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.

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Motherboard Overclocking Software

ASUS includes its AI Suite III software with all its motherboards. This software suite is quite robust and offers many features including USB performance enhancement, BIOS update capabilities, PC health monitoring and more importantly, performance and overclocking within the Windows operating system environment. For the sake of brevity, we will only be talking primarily about the performance oriented aspects of the software and the PC health information.

The interface for AI Suite III is largely the same as it has been since the Z87 days. Having said that, the software has slightly different capabilities and attributes depending on the motherboard model it’s used with. The basic code is the same for all the motherboard models, with the software having some customizations for specific models like those in the ROG lineup. For the most part these limitations have purely been artificial. After many conversations with ASUS by reviewers such as myself and others, along with forum posts and general customer feedback ASUS changed its policy and now for the most part the artificial limitations are lifted across the entire product stack. Now features are limited primarily by the hardware. That is, motherboards lacking the extra thermal sensors of the TUF series won’t have the same level of temperature monitoring and so on.

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From a usage perspective, the AI Suite III is easily the most robust package on the market. Even when only comparing the performance tuning, fan control and monitoring aspects of the application, ASUS is head and shoulders above the bulk of its competition. With regard to the user interface, I think it suffers somewhat from the increased utility and robustness. At some point the interface became rather busy and appears somewhat daunting to newcomers who haven’t witnessed the software’s evolution. The application, once opened defaults to the Dual Intelligent Processors 5 menu, which is actually the tuning portion of the AI Suite III. There is a separate "DIP5" or "5-Way Optimization" menu which is actually a form of automated overclocking which I’ll talk about in more detail shortly. This terminology can be very confusing and I don’t think it creates the best user experience necessarily. When starting AI Suite III for the first time one ends up fumbling through complex looking menus more or less aimlessly in search of one utility or another. I have only recently given this thought as a friend of mine who just purchased an ASUS board came at me with all sorts of questions about AI Suite III. I’ve been working with the software for so long I hadn’t considered how things were named being approached by a total novice.

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Fortunately, the interface does follow a logical workflow progression and everything but the TPU menu is easy enough to understand and offers something for the novice. The TPU menu is where the actual manual performance tuning is. The "TPU" name doesn’t make any real sense unless you are intimately familiar with ASUS motherboards. The Dual Intelligent Processors 5 menu doesn’t make much sense on the surface either, but at least when you click through it you find its actually automated overclocking. It guides you through what its function is, and I think that’s probably sufficient even if it isn’t ideal. When it comes to automated overclocking, ASUS’ AI Suite III is certainly in a class unto itself. It’s the only software I am aware of that doesn’t merely offer preset clock speed selections, or an automated option that’s completely hands off. With the ASUS DIP5 menu, the user sets parameters such as clock speed, temperature, power usage targets, clock speed starting points, and so on. The user even chooses whether or not to use AVX instructions in the stability tests conducted by the software. Additionally, the stability tests have settings that can be configured to determine the duration of those tests. These values may take some time to dial in on any given system, but when properly tweaked, the AI Suite III is usually capable of the highest automated overclocks out there. I’ve often found that the tool can come within 100-200MHz of manual tuning. No one else even comes close to this level of automated tuning, nor do their programs have the same success rates. Because control is taken out of the user’s hands, you essentially let the auto-tuning rip and hope for the best. 95% of the time the values those applications return at the same as the "best" of the lowly preset values which barely eclipse the CPUs stock turbo frequencies.

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The TPU menu itself can be a little daunting. This menu contains voltage adjustments, clock frequency and multiplier adjustments for the memory and CPU. For this menu, one should be familiar with overclocking and system tuning in general. I don’t find it particularly problematic that this menu is like this, as the granularity of tuning options here is technical by necessity and by nature. The TPU menu is again at least as comprehensive as anything on the market, and potentially more so than most. Terminology for things like the voltage adjustments are key in leaving values easy to research online and understand to someone with general knowledge, but not necessarily brand specific experience. Often times companies like MSI may use different terminology in its UEFI or software, which can lead to confusion over what a given setting or function may do. Usually context is good enough to decipher the settings true purpose alone, but it does create somewhat of an additional learning curve in my opinion. ASUS’ complex software does well not to add complexity where it isn’t needed, but that’s not to say that it couldn’t be streamlined somewhat.

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While ASUS’ tuning and automated overclocking features are unparalleled in most respects, that lead is nothing compared to the in depth and versatile fan controls and features present on the entire product line. Even the lowest end ASUS motherboards generally match or exceed the fan control capabilities of higher end motherboards from other brands. This gap continues to go through periods of shrinkage where GIGBYTE, MSI or ASRock may get closer, and then ASUS again extends its lead in a seemingly eternal game of cat and mouse. This is the case with the X99 STRIX GAMING as this is the first motherboard I’ve seen to offer "Fan Xpert 4" controls. ASUS offers full DC and PWM controls on all fan headers. Full control over fan speeds is available in both the UEFI BIOS and the AI Suite III software. This includes fan stop modes and fan reverse capability for its anti-dust feature. Fan speed ramp up and down delays or timers allow the fan speeds to be adjusted more gradually for people who find the sudden and constant fan speed adjustments annoying. ASUS has an auto-tuning feature for fan headers in which all fan headers are scanned. Performance can be set automatically, or by profile preset, and manually if desired. Fan headers excluding the CPU header can be renamed in the Fan Xpert 4 control panel. Fan Xpert 4 also features an "Extreme Quiet Mode" in which the fans are brought below their normal minimum thresholds for silent operation and even power saving under lighter usage scenarios.

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There is always PC health data found at the bottom of the application window. Some of these elements can be expanded upon and show additional usage meters or statistics. Others are threshold values for system event warnings that can be user defined. These are ever present so you always see what’s going on while performing other functions. Some utilities like MSI’s Command Center software don’t integrate this type of monitoring well and require separate satellite windows to manage, in order to monitor PC health information. ASUS keeps it neatly wrapped in a single interface window.

Ordinarily, AI Suite III just works. I had some initial problems with it generating general protection fault errors and then "working" with things like the CPU usage meters and temperature monitoring all messed up and not refreshing. I changed some memory settings and this appeared to resolve the issue for a time and it reoccurred once. I got to where I could duplicate the issue by expanding the CPU usage meters before doing anything else. I downloaded an update of ASUS’ AI Suite III from the website which resolved those issues. Not that most enthusiasts would do so, but I wouldn’t advise running the version on the driver disc.

All in all, I’ve always liked the AI Suite III, despite enjoying the complete simplicity of other competing options. Having said that, I think the AI Suite III naturally has room for improvement. I’d like to see the window have variable sizing added to it. I think its complexity is made worse and more daunting by the fact that the dialog window is tiny even on 1080P screens.

Aura RGB

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The Aura RGB software controls the onboard LED lighting for the X99 STRIX GAMING. Individual zones are controllable. Colors can be set independently for those zones, as can different effects. A synchronization option is available to make configuration a little easier. The application is very intuitive and has only one glaring flaw. It can be difficult to get the same color twice on the color wheel. If attempting to match colors, you have to eyeball it and make small adjustments until you get it right.