Today we dip back into the high end of the component market with a rather fancy looking motherboard from Gigabyte. Designed to work with the latest CPUs from Intel’s Broadwell-E range this board offers a massive range of features and promises great performance. Let’s see how it goes in our Gigabyte X99 Designare EX Review.
Gigabyte X99 Designare EX Review – Packaging and Bundle
The X99-Designare EX arrives in a fairly large box and on this model Gigabyte go with some F1 style art while also informing us about the key features of the board. Inside we find a bundle of extras which includes stickers, SLI bridges, power cables, drive cables, Wi-Fi antenna, cable block, DisplayPort cable and product documentation.
Gigabyte X99 Designare EX Review – The Motherboard
The X99-Designare EX uses a black, white and blue colour scheme with a PCB that measures 30.5×24.4cm. As the name suggests this is a X99 based board using socket 2011-3. Full support for all Haswell-E and Broadwell-E CPUs is present, including the latest 10-core i7-6950X.
As far as features that make this board stand out go, we start with some unique lighting functionality. The board has onboard LEDs spread around the PCB and in addition to this there are headers for LED strips. This can be controlled through Gigabytes software to ensure our case LEDs feature the same effect as the motherboard, e.g. pulsing or reacting to sound.
The board features support for Power Delivery 2.0 (36watts) allowing fast charging and powering of advanced devices. Gigabyte further enhance the design through use of all digital power design, ESD protection and our components feature PowIRstage ICs, server level chokes and solid capacitors. There is PCIe slot reinforcement present and Gigabyte has added an anti-sulphur layer to the board to protect it from the environment over time. Finally, as always, we have the standard Gigabyte features such as dual BIOS and 2oz Copper PCB design along with gold plated CPU socket pins.
Looking down to the bottom left of the board there are six PCIe slots. They start with PCIe 3.0 16x and then continue through 1x, 16x, 8x, 16x finishing off with an 8x slot. 3-way SLI and CrossFire are supported, as are professional level Quadro cards. An M.2 connector (full length) can be found beneath the cover which separates our first two PCIe slots and beneath the panel which runs down the left edge is our audio circuitry. That audio solution features a Realtek ALC1150 controller (7.1 channel, 115dB) with dedicated audio capacitors.
Moving round to the bottom right of the board we find a wide range of drive connectors. There are 10 SATA 6GB/s ports, 1x SATA Express and two U.2
Moving further up the right edge of the board we find our main 24pin power connector. A second power input, 8pin, is found on the top edge of the board. Also present here are our memory slots, eight of them, split across four channels with Gigabyte listing official support for 128GB of DDR4 and speeds of 3600MHz.
On our back panel, our connectivity starts with PS/2 port which sits above two USB 3.0 connectors. Next to them is a DisplayPort connector and it sits beside a USB 3.1 type-C port. Above are our connectors for the Wi-Fi antenna (Wireless ac 867Mbps, dual-band, Bluetooth 4.2) and moving to the right, four more USB 3.x (one 3.1 spec) sit below dual Intel GB LAN. Last up are our optical audio and our 3.5mm, gold plated, audio connectors.
Gigabyte X99 Designare EX Review – BIOS
When in Windows Gigabyte offer a suite of software which allows us to monitor, maintain and tweak our board, we’ve seen the software before and it is solid, intuitive and responsive. What we haven’t seen before is Gigabytes new BIOS which this board uses and some example images are shown above. The new screens feature all the functionality we would expect and nothing of note has been lost in the move. Performance tuning, updates from USB, advanced recovery, secure erase. All are present.
Gigabyte X99 Designare EX Review – Performance
I7-5960X/6900K/6950X, X99-Designare EX, 4x8GB DDR4-2800(Corsair)
i7-6700K, Z170, 2x8GB DDR4-2666 (Corsair)
i7-5960X, X99, 4x8GB DDR4-2800 (Corsair)
FX-9590, 990FX, 4x8Gb DDR3-2133 (Corsair)
GTX 980 Ti OC
Corsair H100 Series Cooler
Corsair AX1500i PSU
Samsung 850 Pro SSD (SATA Testing)
Samsung 950 (M.2 Testing)
OCZ Revodrive 350 (PCIe Testing)
And Samsung T3 SSD (USB Testing)
Gigabyte X99 Designare EX Review – Conclusion
Starting with the build quality of the Designare we have a board which hits the usual high standards we expect from Gigabyte, and then some. Building on the aspects we have seen Gigabyte use before we now have reinforced PCIe slots, specialist coating and the like. These all combine with the quality branded components to create a high-quality product. As far as the overall design goes, Gigabyte has included the new in-thing of highly configurable LEDs and taken it a little further with support for LED strips too. For those who look past aspects like that to the more important features, they will find a decent PCIe slot layout, great support for the latest components and a massive amount of drive connectors and USB 3.0 ports.
On the performance front, we have a board which competes with the best the competition has to offer. Throughout our testing, the Designare EX was within a percent or two of the comparison X99 board, some tests finishing a little ahead, some behind. Overclocking results on the 6950X were also good, in fact, it was our cooling/CPU which was the limit rather than the motherboard. With that particular model, you really need to get something more extreme than water to run past 4.2GHz with all 10 cores under load.
So far, all good. There are a few little quirks that we’d have like to seen resolved for such a high spec product. Onboard buttons for the enthusiasts being the main thing. Oh, and a different name. Not sure what Gigabyte were going for with “Designare” but it doesn’t really work for a motherboard. Back to the more important stuff, and if we are being really picky, the new BIOS could still do with a bit of work, some speed enhancements as we navigate through the screens but it is solid and packed with features.
When the name is one of the things that you can moan about, it means the manufacturer has done well overall though and so it should be no surprise to hear that the Designare EX is competitively priced too. Around £380 in the UK and $420 in the US gives you a massive amount of features, top-notch performance and, of course, fancy lighting…