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Gigabyte's X99-Gaming 5P motherboard reviewed

X99 with a side of gaming

Gigabyte uses a three-pronged approach to attracting Haswell-E buyers to its X99-based motherboards. First, its Ultra Durable boards cater to the widest cross-section of potential buyers, with models ranging from the budget-oriented X99-UD3 up to the high-end X99-UD7 Wi-Fi. 

Next, the Overclocking series of boards are for extreme overclockers aiming to push clock speeds, and consequently voltages, to dizzying heights. Buyers of these boards can expect voltage measurement points, sub-zero cooling, and competitive benchmarking tools. 

Finally, the G1 Gaming series of boards is designed to appeal to, well, gamers. Gigabyte outfits these boards with beefed-up onboard audio, gaming-focused networking controllers, and LEDs-a-plenty. One such board is the X99-Gaming 5P. Read on to find out how this board stacks up.

The X99-Gaming 5P is decked out in the same familiar red-and-black color scheme as Gigabyte's other 9-series gaming boards. A pure-black PCB combined with Gigabyte-exclusive jet black Nippon Chemi-Con capacitors (which Gigabyte has branded as "Durablack" caps) gives the board a stealthy look. If it weren't for the high-end Nichicon audo capacitors and the gold EMI shield covering the Creative audio codec, we'd have a handful of red shards in a sea of muted blacks and greys.

To deliver power to the CPU socket, Gigabyte taps International Rectifier for both its digital PWM controller and PowIRstage ICs. PowIRstage combines the three components of a power phase—the driver, high side MOSFET, and low side MOSFET—into a single package. This setup offers better efficiency and better thermal performance than a VRM whose power phases use discrete components. "Server-level" inductors and Durablack caps act as the VRM's output filter, smoothing power delivered to the CPU.

A full allotment of DDR4 DIMM slots flanks the socket. Firmware revision F2c gives the board support for 16GB DIMMs, so the Gaming 5P can handle up to 128GB of memory. As is common on boards that have the DIMM slots butting right up against the top PCIe x16 slot, the DIMM slots themselves have locking mechanisms on only one end, which saves you from having to remove your video card to swap DIMMs. 

Although the X99 Gaming 5P's E-ATX form factor affords it an extra 0.8" (2 cm) in width, those PCIe slots are still close enough to the CPU socket that there's potential for clearance issues with large aftermarket CPU coolers. We've taken some measurements to help you figure out which components can safely fit together on the board:

Thankfully, the memory slots closest to the CPU socket only need to be populated when maxing out the system with eight DIMMs. More common four-DIMM setups will use the quartet of slots further from the CPU socket.

To the north of the CPU socket, the VRM heatsink sits closely, while to the south, the first PCIe x16 slot is nearest. The heatsink and slot placement make for a fairly crowded socket area. The benefit of this layout is that Gigabyte can cram seven expansion slots into the remaining space.

The X99-Gaming 5P gives us four double-spaced PCIe x16 slots fed with Gen3 lanes from the CPU. If your Haswell-E CPU has the full 40 lanes of PCIe connectivity enabled, both SLI and CrossFire configurations with up to four video cards are supported. If you've opted for the 28-lane Core i7-5820K, your SLI aspirations will top out at 3-way setups. This limitation doesn't apply to CrossFire, where 4-way configs are still supported on the budget Haswell-E model.

For dual-card setups, the first and third x16 slots from the left are used. This arrangement gives breathing room not only for a pair only double-wide cards, but also for two triple-slot beasts. In fact, installing two triple-slot cards still leaves the middle x1 slot unobscured. The right-most x16 slot is used for three-card configs, and as expected, all four slots are needed for 4-way setups.

The number of lanes going to each slot for the different possible multi-GPU configurations will depend on whether your slice of Haswell-E silicon has the full 40 or only 28 PCIe lanes enabled. Rather than attempting to paint you a picture with prose, we've instead mapped out how PCIe lanes are assigned to slots in diagrams. Click the buttons to toggle between the two possible processor options:

All four x16 slots are usable, no matter how many PCIe lanes your CPU provides. The processor choice just governs how many lanes each x16 slot gets: for models with 40 lanes, the four slots will have lane arrangements of x8/x8/x16/x8, while those running Core i7-5820Ks are looking at x8/x8/x8/x4. The PCIe x1 slots separating each of the x16 slots are each connected to a single Gen2 lane coming from the chipset.

Between the second and third x16 slots lie two low-slung M.2 sockets. The lower one of the pair has a single Gen2 PCIe lane from the X99 chipset, and the upper gets two chipset lanes for double the bandwidth. These two slots are meant for mini Wi-Fi cards and storage devices, respectively.

On that note, let's take a look at the details of the Gaming 5P's storage features.