GIGABYTE X99-Phoenix SLI (Intel X99) Motherboard Review

GIGABYTE X99-Phoenix SLI (Intel X99) Motherboard Review

GIGABYTE went back to the drawing board and totally revamped its latest Intel X99 motherboards. And the X99-Phoenix SLI is a perfect example.

@StevenBassiriTT
Published Tue, Jun 28 2016 11:48 AM CDT   |   Updated Thu, Jul 30 2020 4:20 PM CDT
Rating: 92%Manufacturer: GIGABYTE

Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing

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VIEW GALLERY - 98 IMAGES

With the introduction of Intel's Broadwell-E processors, motherboard vendors have launched a new series of X99 motherboards targeted at the new generation of high-performance CPUs. GIGABYTE's newest models carry some untraditional names, such as the Phoenix and Designare, and they also sport radical new designs both inside and out. With their new X99 motherboards, GIGABYTE has also launched their new BIOS, retrofitted with new features as well as a new look.

To be clear, GIGABYTE has launched three new X99 SKUs. At the top is the X99-Designare EX, followed by the X99-Phoenix SLI, and finally the X99-Ultra Gaming. The X99-Phoenix SLI is part of the G1 Gaming series of motherboards. The deviation from the typical G1 Gaming naming scheme is appropriate since it's the first G1 Gaming motherboard to have an orange color scheme, something many have responded positively to.

Almost all of GIGABYTE's past orange and black motherboards have been overclocking-centric models. GIGABYTE's departure from the rigidity of their "orange equals overclocking" dogma represents a shift in strategy to a market demand based approach where the gamer has become king. Let's begin our review of the X99-Phoenix SLI.

Specifications

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The GIGABYTE X99-Phoenix SLI is loaded with features that were missing from their first set of X99 motherboards. The motherboard has 32Gb/s M.2, U.2, USB 3.1 (type-C and type-A), two Intel Gbit NICs, Intel WirelessAC/BT4.2, and even improved fan control.

Pricing

The X99-Phoenix SLI is available from many large retailers for $339.

Packaging and X99-Phoenix SLI Overview

Packaging and Overview

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The X99-Phoenix SLI's box is as colorful as the RGB LEDs soldered to its PCB. The entire package feels high quality, and the motherboard is very well protected inside its foam container.

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Accessories include RGB LED strip extension cable, WIFI Antenna, 1 to 3 CPU power expander, G-connector, 2x Velcro cable ties, 2-way SLI bridge, 3-way SLI bridge, IO shield, 6x SATA6Gb/s cables, driver DVDs, and manuals.

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The GIGABYTE X99-Phoenix SLI has three types of fan headers. The first is a PWM-only header circled in blue (for the CPU fan), the next are voltage mode headers that are also compatible with PWM fans, they are circled in pink. The final are dual-mode headers circled in green that can be set to voltage or PWM mode in the UEFI. It is not the first time GIGABYTE has provided this flex functionality, but it's the first time they have actively marketed it.

GIGABYTE has finally added in GUI based fan control curves into the UEFI; so GIGABYTE fans can rejoice. The orange and white color theme looks elegant, and I am a big fan of almost-neon colors mixed with white. While a lot of enthusiasts are asking for plain black motherboards, there is also a subset of users that want color and flash, and this board is targeting them. GIGABYTE has also made some aesthetically pleasing additions with RGB LEDs; we will take a closer look at those later. The back of the PCB is pretty bare.

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The IO panel on the X99-Phoenix SLI carries six USB 3.0 ports (the white one is for Q-Flash Plus), USB 3.1 type-A (red), USB 3.1 type-C, two antenna ports, PS/2 keyboard/mouse, two RJ-45 Intel Gbit LAN ports, and gold plated 7.1 audio outputs with S/PDIF optical.

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GIGABYTE has reinforced all of its PCI-E slots with a metal shield to ensure that the slots aren't pulled out, and so heavy GPUs won't droop as much or damage the motherboard. What makes GIGABYTE's design different is its unibody design. I will now explain the PCI-E layout for those interested, as deciphering the manual is difficult because sadly, GIGABYTE has omitted the block diagrams they used to include.

For starters, the M.2 port and U.2 ports are hard wired to the CPU and do not share lanes; the only pitfall is that with a 28-lane CPU the U.2 port will not work. The first and second PCI-E slots are wired 16x. The first PCI-E 16x slot will give the third PCI-E 16x slot 8x of bandwidth if the third slot is populated. The second PCI-E 16x slot will give the fourth PCI-E 16x slot 8x of bandwidth if the fourth slot is populated, but with a 28-lane CPU, the fourth slot is disabled because the second slot will only receive 8x of bandwidth. If you are confused, please read GIGABYTE's manual for proper SLI/CrossFireX configuration when using 28 and 40 lane CPUs.

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The motherboard has two M.2 slots; one is keyed for WIFI, and the WIFI module is included. The other M.2 slot gets 4x of PCI-E 3.0 directly from the CPU. The motherboard has all 10 of Intel's SATA6Gb/s ports, the six closest to the top of the motherboard support RAID. The U.2 port only works with 40-lane CPUs, and it is hardwired to the CPU. A USB 3.0 internal header is located right between the U.2 slot and the 24-pin power connector.

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A second USB 3.0 internal header is located in the lower right-hand corner of the motherboard near the front panel headers. The motherboard does have two internal USB 2.0 headers for users who require USB 2.0. GIGABYTE has included an RGB LED header for external RGB LED strips. The "LED Demo" header allows for 5v input from a battery pack to illuminate the motherboard's LEDs without the system being powered. There is a MOLEX receptacle for extra PCI-E power.

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GIGABYTE has tried something unique by adding in plastic diffusers for RGB LEDs that illuminate the division between the memory DIMMs. It creates a cool effect in the dark. The memory DIMMs are also reinforced by metal shields; these shields are designed to help strengthen PCB structure. The motherboards WIFI/BT card comes installed.

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The heat sinks are connected by a heat pipe, and everything is secured with screws. The shield over the IO panel has RGB LEDs built into it.

GIGABYTE X99-Phoenix SLI Circuit Analysis

Circuit Analysis

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Now we will dig deeper into the motherboard's design.

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To power the input voltage rail that powers the FIVR, GIGABYTE is using a straight 8-phase voltage regulator exclusively powered by International Rectifier silicon. The inductors are the same 76A Cooper Bussman COILTRONICS FLAT-PAC high current power inductors found on GIGABYTE's earlier X99 motherboards. The capacitors are black FPCAPs; I am unsure of the hour rating, but I assume 5 or 10K.

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GIGABYTE is using the latest International Rectifier (owned by Infineon) IR3580 true 8 phase digital PWM. They are also using eight IR3556; 50A fully integrated power stages that include a driver, high-side MOSFET, and low-side MOSFET in a single package. The VRM is more than capable of handling the $1700 6950X with ease. The motherboard also has extra pins in the socket that could enhance overclocking of cache and memory; these pins are powered by a special array of linear regulators located below the first 16x PCI-E slot and controlled by an IT8792E embedded controller.

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Both sets of four DIMMs use identical power delivery setups. The main PWM is an IR3570 digital 3+2 phase PWM working in 2+1 phase mode. Two phases use IR3553 40A fully integrated power stages for the main DDR4 voltage, and the VPP uses a single phase IR3553.

GIGABYTE X99-Phoenix SLI Circuit Analysis Continued

X99-Phoenix SLI Circuit Analysis Continued

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The X99-Phoenix SLI uses an ALC1150 Realtek codec and a single Texas Instruments OP1652 amplifier for the rear IO output jack. There are 11x Nichicon Gold series electrolytic audio capacitors and a physical divide of the audio section of the PCB from the rest of the motherboard. The XMP logo in the PCH has RGBs located underneath it, and the audio section has a few RGBs that illuminate the slits in the white shield that covers the audio section. Together, the LEDs produce a neat lighting effect.

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GIGABYTE is using Intel's Alpine Ridge USB 3.1/Thunderbolt 3 controller for USB 3.1 functionality. Instead of using four PCI-E lanes from the CPU, and reducing the number of lanes for GPUs, GIGABYTE is directing four PCI-E 2.0 lanes from the PCH to the controller. The controller gets 20Gb/s of bandwidth to supply two 10Gb/s USB 3.1 ports. A Texas Instruments HDS3212 is used as a type-C switch for reversible connectors. The motherboard carries dual Intel Gbit NICs, the first consists of the integrated Gbit MAC in the PCH and an Intel i218v PHY. The second NIC is an Intel WGI211AT.

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GIGABYTE is also using Intel's latest 8260NGW Wireless AC/Bluetooth 4.2 M.2 card for wireless connectivity. The motherboard also supports GIGABYTE's QFlash Plus, which allows users to flash the BIOS without having to install a CPU. The IT8951E is an embedded controller that runs QFlash Plus. The board is equipped with dual 128Mbit (16MB) BIOS ROMs.

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The motherboard also uses two NEC D720210 USB 3.0 hubs to expand two USB 3.0 ports to eight for internal headers and IO panel ports.

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An IDT6V49322NLG clock generator provides better BCLK overclocking capabilities. The main SuperIO is the IT8620E, which provides fan control, temperature/voltage monitoring, and PS/2 on the backpanel IO. An IT8792E embedded controller (this is the third embedded controller I found on this board) is programmed to expand fan control, and maybe even to control the RGB LEDs.

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I found a large amount of NXP PCI-E 3.0 quick switches to switch around PCI-E bandwidth to the different slots.

BIOS and Software

BIOS

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To the delight of many, GIGABYTE has added in full GUI fan controls into their new UEFI. Users are now able to choose what temperature sensor each fan header will use for reference. Users are also able to choose the operating mode of certain headers, and manual control of headers can be done on a graph where users can pick different points.

The new GUI for fan control is a huge step up from GIGABYTE's previous fan control methods, putting their UEFI fan control in line with that of their competitors. In fact, their new fan GUI looks better than some competitor GUI fan control modules, and hopefully GIGABYTE will add this module to other motherboard models.

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While all of the UEFI got a style overhaul, most of the menu structure remains the same. There are two new pages worth noting in the new UEFI. The first is an Easy Mode screen where users can easily find popular settings such as boot sequence and fan control. The second is an "Ambient LED" control module. The RGB LEDs are all synced together, and you can customize the color in multiple ways, and you can also customize the LED mode.

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Software

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GIGABYTE's has given its APP Center an overhaul, and the motherboard carries a lot of optional software. Programs include @BIOS, 3D OSD, Ambient LED, Color Temperature (for removing/reducing the blue light from your monitor), Cloud Station, USB Blocker, System Information Viewer (fan control), EasyTune, V-Tuner, Home Cloud, Smart Backup, Smart TimeLock, and Smart Keyboard.

Test System Setup

Steven's Motherboard Test System Specifications

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The default orange RGB LEDs produce a nice aesthetically pleasing vibe that can hypnotize in pulse mode. The Dominator Platinum memory produces white light that has a blue tint which contrasts well with the orange RGB LEDs. Of course, you can also turn off the motherboard lights or change their color. I do like how the light shines through the shields over the IO, audio, and SATA areas. The lighting between the memory DIMMs is also a nice touch.

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The IO shield is not illuminated like on previous high-end GIGABYTE X99 motherboards, but GIGABYTE did make honeycomb-style slits in the IO panel shield so that some of that light can shine through the rear of the system. If there is a white wall behind the case, you will get a neat shadow effect from the lights.

The new test bench is designed to test every aspect of the motherboard and IO. I have designed it so that the motherboard sits in a case and is cooled by fans always-on at a constant rate to keep the conditions similar during all tests. I have cut out part of the case behind the motherboard so I can get thermal images of the back of the PCB where the VRM heat spreads. System and CPU power measurements are now digitally logged.

I am also using a Netgear Nighthawk X4 AC2350 for our network (including wireless AC) tests. The latest M.2, SSD, and USB technologies are also being utilized to test the maximum potential of the motherboards that are tested.

Overclocking

Overclocking Results

CPU Overclocking

If you hadn't already heard, the 6950X 10-core $1700 beast isn't the best overclocker. I cannot validate CPU frequency anywhere near 5GHz, and I cannot even boot at 4.5GHz, but I can run 4.4GHz on all cores. I have decided to change how I do the overclocking section and determine exactly what it takes to push to the CPU to this maximum stable frequency on the different motherboards I test.

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GIGABYTE's motherboard has almost no auto rules (at least none that I noticed) that would increase voltages automatically with frequency increases. It's good because the motherboard won't auto-increase voltages without you knowing exactly what is being set, but it does mean you will have to dial in voltages yourself. I assume GIGABYTE will add in auto rules for overclocking voltages, specifically memory and cache, but right now you should manually set them.

For rough estimates, you can use the same voltage levels I spelled out in my 5960X OC guide, as the same voltages seem to do the same things on both CPU generations. I did not gain much from increasing the VL voltages for the extra pins. I was able to easily pull off a 4.4GHz OC, and I was able to execute Handbrake 4K transcoding of a 4K video to 1080p.

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Here we have the 32GB quad-channel Dominator Platinum kit from Corsair. It runs at 3200MHz CAS 16, and the X99-Phoenix SLI was able to run it by just enabling XMP.

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The second kit for memory compatibility testing is the G.Skill TridentZ 3200MHz CAS 14 32GB quad channel kit. The X99-Phoenix SLI also had no issue running this kit.

CPU, Memory, and System Benchmarks

CINEBENCH 11.5

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wPrime

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AIDA64 AES and HASH

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AIDA64 FPU

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AIDA64 Memory

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ScienceMark

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ScienceMark

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3DMark: Cloud Gate

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3DMark: Fire Strike

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ResidentEvil 6

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I have decided to test motherboard performance based upon a standardized 4GHz profile for the new X99 refresh motherboards. The base frequency of the 6950X is 3GHz, but the X99-Phoenix SLI does have multi-core enhancement enabled by default, meaning it will boost most of the 6950X's cores to 4GHz, which makes it a bit faster than most boards at stock. So I have tested it against other motherboards at 4GHz on all cores with my standard profile.

Overall it's average and has no pitfalls, which is what I expected.

System IO Benchmarks

SATA6G:

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M.2:

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U.2:

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ixChariot Network Throughput:

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The X99-Phoenix SLI has very strong IO performance. It can handle both M.2 and U.2 at the same time and provide high performance on both busses. Wireless performance is also quite good.

Audio RMAA 5.5:

I disable all audio features, set the correct bitrates, and then test the audio with a loopback test.

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Sound Judgment by Ear: Excellent, high-quality audio. There are five ratings for audio: 1. Problems, 2. Okay, 3. Acceptable, 4. Very good, 5. Excellent

Thermal Imaging and Power Consumption

CPU power is measured through the 8-pin connector, which is hooked up to a hall effect IC, which measures current and puts out a voltage in proportion to the current. That voltage is logged by a National Instruments ADC, which logs the DC voltage level that I then convert into current.

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Note on Thermal Images: In the temperature section, we use our Seek thermal imaging camera to capture the surface temperatures of major components on the board. I look at the VRM and then all other things that light up the screen. If there is something to worry about, then I will state it. Otherwise, I will just show the hotter running parts of the board for fun. Unless some component is over 80-90C, then there isn't anything to worry about.

All systems will act differently, so I will look for commonalities, such as how far from the VRM the heat spreads through the PCB and the difference in temperature between the front side and backside of the PCB. Keep in mind, the majority of the heat from the VRM goes into the PCB as it is a giant soldered on copper heat sink. A larger difference in temperature between the back and front of the PCB points towards a more effective heat sink.

Thermal Testing at Stock Speeds:

The image on the left is always at idle, and the image on the right is at load. During ALL TESTS, fans above the VRM that cool the CPU cooler's (Corsair H110i GT) radiator are turned on to high (12v).

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Full frontal.

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Up-close of the front of the VRM.

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Up-close of the back of the VRM.

Thermal Testing at 4.5GHz Overclocked Speeds:

The image on the left is always at idle, and the image on the right is at load. During ALL TESTS, fans above the VRM that cool the CPU cooler's (Corsair H110i GT) radiator are turned on to high (12v).

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Full frontal.

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Up-close of the front of the VRM.

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Up-close of the back of the VRM.

The VRM on the X99-Phoenix SLI is very high quality, and it shows. Temperatures never went close to 60C, the highest I saw was 50C peak at 4GHz OC load. What impressed me was the VRM cooling, temperatures on the rear during load were consistently lower than those on the front side, indicating that the heat was being drawn away from the PCB through the heat sink.

Anything under 60C is great, 60-80C is acceptable, and anything above 80C is a bit worrisome (if at stock).

What's Hot, What's Not & Final Thoughts

Here are key points about the GIGABYTE X99-Phoenix SLI.

What's Hot

Orange on Cloud 9: I have seen orange on black, and I thought that was one of the best color schemes until I saw the X99-Phoenix SLI's orange on white. The mixture of neon colors and white is visual bliss, at least in my opinion. I usually dislike too many RGB LEDs, but GIGABYTE's diffusion of the RGBs in the audio, IO panel, and SATA areas actually looks classy.

Great 2-Way and Solid 3-Way Spacing: GIGABYTE changed up their PCI-E spacing to provide the ability to run two cards with great spacing. I have seen a few other motherboards have similar spacing, but they usually end up having issues with covering up the bottommost motherboard headers with three cards, but that is not the case with the X99-Phoenix SLI. The third card won't cover the headers if it is a normal double slotted GPU.

U.2, M.2, and Intel USB 3.1 Simultaneously: The X99-Phoenix SLI can provide full 32Gb/s bandwidth to the M.2 slot, another 32Gb/s to the U.2 port, and 20Gb/s to the Intel USB 3.1 controller, all at the same time, if you use a 40 PCI-E lane CPU. The same cannot be said about many other motherboards, which will sacrifice one high bandwidth feature for another. Intel's USB 3.1 controller is not very common on X99 since it requires a certain amount of bandwidth, but GIGABYTE was able to route four PCH PCI-E lanes to the controller and not use up precious CPU lanes.

Triple Intel NICs: Most will be more than pleased to see two Intel Gbit NICs that they can team up, but GIGABYTE went a step further and added in Intel's latest Wireless AC/Bluetooth 4.2 M.2 card for those who want to use WIFI connectivity.

GIGABYTE's UEFI Overhaul: GIGABYTE's BIOS engineers have done a great job of revamping their UEFI to meet the demands of consumers. I am glad GIGABYTE has departed from their traditional easy to use simple-only fan implementation and moved towards much better fan control options in the UEFI. Like many others, I install the least amount of software possible to avoid conflicts; with the new UEFI fan control, there is little need to set the fans through a Windows based application, which is a great thing.

What's Not

U.2 Only Works with a 40-Lane CPU: One downside of allowing the U.2 and M.2 ports to work at full speed at the same time is that 28-lane CPUs (5820K or 6800K) won't be able to supply enough bandwidth on this motherboard to operate the U.2 port. However, there are M.2 to U.2 adapters that are widely available if you still want to use U.2.

Final Thoughts

From the ashes, the Phoenix shall rise. The X99-Phoenix SLI could be considered almost legendary for GIGABYTE motherboards. It's the motherboard where GIGABYTE has kicked things up a notch and made large strides instead of the usual small ones. Totally revamped PCI-E layout to optimize 2-way and 3-way GPU configured over 4-way: check. Two Intel Gbit NICs and Intel Wireless AC: check. Orange and white color theme with tasteful RGB LEDs: check. New UEFI with expanded fan and RGB LED control: check. All the latest connectivity features: check. Almost every nail has been hit on the head with the X99-Phoenix SLI.

GIGABYTE X99-Phoenix SLI (Intel X99) Motherboard Review 97 | TweakTown.com

GIGABYTE went back to the drawing board with this motherboard, and also with its other motherboards. They have totally revamped their lineup for the better and created a product that can provide a solid experience and excitement. I was also impressed with the IO performance, especially considering all the high bandwidth IO ports can operate simultaneously.

You lose almost no features because you are using another feature, something that a lot of X99 motherboard suffer from. With the X99-Phoenix SLI you get exactly what you pay for, and perhaps a little bit more.

TweakTown award
Performance (including Overclocking)93%
Quality including Design and Build91%
General Features93%
Bundle and Packaging92%
Value for Money91%
Overall92%

The Bottom Line: GIGABYTE's X99-Phoenix SLI is not only a good looker, but also provides top IO performance to all slots and ports without compromising features.

PRICING: You can find products similar to this one for sale below.

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Steven went from a fledgling forum reader in 2003 to one of the internet's brightest tech stars by 2010. Armed with an information systems degree, a deep understanding of circuitry, and a passion for tech, Steven (handle Sin0822) enjoys sharing his deep knowledge with others. Steven details products down to the component level to highlight seldom explained, and often misunderstood architectures. Steven is also a highly decorated overclocker with several world records.

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