X99 roundup: X99 motherboard roundup: 7 motherboards reviewed

X99 motherboard roundup: 7 motherboards reviewed

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You can build yourself a gaming rig out of a bargain-priced, dual core processor and a budget motherboard. I’ve had Far Cry 4 running at max settings on a 1080p machine that cost less than either of the latest consoles. Or, you can spend thousands creating a PC that nails the absolute highest framerates.

If you want the top of the current tech tree it’s got to be the latest Intel Haswell-E platform: X99.

Want to jump straight to the tests? Click here to head to page two.

Terms to know

DDR4: The most advanced memory technology available, used in X99 boards as a result of their server heritage. DDR4’s lower power demands, high bandwidth and higher density make it perfect for hte professional world.
M.2: The most-used interface for the new PCIe-based SSDs. X99 has doubled the available bandwidth for compatible drives.
PCIe x16: «16» refers to the number of PCIe lanes, and thus the bandwidth, available to a device plugged into a PCI Express x16 slot on a motherboard. In multi-GPU setups the available lanes will be split between the cards.

But why would I want to spend so much on building my PC?

The easy answer is future-proofing. Spend big now and you’ll be set for years. But that should still be tempered with a little restraint –there’s little point in spending over the-odds on every part of your system. You don’t need 32GB of DDR4 memory, for example, and probably won’t for another decade.

Do I need a $1050 (£800) processor?

Heavens, no. I’d argue almost no one does. The top Core i7-5960X is a modern marvel of Intel’s technical expertise, packing in eight of the latest 22nm Haswell cores, all running at breakneck speeds and eminently overclockable to boot. But unless you’re into serious, computationally heavy number crunching work you’re never going to see a return on your investment.

Where the Haswell-E platform gets interesting is at the bottom of the range. There are only three processors in this line-up, with the ultra-expensive 5960X at the top and another pricey beast in the middle. But at the bottom is one of my favourite chips of the last year and the missing link between Haswell and Haswell-E: the Core i7 5820K.

It’s priced only a little higher than the top i7 of the Z97 platform, but packs in another two cores to become the cheapest six-core CPU Intel has ever produced. It’s better than the £800 Extreme edition chip from the last generation.

Do I have to spend a fortune on an X99 motherboard?

Again, you can if you want to. But the most pleasing thing about this platform is that you don’t have to. You can spend less on your X99 board than you might on a high-end Z97 equivalent and it will still deliver the very best PC technology currently available.

What does an X99 board offer beyond Haswell-E support?

The big thing for gamers is that this platform has the highest bandwidth for a multi-GPU setup. The standard i7/Z97 combo offers only16 native PCIe 3.0 lanes for the whole machine, while an 5820K paired with an X99 board can offer 28. While that still won’t provide x16/x16 bandwidth on two graphics cards, it gives you more than a dual-GPU Z97 would.The X99 also has a full x4 bandwidth M.2 socket. That’s twice the bandwidth the standard Z97 M.2 interface offers, and won’t hobble future PCIe-based SSDs the way the lower platform will.

CPU performance: An i7-5960X CPU was used with Cinebench and X264 v4 to find the relative performance differences between boards.

Gaming performance: Battlefield 4 was used at max settings at 1080p, with a GTX780Ti graphics card, to look for performance differences between the motherboards.

Overclocking performance: As long as single-threaded performance remains crucial for gaming, a decent overclock will boost framerates. Ease and stability of overclocking was thus factored into the overall score for each board.

Page 1: Introduction to X99 motherboards
Page 2: MSI X99 SLI Plus, Asrock X99M Extreme4, Asus X99-Deluxe, Gigabyte X99-SOCForce
Page 3: Asus X99-A, Asrock Fatality X99 Killer, EVGA X99 Micro, benchmark scores

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Dave has been gaming since the days of Zaxxon and Lady Bug on the Colecovision, and code books for the Commodore Vic 20 (Death Race 2000!). He built his first gaming PC at the tender age of 16, and finally finished bug-fixing the Cyrix-based system around a year later. When he dropped it out of the window. He first started writing for Official PlayStation Magazine and Xbox World many decades ago, then moved onto PC Format full-time, then PC Gamer, TechRadar, and T3 among others. Now he’s back, writing about the nightmarish graphics card market, CPUs with more cores than sense, gaming laptops hotter than the sun, and SSDs more capacious than a Cybertruck.

The Intel Haswell-E X99 Motherboard Roundup with ASUS, GIGABYTE, ASRock and MSI

The launch of Haswell-E ushered in a triumvirate of new technology – a new CPU line, a new motherboard chipset and DDR4 memory. Today we focus on the new consumer motherboard chipset, X99, with motherboards from all four major manufacturers: the ASUS X99-Deluxe, the GIGABYTE X99-UD7 WiFi, the ASRock X99 WS and the MSI X99S SLI Plus. X99 represents the upgrade over the previous extreme chipset generation, X79, in several key areas in order to align itself better with the mainstream Z97 and Z87 platforms.

Intel’s processor strategy at the high performance end of the spectrum ensures that the same line of motherboards with the same CPU socket and chipset are kept for two generations of CPUs. With the Nehalem and Westmere CPUs there was socket LGA1366 and the X58 chipset, and with Sandy Bridge-E/Ivy Bridge-E CPUs we had LGA2011-0 and the X79 chipset. This new line of Haswell-E processors (along with the future Broadwell-E ones) will use the LGA2011-3 socket and the X99 chipset. This means that users investing in the new Haswell-E processors must also invest in a new motherboard. This has several upsides in the levels of functionality.

For the first half of 2014, the zeitgeist of the X79 platform was centered on its age and the comparison to the newer Z87 and Z97 platforms aimed at the mainstream processor lines. The Z87 and Z97 chipsets afforded more native SATA 6 Gbps ports, more native USB 3.0 ports, PCIe based storage in the form of SATA Express and M.2 and more flexibility from the point of view of the manufacturers – the chipset had a certain amount of configurable input/output from the chipset to the motherboards could be designed with specific users in mind.

Chipset Comparison






Launch Date

November 2011

June 2013

May 2014

August 2014

CPU Cores

4 or 6

2 or 4

2 or 4

6 or 8

PCIe Lanes




28 or 40

PCIe Configuration

2×16 / 4×8

16, 8/8

16, 8/8, 8/4/4

2×16 / 5×8


Quad Channel DDR3

Dual Channel DDR3

Dual Channel DDR3

Quad Channel DDR4











SATA 6 Gbps





USB 3. 0





Thunderbolt Capable from CPU










PCIe Storage





With X99, we get some significant upgrades all around. The chipset now supports ten SATA 6 Gbps ports natively, with six of those being RAID capable (more on this later). There is also up to six USB 3.0 ports native, direct Thunderbolt support and more possible PCIe configurations. The new PCIe storage options (SATA Express and M.2 via PCIe) are also both supported. The platform requires DDR4 compared to the older DDR3, but still retains forty PCIe 3.0 lanes from the CPU and eight PCIe 2.0 lanes from the chipset (in 8×1, 4×2 or 2×4 configurations).

PCIe Storage and Lane Allocation

The inclusion of PCIe storage makes more sense for a platform like X99 as there seems to be PCIe bandwidth to spare. For each SATA Express connection, two PCIe lanes are required. For M.2 in PCIe mode, motherboard manufacturers can use two lanes or four lanes depending on the bandwidth they wish to support. With 40 lanes of CPU bandwidth, manufacturers need not use a PCIe 2.0 x4 slot from the chipset for three-way Crossfire support, giving extra free lanes to the chipset for these new storage technologies. Alternatively, some manufacturers are taking advantage of the CPU lanes and using four of these for an M.2 slot, as shown in this MSI chipset diagram:

Here, four way GPU support is given by x8/x8/x16/x8, as it will be with most X99 motherboards, but the fourth PCIe slot can switch between a PCIe 3. 0 x8 slot or a PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 slot. This means that if the M.2 slot is used in PCIe 3.0 x4 mode, only 3x graphics can be used. But, to double up some potential confusion, the system can use M.2 slot in PCIe 2.0 x2 mode from the chipset, allowing four-way GPU configurations again.

This may seem complicated, but at the end of the day the extreme enthusiast can have either:

— 3x GPUs + PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2, or

— 4x GPUs + PCIe 2.0 x2 M.2.

This is such an excruciating decision to make (-sarcasm!). Joking aside, it is a clever solution to the PCIe storage issue if these drives ever get to market in significant number.

With regards to the SATA port situation, Intel is enabling ten SATA ports total but only six of them for RAID. While this is an update over X79, it seems more of a fudge. One would assume that it could be a bandwidth issue, because the link between the CPU and chipset (PCH) is at 20 Gbit/s, or 2.5 GBps which would be saturated by a 5-6 disk RAID-0 array. However, it seems silly to not have RAID on four of those ports. Due to Intel’s previous flex-IO arrangement on Z97, this seems more of an integrated SATA 6 Gbps hub, splitting the bandwidth into four ports. Due to the hub it would limit throughput in RAID so it makes sense to disable it completely for those ports. Intel is telling us that this is due to two separate AHCI controllers in the chipset, with only one of the AHCI controllers enabled for RAID.

For motherboard manufacturers, this gives several options. If the chipset is using Flex-IO which we believe it is (we are still awaiting confirmation), then the amount of SATA 6 Gbps/USB 3.0/PCIe 2.0 lanes is slightly flexible similar to Z97. By providing 10 possible SATA 6 Gbps ports (6+4 of RAID/non-RAID), the motherboard manufacturer could implement a 4+4 arrangement to give more PCIe lanes, or shift around the PCIe lanes in that 4+4 to give a full six USB 3.0 ports. The truth of the matter is that there are very few users who require a six-drive RAID, and so motherboard manufacturers can target different orientations of motherboards for different user segments. The non-RAID possible ports are still fine for optical storage or hard drives with a software RAID-1 applied over the top.

The PCIe Arrangement – 40 or 28 PCIe lanes?

In Intel’s chipset platform overview above, it states that for up to 40 lane CPUs, multi-card configurations are available as 2×16 + 1×8 or 5×8 configurations. There are two interesting points to note here, and the first is the implementation of 5×8.

In the bottom of this slide it shows the following:

In the MSI chipset diagram above, we see that in order to get x8/x8/x16/x8, an additional switch is used such that one of the x16 can be split into x8/x8. Although GIGABYTE claim that it is not that simple, and without an external clock generator (as mentioned in the image above) motherboards may be limited to x8/x8/x8/x8:

Given the pricing of X99 motherboards ($240-$500), one would hope that all manufacturers who are aiming at a four-way GPU design specifically for gaming or PCIe limited compute would implement the single full x16 alongside the trio of x8 slots for quad-PCIe devices.

The second issue to arise from PCIe lane allocation derives from the CPUs themselves. While some X99 motherboards will support Xeons, all the LGA2011-3 oriented CPUs will feature 40 PCIe 3.0 lanes except the Core i7-5820K, which will only support 28. As a result, instead of x16/x16 gaming for two-way GPUs, 5820K users will have x16/x8. As we tested in our CPU review of the Haswell-E consumer processors, for two-way SLI gaming at 1080p, this has almost zero effect on actual frame rates. The 5820K is also limited in three-way GPU gaming, offering x8/x8/x8 rather than x16/x16/x8, and cannot be used for four-way SLI gaming without the addition of a PLX chip. On the motherboard side, this means that manufacturers have to cater for both 28 PCIe lane processors and 40 PCIe lane ones as well.

Normally, the 40 PCIe lane processors will use the PCIe slots in typical fashion, however users are recommended to look into the manual for three-way implementation. For example, the ASRock X99 WS in this review gives the following:

ASRock X99 WS


2 GPUs

3 GPUs

4 GPUs

40 PCIe 3. 0





28 PCIe 3.0





This gives both orientations the same sequence of adding in graphics cards, but users should look in the manual to find out the best way. For our X99 reviews, we will try to aid this in our board specifications tables. As a feature, ASUS has added a series of LEDs connected to an ‘SLI/CFX Switch’ that light up the LEDs next to the PCIe slots to use for 2x and 3x GPU configurations:

The DDR4 Conundrum

As we will explain in our DDR4 coverage, this new platform is a boon for DRAM manufacturers and resellers. Each new computer needs a new memory kit and cannot simply recycle the old DDR3 into a new build.

Almost all motherboards will support either one or two DIMMs per channel, giving a maximum of 64GB of DRAM using 8 GB modules – this does not change anything from X79 then, except the DDR4 itself being lower voltage and different sub-timings. X99 also puts in extra provisions for internal testing – on the first POST with new memory detected, or a change in the DRAM speed, the system will spend a few seconds stress testing the memory in order to find if the settings are out of step. The only potential spanner in the works regarding compatibility is the timing of the launch.

The original date for the release of Haswell-E and X99 was during IDF, on the 9-11th of September. Everyone had their schedules locked in for those dates, but when Intel bought the release date to two weeks earlier than expected, panic (almost) ensued. The motherboard manufacturers were there or there about with their products, as typically the last few weeks are dedicated to compatibility testing with memory. However the memory manufacturers were still organizing their product lines and module categories.

As a result, the motherboard manufacturers were not as prepared as usual to qualify all the memory ready to go on sale (this has been fixed now with the latest BIOS updates) and memory manufacturers are still putting kits together. Combined with the high price of DDR4 and the initial limited quantity, prices for DDR4 were particularly high: $250 for 16GB as we noted at Haswell-E launch.

Memory manufacturers are still preparing kits, and motherboard manufacturers are continuously updating their qualified lists. With all the memory kits I have in to test, I have not had a motherboard not POST because of it, however in order to get the best performance out of that new high end memory kit (2666 MHz+), BIOS updates should be the number one priority. Most manufacturers have software that can do this (MSI’s Live Update 6) or users can download and update manually. Navigating to a BIOS update via the motherboard manufacturer website might show something like:

X99-DELUXE BIOS 0801: 3. Improve XMP settings

X99-UD7 WiFi BIOS F7b: 2. Improve DDR4 3000&2800MHz 4Gx4 compatibility

This happens throughout the lifetime of the product, and keeping up to date if you purchase a DDR4-3000 kit is vital.

I want to touch on voltages here as well, because although 1.2 volts is the standard for DDR4, there are two other voltage modes for memory on the platform:

DRAM Comparison









1.80 V

2.50 V




1.80 V

1.90 V


1. 35 V

1.50 V

1.65 V


1.05 V

1.20 V

1.35 V

Low voltage modules will be placed at 1.05 volts in order to draw less power, but might be limited on speed. High performance modules (typically DDR4-2666 or higher) will run at 1.35 volts, which is an identical swing in the other direction. 1.35 volts for a high end memory kit is reasonable and should not affect longevity of the platform.

The Motherboard Market

As it stands, almost all the motherboard manufacturers announced a number of X99 models, with about half ready to go on day one, and the rest to trickle through over the next few months. These will be the core motherboards through Haswell-E and Broadwell-E, although we might see a partial update nearer Broadwell-E launch.

The following have been announced or are on offer:

Motherboard Price List








ASUS Rampage V Extreme


MSI X99S Gaming 9


MSI X99S Xpower AC


EVGA X99 Classified


ASUS X99-Deluxe




GIGABYTE X99-Gaming G1


ASRock X99 OC Formula


ASUS X99-Pro


ASRock X99 WS








GB X99 Gaming 5


MSI X99S Gaming 7


ASRock X99X Killer


ASRock X99 Extreme6






EVGA X99 Micro


ASRock X99M Killer




ASRock X99 Extreme4




ASRock X99M Extreme4


ASRock X99 Extreme3

Prices range from $500+ (ASUS Rampage V Extreme) to $210 (ASRock X99 Extreme3) although we might see one or two higher than this (ASRock X99 Extreme11, maybe) depending on the final configurations. Note that this is cheaper than Nehalem with X58 when a motherboard reached $700 or with X79 when the Extreme11 was around $600.

I Saw a Thing On Burning Motherboards

Two review websites have reported their X99 motherboards failing since the launch.

Nathan at Legit Reviews was testing high performance memory above the recommended voltage range (1.50 volts) on an ASUS X99 Deluxe and upon changing memory kits it seems that the power delivery to the CPU failed. The power delivery is solely for the VCIN to the FIVR, and thus unconnected to the memory, and it would seem that a large amount of heat caused a burning smell and some solder to move on the motherboard.

Michael at Phoronix had built a system (5960X + MSI X99S SLI Plus) from the ground up and at the point where the machine was first turned on, the chipset failed with a spark and a second issue with the power delivery occurred.

There are a couple of issues worth mentioning here. Nathan at LR was using his review sample that came direct from ASUS, whereas Michael at Phoronix was using a purchased motherboard from Newegg. Both of these would have been from the initial batches of motherboards that come from their respective factories, and while failures are uncommon they do happen: perhaps more so with the first batch out of the factory.

Nathan’s sample seems to have passed through a lot of testing already, whereas Michael’s sample went kaput on turn-on, suggesting more of a failed component rather than anything systemic. It seems unfortunate for the platform that two review websites have both had failures in a short space of time, and substantial failures at that.

I have had failures in the past (Bluetooth adaptor shorting out, DRAM or PCIe slots not working, PSU going BANG… twice) however these tend to be the exception rather than the rule. As with any product, there is a failure rate. I would be more concerned with Nathan’s issue, although it may just have been a sample with a lower weak point than most. When Rajinder was testing motherboards at AnandTech under liquid nitrogen, it particularly showed some of these issues.

Both of these X99 failures are nothing compared to the P55 socket burn issue that occurred back in 2009.

One potential explanation afforded for the failures has been the relatively high current draw for Haswell-E CPUs. When overclocked these CPUs will draw 25 amps from the 8-pin CPU power connector, and thus a good power supply is recommended. Even though that represents an overclocked system, at stock the draw is still high which could lead to unexpected spikes. Nathan noted that the over-current protection (OCP) was being triggered during his failure, and other users are pointing to the single 8-pin CPU connector to blame, rather than having two.

We have both the ASUS X99 Deluxe and the MSI X99S SLI Plus in this review, from those initial batches that were manufactured, and have experienced none of the issues raised. Our ASUS X99 Deluxe has also been through some high speed memory testing as well as CPU overclocking and 160W Xeon testing without issue. Our one data point is invariably anecdotal as best, although if this is a more prominent issue I would assume we would have seen more failures in a consistent circumstance. If something does arise, we will post something about it.

This Review

Today we focus on some of the more exciting motherboards out in the market in the first of our X99 coverage articles. Due to the way the motherboard manufacturers were sampling for X99, we were unable to align several motherboards of a similar price. However one motherboard is a high end part, one is aimed at workstations and another strikes at a nice low price point to provide a contrast. The final one sits in the middle of the price bracket but also at the top of its product stack. We have in to test:

ASUS X99-Deluxe: $400

GIGABYTE X99-UD7 WiFi: $310

ASRock X99 WS: $324

MSI X99S SLI Plus: $229

The Deluxe and UD7 are typically the top of the range for the ‘channel’ line of motherboards (compared to the Gaming/OC ranges), and ASRock’s WS nomenclature is representative of the workstation-like attitude they have taken to this model. MSI’s name of ‘X99S’ indicates SATA Express connectivity, while the SLI Plus itself is oriented towards gamers but in a budget build.

ASUS X99-Deluxe Overview, Board Features
The Intel Haswell-E X99 Motherboard Roundup: What is X99?ASUS X99-Deluxe Overview, Board FeaturesASUS X99-Deluxe BIOS and SoftwareGIGABYTE X99-UD7 WiFi Overview, Board FeaturesGIGABYTE X99-UD7 WiFi BIOS and SoftwareASRock X99 WS Overview, Board FeaturesASRock X99 WS BIOS and SoftwareMSI X99S SLI Plus Overview, Board FeaturesMSI X99S SLI Plus BIOS and SoftwareX99 In The Box2014 Test Setup and Overclocking on X99System BenchmarksCPU BenchmarksGaming BenchmarksASUS X99-Deluxe ConclusionGIGABYTE X99-UD7 WiFi ConclusionASRock X99 WS ConclusionMSI X99S SLI Plus ConclusionX99: Huh? What Is It Good For? (Absolutely Everything)

MSI X99A Gaming Pro Carbon Motherboard Check

Something became clear back in 2016: The RVB LED is here and wants to be everywhere. It seems that multi-colored material is a novelty and every supplier wants to show it. Usually an LED comes with a color product, so there are several aspects of aesthetics, but some wedding card makers have found that sometimes it lacks the proper look. The MSI Carbon series is designed to do just that — pure accent, black and carbon fiber. In today’s exam, we are examining MSI X99A Gaming Pro Carbon that carries that understated classic elegance, yet even the LED RVB rises above the top.

Other AnandTech Reviews for LG LGA2011-3 Platform

Intel Core i7-6950X, i7-6900K, i7-6850K and i7-6800K Broadwell-E Processor Exam
Intel Core i7-5960X, i7 Processors Tested -5930K and i7-5820 Haswell-E
Intel Xeon E5 v3 Quatorze Cœurs Exam (E5-2695 v3, E5-2697 v3)
Intel Xeon E5 v3 Ten Driver Exam (E5-2650L v3, E5-2690 v3)
Test Intel Xeon E5 v3 in six hours (E5-2650 v3, E5-2687W v3)

X99 series motherboard reviews:
Correct price at the time of each opinion

($750) ASRock X99 WS test -E 10G
($600) ASUS X99-E-WS 10G
benchmark ($600) Avis ASRock X99 Extreme11
($500) ASUS Rampage V Extreme
review ($400) ASUS X99-Deluxe
benchmark ($340) GIGABYTE X99 G1. Gaming WiFi Exam
($330) ASRock X99 OC Formula Exam
($330) MSI X9 Carbon Exam9A Gaming Pro
($323) ASRock X99 WS
Test ($310) GIGABYTE X99-UD7 Wi-Fi
Exam ($310) ASUS X99 Sabertooth
Exam ($300) GIGABYTE X99-SOC
Champion Exam ($300) ASRock X Exam 99E- ITX
($300) MSI X99S Exam MPower
($275) ASUS X99-A
Test ($241) Test MSI X99S SLI PLUS

To learn more about the X99 platform and its specifications, let’s delve into it.

Introducing MSI X99A Gaming Pro Carbon

When we are discussing processors, the conversion usually takes place at the time specified in terms of price / performance and ensures that the user gets what he wants at a good price. For motherboards, this is not very relevant, because performance (with the exception of some measures at the system level) does not read at cost at all, unless something extraneous works with the BIOS and certain parameters are applied incorrectly. What you get with a motherboard is the feature set, price, stability, charge, power and, for those who are inclined, overclocking.

Therefore, it may be difficult to evaluate the mother card and not the other. A feature that might cost $15 more for one person might cost $2 for another, depending on its usage and workflow. That’s why we find that we have so many different card products, some different with one port, since the global client doesn’t even have HDMI if all the places are there, and it’s not economical that $0.002 for a -me connector.

In the high end of the market, this may be true, but there are a few points: the user may not be aware of the presence of a fifth USB 3.0 port, but when it comes to things like PCIe storage, network controllers, or Thunderbolt 3, these are big things that are worth two digits, so it becomes relevant. Users in this price range may also be sensitive to aesthetics, local warranty packages, or updated future promises.

Here is the MSI X99A Gaming Pro Carbon. In our reference, it works well, but costs a little more than the X9 motherboard9 as standard. It has PCIe storage, but you have to choose between M.2 or U.2. Designed for systems with three GPUs, it expands PCIe slots and provides presets for overclocking. It provides improved PCB separation and filter cover, and integrates Nahimic software.

Choosing which motherboard you want to buy is more budget oriented than another, but motherboard manufacturers want to satisfy you with features, especially if you’re spending up to $1,000 on a processor. X99A Gaming Pro Carbon is not the most expensive but it was one of the most popular cards to upgrade MSI X99 with several new features, new look and new game software — U.2, USB 3.1, reinforced window and mixed carbon fiber look with LED backlight RVB. Read the full exam kit.

Quick Links to Other Pages

In The Box and Visual Inspection
Test Bank and Setup
Comparison View
System performance (audio, USB, power, Windows 7 POST time, latency)
CPU performance, short form (desktop tests and encoding)
GTX 980 Simple gaming performance


What follows is our standard overclocking method. We select automatic overclocking options and test stability using PovRay and OCCT to simulate complex workloads. These stability tests are designed to identify the immediate cause of memory or processor errors.

For manual overclocking, based on the information collected during the previous tests, it starts at the nominal CPU voltage and multiplier and increases the multiplier until the stability test is passed. The CPU voltage is progressively increased until the stability test is successful, and the process is repeated until the motherboard automatically reduces the multiplier (due to security protocols) or the CPU temperature reaches a stupidly elevated level (100°C+) . Our test bank is not in the box, which is supposed to boost higher clocks with higher (higher) air.

Overclocking results

With the latest Core i7-6950X, auto overclocking performance reached agreement when AVX instructions came in, but manual overclocking was up to 4. 1GHz. 94ºC for our CPU sample is high enough without a longer push.

What is a «chipset» and why do I need it?


You’ve probably heard the term «chipset» when talking about new computers, but what is a chipset and how does it affect your computer’s performance?

In a nutshell, the chipset acts like


communication center and traffic controller, and ultimately determines which components are compatible with the motherboard, including




, hard drives and video cards. It also determines your future expansion options and the extent, if any, of your system.

can be overclocked


These three criteria are important when choosing a motherboard. Let’s talk a little about why.

A Brief History of Chipsets

Chips Hey! An old school IBM PC motherboard, circa 1981.

During the computer era, PC motherboards consisted of many discrete integrated circuits. This usually required a separate chip or chips to control each component of the system: mouse, keyboard, graphics, sounds, etc.

As you can imagine, it was pretty inefficient to scatter all these different chips.

To solve this problem, computer engineers needed to design a better system and start integrating these disparate chips into fewer chips.

With the advent

PCI bus

, a new design appeared: bridges. Instead of a bunch of chips, motherboards came with

north bridge


south bridge

, which consisted of only two chips with very specific tasks and goals.


north bridge

The chip was known as such because it was located on the top or north side of the motherboard. This chip was directly connected to the CPU and acted as a communication intermediary for the high-speed system components: RAM (memory controllers), PCI Express controller, and AGP controller on older motherboards. If these components wanted to talk to the processor, they had to go through the northbridge first.

Over time, motherboard design has become more and more efficient.


south bridge

, on the other hand, was located closer to the bottom (south side) of the motherboard. The southbridge was responsible for handling lower performance components such as PCI bus slots (for expansion cards), SATA and IDE connectors (for hard drives), USB ports, onboard audio and networking, and more.

In order for these components to communicate with the processor, they first had to pass through the southbridge, which then went to the northbridge, and from there to the processor.

These chips came to be called «chipsets» because they are literally a chipset.

Steady march towards full integration

However, the old traditional northbridge and southbridge chipset design obviously could be improved upon and gradually gave way to today’s «chipset» which is not really a chipset at all.

Instead, the old architecture of the north and south bridges has given way to a more modern single-chip system. Many components such as memory controllers and graphics are now integrated and handled directly by the CPU. As higher priority controller functions moved to the processor, all remaining functions were moved to the one remaining southbridge chip.

Intel X99 Chipset Diagram

gives an idea of ​​its functions and the potential of the system.

For example, new Intel systems include

Platform Controller Hub

, or PCH, which is actually the only chip on the motherboard that takes over the functions that the old southbridge chip once did.

The PCH is then connected to the CPU through what is called

Direct media interface

, or DMI. Actually DMI is not a new innovation and has been the traditional way of connecting north and south bridges in Intel systems since 2004.

AMD Chipsets

are not so different: the old southbridge is now called

Fusion Controller Hub

, or FCH. The CPU and FCH on AMD systems are then connected to each other via

Single media interface or UMI

. In fact, this is the same architecture as that of Intel, but with different names.

Many Intel and AMD processors also come with built-in integrated graphics, so you don’t need a dedicated graphics card (unless you’re doing more intensive tasks like gaming or video editing). (AMD calls these chips

Fast Processing Blocks

, or APUs rather than processors, but that’s more of a marketing term to help people differentiate between AMD processors with integrated graphics and processors without.)

All this means is that things like storage controllers (SATA ports), network controllers, and all those previously less performant components now have only one hop. Instead of going from the southbridge to the northbridge to the processor, they can simply switch from the PCH (or FCH) to the CPU. Consequently,


decreases and the system is more responsive.

Your chipset determines which parts are compatible

So now you have a basic understanding of what a chipset is, but why should you care?

As we pointed out at the beginning, your computer’s chipset determines three main parameters: component compatibility (what processor and RAM can you use?), expandability (how many PCI cards can you use?), and overclocking capability. Let’s talk about each of them in a little more detail, starting with compatibility.


What is the difference between DDR3 and DDR4 RAM?

The choice of components is important. Will your new system be the latest generation Intel Core i7 processor, or are you willing to settle for something older (and cheaper)? you want a higher frequency

DDR4 RAM, or DDR3 is ok

? How many hard drives do you connect and which ones? Do you need built-in Wi-Fi or will you be using Ethernet? Will you be using multiple graphics cards or one graphics card with other expansion cards? The mind boggles all the possible considerations, and better chipsets will offer more (and newer) options.

Price will also be a big determining factor. Needless to say, the bigger and worse the system, the more it will cost — both in terms of the components themselves and in terms of the motherboard that supports them. If you’re building a computer, you’ll probably determine your needs based on what you want to invest in and your budget.

Your Chipset Determines Your Expansion Options

The chipset also determines how much space for expansion cards (like graphics cards, TV tuners, RAID cards, etc.) your computer has, thanks to


they use.

System components and peripherals — CPUs, RAM, expansion cards, printers, etc. — are connected to the motherboard via «buses». Each motherboard contains

several different types of buses

, which can vary in speed and bandwidth, but for simplicity we can break them down into two parts: external buses (including USB, serial and parallel) and internal buses.

The main internal bus on modern motherboards is known as

PCI Express

(PCIE). PCIe uses «lanes» that allow internal components such as RAM and expansion cards to communicate with the CPU and vice versa.

A track is simply two pairs of wired connections: one pair is sending data, the other is receiving data. So a 1x PCIe lane would be four wires, a 2x lane would be eight, and so on. The more wires, the more data can be exchanged. 1x connection can handle 250MB in each direction, 2x can handle 512MB, etc.

The link between two PCI Express devices consists of lanes.

The number of lanes available depends on how many lanes the motherboard itself has, as well as


capacity (number of lanes) that the CPU can provide.

For example, many Intel desktop processors have 16 lanes (new generation processors have 28 or even 40).

Chipset Z170

Motherboards provide 20 more, for a total of 36.


Chipset X99

consumables 8

PCI Express 2.0

lanes, and up to 40

PCI Express 3.0

stripes, depending on the processor you are using.

So on a Z170 motherboard, a PCI Express 16x graphics card by itself would use 16 lanes. As a result, you can use two of them together on a Z170 board at full speed, leaving you with four lanes for additional components. Alternatively, you can use one PCI Express 3.0 card at 16 lanes (16x) and two cards at 8 lanes (8x), or four cards at 8x (if you buy a motherboard that can accommodate that many).

In the end, for most users it doesn’t matter. Using multiple cards at 8x instead of 16x reduces performance by only

several frames per second

, if at all. Similarly,

you will hardly see the difference between PCIe 3.0 and PCIe 2.0

or, in most cases,

less than 10%


But if you are planning

a lot of

expansion cards, such as two graphics cards, a TV tuner and a Wi-Fi card, you can fill up the motherboard pretty quickly. In many cases, the slots run out before you exhaust all the PCIe bandwidth. But other times, you’ll need to make sure your CPU and motherboard have enough lanes to support all the cards you want to add (otherwise you’ll run out of lanes and some cards might not work).

Your chipset determines your computer’s ability to overclock

So your chipset determines which components are compatible with your system and how many expansion cards you can use. But there is one more main thing that it defines: overclocking.


What is overclocking? A beginner’s guide to understanding how geeks speed up their PC

Acceleration simply means

boosting the clock frequency of a component higher than it was designed to operate

. Many system tuners choose to overclock their CPU or GPU to improve performance for gaming or other purposes without spending more money. It may seem obvious, but along with this increase in speed, power consumption and heat generation also increase, which can cause stability issues and shorten the life of your parts. This also means you’ll need larger heatsinks and fans (or liquid cooling) to keep everything cool. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart.

But here’s the thing: only some processors are ideal for overclocking (it’s best to start with Intel and AMD models with a K in their names). Also, only certain chipsets allow overclocking, and some may require custom firmware. So if you want to overclock, you will need to consider the chipset when buying motherboards.

Chipsets that allow overclocking will have the necessary controls (voltage, multiplier, base frequency, etc.) in their




to increase the clock frequency of the processor. If the chipset doesn’t support overclocking, then these controls won’t be there (or, if they are, they’ll be useless), and you may have wasted your hard-earned money on a processor that’s basically locked at its advertised speed.

So, if overclocking is a serious matter, then it’s worth knowing in advance which chipsets are best for it, right out of the box. If you need further guidance, there are many buyer guides available that will tell you in no uncertain terms which

Motherboards Z170


Motherboards X99

(or any other overclockable chipset) will work best for you.

How to find a motherboard comparison

The good news is that you don’t have to know everything about every chipset to choose a motherboard. Of course you


explore all modern chipsets, choosing between Intel



main stream



, and


chipsets or learn all about AMD




. Or you can just let the site like


do the hard work for you.

Let’s say you want to build a powerful gaming machine with a current generation Intel processor. You would go to a site like Newegg, use the navigation tree to narrow down your pool to

Intel Motherboards

. You should then use the sidebar to further narrow down your search by form factor (depending on the size of your PC), processor socket (depending on which processors you are open to use), and maybe even narrow down if you want. it by brand or price.

From there, click on some of the remaining motherboards and check the «Compare» box under the ones that look good. After selecting several, click the «Compare» button and you can compare them by function.

Let’s take

this Z170 board is from MSI


this X99 board is from MSI

, For example. If we plug both of them into Newegg’s compare function, we’ll see a chart with many features:

You can see some chipset related differences. Z170 board can accommodate up to 64 GB


, and board X99 can take up to 128 GB. The Z170 board has four 16x PCI Express 3.0 slots, but the maximum processor it can handle is

Core i7-6700K

, which has a maximum of 16 lanes for a total of 36. The X99 board, on the other hand, can support up to 40 PCI Express 3.0 lanes if you have an expensive processor such as

Processor Core i7-6850k

. For most users, this won’t matter, but if you have multiple expansion cards, you’ll need to count the lanes and make sure the card you choose has enough bandwidth.

Obviously the X99 system is more powerful, but as you look through these comparison charts, you have to ask yourself which features you really need. The Z170 chipset supports up to eight SATA devices, and this particular motherboard includes many other features that make it an attractive prospect for a powerful gaming PC. The X99 chipset is only needed if you need a serious processor with four or more cores, more than 64GB of RAM, or you need a lot of expansion cards.

You may even find by comparing motherboards that you can go back to it even more. Maybe you end up thinking

more modest Z97 system

, which will handle up to 32GB of DDR3 RAM, which is pretty efficient

16-lane Core i7-4790K processor

, and one PCI Express 3.0 graphics card running at full speed.

The trade-offs between these chipsets are clear: with each chipset in ascending order, you have a choice of the best CPU, RAM, and graphics options, not to mention each one. But the costs also increase significantly. Luckily, you don’t need to know all the ins and outs of each chipset before diving into them — you can use these comparison charts to compare feature by feature.

(Note that while Newegg is probably the best site for your comparisons, there are many other great stores to buy parts from, including




, and

Micro Center


The one thing that is usually not talked about in these comparison tables is the possibility of overclocking. It may mention some overclocking features, but you should also dig into reviews and google a bit to see if it can handle overclocking.

Remember, when considering any components, motherboard or otherwise, make sure you do your due diligence. Don’t just rely on user reviews, spend some time reviewing the hardware on Google to see what the pros think of it.

Apart from the absolute necessity (RAM, graphics and CPU), any chipset should meet all your basic needs — be it on-board audio, USB ports, LAN ports, legacy connectors, etc. However, what you get will depend on the motherboard itself. boards and features that the manufacturer has decided to include. So if you absolutely need something like Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, and the board you’re considering doesn’t include it, you’ll have to buy it as an add-on (which will often take up one of those USB or PCI Express slots.) .

System building is an art in itself, and there’s more to it than what we’ve been talking about today. But we hope this gives you a clearer idea of ​​what a chipset is, why it’s important, and some considerations to keep in mind when choosing a motherboard and components for a new system.