AMD X399 Chipset, Motherboards, And Memory
The X399 supports Socket TR4, which is required for AMD’s Threadripper processors. The chipset is essentially an IO hub that provides connectivity to the processor's on-die PCI Express lanes (with multi-GPU support), in addition to adding 8-more PCIe Gen 2 lanes of its own. The X399 also offers two native USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports, up to 14 native USB 3.1 Gen1 ports, up to 6 native USB 2.0 ports, up to 12 SATA ports (with RAID 0, 1, 10), support for NVMe storage and overclocking. Hardware NVMe RAID is not supported, however.
Like most other X399-based motherboards, the ASUS ROG Zenith Extreme leverages all of the chipset’s inherent features, but ASUS certainly took things up a few notches and put its own spin on this board...
The ASUS ROG Zenith Extreme has built-in AURA SYNC LED lighting, which can be extended with additional lighting strips. The board also has metal reinforcements on its expansion slots, and heavy-duty metal heat spreaders on the chipset and VRM. Additional shielding covers the back panel I/O and front-end of the PCB as well. The lower portion of the chipset heatsink is also removable, and provides additional cooling for solid state drives installed into the M.2 slots beneath.
As you’d expect in an enthusiast motherboard from this generation, the ASUS ROG Zenith Extreme features a mouse-friendly BIOS / UEFI that’s easy to navigate and offers an extensive array of overclocking and performance-related options. The BIOS on this board sports everything from high resolution fonts to the latest version of ASUS’s hardware monitoring and fan control functionality. The ASUS ROG Zenith Extreme also features high-end capacitors and chokes throughout its design to improve long-term reliability and overall efficiency. The board is outfitted with an all-digital PWM as well, to further improve power efficiency and smooth power delivery to the processor, RAM, and add-in cards.
The ASUS ROG Zenith Extreme is compatible with AMD’s Ryzen Master performance tuning utility, but the UEFI is outfitted with all of the overclocker-friendly tools we’ve come to expect from ASUS for manual tweaking as well. The fan controls on the board are robust and ASUS has put in additional effort to ease configuration, by offering an array of auto-tuning options and presets that can be saved to individual profiles.
Other features of the ASUS ROG Zenith Extreme include USB 3.1 Gen 2 type-C and type-A ports for quick-charging and straightforward connectivity of the latest mobile devices, Intel Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ad Wi-Fi, on-board power and reset switches, CrossFire / SLI support, and triple M.2 slots.
In addition to the aforementioned items, we should point out that the ASUS ROG Zenith Extreme offers 8-channel audio with a Realtek S1220A codec and ES9018Q2C DAC, and incorporates audio shielding, discrete power delivery, and high-end Japanese capacitors for clean sound (120dB SNR). It’s got lighted audio jacks too. There’s also a very cool LiveDash OLED on the board, above the back-panel IO (adjacent the CPU socket) that can display things like CPU temperature, fan speeds, or error messages on an easy-to-read display.
Over and above what’s actually built into the board or available through the chipset, ASUS throws in a wide array of accessories and integrated peripherals including an 10Gb LAN card and a boatload of decals, documentation, cables, multi-GPU bridges, etc.
We found the layout of the ASUS ROG Zenith Extreme to be very good and also really like the overall aesthetic. Your tastes may vary, of course, but we think this is one heck of a good looking motherboard in our opinion.
Next up is the Gigabyte Aorus X399-Gaming 7. This is one of Gigabyte’s flagship X399-based motherboards for Threadripper, which packs in a slew of high-end features, including triple NVMe slots (with heatsinks), Killer E2500 networking, 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth, Sound Blaster X720 audio, and everything else offered by the chipset itself.
As we’ve mentioned in the past, all of Gigabyte’s Aorus-branded motherboards feature a newly refreshed user interface for their BIOS, with “Smart Fan 5” – the latest generation of Gigabyte’s fine-grained fan controls. We should also mention that Gigabyte’s Aorus boards have the ability to auto-sense what type of fan or device is plugged into a fan header and tune settings accordingly. For example, the headers can differentiate between a water pump and high-speed, PWM fan, and they support up to 2 amps per-header with built-in over-current protection.
Aorus gaming motherboards like the X399-Gaming 7 pictured here are also outfitted with fully-customizable RGB lighting across virtually every segment of the PCB. The lighting can be configured via Gigabyte's “RBG Fusion” app for different modes (pulsing, color cycling, etc. -- 8 modes in total), and accented areas like the front edge near the DIMM slots have interchangeable overlays.
This board supports 4-way SLI or Crossfire, and features metal reinforcements on all of its PCIe slots. Audio comes by way of a Realtek ALC1220 codec, flanked by high-end WIMA and Nichicon capacitors and complemented by gold-plated outputs. The included Sound Blaster X720 audio-engine software allows for tuning the audio for a wide-array of speaker and room types.
The X399-Gaming 7 is also packing numerous SATA ports (with support for RAID), USB 3.1 Gen 1 and Gen 2, and all of the IO you’d expect from a high-end board. The BIOS is loaded with overclocker friendly features too, and its accessory bundle is top-notch. The X399-Gaming 7 includes all of the cables, multi-GPU bridges, software, and connectors to exploit numerous graphics configurations and all of the board’s standout features. This was also the board we used for all of our testing – including overclocking – and it proved to be rock-solid and very stable.
We also want to call out the memory we used for testing. We installed 32GB of G-SKILL TridentZ RGB memory -- two F4-3200C14D-16GTZR dual-channel kits. This memory is capable of running at 3200MHz with relatively tight 14-14-14-34 timings at 1.35v. On top of that, the top edge of the memory is lighted and smoothly cycles through the RGB color spectrum. This RAM doesn't require any additional cabling or software controls either -- it's fully powered by the DIMM slots. And although the lighting isn't configurable, it looks pretty wild cycling through colors on its own and definitely adds some serious bling.