Gigabyte’s X399 Aorus Xtreme motherboard reviewed

AMD’s second-generation Ryzen Threadripper CPUs proved a bit of a bump in the road for the long-term compatibility roadmap for its X399 high-end desktop motherboards. The Threadripper 2990WX and Threadripper 2920WX pose some of the highest per-socket demands for power this side of a dual-socket server.

AMD is confident that every X399 motherboard launched alongside first-generation Ryzen Threadrippers will be able to handle its latest high-end CPUs at stock speeds, but holding up to the demands of overclocking those chips is another story. To keep up with those parts, motherboard makers are supporting the second-generation Threadripper launch with some new boards meant to allow no-limits tweaking of WX-series chips.

Gigabyte’s X399 motherboard range previously topped out with the X399 Aorus Gaming 7 and X399 Designare EX, both of which are rock-solid boards that I’ve had the pleasure of using on the bench and in system builds. With the advent of second-generation Threadripper chips, the company has stepped up to the plate with a fresh board designed with Threadripper WX parts in mind: the X399 Aorus Extreme.

The Aorus Extreme earns its name by starting with an E-ATX foundation. Gigabyte kept all of its past X399 boards within an ATX footprint, but the Aorus Extreme needed to loosen a belt loop to let the company’s designers cram everything they needed onto its surface.

To get power to second-generation Threadripper CPUs, Gigabyte uses an unusual International Rectifier PowIRStage, the IR3578, as the main building block for the Aorus Extreme’s 10-phase main VRM. For the unfamiliar, PowIRStages integrate the high-side, low-side, and driver circuitry of a buck converter into a single package for better efficiency and thermal characteristics. The PWM controller for this array of PowIRStages is the common IR35201, and it gets signals to all of those phases with IR3599 doublers.

In this particular PowIRStage’s case, IR tops off the package with an exposed metal cap to enhance cooling. We’ve seen this design used to great effect with Intersil power stages in the past, and it’s the first sign that Gigabyte is serious about keeping the Aorus Extreme’s power-delivery circuitry cool.

 

Gigabyte’s engineers put that exposed metal cap to good use by running a heat pipe directly over the CPU VRM. That heatpipe transfers thermal energy into an honest-to-goodness fin stack similar to the one we saw on the X470 Aorus Gaming 7 Wifi. The fin stack runs over the board’s SoC VRM phases, as well. This time around, Gigabyte has plated the heatsink’s fins in a dark nickel or similar material that results in a beautiful luster. Gigabyte also notes that it uses premium thermal pads rated for 5 W/mK of conductance between the board’s power circuitry and the heatsink above.

As another layer of insurance against a 250-W TDP CPU and the stress it could place on power-delivery circuitry, Gigabyte nestles not one, but two 30-mm fans underneath the Aorus Extreme’s I/O shroud. These spinners kick on only when the board’s VRM gets hot enough to demand it. We’re usually wary of putting fans this tiny in any system, but the fans the company has chosen for the Aorus Extreme only add a minor whir to a system’s noise signature—certainly nothing a user will notice in a Threadripper build under full load.

Flipping the Aorus Extreme over reveals a full-coverage back plate. This plate isn’t just for looks and structural reinforcement, although it certainly achieves both of those goals. It’s finished with what Gigabyte calls a “nano-carbon” coating that’s purported to improve the thermal radiation from its surface. Gigabyte uses another thermal pad between the plate and power-delivery components on the back of the board to turn it into part of the VRM cooling arrangement.

The X399 Aorus Extreme comes with Gigabyte’s DualBIOS pair of firmware chips for insurance against overclocking or firmware update failures, and its main EEPROM chip is socketed. Should you mangle your board’s firmware beyond repair (and even beyond the help of the backup BIOS chip), Gigabyte can simply send out a pre-programmed EEPROM chip rather than arranging the return of the entire board for repair.

That socketed chip could be handy should one ever have to update the board for use with future Threadrippers, too, since Gigabyte curiously omits its Q-Flash Plus feature from the Aorus Extreme. Q-Flash Plus allows a system builder to update firmware without anything more than a USB flash drive and a power supply, and it recently saved my bacon when I attempted to boot the Ryzen Threadripper 2950X with a stale BIOS on the X399 Aorus Gaming 7.

Like most Threadripper motherboards, the Aorus Extreme has eight DIMM slots to allow for two DIMMs in each of a Threadripper CPU’s four memory channels. While Gigabyte says the Aorus Extreme can handle as much as 128 GB of RAM, tops, AMD informally suggests that Threadripper memory capacity is limited only by the density and number of DIMMs one can cram into an X399 board’s DIMM slots.

In another point of interest to workstation builders, Gigabyte says the Aorus Extreme supports unbuffered ECC DIMMs for those whose concern lies more with data integrity than with flat-out speed. Whatever approach you want to take in providing your Threadripper CPU with RAM, the Aorus Extreme seems to stand ready for it.

 

Expansion, I/O, and audio

The X399 platform’s primary appeal beyond the raw performance of the chips it plays host to is AMD’s no-compromises approach to CPU PCIe lanes and peripheral expansion. The Aorus Extreme does a good job of tapping most of the X399 platform’s potential.

Let’s start our examination with this board’s port cluster. First up, we get dedicated, LED-illuminated clear-CMOS and power buttons on the back panel for use on a test bench. The power button can double as a reset button with the proper setup in the board’s firmware, too.

The Aorus Extreme also has a whopping eight USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports in its I/O block, all from the Ryzen Threadripper SoC itself. USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A and Type-C ports in red come from the X399 chipset. Nice and simple.

Gigabyte taps two Intel Gigabit Ethernet NICs for the leftmost and middle 8P8C connectors in the port block. The third 8P8C connector, molded in red, is wired to an Aquantia AQC107 10-Gigabit Ethernet controller. Support for that high-speed, next-gen networking standard is a welcome sight on a board that’s meant to serve the highest-end desktop systems.

The Aquantia 10 GbE NIC, under its heatsink

We’ve seen other manufacturers ship 10 GbE NICs with X399 boards before, but those NICs are usually discrete daughter boards that will occupy PCIe slots of their own (not that you’re hurting for PCIe lanes or slots with X399 boards, of course). Still, Gigabyte’s move to integrate the Aorus Extreme’s 10-GbE NIC with the rest of its ports is both elegant and appreciated.

For those without cable runs to their office, Gigabyte includes an Intel Wireless-AC 8265 radio in the Aorus Extreme’s back panel. This wireless module is the only minor letdown in the Aorus Extreme’s port cluster. While it does support 2×2 MIMO streams, the 8265 tops out at transfer rates of 867 Mbps. That’s a bit of a shame given that 802.11ac Wave 2 compatible routers can push theoretical transfer rates of well over 1 Gbps. The company integrates newer and faster Intel radios capable of talking 802.11ac Wave 2 on some of its other high-end AMD boards, so we’re not sure why the forward-looking Aorus Xtreme comes saddled with the past-its-sell-by-date Wireless-AC 8265. That said, high-end builders are probably more interested in that Aquantia 10-GbE NIC for high-speed networking, anyway.

All four of the X399 Aorus Extreme’s physical PCIe x16 slots draw their connectivity from the Ryzen Threadripper SoC. From left to right, the first and third slots on the board get a full 16 lanes to go with their physical form factors. The second and fourth slots offer eight lanes of connectivity. A single PCIe 2.0 x1 slot hangs off the X399 chipset.

The Aorus Extreme’s slots are metal-reinforced but not RGB LED-illuminated, as some of the slots on Gigabyte’s past X399 boards have been. Given that those lights are usually covered up by expansion cards anyway, we’re not mourning the omission here.

For spinning rust and 2.5″ SSDs, Gigabyte includes six SATA ports from the X399 chipset. While we might have preferred to see eight SATA ports on a high-end desktop board until recently, the increasing density of hard disk drives and the already-copious M.2 options on the Aorus Extreme lessen the sting of that design choice somewhat.

Gigabyte uses the space where those extra SATA ports could have gone to include a six-pin PCIe auxiliary power connector. That plug is there to provide extra juice if a builder chooses to populate every one of the board’s PCIe slots with power-hungry graphics cards, whether for a deep-learning workstation or for 3DMark record-breaking.

Gigabyte wires the remaining 12 PCIe 3.0 lanes from the CPU to three PCIe x4 M.2 slots on the Aorus Extreme. All three of the board’s M.2 slots support both SATA and NVMe drives, and they come covered with metal heatsinks backed by thermal pads to effect at least some heat transfer away from the drives underneath. The first and third M.2 slots support devices as long as 110 mm, while the middle slot supports popular 80-mm-long gumsticks only.

The Aorus Extreme’s storage heatsinks aren’t much more than smooth metal affairs, though, so their actual effectiveness in keeping M.2 gumsticks cool could be questionable, especially if they’re in the path of the jet blast from a graphics card. If you’d rather not test their worth, the heatsinks are easy enough to leave off.

No AMD X399 motherboard has come equipped with Intel’s Thunderbolt 3 interface on board, whether through an onboard controller or an add-in card. That said, the Aorus Xtreme at least suggests that a Thunderbolt expansion card could one day occupy one of its expansion slots. A discreet THB_C header on the board’s front edge tips off this possibility.

For audio, Gigabyte taps Realtek’s highest-end ALC1220-VB audio codec, the output of which it runs through an ESS Sabre 9118EQ DAC. I found the output of this onboard audio subsystem pleasant, clean, and well-balanced, and it even revealed details in some tracks that I hadn’t previously noticed. I was never tempted to reach for the equalizer as I have been with some lower-end motherboard audio setups, either. Overall, even demanding listeners shouldn’t be tempted to install a discrete sound card in their high-end Threadripper systems when using an X399 Aorus Xtreme as the foundation of their builds.

 

Firmware, fan control, and Windows software

Gigabyte has been using the same basic firmware interface across its entire motherboard lineup since mid-2016, and the X399 Aorus Xtreme soldiers on with that interface. For more perspective on Gigabyte’s most recent firmware, see our X99-Designare EX and Z270X-Gaming 5 reviews. The short take is that Gigabyte’s firmware is clean and straightforward-looking, but it can take some poking and prodding to really get a grip on the range of settings it exposes to builders, and it’s not always clear how the various settings in the firmware interact.

The fact that AMD Ryzen CPUs just don’t have that many parameters to tweak for voltage and CPU frequency helps overcome some of Gigabyte’s somewhat balky user-interface design choices, and the text-field-heavy interface helps make navigating the wide menu of memory settings available from Ryzen chips simple, too.

The key things builders will want to do in the firmware for Ryzen CPUs are enabling XMP, tweaking CPU multipliers, and adjusting voltage settings for the CPU. Those tasks are simple and straightforward in the X399 Aorus Xtreme’s firmware, and I found it easy to get in and out of the firmware while tweaking settings for overclocking.

Folks interested in system tweaking in Windows will want to fire up Gigabyte’s Easy Tune software. Easy Tune exposes all of the voltage and frequency settings available from the board’s firmware in graphical form. Easy Tune also provides monitoring for important parameters like CPU Vcore and the various temperature sensors across the motherboard.

At least, that’s the theory. While Easy Tune opened up just fine on the X399 Aorus Xtreme, attempting to access the Advanced CPU OC tab on our test system caused the application to crash. That’s OK, because (no offense to Gigabyte here) AMD’s Ryzen Master software exposes pretty much every system-tuning parameter you’d want to use with a Threadripper CPU anyway. More on that later.

Gigabyte has made universal fan compatibility a headlining feature of its Aorus motherboards. The Smart Fan 5 branding on the X399 Aorus Xtreme means that each of its five (or six, if you count CPU_OPT) fan headers can automatically sense the type of fan that’s plugged in and control them. Two of the board’s headers can automatically detect liquid-cooling pumps, as well. The only necessary user intervention is if a builder wants to configure fan curves of their own, and that requires diving into the Smart Fan 5 interface in the system’s firmware.

Builders can set up custom fan control settings on Aorus boards through the firmware or the System Information Viewer utility in Windows. The firmware fan control interface gives builders access to practically every tweaking parameter available from the Aorus Xtreme. Each of the board’s fans has a five-point speed curve to tweak, and Gigabyte offers three prebaked curves (normal, silent, and full speed) per fan header. The Aorus Xtreme still can’t calibrate minimum and maximum fan speeds in firmware, but if Gigabyte ever implements that change, Smart Fan 5 will be nearly perfect.

The firmware also lets owners choose the input one of several temperature sensors to control fan speed. Instead of relying on just one motherboard temperature sensor in an indeterminate location, the Gaming 7’s headers can respond to changes in CPU temperatures, chipset temperature, and VRM temperatures, or the signal from the included thermocouple, among other inputs. Overall, Gigabyte’s latest firmware fan control interface is excellent, and it almost negates the need for Windows software entirely.

System Information Viewer remains the way to control fans on Gigabyte motherboards in Windows, but its Smart Fan 5 Advanced mode still doesn’t let users choose the temperature source that controls each fan. For that reason alone (and because of the fact that manually finding the lowest speed each fan can run at isn’t that big a deal), I’d forgo SIV and just tweak fans in the Aorus Xtreme’s incredibly-capable firmware. I’ve long felt that Gigabyte’s Windows software needs a unified redesign similar to that of Asus’, and the Aorus Xtreme does little to change that view.

 

RGB LEDs

Back at CES, Gigabyte talked to us about its future plans for RGB LEDs on its motherboards. The company plans to include fewer RGB LEDs on its products overall, favoring arrays of individually-addressable blinkenlights in places where they’ll have lots of punch. The company also planned to move away from the harsh, naked lighting typical of its early Aorus boards in favor of more sophisticated-looking diffusion. The X399 Aorus Extreme is probably the best example of that RGB LED approach so far.

The board itself includes four separate lighting zones. A backlit Aorus logo and diffuser on the I/O shroud make up one zone. A small diffused strip of LEDs over the audio circuitry comprises zone two. Zone three illuminates the Aorus logo and the surrounding swoosh on the chipset heatsink.

A full-length RGB LED strip on the right edge of the board makes up zone four. All of these zones use individually-addressable RGB LEDs for fancy lighting effects controllable through Gigabyte’s RGB Fusion software.

For the unfamiliar, RGB Fusion has three paths to rave-lighting bliss. First up is Basic Mode. This setup lets lighting designers control every LED on the board at once using seven distinct animation effects. Static allows the user to set one color and brightness level for the entire board. Pulse gently illuminates and darkens the board in one color at one of three available speeds. Music blinks out a one-color light show in sync with any audio that’s playing through the Aorus Xtreme’s outputs. Color Cycle takes the whole board through the standard rainbow sweep that defines RGB LED lighting for many. Flash blinks every LED on and off at one of three speeds. Double Flash unsurprisingly doubles the blink rate of Flash. Random, well, randomly illuminates each of the board’s zones with different colors in an unpredictable swirl. Finally, Wave engages a complex rainbow carousel that swirls clockwise around all four of the board’s lighting zones.

Builders who don’t feel content with Basic Mode’s prebaked profiles or who want to set up each of the Aorus Xtreme’s zones individually can click over to Advanced Mode. Any of the board’s zones can be assigned the Pulse, Static, Flash, Double Flash, or Color Cycle effects, or users can go hog-wild with a custom animation sequence of their own.

The Custom interface brings up an array of up to seven color stops. Users can define the transition speed between stops (anywhere from five to 30 seconds) and the duration the sequence spends on each stop (anywhere from one to 60 seconds). Each stop can have a color assigned to it, as well as a choice of Pulse, Static, or Flash animation settings. As we noted, the minimum duration of each stop is just one second, but transitions remain at a five-second minimum. Unlike past versions of RGB Fusion, the transition between stops is at least a smooth shift from color to color rather than a jump cut to black and a fade back up to the next stop. I still want Gigabyte to make it such that lighting freaks can crank the speeds of these transitions way up, as the Wave mode makes it clear that the hardware is plenty capable of rapid shifts between colors. Five-second transitions are relaxing, but the option for more speed would be nice.

On top of those custom zones, the Aorus Xtreme boasts two sets of RGB LED strip headers: a pair of good old RGBW pins and another pair ready to power “digital LED strips,” or strips with individually-addressable LEDs. The Aorus Xtreme can control standard RGB or RGBW strips using the same array of Custom settings I described for each lighting zone above. Individually-addressable strips can use those same custom settings, or builders can assign any of up to 11 distinct animation modes that Gigabyte bakes into RGB Fusion. I won’t go into those modes here, but Gigabyte provides vivid demos of each one on this board’s product page.

Even though the four main lighting zones on the Aorus Xtreme look a lot like the individually-addressable RGB LED strip built into the X470 Aorus Gaming 7 Wifi’s I/O shroud, and even though the Aorus Xtreme’s Wave color mode looks suspiciously similar to one of the company’s effects for individually-addressable LED strips on that Socket AM4 board, switching over to the Advanced Mode interface doesn’t expose any of the Digital Light modes available to the individually-addressable RGB LED strip headers on the Aorus Xtreme. That omission seems strange to me, given that Gigabyte seemed content to let lighting fans let their freak flags fly with the X470 Aorus Gaming 7 Wifi’s digital LED region.

If my complaints with the X399 Aorus Xtreme’s lighting zones ended there, I would be OK with the board’s overall RGB LED execution. Unfortunately, I found more speed bumps during my travels on Rainbow Road. This board doesn’t seem to play along with the primary mission of Gigabyte’s RGB Fusion software: keeping different RGB LED-illuminated peripherals in sync. With two different RGB LED RAM kits, RGB Fusion couldn’t keep the prebaked Color Cycle mode in sync across the LEDs of the motherboard and RAM. The motherboard’s LEDs and RAM LEDs started on different colors and never got back in time. Trying to engage the Wave preset caused the LEDs on board both RAM kits to shut off entirely, a behavior that I wasn’t expecting.

Overall, the X399 Aorus Xtreme has plenty of high-quality lighting hardware on board and a wealth of places to hook up more, but the RGB Fusion software clearly needs some work yet so that it can properly sync lighting effects across the various peripherals it might be asked to command. Other Gigabyte motherboards I’ve used don’t have these issues, so I expect that a little work on the Aorus Xtreme’s software will iron out the wrinkles I found. At the very least, I think Gigabyte ought to be clearer about what effects will and won’t work across different RGB LED-lit peripherals, as with this board’s Wave effect and RGB LED RAM.

 

Overclocking and VRM stress-testing

With its massive, high-surface-area VRM heatsink and many-phased VRM, the X399 Aorus Xtreme is practically begging its owner to turn up the clocks on the CPU in its socket. We gladly obliged with our Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX to put the maximum possible stress on this board’s components.

One feature we haven’t extensively covered on second-generation Ryzen Threadrippers is that they’re the first Ryzen CPUs to support Precision Boost Overdrive, an operating mode that takes the stock shackles off those chips’ Precision Boost 2 and XFR 2 intelligence. With Precision Boost Overdrive enabled, a second-generation Ryzen Threadripper can use all of the power, current, and thermal headroom available to it when it’s determining clock speeds under sustained workloads while also maintaining Precision Boost’s light-workload intelligence. That means builders no longer have to trade off single-core performance from their Threadrippers when dialing in an all-core overclock.

AMD says PBO will automatically result in increased performance without any further intervention from the user past switching it on, but I didn’t really notice any increase in all-core clock speeds with our Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX until I manually started increasing power and current limits. Perhaps that’s a consequence of using our Threadripper 2990WX to begin with, since that chip might not leave much operating margin from its host motherboard.

Once I gave the chip some extra room to run with those limiters, Precision Boost Overdrive topped out at 3.6 GHz no matter how much I cranked power and current limits, suggesting a thermal limit of some kind was in play. Still, overclocking with Precision Boost Overdrive proved painless and stable, and a 20% all-core boost that allows our chip to maintain its stock dynamic-voltage-and-frequency-scaling intelligence is a worthy payoff for clicking on a couple of up arrows a few times.

Gigabyte doesn’t include any pre-baked overclocking profiles in the Aorus Xtreme’s firmware, but its Easy Tune Windows software does have a one-click auto-tuner built in. I gave that utility a click and let it do its thing, and it eventually arrived at a 3.4-GHz all-core overclock after some iterative stress testing. That overclock proved stable in Blender’s Classroom benchmark, my stress test of choice for AVX workloads these days.

While that figure isn’t far off what Precision Boost Overdrive achieved, the problem with Gigabyte’s auto-overclocking approach is that it’s as restrictive as manual tuning on any Ryzen CPU. That’s thanks to the fact that these chips enter an OC Mode that disables all dynamic-voltage-and-frequency-scaling intelligence when the user forces them to run outside of stock parameters. Unlike Precision Boost Overdrive, then, Gigabyte’s own auto-tuning approach doesn’t keep Precision Boost 2 enabled, meaning that whatever ceiling it finds will also be the peak single-core boost speed the processor on board can run at.

In the case of our Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX, then, the 3.4-GHz all-core overclock that Gigabyte’s utility found is some 800 MHz short of what the 2990WX’s stock configuration can boost to. Some users might be OK with that tradeoff, but I generally think giving up so much single-core clock speed is going to severely limit the appeal of Gigabyte’s auto-tuning approach compared to PBO. That’s not a knock on Gigabyte, to be clear—the company is doing the best it can with what it’s been given. Ultimately, though, features like Precision Boost Overdrive are probably going to supersede motherboard makers’ own auto-overclocking logic with future AMD CPUs.

Next, I turned to manual overclocking. After checking out some of Gigabyte’s own overclocking results on the X399 Aorus Xtreme as a guide to what was possible, I reached a 4-GHz stable OC with a 1.29 V Vcore set in the board’s BIOS. Even though Blender was happy running the Classroom benchmark file at those settings, our Enermax Liqtech TR4 240-mm liquid cooler was not. Given that our system was drawing over 800 W from the wall with those settings and our AVX-heavy Blender workload, it’s perhaps not a surprise that our CPU cooler was being overwhelmed.

During my manual overclocking efforts, I monitored the X399 Aorus Xtreme’s VRM temperatures and the behavior of its cooling system for that circuitry. Unlike some other active VRM cooling implementations we’ve seen, the X399 Aorus Extreme directs the jet blast from its power-delivery subsystem directly onto the first DIMM slot and the memory stick that occupies it. Documentation suggests DDR4 memory chips shouldn’t get any hotter than 85° C, and directing the considerable waste heat of the Aorus Xtreme’s VRM onto a DIMM could push that memory module closer to that limit than one might like.

Most other motherboards with active VRM cooling draw air over any heatsinks and exhaust it through a grate on the I/O shield. We think if Gigabyte wanted, it could have used a perforated I/O shield so that those fans could either draw in fresh air or exhaust waste heat through the rear of the case. The Aorus Xtreme’s I/O cluster is dense with port blocks, sure, but there’s still plenty of space above them where one could punch holes and direct exhaust, perhaps even with the help of a duct to prevent too much heat from reaching those ports.

For all that, the Aorus Xtreme’s VRM heatsink is undoubtedly effective. Even with no other airflow on the socket, the VRM temperature sensor reported 103° C while the 2990WX was running our Blender workload—a good sign that the heatsink and fans on top of the board’s power stages were doing their jobs. Even a single 120-mm fan directed at the socket and running at modest RPMs would bring the temperature of the power-delivery circuitry far away from Gigabyte’s specified 115° C throttling limit.

Gigabyte isn’t blowing hot air when it says the Aorus Xtreme’s backplate has a role to play in drawing heat away from the VRM, either, as the thermal pad that couples the backplate to the back side of the motherboard seemed to move quite a bit of heat into that massive sheet of metal, at least going by feel. The company clearly doesn’t want the operating conditions of the board’s power-delivery subsystem to be a limit to overclocking prowess, and it’s taken great care to ensure that the VRM remains relatively cool even under the most punishing conditions.

Whether we used Precision Boost Overdrive or turned to manual tweaking, the X399 Aorus Xtreme had no issues helping us take our Threadripper 2990WX to the limits of the best CPU heatsink we had at hand. While we strongly warn against a low-airflow or zero-airflow environment around the CPU socket of a chip that’s capable of pulling over 800 W from the wall, the Aorus Xtreme’s fine actively-cooled VRM heatsink held its power-delivery subsystem well within specified thermal limits even under those grueling conditions. All told, this is a fine board for the enthusiast looking to push their second-generation Ryzen Threadripper to the limit.

 

Conclusions

AMD’s Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX is a bona-fide halo product, and the X399 Aorus Extreme has proven itself a worthy foundation for that demanding chip over the course of our recent testing.

While I applaud Gigabyte’s return to fin stacks and heat pipes for its highest-end VRM heatsinks, I feel like the company could have picked a better place to exhaust waste heat from the Aorus Xtreme’s actively-cooled VRM  than directly onto the board’s first memory module. As someone who lives in an entirely wireless household, I think the company could have picked a higher-end wireless radio for the Aorus Xtreme than Intel’s aged Wireless-AC 8265, as well. This is a $450 motherboard, after all.

Gigabyte X399 Aorus Xtreme

September 2018

Those minor nitpicks aside, I found precious little to fault with the Aorus Xtreme. Threadripper CPUs and the X399 platform give Gigabyte’s engineers plenty of USB ports and PCIe 3.0 lanes to play with, and the Aorus Xtreme taps almost every one of them. An integrated 10-Gigabit-Ethernet NIC, a high-end onboard audio suite, and a socketed BIOS chip really set this board apart.

Gigabyte’s straightforward UEFI and excellent firmware fan controls will satisfy experienced builders, and the company’s Windows software remains capable enough, even if its functionality is scattered across multiple applications. If you’d rather install the bare minimum of vendor-specific software, AMD’s Ryzen Master utility deftly handles most system-monitoring and overclocking tasks in Windows without getting Gigabyte’s utilities involved.

All of the Aorus Xtreme’s RGB LEDs are elegantly diffused rather than retina-searing, and they’re all individually-addressable for slick-looking lighting effects from Gigabyte’s RGB Fusion utility—even if Gigabyte needs to put a bit of work in to ensure that RGB Fusion and the Aorus Xtreme are playing well together. Ample headers for RGBW and individually-addressable RGB LED strips let builders expand RGB Fusion’s reach from the Aorus Extreme, too.

 

Overall, Gigabyte has achieved the enviable feat of wiring up a motherboard as complicated as this one without designing itself into a corner. All of its ports and headers are wired as they ought to be. All of its slots work together without stealing each others’ connectivity. Last, but certainly not least, the X399 Aorus Extreme just looks and feels like a motherboard this expensive should.

If a motherboard company had asked us to design a top-shelf X399 board, the result probably wouldn’t have been far from the X399 Aorus Extreme. For folks who want a rock-solid and fully-featured Threadripper board that looks good both at work and at play, the Aorus Extreme should be at the top of their shopping lists. I’m happy to call it a TR Editor’s Choice.

Comments closed
    • Chazza
    • 1 year ago

    Great review, especially like the image of the board with the LiqTech AIO mounted, as this is the cooler I’ll be using to cool my 2950X with this board (albeit the newer RGB LiqTech II variant).

    From testing KitGuru did with the MSI MEG Creation, the 2990WX seems seems better suited to the MSI than this Gigabyte board (the MSI beats the GB in VRM temps, CPU temps and system power draw when overclocked to 4GHz).

    However as I’ll be using a 2950X with half the cores, I think this board will be more than capable. Especially as it has a few extra niceties such as Type-A and Type-C USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports on the rear IO (why the MSI doesn’t have this is beyond me, only got Gen 1) and the built in 10G NIC.

    I’m also replacing the built-in Wi-Fi card with the Killer Wireless-AC 1550 (Intel 9260) to get those Wave 2 speeds and BT 5.0.

    I think the Aorus is the nicest looking X399 board out there, the design of the MSI MEG is horrible in my eyes!

    • Shobai
    • 1 year ago

    [quote<]Like all Threadripper motherboards, the Aorus Extreme has eight DIMM slots [/quote<] [url=https://www.asrock.com/mb/AMD/X399M%20Taichi/index.asp<]Asrock's X399M Taichi[/url<] would like a word.

      • Bauxite
      • 1 year ago

      While we’re picking that nit, I have another one:

      [quote<]Gigabyte says the Aorus Extreme supports unbuffered ECC DIMMs for those whose concern lies more with data integrity than with flat-out speed.[/quote<] Unlike Xeon platforms, with TR you can have ECC [i<]and[/i<] memory overclocking. Not only that, but you can still get premium samsung B-die chips on unbuffered modules too, although they don't come "pre-binned" or with mostly useless slivers of metal attached. Its actually easier to fine tune for stability, because instead of random silent corruption and crashes, in a properly functioning setup you have an error log to check. 3200C14@1DPC and 2933@2DPC are not hard to achieve in my experience. Increasing the fabric speed on Zen is worth it.

        • techguy
        • 1 year ago

        ECC + memory overclocking – now that’s a niche!

          • Bauxite
          • 1 year ago

          Only really because of historical intel segmentation on ECC (sigh) and slow JEDEC etc standards. Literally every other data bus of importance (inside and outside) has similar correction schemes or encoding as the [u<]default[/u<], only PC ram seems to lie apart. The actual tech doesn't sit still as long. DDR4 isn't exactly [i<]NEW[/i<]. Samsung makes bog-standard mass production 3200 chips as of last year even though the officially supported standards just barely hit 2933 on AMD, intel is still parked at 2666. Meanwhile insane tweaker cherry-picked ram is already at [b<]double[/b<] the 2133 DDR4 launch speeds. ECC is also literally better to "overclock", mostly because you can dial in to the best timings and prove the stability in short order. It would be nice if boost/turbo/PBO/whatever kind of improvements would makes its way there next.

    • blastdoor
    • 1 year ago

    The 2990wx sure is a niche within a niche. I suspect a nontrivial number of people who buy it will be making a mistake.

    I might be one of them.

    After much indecision, I finally decided to go ahead and buy a system with the 2990wx (not building it myself, don’t have time). Given the findings from various reviews online, I went with Linux. I am cautiously optimistic that, with Linux, my particular set of workloads will do well on this chip, but it’s a gamble. The safer bet definitely would have been the 1950x or the 2950x. But man, if my workloads do scale as well with this as I think they might, it’s going to be awesome.

      • chuckula
      • 1 year ago

      Intel will go bankrupt years before they can compete with the Powar of Ripper^2.

      You chose wisely grasshoppah.

      • kuraegomon
      • 1 year ago

      Please do explain further, if possible (maybe in the forums?)… And definitely report back one way or the other!

        • blastdoor
        • 1 year ago

        [url<]https://techreport.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=121316[/url<]

      • dragontamer5788
      • 1 year ago

      From a parallelization point of view, its difficult to keep a multi-core CPU at 100% utilization, but there are various design patterns that can do it.

      It may be difficult to program a well-scaling parallel program (ex: Handbrake / x264 scales to roughly 20-threads), but you can always run a bunch of programs at the same time to cheat your CPU utilization up. For example, since the 2990wx has 64-threads, you simply run 4x Handbrakes at the same time (16-threads each, and each one on its own NUMA node).

      It doesn’t work all the time, but it works enough of the times that it should be your first attempt at parallelization. (Ex: 4x instances of Blender can run at the same time).

      Play with affinity settings if you dare: [url<]https://manpages.debian.org/testing/util-linux/taskset.1.en.html[/url<] Affinity can slow you down (since the OS will no longer "float" threads to other cores). But if you use Affinity correctly, you may extract some additional speed from your setups. EDIT: Also numactl may come in handy: [url<]https://linux.die.net/man/8/numactl[/url<]

        • blastdoor
        • 1 year ago

        I do a lot of Monte Carlo simulations in R. It is “embarrassingly parallel” in the sense that there is a large number of replications in a simulation (for example, 10k) and all the replications are entirely independent of each other.

        I *think* (but am not sure) that most of the simulations I run *ought* to be able to handle the goofy memory access limitations of the 2990wx if the OS is smart about task scheduling. But we shall see…

          • dragontamer5788
          • 1 year ago

          The issue there would be NUMA / RAM allocations. You wanna make sure that you use both memory-nodes, instead of hammering just one of them. You might also have a RAM-latency issue: “remote” RAM is ~200+ns, while “local” RAM is 100ns.

          You can ignore the 2nd issue and do numactl –interleave, which basically does a RAID-0 like striping of RAM across your two RAM nodes. So you’ll average out the latency, and RAM will randomly be from both nodes.

          If you can run at least two different processes, then you can use numactl to keep all memory allocations “local”. Ex: run one program on NUMA Node 0, and the 2nd program on NUMA Node 2.

          * Configure the programs as follows: Numa Node 0 uses RAM from node 0, and CPUs from Node 0 and 1.
          * The 2nd program runs on Numa Node 2, and uses CPUs from nodes 2 and 3.

          And then you have to somehow figure out how to combine the results from those two programs. Alternatively, you write code that manually juggles this stuff for you (but only low-level languages like C has NUMA-specifiers on your memory allocation commands…)

          ———–

          In either case, the “proper” configuration may take a bit of experimenting. But you can control all of this with the numactl command. Use “numactl –hardware” to see how the 2990wx looks like to Linux (so you know which memory nodes are close to which CPU nodes), and you’ll all be set.

          And of course: measure the results. The Linux command “time” is a simple tool to tell you how long a command takes.

            • blastdoor
            • 1 year ago

            Thanks! I’ll keep this info handy and start experimenting as soon as the machine arrives (could be a couple of weeks, apparently).

      • Chrispy_
      • 1 year ago

      We were going to buy a whole bunch of 2990WX nodes – I had them on preorder pending the performance of the engineering sample I was given.

      Single-socket performance is very impressive so if you can load all the cores you’re definitely going to benefit but there are definitely some scaling limitations; The 1950X renders at 2x the speed of the R7 1700 (similar clocks but half the cores). The 2990WX is quite a long way off being twice as fast again, and it’s a bit of a nightmare to cool if you want those XFR clocks.

      I think a large case and decent AIO (280mm or larger) will be absolutely fine – but also add dedicated VRM cooling. Our engineering sample was part of an air-cooled test for rack-mounting and the VRM temperatures were high (but within limits) even with a lot of airflow around the socket.

      We’re going to double up on nodes and stick with 1950X, mainly for higher performance/$ and easier air cooling but we also have the luxury of an environment optimised for distributed rendering and multi-node management. I’m still considering replacing all the workstations of our visualisation department with 2990WX versions (they’re on Haswell-E at the moment and long overdue a core-count upgrade!)

      • techguy
      • 1 year ago

      I thought about the 2990WX until the reviews came out. I think now if I ever decide to go that route I’ll just run ESXi on it and spin up a few VMs for various tasks. One as a dedicated Plex server, and another 2-4 for video editing (since most apps in my editing workflow cannot run multiple instances in the same O.S.). Just need to figure out the shared storage side of the equation as right now all my storage is in the form of local disks. Not many 15-bay NAS enclosures out there though. Maybe I can pull a decommissioned SAN from work 😀

        • Srsly_Bro
        • 1 year ago

        Indeed. I see lots of nice hardware put into storage and I’m like wtf.

        • just brew it!
        • 1 year ago

        [quote<]Not many 15-bay NAS enclosures out there though.[/quote<] 15x3.5" or 15x2.5"? If you're using 2.5" drives all you need is 3 of [url=https://www.amazon.com/ICY-DOCK-Mobile-Comparable-Tray-less/dp/B01M0BIPYC/<]these[/url<], and a case with 3 external 5.25" bays.

          • techguy
          • 1 year ago

          3.5″

          I have 15x 3.5″ drives in my media server, 10x 4TB and 5x 8TB (slowly replacing the 4TB drives).

    • techguy
    • 1 year ago

    How do Blender workloads compare to other AVX workloads like Handbrake in terms of power consumption? Is it 100% load across all cores or are there load balancing or even power limitations that prevent a full load equilibrium?

      • Jeff Kampman
      • 1 year ago

      I would say Handbrake has higher peak power draw than Blender, but it’s also not as steady-state, whereas Blender tends to be a more steady-state workload with more consistent load power. Few, if any, real-world applications are going to maintain 100% load across all cores 100% of the time.

    • Krogoth
    • 1 year ago

    It needs more cowbell.

      • chuckula
      • 1 year ago

      When it’s running at 4 GHz it’s got a fever. And the only cooling prescription is moar cowbell!

      #Thermodynamics

        • Redocbew
        • 1 year ago

        Hmm… I wonder what the sequential portion of a cowbell is.

      • just brew it!
      • 1 year ago

      Don’t Fear The Ripper?

      • Wirko
      • 1 year ago

      Around the eagle’s neck.

    • chuckula
    • 1 year ago

    I’m glad to see they put one of those beefy arms back on there.

    As for cooling when “overclocked” to 4GHz, I think Intel demoed a good solution for Skylake X.

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