GIGABYTE X99 Designare EX LGA2011-v3 Review

I have no idea what "Designare" means but it sounds fancy. Come to think of it the X99 Designare EX is pretty fancy. It comes complete with ambient lighting, tons of storage and networking features, 3-Way SLI support and a ton of other stuff. The X99 Designare EX also has quite the price tag to go with it.

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Motherboard Overclocking Software

The X99 Designare EX comes with GIGABYTE’s EZ-Tune software which is part of its App Center. The App Center and EZ-Tune were recently overhauled so it should look quite familiar to anyone who has used it in the past or even read our previous coverage of recent GIGABYTE Z170 or even older X99 motherboards. It would also look familiar to anyone who has used the bundled software that comes with ASRock motherboards as much of the design looks virtually identical. There are a number of differences, but the basic layout is pretty much the same. GIGABYTE also took a cue from ASUS and reformatted the App Center launcher to be more like the AI Suite III conceptually speaking in that it’s a centralized window. Previously the App Center resembled a start menu or side bar / dock type of launcher. It’s current dialog window is not unlike what you’d see with SiSoft Sandra or other various software suites. The application does have an update check which notifies you when the application has a new version available. Fortunately, it doesn’t annoy you with such things when an active internet connection isn’t present.

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From the App Center you have several options to choose from. There are a lot of things you can do with it, so for the sake of brevity I’ll keep this limited to tuning, fan control and PC health monitoring. The two applications we will concentrate on are EasyTune and SIV. EasyTune allows for overclocking and performance tuning within the Windows operating system environment. SIV allows for fan and power phase control. When you click on EasyTune you have to agree to the disclaimer that pops up. Fortunately, there is an option to never show it again.

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EasyTune is laid out similarly to how most UEFI BIOS are in that various application categories are selectable at the top of the application window. The EasyTune software has several presets for tuning. These are ECO, Default, OC and auto-tuning. Below each preset, you will find a clock speed value which indicates what the profile will set the CPU to. The ECO mode down clocks, OC mode overclocks and auto-tuning tests the system and tunes it to the maximum values the software deems stable. The default option resets things to factory values. At the bottom of the EasyTune application window, you will find PC health information. This can be expanded to show more detailed information. BIOS revision, CPU model, CPU clock speed, and GPU stats are all provided here. The Advanced CPU OC menu allows for tuning of the system processor via turbo frequency or base clock adjustments. Voltage adjustments pertaining to the CPU are also found here. There is never a lack of options for tuning within the software. Frequency response and power limits are also found within this menu. The Advanced DDR OC menu is much the same as the CPU menu offering the same types of settings as they relate to that subsystem. In the past GIGABYTE had separated out power phase control from its basic overclocking utilities. This never made any sense to me. Fortunately, GIGABYTE has come it its senses and now power phase control is part of EasyTune rather than SIV. Power phase control, current overprotection and frequency switching rates can be adjusted from the advanced power menu.

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While GIGABYTE did the sensible thing and added power phase control to EasyTune, they didn’t do the sensible thing and break out the HotKey function. This should be its own application but for whatever reason it is part of EasyTune. Like competing features from other manufacturers, HotKey allows you to start and load keyboard profiles to give standard keyboards macro capabilities. This allows users who want the functionality of a gaming keyboard to have those capabilities even if they don’t have or don’t want to use a "gaming" keyboard that offers such things.

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The System Information Viewer or SIV is used for fan calibration, fan control, PC health monitoring and alerting. When you first start SIV it automatically goes into fan calibration. It’s annoying that it refuses to stop if you press the stop button. Calibration is essentially mandatory. Fortunately, it’s over quickly if you don’t have anything to configure. Once that’s done you can go to the Smart Fan menu and configure fans via profile presets. In the Smart Fan advanced menu, you have a lot more control. This menu isn’t unlike what ASUS offers in AI Suite III. You select the fan location and configure the speeds to match RPM and temperature ranges as desired. There is an RPM fixed mode if you’d prefer to use that. Unfortunately, the switch between RPM fixed mode and smart mode takes seemingly forever. I think it’s actually around 10-15 seconds but it shouldn’t take that long for such a simple mode switch. Fan profiles can be saved and loaded from this menu as well. GIGABYTE is still a little behind here as spin up and spin down settings aren’t provided, nor is the ability to give custom names to fan locations. However, PWM and voltage control is available on all headers. The system alert menu allows you to configure alerts based on temperature, voltage or fan speed thresholds. These are set via simple sliders. A recording menu is provided for trending and reviewing PC health data.

Ambient Surround LED

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The Ambient LED application allows you to configure the onboard ambient lighting for the X99 Designare EX. By default, the LEDs are all blue and stay on all the time. You can set these to change colors at specific intervals, or set their visual effects. There are still, pulse, and beat modes. The lighting actually does look like ambient lighting and not just LEDs soldered onto the board as an afterthought. You can choose from a wide array of colors. The only issue I have with this menu is that it makes duplication of a color almost impossible as the adjustments are too fine for that. You can’t key in a simple value and get back a custom color you may have set before. You just have to eyeball it and hope for the best. This isn’t a big deal unless you are trying to color match lighting for other components, and for some reason need to do it again at a later date. If the colors were difficult to match, you’d have to repeat the agonizing process of matching that other hardware again. It should be easy enough with all GIGABYTE RGB LED equipped hardware as it should all have the same color capability. I say it should as I haven’t tested that. I do know several of the WindForce cards with RGB lighting should have the same available color palette.