Storage, audio, and lights
Storage connectivity on the Gaming 5P is clustered at the bottom right-hand corner of the board. All of these ports are right-angled, facing the Gaming 5P's edge.
Within the gray SATA Express connector are two standard Serial ATA ports and a pair of backward-compatible SATAe ports. This gives the board a grand total of 10 6Gbps SATA ports. These ports are labeled as SATA3 0-5 and sSATA3 0-3. Gigabyte isn't trying to convert us to a base-6 number system—rather, that designation is pointing out that only the four gray SATA connectors and the rightmost two black ports above, labeled SATA3, can be combined into RAID arrays using Intel's drivers. The leftmost four SATA ports, labeled sSATA3, operate in either IDE or AHCI mode only. This arrangement is a fundamental limitation of the X99 chipset. That said, it doesn't preclude you from using OS-managed or third-party software RAID if you'd like.
As in most Intel 9-series boards, two of the chipset's flexible I/O lanes drive not only the M.2 storage slot, but also the SATA Express connector and the dual 6Gbps SATA ports embedded therein. This sharing setup means that only one of those three storage connections can be in use at any point.
The Gaming 5P's rear port cluster looks fairly standard on first glance, but splashes of yellow and white on the USB ports and the gold-plated audio jacks let us know that there's more here than meets the eye.
First up, we have the white USB port. In addition to serving as a standard USB 3.0 port, this white connector works in concert with an onboard embedded controller—the iTE 8951E next to the CMOS battery—to let you update the firmware using only a power supply and a thumb drive. Gigabyte calls this feature Q-Flash Plus. Although it's not something you'll use every day, it can save you from having to beg, borrow, or steal a supported CPU just to update the firmware so that your CPU of choice will boot.
This white port, along with the three blue USB 3.0 ports above it, is connected to a Renesas uPD720210 hub chip, which is fed from one of the X99 chipset's USB 3.0 ports. For USB 3.0 ports directly linked to the chipset, you'll need to look toward the two USB 3.0 ports below the Gigabit Ethernet jack or the two available via an internal header.
The four leftmost USB 2.0 ports are yellow because they feature isolated power. As a result, the 5V output from these connectors may be cleaner than average: Gigabyte claims the isolation results in two times less line noise than regular USB ports. While this feature is included primarily for users with USB DACs, cleaner power in general can hardly be seen as a bad thing. Without the help of an oscilloscope to verify these claims, we'll have to take Gigabyte's word for it. Four more standard USB 2.0 ports are available via internal headers.
Whew. Here's a graphical representation of all of that information:
Since this is a gaming-focused motherboard, Gigabyte has foregone Intel's Gigabit Ethernet controllers in favor of Qualcomm Atheros's Killer E2201 chip. The Killer comes with traffic prioritization software that aims to improve ping times under conditions where multiplayer games are competing with other applications for bandwidth. While packet prioritization is nice in theory, it doesn't help if the network congestion is occurring at some point outside of the PC. Of course, this Ethernet jack is colored red, because, well, gaming. Gigabyte also includes an antenna bracket for M.2 Wi-Fi cards on the rightmost side of the port cluster, a nice touch.
Gigabyte has beefed up the Gaming 5P's onboard audio in terms of both components and signal quality. Underneath the golden, Sound Core3D-emblazoned EMI shield lies a Creative CA0132 audio chip. This chip contains the audio codec and four independent DSPs that Creative's software stack uses for various voice and audio effects.
Creative's chip is backed an upgradable op-amp that drives the gold-plated rear audio jacks, along with a second headphone amplifier for the front panel audio header. An onboard switch adjacent to the op-amp selects between a 2.5x or a 6x audio gain, which can be useful for high-impedance speakers or headphones. High-quality audio capacitors from Nichicon's MUSE ES series, seen on the first page in green, round out the audio hardware.
The audio components themselves are only half the picture. It's nice to see that Gigabyte has focused on analog signal quality, as well. All of the audio components have been isolated to their own section of the board to minimize interference from other noisy digital signals. The trace lengths from the Creative chip to the audio capacitors, through the op-amp, and into the output jacks have also been minimized. Finally, the left and right audio channels are run on separate PCB layers to eliminate crosstalk.
All of this adds up to an onboard audio implementation that my ears were happy with. I couldn't hear any interference under both system load and idle conditions, and hissing and pops were pleasantly absent.
The Gaming 5P ships with a cushioned I/O shield, which is a nice system-builder perk, but it gets better: the shield also has embedded LEDs. By default, these LEDs provide a bright, solid glow that can light the way to a particular port at the back of your PC.
If a solid glow just isn't going to do it for you, there's also a pulsing mode and a party-in-your-case mode that responds to music. (Gigabyte calls it "Beat Mode," but I like my name better.) This mode lights up the I/O shield, chipset heatsink LED, and audio LED trace path in time with any audio piped through the onboard stereo output. Here's a video that Geoff took of this phenomenon for the X99-UD4 review:
On the X99-Gaming 5P, both the chipset heatsink LED and the audio LED trace path lighting are red, but you get the idea. If all of this lighting is too much to stomach, it can be completely disabled.
Here's an idea for Gigabyte's suggestion box: a fourth,
useful interesting lighting mode could tie the intensity of the LEDs to one of the system temperatures. As the system starts to heat up, the lighting could grow brighter for an at-a-glance assessment of the system's status.
Motherboards may have moved to UEFI-based firmware, but Gigabyte's DualBIOS name is here to stay. The firm's boards have been fitted with backup firmware chips for years, and the X99-Gaming 5P is no exception. Unlike some of Gigabyte's top-end motherboards, the Gaming 5P lacks a hardware-based shortcut to enter the firmware. This omission is a little irksome. With the ultra-fast-boot option enabled, no amount of key-mashing on boot-up will get you into the firmware. Thankfully, Gigabyte provides a software solution via its Fast Boot utility, which has a handy "Enter BIOS Setup Now" button that reboots directly into the UEFI.
The Clear CMOS header is tucked between the chipset heatsink and the front-panel header, but there's still plenty of room to get at it with both fingers and tools. That said, the X99-Gaming 5P does an excellent job recovering from unstable overclocks on its own. Should the system fail to boot for some reason, the firmware pops up a Boot Failure Guard screen that can reset the board to its firmware defaults or allow one to enter the firmware interface to fix any follies. Not once did we have to resort to shorting these two pins.
When it comes to accessories, Gigabyte throws in a few interesting add-ins. The provided SATA cables are sheathed in woven housings, just like the wiring on sleeved power supplies, and there's a three-to-one adapter for the CPU's auxiliary 12V power input. This power adapter is supposed to allow heavily overclocked Haswell-E processors to be supplied current from multiple rails without tripping the power supply's over-current protection (OCP).
Another nifty feature can be seen around the motherboard mounting holes. Gigabyte has deliberately kept a wider region than normal free from onboard components to prevent sloppy screwdriver use from causing damage. We can probably thank Gigabyte's RMA department for this safety net.
Even with all of these nice little tweaks, we're let down by the lack of front-panel wiring blocks. This omission isn't isolated to the model we're reviewing here though—none of Gigabyte's boards ship with them. That said, the front panel header is nicely color-coded which gives us some hints when wiring up these fiddly connections.
Now, on to the firmware.