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ASUS PRIME X399-A Motherboard Review

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,106
Location
Montreal
Earlier this month we reviewed our first ThreadRipper-supporting X399 motherboard, and as luck would have it was one of the most feature packed models on the market: the ASRock Fatal1ty X399 Professional Gaming. The downside of features is that they always carry a price, and in the case of this ASRock motherboard that price was an eye-watering $660 up here in Canada. When you combine that with the $700 or $1050 or $1250 for a ThreadRipper processor, the total starts to add up quickly. With this in mind, we went on the lookout for a budget-friendly X399 motherboard, and failing at that task, we settled the next best thing.

At $350 USD / $450 CAD, the ASUS PRIME X399-A is one of the least expensive motherboards with an AMD TR4 socket. We will shy away from using the word affordable though, since $450 is still a heck of a lot of money for any non-sentient piece of computer hardware. Clearly, AMD is selling the X399 chipset for a very healthy profit, but we digress...

What do you get for your money? Well for starters, this model has an 11-phase CPU VRM made from the best available components, four steel-reinforced PCI-E 3.0 x16 slots that support both 3-way CrossFire and 3-way SLI, one PCI-E 2.0 x4 slot, and one PCI-E 2.0 x1 slot. Those who need a ton of I/O connectivity might be disappointed since this model only has two full-size M.2 x4 slots, six SATA 6Gb/s ports, and one U.2 NVME port. Both the number of M.2 slots and SATA ports are below average for an X399 motherboard. However, the USB connectivity is off-the-charts. There are two high speed USB 3.1 Gen2 ports on the rear I/O panel, one Type-A and one Type-C, as well an internal USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C header that can provide up two ports to the front of the case. On the rear I/O there are an impressive eight USB 3.0 ports, which are further bolstered by two internal USB 3.0 headers. When you combine all of that with the two USB 2.0 headers there are a grand total of twenty USB ports at your disposal.

When it comes to networking the PRIME X399-A isn't going to impress anyone, since despite its lofty pricetag it only has a single gigabit LAN port. No redundant ports, no onboard Wi-Fi, or certainly no ten gigabit connectivity. This seems rather stingy to us, but since the other X399 motherboards in this price range also only have one LAN port clearly everyone is needing to penny pinching in order to reach this price point.

Much to our surprise this cost cutting extended to the audio section as well. While the Crystal Sound 3 onboard audio solution is based on the familiar Realtek ALC1220 ten-channel codec and linked to an array of Nichicon audio-grade capacitors, there is no separate Texas Instruments op-amp for the front panel headphone output. Instead, ASUS are utilizing the amplifier that is built into the codec itself. While that is a perfectly workable solution, it is a bizarre move given that dedicated op-amps have become standard equipment on most motherboards above $150. It will be interesting to see what the audio results look like.

Thankfully there are little extras, we appreciate the Q-Code debug LED, the BIOS Flashback button that allows you to flash the UEFI without powering on the system, and the onboard thermal sensor header. The onboard power button is hugely handy for those with test benches, but the lack of a reset or even clear CMOS button is disappointing since there is ample room for them next to the power button. There are seven total fan headers, all of which are four-pin PWM/DC capable and are fully controllable from within the UEFI and the Fan Xpert 4 utility. Two of those seven fan headers are dedicated towards AIO and water pumps.

While this introduction is perhaps not the most auspicious beginning to a motherboard review, at least some of our concerns and criticisms can be overshadowed if everything works as well as it should, or even better surpasses our expectations. So if you're interested in AMD's new HEDT platform, and need to find the most economical way to own it, this motherboard might just be what you're looking for.

 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,106
Location
Montreal
Packaging & Accessories

Packaging & Accessories


Now that we have gone over the PRIME X399-A features and specifications in the introduction, it is time to examine the packaging and then crack open the box to take a look at the bundled accessories. Let's check it out:



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As you might reasonably expect, this motherboard's packaging definitely shares its most of its design elements with that of the previous PRIME series models. The front of the box is adorned with the usual array of marketing logos, while on the back of the packaging, you will find quite a bit of information regarding all of the interesting features that have been packed onto this model, as well as a handy rear I/O panel diagram and an abbreviated specifications list.



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When you open the packaging you are greeted with the motherboard wrapped in an anti-static bag. The bottom half of the packaging holds the remainder of the accessories, the manuals, the installation DVD, etc. The user guide (which has the DVD inside) and a few accessories are sandwiched between the two side compartments that we believed were hiding even more accessories...but we were wrong, haha.




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Despite having a high-end price tag this is actually one of the most affordable X399 motherboards on the market, and as a result the accessories bundle is nothing too special. For starters, there is the usual User Guide, a driver and software DVD, and coupon for CableMod.com. They have also thrown in a silver rear I/O shield, four SATA 6Gb/s ports, a Q-connector to help connect the case wires to the front panel header, a vertical M.2 bracket, and a screw and standoff for the horizontal M.2 slot. There is also one high bandwidth two-way SLI HB Bridge, which is a very nice addition to this bundle for those who plan on running two GeForce GTX 1070's or GTX 1080's.
 

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,106
Location
Montreal
A Closer Look at the PRIME X399-A

A Closer Look at the PRIME X399-A




Although we aren't in love with the slightly champagne colored hue of the rear I/O cover, the rest of the PRIME X399-A is pretty sleek. The large irregular shaped metal chipset heatsink is obviously one of the most eye-catching elements - maybe after the gigantic CPU socket - while other touches like the white silkscreening on the black PCB take a little longer to fully appreciate. Overall though, a good looking motherboard.

What might not be fully apparent is that this motherboard is actually one inch wider than the standard ATX form factor, and as a result it is classified as an Extended ATX (EATX) model. This additional width shouldn't be an issue for most cases, so don't bother intentionally purchasing a model that lists EATX compatilibity since those cases are designed to handle full-sized EATX motherboards that are up to 2.4 inches wider than ATX.

The overall layout is very well-thought-out and there are no critical shortcomings that we can point out. All the buttons and switches, numerous connectors and ports are easily accessible and free from possible obstruction. We appreciate the fact that there is a huge amount of space between two primary PCI-E x16 slots, so there won’t be any issues fitting thick dual or even triple-slot graphics cards on this motherboard. We also like the placement of the M.2 slots - one under the chipset heatsink and one vertical slot next to the memory slots - since many motherboards seem to place at least one slot directly under the primary graphics card, which is a problem because very high performance M.2 solid state drives have been known to throttle themselves when running too hot.



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The TR4 socket - also known as Socket SP3r2 - is obviously huge, that much is clear. However, ASUS have actually done a better job than most at creating clearance between the CPU socket and the memory slots. There is about an inch of room on both sides which really helps for those installing large heatsinks.

After we removed the two-piece VRM cooler, we were able to get a good look at this motherboard's VRM area. It features a 8+3 phase CPU power design that utilizes two Infineon IR35201 (rebranded as ASUS ASP1405I) digital PWM controllers and a mix of eight excellent Infineon PowIRstage IR3555M 60A MOSFETs and three three Texas Instruments CSD97374Q4M NexFET MOSFETs. The VRM breakdown is one PWM controller and eight MOSFETs for the CPU cores and one PWM controller and three MOSFETs for the SOC (Fabric, memory controller, I/O, etc). The remaining parts are MicroFine Alloy chokes, 5K electrolytic capacitors, and a dozen super-pricey tantalum capacitors mounted on the rear of the motherboard. Overall, ASUS really haven't skimped on the one area that matters most - the CPU VRM - and it has been built with the best possible components that shouldn't have any issues handling the elevated power demands of 12 or 16 and even possibly 24 or 32 core ThreadRipper processors.

Since ThreadRipper processors can require quite a bit of power - at least when overclocked - ASUS have included one 8-pin CPU power connector and a supplementary 4-pin CPU power connector. Unless you are doing some sub-zero overclocking you really don't need to use the secondary plug, but it never hurts.



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The MOSFET cooling on the PRIME X399-A is actually fairly excellent. While the main heatsink that cools the eight MOSFETs doesn't have much surface area, it is a relatively chunky piece of aluminium. It is also connected via a fairly beefy heatpipe to a secondary heatsink that has a ton of surface area due to its highly finned designed and which also has active cooling in the form of a small 40mm fan. While small fans tend to be noisy, we did not hear this one at all, despite having the test bench a mere 4-5 feet away at ear level.

In order to test the cooling capabilities of these VRM heatsinks we set our manual overclock (4.1GHz @ 1.30V) and ran Prime 95 for a few hours. We are happy to report that the MOSFET temperatures (as recorded by HWiNFO64) peaked at a surprisingly low 54°C/129.2°F. We wish all motherboards did as well in this category.

While we are on the topic of cooling, this motherboard has two CPU fan headers and five system fan headers, all of which are fully controllable via both DC and PWM fan control modes from within the UEFI and the Fan Xpert 4 utility. While the two CPU fan headers can only supply up to 1A/12W, ASUS have actually added a dedicated AIO fan header and a separate water pump header, both of which can provide up to 3A. If that wasn't enough, ASUS have also added their EXT_FAN header that allows you to install their optional fan extension card (sold separately).



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Since ThreadRipper processors feature a quad-channel memory interface, this motherboard has eight DDR4 memory slots, with each bank of four slots being fed by a 2-phase power design. ASUS have validated this motherboard to support up to 128GB of system memory and overclocked memory frequencies up to DDR4-3333, which is lower than most. However, definitely take a peak at our Overclocking Results section to see what we were actually able to achieve. This motherboard also supports ECC unbuffered memory, which does appear to be working in our brief tests.

Like on all recent ASUS motherboards that we have reviewed, this model's memory slots are clipless on one side, which prevents any clearance issues that can arise between conventional memory clips and the back of any nearby expansion card.

We appreciate the diagnostic LEDs in the top-right corner since they can be used to diagnose CPU/RAM/GPU/Boot device issues during boot up.


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Next to the 24-pin ATX power connector is a vertical M.2 slot, which might look weird but is a great alternative to placing an M.2 slot under the primary graphics card. Placing an M.2 slot directly under a graphics card is a problem because very high performance NVMe solid state drives have been known to throttle themselves when running too hot. This is a full-speed PCI-E 3.0 x4 slot, with a theoretical maximum bandwidth of 32Gb/s, and support for SATA, PCI-E, and PCI-E NVMe M.2 solid state drives. It also supports NVME RAID 0/1 in coordination with the other M.2 slot.

To the left of the M.2 slot is a USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C front panel header. This capability is courtesy of a brand new ASMedia ASM3142 USB 3.1 Gen2 host controller that supports transfer rates of up to 16Gb/s. Those with newer cases that support this latest USB standard will finally be able to direct all of that speed to the front USB 3.1 ports. To the left of the USB 3.1 Type-C header is an angled USB 3.0 header and it can provide two USB 3.0 ports to the front of your case.



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One of the most impressive aspects of this new platform is the fact that it natively supports three full speed M.2 slots, which is made possible by the fact that 12 of ThreadRipper's 60 free PCI-E 3.0 lanes are dedicated towards high-speed storage connectivity. However, on this motherboard ASUS have decided on a two M.2 slot and one U.2 NVME port configuration. We still don't see the point behind the U.2 interface since there are only two worthwhile products that support it, the Intel 750 SSD series and the just released Intel Optane SSD 900P series, neither of which are all that interesting when there's a PCI-E version available. We would have preferred that they add both a third M.2 slot and the U.2 port and throw in some PCI-E switches that could enable/disable one interface or the other depending on the needs of the user.

While we are on the topic of M.2 slots, ASUS have designed a cool chipset heatsink that serves double duty as a cooler for the M.2 solid state drive. While similar concepts have had mixed results, this piece of aluminium is large enough that it can absorb quite a bit of the SSD's thermal emissions before getting heat soaked. Surprisingly, we actually noticed a solid 5°C/9°F improvement in temperatures on our Samsung 950 PRO during particularly heavy and constant workloads. More critically however, it also serves to protect the SSD from the heat that would radiate from any graphics card installed in the second or third PCI-E x16 slot.

While this platform natively supports up to eight SATA ports, this model only comes with six. This slight limitation is not an attempt at upselling to the higher-end ROG Strix X399 or aforementioned ROG Zenith Extreme since they both also only have six SATA ports. These SATA ports support RAID 0/1/10 courtesy of the X399 chipset.

Directly below the M.2 slot is a 3D Mount standoff, so those with 3D printers can make some type of new or different M.2 cover/shield/shroud. We aren't exactly sure who would want to do this, but if interested you can read up on what ASUS has to say about it.
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,106
Location
Montreal
A Closer Look at the PRIME X399-A pt.2

A Closer Look at the PRIME X399-A pt.2




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In the lower-right hand corner of the motherboard, there is the front panel header, the thermal sensor header, the M.2 fan header which is effectively just a case fan header, one water pump header, one of two USB 3.0 headers, and both USB 2.0 headers.

The bottom edge of the motherboard is also where you will find the EXT_FAN header if you need more fan headers and are willing to buy the Fan Extension Card, two additional case fan headers, and one of two 12V RGB LED headers where you can plug in any 12V/2A 5050 RGB LED lighting strip and have it fully powered by the motherboard and controlled by the AURA lighting control utility. There is also a small power button, the Q-Code LED display, and the front panel audio header.

Although we appreciate the fact that there is an onboard power button, we would have really appreciated onboard reset and clear CMOS buttons as well. There is ample unused PCB room right next to the power button, so there's really no excuse not to add a few pennies worth of additional hardware.


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One of the key selling points of ThreadRipper processors is their abundance of PCI-E lanes. While these processors natively support 64 PCI-E 3.0 lanes, 4 are used for the CPU to chipset interface, and 12 are used for the three M.2 slots. If you do a little math, that means that there are 48 PCI-E 3.0 lanes left over for graphics purposes. However, while the PRIME X399-A has four physical PCI-E x16 slots, it has only been certified for up to 3-way CrossFire and 3-Way SLI operation. This is possibly in order to save money, since 4-way SLI certification is not cheap, and secondly because the way that the PCI-E x16 slots are distanced there's simply no way to install four dual-slot graphics card.

In a dual graphics card configuration, the first and third PCI-E x16 slots will operate at the full x16 speed (x16/x16). When three graphics cards are installed, both the first and third PCI-E x16 slots will run at x16, while the bottom slot will operate at x8 (x16/x16/x8). On the plus side, it appears that no matter what your system configuration is, all of the six PCI-E slots are always enabled. There are none of the limitations that are often encountered due to a lack of PCI-E bandwidth.

As we have come to expect from quality motherboards, this model features steel reinforced full-size PCI-E slots, which means steel sleeving and additional anchor points for the slots likely to hold graphics cards.



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As we have come to expect from every modern motherboard, the Clear Sound 3 onboard audio is based on a Realtek audio chip and Nichicon Fine Gold Series audio-grade capacitors. While there is an EMI shield covering it, we know that this audio solution is based on the Realtek ALC1220A codec. The difference between the ALC1220A and the more common ALC1220 is that the A version is missing the I2S (Integrated-Interchip Sound) bus interface that is used to transfer digital data to a DAC. Since this motherboard has no third-party DAC, I2S is obviously not needed. Regrettably, it also doesn't have a third-party op-amp either, which is a puzzling decision given how ubiquitous they have become as a means of powering the front-panel audio headphone jack. Instead, ASUS have decided to use the amplifier that is built into the codec itself, and they have saved about a dollar in the process. While this works perfectly fine in theory, a discrete op-amp is a more capable headphone amplifier and it has been argued by many that the addition of a quality op-amp also improves the soundstage. Anyways, definitely check out our audio testing results, you might end up as surprised we were.

The physical PCB-level audio separation line that protects the audio section from EMI doesn't have any illumination near it or under it, which we don't mind. As mentioned previousl, there are a few RGB LEDs placed under the chipset cooler, and if that is not enough lighting for you there are also two light strip headers that can be fully controlled from within the included AURA utility


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Aside from the fact that there's only one gigabit LAN port, the PRIME X399-A has a pretty solid rear I/O connectivity. Starting from left to right, we have the BIOS Flashback button, six USB 3.0 ports, one gigabit LAN port, two USB 3.0 ports, USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-A and USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C ports, and the five analog audio jacks plus the S/PDIF output. You can also see part of the MOSFET heatsink exhaust as well as the little fan that it attached to it.

The lack of PS/2 port is an interesting omission, but not one that we will lose sleep over as it's such a super niche interface at this point.

The gigabit LAN port is powered by the ubiquitous Intel I211-AT controller, which is highly compatible with a wide range of operating systems. This networking port is protected by a LANGuard surge protector and it can be managed using the TurboLAN utility.



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What's powering all these ports and other key motherboard functions? Well starting from the top left there is a brand new ASMedia ASM3142 USB 3.1 Gen2 host controller, an Intel I211AT gigabit LAN controller, an ITE IT8665E Super I/O monitoring controller, and two of the Turbo Processing Unit (TPU) chips responsible for the automatic overclocking features. Although not picture above, there is also a small unbranded controller responsible for the AURA RGB LED lighting feature.


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When we take a look at the back of the motherboard, there's really not much there aside from one or two small ICs. When we removed the rear-mounted backplate we were able to see the beefy SMD Tantalum capacitors that help support the CPU VRM.

While the PCB isolation line that surrounds the audio subsystem is quite visible, there are no LEDs mounted on the rear (or front) of the motherboard since the audio section is not lit on this model.

As we have come to expect from a motherboard in this price range, all of the heatsinks and the plastic shroud are attached with metal screws.
 

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,106
Location
Montreal
Hardware Installation

Hardware Installation


In the Hardware Installation section we examine how major components fit on the motherboard, and whether there are any serious issues that may affect installation and general functionality. Specifically, we are interested in determining whether there is adequate clearance in all critical areas.



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Since most ThreadRipper processors have a default TDP of 180W, and AMD recommends liquid cooling at a minimum, we elected to use a Thermaltake Floe Riing 360 all-in-one liquid CPU cooler. This was helped along by the fact that in every ThreadRipper retail box AMD bundles an Astek TR4 CPU bracket and a very useful little torque wrench. Overall, the ThreadRipper installation process, both in terms of the actual CPU and the liquid cooler was as easy and idiot-proof as any that we have encountered.

While we have never really encountered any clearance issues when installing an all-in-one liquid cooler you will want to carefully where you place the hoses, since when you place them on the side they can get pretty close to the memory modules.


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There is a pretty decent amount of space between the back of the graphics card and the memory slots, but that doesn't really matter since the memory slots are clip-less on that side. The 24-pin ATX power connector is ideally placed in its common location, but the 8-pin and 4-pin CPU power connectors has been relocated to the top-right corner of the motherboard. This is unusual, but not particularly problematic...other than the fact that the 4-pin CPU connector is awfully close to the 24-pin ATX one.




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This board will hold two or three dual-slot graphics cards without issue. The cards overhang the motherboard, but the edge-mounted SATA connectors and various headers are still easily accessible. As on all motherboard, if you install a dual-slot expansion card in the bottom PCI-E x16 slot it will block the headers at the very bottom of the motherboard and make access to the various buttons difficult if not impossible.


The six 90-degree SATA port, single U.2 port, and right-angle USB 3.0 header are obviously accessible no matter how many graphics cards are installed.


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Installing an SSD in any of the two M.2 slots is simple, but still more complex than on most other motherboards. For one slot, you will need to unscrew part of the chipset heatsink in order to actually expose the M.2 slot. Then you need to pick an M.2 screw in the accessories bundle, and then screw down the drive.

For the vertical M.2 slot, you need to grab the M.2 bracket, and then secure it to the motherboard with the two included metal screws. It might look weird, but it is an ingenious solution for increasing the number of M.2 devices that can fit on a motherboard. You will want to install this bracket and the M.2 drive before placing the motherboard in a case, since otherwise installation could get a little tricky.
 

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,106
Location
Montreal
UEFI Explored

UEFI Explored


This new generation of X399 motherboards has the same familiar UEFI bios layout that we have seen on most ASUS models for the last few years. Although fundamentally similar to past versions, this latest implementation has obviously been tweaked with a handful of new ThreadRipper oriented features. As we have come to expect from ASUS, this is a very smooth and responsive UEFI BIOS, and it's a pleasure to use. As in previous iterations, this UEFI BIOS is divided into two distinct modes. The EZ Mode is simplified and features a mouse-friendly graphical user interface (GUI) for basic tasks, while the Advanced Mode has all the settings, options, and features that you could ever want. From within the EZ Mode you can switch to the Advanced Mode by pressing F7, and vice-versa to get back to the EZ Mode.



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The EZ Mode makes pretty good use of the graphical user interface (GUI) and was designed to be used with a mouse. It obviously does not have all the functionality of the Advanced mode, but it is not meant to. It simply gives novice users an easy way to visualize and alter some of the most common settings. The Q-Fan Tuning feature can be found in both BIOS modes, but fundamentally it gives you full manual or preset-based control over the systems fans. The EZ Tuning Wizard is particularly interesting since it brings overclocking to an even simpler level. Basically, the wizard asks you how you generally use your system, what kind of CPU cooler you have installed, and based on your answer it comes up with an appropriate tuning level for your respective system. It worked perfect during our short time toying with it, and the fact that it never actually mentions "overclocking" should help alleviate some of the fears less knowledgeable users might associate with the word.


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The My Favorites tab allows you to have all your most useful or most used settings in one place, so you no longer have to search through the whole bios to find what you need time and time again. My favorites used to come as a blank page, but now ASUS have included what it believes are the most used BIOS settings. You can obviously edit this selection, and add or remove any settings that you want.


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The next tab in the BIOS is the Main section, which displays the standard storage devices and some basic system information. This System Information section lists some rudimentary specification info, including the BIOS date & version, the type of processor and the amount of memory installed. You can also set the system language, and an administrator and/or individual user password.



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Next up is the Ai Tweaker section, which is where all the fun happens. Once the manual option is selected in the Ai Overclock Tuner setting, the BIOS opens up to reveal all of the essential system clock control options: CPU multiplier with an all-core and per-core option, BLCK frequency, CPU strap, memory frequency, memory timing options, and all the voltage options.

The OC Tuner feature allows novice users to automatically overclock their systems without having to mess around with clocks speeds, multipliers, and voltages. The are two options in this feature, a multiplier-only tuning mode or a multiplier and BCLK tuning mode. You can read more about this automatic overclocking feature in our Overclocking Results section.



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As its name suggests, the DRAM Timing Control section is where you will find all the memory-related settings. Within this section you can select and change all the memory settings, and each memory channel has its own section, from which you can alter the primary and secondary timings. It has just about every memory modifier that an enthusiast or overclocker would need to fine-tune their modules. There's really an overabundance of options and it is quite impressive.


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The DIGI+ Power Control section has a whole slew of advanced power regulation settings for the CPU cores, SOC (system agent/memory controller), and DRAM channels. This motherboard is setup well enough so that you should never actually have to tweak any of these settings though, unless you are really pushing the limits with phase-change or LN2 cooling. The exception to this is obviously Load-Line Calibration (LLC), which is a worthwhile feature that eliminates droopage on the CPU vCORE, and which we will take a closer look at in our Voltage Regulation section.


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The Tweakers Paradise sub-menus has a ton of fairly obscure settings that should come in handy in the hands of experts top-level overclockers. There's really nothing here that your average user should concern themselves about.


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Occupying the middle to bottom section of the Ai Tweaker are the prodigious voltage options. As you would expect, all the key system voltages are present and accounted for, as far as bunch of other voltage options that we have frankly never even seen before. For some of the key voltages like the CPU Core voltage and the CPU Cache voltage, ASUS have allowed four separate entry modes. The Auto and Manual modes are self-evident, the Offset Mode allows you to specify how much higher (or lower) the voltage should be in reference to stock level, so something like +0.10V or +0.15V. The Adaptive Mode allows you to set both a base voltage and higher Turbo Mode voltage that is enabled under heavy system loads. This helps minimize the amount of voltage running through an overclocked processor when it's not under load.

Usually we would now say that we wish there were more drop-down menus in this section. Although can manually type in whatever you want, but that is not particularly useful when you don't know or don’t remember what the default voltages are. Thankfully, ASUS have thought about this, and they have included real-time voltage read outs next to all the key system voltages. This is an fantastic addition and we couldn't be happier to see it here.
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,106
Location
Montreal
UEFI Explored pt.2

UEFI Explored pt.2







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The Advanced tab is where you can tweak countless motherboard settings and enable or disable all the onboard components like audio, Wi-Fi, SATA ports, etc. You can also tweak CPU-specific settings like CPU virtualization, of which there are three settings. The AMD PBS menu is quite interesting since it gives you control over the processor's onboard PCI-E switching capabilities, as well as the ability to enable or disable NVMe RAID.




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In the AMD CBS section, you will find a ton of CPU options to fool around with, but you probably shouldn't since most are extremely esoteric. The only one that is worth taking a look at is the Custom Core P-States menu, which as indicated allows you to set your own per-core P-state (CPU frequency, multiplier, voltage). This is a very high level feature and it requires the user to understand confusing elements like FID, DID, and VID. There's also a setting that allows you to tweak the processors TDP, but why you would want to limit the TDP of your pricey high-end processor is beyond us.



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The Monitor tab is mostly dedicated to monitoring the various voltages, temperatures, and fan speeds. This whole section is really quite impressive, it has all the essential temperature and voltage readouts, as well as truly excellent and comprehensive fan control functionality.



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The Boot tab is essentially where you set storage device priority, select the boot drive, enable/disable the full screen logo, and ton of other boot settings that can help with the installation or troubleshooting of various OS installations.




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ASUS EZ Flash 3 is a built-in utility that greatly simplifies the BIOS updating process. You can easily update your BIOS from a ROM file located on your hard drive(s) or USB flash drive(s). It's quick, painless, and it takes the worry out of BIOS flashing.

The ASUS Overclocking Profile feature gives users the option to save and switch between BIOS profiles, for example an everyday profile and a benchmarking profile. Not only is this infinitely quicker than manually inserting every setting, but the profiles can be saved and shared among other X399-A owners.


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Before you save your settings and exit the BIOS, there is a handy window that lists the changes you made during this session. It's a well thought out and implemented idea. The new General Help pop-up that you can find in the top-right corner is very handy for those who can't remember all the new function key tasks.
 

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,106
Location
Montreal
Included Software

Included Software


Ai Suite III

The most important and all-encompassing utility in ASUS' impressive suite of software is the aptly named Ai Suite III. Whereas ASUS used to have a handful of standalone apps for different functions, many were consolidated under the Ai Suite moniker back in 2011. This system management utility is the hub from which you can monitor system clock speeds, voltages, temperatures, and fan rotation but more importantly it allows users to do both automatic and manual overclocking from within Windows. Although it's basic UI has been established for a while, ASUS regularly adds to the capabilities to this utility, so let's check it out.

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There are six main sections that are the focus of the Ai Suite III utility, and they are all linked to the Dual Intelligent Processors 5. As a refresher, DIP5 refers to two co-processors - the TurboV Processing Unit (TPU) and the Energy Processing Unit (EPU) - that are tasked with for optimizing the system with a focus on either better performance and improved energy efficiency.

The 5-Way Optimization section is the coolest, and is where you will find the 5-Way Optimization automatic overclocking feature. There is also the Energy Processing Unit (EPU) power saving or performance profiles, Fan Xpert 4 fan speed optimization status, DIGI+ VRM optimization, awesome new Turbo App functionality, and some display-only information regarding TurboV Processing Unit (TPU). We'll go into it in-depth below.

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On the left hand side of the Ai Suite utility is an arrow that activates a pop-out menu when clicked. Here you will find features like PC Cleaner, which will scan your PC and get rid of junk files to free up disk space. The EZ Update tool allows users to update their motherboard's BIOS either directly from the internet or from a downloaded file. System Information just contains a bunch of basic system information regarding your CPU, motherboard or RAM. You can also find you can find your serial number, BIOS version, etc.

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At the bottom is a static strip that displays information on CPU and DRAM frequency, real-time voltage and temperatures measurements, as well as CPU and case fans speeds. You can also set safe thresholds for voltages, temperatures and fan speeds as well as setting alerts to warn you of any serious fluctuations. It is essentially a replacement for the Probe II utility.

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Clicking on the 5-Way Optimization button reveals the coolest part of the whole Dual Intelligent Processors 5 utility. There is a certain level of fan optimization functionality in this section, but what's really interesting is the automatic overclocking feature. You have the option of 3 different overclocking levels depending on whether you have an unlocked processor or not. We don't want to reveal too much here, so go check out the Overclocking Results section to see how well this auto-overclocking feature worked.

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The TPU (TurboV Processing Unit) tab is where you can manually adjust the bus speed, CPU multiplier and SOC multiplier. You will also be able to change the CPU multiplier, either per core or as a group. There are also an impressive eleven adjustable system voltages. You can adjust all these settings on-the-fly without having to reboot the system.

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The EPU (Energy Processing Unit) tab is you will be able to fine-tune the various selection of power saving or performance profiles. This is a versatile feature for those who truly care about maximizing energy savings.

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The DIGI+ VRM tab is where you will find the power options for the CPU, System Agent/Memory Controller, and RAM. There are adjustable settings for load-line calibration, current capability, voltage frequency, and phase control. There are different power controls for each memory channel since they are independently powered.

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The Fan Xpert 4 tab is, as you might expect, where you can fully manage and optimize your CPU and system fans. While there are now a series of four fan presets (Silent/Standard/Turbo/Full Speed), you can also manually adjust the full fan speed curve to your preferences, or simply use the fully automated Fan Tuning feature.
 

MAC

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Location
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Included Software pt.2

Included Software pt.2


AURA


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The AURA utility is used to control the RGB LEDs that have been placed under the chipset heatsink. The lighting can be adjusted to any number of different colours and customized to create cool lighting effects. The presets can cause the LEDs to change shades to indicate CPU temperature, pulsate with the beat of your music, cycle through all the colours, fade in and out, flash on and off, or just statically display one colour.


Turbo LAN


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Turbo LAN is a utility designed to help reduce latency courtesy of cFosSpeed traffic-shaping technology. This utility provides users with a lot of control and monitoring capabilities over every application that is accessing the network. It displays CPU usage, NPU usage, ICMP and UDP average ping, and the network utilization of every system process and program. This tool also allows you give priority to certain applications, and throttle or block others to free network resources for other applications. It is your one-stop tool for monitoring and controlling all network traffic, and it even comes with a little widget for real-time bandwidth information.


AMD Ryzen Master


The AMD Ryzen Master utility is an incredibly useful tool when it comes to overclocking Ryzen and ThreadRipper processors. First and foremost - in our opinion - is the fact that this utility is currently the best way of accurately monitoring the CPU temperature, as well as the real-time CPU voltage. There's many monitoring apps out there, but very few are properly tuned for Ryzen processors at this time.

The other key element is that Ryzen Master gives you is obviously full overclocking control over Ryzen processors, all of which are multiplier unlocked. With this tool, not only can you manually set individual core clocks, but you can also disable cores, overclock your DDR4 memory, adjust memory timings, and even increase/decrease system voltages.

If you can to create different overclocking profiles for different workloads you can do that as well, with the ability to save up to four performance profiles.
 

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,106
Location
Montreal
Test Setups & Methodology

Test Setups & Methodology


For this review, we are going to be testing the performance of the ASUS PRIME X399-A with four different configurations: default settings @ DDR4-2666, default settings @ XMP DDR4-3200, with an automatic overclock applied, and with our manual overclock settings. The components and software are the same across all four configurations, and aside from manually selecting the frequencies, timings, and voltages in the manual overclock configuration, every option in the BIOS was at its default setting.

AMD Ryzen Threadripper Socket sTR4 DDR4 Test Setup​

For all of the benchmarks, appropriate lengths are taken to ensure an equal comparison through methodical setup, installation, and testing. The following outlines our testing methodology:

A) Windows is installed using a full format.

B) Chipset drivers and accessory hardware drivers (audio, network, GPU) are installed.

C)To ensure consistent results, a few tweaks are applied to Windows 10 Pro (Creators Update) and the NVIDIA control panel:
  • UAC – Disabled
  • Indexing – Disabled
  • Superfetch – Disabled
  • System Protection/Restore – Disabled
  • Problem & Error Reporting – Disabled
  • Remote Desktop/Assistance - Disabled
  • Windows Security Center Alerts – Disabled
  • Windows Defender – Disabled
  • Screensaver – Disabled
  • Power Plan – High Performance
  • V-Sync – Off

D) All available Windows updates are then installed.

E) All programs are installed and then updated, followed by a defragment.

F) Benchmarks are each run three to eight times, and unless otherwise stated, the results are then averaged.


Here is a full list of the applications that we utilized in our benchmarking suite:
  • 3DMark Vantage Professional Edition v1.1.3
  • 3DMark11 Professional Edition v1.0.132.0
  • 3DMark 2013 Professional Edition v2.4.3819
  • AIDA64 Engineer Edition v5.92.4350 Beta
  • Cinebench R15 64-bit
  • FAHBench 1.2.0
  • Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward Benchmark
  • Grand Theft Auto V
  • HEVC Decode Benchmark (Cobra) v1.61
  • LuxMark v3.1
  • Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
  • PCMark 10 v1.0.1275
  • Prime95 v29.2
  • SuperPi Mod v1.9 WP
  • Unigine Superposition Benchmark Download v1.0
  • Valve Particle Simulation Benchmark v1.0.0.0
  • WinRAR x64 5.50
  • wPRIME version v2.10
  • X3: Terran Conflict Demo v1.0

That is about all you need to know methodology wise, so let's get to the good stuff!
 

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