So you're all hyped and ready to plunk down the considerable chunk of change for an Intel Core i9 CPU. The question is, what motherboard should you put it in? Asus is ready with no less than seven boards equipped with the requisite X299 chipset for your shiny new CPU. Three models from the Republic of Gamers are joined by two "Prime" boards and two board from the company's TUF series.
The finest model in Asus' new fleet of fancy motherboards is the Rampage VI Extreme. Asus says this flagship motherboard is designed specifically for custom-loop liquid-cooling, and intended for "showcase" PCs. It has a specific connector to let waterblocks provide flow rate, temperature, and leakage data to the system. It also has two more headers onboard specifically for monitoring the flow rate through your loop.
Like previous Rampage Extreme boards from Asus, the new model includes everything and the kitchen sink. That means you get 10-Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ad Wi-Fi, triple M.2 slots, on-board Thunderbolt 3, and even a tiny OLED screen. The "LiveDash" allows builders to monitor temperatures, frequencies, and fan speeds right on the board.
On the way down from Extreme to Apex, we lose half the board's memory slots. Asus says the Rampage VI Apex is targeted at "peak game performance and record-breaking overclocking." To that end, the board only has one memory slot per memory channel, which simplifies the board's wiring and improves signal integrity. That, in turn, should allow overclockers to hit the highest possible memory speeds and the lowest possible latencies. The Apex can take up to four M.2 SSDs, too.
If you've got a burning desire for the beauty of the Rampage boards but no desire to burn a hole in your pocketbook, the ROG Strix X299-E is probably where you'll want to look. This model has the features you expect from a ROG X299 mainboard, like dual M.2 sockets, Intel-powered Gigabit Ethernet, onboard Wi-Fi, USB 3.1, and diagnostic LEDs. Of course, it also includes RGB LED accents, Aura Sync headers, and a couple of pump control headers.
Gaming isn't the only reason people build high-end PCs, though. If you need a high-end motherboard with all the trimmings, but you don't want to be saddled with the gamer stigma, the Prime X299-Deluxe has most everything offered by the Rampage VI Extreme above. That includes the LiveDash OLED readout, 802.11ad Wi-Fi, and a pair of M.2 sockets. It also includes a U.2 port for enterprise SSDs, and a pair of Intel-powered Gigabit Ethernet connections.
The Prime X299-Deluxe doesn't have the Extreme's Thunderbolt connection on-board, so Asus includes a ThunderboltEX 3 card in the box. The X299-Deluxe also includes a "Fan Extension" card that will apparently provide even more fan headers in case the motherboard's standard provisions of five fan headers and two pump headers won't suffice. Neither of those cards are included with the Prime X299-A which also drops the Deluxe's 802.11ad Wi-Fi and LiveDash OLED.
Not so long ago Asus' TUF family of motherboards was better known as Sabertooth, but the company seems to have dropped the moniker with its Z270 boards in favor of a military-style "Mark" designation. Along those lines, we're getting two TUF motherboards based on the X299 platform: the TUF X299 Mark 1 and TUF X299 Mark 2. Asus says the TUF boards "meld industrial sensibilities with a touch of space marine." Unfortunately, the company didn't provide a lot of details about the capabilities of these boards, but we can see from the pictures that both include two M.2 sockets and minimal emphasis on glitz.
The TUF Mark 1 is covered in metallic "Thermal Armor" both front and back, and it integrates a squirrel cage fan to blow cool air directly over the beheatsink'd M.2 drive below. The TUF X299 Mark 2 is fundamentally very similar to the Mark 1, but it doffs most of the other board's Thermal Armor for a "stripped down" appearance that should suit the tastes of gerbils allergic to flash and style. Asus also remarks that the Mark 2 board should be more economical than its sibling.
Unfortunately, we don't know just how economical any of these boards will be, because the company hasn't finalized its pricing. Asus says its X299 motherboards should become available in late June, and that it will announce pricing on June 26. We'll surely be covering these motherboards in more detail and perhaps even reviewing one or more. Stay tuned.