It’s not often that a motherboard manufacturer actively goes against the grain, disobeying Intel’s wishes, and produces a product that gets around their rules around that may and may not be sold to consumers. For the last six years, that’s been the case for Xeon processors that share the same socket as desktop motherboards, and consumers purchase these components to get around the high prices of the Core i7 lineup. With Skylake, Intel has changed this so that consumer boards can no longer work with Xeon processors. Gigabyte gets around this by creating the new X-series family, which are motherboards designed for consumer and gaming use that incorporate Intel’s server-grade C232 and C236 chipsets.
These boards can all support Intel’s Xeon E3-series V5 processors, which are available on socket LGA 1151. They belong to the Skylake family, and are just rebranded desktop CPUs that have been binned to have the best power consumption, or the lowest leakage. The price difference between the Xeon E3 and Core i5/Core i7 processors can sometimes be quite significant, as these chips often lack the integrated graphics chips (they are disabled), and commonly ship with lower base and boost clock speeds.
Still, getting Core i7-ish performance from a cheaper chip designed for server use is never a bad thing. If you compare the price for the Core i7-4790 to the Xeon E3-1231 V3, you’re saving around R650 and getting similar performance. Before the rand’s value dropped tremendously, this difference was closer to R1000, spare change that could be sunk into a better GPU or more memory.
The lineup starts off with the X170-Extreme ECC, which is a full ATX motherboard design that looks very similar to the G1 Gaming boards from the Z170 series, only this one uses the Intel C236 chipset. It supports the use of ECC memory, something that’s been missing from the consumer market for a long time, at least for Intel builds (AMD’s had this advantage for years). Pictured above is the ECC version of the board on the left, with the non-ECC capable version, the X170-Gaming 7 WS on the right. The boards are otherwise identical, supporting dual Crossfire or SLI setups through the top two PCI-Express 3.0 x16 slots. There are also two NVMe-capable M.2 PCI-Express slots, which can be set up in a RAID pair for more speed.
As with everything else you’ll see here in this announcement, there’s no pricing or launch date listed for these parts yet.
Going one step down, you’ll fine the X150-PLUS WS, an ATX design that sports the cheaper Intel C232 chipset. The cheaper chipset offers less connectivity like USB 3.1, and doesn’t have a lot of available SATA or PCI-Express ports. Nevertheless, this board still has space for two GPUs in Crossfire (the bottom slot is electrically PCI-Express 2.0 x4) , a 32GB/s-capable M.2 slot that is B-keyed for SSDs only, and provision for a single SATA Express device.
The X150-PLUS WS is sold in two configurations – one with the army camo plastic shielding around the CPU socket and I/O ports, and one without all the extra plastic, pictured above. They are otherwise identical, and do not support ECC memory.
Further down is the X150M-PRO ECC. The name is rather self-explanatory, with the board being a mATX design with ECC compatibility. It too has the C232 chipset, and it offers all of the same features and connectivity as the X150-PLUS WS, including Crossfire support. The board is also short one power phase for the CPU socket, which might impact top-end performance when you’re trying to use a Core i7-6700K on it.
Unlike the other X-series motherboards on display here, only the X150M-PRO is listed with support for regular consumer CPUs in the Core i5 and i7 lineups, which could either be a mistake on Gigabyte’s part, or a problem that they might have solved through BIOS support, which may find its way to the other boards eventually.
The last reveal for the X-series family is the X150M-PLUS WS. This is a mATX design that is shorter than the X150M-PRO, and the loss of the extra length affects the board’s connectivity and storage options dramatically. Gone is the M.2 connector, the SATA Express port, the eight-channel audio and two PWM fan headers. It’s still a fairly good deal for those of you who are budget-conscious and don’t need any of those features, and I hope that Gigabyte manages to keep the pricing of the X-series low to encourage people to look at the Xeon CPUs for gaming and workstation builds.