In mid-2016, Intel’s “Broadwell-E” processors (led by the Core i7-6950X and Core i7-6900K) hit the market, prompting a surge of motherboards targeted at gamers who were upgrading their systems with new processors. Since the Intel X99 chipset that drives these boards hasn’t modified, motherboard manufacturers have filled the boards with new functionality, rendering them difficult to avoid for gamers looking for bragging rights.
Many of the latest X99 motherboards are expensive, with prices varying from $260 to nearly $360 for MSI’s armored X99A Xpower Gaming Titanium. Today, we’re taking a look at the Gigabyte X99-Ultra Gaming, which usually sells for about $260 on Amazon and Newegg. (The suggested retail price is $279.99.)
Both of the latest X99 motherboards we’ve tested have mostly identical feature sets, such as quad-channel memory support, an M.2 configuration for ultra-fast SSD storage, and plenty of power phases for improved reliability. Some of the boards have overclocking and game functions, and a few have LED decorations and support for RGB lighting strips.
Surprisingly, the Gigabyte X99-Ultra Gaming has both of these capabilities at a reasonable price (for an X99 board, which is by definition elite-class hardware). Can you really have it all with this reasonably priced board? Let’s take a closer peek.
Board Layouts for X99 motherboards are broadly identical, especially in terms of hardware positioning. That also applies to heatsinks and shields: a heatsink over the power phases at the top of the motherboard, large heatsinks over the X99 chipset and audio codec, and a shield over the I/O screen.
When it comes to the overall architecture of its X99-Ultra Gaming, Gigabyte sticks to the plot, but it spiced things up with a slew of LEDs. It’s a fantasy come true for those who enjoy interior case illumination.
Since illumination is difficult to imagine in a built-in environment, we’ll use Gigabyte’s example above. The LED stripes between the memory slots are our favorite lights. Since each strip is as long as the holes, the memory lights are among the longest on the display. If you only have two memory cards, the four spaces on the right side of the board would be vacant, allowing the lights to be seen from certain case windows.
If you placed modules in all eight memory slots, the LEDs between the slots would be less noticeable, but the X99-Ultra Gaming has more than a dozen other LEDs, including lights on the heatsinks and I/O panel shield. They’re bright enough to be the only lights in your case, so if you just want to draw publicity, you can use a header on the motherboard to connect a third-party RGB lighting strip to your case. Thanks to the Gigabyte Ambient LED lighting program for Windows, you can choose from a variety of colors. There are also many lighting modes to choose from, including Still, Pulse, and Beat.
The X99-Ultra Gaming’s component configuration is very close to what we’ve seen on other X99 boards. The LGA 2011-v3 CPU socket is flanked by eight memory slots on each side, with a total of four channels. The motherboard supports frequencies higher than 3,400MHz, which is great news for die-hard overclockers. Gigabyte often encloses the memory slots in steel to avoid harm to the PCB when inserting components.
Headers and Ports
On the I/O panel, the Gigabyte X99-Ultra Gaming has six USB 3.0 ports, as well as a USB 3.1 Type-A port and a USB 3.1 Type-C port (both Gen 2, using an Intel controller for a potential 10Gbps maximum bandwidth per port). These connectors are becoming more common, so we appreciate it when motherboard manufacturers have them, particularly on high-end boards like the X99-Ultra Gaming.
There are also many audio ports on the I/O side, which are operated by a Realtek ALC1150 codec, as well as two Gigabit Ethernet ports. We’re shocked Gigabyte didn’t have a lot of USB 2.0 ports—most of the boards we’ve tested recently have eight USB ports on the I/O panel (not even USB 3.1). Whether or not it matters depends on how many peripherals you need, but you can get eight USB ports in all, including the USB Type-C connector. The I/O panel also includes a legacy PS/2 port, which is useful for keyboards that need it for N-key rollover.
Gigabyte has a number of handy adapters, including the previously listed front-panel-connector adapter. It’s identical to Asus’ Q-Connector, and Gigabyte jokingly refers to it as the “G-Connector.” We like adapters like the G-Connector because it’s far simpler to insert those short, independent cables into the adapter than it is to fumble with connecting these wires one by one directly to the frame. It may get a little uncomfortable, particularly if the case’s floor is close to the front-panel connections, as it often is.
Gigabyte also includes six SATA cables (four of which have L-shaped connections for improved cable management) and two types of SLI bridges in the package. A long extension cable for use with the LED header is included, which is useful for positioning the new light strip away from the motherboard connector. (Remember that every light strip you wish to mount would have to be purchased separately.)
Of default, there is a driver disk in the package, as well as two guides. The installation guidebook is just five pages long, but we prefer the general manual, which includes simple diagrams and illustrations as well as detailed directions. In addition, the Gigabyte X99-Ultra Gaming comes with outstanding cable control accessories. Two big straps with Velcro fasteners enable you to bunch and tuck cable bundles out of sight. A sheet of stickers allows you to mark your cables, which will save you time tracing them out on your next update.