Gigabyte is a company that is no strange to coming up with feature loaded motherboards in fact some of their boards are so feature rich that I start sweating thinking about from which point should I start my review, like in the case of the Gigabyte Z170X SOC Force that we reviewed last! Also unlike their competition they tend to cater each segment of the market by broadly classifying them into three categories namely as, the SOC range for over-clockers, Gaming series for gamers obviously and the Ultra Durable that is the best of both worlds with a hint of extra durability. All these boards have specific features that suits their name and category.
But today Gigabyte has sent over to us the Gigabyte X99 SLI motherboard for review and the special thing about this board is that though it belongs to the Ultra Durable series but is stripped down to the basics to bring the X99 platform in the affordable bracket & at the same time delivering performance by shedding off some bling to concentrate only upon quality parts.
As we can see that the board is deprived of extra features like extra LEDs, on-board switches and the form factor has been slimmed down to a EATX rather than a ATX that we are used to seeing in this division of boards. But on the brighter side we can still see support for 128GB of Quad-Channel memory, eight DIMM slots, all digital power design and upto 4-way CrossFireX/SLI support!
Packing and Closer Look
The Gigabyte X99 SLI comes in the traditional Gigabyte packaging style for the Ultra Durable series. A black background with the chunky Ultra Durable badge right in the center and X99 SLI boldly printed to clearly mention the series and product name to the customer.
The back is the same story with a detailed marked diagram of the X99 SLI itself in one corner underlining all the features clearly along with one for the I/O panel aswell. Key features are enlisted on the left side whereas some pictorial mentions, like to the server level chokes, Q-Flash etc are given on the left. All in all the outer packing is good and upto the mark.
Open the box and you'll find the board in an anti-static bag resting in a cavity. Life the tray like cavity and you will find all the accessories it comes with. The Gigabyte X99 SLI box itself is thin so I could make out the scant nu,ber of accessories that I'll get. The bundle includes --
- LED backlit I/O shield
- Four non braided SATA cables
- SLI bridge & CrossFire connector
- Driver and utility CD
- The user’s manual
Looking at the Gigabyte X99 SLI itself one can immediately make out that it is a look alike of the Gigabyte X99 UD4P on a diet! The PCB is a nice matte black with golden color highlights strategically placed on the VRM and chipset heatsink to add a color of depth to the entire arrangement. The VRM heatsink is directly connected to the chipset heatsink via a chrome coated copper pipe to facilitate cooling. You can clearly see the heatsinks to be thinner than usual but the four DIMM slots along with 4 PCIEx16 slots are the highlight of the product.
The CPU area is clean just like it should be with the LGA 2011v3 socket in the middle that supports both Core i7 and Xeon families. Xeon support includes E5-16xx, E5-26xx and E5-46xx v3 CPUs based on the "Haswell-E" microarchitecture. The socket is gold plated for better signal transmission and also comes with extra pins which when enabled via a dip switch results in increased electrical stability and potentially increased overclockability.
The eight DIMM slots are colored in an alternate fashion with black and gray and can support upto 128GB of memory working at as high as 3333Mhz so you don't have to worry about any compatibility issue at all.
Gigabyte has equipped the X99 SLI with a 6-phase all digital power design from International Rectifier which includes both 4th Generation digital PWM Controllers and industry-leading 3rd Generation PowIRstage controllers. These 100% digital controllers offer incredible precision in delivering power to the motherboard’s most power-hungry and energy-sensitive components. This new generation of IR digital power controllers and PowIRstage ICs feature Isense technology, which provide more precise current sensing accuracy. This helps evenly distribute the thermal loading between the PowerIRstage ICs, preventing the overheating of each individual PowerIRstage, resulting in longer lifespan and better reliability.
The IO Panel is as standard as it gets for the X99 platform with PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports, 4x USB 2.0 ports, 4x USB 3.0 ports (including a dedicated Q-Flash Plus port), 1x RJ-45 LAN port, 1x optical output, and 5x mini-stereo jacks for analog audio output. Two holes for the WiFi antenna are also present just in case you buy yourself the optional WiFi Card which it doesn't come with by default.
TDual 128Mbit (16MB) BIOS ROMs are provided along with an IT8951E which allows for the addition of USB BIOS recovery in case DualBIOS doesn't work.
In terms of SATA connectivity the board offers 10 x SATA ports and 1 x SATA Express port. These are all native to the Intel chipset and hence using a SATA express port will result in disabling of two SATA ports giving yo only eight SATA and one SATA express port configuration!
As the name goes the Gigabyte X99 SLI comes with support for upto 4-way CrossFireX or SLI configuration. The first and third PCIe slots are x16 whereas the second and fourth are PCIe x8. Depending on your processor the slots work in the following ways --
In case you are using the i7 5820K with 28 PCIe lanes you'll be limited to 3-way CrossFire/SLI at 16x/8x/4x speeds.
The four PCIeX16 3.0 slots are directly linked to the CPU via a switch-less design and since the board also comes with an onboard external clock generator the total bandwidth over the 40 PCIe lanes of the processor go upto 320GB/s rather than merely 64GB/s in absence of such provisions.
Gigabyte has provided two M.2 slots between the second and third PCIe slot which can be used to connect a M.2 SSD and one can accommodate your WiFi/Bluetooth adapter. Sadly Gigabyte has given support to only PCIe Gen 2.0 lanes to the SSD so an Intel 750 Series SSD would be out of question here.
Just like most of the Gigabyte boards the X99 SLI also comes equipped with the AMP-UP audio technology that uses a Realtek RLC 1150 chip along with a Texas Instruments NE5532 to amplify the audio signal through the rear headphone jacks. The LED trace path is backlit isolating the audio components from rest of the circuitry to avoid any static distortion during signal transmit. Each audio channel is on a separate layer of the PCB to eliminate crosstalk and have used premium, solid Japanese audio capacitors made by Nichicon.
A single NXP L04083B switches bandwidth from the SATA Express (2 SATA ports) to the M.2 slot if needed. Four other NXP L04083B switch two PCI-E lanes each from the first PCI-E 16x slot to the second.
Since the X99 SLI is stripped off from unnecessary features to concentrate upon functionality the heatsink is deprived of a backlit LED. But this is something that I was disappointed about since this is the portion that is most visible through the side panel of a cabinet once the board is installed inside. So rather than putting LED on the IO panel which is solemnly visible the feature could've been redirected over here for greater appeal & productivity.
BIOS and Bundled Software
Below are the some of the images from the advanced version that you come across first, its advanced and optimized for HD monitors with all the details about your system pouring on the sides in a molten lava backdrop with hot keys sliding at the bottom in a banner like fashion.
On hitting the F2 button you'll find yourself in the Classic mode which offers all the features of the advanced version but is more favorable for over clocking, not for me but for veteran over clocker who like static screens to maintain concentration!
The UEFI BIOS on the Gigabyte X99 SLI motherboard looks absolutely fantastic, and is a beautiful experience all in itself (Once you are able to get into it, more on that in a few). I like the idea of being able to not only save a particular configuration as a personal profile, but I am able to customize how or what I want to see in the UEFI BIOS itself, as well as change the background of the UEFI BIOS.
The APP Center is controlled by a menu that is nested in the lower right hand corner of the desktop.
EasyTune is the big one for overclocking, and GIGABYTE offers several tools to help with automatic overclocks. We tested each of these and with a sufficient CPU 4.1 GHz should be a walk in the park. The Auto Tuning aspect also hit 4.1 GHz on our sample.
The Cloud Station Server is a relatively new part of GIGABYTE’s software package, allowing for overclocking, remote control, hotspot functionality and adjusting use based on proximity to a Bluetooth device (such that the system hibernates if >10m from a paired Bluetooth phone). To use this function you'll have to connect a Bluetooth adapter to the board eiter via USB or through the M.2 slot.
Apart from these there are many more softwares like USB Locker, Fast boot, Game Controller, Smart Recovery 2, V tuner and many more. All these make the Gigabyte X99 SLI a lucrative deal.
Test Setup and BenchmarkConfiguring the Gigabyte X99 SLI was simple and required no extra effort at all. With the default F1 BIOS I manged to boot into Windows without any issue, it was a plug and play experience entirely.
Our test bench comprised of the following for this review --
CPU: Intel Core i7 5960X 3Ghz octacore processor
Motherboard: GIGABYTE X99 SLI
RAM: Corsair Vengeance LPX 2800Mhz 16GB DDR4 (4x4)
Cooler: Corsair H100i GTX 240mm Liquid Cooler
Graphics card: Gigabyte GTX 950 2GB DDR5 OC Edition
Storage: Corsair Neutron GTX 480GB SSD
Power Supply: Corsair AX860i 860W 80+ Platinum
OS: Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit
Now since everything is in place & pitch black in color *wink* I proceeded to over clocking the RAM and CPU. Our sample of the i7 5960X is capable of hitting a solid 5Ghz on boards such as the X99 SOC Champion but I was aware of the limits of the X99 SLI and restricted myself to a moderate OC session. With all power saving options disabled, at first we managed a stable 4.5Ghz at 1.303v on the core with the memory set at default 2133Mhz, taking things up a notch further we cranked up the settings and got a solid 4.7Ghz at 1.4v anything above that was giving us frozen boot screens or crashes during benchmarks.
Now to overclock the memory by enabling its XMP 2.0 profile #2 that sets it at 3000Mhz we kept the processor at 4.5Ghz @1.303v but failed to boot the system so the approach was to set the BCLK strap to 125Mhz rather than the default 100Mhz and a multiplier of 36 with core voltage same as 1.303v and enable the XMP profile. It worked like a charm and the system booted up without a hick up!
So for the benchmarks we'll be using the processor set at 4.5Ghz and memory at 3000Mhz 16-18-18-36-2T since that's the best we got on the Gigabyte X99 SLI and no doubt is this a great set of stats for a motherboard of this price range.
AIDA 64 Cache and Memory Benchmark
AIDA64 Extreme Edition is a great tool to bench your CPU and RAM in terms of their read-write-copy abilities. Our i7 5960X showed a perfect score along with the Corsair Vengeance LPX showing the desired results.
The reason for including this benchmark was to simply observe the AES and Hash Test which is a determent of how easily your CPU can crunch complex calculations and higher score is always regarded better. The i7 5960x at 4.5Ghz showed an amazing 40931MB/s and 9219MB/s for the AES-256 and SHA-1 Hash tests respectively!
7zip is a compression and decompression program that utilizes the processing power of the CPU alone. It is a synthetic benchmark that gives results very close to real life scores.
The Intel XTU utility not only helps one to overclock and test the system stability all in one place but also can be used to benchmark the processor in terms of comparative score. The i7 5960X at 4.5Ghz on the Gigabyte X99 SLI showed a fabulous test run with an impressive score in the end at 2253.
3D Mark 11 Professional Edition3D Mark 11 is a test suit that plays a cinematic scene to determine the FPS, GPU temperature and CPU temperature scaling everything via a cumulative score. It is a great tool to benchmark your GPU-CPU combination since the solid rendering is done by the CPU whereas the volumetric fog & field depth is done by the GPU.
The score is commendable and no bottleneck on the board's end can be observed.
SuperPi Mod 1.5
A program meant to calculate the value of Pi stressing the CPU and Memory. A lower score is better and we can see the great score that the SOC Force has obtained.
CineBench R15 and R11.5
Cinebench uses Maxon's Cinema 4D engine to render a photo-realistic scene of some shiny balls and weird things (we miss the motorbike). The scene is highly complex, with reflections, ambient occlusion and procedural shaders so it gives a CPU a tough workout.
As Cinema 4D is a real-world application - used on films such as Spider-Man and Star Wars - Cinebench can be viewed as a real-world benchmark.
wPrime is a leading multithreaded benchmark for x86 processors that tests your processor performance by calculating square roots with a recursive call of Newton’s method for estimating functions.
CrystalDiskMark is a disk benchmark software that analyses different types of hard drive. Giving sequential benchmark write and read statistics in MB/s. A simple program that is very useful. As seen the Corsair Neutron GTX performs very well on the SOC Force.
My VerdictGigabyte X99 SLI comes with an array of useful features both physically on-board and even internally when you start exploring the board's true potential thoroughly. It showed impressive scores in our tests and overclocking on the board was easy both in terms of CPU and Memory.
But all this creates more of a confusion than anything else since its a stark match to Gigabyte's own X99 UD4P which came out a few months before its release. Except for the heatsink LED on the UD4P the X99 SLI carries all its features on a slim down version which happens to be cheaper aswell. Overclocking abilities of both motherboards are similar and the 'OC Button' is even present on both. Seems like Gigabyte just refined the X99 UD4P to bring a more raw re-branded board called the X99 SLI.
The Gigabyte X99 SLI is priced at $220 or Rs 25000 in India which is a lucrative price for a Haswell-E board and I recommend it over the Gigabyte X99 UD4P to anyone, even the enthusiasts out there, who are on a budget and care for sheer performance over blings like LEDs or have a case with opaque side panels which ultimately nullifies the minimal advantage.
I give it 9/10