The three faces of firmware
The X99-Gaming 5P has the same UEFI as Gigabyte's own X99-UD4, which is in turn, almost the same as Gigabyte's other 9-series boards. Users are presented with three firmware interfaces: a novice-friendly Startup Guide, an enthusiast-oriented Smart Tweak UI, and an old-school Classic Mode. Here's what Smart Tweak UI looks like on the Gaming 5P:
One interesting feature of the Gaming 5P that I haven't yet covered centers around a little onboard switch, CPU Mode, next to the internal USB 3.0 header. This switch can be toggled between a default mode and an OC Mode. That's all that the user manual has to say about it, apart from a warning next to OC Mode that says "Please note that using may result in incompatibility." Once OC Mode is enabled, six extra voltage settings, VL1 - VL6, are unlocked in the CPU Core Voltage Control tab of the firmware:
The CPU socket on the Gaming 5P actually has 2,083 pins rather than the usual 2,011. My guess is that switching to OC Mode enables the extra pins in the CPU socket. This setup might give us control over Haswell-E's fully integrated voltage regulator (FIVR) and the voltages it produces for the different functional units on-die. Or I could be completely wrong. In any case, we've reached out to Gigabyte for more information on what's going on here: what are these extra voltage options actually affecting, and under what circumstances would one modify them? We'll update the review when we hear back from them on this point.
Apart from that mystery and intrigue, the firmware is pretty much the same as the X99-UD4's. Thus, I'll point you towards Geoff's review of that board for the full details of what the firmware offers. I will reiterate a few gripes that I have with Gigabyte's 9-series firmware, in the hope that if I repeat them enough we'll see things changed in the future. It worked for Geoff and fan speed controls, after all.
At first glance, it appears the Smart Tweak and Classic Mode interfaces offer equivalent functionality, but closer examination reveals that Smart Tweak's coverage of config options only extends to the board's overclocking functionality. This config is apparently by design, but it's a shame. Smart Tweak is a much more modern firmware interface, complete with 1080p support and handy status panes bordering the main area of interaction. It would be nice to have support for all the available knobs and dials in the new interface.
Classic Mode, shown above, has gotten a fresh coat of paint for Gigabyte's X99 boards compared to what we saw on the Z97 models. It also has smoother cursor tracking than what I experienced on the Z97-HD3's Classic Mode firmware interface. This change is welcome. If you ever have to adjust platform options related to storage and I/O, or CPU features like virtualization, you'll be dropping back to Classic Mode and its associated 1024x768 resolution.
The good news is that unlike the X99-UD4, the X99-Gaming 5P does provide memory multipliers higher than 26.66. The bad news is that we couldn't get them to work right. When we enabled the first XMP profile on our Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 DIMMs for operation at 2800MHz, the firmware chose a CPU base clock speed of 127.3MHz with a memory multiplier of 22. This setting did work, and it was stable thanks to the Haswell-E platform's normal base clock strap of 1.25x, but it's not ideal. Manually keeping the base clock at 100MHz while setting a memory multiplier of 28.00, as we had done on Asus' X99 Deluxe, led to a POST failure.
When we pinged Gigabyte for some help with the situation, we were advised not to use the 28.00 memory multiplier with the default base clock speed. Instead, Gigabyte told us to use the default XMP profile's 127.3MHz base clock setting if we wanted our DDR4 clocked at 2800MHz. Buyers aiming to pair this motherboard with DDR4 running faster than 2666MHz will apparently have to overclock their CPU's base strap, and that's not ideal. Not all CPUs may respond equally well to having their base clocks bumped.
One more quick gripe: if the memory speed is changed or an XMP profile is enabled, the firmware overclocks the CPU by applying the highest turbo multiplier—normally only used if up to two cores are busy—to all turbo states, no matter how many cores are active. For a Core i7-5960X, this tweak means that if more than two cores are active, you'll be running at 3.5GHz rather than 3.3GHz. A lot of modern boards play games like these with multipliers, but what makes the Gaming 5P's behavior more troubling is that the firmware shows the default non-overclocked Turbo multipliers while actually using the overclocked ones. Nasty.
Apart from these gripes, the firmware is a pleasure to use, and it caters to newbies and seasoned overclockers alike.
Software that'll have you seeing red
As with the board's firmware, the X99-Gaming 5P's included software is essentially the same as what the X99-UD4 offers, except for one small difference: this is a gaming board. As a result, the interface wears a coat of red paint. Once again, I'll point you to the appropriate section of Geoff's X99-UD4 review for a detailed overview of the software. If you've got a pair of anaglyph 3D glasses handy, look through just the red lens so you can get the full gaming effect.
Unfortunately, my simple mind associates red with entering the danger zone. Upon starting Easy Tune on the X99-Gaming 5P, a brief moment of panic set in for me. Once that wore off, Easy Tune functioned exactly as it does on Gigabyte's other 9-series boards. Tweaking options are grouped under Advanced CPU OC, Advanced DDR OC, and 3D Power tabs. Just remember that the Advanced DDR OC tab only has settings for memory timings—memory voltages are found under Advanced CPU OC.
Fan speed controls live in Gigabyte's separate System Information Viewer application, and they're excellent. The user may configure an ideal fan response curve by adjusting five points on a graph of system workload versus temperature. There's also a calibration function that ensures each fan has an accurate profile by measuring the actual speed ranges of the fans connected to the board. This functionality is miles ahead of what's available for fan speed controls in the Gaming 5P's firmware. Hopefully, we'll see this level of control migrate to the firmware in future boards, as well.
One minor weakness is worthy of note, though. The fan speeds key on the CPU's utilization rather than its temperature. A more ideal control algorithm would adjust fan speeds directly in response to heat rather than CPU activity.
Modern premium motherboards often include a mobile monitoring app for one's smartphone. Like the rest of Gigabyte's 9-series boards, the X99-Gaming 5P is no exception. Gigabyte's entry into the smartphone app race is called Cloud Station, and it requires a corresponding Cloud Station Server app to run on the host system.
The Cloud Station app turns an Android or iOS device into your motherboard's trusty sidekick. It can monitor and tweak system settings, among other functions. With the X99-Gaming 5P, the tuner options let users modify settings like the base clock, CPU multiplier, and some pertinent voltages, while the monitoring options let users keep an eye on a handful of voltages, fan speeds, and temperatures. It would be nice to have the ability to set alarm thresholds and notifications for those variables, but simple monitoring is a good start.