ASUS ROG STRIX X399-E Gaming Motherboard Review

The ROG STRIX X399-E Gaming promises to be a lower cost options for AMD’s Threadripper processors. This is a "less is more" approach to motherboard design than the exquisite and expensive ROG Zenith Extreme. The ROG brand has always been a premium brand. With these lower cost STRIX boards, does this remain true?

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Overclocking

Before Ryzen 7 and Threadripper AMD processor-based systems were infinitely more complex to overclock than their Intel counterparts. However, we aren’t dealing with the Bulldozer and Phenom systems of old. ASUS’ ROG STRIX X399-E Gaming may have some shortcomings but overclocking isn’t one of them. In fact, this is one area of use were I really felt that this motherboard excels. The BIOS is fantastic. It’s as good as anything else I’ve ever used. The automatic rules do what you expect them to do and getting a good result is very easy. I never had any problems with the system recovering from a bad overclock or even failing to POST. As long as you input a setting that is basically reasonable the system would respond very well.

While this is not the first Threadripper based system I’ve tested, it is the first one I’ve spent any serious time overclocking. Kyle was good enough to send me an appropriate water block that allowed me to start pushing this chip to its limit. Before that I tried a AIO based cooler because that’s all I had on hand that was compatible with TR4. The last couple of X399 reviews we’ve done really only had Kyle’s input on the overclocking front. So, I was eager to get to work with this motherboard. I have no reason to believe that the more expensive Zenith extreme isn’t capable of everything that this motherboard is. Unfortunately, due to time constraints I was unable to do any overclocking with the Zenith, although Kyle did plenty. Truly edge-of-envelope overclocking on Threadripper requires a custom loop....which I finally have a block for.

My first foray into Threadripper overclocking proved fruitful and quite easy. I expected a little more difficulty compared to Intel systems, as that’s been my general experience with AMD processor-based systems over the years. I think even Ryzen 7 is a little harder to work with than Intel’s LGA 1151 or LGA 2066 processors are. At the end of the day all I had to do to achieve a result of 4GHz was to set the SOC voltage to 1.2 and the CPU voltage to 1.425v. CPUz reads the voltage higher than that, but this is what I had set in the UEFI BIOS. Thanks to the active MOSFET cooling, the ROG STRIX X399-E Gaming ran reasonably cool for a system of this kind. I think my Threadripper 1920X may be capable of more, but I haven’t been able to dial in the correct settings for that yet. As easy as this was, overclocking with a new CPU always has somewhat of a learning curve to it. Any increase in clock speed I get going forward is not necessarily the fault of the motherboard but rather due to me getting to know the CPU better and thus how to manipulate it.

4.0GHz (100x40) DDR4 3200MHz

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Memory compatibility has been somewhat of a pain with everything as of late. As people are quick to point out the compatibility issues I often see her due to immature BIOS revisions, dated versions of modules, and so on. This is all true, however, I have had pretty good luck with socket TR4 and X399 motherboards. It certainly an easier platform to work with than AM4 regarding memory. That said, the ROG STRIX X399-E Gaming didn’t set the memory voltage is correctly using XMP timings. The timings didn’t detect properly, which is always a good thing. I was able to clock this memory at 3200MHz without any difficulty. Unfortunately, the system was unstable with the RAM clocked higher than that. Again, I’ll have to try different modules and timings to see what the limits of the CPUs IMC are.

Conclusions

Dan's Thoughts:

There were times this motherboard definitely irritated me. On the first page I’ve made several comments concerning this motherboard's perceived quality or lack thereof. Upon reflecting over the totality of my experiences with this motherboard I certainly feel less angry about it. I do still stand behind the statement that there is some cost cutting here we shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The STRIX motherboards are by ASUS’ own admission, more of a mainstream offering than the traditional ROG motherboards are. I don’t think this is a bad motherboard but the mounting system for the chipset heatsink cover needs to be addressed, if I had paid for this board with my own money I would be very angry about this. Again, this is a sample of one in your mileage may vary. But when I put the post back in all I have to do is flex the PCB a little bit and it pops right out. I’m pretty sure I could get the other posts to pop out, but I did want to try that for fear of really messing up the board.

Since AMD’s Threadripper and X399 announcement, I have been enthralled with the very idea of this platform. I think it is a lot of potential and AMD has made some pretty good decisions with it. I can’t help but make comparisons to Intel’s X299 platform because I keep going back and forth over which one I want to put in my own system. On one hand, I want to go AMD because I’m an old-school fan of some of its older processors like the Athlon 64 and Opteron 64. Threadripper reminds me of the good old days. Unfortunately, the reality is the same as it ever was. Making a CPU has never been AMD’s problem. They work just as well even though not quite as fast. Normally the price is appropriate for what you’re getting. Sadly, the same problem AMD is always had still persists. And that is its underdeveloped platform. The hardware here is beastly make no mistake about it. Unfortunately, the storage subsystem is still a bit of a mess. Despite Intel’s VROC nonsense, X299 works a little better where the rubber meets the road.

This sounds like general commentary about the chipset and it is. Although, it does relate to the ROG STRIX X399-E Gaming specifically. This isn’t the first X399 motherboard I’ve tested. However, the storage performance is unusually low compared to the other motherboards I’ve tested with the same chipset. I saw this before with one of ASUS’ other offerings and I downloaded updated drivers which resolve the problem and brought storage performance into parity with Intel’s. Not quite, but close enough. Network performance was also unusually lacking. I’m also surprised because the BIOS on the ASUS website is relatively old. Its dated November 2017. That would be fine if most or all these issues were ironed out. As far as I’m concerned regarding the storage subsystem there is work that needs to be done to get this motherboard up to scratch. All the drivers I used for this review for the latest ones from the manufacturer’s websites. I grabbed drivers from AMD’s website. Network controller drivers were obtained from Intel site rather than ASUS. This is to ensure I had the latest drivers for all the hardware. Despite doing all of those very standard things, it still felt like the motherboard was somewhat immature.

Having said that, my storage devices, M.2 drives are getting long in the tooth. I will concede that point and I may revisit the storage issues at some future date. However, I must go with what I have and look at this motherboard as it behaved with what I have on hand. All of which is hardware I’ve used for other X399 motherboards. Getting back to AMD’s platform, I have occasionally seen more oddities regarding compatibility with drives and what not. Is that the issue here? I doubt it but in the interests of full disclosure, this is a possibility. We may even look at re-evaluating storage testing as the issues I’m seeing aren’t all relegated to AMD systems. I don’t think motherboard manufacturers think people are going to install their OS to traditional SATA based SSDs which is what’s causing me some problems here. We may need to just move the OS to an NVMe based drive, but that carries its own issues given that some motherboards only support one device. An adapter with an M.2 drive or U.2 adapter on it may be the answer and that’s something I’ll look into. In other words, I’m giving ASUS some benefit of the doubt on this motherboard as it relates to storage support. They are definitely not getting any slack on that crappy post mount for the heat sink cover.

I know Kyle’s used this motherboard for a lot of overclocking and specifically water block testing. From that perspective I agree with every comment he’s made about this motherboard. It’s stable and it overclocks very well. From a performance standpoint, it does excellent in benchmarks and real-world usage. With a more basic or streamlined storage configuration you could not ask for a better socket TR4 motherboard. Were it not for that post breaking on the chipset cover and the quirks with the storage subsystem I would consider this motherboard worthy of an award. Given the problems I’ve had, I’m not even sure I want to recommend the motherboard. I certainly like the price. If you can’t afford a higher end motherboard like the Zenith Extreme, then this is a valid alternative that allows you to put a Threadripper CPU into your machine. Effectively, you get most of the same things out of this one while saving the hundred and $50 or more. And that’s a significant savings that could be put into a price gouge GPU or more storage even though getting it working might be a little more difficult given my experiences. All in all, ASUS built a motherboard with great potential that performs very well. If they can resolve a couple of its quirks, I would have no hesitation or reservations about recommending this motherboard to anyone.

Kyle's Thoughts:

Out of the box I had no issues getting the ASUS ROG STRIX X399-E Gaming Motherboard to POST. It had an older UEFI on it, so I went to use the online update feature inside the flasher, that worked last time I used it on an ASUS motherboard. This time I was not so lucky. I ended up downloading from the ASUS site and updating to 0402 without issue. AMD's Threadripper boards have been very slow to update, but the STRIX X399-E took about 5 minutes to update, so be patient.

All of Dan's observations about the STRIX X399-E Gaming in terms of cost savings are very much spot-on. I know he complained many times about the pin on the heatsink. That said, I beat the hell out of this board before it made it to his hands. I used it for testing no less than 8 TR4 cooling setups, and it was moved around a lot over the period of a month, and I am not handling these boards with kid-gloves. It is highly possible that me handling this board in such a manner was the issue that he identified. No, it is not a $500 Zenith board with different heatsinks and colors on it. You can feel that it is less expensive. However, I feel that if you took any care at all when you were installing the motherboard, that you would never see an issue. However if you want to see how much your PCB flexes under stress, you might. Not that you should ever do that.

I actually used the ASUS "4GHz OC Profile" in the UEFI, just to see if it worked. And it did. Actually it worked very well. I have Corsair "AM4" RAM and I set the DOCP profile to 3200MHz and had zero issues. My overclocking experience with this board were literally setting two presets to get a 4GHz/3200MHz overclock. Was this stable? I ran it with the XSPC RayStorm water block, under 100% Prime95 SmallFFT load for 2.5 days without issue.

From there I went and retested every socket TR4 cooler we had previously tested so as to be able to have directly comparable data on those. We published the AMD Threadripper Water Block Cooler Roundup for 2017 and the ENERMAX LIQTECH TR4 280 AIO Liquid CPU Cooler Review all using this board. During the AIO testing, I had plenty of failures under full load while pushing those systems to the limit. At no time did I have issue with the STRIX X399-E.

So while Dan has some nitpicks, when it came to where the rubber meets the road, the STRIX X399-E truly did a great job for me. Dan and I will have different outlooks on this, but I am going to give this board a Gold Award. For the price you can buy it at today it is 100% worth a Gold. That said, once it goes back up in price, I would suggest it is a Silver, and Dan suggests it is neither. And this is one of the reasons that we transitioned years ago to having two different reviewers give you their outlooks on the board, because we all sometimes see things very differently. But I look at it this way. This is not the board you buy for building up a high end workstation. The STRIX X399-E is probably my favorite "budget" enthusiast motherboard I have seen yet. I intend to keep it on the bench for water block testing so it is going to get a long-haul workout. The truth is that it is the easiest Threadripper motherboard that I have worked with, but surely not the most feature rich, but then again you are not paying for that either.

The Bottom Line

At the time of writing this, the ASUS ROG STRIX X399-E Gaming Motherboard is $315 after $35 MIR at Newegg and at Amazon. No, the STRIX X399-E motherboard is likely not worthy of a ROG designation, but at the $315 price point, it is simply a great value if you are trying to get into Threadripper "on a budget" and want to save your pennies for overclocking and cooling.

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ASUS ROG STRIX X399-E Gaming Motherboard

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