Its a good day to be a PC enthusiast I have to say. A couple of weeks ago, Intel released their new Haswell-E enthusiast line of CPU’s and motherboards. Our very own Lvcoyote had a chance to review the flagship CPU, the i7 5960X, as well as a couple of other motherboards so far. Today, I bring you the first MSI X99 offering in its high end gaming board, the X99S Gaming 9 AC. This board is packed with some neat features such as the new Streaming Engine. It offers game play recording that takes the load off the CPU and potentially allows for more FPS and better quality recordings among other things it does. There are some some architectural differences such as the first non-server implementation of DDR4. It is time to see what fruit this tree shall bear!
Specifications and Features
Moving on to our first section, we take a look at the specifications. Below is a table with data populated from the MSI website for this board.
Some of the major things you can take away from this is of course the change to the LGA2011-V3 socket, which supports the X99 chipset. The pin-out is of course a bit different, so Ivy Bridge-E CPUs will not fit in this socket.
DDR3 memory is now a thing of the past on this platform with the new standard being DDR4. DDR4 brings a lot lower voltage (1.2-1.35 V standard) and some faster speeds (some kits are starting at 3200MHz!), as well as a few more pins – 288 versus 240 on DDR3. For now, that comes with the slight penalty of having much higher CAS rating than DDR3. For example, I have a set of Kingston DDR3 2666 MHz sticks rated CAS 11 at 1.65 V while the DDR4 kits are coming in at 2666 MHz at 1.35 V and a CAS rating of 15. In time, the speeds will get faster and timings tighter, just like when DDR3 was first released. Don’t forget, this enthusiast platform runs quad-channel memory.
As for specifics on this board, it supports 4 way SLI and CrossFireX multi-GPU technologies (dependent on CPU as to how the lanes break down – see below for details). It has the Streaming Engine (which you can get a few more details below as well), 10 SATA3 ports, SATA Express and M.2 (32GB/s) ports, up to 18 USB3/2 ports, the Killer Network E2205 NIC, as well as using the Realtek ALC1150 audio CODEC for sound. One last thing to note, this board is not standard ATX, it is EATX form factor. Below is the complete list of specifications.
|MSI X99S Gaming 9 AC|
|Chipset||Intel X99 Express Chipset|
|CPU Support||Supports New Intel Core i7 Processor Extreme Edition for LGA2011-3 socket|
|Memory||• Supports eight DDR4 DIMMs 2133/2133*/2200*/2400*/2600*/2666*/2800*/3000*/3100*/3200*/3300*(OC)DRAM (32GB Max) – Supports Quad-Channel mode – Supports non-ECC, un-buffered memory – Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)|
|Expansion Slots||• 5 x PCIe 3.0 x16 slots, support up to 4-way mode
– 1-way mode: x16/ x0/ x0/ x0/ x0
– 2-way mode: x16/ x0/ x0/ x16/ x0*, 16/ x0/ x0/ x8/ x0**
– 3-way mode: x16/ x0/ x0/ x16/ x8*, x8/ x8/ x0/ x8/ x0**
– 4-way mode: x8/ x8/ x0/ x16/ x8*, x8/ x8/ x0/ x8/ x4**
* For the CPU that supports 40 PCIe lanes
** For the CPU that supports 28 PCIe lanes
|Streaming Engine||• Supports H.264 hardware video/ audio encoding up to 1920×1080@ (24p/25p/30p)|
• Supports 4-Way AMD® CrossFireTM Technology*
• Supports 4-Way NVIDIA® SLI™ Technology (For the CPU that supports 40 PCIe lanes)
• Supports 3-Way NVIDIA® SLI™ Technology (For the CPU that supports 28 PCIe lanes)
* Supports Windows 7 and Windows 8/ 8.1
• • Intel X99 Express Chipset
|USB||• Intel® X99 Express Chipset
– 6x USB 3.0 ports (2 ports on the back panel, 4 ports available through the internal USB 3.0 connectors*)
– 6x USB 2.0 ports (2 ports on the back panel, 4 ports available through the internal USB 2.0 connectors)• AsMedia ASM1042AE
– 2 x USB 3.0 ports on the back panel•VIA VL805
– 4x USB 3.0 ports on the back panel
* Internal JUSB3 connector supports MSI Super Charger.
|Audio||• Realtek® ALC1150 Codec
– 7.1-Channel High Definition Audio
– Supports S/PDIF output
|LAN/ Wireless LAN / Bluetooth||• 1 x Killer E2205 Gigabit LAN controller*
*The Killer Network Manager is only available for Windows 7/ 8/ 8.1 currently. The supported drivers for other operating systems would be available on the website if provided by vender.• Wi-Fi/Bluetooth expansion module with Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 chip.
– Supports Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual band (2.4GHz, 5GHz) up to 867 Mbps speed.• Wi-Fi/Bluetooth expansion module with Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 chip.
– Supports Bluetooth v4.0 (includes BLE* and Bluetooth 3.0+HS)
* BLE: Bluetooth Low Energy
|Internal and Back Panel I/O||
– 1 x 24-pin ATX main power connector
– 1 x PS/2 keyboard/ mouse combo port
|BIOS||• The motherboard BIOS provides “Plug & Play” BIOS which detects the peripheral devices and expansion cards of the board automatically.
• The motherboard provides a Desktop Management Interface(DMI) function which records your motherboard specifications.
|Dimension||• 12 in. x 10.4 in. (30.5 cm x 26.4 cm) EATX Form Factor|
|Mounting||• 9 mounting holes.|
I also included a Features list (again from the MSI website)…
- Supports New Intel® Core™ i7 processors Extreme Edition in LGA 2011-3 socket
- Supports Quad Channel DDR4-3333(OC) Memory
- Turbo M.2 : Delivering next generation M.2 Gen3 x4 performance with transfer speeds up to 32 Gb/s
- SATA Express + USB 3.0 + SATA 6Gb/s
- Streaming Engine: Fantastic Full HD hardware streaming at 60 Mbps without impacting CPU performance
- Multi-GPU: 4-Way NVIDIA SLI & AMD CrossFire Support
- OC Engine: Reach higher overclocking results with more flexible BCLK adjustments at 100/125/167MHz.
- Audio Boost 2: Reward Your Ears with True Quality
- Killer Ethernet: Kill Your Lag
- USB Audio Power: Super Stable 5V Power & Better Signal Transmission over USB
- XSplit Gamecaster: Show off you skills to the world with a 2 year premium license for this popular streaming software
- Guard-Pro: Improved Protection and Power Efficiency
- OC Genie 4: Overclock in 1 Second
- Gaming App: Boost your framerate
- Click BIOS 4: Easily Fine-tune Your System
- Sound Blaster Cinema 2: Benefit from Creative software to get a more realistic surround sound experience
- Gaming Device Port: Optimized with Triple Gold-plating for High Polling Rate Gaming Devices
- Wi-Fi 802.11AC with speeds up to 867Mbps, Bluetooth 4.0
Getting into more specifics for this board, MSI has been using their Military Class Components for the last couple of generations. In this case, we are up to Military Class 4, which consists of a Hi-c CAP, Super Ferrite Choke, and Dark CAP. These all help your PC run more efficiently, more stable in high load (say, gaming) and overclocking situations.
We again see that this board/platform uses DDR4 memory which offers less power use, higher speeds, and higher densities than DDR3.
Along with the Military Class 4 Components, MSI has what they call “Gaurd Pro”. What this entails is several forms of protection for the board such as Circuit Protection (selective PCB layers), Humidity Protection (via treated PCB), High Temperature protection (quality components), ESD protection (covered I/O ports), and last but not least EMI Protection (follows FCC Compliance rules).
One of the newest features is the Streaming Engine. The X99 platform does not have an integrated GPU like Z97/mainstream platforms do. In that environment, the onboard GPU takes over those functions (Intel Quicksync) while using CPU cycles and can cause a drop in frame rates when recording game play. MSI’s Streaming Engine, using the AverMedia decoding chip, takes the load off the CPU so one does not have to sacrifice FPS when streaming your gaming. The device supports recording at 1080p @ 60 MB/s and uses high-definition H.264 hardware compression. MSI also throws in a two year membership to the XSplit Gamecaster live streaming service.
Next up is the onboard Killer E2200 NIC. As we know from the past, the Killer NIC, is, for all intents and purposes, a networking traffic cop… at least the software is. It actually auto senses gaming traffic and prioritizes it to allow for the best gaming experience (network wise). One can also change the settings manually inside the software. Continuing on with the network side of things, the Gaming 9 AC comes with a detachable Wi-Fi AC and Bluetooth adapter. The Wi-Fi portion uses 802.11 AC while the Bluetooth supports 4.0.
The Gaming 9 AC also uses the Realtek ALC1150 CODEC for audio, but MSI spices that up a bit with its Audio Boost. This covers a now industry standard isolated audio area. It features shielding to minimize EMI, dual headphone amps (up to 600Ohms), higher quality caps, direct power to the audio, and gold plated connections. All of which help to make for a better audio solution.
The M.2 slot is seemingly becoming standard on almost all levels of boards these days, and the Gaming 9 is not an exception. The M.2 slot supports speeds up to 3x faster than SATA3 ports, coming in at a smoking 32MB/s. Hopefully we will start seeing some devices that better support these speeds soon.
Not to be left out, overclocking plays a role in a lot of gaming motherboards as well. To that end, MSI has their OC Genie button that will give you up to 20% clockspeed increases with just a touch of a button. It is configurable as well, which gives you more flexibility in what clocks you want to settle on. Also worth noting, is the OC Engine. The X99, and X79 for that matter, use straps for the BCLK, so one can reach much higher values using the flexibility the different strap settings offer when overclocking.
Ok folks, here we are getting our first look starting with the retail packaging. Since this is the gaming line from MSI, we see the familiar and cool looking dragon with a red theme that represents its gaming line (with yellow being overclocking centric). Against the black background are some high-level features listed like the Audio Boost and Killer NIC. Flipping the box around to show the rear, we see more features/support listed. There isn’t too much on the sides per usual. This box has a flip open front. When you open the flap, the left panel details even more features and the right side gives you a ‘peek-a-boo’ of the board itself.
That brings us to the included accessories. I won’t list everything that you get as the list is about as long as the specifications table above, but there is your typical complement of SATA cables, a rear USB/SATA header, voltage read point tools, SLI cable, and so on. A very complete accessory stack, that is for sure.
Meet the MSI X99S Gaming 9 AC
And there she is good readers of Overclockers, the MSI X99S Gaming 9 AC. We see MSI’s mostly black with red trim theme is prevalent here with this being their Gaming series. The VRM heatsinks have a large, mostly black color with red highlights. The PCH heatsink is the same except it has the MSI name and Gaming Series badge on it.
The socket area is fairly clean and flat with the four DIMM slots flanking each side of the CPU. Other items to note on the front are the Streaming Engine located below the first PCIe slot, the cover for the audio section on the lower left, and just above that is a cover for the rear I/O. There are voltage read points by the 24-pin ATX power connector, and at the top and center we see an 8-pin and 4-pin connector to supplement CPU power. I do like the overall design of the board. Placement of the components are not in any peculiar locations and everything looks to be easily accessible.
Flipping the board over to expose the back, we see the huge socket back platet, the flanking DIMM slots, and then the electrical setup of the PCI slots (16/8/8/16/8). Last up are a couple of shots of the board from different angles (queue “OOhhs and Ahhhs” please).
A Closer Look
Zooming in a bit on the board, I will start with the bottom half and work left to right. On the left under its shielding we see the audio section. This part of the board is separate from the other parts to help minimize EMI from other parts of the board. The actual Realtek ALC1150 CODEC/chip is hidden under the Audio Boost Faraday cage (trust me!). We see a total of five PCIe x16 physical slots good for up to quad SLI or CrossfireX. The other item that is blatantly obvious is the cover for MSI’s Streaming Engine between the first and second PCIe slots and the M.2 slot between the fourth and fifth.
Continuing on counter clockwise to the DIMM area, we see half of the 8 DIMMs, a front panel USB3 port, the 24-pin power lead, voltage read points, power/reset and Overclocking Genie button, the CPU fan header, and a glimpse of the 8-pin and 4-pin CPU power connectors.
I’ll regurgitate the bottom and back I/O specs listed above. TONS of USB3 slots ehh? Note the USB2 under the PS/2 port… those have a higher polling rate to help with the high polling rates that some USB based mice have for optimal response.
– 1 x PS/2 keyboard/ mouse combo port
– 2 x USB 2.0 ports
– 1 x Clear CMOS button
– 8 x USB 3.0 ports
– 1 x LAN (RJ45) port
– 1 x Optical S/PDIF OUT connector
– 5 x OFC audio jacks
At this point we have seen all we can with its clothes on, now its time to drop trou and see whats shaking under the hood. No board is as pretty without its cladding, but here she is. We can clearly see the 7+2 power phases (7 CPU and 2 Memory) up top, the now bare Streaming Engine IC in the middle, the nuvoTon Super I/O chip on the left with the audio bits, and finally the PCH itself.
The next pictures show some closer in shots of the power bits around the CPUm and finally I took some shots of the bottom of each heatsink to show its making good contact. It uses screws and does a pretty good job!
Below we can see some of the IC’s used on the board. I will list them in bullet points.
- Nuvoton NCT6792D – Super I/O
- Winbond 25Q128FVSQ – BIOS chip(s)
- Killer Network’s e2205 – NIC
- Asmedia ASM1042AE – USB3 Controller
- VLI Vl805-06 – USB 3 Controller
UEFI BIOS, Overclocking Software
Moving on to the UEFI, in my opinion MSI has one of the best laid out and UEFIs there is, and it looks good on top of it all. Traditionally, you see the MSI overclocking themed motherboards reviewed by me, but for the moment we have the gaming line that we mentioned earlier has their black and red theme. This of course carries over into the UEFI BIOS. The layout is pretty similar with some high-level information up top like the date/time, CPU type and frequency, and the Memory speed and capacity. There are shortcuts to overclocking the CPU (OC Genie Button) and the ram (XMP). Down the left side is the settings, OC (details on that in the second slideshow), and M-Flash. On the right are your Overclocking Profiles, Hardware Monitor, and Board Explorer.
Something I have grown to like in this UEFI is the ability to switch boot devices by dragging the appropriate icon to the front of the line. You will see the list of these icons below the system specs and time at the top center area. There is a great look, everything to me is easy to find, and the mouse responds well too. Overall a great job and great UEFI here.
Next up are all of the overclocking screens. While this board isn’t specifically made to do so, it certainly does a good job of it. So, below I broke out several of the screens. Like its ‘made for overclocking’ kin have, the MSI X99S Gaming 9 AC also utilizes a simple and advanced mode for overclocking. The simple mode should be plenty for most overclockers on ambient cooling. The advanced mode gets into more details of course. In talking memory, there are a ton of options there to change all the timings (primary, secondary, and tertiary).
Again, everything in the overclocking section is laid out well to me. I like that all the voltages you need are not buried in another menu. Everything is there and just a scroll of the mouse, or a page down away. I had no problems in the BIOS whatsoever, and for a new chipset that is a very pleasant surprise!
MSI Command Center
Sometimes you don’t want to have to reboot to mess with some settings, be it fans or overclocking for that matter. To that end, MSI has their windows based monitoring and overclocking software, Command Center. Here you can mess with clock speeds, memory timings, fan profiles and speeds, the iGPU, and even setup a RAMDisk. I had no problems using this software either!
Test Setup, Benchmarks, and Overclocking
Listed below is the test system used for benchmarking:
|CPU||Intel 5820K @ Stock (for the motherboard) and 4.5Ghz Overclocked|
|Motherboard||MSI X99S Gaming 9 AC|
|RAM||4×4 GB Kingston HyperX DDR4-3000 15-16-16-39 1.5v|
|Graphics Card||AMD R9 295×2|
|Solid State Drive||256 GB OCZ Vertex 3|
|Power Supply||SeaSonic SS-1000XP (80+ Platinum)|
|Operating System||Windows 7 x64 SP1|
|Graphics Drivers||Catalyst 14.7 Beta RC3|
Below are the stock and overclocked results for this setup. Like usual in my motherboard reviews, I used AIDA64 (latest version), MaxxMEM, SuperPi 1M/32M, Wprime 32M/1024M, Cinebench R11.5/R15, and Pifast. In most cases there are very few performance differences between motherboards, so we are going with simple screenshots of the results. At this time, I do not have any other boards to compare the results to, so you will just see the screenshots. We will have more boards to follow and we can then make our comparisons in those future reviews.
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
Pushing the Limits
So I had a chance to lean on the CPU a bit and ended up here… 4.623 GHz @ 1.44 V (load). I was getting towards the top of my temperature limit and pretty close to where I get a bit nervous about voltage (really nervous starts out at 1.5 V!). Due to some block issues, I had to use an AIO (NZXT Kraken X60). Once I get the new block in the loop, perhaps that clock speed will go up.
Getting here was a breeze as expected. I simply set the XMP profile to get my memory up to speed, which changes the BCLK to 125 note, set the CPU multiplier to 37X, raised the voltage to 1.45 in the BIOS, and viola one heck of an overclock and a much cooler running chip than Haswell and Devil’s Canyon at the same clocks. Bless you Intel, for using solder or something better than even the modified TIM you used with the mainstream level CPUs!
So Intel’s next generation enthusiast platform is here with my first look being the MSI X99S Gaming 9 AC motherboard. While these types of boards are not my personal forte, I have to admit it was still a great motherboard and overclocked darn well too! Being a part of the gaming line, MSI packed it with the Streaming Engine (for those that record game play), the Killer NIC network port (to prioritize gaming traffic), USB ports that support high polling USB based mice, XSplit Gamecaster 2 year membership (to broadcast live your recordings). We also have the latest Realtek ALC1150 CODEC and the superior hardware and software that goes with it, all in an attempt to bring you a superior gaming experience over boards without such features… and they have succeeded.
The styling of the board, with its mostly black (real black, not dark brown!) and red theme, should appeal to a fairly broad audience as well. The layout of all the features from front panel USB, to voltage checking, to the SATA ports, don’t leave anything to be desired (though I have to admit I wish all board manufactures would angle the 24-pin power connector 90 degrees!). I have to admit, sitting here and writing this up, I cannot find anything fundamentally wrong with the board. This is the first time I can remember that I have a new chipset in my hand and everything (I tested) worked out the box. No BIOS updates, except to their latest that is the release BIOS on their website, nothing! So a big Kudos go out to MSI for getting something pretty stable out the door.
Last but not least is pricing. We all know that the enthusiast platform from Intel does tend to command a bit more dinero out of our pockets. The MSI X99S Gaming 9 AC comes in at $428.99 at Newegg.com. In the scope of the entire X99 market, this board is undoubtedly on the high end. It’s nestled below the ASUS RVE and surprisingly above the EVGA Classified. However, I do not believe those boards offer the specific gaming features that this board does. If you do not need the streaming features, AC/Wifi, a few less USB ports and SATA slots, MSI does have a lesser offering in the Gaming 7 to choose from. I still would have liked to see this priced a bit lower (perhaps $389?), but it isn’t outrageously out of line in the scheme of things. It does bring some unique features with it, that if used can make the price worth it.
To that end, a gaming board loaded with gaming features, robust enough to handle any ambient overclock, looks that anyone (not just a mother) could love, and most importantly stability out of the box with a new platform, leaves this board Overclockers.com approved!
– Joe Shields (Earthdog)