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GIGABYTE X99-SOC Champion LGA2011-v3 Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Although we had our hands on two GIGABYTE Super Overclock Series motherboards back in April, we haven't atually reviewed one since the original X58A-OC model that helped launch this hardcore motherboard series all the way back in 2011. Despite the relabel from OC to Super OverClock (SOC) to put the motherboard division in line with the company’s graphics card naming scheme, the fundamental ideas behind this series really hasn't changed. With their unique black and orange colour schemes, plethora of overclocking-focused features, top-quality components, and thoughtfully considered specifications lists, these purpose-built motherboards have always caught our eye.

Today, we have the privilege of reviewing the recently released GIGABYTE X99-SOC Champion. Now in many ways this new Champion model is a slightly stripped down version of the X99-SOC Force designed to hit a more affordable price point. Although this new model is missing a few of the Force's overclocking-oriented features, the most notable difference is obviously the fact that the Champion is the only full-size X99 motherboard on the market with only four memory slots. While this design feature alone might be a non-starter for some users, serious overclockers shouldn't count it out just yet since one of the results of this design is shorter pathways between the memory and the processor, and thus - at least hypothetically - better stability and overclocking potential.

Furthermore, GIGABYTE have chosen this model to introduce a custom CPU socket that contains 2083 pins (instead of the reference 2011) and can bypass the processor's onboard voltage regulation in order to improve CPU and DDR4 overclocking in extreme conditions. Another noteworthy feature is the addition of a 4-pin CPU power connector to supplement the usual 8-pin CPU power connector, which can be critical when pushing Haswell-E chips pass a certain point.

Even those without any overclocking ambitions might find the Champion intriguing since it not only features support for both 4-way CrossFire and 4-way SLI, but GIGABYTE's design allows for all 40 of the CPU's PCI-E 3.0 lanes to be diverted towards the PCI-E x16 slots for graphics use. That doesn't mean that they neglected the storage capabilities though. There is ample USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gb/s connectivity, as well as one SATA Express port and a high-speed M.2 20Gb/s slot. Rounding things off is a Realtek-based onboard audio solution with a built-in headphone amplifier, and some pretty cool LED-powered lightning effects.

All in all, the SOC Champion can be considered a "stripper" X99 board, its feature list is long and its overclocking roots are deep. With a price of "just" $350, there are some serious ramifications for future motherboard generations if GIGABYTE's idea of an overclocker-focused yet relatively affordable product finds success. The odd thing about this is that as of the time of writing the Champion seems to have been pulled from retail channels without any evidence that it was ever available now that the initial batch has been sold off.

So does this motherboard have what it takes to entice the Haswell-E overclocking crowd? Let's find out.

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SKYMTL

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Specifications & Features

Specifications & Features



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Before we get up-close and personal with this new X99-SOC Champion through pictures, testing, and analysis, let’s take a look at this motherboard's specifications as per GIGABYTE's website.



As mentioned in the introduction, this motherboard has quite a few noteworthy features, but will be paying especially close attention to the promised overclocking capabilities, while also taking a close look at the audio and storage sub-systems.
 

SKYMTL

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The X99 Platform; Enthusiasts Rejoice

The X99 Platform; Enthusiasts Rejoice


One of the main critiques leveled at Intel’s X79 was its similarity to the old-as-the-hills X58. As a matter of fact, from a specifications standpoint, that’s exactly what it was: an X58 chipset with a new coat of paint in the form of PCI-E 3.0 support. Since it didn’t feature current technologies like native USB 3.0 and only had two SATA 6Gbps ports, motherboards required third party controllers to attain those functions, and support wasn’t the greatest especially for key features like RAID and high speed USB throughput. That caused a serious problem for a so-called enthusiast platform when Intel’s own Z87 incorporated those elements into boards that often cost hundreds less than their X79 cousins.

X99 changes this equation in a big way towards compatibility that many thought should have been incorporated into X79 in the first place. Nonetheless, we are now (finally!) going to see native support for USB 3.0, SATA Express, and Thunderbolt 2 on Intel’s enthusiast motherboards.

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Starting with the most obvious thing first: X99 chipsets will still use the LGA2011 socket but it has been updated for Haswell-E compatibility. This not only means new microcode but also support for the processors’ fine grain power distribution needs and higher current capability. In short, older LGA2011 boards will not be forwards compatible with these new processors, nor will this so-called LGA2011-v3 socket be backwards compatible with Ivy Bridge-E CPUs.

The X99 platform is of course headlined by the Haswell-E CPU which provides up to 40 PCI-E 3.0 lanes (the i7-5820K will only come with 28 lanes enabled) which can be distributed via up to three integrated slots. This means a x16 / x16 / x8 setup is possible as is a 5x8 setup via third party controllers should motherboard vendors decide to go that route. The processor also houses the quad channel DDR4 memory controller.

As with all Intel platforms, the PCH is where all the I/O fun happens and it is connected to the processor via a x4 DMI interface providing up to 4GB/s of aggregate upstream / downstream bandwidth. In this case the X99 supports up to 14 USB ports spread across six USB 3.0 and 8 USB 2.0 along with ten native SATA 6Gbps ports. Through the use of Intel’s refreshed architecture these can be paired with additional PCIe 2.0 lanes for SATA Express or 4x M.2 compatibility without needing to resort to a so-called “FlexIO” interface. Naturally, those lanes can also be used for additional controllers as well which typically provide Bluetooth, secondary LAN and WiFi features.

Past the obvious continuity of an integrated Intel LAN, all of the SATA 6Gbps ports are backstopped by Intel’s RST 13.1 infrastructure should a motherboard vendor choose to include it (most will be). Extreme Tuning Utility compatibility is also a requirement here whereas on Z97 it’s considered an optional feature.

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Since this is without question Intel’s high-end platform, motherboard manufacturers are pulling out all the stops when it comes to board design. Take this GIGABYTE X99-SOC Champion for example; it features a laundry list of must-have features for enthusiasts. It has 4-way Crossfire/SLI, a SATA Express port, a M.2 20Gb/s storage slot, excellent onboard audio, and a ton of overclocking-oriented additions.

These X99 LGA2011-v3 boards are obviously some of the highest-end models around and the PRO’s $300USD/$380CAD price certainly reflects exactly that. However, when the cost of the processor and DDR4 memory is also factored into the equation, upgrading to Haswell-E is always going to be an expensive proposition for those who need the best multi-threading performance or simply extra PCI-E lanes.
 

SKYMTL

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Packaging & Accessories

Packaging & Accessories


Now that we have gone over the X99-SOC Champion's features and specifications, it is time to examine the new packaging and then crack open the box to take a look at the accessories bundle. Let's check it out:

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Predictably, the SOC Champion ships in a eye-catching black and orange box. Even though the series was relabeled from Overclock (OC) to Super Overclock (SOC), the cool OC badge that was originally designed for this motherboard series remains. By the way, unlike the Gaming G1, the size of this box was actually quite reasonable Hopefully, this no-nonsense packaging is a little foreshadowing to the motherboard itself. While the front of the box is adorned with the usual array of logos, the back is filled with a helpful layout diagram, a full listing of the specifications, and a focus on several of this product's unique features.

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Once you open the box you are greeted with an inner box that contains two separate sections, the top half holds the motherboard in an anti-static bag and the bottom half contains the accessories, software and documentation, as you will get a better look at below.


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Since this model features a high-end price tag and is focused on overclocking we did expect something a little special when it came to the accessories bundle. Thankfully, GIGABYTE delivered with a huge assortment of bridge connectors, namely a 4-way SLI connector, a 3-way-SLI connector, a 2-way SLI connector, and even a rare 2-way CrossFire connector. As was the case with the Gaming G1, kudos to Gigabyte for this all-encompassing assortment.

The rest of the bundle is fairly plain though, with four SATA 6Gb/s, a blacked-out rear I/O panel, and a GIGABYTE brand case sticker.
 

SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the X99-SOC Champion

A Closer Look at the X99-SOC Champion



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As you may have noticed, this motherboard is a little bit wider than the standard ATX dimensions. It is classified as featuring an Extended ATX (E-ATX) form factor by virtue of the fact that it is 264mm wide, instead of the ATX standard of 244 mm. It might just fit in larger ATX cases, but you will definitely want to do some research first. As a result of these expanded dimensions, GIGABYTE have managed to fit a huge assortment of expansions slots and headers, while maintaining a clean and user-friendly layout. We are pleased that the ATX power connector, the 8-pin CPU power connector, ten SATA ports, USB headers, and wide variety of buttons are all conveniently placed at the edge of the motherboard. Having said that, this motherboard obviously belongs on a test bench since that is what it was designed for. Its entire layout was thought out with the needs of hardcore sub-zero overclockers in mind, as such all the numerous overclocking-focused buttons, connectors, and switches are very easily accessible.

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The SOC Champion features an all-digital 8-phase CPU power design with International Rectifier's newest digital IR3580 PWM controller and eight IR3556M PowIRstage driver/MOSFETs. Likewise it makes use of high-quality Cooper Bussmann 60A rated sealed ferrite-core chokes and Nippon Chemicon 10K DuraBlack polymer capacitors. These are all truly high quality components, so GIGABYTE is really putting money where it counts in this model.

As mentioned in the intro, GIGABYTE are using this Champion model to introduce their very own custom CPU socket that contains 2083 pins (instead of the reference 2011) and that can be manually enabled to bypass the FIVR (Fully Integrated Voltage Regulator) that is found in every Haswell-E processor. The reason to enable these extra pins is that it supposedly helps improve CPU and DDR4 overclocking in extreme conditions by distributing the CPU power over more pins. It is unlikely that you will see any benefit unless you're doing some properly extreme overclocking, but it may just help Uncore overclocking even on air or water. They have also gold-plated the socket's pins for improved connectivity and corrosion resistance, and that 30 micron plating is about twice as thick as we seen before.

Since it is no longer stuck between a MOSFET heatsink and a "northbridge" heatsink, there is a huge amount of clearance room around the CPU socket. As a result, we don't envision any compatibility problems with any of the popular of the air or liquid CPU coolers on the market right now. Liquid nitrogen pots and phase-change heads should be also pose no installation challenges. Having said that, we would have really liked to see low-profile POScap tantalum electrolytic capacitors in place of the two regular caps on either side of the CPU socket. That would make insulating this critical area significantly faster and easier.

In addition to the conventional 8-pin CPU power connector, GIGABYTE have also included a 4-pin ATX12V connector as well. The idea here is that since very highly overclocked Haswell-E processors can draw a ton of current through the 8-pin CPU power connector - enough to trip up certain power supplies with wonky over-current protection (OCP) - this additional connector can help split up the load across multiple rails.

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Although we would have obviously preferred if these two heatsinks were mirrored copies, they still add a very unique look to this motherboard, especially thanks to the cool looping heatpipe. Neither of these heatsinks are actually functional though, since don't contact any electrical components. It's really all an aesthetic touch - since the motherboard would otherwise look quite naked due to its four DDR4 slot design - but it works quite well. Also, thankfully, since they are placed on the outer side of the memory slots they really don't intrude on any of the CPU socket area.

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As we have already established, this motherboard only has four DDR4 memory slots. GIGABYTE's reasoning is that this unique design was engineered with an eye towards extreme memory overclocking. By having the channels next to each other, they located closer to the CPU socket which results in shorter trace pathways, faster communication with the processor, and theoretically the best possible memory overclock. By the way, the memory slot pins are also gold-plated, which should improve connectivity, reliability, and alleviate any corrosion concerns (not crazy thought after going sub-zero).

This motherboard features four DDR4 memory slots, which are fed by a 4-phase power design based on the IR3553M PowIRstage driver/MOSFETs. GIGABYTE have supposedly validated the Champion for memory frequencies up to DDR4-3333 and up to 32GB of system memory. Overall, given the fact that Hicookie - their in-house overclocker - recently managed an astounding DDR4-4327, we have no reason to disbelief that their DDR4 design choices were anything but sound engineering.

As always, the 24-pin ATX power connector is in its usual spot. The backlit onboard power button that GIGABYTE puts on many of their motherboards is present and accounted for. The onboard reset button and clear CMOS buttons are there too, and since they are no longer side-by-side there is no more risk of accidentally hitting the wrong button due to them being so close together. There is also a handy Debug LED, a useful tool for any overclocker to diagnose which component is faltering.

GIGABYTE have implemented BIOS switches which allows users to first enable/disable the Dual BIOS feature and then choose which BIOS chip they are booting from. As a result, they can manually activate the backup BIOS or simply switch between an ‘every day’ and overclocked profile. The OC Trigger switch allows you to instantly switch between low and high frequencies. Basically, it drops the CPU multiplier to enhance system stability during boot and OS optimization, once that's done you can toggle the switch to hit the target frequency. One of the standout features on this model are the twelve voltage measurement points, which are obviously indispensable when overclocking at a very high level. It is slightly weird that three of them are located in another area between the SATA ports and the 24-pin ATX power connector, but we'll take them any way we can get them.

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The CPU Mode switch allows overclockers to enable the 72 extra pins and thus switch between the default socket mode and the new OC socket mode. You can also spot the other three voltage read points, two of which are related to the X99 chipset, while the other tracks the critical CPU input voltage.

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The large low profile X99 chipset heatsink features a sizeable heatpipe that connects with the motherboard's three other heatsinks. It also overhangs the two soldered BIOS chips.

This motherboard features an impressive ten SATA 6Gb/s ports, all of which are supplied by the X99 PCH. There are four AHCI ports, and six RAID ports that support RAID 0/1/5/10/JBOD plus Intel Rapid Storage Technology. The single SATA Express port is capable of 10Gb/s data transfer rates, so its not performance limited at all. However, you will have to choose between the SATA Express port and the M.2 slot. You can only use of one at a time and the other get's automatically disabled. That's the same limitation that was found on the Gaming G1 model, and we still think that it's not a great choice to have to make. There should be an option to disable a few SATA ports or all the PCI-E x1 slots in exchange for being able to use both of the new high-speed storage interfaces at the same time.

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GIGABYTE advertises this model as featuring a "Turbo M.2 socket". While this sounds good, it is not actually a full-speed M.2 slot with a proper PCI-E 3.0 x4 interface and theoretical maximum bandwidth of 32Gb/s. Instead of diverting PCI-E 3.0 lanes from the CPU - and thus reducing the amount available for the PCI-E x16 slots - GIGABYTE are using a four PCI-E 2.0 lanes directly from the X99 chipset. As a result, this storage interface has bandwidth capabilities that are limited to a theoretical maximum of 20Gb/s. In real terms, this will mean about 1.6GB/s transfer rates - which is still excellent - but the recently announced Samsung SM951 is capable of sequential read speeds of 2.15GB/s. So yes, in certain cases this could become a future bottleneck. However, when we consider what this motherboard was designed for - benchmarking and overclocking - we can definitely appreciate the fact that GIGABYTE's engineers placed a greater emphasis on directing the most possible PCI-E lane bandwidth towards multi-GPU graphics capabilities than high-speed storage connectivity.
 
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SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the X99-SOC Champion pt.2

A Closer Look at the X99-SOC Champion pt.2



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The lower-right corner is where you will find the handy colour-coded front panel header, one of the three PWM system fan header, one of the two onboard temperature sensors, one USB 3.0 header, two USB 2.0 headers, a COM port, and even a Thunderbolt add-in card header. The OC_Pan header is a forward-thinking addition and it might bring some future expansion capabilities to the OC Panel area.

Although the physical chips are hidden under the chipset heatsink, the DualBIOS feature is still present in the form of two individual BIOS chips, ensuring instant recovery in the case of a botched BIOS update, nasty virus, or just overclocking related craziness. As mentioned on the previous page, you can also use the bios switch to manually choose which BIOS chip to boot from, which can be handy for overclockers wishing to quickly alternative between two different bioses.

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Like any purpose-built enthusiast motherboard, the X99-SOC Champion features four physical PCI-E x16 slots and it has been certified for up to 4-way CrossFire and 4-Way SLI operation. A fairly unique feature is that there is a direction connection between the CPU and the first PCI-E 3.0 x16 slot, there are no intermediary switches to interfere with the signal and degrade performance. 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 slot will run at x16, while the second slot will operate at x8 (x16/x16/x8). If four graphics cards are installed, the first PCI-E x16 slot will remain at x16, while the three others will all operate at x8 (x16/x8/x8/x8). This is only possible because the engineers didn't divert any of the CPU's PCI-E 3.0 lanes to expand connectivity, therefore all 40 PCI-E 3.0 lanes can be allocated towards graphics use.

Those with a 28 lane CPU like the Core i7-5820K will obviously have to make a few sacrifices. In a 2-way setup, the slow configuration drops down to x16/x8 which basically diminishes any graphical advantage this platform has over the mainstream Core i7-4790K/Z97 combo. What's worse - though it will effect much less people - is the fact that in a three-way setup the PCI-E lane breakdown is x16/x8/x4 instead of the more conventional x8/x8/x8 distribution. This weird x16/x8/x4 setup is not supported by SLI, and it nowhere near optimal a proper 3-way CrossFire setup either.

If you do decide to install a handful of graphics cards on this motherboard, make sure to utilize the auxiliary 6-pin PCI-E power connector in order to ensure that the PCI-E slots get all the power that they require for power-hungry dual, triple or quad graphics card configurations.

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As is the case on nearly all X99 motherboards, at the heart of this motherboard's onboard audio is the modern Realtek ALC1150 ten-channel HD audio CODEC. Next to the bank of Nichicon solid polymer capacitors is where you will find a Texas Instruments N5532 headphone amplifier, which can drive 600 ohm loads. Likewise, the PCB isolation line surrounds the audio section of the PCB and protects it from the rest of the system. All of this serves to help to preserve the signal-to-noise (SNR) ratio and thus ensure the highest possible sound quality.

We are glad to see that the Realtek chip has been covered with an electromagnetic interference (EMI) shield, and there is a clear PCB isolation line protecting the audio section from the rest of the motherboard. The LEDs on the underside of the motherboard glow through that isolation line - dubbed the audio guard light path - and are part of the Ambient LED feature that you can read more about at the bottom of this page.

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This is supposed to be a somewhat barebones motherboards, so it's no surprise that the rear I/O panel is sparsely populated. From left to right, there are seperate PS/2 mouse and PS/2 keyboard ports, two USB 2.0 ports, four USB 3.0 ports, one Intel I218V-powered gigabit LAN port, two USB 2.0 ports, five analog audio jacks and a digital optical S/PDIF output. The reason for the four USB 2.0 ports is that they are highly compatible, whereas the four USB 3.0 ports that are powered by the Renesas D720210 hub controller can require drivers which is a no-no since many overclockers try to strip down their Windows installation as much as possible.

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The rear-mounted CPU VRM components are protected and cooled by their own backplate, which is always a nice touch on a motherboard that will likely see occasions of very high CPU power draw. A bunch of metal screws hold in-place the various heatsinks.

The unoccupied mounting holes around the CPU socket will obviously come in handy when bolting a water block or LN2 pot directly to the motherboard.

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Lastly, on the rear of the motherboard we also get a good look at some of the LEDs that illuminate the PCB isolation line that surrounds the audio sub-system, and which are an integral part of the Ambient LED feature. These integrated LEDs are fully programmable via a utility that allows you to set the LEDs to pulse, blink or even react to the music you are listing to. Basically, it can give a pretty cool look to your system. Here is a YouTube video from Gigabyte showing off the effects.
 
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SKYMTL

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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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As mentioned in the previous section, this motherboard has a clean and clear CPU socket area. When installed in the East-West or North-South orientation, our Prolimatech Mega Shadow had no issues physically clearing the MOSFET heatsinks. We don't foresee any obstacles with even the largest of coolers, and there's more than enough room for LN2 pots and the large heads of phase-change cooling systems.

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Despite being much closer to the CPU socket, we surprisingly did not have any memory module clearance issues in the traditional North-South orientation. Our cooler's fan clips either didn't even make contact with the nearest memory module or rested lightly on the heatspreader. Our heatsink is 122mm wide (counting the fan clips) and our memory modules that no are taller than 40mm, so do keep that in mind for your setup. As you can see in the bottom two images, despite some initial concerns there was a decent amount of room between the memory modules and the two heatsinks on the outer side of the memory slots. You definitely don't want to install a memory kit with unusually thick heatspreaders though.

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There is a pretty decent gap between the back of the graphics card and the memory slots, and the clip-less memory slots further help to prevent any clearance issues. The 24-pin ATX power connector, 8-pin CPU power connector, and 4-pin CPU power connector are all ideally placed so that makes assembling and disassembling the system just a tad easier.

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This board will hold two, three or even four dual-slot graphics cards without issue. The cards overhang the motherboard ever so slightly, 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 motherboards and make access difficult if not impossible.

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The ten right-angle SATA ports are obviously accessible no matter how many graphics cards are installed, as is the SATA Express port (and its two SATA ports).

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Like on all LGA2011 motherboards past and present, this model comes with its own CPU backplate, so there is really nothing to worry about back there.
 

SKYMTL

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BIOS Rundown

BIOS Rundown


As we have recently come to expect from GIGABYTE, with a new generation of chipsets comes a new UEFI BIOS. Although heavily based on the then new BIOS introduced on the Z87 series models, this latest iteration has been polished, has received a new colour scheme, and heralds the arrival of the new Startup Guide.


Startup Guide

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Since UEFI was first implemented, motherboards makers have gone to great lengths to attempt to create a balance between a graphically-enticing GUI, a mouse-friendly layout, and enough options to keep the enthusiasts happy. Thus far, this has largely resulted in two separates BIOS modes, one dumbed down but pretty and another that makes marginal use of the mouse cursor but has all the options that we're used to seeing. It always like a compromise though, and was never particularly well executed. With this in mind, GIGABYTE have unveiled a third mode, the Startup Guide. This is a purely mouse-driven interface that features Windows 8-like tiles and is as simplified as possible.

When you boot into the BIOS for the first time you will be asked to choose a default system language among an impressive 19 possible choices. Subsequently, you are presented with 9 tiles representing various motherboard functions, such as enabling/disabling the Fast Boot option, selecting the boot device order, setting up a password, and even what BIOS mode should be the default every time you enter the BIOS. There is really not much here, but there isn't supposed to be. This is merely to give novice users a quick and easy way to access a few key settings.


Dashboard HD

If the Startup Guide doesn't cut it for you, and you want something with more options but that still puts an emphasis on graphical eye-candy, you will want to hit F2 on your keyboard or click on the little arrow to the left of the Boot Sequence tile. Doing so will bring you to the Dashboard Mode or Dashboard HD if you have a 1080p display...though it also worked on our 1680x1050 monitor.

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The Frequency tab of Performance section is where you are greeted with all the essential system clock control options that a serious overclocker needs: base clock frequency, CPU multiplier, and memory multiplier. The Advanced CPU Core Features sub-menu is where you can enable or disable the various CPU-specific settings like Turbo Boost, C1E, C-STATE, Thermal Monitor, and Enhanced SpeedStep (EIST). This is also where you can set the Turbo Boost ratios for each processor core and the Uncore ratio as well.

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The Memory tab is where you will find all the memory-related settings. Within this section you can select the memory multiplier, change the performance profile, monitor the memory voltage, and obviously tweak the memory timings. Each memory channel has its own section, within which you can alter the primary and secondary timings. It had just about every memory setting that an enthusiast or overclocker will need to fine-tune their memory modules.

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The Voltage tab allows for tweaking of the primary and secondary system voltages. We wish there were more drop-down menus in this section. As it is, you 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.

The Advanced Power Settings sub-menu is particularly interesting for those who like to tweak since it allows a great deal of control over all elements of the VRM. We really liked the granular Load-Line Calibration (LLC) options for the CPU VRIN, since On or Off simply doesn’t cut it most of the time. By the way, as you will see in the coming pages, in the 3D Power tab in the EasyTune utility you can do a lot of this tweaking from within Windows itself.

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The Miscellaneous tab is where you can select the data lane configuration for the PCI-E slots and look at two other settings you will never use. The Health Status section is somewhat impressive, at least when it comes to setting warnings. BIOS-based fan control has also improved, but the Smart Fan tab in EasyTune does have a little bit richer fan PWM functionality.

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The new Home section allows users to create their own custom home page, adding the menus and options they tend to use most frequently, as well as displaying whatever mix of system information they want. It basically gives users a fast, up-front access to basic settings of their choosing.

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The Save & Exit menu is fairly self-explanatory, but it is also where you can save and load BIOS profiles, as well as access the built-in Q-Flash utility. The Preferences sub-menu holds a few of the security measures like the admin and user passwords, as well as allowing users to select which BIOS mode they want to boot into. There are also some customizations available such as the background wallpaper, the display resolution, and most importantly mouse speed, which is something that we had to play with since our mouse cursor was quite sluggish at default settings.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
Montreal
BIOS Rundown - Classic Mode

BIOS Rundown - Classic Mode


The Dashboard Mode obviously does not have all the functionality of the Classic 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. With that in mind, GIGABYTE have included the more conventional Classic Mode that we've seen on other recent GIGABYTE motherboards with UEFI BIOSes.

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In the UEFI BIOS, the MB Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T.) section has been broken down into six main sub-menus. This is where enthusiasts should expect to spend 99% of their BIOS time. First and foremost, we have M.I.T Current Status sub-menu which contains a convenient overview of all the system frequencies, memory sizes and timings.

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When you open the Advanced Frequency Settings sub-menu, you are greeted with all the essential system clock control options that a serious overclocker needs: base clock frequency, IGP frequency, CPU multiplier, and memory multiplier.

The Advanced CPU Core Features sub-menu is where you can enable or disable the various CPU-specific settings like Turbo Boost, C1E, C-STATE, Thermal Monitor, and Enhanced SpeedStep (EIST). This is also where you can set the Turbo Boost ratios for each processor core and the Uncore ratio as well.

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As its name suggests, the Advanced Memory Settings section is where you will find all the memory-related settings. Within this section you can select the memory multiplier, change the performance profile, monitor the memory voltage, and obviously tweak the memory timings. Each memory channel has its own section, within which you can alter the primary and secondary timings. It had just about every memory setting that an enthusiast or overclocker will need to fine-tune their memory modules.

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The Advanced Voltage Settings sub-menu is where you can fine tweak the new digital VRM or simply adjust the primary and secondary system voltages. We wish there were more drop-down menus in this section. As it is you 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.

The Advanced Power Settings section is particularly interesting for those who like to tweak since it allows a great deal of control over all elements of the VRM. We really liked the granular Load-Line Calibration (LLC) options for the CPU VRIN, since On or Off simply doesn’t cut it most of the time. By the way, as you will in the coming pages, with the 3D Power tab in the EasyTune utility you can do a lot of this tweaking from within Windows itself.

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Compared to past BIOSes, this one actually has a pretty good PC Health Status section since it has readouts for most of the critical voltages and temperatures. BIOS-based fan control has also improved, but the Smart Fan tab in EasyTune does have a little bit richer fan PWM functionality.

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The System Information section displays the motherboard model name, BIOS version, allows users to set the BIOS language, and set an administrator password.

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The BIOS Features section is where you can select the boot device priority, enable/disable the full screen logo, select Windows 8 features and Boot Mode as well.

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The Peripherals section is where you can enable or disable some of the onboard devices, like the LAN controller, the PCB LEDs, or even the rear I/O panel LEDs. However, there is surprisingly little here since similar functionality has been integrated in various other sections, like the following Chipset section.

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The Chipset section is where you find all the SATA related options - such as settings devices to IDE, AHCI, or RAID mode - as well as enabling/disabling the onboard audio controller.

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The Power Management section contains the power management settings linked to the power-saving sleep modes. The Save & Exit section is pretty self-evident, however you can also save or load BIOS profiles from within this area.

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This last screenshot is of the Q-Flash Utility which is accessed via the F12 key. Since Q-Flash is built right into the BIOS and it can read files directly from a USB flash drive, BIOS flashing is a simple and quick procedure. Remember that your USB flash drive must be formatted in the FAT16/32 file system in order to be supported by Q-Flash, otherwise the utility won't allow you to update the bios or save the existing bios to a flash drive.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,840
Location
Montreal
Included Software

Included Software



APP Center

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The APP Center utility is a new centralized hub for all the in-house utilities that GIGABYTE bundles with their motherboards. It permanently resides in the notification area/icon tray in the right corner of your screen. Not only does it give you one location from which to open or even uninstall all motherboard-related pieces of software, but it also feature a Live Update feature that lets you know if the there's a new version of the software available.


EasyTune

The sleek EasyTune system management utility has been refocused towards its core functions of automatic overclocking and real-time tweaking of system frequencies, timings and voltages. As a result, EasyTune has been stripped of its monitoring and fan control duties, and that functionality has been transferred to the new System Information Viewer tool that can apparently handle these tasks with much lower latency. Having said that, when you launch EasyTune the new Hardware Monitor automatically pops open like a widget on the right side on the screen, and it shows you all the vital system voltages, temperatures, and fan speeds.

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As in previous versions, the Smart QuickBoost section is really the most interesting one. First, it contains the Quick Boost feature, which allows automatic overclocking at the touch of a button. Simply pick which one of the three Smart QuickBoost overclock presets that best suits your needs, reboot the system, and voila! Overclock achieved. If you're more interested in seriously reducing power consumption, the Energy Saving preset with underclock the processor to 1200Mhz and tweak a bunch of settings to maximize efficiency. Of particular interest to us is the smart Auto Tuning functionality that will automatically overclock your system by going through various tweaking and stability testing phases. As you will see in our Overclocking Results section, we preferred the presets over this supposedly intelligent OC'ing feature. Last but not least is the Advanced sub-menu that allows you to manualky set specific frequency, multiplier, voltage, and memory timing settings.

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The Advanced CPU OC section is where you can manually adjust each CPU core individually, as well as tinker with all the important system voltages. For the power energy aficionados, you can also elect to place a hard limit on the CPU power consumption.

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The Advanced DDR OC section of the EasyTune app is where you can set the memory multiplier, enable or disable your memory kit's XMP profile, or just tweak a wide range of primary and secondary memory timings. It is basically everything you could want from an on-the-fly system tweaking tool.

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The 3D Power utility has the same capabilities as the 3D Power section in the BIOS, and there is a lot of functionality here. Having said that, while PWM frequency, Load-Line Calibration (LLC), and phase control are all things that knowledgeable overclockers might tweak, these are all settings that the overwhelming majority of users will never ever have to use.


System Information Viewer

In order to make the utility more responsive, all the monitoring and fan control duties were stripped from EasyTune and transferred to a new application, the System Information Viewer. This might seem like a step backwards since usually the aim is to consolidate as many features as possibly into one program, but GIGABYTE claims that by doing this they have managed to greatly reduce the deferred procedure call (DPC) latencies that could interfere with EasyTune's primary functions, i.e. real-time tweaking and overclocking.

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The System Information tab is pretty straightforward, it really just shows some very basic information regarding the system clocks and a few details about the system's CPU, memory, and motherboard.

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In this new implementation, manual and automatic fan control options have been split into two separate tabs. Smart Fan Auto is where you find four standard fan speed presets, while Smart Fan Advanced is where you will find the auto-calibration feature and where you can manually fix fan speed or have it vary based on temperatures.

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The System Alerts tab is where you will find the Hardware Monitor, which display some basic system frequencies, a bunch of system voltages, system temperatures and fan speeds. We would like to see some additional voltage readouts, for the System Agent and Ring Bus for example. System Alerts, is as its name implies, is also where you can set system temperature or fan speed limits, and if those thresholds are crossed you will be alerted.

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The Record tab is fairly self-explanatory, it is where you can enable and adjust settings related to recording the various system voltages, temperatures, and fan speeds.
 
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