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Best X299 motherboard

Intel’s new premium processors prompt a motherboard makeover.

No matter how you feel about 2017, it’s been a great year for CPU releases. Intel and AMD have doubled down on core counts, prodding processor speeds to new heights and producing some of the slickest silicon since Sandy Bridge. Motherboards have been a different matter, however.

Intel’s sweet Z270 chipset and its silky-smooth setup turned out to be the exception rather than the rule. AMD had plenty of teething problems with Ryzen and Threadripper, and Intel’s X299 introduction supporting Skylake-X was beset by testing board recalls, rushed BIOS updates, memory issues, and other bleeding edge problems across a range of manufacturers that took months of work to overcome. The rapid competitive pace may be bringing long awaited tech to the marketplace sooner, but there’s been a price paid in stability and patience.

Practically speaking, this means waiting a few months before building the latest and greatest system is the wise move. Unless you like playing beta tester, let the firmware updates catch up with the bugs, and wait for happy owner reports to be the rule, rather than the exception. Anticipation beats an early-adopter ulcer.

The good news is that X299’s awkward introductory phase is officially over and there are plenty of motherboards to choose from for HEDT enthusiasts. All the products evaluated for the guide now feature mature, well-sorted firmware and broad memory support, a big step up from the situation during the summer. A few are even second-generation redesigns.

Since the HEDT platform is known for Pentagon-level pricing, special care has been taken to offer reasonably priced picks for the midrange and entry level, along with some alternatives for rig builders with deeper pockets.

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Best high-end X299 motherboard

  • Next-gen network support
  • Best overclocking and memory performance
  • OLED motherboard display
  • Attractive design
  • Fussy setup
  • Most expensive
  • Limited availability
  • No Kaby Lake-X support

ASUS’s leadership at the high end has been besieged on all sides by hungry competitors like Gigabyte and MSI, so it’s welcome to see they’ve upped their game recently with the Rampage Extreme VI. The latest version of ROG’s top motherboard doesn’t rely on the circus atmosphere previous editions used to push excitement, instead presenting a confident, futuristic design sure to turn rig builder’s heads.

The style here is subtle, with silver and black brushed metal heat sinks that house AURA lighting RGB LEDs, which can be configured for a variety of pulse and trace effects or turned off completely. ASUS’s goal of streamlining the Rampage sees components bundled previously as add-in extras incorporated directly into the motherboard with some impressive results.

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Best midrange X299 motherboard

  • Cheap for HEDT
  • Slick setup, overclocking, and bench controls
  • Intel WiFi and Ethernet
  • Customizable look
  • No exotic HEDT extras
  • Picky about high-speed memory
  • Other boards are faster

MSI sailed to an easy midrange victory with the X299 Gaming Pro Carbon AC, a utility infielder that offers every feature you’d expect along with impressive performance and style at a reasonable price, a rarity for the HEDT platform.

For the many enthusiasts asking for toned-down styling options, including gamers, MSI has delivered a restrained overall appearance, although the tunable Mystic Light LEDs stand ready if you want to party.

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Best entry level x299 motherboard

  • Low price and widely available
  • Highly detailed BIOS
  • Great budget overclocking
  • White and silver design looks great
  • No Wi-Fi
  • Warm VRMs
  • Budget by Intel's HEDT standards only

After an absence in the budget segment of the motherboard guide since the days of Haswell, ASUS’s Prime X299-A snatches the entry level crown from the MSI’s Tomahawk series with a combination of style, refinement, and BIOS features that make it the de facto choice for X299 enthusiasts looking for a baseline motherboard or budget build.

Overclocking tests with Skylake X defied expectations and produced processor speeds of 4.6GHz, equaling some midrange competition. Memory stability was also good, although it’s best to stay at or below 3200 and use qualified DDR4 if stable long-term CPU overclocks are the goal. Also make sure to provide plenty of air circulation as the VRMs get hot.

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Lift at the top

Intel’s previous X99 HEDT chipset is well loved by enthusiasts, and the first to really gain traction as more than an exotic sideshow. Partially due to X99’s long desktop shelf life, where three generations of compatible processors saw time in socket 2011v3 motherboards, the platform was a stable and rewarding investment. Even now Jarred’s benchmarks show some surprising wins for the aging 5930K, and that’s not even factoring in the great overclocking headroom processors like Haswell-E provided.

CPU design is going wide rather than long these days, with cores multiplying faster than clockspeed advances, and results are mixed. While all those extra threads keep a system smooth and facilitate multitasking, designs with lots of cores tend to have lower IPC for several reasons.

On X299, one of those reasons is Intel, who prefers utilizing mature, stable technology in the IT-oriented business markets from which the HEDT system architecture is derived. Well-developed previous-generation core designs are used and beefed up with cache and system memory advances, along with other perks.

While these compensate somewhat, nothing improves IPC better than the one-two punch of higher clockspeeds and improved core designs. As a result, IPC is always paradoxically higher in Intel’s consumer-market offerings, Coffee Lake being the latest example, since they offer the newest cores at the fastest speeds. It’s also harder to produce high clockspeed processors with many cores at the foundry level, since the chances of a low-performance core sneaking in and dragging the CPU to a lower bin go up dramatically as the core count rises.

Intel recommends AIO watercooling at a minimum for X299 systems.

Intel employs several strategies to minimize these problems, including new advanced turbo modes that favor multiple cores and the introduction of a hybrid CPU, Kaby Lake-X, which takes an overclockable late model core, disables the integrated GPU, and puts it on an LGA2066 package, creating a clockspeed happy, high IPC, low core variant for those looking to mix the HEDT experience with today’s CPU technology.

Not all X299 boards support these processors, however, and their low I/O lane counts and lower total memory limits their appeal to the big iron customers common in this segment. Still, Kaby Lake-X remains an easy path to X299, lowering the entry price to the no-limits HEDT platform while also providing a comparable gaming experience to the fastest processors available in the standard consumer market. The fact that most push 5GHz without trying hard also puts them ahead of the 7700k for many enthusiasts, especially overclocking hobbyists.

How we test X299 motherboards

The motherboards recommended in this guide all received various forms of hands-on evaluation including enclosure installation (full tower, mid-tower, and test bench where applicable), performance benchmarking, stability testing, and a follow-up period of real-world break-in usage that focuses on gaming, entertainment, and media software.

When possible, all tests are performed with the same components installed to remove any variables except the motherboard itself. We also researched the entire field of gaming motherboards and narrowed the list down to the best, most competitive boards before choosing which boards to test.

Benchmarks include AIDA 64 Extreme, Cinebench 15, Crystal Disk Mark, FireStrike, PCMark 8, DPC Latency Checker, and others with all relevant results reflected directly in the review sections for each board. The real-world break-in period encompasses office and creative work, media streaming, and gaming with a variety of demanding titles such as GTAV, Total War: Attila, Warhammer 2, Company of Heroes 2, DiRT Rally, Bioshock Infinite, Metro: Last Light, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Far Cry Primal, Hitman, and others.

Gaming tests are run at 1080p at medium to high settings to remove any bottlenecks caused by graphics card performance. Rather than outright speed, scores are reviewed for outliers that indicate stability or driver issues. When possible, both single- and dual-graphics card configurations are tested to insure motherboard stability in SLI and Crossfire situations, at high refresh rates, and using 4K resolutions. High-resolution tests are performed on LG’s OLED C7 for clarity purposes.

Overclocking benchmarks include a uniform CPU multiplier test at a fixed Vcore voltage (1.2V) as well as auto overclocking software (where applicable) and fully tuned manual overclock results. Stability tests are performed with AIDA64’s stress utility and extended runs of the gaming software suite at varying levels of detail.