GIGABYTE X99 Phoenix SLI Motherboard Review

GIGABYTE’s X99 Phoenix SLI is another entry into the G1 Gaming lineup. While there is little to nothing that’s truly unique about the feature set, the combination of features and unique aesthetics are hard to argue with. The X99 Phoenix SLI offers good features and stellar looks at a reasonable price point.

Introduction

GIGABYTE is world renowned for its diverse product portfolio. GIGABYTE, like many of its competitors has expanded its product line to encompass a wide range of price points and target markets. The GIGABYTE G1 family for example is designed for gamers. Motherboards in this family boast solid overclocking and stability, which aren’t features necessarily geared toward the gaming enthusiast. That said, these motherboards also feature excellent multi-GPU support and aesthetics which appeal to the target market. All the motherboards sporting the G1 Gaming logo are what I’d usually consider premium parts. In my experience, these are some of the best made and most feature rich motherboards on the market today.

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The X99 Phoenix SLI is based on Intel's X99 Express chipset. It supports all the latest technologies expected by today’s demanding consumer. It supports SATA Express, SATA 6Gb/s, 3-Way SLI and Crossfire, USB 3.1, and PCI-Express 3.0. As expected, the X99 Phoenix SLI is one of GIGABYTE’s Ultra Durable motherboards. At one point that was little more than marketing speak for the quality components used in the design. These days it takes on a bit more meaning as these motherboards have greater corrosion resistance and metal shields for added strength. More specifically GIGABYTE is employing a type of anti-sulfur resistor for longer life space and rear I/O connectors designed to withstand corrosion in humid environments. Like many motherboards made now, GIGABYTE’s X99 Phoenix SLI has support for PWM and DC fans as well as dedicated water pump support.

The X99 Phoenix SLI uses a true 8-phase digital power design. Many motherboards actually use a process known as phase doubling to increase the phase count. This normally works pretty well, but dedicated hardware is always a little better, although it comes with a cost increase. Cooper Bussman server grade chokes, IR PowerIRstage ICs, and black solid electrolytic capacitors ensure long life and increased stability. Being in the G1 product line, it lacks the onboard power and reset controls. One must rely on chassis switches and buttons alone. This isn’t a problem for most people, although it could be a downer for anyone who wants to use these on an open air test bench exclusively.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

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The packaging looks like any others in the G1 lineup. The box is somewhat fancy, including the box flap, window, and product information it has. Inside the box you’ll find a solid bundle with lots to offer. Inside you’ll find the following items and accessories: User guide, Multilanguage installation guidebook, SATA cable labels, Q-Connectors, case badge, driver disc, wireless driver disc, door hanger, SLI bridge, 3-Way SLI bridge, wireless antenna, SATA cables, RGB header extension, 2-to 1 power cable and I/O shield. The power cable actually takes dual 8-pin or 8+4 pin connectors and transitions them down to a single 8-pin power connector. This provides more power to the CPU while still using a single port.

Board Layout

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The layout of the X99 Phoenix SLI is quite good. Given the standard ATX layout, I don’t think GIGABYTE could have done any better. Going to E-ATX has obvious advantages for layout, but there are plenty of options in that arena. Sticking to a standard ATX layouts gives the X99 Phoenix SLI broader appeal. The X99 Phoenix SLI features 3 fan headers and one dedicated water pump header. I’d like to have seen a fan header placed above the PCIe x16 slot, towards the back of the board near the I/O panel and audio subsystem. This is the most convenient place I’ve found to handle the case exhaust fans that are found on most chassis. The other port or header locations are generally well thought out. I’ve always liked the fact that GIGABYTE writes what the port name is inside the port itself making it easy to identify what’s what. If I had to complain about anything with the layout it would be the placement of the CMOS battery. I just don’t like it underneath the primary video card slot. This is also where the wireless specific M.2 slot is. As far as I know the wireless adapter isn’t prone to issues resulting from heat exposure, so I don’t know of this location is ultimately an issue at all.

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The CPU socket area has a solid layout. There is only one MOSFET cooler. The heatsink appears to be well made. The CPU socket uses a dark nickel type of finish which I’m very partial to. The RAM slots are somewhat close to the CPU socket but this isn’t GIGABYTE’s fault. That said, you have to be careful about memory and CPU cooler selections in order to avoid clearance problems.

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The X99 Phoenix SLI has a total of eight 288-pin DDR4 memory slots. These are color coded to denote dual and quad-channel memory mode operation. Additionally, these also have LED strips visible that run along the slots as part of the ambient lighting system. These actually look amazing when lit up. The single sided locking tabs used here are necessary given the space constraints of the design. GIGABYTE uses its memory armor brackets which are similar to the ones found on the PCI-Express slots. These are supposed to prevent PCB flex from memory installation. I’ve seen this feature on many motherboards now and can confirm it does work as advertised. That said, I’ve never broken a motherboard by flexing it so I can’t make a case for this feature as being necessary beyond academic points.

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The chipset is located in the bottom left hand corner of the motherboard. The heat sink is a large, flat design which is adorned with a white and orange cover. The design is a low profile one which prevents clearance issues between it and the PCI-Express expansion slots. There are also LEDs inside the vented parts of the cover which are all part of the ambient LED system. In front of the chipset you’ll find the SATA and SATA Express ports. Naturally these are all right angled ports that are compatible with locking style SATA cables. The U.2 port flanks these on the right hand side. The front panel header is to the immediate left, and color coding denotes the functions of each switch header.

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The expansion slot area is very well thought out. The PCI-Express slots all use a paddle style retention clip which is my preference. The other designs are often painful to deal with if you need to remove an expansion card. GIGABYTE also employs its PCIe armor on the X99 Phoenix SLI. GIGABYTE boasts some impressive sheering and force resistance information for these. These are probably the strongest in the industry when comparing the design to that of the competition. I am not sure how much value this adds, but the simple single piece stainless steel bracket design is a good one for sure. I like it much better than the ones found on the more expensive ASUS Rampage V Extreme 10 we reviewed a short time ago.

The design provides optimal space between the first two PCI-Express slots for the purpose of 2-Way SLI or Crossfire usage. The last slots give you options between optimal spacing for 3-Way SLI or Crossfire. If your chassis doesn’t allow the third card to hang off the bottom slot and motherboard edge, the closer one can be used. These slots are physically x16, x16, x8 and x8. The actual lane configuration on the other hand is limited to what you install in the slots or what CPU is used. I like the right angled 4-pin MOLEX connector used on the edge of the expansion slot area due to its location. 4-Pin Molex connectors are getting harder to come by so I think these should transition to SATA type power connectors. A PCI-Express x1 2.0 slot is also available if needed.

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The I/O panel is somewhat barren given the motherboard feature set. You have 6x USB 3.0 ports, 2x RJ-45 ports, 1x PS/2 keyboard or mouse port, 1x USB 3.1 Type-A port and 1x USB 3.1 Type C port. Lastly, you have an optical output with 5x mini-stereo jacks for analog audio output. These are gold plated for optimal quality. Above the USB 3.1 Type-A and Type-C ports you have a lot of dead space that could have been utilized for something. If nothing else a perforated I/O shield for air flow might have been worthwhile. Unfortunately, the I/O shield itself is a very thin stamped sheet. Markings are stamped in it as well. These are of course serviceable, but cheap looking. If you are the type to spend big on your case, this may be a bigger issue for you. Personally, I don’t like these flimsy tin shields on anything over $200.