With thanks going to EVGA, I have the X299 Dark motherboard on the test bench today. This is the only X299 motherboard I am aware of that incorporates active cooling on the VRM section, PCH, and M.2 slots. The whole package lends credence to that old adage “everything but the kitchen sink”, the box is heavy and there are a ton of accessories aimed directly at the hardcore enthusiast. This quote from Vince “K|NGP|N” Lucido, EVGA’s resident overclocker with 12 world records using the X299 Dark, says it all. “The EVGA X299 Dark was built from the ground up to be the best overclocking motherboard on the planet, no compromises.” Let’s dive in and see how the X299 Dark holds up when the pressure is on.
Specifications and Features
The EVGA X299 Dark supports all currently available Kaby Lake-X and yet to be released Skylake-X LGA 2066 CPUs on their current BIOS release. Being a benching motherboard EVGA has limited the X299 Dark to just four DDR4 ram slots. It will accommodate quad channel up to 64GB at 4000 MHz+ for the Skylake-X CPUs and dual channel up to 32GB at 4133 MHz+ for the Kaby Lake-X CPUs.
Built around the Intel X299 Express Chipset the X299 Dark supports up to 44 PCIe Gen3 lanes, depending on your CPU of choice (see details below). The team at EVGA has managed to squeeze in five full-size PCIe Gen3 X16 slots and space for two M.2 drives on this E-ATX motherboard.
There’s also no shortage of storage with eight total SATA ports – six from the chipset, and two more from an ASMedia controller. In addition, there are two U.2 connectors and two M.2 slots with RAID support. The EVGA X299 Dark also supports up to 14 USB ports from USB 2.0 to USB 3.1 Gen2 between the back panel and mid-board connectors.
All specifications in the table below are provided by EVGA.
|EVGA X299 Dark Specifications|
|CPU||Intel Socket 2066 Processor|
|Memory||Supports up to 64 GB Quad Channel DDR4 @ 4000MHz+ for Skylake-X, and up to 32 GB Dual Channel DDR4 @ 4133 MHz+ for Kaby Lake-X.|
|Expansion Slots||5 x PCIe 3.0 x16 and 1 PCIe 3.0 x4 slots
PCIe x16 Electrical arrangement- 2@x16, 3@x8
AMD Crossfire X
Intel X299 PCH Controller 6x SATA 3/6G
– Support for RAID0, RAID1, RAID5, and RAID10
– Supports hot plug
2 Asmedia SATA 3/6G ports (ASM 1061 for Windows XP support)
2x M.2 Key-M 80 mm slots PCI-E/NVMe & SATA, Supports Intel Optane
2x U.2 ports
1x Intel i210AT Gigabit (10/100/1000) Ethernet Port
1x Intel i219v Gigabit (10/100/1000) Ethernet Port
1x M.2 Key-E slot
|Audio||Creative Sound Core3D Quad-Core Audio Processor, Supports 6-channel (5.1) audio with Optical S/PDIF Out|
USB 2.0 Ports: 4x from Intel X299 PCH – 4x internal via 2 FP headers, supports transfer speeds up to 480 Mbps with full backward compatibility
USB 3.0 Ports: 8x from Intel X299 PCH – 6x external, 2x internal via 1 FP headers, supports transfer speeds up to 5 Gbps with full backward compatibility
USB 3.1 – 2x external, 1x Type-C, 1x Type-A, supports transfer speeds up to 10 Gbps with full backward compatibility
Supports Windows 10 64 bit
Legacy Windows Support, Including Windows XP
|Form Factor||E-ATX form-factor of 12 inches x 10.9 inches (304.8 mm x 276.7 mm)|
Moving on to the features, this is where the “kitchen sink” reference came from. It looks like EVGA has gone all out on this motherboard and incorporated it with just about anything a serious overclocker could ever want. What you won’t see are any RGB LEDs on this board, in EVGA’s words “Although the X299 Dark does not feature RGB LED support, it politely reminds you that you can’t see pretty in the Dark. This board is engineered for the ultra-enthusiast.”
What they have included are some convenient features that I really go for. Onboard power, reset and clear CMOS buttons make working outside of a case a breeze, and the clear CMOS button located on the rear I/O panel is a “must have” for all motherboards. It really beats crawling around on your knees trying to find a jumper somewhere on the board. I also appreciate the onboard LED diagnostic readout which is handy to diagnose non-boot situations. It also doubles as a real-time temperature/voltage readout when running in Windows and is fully configurable in the BIOS.
The EVGA X299 Dark also comes with a preinstalled rear I/O cover for protection when the motherboard is being used outside of a case. It is built on a 12 layer PCB with gold plated shielded edges for stability, durability, and improved overclocking.
EVGA has paid special attention to powering this motherboard as well. They’ve used a highly efficient 16 phase PWM design broken down into 12 phases for Vcore, one phase each for VCCSA and VCCIO plus two phases dedicated to the memory. To cool this power system the Dark is equipped with a traditional finned heatsink style connected via heat-pipe to a second aluminum heatsink under the shroud. This is actively cooled by two small fans attached over the cooler to help maintain optimal VRM temperatures.
They have also included an external base clock generator for extended BCLK range and flexibility when overclocking. A triple BIOS switch for backup or quick overclocking profile changes. Switches to disable each PCIe connector for troubleshooting or freeing up resources without removing hardware. A ProbeIT connector with included adapter for quickly checking voltages with a digital multimeter and last but not least a legacy PS/2 port and Asmedia SATA to aid in older operating system installations, including Windows XP.
The next table lists some of the high-level feature set of the EVGA X299 Dark. All images and descriptions provided by EVGA.
Retail Packaging and Accessories
The packaging is pretty straightforward with large, visible naming on the front, easy to see on a retail shelf. The back of the box has some of the features listed but overall the packaging is very minimalistic. The outer sleeve of the packaging slides off to reveal a plain black box containing the accessories and motherboard. As you can see in the slide, the motherboard was very well packed. The motherboard was wrapped in foam inside the anti-static bag, it definitely decreases the odds of shipping damage.
See below for a full list of accessories.
• EVGA Driver Installation Disc with EVGA E-LEET X
• Rear Case I/O Panel
• 3-Way SLI® Bridge
• 2 SATA 6G Data Cables
• ProbeIT adapter
• Socket 20XX Backplate (optional)
• Vertical adapter for M.2 Key-E
• 2x Thermal Pad for M.2 SSDs
• Visual Guide / Bench Stand (incl. standoffs and screws)
• USB 2.0 Header Bracket
• Case Badge
The included Visual Guide / Bench Stand is a unique accessory which I have never seen included with a motherboard. There’s a wealth of information printed on this accessory such as DRAM options by CPU, LAN designations by the controller and a convenient table which breaks down the PCIe lane distribution by CPU and added hardware. I have included a close up of this below. There is also a link to an extreme OC guide at kingpincooling.com forums printed on the bench stand. Following that link, there really isn’t a guide but reading down through the posts leads to the official guide at xDevs.com.
The bench stand also comes with 10 oversized standoffs for assembly, their added length allows for insulation and cable routing under the motherboard. You may not have noticed but the X299 Dark 12 layer PCB has one extra mounting hole in it. This wouldn’t be used when mounted in a case but while using the included bench stand and standoffs this extra hole provides additional support in the PCIe area. This is a welcomed addition for extreme benchmarking sessions since graphics cards with LN2 pots are extremely heavy and could possibly bend the PCB without proper support. Once again showing EVGA’s intent when designing this motherboard.
The EVGA X299 Dark
Removing the X299 Dark from the packaging, the first thing you’ll notice are the warnings. The CPU cover has a small booklet attached to it explaining how to install the CPU and remove the protective cover properly. On either side of the CPU cover, both sets of RAM slots have instructions for installing quad or dual channel RAM depending on your CPU. The heatsink, I/O shroud and PCH cooler all have a protective film to prevent damage which will need to be removed before using the board for the first time. Overall the X299 Dark is well laid out and will accommodate a lot of hardware. There are six, 1 Amp, PWM fan headers for cooling spread around a black PCB with black accents. You’ll also notice that many of the connectors are at a right angle allowing the power, fan and USB 3.0 cables to lie flat with the motherboard to improve cable routing and air flow.
Moving to the back of the motherboard, you’ll notice the large heatsink on the back of the VRM section for additional cooling. Between the ram slots is the LGA 2066 backplate which is interchangeable with the included LGA 20xx legacy backplate for custom CPU cooling solutions. You’ll also notice the five full-length PCIe Gen3 slots, two of these are x16 electrical and the other three are x8 electrical. It’s best to refer to the manual for proper layout of multiple graphics cards to obtain maximum bandwidth over the PCIe lanes. To the right is the serial number sticker which has to be intact for an RMA.
A Closer Look
Being an E-ATX form factor, the X299 Dark has plenty of room to work with and EVGA has done a very good job of filling it. The five x16 PCIe slots are spaced well enough for quad SLI/CFX setups, there’s also a PCIe x4 slot here which runs off the PCH to maximize bandwidth to the x16 slots. After removing the three screws which hold down the cover, this exposes the two M.2 type M slots which support PCIe or SATA based storage and Intel’s Optane Memory.
Directly beside the two right angle fan headers, you’ll see the storage connections along the lower right side of the X299 Dark. Here we have six SATA3 ports routed through the PCH with an additional two controlled by the ASMedia ASM1061. These two ports are intended for use with legacy operating systems including Windows XP. Next to the SATA connections, we see the two U.2 connectors.
Moving up to the top we find more right angle connectors. First up is the USB 3.0 header for the front panel and next to it is the ProbeIT connector, this comes with an adapter that makes voltage readings very easy. Just behind the ProbeIT connector are the PCIe control switches, replaceable BIOS chip, and the 3-way BIOS selector switch. EVGA has also installed the 24 pin ATX power connector at a right angle, making installation of the power cable much easier. At the very top on the right side of the X299 Dark are the power, reset and clear CMOS buttons next to the two programmable LED diagnostic displays.
In the final picture, we see EVGA’s solution to the heat produced by the immense power draw of the big Intel i9 CPUs. They have combined a traditional style “finned” heatsink and heat pipe with active cooling from two small fans which provide airflow downwards over the VRM. The heat pipe extends under the shroud and ends in an aluminum heatsink which also gets some airflow from the PCH cooler. EVGA has also added two eight-pin auxiliary power connectors here to feed those power-hungry CPUs.
The EVGA X299 Dark has everything you’ll need on the rear I/O panel: Six USB 3.0 and two USB 3.1 Gen2.0 – one Type-A and one Type-C. There are the clear CMOS button, audio outputs and holes for attaching antennae from an add-in M.2 Wi-Fi card. You’ll also see the legacy PS/2 port as well as some venting for the PCH cooler exhaust. Just inside you’ll see the gold caps for the audio processing.
Stripping the EVGA X299 Micro
The heart of the EVGA X299 Dark is the 16-phase power design, this is divided into four sections. The main power for the CPU is delivered through 12, 60 A Smart Power Stage Intersil ISL99227B MOSFETs and high-performance ITG AH42328A-R15KHF inductors rated at 71 A each. The VCCSA ISL99140 DrMOS MOSFET at the end of the main row is rated for 40A, these are all controlled by the ISL69138 seven phase PWM controller pictured in the slideshow. They have also provided a single phase for the VCCIO, an IR3556 MOSFET rated for 50 A with its own controller the IR35204. For the RAM there’s a dual phase setup consisting of ISL99227 MOSFETs rated for 60 A and an ISL66133 controller, this should provide improved efficiency and overclocking capabilities. You’ll also notice all the power delivery includes high-quality Nichicon FPCAP solid polymer electrolyte capacitors. Right click on the images in the slideshow below and open in a new tab to enlarge them.
The audio section is driven by a Creative Sound Core3D quad-core audio processor which supports 6-channel (5.1) audio with Optical S/PDIF Out from the rear audio ports.
Evga has equipped the X299 Dark with dual Intel Gigabit LAN, choosing to use one Intel i219-V and one Intel i210-AT controller which runs over PCIe.
Below is a slideshow of the other miscellaneous integrated circuit chips on the X299 Dark. Right click and open in a new tab for a larger view.
UEFI BIOS and Overclocking Software
The EVGA UEFI BIOS is set up a bit differently making it unique in its own way. Everything I needed was easy to find and I liked the top bar that you notice in every BIOS shot below. It displayed main voltages, temperatures, and hardware configuration. The shots directly below show the CPU, Memory, Boot and the Save & Exit settings. Most things are pretty straightforward, I would like to note that the BIOS flash utility is located in the Save & Exit section.
The Advanced section of this BIOS was quite large so this slideshow is dedicated to the different subsections found within it. If you’re looking to customize the two onboard LED displays, you’ll find access in the Hardware Monitoring section under the ” 80Port Mode Configuration” header.
Below are the different sections of the E-LEET X overclocking software. It gives you full control within Windows to overclock your system and also provides real-time monitoring of important voltages and temperatures as well as general system information. One other unique feature of this tuning software is the ability to set CPU affinity for certain processes. Typically you would have to do that from the task manager.
Test Setup, Benchmarks, and Overclocking
Listed below is the test system used for benchmarking.
|CPU||–Intel i9 7900x||–Intel i9 7900x||–Intel i9 7900x||–Intel i9 7900x|
|Cooler||-EK-XLC Predator 360||-EK-XLC Predator 360||-EK-XLC Predator 360||-Custom Loop|
|Motherboard||EVGA X299 Dark||EVGA X299 Micro||-MSI X299 Gaming M7 ACK||–ASUS Prime X299 Deluxe|
|RAM||-Corsair Dominator Platinum 4×8 GB @ 3600 CL 16||-G.Skill Trident Z 4×8 GB @ 3600 CL 16||-G.Skill Trident Z 4×8 GB @ 3600 CL 16||-G.Skill Trident Z 4×8 GB DDR4 3600 MHz CL 16|
|Graphics Card||ASUS ROG STRIX GTX 1080 Ti OC||-EVGA GTX 980Ti K|NGP|N Edition||-EVGA GTX 980Ti K|NGP|N Edition||–EVGA GTX 1080 FTW2|
|Solid State Drive||-256GB Samsung 950 Pro NVMe||-256GB Samsung 950 Pro NVMe||-256GB Samsung 950 Pro NVMe||-Patriot Hellfire|
|Power Supply||-SuperFlower Leadex 1K Platinum||-SuperFlower Leadex 1K Platinum||-SuperFlower Leadex 1K Platinum||-Seasonic Platinum 1 kW|
|Operating System||-Windows 10 x64||-Windows 10 x64||-Windows 10 x64||-Windows 10 x64|
We’ll perform our usual set of benchmarks which test rendering, memory performance, and single/multi-threaded CPU performance. For 2D benchmarks, we’ll use SuperPi 1M and 32M, wPrime and Intel XTU. For rendering it’s Cinebench R11.5 and R15. Memory performance is checked against the AIDA64 test suite. For encoding, we use x265 (HWBOT Version) and PoV Ray. A more real-world test is included in 7zip. Testing is performed with the CPU at 4GHz to eliminate any inherent differences in stock BIOS options. Memory speed is 3600 MHz unless otherwise specified.
Memory Bandwidth and Throughput Benchmark – AIDA64
AIDA64- Cache and Memory Benchmark
|EVGA X299 Dark||95025||89928||74299||64.5|
|EVGA X299 Micro||91654||84089||71847||66.2|
|MSI X299 Gaming M7 ACK||95174||94727||81472||70.7|
|ASUS Prime X299 Deluxe||90501||88143||73927||74.6|
It looks like EVGA has made some improvements to their BIOS on the x299 DARK. It’s definitely showing in memory bandwidth increases and better latency when compared to the Micro which was reviewed previously. In its defense, the Micro was using the initial release BIOS file.
AIDA64- CPU Benchmark Tests
|EVGA X299 Dark||108765||41603||901.5||45469||11437|
|EVGA X299 Micro||108985||39616||901.0||45534||11456|
|MSI X299 Gaming M7 ACK||108924||42516||900.2||45464||11840|
|ASUS Prime X299 Deluxe||108615||45787||903.4||45434||12023|
AIDA64- FPU Benchmark tests
|EVGA X299 Dark||8413||83578||44645||12028|
|EVGA X299 Micro||8558||83716||44709||12048|
|MSI X299 Gaming M7 ACK||8071||83611||44638||12025|
|ASUS Prime X299 Deluxe||8378||75093||40073||12124|
Over the CPU and FPU tests, things were relatively static. Aside from a few outliers with the X299 Deluxe, the results were within a few percentage points of each other.
CPU Rendering/Encoding Benchmarks
|Motherboard||Cinebench R11.5||Cinebench R15||POVRay||X265||7-Zip|
|EVGA X299 Dark||23.79||2201||4532.46||71.72||63034|
|EVGA X299 Micro||23.59||2180||4502.03||69.75||54917|
|MSI X299 Gaming M7 ACK||23.86||2207||4502.34||71.61||58101|
|ASUS Prime X299 Deluxe||23.63||2185||4519.72||70.54||57603|
The results here were pretty much even until we get to the 7Zip benchmark. It must have something to do with the improved latency or RAM sub-timings, either way, the X299 Dark really shines on this test. Any of the slideshow images below can be enlarged by right-clicking and opening them in a new tab.
Legacy CPU Benchmarks
|Motherboard||SuperPi 1M||SuperPi 32M||WPrime 32M||WPrime 1024M||Intel XTU|
|EVGA X299 Dark||9.048||478.582||3.39||65.95||2383|
|EVGA X299 Micro||9.079||505.916||2.813||64.727||2219|
|MSI X299 Gaming M7 ACK||9.157||472.129||2.767||64.289||2128|
|ASUS Prime X299 Deluxe||9.129||472.129||2.767||64.289||NA|
This set of tests seems to be all over the place. SuperPi was quite consistent but the WPrime results just seemed a bit off to me. I ran them multiple times and the result was always the same, again must have something to do with sub-timings of the RAM. On the other hand, the X299 Dark did very well on the Intel XTU benchmark, easily topping the other boards tested.
Pushing the Limits
Like most other boards I’ve reviewed, the EVGA X299 Dark hit 4.7 GHz on the 10 core/20 thread CORE i9 7900x. I was able to benchmark it and run Cinebench R15 but the thermals were at their limit hitting 100°C on some of the cores. That’s the limit of my ambient cooling for this CPU.
I’m adding one last screenshot here of the EVGA X299 Dark running Windows 7 x64 with an Intel Core i7-7740X and some G.Skill 2×8 GB 4266 MHz memory running at XMP. A couple of notes here-My install media for Windows 7 x64 already has some newer drivers added to support new Intel platforms so additional attention may be required to your installation media. The X299 Dark set the XMP to 4133 MHz, I had to raise the BCLK to achieve 4266, that being said I didn’t need to make any other adjustments in BIOS and this memory ran stable with the AIDA64 memory and Cache stability test for over 30 minutes before I stopped it. This just proves that high-speed memory is possible on the X299 Dark, this is still dependant on your CPU and memory of course.
Overall, the EVGA x299 Dark looks, feels, and behaves like a serious overclocking motherboard. I had no issues at all with heat, their VRM cooling design is top notch and it was barely breaking a sweat. My EK Predator gave up way before the board was going to. The active PCH/M.2 cooler worked well. I have one of the Samsung 950 Pro NVMe drives which are prone to overheating under prolonged writing activities. Running back to back SSD benchmark tests didn’t slow it down at all when normally the heat would affect performance after a couple of runs. I also need to mention, the cooling fans on the X299 Dark were inaudible to me. I never once noticed them over the sound of my cooler.
Overclocking on the Dark was quite easy, not too much fussing in BIOS to get the desired CPU speed, as a test I set it to 4.7 GHz and left everything on auto. I have no doubt it would have run stable but my cooling couldn’t handle the heat of stress testing the i9 7900X at those settings. Being a bencher at heart RAM tuning is essential, I didn’t spend much time on this but quick testing proved quite easy to get desired results. The x299 Dark would set appropriate values, on auto, for VCCIO and VCCSA leaving only the RAM voltage and timings for me to tinker with.
EVGA has given the X299 Dark a whole laundry list of hardware and features meant for the extreme benchers. I won’t go through that list again as it’s very extensive and no, there wasn’t a sink in the box but it sure felt like it judging by the weight. Some of the highlights which are nice to have for extreme situations would be the onboard power, reset and CMOS buttons. The customizable LED readouts and easy access to direct voltage measurements through the ProbeIT connector. One last thing which is a first for me, the included Visual Guide / Bench Stand with its own standoffs. I’m sure there’s a very small group of people who use extreme cooling for benchmarking but this added accessory is perfect for that and one of the coolest things I have ever seen included with a motherboard.
The EVGA X299 Dark is currently available at Newegg for $490.00 which is fairly reasonable considering everything EVGA has put into this motherboard. Looking in this class though, I see the only real competition is the ASUS ROG Rampage VI Apex for around $450.00 from a reputable e-tailer but good luck finding one. Considering the Apex’s reputation of being the “go to” motherboard for extreme benching, EVGA may want to rethink their pricing. I can say that EVGA has a real winner here for the “ultra enthusiast” crowd as they put it and I have no issue giving it the Overclockers stamp of approval.
Click the stamp for an explanation of what this means.
Shawn Jennings – Johan45