It's been roughly a year since Intel's X99 arrived, but the question still remains as to whether there is value now in the platform. There are those of us who do not have excessive money kicking about to make a poor PC build decision. I, for one, had to make such a decision recently, and one wrong move can leave your PC performance and upgrade plans crippled for the next years.
What that in mind, let’s break down the pros and cons of X99 and what you can expect from it. Firstly, it should be said that Intel X99 supports the Intel Core i7 Extreme and Intel Xeon E5-16xx Haswell-E processors, so the number of CPUs it's compatible with is actually extremely limited. What X99 did bring to the table, however, was the first DDR4 memory support.
Despite sky-high prices this time last year, DDR4 is clearly becoming mainstream. With prices of DDR4 plummeting fast, you can easily find a wide range of ultra-performance RAM for reasonable prices. 16GB of DDR4 memory clocked at 3000MHz for $160, which isn't too much of a premium over the $120 you can expect for pay for 16GB of DDR3 clocked at 2400MHz.
However, DDR4 memory runs at 1.2v rather than the 1.5v standard for DDR3. It won't make too much of a difference on a gaming PC, equating to just 10-20W saving, but every little counts. Secondly, those speeds. DDR4 is typically much faster, as indicated by the clock speed. This means data can be transferred quicker. Ironically, this also causes a few problems - the latency of RAM is measured in ms, and is known as CAS. DDR4 is commonly CAS15, while DDR3 operates from CAS9 to CAS11. These two things counterbalance one another, giving an overall net boost in performance.
Ultimately, DDR4 is better, as you'd expect. That's the very reason it's been created. The DDR4 RAM you buy will be useful for many more years, since DDR3 is steadily being phased out. If DDR4 seemed like a waste of money before, the drop in prices means the reverse should now be true. DDR4 RAM is much more valuable in the long-term.
To go with X99 you need an X99 motherboard. These are still on the expensive side - you're typically looking at $240 - $340- but there are some very nice boards that can be had for the $160 range if you keep your eyes peeled for sales and rebates. More than that you should keep in mind that X99 CPUs offer the PCIe lanes on the CPU itself now. This means the motherboard should not have nearly as many overclocking limitations as previous boards, which will add more life to any quality CPU+Mobo combination. A penny spent is a penny earned? Perhaps.
CPUs Needed For X99 Builds
Last but not least, picking up an X99 motherboard means you're going to need a new processor to go with. As you saw earlier, both Intel Xeon E5-16xx and Intel Core i7 Extreme Haswell-E processors are compatible. The former are designed for servers and workstations and aren't applicable to gaming, while the latter is enthusiast-tier gaming processors.
An X99 i7-5820K 6-core behemoth can be had for as low as $299 if you are near a Microcenter for in-store pickup and ~$400 if bought online. This price easily competes with the top-tier i7 Haswell quad cores selling for only slightly less, such as the Core i7-4790K, which can be had for $340.
From a future-driven perspective, there’s likely no way a 6-core CPU will become obsolete within the next 5 or so years, bar something drastic happening. This is especially true considering how DirectX 12 will make systems less reliant on the CPU for gaming.
X99 Example Build
- CPU- Intel Core i7-5820k, Microcenter walk-in $299 (Link)
- Cooler- Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO, at Amazon $31.24 (Link)
- Motherboard- ASRock X99 Extreme3, at Newegg $156.98 with $40 promo (Link)
- RAM- G.SKILL Ripjaws 4 16GB (4x4GB) DDR4 3000MHz CAS 15, at Newegg $169.99 (Link)
Z97 Example Build
- CPU- Intel Core i5-4460, at Superbiiz $166.95 (Link)
- Cooler- Included with CPU (Link)
- Motherboard- Asus Z97-A ATX LGA1150, at NCIX $144.99
- RAM- G.Skill Ares Series 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR3-2400, at Newegg $89.99 (Link)
The price for the X99 build is around $220 more, but it's worth bearing in mind that the 4460 will not be able to overclock and the DDR3 RAM will not make the jump into future upgrades. However, does the $220 saving make it worth it to you? What would you do with that money if not placed into the CPU+MOBO+RAM? Let us know in the comments below!