When TR writers build personal systems, we usually try to keep things sensible. Look at the Sweet Spot or Sweeter Spot builds in our System Guides, and you've got a decent idea of what sits under our desks. A rare few folk might find the quad-core CPUs and single-graphics-card configs in those builds to be too... pedestrian, shall we say.
For those builders, starting with the X99 platform is a given. Thunderbolt 3 support would be nice to have, and enough PCIe lanes for three graphics cards with a full 16 lanes running to each one wouldn't be out of the question. Perhaps their workloads are even demanding enough that they can harness the ten cores and 20 threads of Intel's Core i7-6950X. These folks are building bona-fide workstations, and they've got wallets fat enough to spare no expense.
Gigabyte's GA-X99-Designare EX represents what's possible when a mobo maker pulls out all the stops in making one of the highest-end boards around. The company released the Designare EX earlier this year with the advent of Broadwell-E, and we have a Core i7-6950X on hand to push this board to its limits. Let's see what sort of accommodations this $420 motherboard offers that $1650 CPU.
As the highest-end example of Gigabyte's latest Ultra Durable boards, the X99-Designare EX's PCB comes clad with ample amounts of white plastic and aluminum, set off by blue, black, and silver accents. All eight of the Designare's DIMM slots and all five of its PCIe x16 slots are reinforced with fancy metal shields, and Gigabyte finishes the LGA 2011-v3 socket itself in a black nickel that fades beautifully into the black-and-gray PCB. All these touches add up to a distinctly high-end first impression—exactly what you'd want from a board this spendy.
Because this is the year of the RGB LED, dozens of Technicolor blinkenlights dot the Designare's surface, too. While one could make these lights shine with any of 16.7 million colors, we see no reason to depart from the default blue. Other colors have the potential to clash with the Designare's blue-and-white complexion. Gigabyte offers the usual array of crazy animations and lighting modes for these LEDs in the board's firmware and its Windows software, too.
The LED madness doesn't stop with onboard illumination. The Designare has a four-pin LED strip controller that can synchronize compatible strips with its onboard lighting. Gigabyte throws an extension cable for this header in the Designare's box, too, so builders won't have to run LED strips right up to the board when they plan their bedazzling.
Folks with a hankering for lots of RAM will be happy to know the Designare EX can handle up to 128GB of DDR4 memory running at speeds up to 3600 MT/s. If that's not enough room for your pet data set, using registered DIMMs in the Designare can push the board's maximum capacity to 256GB. The Designare doesn't support ECC RAM, though, which might turn off prospective workstation builders.
The X99 platform's copious DIMM slots lead to a rather crowded socket. We've measured distances to several critical obstructions around the socket so that builders can choose parts accordingly.
Let's take a closer look at what lies underneath the Designare EX's fancy fascias now.