ASUS ROG X99 STRIX GAMING LGA 2011-v3 Review

ASUS’ ROG X99 STRIX GAMING motherboard adds a bit of bling to the ROG line and much needed fresh blood that comes with some cool features and a much lower price point than other ROG X99 chipset offerings. And it has all the pretty lights in any color you want, if that is your thing.

Introduction

ASUS was founded in the 1980’s and has become one of the largest and most influential motherboard manufacturers and computer hardware vendors in the world today. ASUS’ Republic of Gamers brand is specifically targeted at the DIY computing enthusiast and gamer alike. 10 years ago when the first ROG motherboards hit the market they offered the very best technologies that ASUS had to offer, but lacked the aesthetic qualities most often associated with the brand today. Additionally, these motherboards were the only ones with memorable names and not model numbers. This was done to add some personality to hardware which generally gets forgotten once it’s installed. Stripped down variants of ROG motherboards were packaged in normal motherboards and carried normal model numbers instead of the names their more expensive counterparts had. These economic models often had the bulk of the feature set but lacked the additional ROG innovation’s a lot of the time.

Today things are different and ROG motherboards are unique designs that don’t match anything in the standard product lineup. ASUS now has tons of models bearing the ROG name and logo. The one we are looking at today is the ASUS X99 STRIX GAMING which already is a different beast than most ROG motherboards. Motherboards like the Rampage V Extreme have no indication in the name as to what chipset they use, and don’t share their name with anything else. ASUS has "STRIX" products and other X99 models so it’s obvious that this motherboard is intended to stand out in the ROG lineup as something else. Ordinarily the ROG branding is quite prevalent and the boxes are all the same. In this case the X99 STRIX GAMING has the same basic packaging as most retail channel motherboards, with unique artwork to the STRIX brand. The ROG branding is quite small on the box and at first I completely missed the fact that the X99 STRIX was part of that brand until I really dove into the packaging.

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The X99 STRIX GAMING is based on the X99 Express chipset. Like other late model X99 motherboards, it features RBG lighting, USB 3.1, U.2 ports and structural reinforcement to the expansion slots. The X99-STRIX Gaming offers ASUS’ usual feature set for enthusiast motherboards. This includes the OC Socket, 5-Way optimization, second generation T-Topology, SupremeFX audio, Sonic Radar II. The biggest thing that differentiates the X99 STRIX from other ROG motherboards is its aesthetics. The X99 STRIX has the Aura RGB LED system and colored decals for the chipset and I/O shield. I am not certain why these are stickers rather than LEDs, but I’d imagine cost cutting to be the primary reason. The LED lighting is more comprehensive in a sense that it offers controls in UEFI and settings for the system’s LED behavior while the system is both on or off. The X99 STRIX in many ways offers little more than a standard X99 feature set aside from USB 3.1, U.2 and wireless networking. Its value lies in its unique (among ASUS ROG boards) aesthetics which ties directly with its lighting and color theme. Aside from this unique aspect, it is very much a standard ASUS X99 ROG style motherboard if there is such a thing. While we do appreciate excessively feature rich motherboards, such features often go unused and therefore go to waste. Because of this and the complexities that sometimes trouble those halo level products, a less is more approach is often appealing to us. You won’t find a bunch of LN2 oriented overclocking features, voltage check points, dual NICs that will never be teamed, multiple M.2 ports, and third party drive controllers, or even PLX chips that serve no purpose in most systems. There are certainly plenty of options if you want or require those types of features.

It seems like the $250-$330 or so HEDT motherboard segment is where it’s at for the moment and where the bulk of the new products seem to be. This price point is where the old "halo" level motherboards used to be. In fact, it’s roughly where the bulk of high end Z170 Express based motherboards are priced at with only a few outliers going well beyond that. I think as time goes on many gamers have switched from dumping tons into motherboards and CPUs into their GPUs. Let’s face it, that $200 saved going with the X99 STRIX or something similar over that X99A GODLIKE motherboard is the difference between a mid-range a high end GPU. Meanwhile the mid-range motherboards will do everything that 95% of users could ever need or want and is just as fast at the end of the day as that $550 motherboard is with rare exceptions to that rule. So while this isn’t stripped down by any means, the X99 STRIX isn’t as lean as say the X99-A, it’s no X99 Deluxe II or Rampage V Extreme feature-wise. That’s not a bad thing mind you, just an observation on what kind of motherboard the X99 STRIX is and is intended to be.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

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The packaging for the X99 STRIX GAMING is unusual for an ROG motherboard. It is devoid of the predominantly red box with its almost plastic-like quality. This one feels like what you get with almost any motherboard that’s not of premium stock. In the box you will find a fairly limited bundle including the following items: User guide, driver disc, I/O shield, SATA cables, Q-Connectors, SLI bridge, wireless antenna, zip ties, motherboard decals, fan stickers sporting the ROG logo, and a CPU installation tool. The test sample arrived intact with all accessories accounted for.

Board Layout

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The layout of the X99-STRIX is quite good. Naturally excellence is what I expect from ASUS and the ROG line in particular. Unfortunately, the X99 STRIX stops just short of excellence, due to what I consider less than ideal placement of the onboard controls. This is purely an opinion and not something I think will necessarily be an issue for everyone. Certainly, this being an issue depends greatly on how you use the motherboard and what, if any chassis it is mounted in. I simply think that these controls would be better placed if they were located near the SATA ports or close to the memory slots where they usually are. Also, there is a fan header next to the power and reset switches, and if you don’t have a plug there you can potentially stab yourself if fumbling for the switch by touch. I actually did this, stabbing myself under the fingernail with the fan header. This is easily avoidable, but I hadn’t considered it when blindly reaching over my Radeon HD 7970 while seated in front of the test bench. I’ve done this 1,000 times with other motherboards, never having concern for running into something sharp. Again, this isn’t necessarily an issue that would affect every potential buyer of this motherboard.

My handling blunder aside, I have no real complaints about the general layout of the X99 STRIX. This is especially true since it maintains and ATX format rather than E-ATX where I’d be less forgiving of the PCB’s real estate, and how it was used. This isn’t to say existing space wasn’t used wisely, but with a larger footprint ASUS could have placed things like the M.2 slots in a less potentially intrusive way, or in such a way as to be less likely for SSDs to pick up heat from the video / expansion card area. One would have to use SLI for this to be problematic, so ASUS did well here as SLI’s popularity seems to be waning due to poor support in many popular games.

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The CPU area is devoid of major obstructions or problematic design issues. While the RAM slots are relatively close to the CPU socket, this is part of Intel’s spec and unavoidable. The MOSFET cooling hardware has a relatively large heat sink. The finish and machine work are nothing to write home about, but the heat sink gets the job done. You can see the solid black electrolytic metallic capacitors and high quality chokes. Usually ROG motherboards have a CPU socket that has a dark nickel type finish which is lacking here. From an aesthetic perspective, I see this as a missed opportunity as it would have been a more pleasing look, although often times you won’t actually see the socket once the cooler is attached. Whether this is a big deal to you is a matter of personal taste. Near the CPU socket and memory slots you will find the dedicated water pump headers and CPU fan headers.

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The memory slots aren’t color coded, most likely for aesthetic reasons. These are 288-pin DDR4 DIMM slots supporting a total of 128GB of RAM. Speeds of DDR4 3333MHz are supported through overclocking. Although, the UEFI BIOS supports setting memory speeds far in excess of that. The DIMM slots use a single sided locking tab for module retention. An "EZ-XMP" switch allows XMP values to be "locked in" via hardware for OEMs or users who simply wish to use that feature independent of the BIOS.

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The chipset is located in the usual spot in the front left hand corner. It is cooled via a large flat heat sink with an orange ROG logo. There are decals that come with the board that allow this color to be changed from the default orange to three other colors. In front of the chipset you’ll find the usual plethora of SATA Express and SATA ports. Additionally, the X99 STRIX features a U.2 port which is a newer name for the SFF-8639 connector found on server motherboards. This shares bandwidth with the M.2 slot and is essentially a PCI-Express x4 link via a cable to remotely mount an SSD rather than use an M.2 card style one. In theory, drives like the Intel SSD 750 can be cooled and won’t be as capacity limited as M.2 devices typically are. To the left of the chipset you’ll find the front panel connectors and plugs for various things like USB and so on. To the left of the chipset you will also find the type 22110 M.2 slot which runs into the expansion slot area. This means that the X99 STRIX can support any M.2 devices up to 110mm long. ASUS has fairly consistently supported these longer SSDs since M.2 slots became popular a short time ago. Other manufacturers like MSI and GIGABYTE usually only support 80mm M.2 devices, but this has been changing recently.

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The expansion slots are well thought out. Extra space is provided between the primary and secondary PCI-E slots to allow for a greater amount of airflow between two video cards which is of course ideal for SLI. As is becoming more and more common, the X99 STRIX GAMING has a reinforced primary PCI-Express slot. Unfortunately, only the primary has the reinforcement. While it’s not as decorative as it is on some competing products, the lack of symmetry still bothers me. There are three PCI-Express x16 gen 3.0 expansion slots. These slots support a configuration of x16, x16/x16, and x8/x16/x8 modes with 40 lane CPUs. There is also a PCI-Express 2.0 x16 (x4 electrical) slot and 2x PCIe x1 slots. Only 2-Way SLI/Crossfire or Quad-SLI / QuadFire via dual-GPU video cards are supported.

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The motherboard’s rear I/O panel is actually rather sparse. There is a WiFi antenna, 4x USB 2.0 ports, 4x USB 3.0 ports, 2x USB 3.1 ports (1x Type-A, 1x Type-C), 1x RJ-45 LAN port, 1x PS/2 keyboard or mouse port, 1x optical output and 5x mini-stereo headphone ports.

In the past we haven’t talked too much about the I/O shield. I feel that a nice I/O shield is an often overlooked element of the system build. While you don’t normally see it, a nice I/O shield adds a nice finishing touch to the overall machine. In fact, it can make the experience of moving the system or connecting peripherals just a little bit better. While many motherboards come with a plain tin shield that’s stamped out by a machine in mere seconds, some motherboards get padded I/O shields with backlit icons for its ports. There are also variations in between these extremes. Unfortunately, ASUS has gotten cheap on the I/O shields, even on ROG motherboards and as a result the X99 STRIX has a plain tin I/O shield not befitting a motherboard of this caliber, but rather befitting something more like a white box special featuring budget chipsets and sporting a price tag of around $40. This is hugely disappointing as ASUS used to either be state of the art here, or at least equal that of the competition. This sort of thing is what I’d expect out of a Z170-A or lower end motherboard, but not anything with the "Republic of Gamers" brand.