Intel’s X99 chipset came out in August 2014, as a replacement for X79. It saw the release of two generations of supported chips, Haswell-E, those are 5 thousand series chips, and Broadwell-E, 6 thousand series chips, including the 6800K and up. If you were a creative professional or anyone in need of a High-End Desktop not just for gaming, X99 is what you got. Maybe you’d have a Core i7 in there, or a Xeon if you’re real serious, but what you almost certainly wouldn’t use is an AMD platform. They just didn’t have any products that could seriously compete with Intel’s high-end desktop offerings.
So X99 launched pretty much in a vacuum, UNTIL, Ryzen 7 launched earlier this year as sort of a retroactive competitor to Broadwell-E on X99. And its performance was very impressive – it even came close to the mainstream flagship, the i7-7700K, in gaming. But Broadwell-E is now last-gen. X299 is Intel’s new enthusiast platform, and it poses a fresh challenge to AMD. The first X299-compatible Skylake-X and Kaby Lake-X processors have launched, but more are on the way, and they’re going to make even better use of the features that X299 offers. So, let’s take a look at those features, how they compare to X99, and, because we didn’t have to last time, also compare it to AMD’s AM4 platform.
Now, astute viewers will notice this video seems a bit similar to our Z170 vs Z270 video, and that’s because it is, but it also isn’t. Intel’s mainstream Kaby Lake processors are compatible with both Z170 and the new Z270 chipset that launched alongside it. If you wanted full access to all of the new generation’s features, you’d have to buy a Z270 motherboard, but you could also plug the new chips into your existing Z170. With X299, there’s no backwards compatibility, so if you want to upgrade, you’re looking at a new motherboard and processor.
Alright, without further ado, let’s look at the chipsets. First off, X299 uses a new socket, LGA-2066, with 55 more pins than the 2011v3 socket on X99. The mounting points for coolers are the same, however, so you can most likely stick with your old one. Memory specs haven’t changed, quad channel memory is still supported, although not for Kaby Lake-X processors, which we’ll get to later. Support for Intel Optane has been added, as well as Intel Rapid Storage Technology for PCIe, rather than just SATA.
X299 brings Intel’s High-Speed IO lanes to their enthusiast platform after it debuted on Z170. This feature basically allows motherboard makers to customize which types of I/O a certain board will support. Although X299 technically supports up to eight SATA ports, 10 USB 3 ports and 14 USB 2 ports, a vendor like ASUS might do something like allocate some of those USB 2 lanes toward an additional USB 3 or SATA port. X99 also supports up to 24 PCIe 3.0 lanes on the chipset side, up from 8 PCIe 2.0 lanes in X99, but the same as Z270. These are in addition to the up to 44 PCIe lanes available in Skylake-X processors, so full bandwidth for SLI setups and multiple m.2 drives will actually be possible, again, with certain CPUs.
Now on top of the bare chipset, you can expect to see a number of additional features added by motherboard makers, such as the ones we see on this, the ASUS PRIME X299-A. It sits around the middle point between affordability and performance – it doesn’t have as many bells and whistles as the highest end boards, but it adds some things that you won’t find on super-budget models. For instance, 5-way Optimization, which automatically creates overclocking and cooling profiles customized for your specific rig. But there’s also tools to fully control cooling and overclocking yourself, if you so choose. You can make use of X299’s increased M.2 support with a built-in M.2 heatsink that blends into the armor design. There’s lots of modern connectivity is here too, with dedicated headers for watercooling pumps, rear Type-A and Type-C ports supporting USB 3.1, and an internal USB 3.1 front-panel connector so your build is ready for cases that support that. And of course, ASUS Aura Sync is here, allowing you to sync RGB lighting between the built-in LEDs and other compatible products like GPUs, Fans, monitors, keyboards, and mice. When you’re shopping for a motherboard, make sure you pay attention to what specific features a certain models has added over the base chipset capabilities.
Now, to go back for a second and talk about processors. As I mentioned at the start of this video, Intel launched two lines of CPUs with X299: 3 Skylake-X parts, and 2 Kaby Lake-X parts. Only the flagship of that bunch, the Core i9-7900X, fully utilizes X299’s feature set. The i7-7820X has a higher clock speed but drops its PCIe lanes to 28. The Kaby Lake-X parts only have 16 lanes, and only support dual-channel memory, so with one of those chips, you can only use 4 out of 8 RAM slots on your motherboard. These chips are very similar to the existing Kaby Lake i7 7700K and i5 7600K on Z270, and it’s been a little confusing for people to try and figure out why Intel is putting basically mainstream gaming processors on their enthusiast platform. The only real advantage to getting an X299 board paired with a new Kaby Lake X chip, is that you have the option to upgrade to a better, high-core count CPU down the line.
Overall, X299 is an excellent successor to X99, and as of this moment right now, Intel has the multi-core performance crown again with the 10-core 7900X. Which means, right now, if you want the fastest performing enthusiast setup, that’s what you need. However: AMD’s new Ryzen Threadripper CPUs are coming in early August, led by the 1950X with 16 cores, 32 threads and 64 PCIe lanes on the X399 platform. Yes. AMD may be on the up and up but I will never forgive them for their heinous naming scheme. But, Intel will be hot on AMD’s heels with their 12-core i9 also coming in August and the 14, 16, and 18-core Skylake-X chips launching a few months after that. This is definitely the most exciting the enthusiast desktop CPU market has been for years, so make sure you tell that to your non-techie friends, and see what facial expression they make in response.
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