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?

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Overclocking

Overclocking the X299 Aorus Gaming 3 was virtually effortless. On the one hand, the software side of it works, but it’s almost pointless as it doesn’t come near the CPU’s limits. On the other, manual overclocking of this CPU and motherboard combination was almost effortless. Overclocking the CPU to 5.0GHz was easily achieved with a minimal adjustment of UEFI BIOS settings. I set the vCore to 1.28v which read as 1.260v in CPU-Z, Load-line calibration to maximum, and any values pertaining to RAM. That was all I had to do. At 5.1GHz, I could get to the desktop and perform stability testing. Unfortunately, I encountered thermal throttling after about 15 minutes. As it is, the CPU would run between 79c and 86c under full load at 5.0GHz so I didn’t expect 5.1GHz was going to fly considering I needed 1.35v to get it somewhat stable. At no point did I have any trouble with a "bad" overclock forcing me to reset the CMOS, nor did I experience any problems getting the system to POST at any setting I tried.

5.0GHz (100x50) DDR4 3200MHz

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Memory compatibility and overclocking can sometimes be a nightmare for the most recent enthusiast platforms. GIGABYTE claims compatibility with over 1,000 modules on the X299 Aorus Gaming 3, and I have little reason to doubt it. I had zero trouble getting 16GB of Kingston HyperX DDR4 3200MHz modules to work. XMP worked flawlessly and the voltages were even set automatically. While XMP timings are often detected right, the voltages almost never set themselves. I spot checked a few other memory kits, all of which were variants of Corsair Vengeance LPX RAM. I had some older kits that didn’t work, but I hadn’t expected them to. Most everything I have that was made for Z270 or X99 refresh boards worked perfectly. Older, preproduction DIMMs and anything for the first generation X99 motherboards was dicey at best. Again, I don’t see this as being unexpected or even unreasonable. I would still advise sticking to the QVL, and this RAM was provided by GIGABYTE, albeit not for this motherboard.

Conclusions

Dan's Thoughts:

It’s been a busy time with so many new platforms and CPUs to work with lately. This is the second X299 motherboard I’ve had the pleasure of working with and it was indeed a pleasure. Setting the system up went flawlessly. I never had trouble dialing in RAM speeds, or system stability. Installation of the operating systems and drivers went flawlessly and I couldn’t have asked for anything more. One oddity, is with the benchmarks. Rarely do I ever comment on them in the conclusions section because the gaps between motherboards in these tests are akin to splitting hairs. They are all within an acceptable variance level and rarely mean anything. At best, benchmarks can tell us when something is working, or it isn’t. We have seen this sort of behavior before with Z170 Express chipset based motherboards. Back then, ASUS ruled the roost and no one else was close. The benchmarks didn’t look right then, and improved over time. These issues were resolved over time, but they were debatable as problems as well. In applications and actual games these differences didn’t really show up all that much. It’s much the same here. At no time did I ever feel like the X299 Aorus Gaming 3 was running badly, or that it was really this far behind its competitors. Kyle probably has more insight into this than I do as the benchmarks showing these oddities were run by him.

I can appreciate the fact that GIGABYTE made this motherboard VROC ready, but VROC itself is total nonsense. It’s an artificial paywall for something that should only require the appropriate CPU. VROC isn’t supported on Kaby Lake-X due to the limited PCIe lanes available from the CPU. After all, VROC’s purpose is allowing for bootable NVMe RAID arrays via CPU PCIe lanes and making all the features of iRST available to such devices. This allows you to bypass the limited DMI 3.0 bus. Kaby Lake-X CPU’s lack Intel’s VMD or virtual management device, which is something VROC requires. It is present in Skylake-X CPU’s, which is something shared with certain Xeon CPUs. However, that’s where the limitations should end in my opinion. Unfortunately, they don’t. VROC pass through mode requires no hardware key. Without the key X299 only gives you access to passthrough mode which will only allow you to configure RAID 0 arrays. However, In order to boot from a RAID 0 array, you are required to use Intel SSD’s like Intel’s 600P. Being forced to use middle of the road SSD’s for a boot array is annoying and again, this is an artificial limitation as I see it. With the standard hardware key, you can create and boot to RAID 0, 1, and 10. At the time of this writing, the key is around $90-$100 or so. There is also a "Premium" key which allows you to use RAID 0, 1, 10, and RAID 5. You can also boot to any of those volume types. but again you must use Intel's SSD's to do this.

VROC nonsense aside (and you can read my recent X399 vs X299 editorial here), the X299 Aorus Gaming 3 is quite excellent. The motherboard works flawlessly, and it provides a fantastic user experience. The price isn’t bad either at $221.05 (that is $50 cheaper than it was not long ago). It’s not a value solution exactly, but it’s a great value for the feature set at that price. This brings me to another point. To fully utilize this motherboard, you aren’t going to get off cheaply. You will need Intel SSDs and a hardware key if you are going to leverage M.2 RAID. The value of M.2 RAID as a boot drive or on any desktop machine is debatable, but you will need a Skylake-X CPU to use VROC. Kaby Lake-X will not do. Speaking of value, despite its relatively low cost, it’s hard to argue for any X299 motherboard on that basis. The paywalls associated with the VROC hardware key and any upper echelon Skylake-X CPU (for its 44 PCIe lanes) knocks the wind out of anyone’s sails who would argue for X299’s as a value proposition.

I’ve been quite impressed with most of GIGABYTE’s offerings as of late and this motherboard has been no exception. The build quality has come up a notch and the quirks I used to experience with GIGABYTE boards have all disappeared. The UEFI BIOS isn’t my favorite thing, and sometimes GIGABYTE’s aesthetics are hit and miss for me, but lately it has produced some very eye-catching motherboards. I think the X299 Aorus Gaming 3 is a good-looking motherboard. Often, I find that "less expensive" motherboards usually look like cheap versions of the nicer motherboards and I don’t get that feeling looking at the X299 Aorus Gaming 3. It’s built well enough to avoid being thought of that way.

I do consider the motherboard a good choice for an X299 build. However, I’d suggest that if you are going to bother with VROC or a high end Skylake-X CPU, you might want to step up to a higher end offering like the X299 Aorus Gaming 7 which has three M.2 slots instead of 2. If you want a leaner build and you want to save a couple of bucks, the X299 Aorus Gaming 3 is an excellent choice, just not one I’d necessarily make if I were going all out on an Intel build. On a more budget conscious build, a mid-level Skylake-X and no VROC license key, I think it’s a fine choice. GIGABYTE has another win on its hands with the X299 Aorus Gaming 3. It felt like a mature product that worked as expected. If you are looking to build an LGA 2066 based system, the X299 Aorus Gaming 3 would make a fine foundation for such a build.

Kyle's Thoughts:

First I would like to address the "odd" benchmarks that we show here today. We have said for a while now that we still only run motherboard benchmarks to find out when something is "wrong" rather than "right," and that is exactly what those showed us here today. During many of our benchmarks run at 4.5GHz, the CPU was throttling, however unless you broke down individual core speeds during testing and ran these "boring" benchmarks you would not have likely never noticed this. And this is why we run these benchmarks and check per core clocks in our reviews. (Amazingly we just learned some reviewers do not!) The X299 Aorus Gaming 3 Motherboard was not capable of supporting our "stock" 4.5GHz overclock that we have been using for testing. I will touch on more of this below.

I actually started testing this X299 Aorus Gaming 3 motherboard back in August, so a lot of time has passed since then. My initial experience with the board was not that good when it came to overclocking. Now I was using a Skylake-X 7900X. This is not the most docile overclocking CPU in the world. Back then I was using the F6A Beta BIOS, and we found a lot of issues with it. We worked all the way through beta F6I with Gigabyte getting fixes along the way. A lot of the anomalies you see here in our benchmarks show you what we were dealing with then and getting "clean" overclocks that were not throttling. Going back and spot testing with the latest official release BIOS F6, all these issues have been cleared up. Still the Aorus X299 Gaming 3 gaming has issues when overclocking to high levels. But again we have to look at this board through the marketing lens in which Gigabyte is selling it. As of writing this, it is a $221 X299 motherboard that comes across fairly feature-rich, for little money and is marketed towards the "gamer," as it says right there in its name. So to hold this board to the same level as a $500 X299 "overclocking" motherboard would not be fair.

That all said, you can surely push the 7900X to 4.2GHz / 3600MHz across every core and thread without issue on this motherboard. Beyond that, things get a bit dicey. Not in terms of stability, but actually in terms of CPU throttling. I do not think the X299 Aorus Gaming 3 has the power components needed to get the job done....and again, you are not paying for those either.

The Bottom Line

The GIGABYTE X299 Aorus Gaming 3 motherboard does what it is made for, but do not expect much else if overclocking is your goal. We were actually very impressed with this inexpensive X299 motherboard in that it held stable in most of the abuse we heaped on it. No doubt we asked more of it many times than it was designed for. If a X299 system is in your future and you are looking to get a lot of features while leaving a few hundred MHz of overclocking headroom on the table, while still having an incredible stable platform, the GIGABYTE X299 Aorus Gaming 3 is a great value.

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GIGABYTE X299 Aorus Gaming 3 Motherboard

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