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Gigabyte X399 Aorus Gaming 7 Review

There’s no doubt that AMD’s Threadripper platform is really exciting. While high core count CPUs are nothing new, they certainly are for the desktop market. Intel and AMD have been slowly upping the core count on their flagship models, culminating in the 10 core i7 6950X, but jumping all the way to 16 cores is something else. This means we have a whole new range of ultra high end accompanying motherboards, including the Gigabyte X399 Aorus Gaming 7, which for now is the highest offering available from Gigabyte. It comes with a very long list of features and as you can see below, it is one of the most RGB’ed of RGB motherboards available. Lets have a look and see how it does!

 

Threadripper and X399 Platform Overview

Before we get into the Aorus Gaming 7, lets have a X399 platform and CPU refresher. In March, AMD shook up the PC market in a way it has not done for the best part of a decade with the release of The Ryzen series of processors. Finally we had true competition in the CPU marketplace, something that has been missing for many years. Enthusiasts received the platform very well. The CPUs brought excellent multithreaded performance and core counts down to prices that the mainstream user could afford, something Intel consistently refused to do. AMD knew its multithreaded performance was a match or better than Intel at every price point and decided to capitalize on this and attack the high end desktop, a market ruled by Intel. It was around the time of the release of Ryzen that rumors of the X399 platform surfaced, accompanied by CPUs with unprecedented desktop core counts. Forget the ‘puny’ 10 core 6950X, Threadripper promised SKUs including a 16 core/32 thread monster. High end indeed.

Desktop CPUs have relatively low core counts and small die sizes, so they are easier to design and manufacture at an economical cost. As the number of cores goes up, so does the complexity, whilst yields go down. This isn’t so much of a problem when you’re charging many thousands per CPU, but when viewed through the desktop prism, there really is a limit to how much you can pack onto one monolithic die before running into issues or diminishing yields and returns.

Modularity was a key consideration and lies right at the heart of the AMD EPYC and Threadripper design. From the outset, AMD designed Ryzen to have basic building blocks able to be joined together to create higher core count models. AMD calls this building block ‘Zeppelin’ and it is this block makes up the desktop Ryzen series. Join two together like we have with the 1950X, and we have up to 16c/32t when fully enabled. AMD have high end server EPYC models with up to four of these dies linked together with what AMD calls ‘Infinity Fabric’, making a 32 core/64 thread CPU. This means AMD could relatively easily release 24 or 32 core Threadripper CPU in the future if they chose to do so.

At $999 USD, the Ryzen Threadripper 1950X leads the range with its amazing 16 cores and 32 threads. It is joined by the 12C/24T 1920X and the 8C/16T 1900X. These prices are very strategically set by AMD in order to offer superior core counts relative to the Intel opposition. Like the rich kid in the schoolyard, Intel just had to one up AMD with the ‘mine is better than yours’ i9-7980 XE. Whilst this will no doubt be a super performing CPU, there is little doubt it is a product brought about by the competition. Intel need this CPU to maintain their performance lead. Competition is good, we love it, and so should you. Bring it on!

While 6 core and to a lesser extent 8 core CPUs have been available for some time, its only recently we’ve had access to 10 core desktop models. Higher core counts were restricted to the enterprise realm. With Moore’s Law running into headwinds; generational single threaded performance gains are decreasing, process advancements are slowing and frequency jumps are decreasing. It’s clear that increases parallelism will become and increasing focus for CPU makers. Higher core count models will become an important differentiator, if not the most important.

Anyone doing serious content creation will marvel at the parallelism on offer from a 16 core CPU, particularly with modern codecs able to make use of as many threads as you can realistically throw at them. Multitasking will be laughed off. You can game, stream and record all at the same time, you can render faster than ever, run complex data sets faster, run virtual machines and anything else that can make use of serious multi threading.

Note that this series isn’t really aimed at gamers. Even AMD themselves make this point. Gamers will likely see no benefit at all from the likes of a Ryzen 1700 or 1800x. This means it is somewhat surprising to see motherboard manufacturers label their models with ‘gaming’ as we see here with the Aorus Gaming 7.  Gaming is big business though and thanks to some of the features of the platform, gamers and everyone else will find a lot to like.

Have a good look at this block diagram. AMD is offering the full complement of 64 PCIe lanes across the entire range. Having 64 lanes to allocate means that a board like the Aorus Gaming 7 doesn’t have to compromise when it comes to multiple GPU’s, multiple M.2 drives and dedicated expansion cards. This is a big plus for AMD over X299. This is what the HEDT is all about: running high end systems with all the trimmings without having to compromise. This is truly a high end platform, and the Aorus Gaming 7 is packed with features befitting of a X399 motherboard.

Unboxing and Motherboard Overview

The Gigabyte X399 Aorus Gaming 7 comes in an attractive box with the motherboard contained inside its own inner box. It should come well protected from careless couriers. As you can see on the rear of the box, this is one feature laden board!

The board comes with a substantial bundle of accessories. Clockwise from the top left we have: WiFi antennas,  a HB SLI bridge that supports the 650Mhz SLI interface for Nvidia Pascal GPU’s, a screwdriver for use with the CPU retention mechanism, M.2 screws, a case header connector, temperature sensor cables, velcro cable ties, the I/O shield, four SATA cables and RGB header extensions.

Note that the SATA cables are braided, a nice touch.

There’s too much gear for just one picture!  Also included are the manual and installation guide, driver disk and a comprehensive set of stickers. Overall it’s a very nice bundle.

And here we have the motherboard itself. Motherboard manufacturers aren’t differing too much with their layout these days beyond mostly minor things and the X399 Aorus Gaming 7 looks pretty good. We have 8 pin and 4 pin EPS connectors to provide appropriate power when overclocked. You’ll also notice no less that three M.2 heatsinks. You’d probably want to use the ones at the left before the one under the primary GPU slot in case airflow becomes an issue.

There’s an impressive eight fan headers including two designed for water pumps. They are located in groups around the motherboard. This will help with cable management. There are also a pair temperature monitoring headers for use with the bundled thermistor cables.

The audio is controlled by a ubiquitous Realtek ALC1220 codec. Gigabyte have clearly gone beyond a standard implementation having added Nichicon electrolytic audio capacitors, anti pop WIMA FKP2 capacitors along with the gold plated jacks and guaranteed 5V power USB ports for DAC’s (The yellow ones on the rear panel) Strangely though we don’t see any PCB isolation, though we have heard that the effect of this is minimal.

With 64 PCIe lanes on tap, there is little compromise with the slot arrangement.

All the slots are PCIe 3.0 and are linked to the CPU with the exception of the third one, which is PCIe 2.0 x4 and is linked to the chipset. This means they are as follows: 16x/8x/4x (PCIe 2.0)/16x/8x. up to four way SLI and Crossfire is supported.  You’ll also notice two of the M.2 slots which have their own heatsinks. One of the lovely little touches we noticed was that the screws are integrated into the heatsink, meaning no more lost M.2 screws! Anyone working with modern PC’s has probably had to search for those super fiddly little screws at some point, so this is a small thing, but nice to have.

Here you get a good idea of just how much RGB there is on this board. The memory slots are surrounded by LEDs. Here we see a grouping of fan headers and a RGB header. Also on the left is a newer generation front panel USB 3.1 header. We think this header will become more and more common on cases as we move into the future.

Eight SATA 6Gb/s ports are controlled by the chipset.

There are a huge array of headers at the bottom end of the board. from left to right we have: Front panel audio header, LED voltage selector, RGBW strip header, Trusted platform module header, then reset, CMOS clear and power on buttons, a pair of USB 2.0 headers, two fan headers, USB 3.0 front panel header, Debug LED switch and finally the case front panel connectors.

We found it strange to have the CMOS clear button placed right between the reset and power switches. We had to catch ourselves more than once from accidentally pressing it. This is probably not an issue for most users once in a case though. Also, the front USB 3.0 header is probably better placed adjacent to the SATA ports. Most boards tend to position it there these days, for easier cable routing to the front of the case.

Threadripper’s power requirements mean there is no skimping on the VRM solution. We have a powerful 8-phase VRM. Please don’t think that this is inferior to some 999 phase solution though like some motherboard marketing folks would have you believe. It is controlled by a IR35201 PWM controller and is a genuine high end solution. It will have no problem powering an overclocked 1950X. As you can see, it requires some decent cooling and its good to see Gigabyte have not skimped out there either. The heatsinks linked by a heatpipe and are free of plastic adornments and will benefit from rear and top mounted case fans.

The rear I/O panel features; from left to right a PS/2 Keyboard/Mouse port, eight USB 3.0 ports (the yellow ones are designed for DAC use, while the white one is designed to be used with the Q-Flash + BIOS utility). Of course they can be used for any USB device. Next we a Gigabit LAN port, The WiFi antenna connectors, USB 3.1 Type-A and Type-C ports and finally the audio ports that are gold plated along with the S/PDIF connector.

The LAN port is powered by a Qualcomm Killer E2500 controller. While we can understand the reason for use (it’s ‘Gaming’) we don’t think this is the greatest solution for the Threadripper platform. It’s about time the highest end desktops made use of faster than Gigabit speeds, with makers like Aquantia offering such solutions. It would be easier to market 5Gbit LAN to gamers than single Gbit which has been with us since some of our readers were toddlers if not a twinkle in your parents eyes!
The Wifi daughter board is an Intel 8265 ac 2×2 card.

Pictures don’t really do it justice. Would you like RGB with your RGB? The top half of the board is lit up just as much!

BIOS Overview

The UEFI of the X399 Aorus is similar to the one we’ve seen on Gigabyte’s other Ryzen motherboards. Ryzen BIOS’ tend not to have as many options as some of the exhaustive lists we’ve seen on some Intel boards, particularly the OC focused ones, but with the later releases, there are many more options, particularly related to memory, which was really lacking around the launch of X370. Some boards had nothing more than the primary timings available.

The Aorus X399 BIOS is easy on the eye. The colors, fonts and contrasts look good. There are 7 main pages, most of which have their own subsections. The M.I.T page is where the overclocking settings are found. The major settings are grouped into their own subsections.

The System tab displays basic system information.

The ‘BIOS’ tab is where you can configure the boot options among others.

This is where the onboard peripherals will be configured. Of particular note is the RGB fusion page, obviously this is where you can set the plethora of RGB lighting that is found all over the board.

Not much to explain here.

Here is where you will set the power options and sleep settings.

This page is where you will find the profile settings.

Software Overview

Gigabyte has a comprehensive software suite available for use with the X399 Aorus Gaming 7.

Key apps include the RGB fusion control app, Easy tune for on the fly system control and overclocking as well as various apps for backup with cloud saving, BIOS flashing and updating and much more.

One of the interesting things is what is essentially a reproduction of the Windows Control Panel.

Test Setup and Benchmarks

Our test setup configuration can be seen below. Comparing different CPU’s and platforms can get a bit tricky. For our CPU test platforms, we try to keep things on a level playing field with relatively low memory settings and all CPU parameters set to default, including all turbo modes in order to best reflect out of the box performance.

Lets start of with Cinebench. It supports up to 256 threads, so it will be a standard test of ours for some time to come. Cinebench really shows the strength of Threadripper. Just look at that multithreaded score! The two X399 boards are very close in performance as expected. If you want multithreaded performance, you must look at Threadripper.

File compression is an application that makes significant use of available memory performance and tends to scale well with more cores. The X399 boards are again well ahead of the pack, obliterating everything in sight, That may change with the soon to be released 7960X and 7980 XE. The R7 1800X is also strong despite losing out with its dual channel vs quad.

Threadripper was made for video work. One of the prime reasons for owning a PC in 2017 is video capability. In this bench we think there could be something here that’s preventing the 1950X from really pulling away further. We’ll replace this test with something else, or at least try another video format or codec just in case.

Situation normal! This is more where we’d expect to be, with almost linear increases in performance with increasing core counts. What a massacre!

This kind of result bodes well for intensive graphics with lots of particles and objects being rendered. Again the Aorus and Asus boards are neck and neck.

Moving onto a couple of gaming tests, starting off with Shadow Of Mordor. At 1080p our results are still in line with what we’ve been seeing from other Ryzen processors. Threadripper really isn’t a gaming chip but it’s good enough. Purist competitive gamers with their high refresh rate monitors will will say Intel is the preferred option, but in any graphics limited scenario, the results will come right back to the GPU. Gaming isn’t everything, though if you are a streamer or multitasking, using it for work and play then you won’t be disappointed with the X399 Aorus Gaming 7.

As we can see here when we move to 4K, once the graphics become the limiting factor, the CPU becomes much less relevant. So while there have been some headlines criticizing Ryzen 1080p gaming performance, its really a non issue once you move to a powerful GPU and higher settings.

Below is a quick OC test. 16 cores at 4Ghz+ Drooooool! Also setting DDR4-3200 with XMP was a breeze. DDR4-3200 is a good sweet spot for performance/price.

Moving to higher core speeds, it becomes apparent that heat and voltage scaling concerns kick in well before the motherboard itself becomes an issue. This isn’t surprising though. We expect power consumption to shoot through the roof along with heat. This is a 16 core CPU after all.

Conclusion

With the X399 Aorus Gaming 7,  Gigabyte have produced an excellent motherboard that will sing with your shiny new Threadripper CPU. The overall user experience was excellent. We had no issues to speak of, with setup, BIOS navigation and settings all being rock solid and completely effective.

The Gaming 7 can be found in Singapore for approximately $605. For this price you are getting a hell of a lot of motherboard with a feature list that comes close to even the Asus Zenith, which is a lot more expensive.

With Gigabyte branding this as a gaming board, you’ll need to consider exactly what that means. They have equipped the board with a E2500 Killer NIC and loaded it up with RGB, but we all know that motherboards essentially do the same thing, so if you’re a content creator, you still won’t go wrong. Threadripper really isn’t a gaming platform though it will serve you well if you are gaming, streaming, downloading a torrent, having a Skype chat and about a million other things at the same time. If you’re this sort of user, then you will adore the X399 Aorus Gaming 7. If you’re more interested in pure gaming, Then a Kaby Lake or Ryzen CPU will serve you well. Single threaded performance still matters, and Intel is still ahead there.

At the end of the day you’re getting one of the best value X399 motherboards on the market. For the money you’re getting a feature packed, efficient, well engineered and reliable motherboard that works well straight out of the box. If you’re thinking of the mega beast Asus Zenith, give this one a look too. Don’t let the relatively low price fool you. This is a seriously high end motherboard.

Pros:

Excellent feature list

Comprehensive accessory bundle

Amazing looks

Value for money (in X399 terms)

 

Cons

Onboard CMOS button placement

5 or 10Gb LAN would be mega

 

 

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