Intel’s refreshed CPUs for the X299 platform gave motherboard makers a chance at a do-over in the wake of a narrowing of focus for those chips. Like I alluded to in my review of the Gigabyte X299 Designare EX, not every X299 board that’s passed through the TR labs has been a winner, especially when you toss 18 overclocked Skylake Server cores in the LGA 2066 socket.
Part of that is because Intel’s original vision for X299—an expandable, upgradeable platform that could host anything from four-core to 18-core chips—resulted in complex PCIe lane-routing choices and overburdened, undercooled power-delivery designs that didn’t seem able to stretch across that entire range without making compromises.
In the intervening year and change, AMD’s Ryzen Threadripper onslaught has made the notion of four cores on a high-end desktop platform quaint. The war is on to pack as many cores and PCIe lanes as possible into high-end motherboards, and the idea of putting mainstream desktop CPUs in high-end sockets is blessedly dead and gone. Asus has taken advantage of this opportunity to update its highest-end prosumer X299 board in the form of the Prime X299-Deluxe II.
In keeping with its Prime nameplate, the X299-Deluxe II starts out with broad swaths of white plastic shrouds, mirrored RGB LED diffusers, and brushed-aluminum accents scattered across its surface. This board has two features that immediately grab the eye, however: the real fin stack atop its primary VRM heatsink, and the sizable monochrome OLED screen mid-board that Asus calls a LiveDash.
Let’s start with that VRM first. The company calls this design a “12+2” phase setup. Compared to the eight-phase design of the original Prime X299-Deluxe, more phases sounds like a welcome improvement. The story isn’t quite that simple, though.
At the component level, Asus’ choices for the Deluxe II look solid. The company uses a proprietary Digi+ ASP1405 PWM controller (probably a relabeled International Rectifier 35201) hooked up to 12 International Rectifier 3555 integrated PowIRstages, each capable of handling up to 60 A of output current. The thing is, if the ASP1405 is in fact a rebranded IR35201, that controller would only support up to eight native phases, as we usually saw on past Asus X299 and X399 motherboards. So how does the company get to 12 phases in its marketing materials for the Prime X299-Deluxe II?
As far as I can tell, the board doesn’t actually have 12 phases. From looking at the PCB, the company has elected to double the number of power stages and inductors per phase on the Prime X299-Deluxe II without the use of PWM doublers—the components that allow motherboard makers to split out asynchronous signals from controllers that don’t actually have that many native phases. While this power-delivery subsystem might look like 12 separate phases on the motherboard, it actually seems to spread the work of getting power to the CPU across fewer phases than the wizened eight-phase design employed on many of the company’s past X99, X299, and X399 mobos, including the older Prime X299-Deluxe. It’s difficult to understand why Asus seems to be passing off this design as a 12+2-phase system in its marketing materials.
I asked Asus about some of the reasoning behind this board’s VRM design and received a wealth of commentary in return. The company notes that when designing VRMs for high-current-draw CPUs like the Core i9-9980XE, it believes the use of PWM doublers isn’t ideal, as those chips add propagation delay to the PWM signal from the controller and thereby make the VRM less responsive to large transient loads—something that’s no doubt worth worrying about in the case of chips with as many as 18 power-hungry, AVX-512-capable cores. The company acknowledges that creating more asynchronous phases by way of doublers improves the ripple-current characteristics of a VRM, but the company also notes that’s just one parameter in a broader set of design considerations.
By doubling the number of power stages per phase rather than using doubler ICs to achieve more effective phases, Asus says it has improved the amount of current each individual phase can deliver and has made a board that’s better prepared for the transient loads of CPUs like the i9-9980XE. What’s more, Asus says it sees an industry trend of increasing CPU current draw as the primary force behind its VRM designs, and that approach apparently didn’t stop with X299 boards. The company is using this basic doubling-up-per-phase approach on some of its high-end Z390 boards, as well, and it’s led to controversy among members of the extreme-overclocking community and the wider PC enthusiast world.
At the end of the day, what we care about most is that a given VRM remains cool enough to allow a system to run flat-out without throttling due to the temperatures of its power-delivery circuitry. Asus says that the vast majority of the heat from the VRM is generated by switching losses in the power stages, and so long as the PWM switching frequency is the same and the number of power-delivery components used in the VRM is the same, the temperature of the system should be the same regardless of whether the number of phases is expanded by doublers or whether two power stages are used per phase.
In conclusion, the company says that it is “absolutely not the case” that it omitted phase doublers from its VRM design to cut costs, as some sources have proposed.
Despite what otherwise seems like a well-reasoned response, Asus told me it isn’t interested in talking about phase count on the Prime X299-Deluxe when it is, in fact, talking about phase count on its product page for the motherboard. If nothing else, buyers of $500 motherboards deserve consistency and honesty in communication. Overall, it seems to me the company would be better-served by making this “phase count isn’t the only thing that matters about a VRM” argument firsthand rather than pumping up numbers for the sake of keeping up with the Joneses.
Asus has lined up a good supporting cast for its VRM, in any case. Beyond the high-surface-area heatsink, the company uses a PCB with hefty two-ounce copper layers for better heat dissipation through the circuit board itself, as well as two eight-pin EPS connectors with solid pins to help handle more current and move more heat into that PCB—not an idle concern when an overclocked X299 system can pull 600 W or thereabouts from the wall for real-world CPU loads alone.
For builders who want to test the X299-Deluxe II outside of a system, Asus includes dedicated power and reset buttons, a POST code display, a clear-CMOS button, and a dedicated button for activating the handy USB BIOS Flashback feature. USB BIOS Flashback lets a user upgrade the board’s firmware with nothing more than a power supply and a thumb drive for new CPUs, and it can also be used to recover the BIOS in the event that one messes things up beyond repair—something I’ve had to do with the outgoing Prime X299-Deluxe a few times.
The Deluxe II also has a number of status LEDs in its top-right corner for at-a-glance troubleshooting without the decoder ring required to understand the POST code display. Hardcore overclockers or system-monitoring types won’t find any voltage read points, though. Those monitoring points will likely have to wait for Asus’ X299 refresh mojo to come to its ROG boards.
Since the Prime X299-Deluxe II is a standard ATX board, it’s no shock to see eight memory slots supporting two DIMMs per channel from LGA 2066 CPUs. The company says that the Deluxe II has the multipliers needed to run dizzying DDR4-4266 RAM, but whether refreshed X299 CPUs are up to the task of running RAM at those speeds remains to be seen. Still, all but the most demanding overclockers should find that the Prime’s memory overclocking options are up to the task.
Expansion, I/O, and audio
As a prosumer motherboard, the X299-Deluxe II bristles with connectivity options.
The fun starts on the back panel. From left, we get two USB 2.0 ports and a Gigabit Ethernet jack (in black), plus two USB 3.0 ports and a 5-Gbps Ethernet jack (in blue). That high-speed port is powered with an Aquantia NIC. Our pre-production X299-Deluxe II sample marks those USB 2.0 ports as 3.0-compliant, but don’t be misled by that minor printing error. Shipping X299-Deluxe IIs should carry the proper markings.
Unlike the original Prime X299-Deluxe and its discrete Thunderbolt 3 card, version two of this board integrates a dual-port Alpine Ridge controller directly onto the PCB. As a result, the Deluxe II has two Thunderbolt 3-capable USB Type-C ports on its back panel. To deliver the hook-up to single-cable Thunderbolt 3 monitors, the Deluxe II has a pair of DisplayPort inputs on its back panel, as well. Owners can use the included DisplayPort cables to hook up their graphics cards to the Deluxe II’s back panel and transfer those signals over Thunderbolt 3.
To the right of the Thunderbolt 3 ports, we get connectors for the integrated Intel Wireless-AC 9260 radio. This wireless card uses Intel’s latest tech to deliver 2×2 MIMO support, and it can use 160-MHz channel widths to pull down as much as 1.73 Gbps from compatible Wi-Fi access points.
To pump out the jams, Asus turns to the evergreen combo of a Realtek S1220 codec paired with premium components in the analog audio path. I don’t usually expect anything less than competence from motherboard audio these days, but the Prime X299-Deluxe II immediately concerned me with its absurdly bassy voicing. Modifying the EQ settings in Asus’ control panel didn’t do much to help this situation, either.
It turns out that Asus bundles and enables the DTS Headphone X surround-sound simulator by default with the X299-Deluxe II, and I’m really not impressed by it for traditional music listening. Once I disabled Headphone X, however, the Prime X299-Deluxe II provided a rich, balanced listening experience. I would happily use its onboard sound for day-to-day listening.
My one beef is that even without Headphone X enabled, the EQ settings in Asus’ control panel are quite weak, so users who want to do some fine-tuning won’t find much range to adjust their sound to taste. Still, the flat EQ voicing on this board is pleasant enough that I doubt many will take issue with it.
For those that do want to expand their systems with PCIe peripherals, the X299-Deluxe II has an assortment of slots to play with. The first physical PCIe x16 slot will always get 16 lanes of Gen 3 connectivity from an LGA 2066 CPU. The second physical x16 slot will also offer 16 lanes with 44-lane chips installed (read: all refreshed X299 parts. Hallelujah!). If you do install an older 28-lane part in this board, though, the second slot will only offer eight lanes of connectivity.
Install a 44-lane chip, and the third physical slot can deliver eight lanes of Gen 3 bandwidth at all times. Use a gelded 28-lane part, though, and the third slot will pull two chipset lanes away from SATA ports 5 and 6 on the board to run any expansion cards installed there.
The first PCIe 3.0 x1 slot shares its lanes with the controller for the front-panel USB 3.1 Gen 2 port, and Asus says it’s disabled by default for that reason. Given that this slot will likely be covered by any dual-slot graphics card one chooses to install on this board, I’m not going to cry over this loss. The second PCIe x1 slot shares its lanes with the SATA6G_7 port, so installing any PCIe device here will knock off that storage connector.
Even with that minor lane-sharing limitation, the X299-Deluxe II has plenty of ports and slots to feed the storage-hungry builder. The first M.2 22110 slot gets four lanes from 44-lane and 28-lane CPUs alike, and it can only accommodate NVMe devices. The second M.2 22110 slot, beneath the chipset heatsink, gets its four PCIe lanes from the X299 chipset, so it can run both NVMe and SATA gumsticks. Both of these slots have full-length heatsinks with thermal pads pre-applied. Asus deserves praise for keeping these slots largely out of the way of the jet blast from a builder’s primary graphics card, too.
The third M.2 slot on the X299-Deluxe II isn’t really a slot at all. Instead, it’s a vertical M.2 socket that puts any connected storage device directly in the case airflow path to prevent throttling. Asus includes a support bracket to ensure that any device installed here doesn’t pop out of the motherboard. Builders can only install NVMe storage devices in this slot.
For SATA storage, the Deluxe II offers eight hook-ups from the X299 chipset, although not all of them may be active at any given time. As we just noted, the SATA6G_7 port shares its flex I/O lanes with the second PCIe 3.0 x1 slot, and using a 28-lane CPU in this board will peel off the flex I/O lanes from SATA ports 5 and 6 for the third physical x16 slot. If a builder uses a 44-lane CPU and doesn’t install any PCIe devices in the second physical x1 slot, though, all of the Deluxe II’s SATA ports should be available at all times, and that’s a welcome deal for the storage-obsessed.
We’ve long felt that Asus motherboards boast the most polished firmware interface in the industry, and the company apparently agrees. The design of the present Asus UEFI hasn’t changed much since its last major revamp around the 2014 introduction of the Intel 9-series chipset. That’s OK, however, since the Asus UEFI is a snap to use even for the novice and is crystal-clear about just what a tweak or set of tweaks will do to the hardware it controls. For more details of the company’s firmware, check out our overview of the UEFI on the Asus Z170-A.
For the most part, Asus makes the correct decisions about default settings in the Prime X299-Deluxe II’s firmware. Most critically, multi-core enhancement blessedly comes disabled by default on this board. Even turning on XMP and dismissing the accompanying message about turning on multi-core enhancement actually leaves it off—not a given with past Asus boards, in my experience.
My one complaint about Asus’ latest firmware isn’t related to the UEFI itself. Rather, I found myself surprised and a bit concerned by what happens when one starts up a system with this motherboard inside for the first time. You see, most of Asus’ most recent boards seem to use the Windows Platform Binary Table (of Lenovo Superfish infamy) to attempt to install a driver-and-utility-download app the first time Windows boots on a new Asus-powered system.
Asus calls this feature “Q-Installer,” and its portal for the utility claims that it’s a way for users to download drivers and software without the use of an optical disc drive or even a USB thumb drive. For the most part, Q-Installer appears to grab a mostly innocuous set of drivers and Asus utilities that a user might actually want, along with a couple free apps like Google Chrome and WinRAR.
The company is upfront about the fact that installing the entire slate of apps through Q-Installer includes those “special offers,” and it gives the user full control over what ultimately gets put on a PC. What’s more, running Q-Installer is not mandatory, and it can be dismissed forever by right-clicking on the icon that appears in the system tray and selecting “Exit and never remind me again” from the options menu that will appear.
While I think Asus has good intentions with Q-Installer and appreciate the fact that it takes some of the thought out of getting drivers and software for a new system build, seasoned DIY builders will likely have a moment of shock when they see the app’s icon pop up in their Windows system tray on first boot. I know I was taken aback by what appeared to be unwanted software rearing its head on my system.
I wish Asus allowed users to opt into or opt out of Q-Installer’s presence on the first boot of a new Windows install, but for now, folks who never want this board’s Windows PBT touching their installation will need to head into the firmware and disable Q-Installer under the “Tool” tab before installing or booting into Windows. That’s an arcane and easily-overlooked step for folks who aren’t already aware of this new wrinkle in Asus boards.
We’ve long lauded Asus motherboards’ fan-control smarts, as well, and while Gigabyte has eclipsed its competitor in a couple areas, Asus’ air-traffic-control capabilities still come in at an infinitesimally close second.
Asus puts six PWM fan headers on the X299-Deluxe II itself. Each of those headers can automatically sense whether a connected fan needs DC or PWM control, and one is a high-current header for water pumps. If the board’s complement of fan-control hardware stopped there, we’d say it was a bit paltry, but the Prime X299-Deluxe II has a unique trick up its sleeve.
The included Fan Extension Card II hub puts another six PWM headers, three temperature sensor headers, and three 5050 RGB LED strip headers on a separate card that can attach to most any 2.5″ bay or sled. This card connects to the Prime X299-Deluxe II by way of Asus’ proprietary Node header, and it also requires an included six-pin PCIe cable for power. Once it’s connected to the board, though, the Fan Extension Card II behaves just like integrated fan headers or RGB LED strips would.
The Prime X299-Deluxe II’s firmware allows the builder to run an auto-calibration routine for any connected fans or to set fan speeds manually with the usual group of multi-point fan curves. Asus also includes a trio of pre-baked curves for each header if a builder doesn’t want to mess with setting their own.
Unlike what’s possible through Gigabyte’s excellent firmware fan control utility, though, Asus still hasn’t incorporated control of the temperature source for each header into the firmware. To get that degree of control, one has to install Windows software, and that may or may not be to a builder’s taste. Gigabyte’s fan controls still can’t run an auto-calibration routine from the UEFI, though, so neither company has decisively seized the firmware-fan-control crown.
Like Asus’ firmware itself, the Fan Xpert 4 utility hasn’t gotten a major overhaul in a long time. Again, though, Asus isn’t messing with what works. This Windows fan-control utility largely replicates the auto-calibration and fan-curve options available per header in the firmware, but it adds that ever-so-critical temperature-source-selection feature.
Another nice perk of Fan Xpert 4 is the way it lets builders integrate the graphics card into their system-temperature-management scheme. Installing an Asus graphics card like the ROG Strix RTX 2070 we’ve been playing with in the TR labs of late lets builders use the GPU as a temperature input for any connected fan. That’s a welcome option for gamers, since the CPU might not be the primary indicator of system load when one fires up a graphics-intensive workload. With the Deluxe II, gamers can rest assured that they won’t end up in a situation where their graphics card cooler is screaming away while CPU-linked fans largely rest easy.
RGB LEDs and LiveDash
As a member of Asus’ Prime product family rather than the flashier ROG Strix or ROG Rampage product lines, the X299-Deluxe II keeps its built-in RGB LED complement to a restrained minimum.
One diffused RGB LED panel resides in the board’s I/O shield, and another runs through the chipset heatsink, where it’ll likely be covered up by any graphics card the owner ends up installing.
One flashy feature of this board that won’t be obscured by the graphics card is the LiveDash screen, a 2″-diagonal monochrome OLED that can display system information, one of several pre-installed animated images, or user-created static images or animation.
I didn’t have the time to teach myself the ins and outs of Photoshop’s GIF-creation capabilities to try out our own LiveDash animations, but I did get a chance to try some of the app’s pre-baked images and effects. Having the LiveDash screen cycle through system parameters could be handy in a windowed case, and the static images and animations are just plain fun.
LiveDash doesn’t make or break the X299 Deluxe II, but it certainly makes for a nice and distinctive cherry on top of the rest of the board’s features.
Along with the three headers on the Fan Extension Card II, the Prime-X299 Deluxe II can control up to five traditional 5050 RGB LED strips and another “digital,” or individually-addressable, strip using a dedicated header. Even if its onboard lighting exercises restraint, the Deluxe II is plenty ready to serve as the nerve center of an RGB LED-heavy build.
Asus’ Aura software runs the RGB LED show on this board. Overall, Aura has a clean and intuitive interface. The lighting-obsessed can choose among 12 prebaked effects, and most of those offer control over expected parameters like color and brightness. If global control over color isn’t enough, Aura exposes per-LED control for every diode on the board if you want to set up elaborate color schemes within those effects.
Aura does have a couple head-scratching omissions. A speed control isn’t available for every effect Aura runs, and even for the effects whose pace is configurable, the fastest speed option isn’t all that swift. There’s also no way to create even the most rudimentary custom effects through the utility, as one can (or at least could, until recently) create on Gigabyte boards. Asus does provide an SDK for Aura, but that doesn’t leave much middle ground between RGB LED novices and component makers trying to make their hardware play nice with Asus’ gear. RGB LED fans content to go with the flow will be fine with the options Aura offers, but the obsessive may find themselves wanting more control from the app.
Overclocking and VRM thermal performance
The biggest challenge for any X299 motherboard is in handling the potential power draw of an overclocked Skylake-X CPU. When such a chip is pulling 600 W from the wall for CPU workloads alone, you want the most rock-solid foundation you can get.
We started our overclocking efforts with Asus’ “5-Way Optimization” routine. This tool can automatically perform something resembling the iterative overclocking we would perform manually. The utility can be configured to perform a quick overclock or a more in-depth test. It also lets the user select sensitivity to errors, whether to include AVX workloads in the mix of stress testing, and how long they’d like each stress test to run. I turned some knobs and dials to create an in-depth test that would include AVX instructions in the mix.
Despite the wide range of options I was able to tweak ahead of the auto-tuning run, the utility seemed to ignore the stress test length I specified. Even as I asked the utility to run its stress test for 5 minutes, it only ran for a couple seconds before moving on to the next iteration. Asus’ auto-tuner also disables the CPU’s thermal limits by default “to allow for a higher overclock,” a choice I find extremely questionable. I wondered why my i9-9980XE was allowed to hit 110° C on some of its cores before throttling after my first run through this tool, as opposed to the more typical 105° C limit I’ve observed for Skylake-X CPUs.
The app didn’t have many iterations to run, in any case, because after starting out with an advertised 4.6-GHz overclock, it moved on to 4.7 GHz, promptly found errors, and restarted. Although the 4.6-GHz automatic overclock that Asus’ app advertised sounded impressive, it didn’t tell the whole story. In fact, the auto-overclocking tool pushed the two most favored cores on the chip to 4.6 GHz while leaving the others at 4.4 GHz. While that setup ran perfectly fine, it’s not at all the same as a 4.6-GHz all-core overclock. The final overclocking report could also be clearer about the fact that it’s displaying each core’s final ratio rather than the “n cores active” Turbo table. That confusion arises from the “14 cores active, 15 cores active, 16 cores active…” terminology that the utility uses.
Still, the auto-tuning routine got me within 100 MHz of our manual overclocking efforts for this chip, and the result was both thermally stable and Blender-stable. Builders who would rather not think too much about tuning their $2000 CPU can certainly leave it to Asus’ auto-OC logic to find a jumping-off point for further refinement, but I wouldn’t recommend running this app with its default settings if you do attempt to use it. Pressing the “Default” button in the TPU section of the app really does return most every overclocking setting on the board to its defaults, at least—a welcome touch for those who want a fresh start for manual overclocking, as I did.
From experience, I know that our Core i9-9980XE sample is good for a roughly 4.5-GHz stable overclock on all of its cores, so I went about setting up that tune in the firmware. The main challenge I faced was finding the adaptive voltage setting that would keep our chip stable, and that work is best performed with a guess-and-check approach. Asus’ adaptive voltage controls in firmware are clearly marked and make it easy to dial in an offset, however, so arriving at the ideal -0.035 V setting for this particular i9-9980XE on the Prime X299-Deluxe II required only the barest effort. I didn’t even have to dial in load-line calibration settings or other fine-tuning knobs to get our chip stable.
Although I did try and push our chip further for fun, 4.6 GHz on 18 cores is beyond the cooling capacity of our Corsair H110i GT cooler at voltages high enough to be stable. Still, the Prime X299-Deluxe II didn’t pose any limits on the way to that thermal wall, and that’s all we can really ask of a motherboard for casual overclocking efforts.
During the course of my manual overclocking exploits, I monitored the temperature of the VRM diode using HWiNFO64 and found that even under full Blender load, the Prime X299-Deluxe II’s power circuitry didn’t exceed 71° C. What’s more, the board didn’t have any active cooling to rely on while maintaining that temperature—just the limited-airflow environment of my test bench. I couldn’t run the original Prime X299-Deluxe under such conditions without a fan pointed directly at its skimpy VRM heatsink, so Asus has handily succeeded in solving one of the biggest issues that faced its first prosumer X299 halo board.
AMD’s Ryzen Threadrippers have sparked a pitched battle for high-end desktop superiority, and we’re all reaping the benefits of that competition. Not only has that batle made capable high-end desktop CPUs available for less money than ever, it’s forced both Intel and motherboard makers to hone the mission of the X299 platform. The Prime X299-Deluxe II is just one result of that sharpening, and even after dropping the 18-core i9-9980XE in this board’s socket, I came away from my testing hard-pressed to identify more than a couple flaws with this board. It largely provides the hassle-free, straightforward experience one should demand from a high-end desktop platform.
Builders will be surprised to see Asus take advantage of the infamous Windows Platform Binary Table to persistently try and install a software hub for managing its own drivers and utilities. We think Asus’ intentions are good here, but we doubt many DIYers will be comfortable with their motherboards pushing utilities into Windows by way of the firmware. This feature can be disabled before first boot in the UEFI, but we’d prefer it to be an opt-in at first boot to begin with. Asus also requires users to install its Windows utilities to take full advantage of this board’s considerable fan-control smarts, a demand that Gigabyte boards don’t make.
Those wrinkles aside, the Prime X299-Deluxe II smooths out most every deficiency of its predecessor. Integrated Thunderbolt 3 ports, onboard 5-Gb Ethernet, and a cooler-running VRM capped off by an effective, high-surface-area heatsink all come together to produce hardware that’s much better suited to the job of hosting 18 Skylake Server cores than the company’s first prosumer flagship for X299.
Although Asus’ firmware hasn’t received a major update in some time, the company’s control center doesn’t really need one to begin with. The company’s UEFI remains the most polished in the business, and I found the process of overclocking our Core i9-9980XE on this board to be swift and smooth, even without the use of Asus’ handy Windows software. Even in the low-airflow environment of our test bench, the board didn’t have any trouble keeping its power-delivery circuitry well under its thermal limits, either.
Unique, well-thought-out extras like a vertical M.2 slot and the Fan Extension Card II fan-and-lighting controller set the Prime X299-Deluxe II apart from the rest of the high-end motherboard pack, and the board’s white-and-silver cladding has just enough RGB LED accents to stand out in a modern build. While it might not be the most functional touch, the LiveDash OLED display amidships on this board offers a nice cherry on top for those who want to customize every last inch of their systems.
At a cool $500, the X299-Deluxe II is one of the most expensive high-end desktop motherboards around, period. If you’re shopping for a board in this price range, you likely need every bit per second of Thunderbolt 3 bandwidth, every expansion slot and storage port you can fill, every Hertz you can squeeze out of an overclocked CPU, or control over every fan and RGB LED strip you can add to a PC—or at least you ought to need those things.
Asus’ refinements have a way of cascading through the company’s product lineup, especially in the VRM department, so builders without truckloads of cash to burn may want to wait and see whether the company chooses to update some of its lesser X299 boards with similar power-delivery and VRM-cooling improvements. For those who want to take full advantage of a more focused and less restrictive X299 platform today, though, the Prime X299-Deluxe II is about as good as it gets, and I’m happy to call it a TR Editor’s Choice.