difference? We don’t have the hardware available to scientifically confirm or deny this, but if you are going to lay down the sort of cash required to obtain three or four high-end video cards, then the last thing you would want is your motherboard bottle-necking the performance of those cards.
Another big-ticket feature of the X99 is its quad-channel DDR4 architecture. Previous enthusiast platforms used triple-channel DDR3, so X99 boards can push data around the system through bigger pipes at faster speeds for what is claimed to be 50 percent more bandwidth.
- Support for Intel Core i7 processors in the LGA2011-3 package
- Intel X99 Express Chipset
- Quad channel, 8 x DDR4 DIMM sockets supporting up to 64GB
- 4x PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots (two running at x16 speed, two at x8)
- 10x SATA 6Gbps connectors
- 1x M.2 PCIe connector
- 12x USB 3.0 ports (8x rear panel, 4x internal headers)
- Creative Sound Core 3D chip
- Dual Gigabit LAN ports (Killer + Intel)
- TI Burr Brown OPA2134 operational amplifier
- Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, supporting 2.4/5 GHz Dual-Band
- Bluetooth 4.0, 3.0+HS, 2.1+EDR
Being a Gigabyte board, the X99-Gaming G1 WIFI also has the usual ‘Ultra Durable’ components such as long-life capacitors and 2oz copper PCB for efficient power delivery. It also packs an eight phase power design – cheaper boards tend to have a four-phase design, whereas extreme boards can have up to 16.
Like the Gigabyte Z97MX-Gaming 5 we reviewed earlier this year, the X99-Gaming G1 WIFI takes its audio very seriously. Again we see the audio components in their own separated area on the board, punctuated by the big gold Creative quad-core audio processor.
You also get the upgradable OP-AMP with gain boost and Nichicon capacitors. This all adds up to punchy, clean, and clear audio - Battlefield 4 through my Astro A30 headphones sounded excellent, with player chat never getting lost amongst the explosive game sound.
Design and layout
Physically, the board is aesthetically pleasing with a black design and red trim, three reasonably ample heatsinks connected by heatpipes, and LEDs for Africa. Depending on how much visual stimulation you can stomach, you can set these lights (including the eye-shaped one on the chipset heatsink) to stay lit, pulse slowly, blink to the beat of your music. Mercifully, you can also switch them off altogether.
In the top corner of the board are three control buttons – Power, Reset, and Clear CMOS – along with a two-digit LED readout, a single/dual BIOS switch, and some voltage measurement points.
Along the side of the board you’ll see no fewer than ten SATA 6Gbps ports, as well as a SATA Express port. Unfortunately my case (a Corsair Carbide 400R) has a recessed motherboard tray, which meant the bottom half of the SATA ports were inaccessible. Granted, I don’t actually need to use them, but if I did I would be mighty unimpressed with that design.
Next to the SATA ports is a SATA power connector which is actually used for extra PCIe power when using multiple video cards. There are also dual M.2 slots which support up to 10Gbps transfers speeds for SSDs, with one slot already taken by the Wi-Fi adapter.
In the box are six braided SATA cables, Crossfire and SLI bridges, a Wi-Fi antenna, an 8-pin adapter, and the usual software and manuals.
- 7x Blue USB 3.0 ports
- 1x White USB 3.0 port which can be used to update the BIOS without a CPU or RAM present.
- 2x Yellow USB 2.0 ports which use an isolated power source to minimise potential interference and fluctuations for a clean signal to external DACs.
- Overclock button
- Fast Boot button
- Clear CMOS button
- 2x Gigabit Ethernet ports (1x Intel, 1x Killer Bigfoot)
- Gold plated audio jacks plus S/PDIF.
After powering the system up I was presented with a UEFI BIOS interface with three modes: Startup Guide, Classic Setup and Smart Tweak Mode. If you’re an oldschooler like me, the Classic mode will be what you expect from a typical BIOS interface. If you like to point and click things however, you can also choose your background image in the newer mode. In both modes there are tonnes of adjustable settings for CPU and RAM frequency, voltage, multipliers, latencies and so forth.
One such setting is called 'CPU Upgrade', and it's essentially an auto-overclock mode. This one setting lifted the max boost speed of the Intel Core i7-5820K from its stock 3.6GHz up to 4.3GHz. It also raised the CPU voltage about 10% to 1.25v to keep it stable, but it ran at safe temperatures under my cheap and cheerful Cooler Master X6 cooler.
The Gigabyte software bundled with the board includes a range of apps to control the board’s various functions and monitor its performance. If I could fault it at all however, I would say that the CPU temperature readout should display the temperature of all the individual cores, not just display a single temperature reading.
The X99-Gaming G1 WIFI is available in NZ stores now for around NZ$600-650. That makes it a couple of hundred dollars more expensive than the cheapest X99 boards, but it is still NZ$50 cheaper than the Asus X99 Deluxe, its closest competitor (on paper at least).
The X99 platform as a whole is not designed for the budget-conscious. Not only do the motherboards generally cost more due to the higher specifications and extra functional requirements, but the enthusiast CPUs and quad channel memory kits needed will often cost double what most people would expect to pay for mid-range components.
With that said, the X99-Gaming G1 WIFI falls roughly in the middle of the pack when it comes to pricing, but lacks virtually nothing in the way of features. So, if you don’t plan on running four video cards and don’t need built-in Wi-Fi, then you can easily save NZ$100 or more with otherwise similar models. Extreme overclockers may also wish to consider the more expensive but more customisible Gigabyte X99-SOC Force instead.
However, if you are looking for a solid base to build a powerful Haswell-E based system on and the features outlined above suit you, then this motherboard is a winner.