Today's Hard|Forum Post
Today's Hard|Forum Post

GIGABYTE X299 Aorus Gaming 3 Motherboard Review

GIGABYTE adds another product to its ever expanding Aorus Gaming line. The X299 Aorus Gaming 3 sounds like it might be at the bottom of the Skylake-X heap feature-wise, but you can hardly call a motherboard with so many features "stripped" down. The GIGABYTE X299 Aorus Gaming 3 has a lot to offer on paper but can it deliver?

Introduction

GIGABYTE is one of the most prolific, successful and well known motherboard manufacturers in the industry today. The company was founded in the mid-late 1980’s and as of late 2015, eclipsed ASUS as the world’s largest motherboard manufacturer by volume shipments. The company owes its success to building a quality product and to intelligent diversification of its product portfolio. The company boasts nearly 2 billion dollars in annual revenue and makes everything from laptops, tablets, desktops, motherboards, graphics cards, cases, and power supplies to keyboards and mice. One of GIGABYTE’s more recent marketing moves was to introduce the "Aorus" brand to segment its gaming oriented focused products from the standard offerings.

So far, I’ve been a fan of just about all GIGABYTE’s Aorus offerings save for one or two lower end models on the AMD side. Things are getting better there and GIGABYTE has really stepped up to the plate. At one point, ASUS was far ahead of everyone else and GIGABYTE and MSI were second and third, but that distance was significant. These days, GIGABYTE and MSI are roughly equal, and nipping at the heels of ASUS if not surpassing them in certain areas. These days it’s hard to pick a favorite, and GIGABYTE’s doing everything it can to make sure that it comes out on top. So is everyone else, which makes it a great time to be an enthusiast.

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X299 Aorus Gaming 3 is based on the X299 Express chipset (formerly known as Basin Falls) and supports Intel’s LGA 2066 CPUs which include Skylake-X and Kaby Lake-X. The chipset provides support for up to 24 PCI-Express lanes using 24 HSIO lanes. X299 also provides up to 8x SATA 6Gb/s ports, RAID 0, 1, 5, & 10 modes. Intel Virtualization Technology for Directed I/O or VT-d as it’s also known is fully supported as well. The chipset supports Intel’s IRST feature, Optane memory and up to 14 USB ports, 10 of which can be USB 3.0. Of course, what’s built into the chipset isn’t all there is. GIGABYTE has added an ASMedia 3142 controller for USB 3.1 Gen 2 support. GIGABYTE has even chosen to support Intel’s VROC technology for NVMe drives. Multi-GPU fans also get full support for NVIDIA and AMD’s Quad-GPU technologies as well as 3-Way technologies using 44 lane CPUs. Technologies like M.2 and U.2 are supported as well.

Using Skylake-X, you get quad channel DDR4 memory support at speeds up to DDR4 4400MHz and beyond through overclocking. GIGABYTE claims broad memory compatibility with over 1000 DDR4 modules as having been validated with the X299 Aorus Gaming 3. Up to 44 PCI-Express lanes can be had with the right CPU choice. Combined with the chipset’s integrated PCIe lanes, the platform total reaches 68 with the right hardware configuration.

GIGABYTE can rarely be accused of messing around when it comes to its higher end offerings. GIGABYTE uses what it calls "Server-Class" digital power design which includes 3rd and 4th generation digital controllers from International Rectifier. IR PWM and PowIRstage ICs are used in the design which gives you precise digital control. These ICs feature what International Rectifier calls "Isense technology." Isense Technology provides precise current sensing accuracy for thermal load balancing. This prevents overheating of any one phase for greater longevity. Server level chokes are employed for high reliability and current capacity. GIGABYTE continues to use the Turbo B-Clock external clock generator which allows for an operating range of 90-500MHz. The CPU PEG bus, chipset PCIe, and even the DMI bus can be adjusted between 100-200MHz. GIGABYTE still employs it’s "Ultra-Durable" design which includes anti-sulfur resistors, and other quality components, many of which I’ve already mentioned. GIGABYTE also employs steel reinforcement called "Dual Armor" for the memory and expansion slots which I’ll talk about in some detail below.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

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The GIGABYTE X299 Aorus Gaming 3 comes in what I’d describe as the industry standard motherboard box that’s been prevalent in this industry for the last couple of decades. Our sample arrived intact, and with the following accessories: User’s manual, driver disc, sticker sheet, multi-lingual installation guide, SATA cable labels,G-connector pack, 2x SATA cables, and an I/O shield. The motherboard bundle is lean, but that’s to be expected at this price point for this class of motherboard.

Board Layout

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The X299 Aorus Gaming 3 is an aesthetically pleasing motherboard. The black PCB, steel reinforcement on the memory and expansion slots makes for an attractive package. The RGB LED craze may have gotten out of hand with GIGABYTE claiming the ability to control some 300 odd LED’s or something like that. However, the way the board lights up isn’t just a matter of puking LED’s all over the PCB during the design phase. The expansion and RAM slots have this surround of LED lighting around them which looks pretty damn awesome I have to say. You get the standard Tron lights denoting audio subsystem separation from the rest of the PCB. You also get the usual glowing logos and all that. If you opt for an Aorus HB-SLI bridge, the X299 Aorus Gaming 3 can control it and synchronize it with the onboard LEDs. There specs list a digital LED stripe extension cable header and 2x RGB (RGBW) LED headers for those who don’t think the lights on the graphics cards, motherboards, LED fans, audio cards, water cooling hardware, and case are enough. Fortunately, epileptics and people who sleep in the same room as their PC can rejoice as you can set the LED’s to "disabled" when the system is in an off or on state via the UEFI.

This motherboard has the usual TPM, Thunderbolt 3 header, and many other headers. Among the most important are the fan headers. There is one water cooling CPU fan header, 4x system fan headers, 1x system fan / water cooling pump header, and 1x 3 AMP fan / water cooling pump header. The Intel VROC proprietary key header is also provided for those people willing to shell out a bunch of cash for that. The X299 Aorus Gaming 3 also has onboard power, reset, clear CMOS and OC buttons. Dual temperature sensor headers are available as well for those who wish to monitor areas of their choice.

The layout of the X299 Aorus Gaming 3 is excellent. Ports and headers are wisely placed for use with most chassis and builds. GIGABYTE wisely chose to place at least one M.2 slot above the graphics card so you could install it easily after the system was built or place a drive there to avoid getting cooked by the graphics card. The board feels generally well made. The solder joints look good and are typical of GIGABYTE quality, which is a good thing. Machine work on the heat sinks looks good, but is nothing special. The finish is some type of flat paint but looks reminiscent of the phosphate coatings used on some cheaper firearms. It has that same matte quality to it. It is somewhat scratch resistant. The steel reinforcement used throughout keeps the PCB from flexing while installing anything in any of the slots. Some motherboards creak like hell when you tighten the waterblock, install RAM or an expansion card.

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The CPU socket area is relatively free of clutter. The basic, yet styling MOSFET cooler is held in place with screws instead of plastic pins. The DIMM slots are all very close to the CPU socket, but this is part of Intel’s design and not something GIGABYTE could change if they wanted to. Therefore, you have to be careful with your cooler and RAM selection. Make the wrong choice and tall memory may not clear the cooler. Frankly, you will need a real water block or a damn good AIO setup to get the most out of this platform, so that shouldn’t be an issue.

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The X299 Aorus Gaming 3 has eight 288-pin DDR4 DIMM slots supporting up to 128GB of DDR4 memory at speeds up to DDR4 4400MHz at the time of this writing. GIGABYTE’s product page proudly claims validation for over 1,000 DDR4 modules! These slots use single-sided locking tabs for memory retention. These slots also feature GIGABYTE’s Ultra-Durable Memory Armor technology. That’s a fancy way to say that there is a steel reinforcement bracket that prevents PCB distortion, bending, twist, or even sheering during memory installation. Indeed, I switch RAM and components out a lot and PCB creaking is something I haven’t heard on any of GIGABYTE’s motherboards since they began using this feature. These slots are not color coded to denote proper dual or quad-channel memory mode operation. Most likely, this was a design choice for aesthetic reasons. The PCB markings for the RAM aren’t all that clear, but the correct slots are the same as any other motherboard and can be referenced in the user manual.

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The chipset is cooled by a low-profile aluminum heat sink which has the same type of finish and machine work as the MOSFET cooler. It lacks any type of heat pipe and frankly doesn’t need one. The chipset doesn’t get all that hot regardless of what you are doing thanks to the fact that most of the chipset’s functions have been off-loaded onto the CPU. Surrounding the chipset, you will find various ports and connectors which include the front panel connections for the chassis controls. You will also find 8x SATA 6Gb/s ports for legacy SATA connections. When powered, on, the Aorus logo glows brightly in the color of your choice thanks to imbedded LED’s. Naturally, it supports the many effets and color options offered as part of the RGB Fusion feature.

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The expansion slot area is nearly perfect. There are two complaints I have about it. First, is that I hate the location of the CMOS battery. Second is the location of the second M.2 slot. I would have preferred to move it underneath the secondary PEG slot. Using the proper 44-lane CPU, the X299 Aorus Gaming 3 supports up to 3-Way multi-GPU configurations in a 16x16x8 configuration. GIGABYTE uses it’s "Ultra-Durable PCIe Armor" which it claims is 1.7x more resistant to sheering forces and offers 4.8x greater retention force than motherboards that do not use any reinforcement. The "PCIe Armor" is comprised of one-piece stainless steel shield with extra anchor points. GIGABYTE’s PCIe slots use a patented double-locking bracket which secures the card in the front and rear to aid in retention. The two M.2 slots are somewhat different from each other. One supports 2242/2260/2280 type devices while the other supports 2260/2280/22110 type devices. Both slots do however, support PCIe and SATA type devices.

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The I/O shield included for the back I/O panel is the basic tin type, but it’s at least padded and colored with appropriate port markings. It’s not the highest quality part out there but it’s better than the basic stamped tin plates some motherboards use. It helps add to the premium feel of the product. On the back panel, you will find the following ports: 1x PS/2 keyboard or mouse port, 1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 type-C port, 1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 type-A port, 6x USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, 1x RJ-45 port, and 6x audio jacks for analog audio output. There aren’t all that many ports on the back plane so it feels somewhat barren when looking at it.