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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 2x2 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.