updated 01:00 am EDT, Thu September 4, 2014
ATX and E-ATX boards displayed at show, Brix machines doing better than expected
Gigabyte brought out the largest number of motherboards for Intel's Haswell Extreme Processors to Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle over the weekend, showing off six X99 boards for consumers. From high-end gaming boards to the affordable Ultra Durable line, Gigabyte wanted to project a leading position for consumers that want to jump into Intel's most recent technology.
Of the six motherboards, only two form factors are offered, with three ATX and three E-ATX configurations. However, that doesn't mean that is all the company is going to offer for the X99 chipset. When speaking with Marketing Director Colin Brix at the show, Electronista was told that more motherboards for the new Haswell would be coming to markets outside of the United States for now. However, some smaller form factors could be coming in the future. Brix did say that the release of the X99 will cause the remaining X79 boards to wind down.
Three Ultra Durable boards from the company offer similar the base features, including two-later copper PCB, but do have some differences to set them apart. The $300 X99-UD5 sits at the top of the Ultra Durable boards, bringing built-in 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. The E-ATX UD5 motherboard offers eight DIMMs, dual Intel Ethernet, support for four-way SLI or Crossfire, quality capacitors, two M.2 connectors, one SATA express and support for 12 USB 3.0 and six USB 2.0 connections.
The next step down is the $260 X99-UD4, a board that only loses some of the specs of the UD5. It keeps most of the features when dropping to the ATX size, losing only four USB 3.0 connections, but gaining two for USB 2.0. It also loses some of the onboard controls, like power and reset buttons and bios switches. The $240 X99 UD3 only comes with four DIMM slots, reducing the amount of memory that the X99 chipset is capable of controlling.
Two gaming boards were released with the X99-Gaming G1 Wi-Fi and X99 Gaming 5. The X99-Gaming G1 Wi-Fi is an E-ATX board, offering dual Ethernet from Intel and Killer, Nichicon audio capacitors, Creative Sound Core 3D audio, 8 DIMMs, dual M.2 connectors, one SATA express, built-in 802.011ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0, capacity for 12 USB 3.0 and six USB 2.0 devices, and gold plating in the CPU socket, DIMMs and PCIe slots. The board also supports four-way SLI or Crossfire. Pricing for the board is about $350.
X99-Gaming G1 Wi-Fi
The other gaming motherboard, the X99 Gaming 5, cuts the price down to $300 with only a few further losses. The Gaming 5 doesn't have dual Ethernet, with Gigabyte opting only to include Ethernet from Killer. It also loses the fast boot button and built-in wireless the Gaming G1 has, but it does keep the Creative sound and dual M.2 connections. USB 3.0 drops to eight connections for the Gaming 5, but USB 2.0 connections are increased to eight.
An enthusiast board called the X99 SOC Force is also coming from Gigabyte in the near future. The E-ATX board is aimed at overclockers looking to push their processors to the limit. It comes with most of the same features as the gaming boards, but uses a single Intel Ethernet connection and Realtek audio. It does lose a single M.2 connection, but also sees USB 3.0 shift to 10, while USB 2.0 sits at eight connections.
Like the other Gigabyte boards, the X99 SOC force also has two PCIe x16 slots, two x8 slots and three PCIe x1 slots. Support for 10 SATA3 ports are also on each motherboard. All of the new X99 boards are also Thunderbolt-ready. A Thunderbolt expansion card is also in the works by Gigabyte, according to Brix. However, not much information was available on the card at convention.
Adapting to the new technology that is meant to be pushed to its limits wasn't without its challenges for Gigabyte. Brix said that the company did have some issues getting DDR4 DIMMs for testing, as only Corsair and Crucial had products ready to use. The problem was it was sort of a trade-off for testing, as the memory companies needed motherboards to test the RAM, while companies like Gigabyte needed RAM to finish testing their boards.
However, with some internal overclocking testing done with the X99 SOC Force board, Haswell processors have been pushed to 5.8GHz and 6.2GHz with liquid nitrogen cooling. Corsair memory is topping out at 2800MHz, while Crucial is hitting 2400MHz. As the company spends more time testing the boards, they will continue to push out BIOS updates for better memory support.
All of Gigabyte's new motherboards, except the X99-UD5, have an ambient LED I/O panel that can be controlled to show different lighting features. The boards also have LED lighting on the audio guard, having the areas light in sync with the back panel if the LED I/O panel is available.
X99 LED I/O panel
Brix stressed that features found on the top end boards from the company often make their way down to the lower-priced options, even in $100 motherboards. Features like the LED lighting on the audio guard were found on all of the X99 boards, even though it could be considered a flashier feature. However, Brix said that having quality trickle down from the top is what has helped build the Gigabyte brand. Installing those features, and including quality parts like better capacitors and quality IR power designs, helps the company push for better satisfaction in customers.
Some information on the Brix small form factor computers was also shared, as Gigabyte is seeing better-than-expected sales for machines like the Brix Pro. The response to the machines has been good, with applications ranging from business using them for signage and point of sale terminals or police departments in Germany doing custom installs for in-car computers. Given the range of machines from Bay Trail to Core i7 processors, companies and other agencies have a lot of ways to come up with solutions that work for them.
The response for gaming has been good as well, with the company releasing the Brix Gaming at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier in the year. Intel has also helped push the gaming aspect with Iris graphics in the Brix Pro model. Heat hasn't been an issue because of the hybrid cooling system that utilizes a sandwiched cooper plating. The heat dissipates well, as the case was specifically designed to do so, even with one of the the Brix Gaming models having an Nvidia GTX 760 inside.
There hasn't been much movement on the Steam Machine front, but Gigabyte continues to help promote the platform. It appears that the company is just waiting on Steam to finalize things at this point. However, Gigabyte has seen growth in gaming, according to Brix. He also hinted that more Brix gaming machines could be coming, with a processor that Intel currently has in the works.