It has been a while since anything GIGABYTE has graced us with its presence at Overclockers.com, but it has come back with a vengeance in the form of their top of the line X99 overclocking motherboard – the X99 SOC Champion. You may remember a news article we published a couple weeks back outlining some of the features the new Champion series motherboards offer, such as faster XMP profile support (up to 3400 MHz!), all digital PWM, Realtek ALC1150 audio, and the Killer E2200 NIC, etc. The X99 SOC Champion has most of those features (some being reserved for the gaming crowd like the Killer NIC), and we get to play around with some of these features today. We have previously looked at many of its direct competitors in the market, but now its time to see if the X99 SOC Champion can rise above the rest!
Specifications and Features
Below is a table of specifications for the X99 SOC Champion from the GIGABYTE website. At a high level, we are all keenly aware this is the X99 Chipset that supports the LGA2011-3 CPUs (think i7 5820K, 5930K, and 5960X).
Unlike most X99 based boards that have eight DDR4 DIMM slots, the SOC Champion sports a total of four slots supporting up to 32 GB of system memory. Considering this is a board focused on overclocking and not a workstation type board, and that few people actually need more than 32 GB of RAM, I don’t have a concern with this configuration. One of the highlights of this board is its ability to read/use 3400 MHz XMP memory profiles from Intel. Not a lot of boards are able to do that, and for a board focused on overclocking, this is a pretty nice value add over other motherboards.
On the audio side of things, the SOC Champion uses the ever popular ALC1150 CODEC from Realtek, which GIGABYTE calls “AMP-UP Audio.” The Realtek CODEC achieves a 115db SNR while providing 10 DAC channels. It will simultaneously support 7.1 channels through the rear outputs and 2 channel independent stereo playback through the front panel. It has a built in headphone amp as well.
For network duties, GIGABYTE uses the Intel I218-V GbE NIC. No fancy Killer E2200 here folks… and that is OK. Again, it’s not a gaming-centric board. GIGABYTE does include a cFOS based network management application. This software works at the application level, monitoring packets and allows you to change priority for specific applications. This helps to improve latency on the network and keeps pings low.
As far as PCIe slots, there are a total of four full length x16 physical slots with three PCIe x1 physical slots between them. For reference, the x16 PCIe slots are numbered as follows, from the top to the bottom: 1, 4, 2, and 3. The first PCIe slot is directly wired to the CPU, bypassing any switching. So, be sure to put your single GPU in that slot for best performance. When using multiple GPUs, GIGABYTE tells us to set it up in slots 1 and 2 yielding a x16/x8 lane breakdown. Three way SLI/CFx is supported on this board with a 5820K (28 lane CPU), but it breaks down to a x16/x8/x4 configuration, which is not optimal and also happens to not be supported by SLI in the first place. If you want to run more than two cards, I would suggest getting a 5930K or 5960X (40 lane CPU). That configuration would be as follows: Dual cards PCie in slots 1 and 2 (x16/x16), for three cards in slots 1, 4, and 2 (x16/x8/x16). When using four cards, it will break down to a x16/x8/x8/x8 configuration. This SOC Champion has an auxillary 6-pin PCIe plug above slot 1, which should be used in a multiple GPU setup.
The storage setup consists of six SATA 6 Gb/s connectors (native ports 0-5) supporting RAID0, 1, 5, and 10 and one SATA Express connector. There are four more SATA 6 Gb/s ports as well, making that a total of ten. There is also one full length M.2 slot which uses a PCIe 2.0 x4 lane allowing up to a whopping 20 GB/s. When using a M.2 based PCIe SSD, the SATA Express connector will be disabled. As you can see, there is A LOT of SATA ports on the board including the SATA Express and their “Turbo” M.2 slot.
As far USB, the SOC Champion has a total of fourteen. Four USB 2.0 and seven USB 3.0 on the rear I/O area along with USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 for the front panel.
Below is a list of all the specifications.
|GIGABYTE X99 SOC Champion Specifcations|
(Please refer “CPU Support List” for more information.)
* Note : For DDR4 XMP 3400MHz, please update BIOS to the latest version.
|Expansion Slots||2 x PCI Express x16 slots, running at x16 (PCIE_1，PCIE_2)
* For optimum performance, if only one PCI Express graphics card is to be installed, be sure to install it in the PCIE_1 slot; if you are installing two PCI Express graphics cards, it is recommended that you install them in the PCIE_1 and PCIE_2 slots.2 x PCI Express x16 slots, running at x8 (PCIE_3，PCIE_4)
* The PCIE_4 slot shares bandwidth with the PCIE_1 slot. When the PCIE_4 slot is populated, the PCIE_1 slot will operate at up to x8 mode.
* When an i7-5820K CPU is installed, the PCIE_2 slot operates at up to x8 mode and the PCIE_3 operates at up to x4 mode.
(All PCI Express x16 slots conform to PCI Express 3.0 standard.)3 x PCI Express x1 slots
(All PCI Express x1 slots conform to PCI Express 2.0 standard.)
|Multi-Graphics Technology||Support for 4-Way/3-Way/2-Way AMD CrossFire™/NVIDIA® SLI™ technology
* The 4-Way NVIDIA® SLI™ configuration is not supported when an i7-5820K CPU is installed. To set up a 3-Way SLI configuration, refer to “1-6 Setting up AMD CrossFire™/NVIDIA® SLI™ Configuration.”
Chipset + Renesas® uPD720210 USB 3.0 Hub:
|Internal I/O Connections||
|Back Panel Connections||
|Software and BIOS||Software
Some of the specific features GIGABYTE is especially proud of, or at least wants to inform us all of, are listed below. The first for this board is its ability to work with XMP profiles up to 3400 MHz (with the latest BIOS). For an overclocking board, this is something I want to see as not a lot of boards tend to go over 3000/3200 MHz. I wonder if it will raise the BCLK to reach those speeds…(EDIT: Nope!)
Other overclocking focused features on the SOC Champion is their “Genuine All Digital Power Design.” This features industry leading power bits from International Rectifier (IR) including the PWM controllers and 3rd generation PowIRstage controllers, which are both 100% digital. Also included are “server level” chokes promising server level reliability, high current capacity, and a new design that reduces heat by minimizing power loss/increasing efficiency in the choke. IR also uses its DirectFET design for the MOSTFETs combining both the high and low side MOSFET and the driver IC on a single package. This is said to improve thermal capabilities as well as saving a fair amount of space on the board. The beefed up power area will help deliver a lot of clean and stable power to the CPU. What good is all this power if you can’t easily play with it, right? To that end, GIGABYTE has exclusive OC buttons on the board to make overclocking a bit easier. A CPU Mode switch (Default/OC), OC Trigger Switch (slow clocks during boot, then toggle to target frequency), DualBIOS Switch (switch between BIOSs), Single BIOS Mode, and finally the voltage read points all sit on the right side of the motherboard. I have to admit, I do miss the OC Buttons they used to offer on previous SOC boards!
Not pictured here, but well worth the mention, is the X99 SOC Champion also has a feature aimed directly at the extreme overclocking crowd – the “OC socket”. Everything mounting wise is the same, but the pin count is up from 2,011 to 2,083. These extra pins turn into direct access to specific voltage changes in the BIOS that bypass the FIVR altogether. It is said to help with DRAM and uncore overclocking.
The X99 SOC Champion supports up to 4 Way Graphics – for both Crossfire X and SLI technologies, next gen SATA Express connectivity, as well as a Turbo M.2 socket that sports up to 20 Gb/s of bandwidth for the latest M.2 form factor SSDs. Gold plated everything (CPU, DIMM, PCIe slots), and 2 oz of copper in the PCB round out the precious metals used for increased conductivity and to help remove heat through the PCB.
Seems to be loaded with OC centered features… that is my kind of board!
Taking a look at the retail packaging, we are greeted with a F1 like race car in the middle of the box below the GIGABYTE name. Below that, is the emblazoned GIGABYTE Overclock orange X99 with the SOC Champion below it. If you flip the box around to the back, it points out a slew of features with a picture of the black and orange themed board. 4-Way Overclocking, the gold plating, audio separation, and the Turbo M.2 are all on there!
Never too much to see on the sides or the top/bottom. That remains true here. Just the board name, serial number information and some features.
Opening up the box, the board rests on top of a cardboard partition sitting in its anti static bag. Below that are the included accessories, which include a ton of SLI and Crossfire bridges among your typical array of installation manuals, back plates, driver disks, SATA cables, and guides.
Meet the GIGABYTE X99 SOC Champion
Taking a look at the board itself, we see the familiar black on orange theme from GIGABYTE’s Overclocking line of motherboards. The heatsinks are ample in size and are all connected through a heatpipe. The heatpipe snakes from the PCH along the right side of the board and then curves around to the top of the board where it meets the two MOSFET heatsinks. The PCIe x16 slots and the DIMM slots get the job of looking good in OC orange. This will not go with every theme, but you can build some pretty cool ones out of this as a base.
Major features that jump out to me are the total of four DIMM slots for a maximum of 32 GB instead of the typical X99 configuration of eight slots. Four PCIe slots for quad SLI/CFx, Realtek ALC1150/AMP-UP Audio, extra power connections for the extreme overclockers needs (both PCIe and CPU) and plenty of storage connectivity grace the front of the board. Flipping it over to the back shows the electrical setup of the PCIe lanes coming in at x16/x8/x16/x8 from the CPU socket down. While last in this set of pictures, we put the board on a Lazy Susan for you and spin it around!
A Closer Look
Focusing in a bit on the lower left part of the board, one of the first things we see is the AMP-UP Audio Faraday cage covering up the Realtek ALC1150 CODEC, which is one of the better and overall good onboard audio solutions. It provides 10 DAC channels that can simultaneously support 7.1 channel playback and two channels of independent stereo sound (called multiple streaming) through the case front panel. It does so at a clean 115dB SNR. Like a lot of other motherboards, the X99 SOC Champion has the PCB separated from the audio components, which is lit up in a nice orange glow matching the board pretty well, though it is bright. The good news is you can control it (Still mode, Beat mode, Pulse mode, and Off).
Next up, the PCIe area where we see the four orange x16 slots as well as three PCIe x1 physical slots between them. Once you start using multiple GPUs, be sure to plug in the 6-pin PCIe power just above slot one to help get more clean power to multi-GPU setups.
Last in this area, you can see the Turbo M.2 port between slots two and three that fits up to an 80mm M.2 PCIe based SSD.
Checking out the upper right area of the board, its busy. From the left, we start to see the OC switches with the CPU mode, a couple of voltage read points, one of a few fan headers, more voltage read points, and the rest of the OC switches. A power button is the only OC button that made it over here. It rests in the middle of the CMOS reset and reset buttons, which all sit to the left of the debug LED (also orange!).
Spinning around and getting a bit closer, we see the socket area. For the most part its pretty clean, three of four sides anyway. The top has some caps and chokes for the power delivery area that are about the only obstacles to navigate when you have to insulate for cold (LN2).
Moving on to I/O, we see a fairly sparse, but oddly enough complete set of ports. From the left, we see PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports, 2 USB 2.0 ports, a total of four USB 3.0 ports, another two USB 2.0 ports under the Intel NIC, and finally the typical audio stack. Purpose built board people… gratuitous ports are not the thing, but enough is!
Next up are the slew of SATA ports totaling ten in fact, along with the next gen SATA Express connector too.
Across the bottom (L to R), are the front panel audio, OC Panel, COM port, two front USB 2.0 hubs, front USB 3.0, then your power/reset/HDD headers, and the system fan 3 header.
A quick slide show showing some of the IR power bits, and the Super I/O controller.
UEFI BIOS, Overclocking Software
Below is a slideshow of the GIGABYTE UEFI DualBIOS. For this I simply went across the top displaying the major sections. I leave the more than abundant overclocking screenshots for the second slideshow.
After the Startup window, the first screen I was greeted with was the classic BIOS we are all familiar with and love from GIGABYTE. This time around though, instead of the blue theme, this one is in a dark grey with white text and red highlights. The M.I.T. screen holds all of the overclocking features you are going to need and plenty more. It also displays the current state of the PC with the BIOS version, BCLK, CPU frequency, Memory frequency, total memory size, CPU temperature, and vCore. The System Information tab shows us more system information as you may imagine! BIOS version, date, and ID, total memory, and system date information.
In the BIOS Features area you can adjust boot options and drive priorities upon boot, fast boot, logo show, Windows 8 features and more. The Peripherals section has options for the PCIe slots, the adjustment for the audio LED, as well as displaying Super I/O and USB storage device information. The chipset section gives you SATA/sSATA configuration, audio controller, wake on LAN, and Intel VT-d options.
Finally, in the power management section, because Save and Exit is pretty self explanatory, we see options for how the system responds after a power outage, power-on by functions, as well as how the power button responds.
I have to say, the old school BIOS is still the way to go on these things. Everything is where we all know it will be, and it just simply works. This version looks better than their blue themed versions too! Moving around the BIOS was pretty easy because not much has changed on this one outside of the color and options, but that must change with the generation of chipset and CPU. There is a ‘front end’ to this called a Start Up guide, but it lacks information and I found myself launching directly to classic BIOS.
You are able to use the “Smart Tweak” BIOS, however I found while it looks good, maneuvering around it was a bit clunky on my machine. So again, I stuck with the classic BIOS.
Next up is the overclocking, M.I.T, section in more detail. This includes digging down into the voltage control for the CPU and DRAM. Also pictured are all the Advanced settings; CPU, Memory, Power, and Voltage. The slides continue on (there are 12, note), to show the slew of memory timing you can change (and trust me there are a TON of them!), PC Health status displaying information from the onboard sensors, and finally the miscellaneous settings.
Below we see GIGABYTE’s Windows based monitoring and overclocking tool, Easytune. It has been a while since I was able to review a GIGABYTE board, so to see this highly evolved version was a site for my eyes, that is for sure. The first screen gives you a few one button overclock options from 3.8 GHz (Light) to 4.2 GHz (Extreme). There is also an energy savings option at 1.2 GHz, and an Auto Tuning feature.
Most of us will spend our time in the next three sections though. The First is Advanced CPU OC. Here is where you will be changing CPU items like BCLK, multiplier, vCore, Ring, System Agent, DRAM, PCH, and IO voltages, and power limits. You are able to save and load profiles here as well.
The Advanced DDR OC section shows memory frequency information and adjustments while the 3D Power gives a few more advanced voltage controls over the VRIN, CPU, and DDR.
I have to admit, its a pretty evolved tool from what I remember it being. A well done and definitely needed face lift!
Test Setup, Benchmarks, and Overclocking
Listed below is the test system used for benchmarking:
|CPU||Intel 5820K @ Stock (for the motherboard) and 4.5 GHz Overclocked|
|Motherboard||GIGABYTE X99 SOC Champion|
|RAM||4×4 GB Kingston HyperX DDR4-3000 15-16-16-39 1.35v|
|Graphics Card||MSI GTX 960 Gaming 2G|
|Solid State Drive||OCZ Vertex 3|
|Power Supply||SeaSonic SS-1000XP (80+ Platinum)|
|Operating System||Windows 7 x64 SP1|
We’ll perform our usual set of benchmarks, which test rendering, memory performance, as well as single and multi-threaded CPU performance. For 2D benchmarks, we’ll use SuperPi 1M and 32M, wPrime, and PiFast. For rendering, Cinebench R11.5 and R15. For memory performance we check against AIDA64 and MaxxMEM. Because we don’t see any notable differences when comparing motherboards, especially when the same CPU, chipset, memory, and GPU are used, we’ll simply provide screenshots of the stock and overclocked benchmark results, then at the end we’ll put them all in a graph showing performance differences. What this amounts to is a search for any abnormalities during the benchmark runs. We’ll take a few minutes and spot check these results against other X99 motherboards just to make sure everything is on the up and up. Stock testing is performed with the BIOS as you get it out of the box, which will vary from motherboard to motherboard. The overclocked testing at 4.5 GHz is what we use to compare, as that is an apples to apples comparison. The memory was set to its XMP profile of 3000 MHz.
AIDA64 and MaxxMEM – Memory Bandwidth and Throughput
Cinebench R11.5 and R15 – CPU Rendering Benchmark
Super Pi 1M and 32M / Pifast – Single Threaded CPU Benchmark
WPrime 32M and 1024M – Multi-Threaded CPU benchmark
Graphical Comparison of Performance
Ok, now that the webwheel finger was worked out a bit, here I put the data in a graph and compared it to the other X99 boards at the same clock and memory speeds so we can compare apples to apples as best we can. As you can see below, all the boards are within 2% of each other with the overall performance of this board being right in the middle of the rest. Wins some, loses some, but again mostly within the margin of error for these tests.
Cinebench really shows the same thing with this board coming out a hair slower than the rest, but not by any appreciable amount. When we move on to the memory testing, Here it stands alone in second place only falling behind the performance of the EVGA, but beating nearly everything else, again not by an appreciable margin. Overall the performance was as expected. I didn’t see any anomalies really in the testing I completed.
Pushing the Limits
I have figured out that the limits of this chip have been reached in previous reviews around the 4.75 GHz mark. The SOC Champion had zero problems getting there. One thing that was a bit odd about overclocking with this board and my Kingston memory was that when setting the XMP profile, it didn’t allow it to hit the 3000 MHz mark without manually adjusting the BCLK strap to 1.25x. This was unusual as any board prior to this would automatically put on the 1.25x strap for you. Not a big deal, just different. I managed to hit around 169 BCLK, which is around the limit of this CPU seemingly.
As expected, I managed to bump into CPU and temperature limits before the board got in the way. The voltage needed was a bit higher than the other boards for whatever reason… hopefully the CPU isn’t degrading already! I wasn’t that hard on it!
Well, now its time to wrap things up and see how the GIGABYTE X99 SOC Champion fared in my mind. Overall, I have to say I was impressed by the ‘made-for-overclocking’ more than anything else approach they took. Gone is what I would consider ‘the waste’ on a motherboard for the overclocker. Dual NICs? Naa. 8 DIMM slots? Nope. Wireless NIC? Nada. But present is still solid audio in the AMP-UP Audio (Realtek ALC1150), and an Intel NIC that also supports traffic shaping/prioritizing that the Killer’s of the world offer. Appearance wise, I like the black and slightly darker orange theme they have going on in their overclocking lineup, I have to say.
About the only complaint I can muster in my experience so far is the initial landing screen in the bios. I wish it was a tad more informative at least without digging down. It is easy to use, but not very advanced. You will really find yourself in Classic Mode most of the time I would imagine.
When we take a look at price, newegg.com offers the board for $275 without rebates. Its competitors, the ASRock X99 OC Formula is $310 ($270 after MIR), the MSI X99S MPower is $280, and the ASUS offering in the Rampage V Extreme is $449. As you can see, of the major overclocking boards around, the GIGABYTE X99 SOC Champion is at the bottom of the price scale! It may not have the memory profiles, or a fancy OC Panel, but it does the job, very well. I wish I had time to go sub ambient on this thing for the review. Without further rambling on, this board is Overclockers.com approved!
Joe Shields (Earthdog)