Intel’s new X299 platform has barely left the stable and while all new platforms have teething issues, it seems the enthusiasts at whom the platform is targeted aren’t overly enthusiastic because of how the VRM on these X299 motherboards are designed. German professional overclocker Roman “der8auer” Hartung who is also a mechatronics engineer came out with this video on YouTube where he details all his findings of the new motherboards. Roman “der8auer” Hartung works with CaseKing, aGermann PC components and electronics retailer which also builds custom PCs.
The X299 “disaster”
While benchmarking the new X299 platform to figure out the overclocks that CaseKing can offer on their custom machines, Roman “der8auer” Hartung found that the VRM design wasn’t up to the mark. He used a CPU that was guaranteed to hit 4.6 GHz at 1.25V which was cooled using an NZXT Kraken X61 closed loop liquid cooler. The clock speed and the relevant voltage level is something that an average CPU can easily achieve provided it’s cooled well. About 10-15 minutes after booting the computer and running Prime95 (non-AVX) the VRM heatsink recorded 84 degrees celsius and the back of the PCB right underneath the VRM circuitry hit a temperature of 105 degrees celsius which according to Roman would indicate that the actual VRM chips were around 120-130 degrees Celsius.
And it’s not just one motherboard, Roman found the issue to be present in multiple motherboards across different manufacturers. Removing the existing heatsink off the VRM and using a cooling fan directed at the exposed chips is a more effective way of cooling as it brings the VRM temperatures down to a manageable 70-80 degrees Celsius.
The other issue plaguing the platform is the number of CPU ATX power connectors, most boards out there at the moment feature a single 8-pin or a combination of 8-pin and 4-pin power connectors. These are enthusiast boards which encourage overclocking and when the 10-core Core i9-7900X is clocked at 4.5 GHz 1.25V, then the average power draw is around 300 watts.
So having a single 8-pin connector was found to have a cable temperature of about 65 degrees Celsius on an open test bench. Now if the ambient temperatures were to be much greater as in if the motherboard were to be inside a system during summer then these temperatures would rise even further. However, it should be noted that such a situation with a persistent high temperature would require consistent max load on the CPU which is a rare situation for the average customer but a very common one for enthusiasts.
Who’s to blame?
Roman puts the blame on both Intel as well as the motherboard manufacturers. Intel because it moved the X299 platform launch ahead from August to June and motherboard manufacturers because they put out boards with small heatsinks which led to this problem. The problem lies in the heatsink design which of late has become more about aesthetics and less about performance. There’s also the fact that quite a lot of overclocking enthusiasts remove heatsinks that are too close to the LN2 pot and have multiple cooling fans directed towards the CPU area. The actual VRM design is more than capable of handling the loads that enthusiasts put such systems under. It’s just the heatsinks which aren’t up to the mark. This is evident from the fact that overclockers such as FUTTO-KUN have managed to achieve 5957.1 MHz on the Intel Core i9 7900X on an ASUS ROG Rampage VI Apex. However, we’re in the dark as to whether FUTTO-KUN has made any mods to the motherboard to achieve this result.
What’s the solution?
A better heatsink design. Most heatsink designs on motherboards these days consist of thermal pads forming the heat transfer mechanism between the VRM chips and the actual metal heatsink. Switching the pads out for a good thermal paste would have brought temperatures down quite a bit. Also, having a heatsink with a lot more surface area would be better although it’s not going to be visually pleasing.
Aesthetics and RGB have been plaguing the PC components industry over the last couple of years. However, we certainly believe that a balanced approach between aesthetics and efficient heatsink design that would have mitigated this issue.