Subject: Systems
Manufacturer: ECS

Introduction and First Impressions

The LIVA family of mini PCs has been refreshed regularly since its introduction in 2014, and the LIVA Z represents a change to sleek industrial design as well as the expected updates to the internal hardware.

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The LIVA Z we have for review today is powered by an Intel Apollo Lake SoC, and the product family includes SKUs with both Celeron and Pentium processors. Our review unit is the entry-level model with a Celeron N3350 processor, 4GB memory, and 32GB storage. Memory and storage support are improved compared to past LIVAs, as this is really more of a mini-PC kit like an Intel NUC, as the LIVA Z includes an M.2 slot (SATA 6.0 Gbps) for storage expansion, and a pair of SODIMM slots support up to 8 GB of DDR3L memory (a single 4GB SODIMM is installed by default).

The LIVA Z is a very small device, just a bit bigger than your typical set-top streaming box, and like all LIVAs it is fanless; making it totally silent in operation. This is important for many people in applications such as media consumption in a living room, and like previous LIVA models the Z includes a VESA mount for installation on the back of a TV or monitor. So how does it perform? We will find out!

Continue reading our review of the ECS LIVA Z fanless mini PC!

Introduction, How PCM Works, Reading, Writing, and Tweaks

I’ve seen a bit of flawed logic floating around related to discussions about 3D XPoint technology. Some are directly comparing the cost per die to NAND flash (you can’t - 3D XPoint likely has fewer fab steps than NAND - especially when compared with 3D NAND). Others are repeating a bunch of terminology and element names without taking the time to actually explain how it works, and far too many folks out there can't even pronounce it correctly (it's spoken 'cross-point'). My plan is to address as much of the confusion as I can with this article, and I hope you walk away understanding how XPoint and its underlying technologies (most likely) work. While we do not have absolute confirmation of the precise material compositions, there is a significant amount of evidence pointing to one particular set of technologies. With Optane Memory now out in the wild and purchasable by folks wielding electron microscopes and mass spectrometers, I have seen enough additional information come across to assume XPoint is, in fact, PCM based.

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XPoint memory. Note the shape of the cell/selector structure. This will be significant later.

While we were initially told at the XPoint announcement event Q&A that the technology was not phase change based, there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and it is likely that Intel did not want to let the cat out of the bag too early. The funny thing about that is that both Intel and Micron were briefing on PCM-based memory developments five years earlier, and nearly everything about those briefings lines up perfectly with what appears to have ended up in the XPoint that we have today.

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Some die-level performance characteristics of various memory types. source

The above figures were sourced from a 2011 paper and may be a bit dated, but they do a good job putting some actual numbers with the die-level performance of the various solid state memory technologies. We can also see where the ~1000x speed and ~1000x endurance comparisons with XPoint to NAND Flash came from. Now, of course, those performance characteristics do not directly translate to the performance of a complete SSD package containing those dies. Controller overhead and management must take their respective cuts, as is shown with the performance of the first generation XPoint SSD we saw come out of Intel:

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The ‘bridging the gap’ Latency Percentile graph from our Intel SSD DC P4800X review.
(The P4800X comes in at 10us above).

There have been a few very vocal folks out there chanting 'not good enough', without the basic understanding that the first publicly available iteration of a new technology never represents its ultimate performance capabilities. It took NAND flash decades to make it into usable SSDs, and another decade before climbing to the performance levels we enjoy today. Time will tell if this holds true for XPoint, but given Micron's demos and our own observed performance of Intel's P4800X and Optane Memory SSDs, I'd argue that it is most certainly off to a good start!

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A 3D XPoint die, submitted for your viewing pleasure (click for larger version).

You want to know how this stuff works, right? Read on to find out!

Computex 2017: GIGABYTE Announces X299 AORUS Motherboard Lineup

Subject: Motherboards | June 1, 2017 - 01:05 PM |
Tagged: x299, motherboard, LGA 2066, Intel, computex 2017, computex, aorus

GIGABYTE has announced their premium X299 AORUS motherboards at Computex with some impressively high-end features (more so the higher you go up the list). The X299 AORUS Gaming 9 sits atop a lineup that includes the X299 AORUS Gaming 7, X299 AORUS Ultra Gaming, and X299 AORUS Gaming 3, giving buyers plenty of options for their new Intel Core X-series CPU build.

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The X299 AORUS Gaming 9 motherboard at the GIGABYTE booth

The X299 AORUS Gaming 9 (pictured above), along with the Gaming 7, feature GIGABYTE's Dual Armor design (these motherboards have their own backplate!), triple M.2 slots, dual Gigabit LAN and Killer 1535 Wi-Fi onboard, RGB lighting effects, and some seriously high-end sound for a motherboard.

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An audio enthusiast won't be disappointed with specs like a 32-bit/384kHz ESS SABRE DAC (ES9018), TI Burr-Brown OP-Amp, audiophile-grade capacitors, and gold-plated audio jacks (among other hi-fi goodies).

A full comparison of the X299 AORUS Gaming motherboards is available below in this 'easy to read' image of a spec table (sorry!):

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The lighting effects from the high-end Gaming models include digital LEDs, PCIe LED lighting, and a 'PCH Accent Overlay' for a very well-illuminated motherboard (if you like that sort of thing). GIGABYTE lists multiple programmable lighting zones, 8 different lighting effects, a pair of RGBW light strip headers, and support for digital LED strips among the many software-controlled lighting features with these boards. The durability features include the AORUS Base Plate (pictured below) and M.2 Thermal Guard, which provides your high performance M.2 SSDs with some measure of cooling.

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The AORUS Base Plate is like a GPU backplate for your motherboard

As with other X299 motherboard launches, pricing and release dates were not available at Computex so we will have to wait a little longer for that information.

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Make an X299 AORUS Gaming motherboard the heart of your next wall-mounted PC build!

Source: GIGABYTE

Podcast #452 - Computex Special

Subject: General Tech | June 1, 2017 - 12:33 PM |
Tagged: x299, WD, VROC, video, Vega, toshiba, Threadripper, snapdragon 835, ryzen mobile, qnap, podcast, nvidia, msi, max-q, Killer xTend, Intel, evga, Core i9, asus, asrock, arm, amd, agesa, a75, A55

PC Perspective Podcast #452 - 01/01/17

Join us for talk about Computex 2017 and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath, Allyn Malventano

Peanut Gallery: Alex Lustenberg, Ken Addison

Program length: 2:07:12
 
Podcast topics of discussion:
  1. Week in Review:
  2. News items of interest:
    1. Intel news
    2. AMD news
      1. 0:55:00 RX Vega pushed to end of July (SIGGRAPH), FE on June 27th
    3. NVIDIA news
    4. ARM news
    5. Storage news
    6. New notebooks
  3. Closing/outro

Subscribe to the PC Perspective YouTube Channel for more videos, reviews and podcasts!!

ASUS X299 Enables Intel Virtual RAID on CPU - RAID-0 up to 20 SSDs!

Subject: Storage | May 31, 2017 - 08:58 PM |
Tagged: x299, VROC, Virtual RAID on CPU, raid, Intel, asus

Ken and I have been refreshing our Google search results ever since seeing the term 'VROC' slipped into the ASUS press releases. Virtual RAID on CPU (VROC) is a Skylake-X specific optional feature that is a carryover from Intel's XEON parts employing RSTe to create a RAID without the need for the chipset to tie it all together.

Well, we finally saw an article pop up over at PCWorld, complete with a photo of the elusive Hyper M.2 X16 card:

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The theory is that you will be able to use the 1, 2, or 3 M.2 slots of an ASUS X299 motherboard, presumably passing through the chipset (and bottlenecked by DMI), or you can shift the SSDs over to a Hyper M.2 X16 card and have four piped directly to the Skylake-X CPU. If you don't have your lanes all occupied by GPUs, you can even add additional cards to scale up to a max theoretical 20-way RAID-0 supporting a *very* theoretical 128GBps.

A couple of gotchas here:

  • Only works with Skylake-X (not Kaby Lake-X)
  • RAID-1 and RAID-5 are only possible with a dongle (seriously?)
  • VROC is supposedly only bootable when using Intel SSDs (what?)

Ok, so the first one is understandable given Kaby Lake-X will only have 16 PCIe lanes direclty off of the CPU.

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The second is, well, annoying, but understandable once you consider that some server builders may want to capitalize on the RSTe-type technology without having to purchase server hardware. It's still a significant annoyance, because how long has it been since anyone has had to deal with a freaking hardware dongle to unlock a feature on a consumer part. That said, most enthusiasts are probably fine with RAID-0 for their SSD volume, given they would be going purely for increased performance.

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The third essentially makes this awesome tech dead on arrival. Requiring only Intel branded M.2 SSDs for VROC bootability is a nail in the coffin. Enthusiasts are not going to want to buy 4 or 8 (or more) middle of the road Intel SSDs (the only M.2 NAND SSD available from Intel is the 600p) for their crazy RAID - they are going to go with something faster, and if that can't boot, that's a major issue.

More to follow as we learn more. We'll keep a lookout and keep you posted as we get official word from Intel on VROC!

Source: PCWorld

Details on Intel's Gemini Lake SoC Leak: A Refined Apollo Lake Coming Soon

Subject: Processors | May 31, 2017 - 02:33 PM |
Tagged: Intel, goldmont+, gemini lake, apollo lake, 14nm

Information recently leaked on the successor to Intel’s low power Apollo Lake SoCs dubbed Gemini Lake. Several sites via FanlessTech claim that Gemini Lake will launch by the end of the year and will be the dual and quad core processors used to power low cost notebooks, tablets, 2-in-1 convertibles, and SFF desktop and portable PCS.

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A leaked Intel roadmap.

Gemini Lake appears to be more tick than tock in that it uses a similar microarchitecture as Apollo Lake and relies mainly on process node improvements with the refined 14nm+ process to increase power efficiency and performance per watt. On the CPU side of things, Gemini Lake utilizes the Goldmont+ microarchitecture and features two or four cores paired with 4MB of L2 cache. Intel has managed to wring higher clockspeeds while lowering power draw out of the 14nm process. A doubling of the L2 cache versus Apollo Lake will certainly give the chip a performance boost. The SoC will use Intel Gem9 graphics with up to 18 Execution Units (similar to Apollo Lake) but the GPU will presumably run at higher clocks. Additionally, the Gemini Lake SoC will integrate a new single channel DDR4 memory controller that will support higher memory speeds, s WLAN controller (a separate radio PHY is still required on the motherboard) supporting 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0.

Should the leaked information turn out to be true, he new Gemini Lake chips are shaping up to be a good bit faster than their predecessor while sipping power with TDPs of up to 6W for mobile devices and 10W for SFF desktop.

The lower power should help improve battery life a bit which is always a good thing. And if they can pull off higher performance as well all the better!

Unfortunately, it is sounding like Gemini Lake will not be ready in te for the back to school or holiday shopping seasons this year. I expect to see a ton of announcements on devices using the new SoCs at CES though!

Also read:

 

Source:

Computex 2017: EVGA Announces Intel X299 Series Motherboards

Subject: Motherboards | May 31, 2017 - 11:25 AM |
Tagged: x299, motherboard, micro ATX, mATX, LGA 2066, Intel, evga, computex 2017, computex, atx

EVGA has announced their new X299 Series motherboard lineup, with two EATX models and a compact solution for Micro-ATX.

"Introducing the EVGA X299 motherboard lineup - built for the Next Generation Intel® X299 platform. The EVGA X299 motherboard lineup combines incredible features, overclocking and the latest SSD standards, including M.2, U.2 and Intel® Optane™ support. EVGA's GUI BIOS focuses on functionality and overclocking support to give you power and ease of use. With these features and more, it is easy to see how the EVGA X299 Motherboards are Built to Perfection."

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The first of these is the X299 DARK, an EATX motherboard that EVGA says is "designed from the ground up to be the best overclocking motherboard on the planet". The motherboard has an unusual PCB design as it is meant for serious overclocking, whittling memory support down to just 4 DIMM slots (overclocking of 4133MHz+ is supported) and EVGA includes a 'bench stand plate' for open test bench setups. The X299 DARK also features an integrated M.2 cooling solution that looks a little bit like a small GPU blower fan of old.

Features from EVGA:

  • Supports x16 PCIe Graphics with all CPUs
  • Audio – Creative Sound Core3D Quad-Core Audio Processor + Optical
  • Highly-Efficient 14 Phase Digital VRM
  • 12 Layer PCB Design
  • Bundled Bench Stand Plate
  • Dedicated M.2 Cooling
  • Onboard Power, Reset and Clear CMOS
  • EVGA E-LEET X Tuning Utility
  • Triple BIOS Support
  • M.2 NVMe PCI-E SSD Support
  • U.2 NVMe SSD Support
  • Intel® Optane™ Memory Ready
  • Switchable DC / PWM Fan Control
  • 10-zone Temperature Monitor
  • Onboard Voltage Display

Next up is the X299 FTW K, another EATX design that is a little more conventional as it offers 8 DIMM slots for up to 128GB of DDR4 memory, and less of the OC-specific design of the X299 DARK.

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Features for the X299 FTW K include:

  • RGB LED I/O and Heatsink
  • RGB Fan Header Support
  • Audio – High Definition 8 Channel Audio + Optical
  • Highly-Efficient 14 Phase Digital VRM
  • Onboard Power, Reset and Clear CMOS
  • EVGA E-LEET X Tuning Utility
  • Dual BIOS Support
  • M.2 NVMe PCI-E SSD Support
  • U.2 NVMe SSD Support
  • Intel® Optane™ Memory Ready
  • Switchable DC / PWM Fan Control
  • Onboard CPU Temperature Monitor

Last but not least (unless you're talking about size) is the X299 MICRO, which is EVGA's Micro-ATX X299 offering.

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Certain changes are necessitated by the mATX size contstraints such as 4 DIMM slots (though EVGA's X299 DARK shares this limitation) and fewer PCIe slots, but this is still a full-fledged enthusiast platform with many high-end features including an impressive 12-phase Digital VRM design.

Features for the X299 MICRO include:

  • RGB Fan Header Support
  • Audio – High Definition 8 Channel Audio + Optical
  • Highly-Efficient 12 Phase Digital VRM
  • Onboard Power, Reset and Clear CMOS
  • EVGA E-LEET X Tuning Utility
  • M.2 NVMe PCI-E SSD Support
  • U.2 NVMe SSD Support
  • Intel® Optane™ Memory Ready
  • Switchable DC / PWM Fan Control
  • Onboard CPU Temperature Monitor

Release dates and MSRPs for these motherboards have not been announced.

Source: EVGA

We interrupt our Computex coverage to bring you Computex coverage

Subject: General Tech | May 30, 2017 - 12:35 PM |
Tagged: Intel, computex, core x, x299

To ensure we haven't missed anything in the hustle and bustle, perhaps sheer insanity, which is Computex here is a look at what The Tech Report garnered from Intel about their new chip and chipset.  They have also taken the path of least resistance and are reporting from a remote location as opposed to the front lines, which can make compiling information more effective.  The top question on peoples minds are the pricing of the new chips and we can now report them, starting with the most expensive part.  The Core i9-7900X will run $1000, significantly less than the i7-6950X, the i7-7820X will run $600 and the i7-7800X a cool $390.  It seems that AMD have succeeded at attracting Intel's attention and Intel has reduced their pricing for this generation of chips.  Let's hope AMD can continue to rip it up! 

More of TR's coverage can be found here and keep your eyes on this page as there will be much more of our coverage coming!

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"As Computex kicks off, Intel is refreshing its high-end desktop platform from top to bottom. We take a first look at the company's Skylake-X and Kaby Lake-X CPUs and the X299 platform."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Computex 2017: ASUS Announces Republic of Gamers, STRIX X299-based Motherboards

Subject: Motherboards | May 30, 2017 - 08:00 AM |
Tagged: x299, VROC, Strix X299-E, ROG, Rampage VI Extreme, Rampage VI Apex, raid, NVMe, LiveDash, Intel, computex 2017, asus, 802.11ad, 10G

Hot on the heels of Intel's Core i9 Skylake-X and Kaby Lake-X announcements today, ASUS has released details on its X299 offerings. While you can find details on the more Prime and TUF ASUS Motherboards here, we're taking a look at the flagship Republic of Gamers products in this post.

Today ASUS is taking the wraps off of 3 X299 ROG Motherboards, the Rampage VI Extreme, Rampage VI Apex, and Strix X299-E.

One of the interesting features ASUS is talking about with these X299 boards is Intel VROC technology. While we'll have a post with some more details about VROC soon, essentially it allows for a bootable M.2 NVMe RAID to exist from the CPU PCIe lanes.

While NVMe RAID is supported on the Z170 and Z270 platforms, it depends on all data going through the chipset to function which creates a bottleneck. Using an add-in card in the PCIe slot of your motherboard, VROC claims to allow NVME SSDs to operate in a RAID away from the chipset, while still being bootable.

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Rampage VI Extreme

As we've historically seen with ASUS ROG Motherboards, the "Extreme" model tends to be where we see innovative new features that will later find their way into the rest of ASUS's motherboard lineup, and the Rampage VI Extreme seems to be no different.

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Networking seems to be a big focus for the Rampage VI Extreme, with the addition of 802.11ad wireless networking. While 802.11ad devices are just starting to come out, it's use of 60GHz wireless in order to hit speeds of up to 4.6GBps is very compelling. However, by using such high-frequency wireless technology, 802.11ad signals will not penetrate surfaces like walls and mostly depend on line of sight. This is more for fast file transfers within one room, with the rest of your house still utilizing 802.11ac.

Wired networking sees an upgrade too on the Rampage VI Extreme, with the addition of a 10 Gigabit NIC. We saw ASUS integrate 10G networking on the X99-E WS 10G late last year, and it's great to see continued commitment to bringing 10G to consumers.

In addition to the VROC add-in card for NVMe SSDs that we mentioned previously, the Rampage VI Extreme features 3 onboard M.2 slots (2 slots come from the use of the DIMM.2 module in one of the memory slots). ASUS says this will help clean up your chassis while still giving you maximum storage options. It's unclear if these SSDs are being routed through the chipset, or are going directly to the CPU using Intel's VROC technology which would provide more throughput.

For users looking for a bit of flair on their motherboard, in addition to built-in RGB lighting, the Rampage VI Extreme features a new LiveDash OLED display for displaying real-time system information on your motherboard. You can also customize this display to offer custom messages and graphics to complement your case mod.

Rampage VI Apex

A newer addition to the ROG family, the Apex motherboards are meant for maximum overclocking and performance. This means that you'll actually sacrifice some features from other X299 boards in order to get a lean product you can push to the edge.

For instance, the Rampage VI Apex only provide 1 DIMM slot per memory channel, which ASUS claims allows the optimal trace routing to improve performance and stability with the fastest memory kits. In addition, you'll also find 2 DIMM.2 slots to add a total of 4 PCIe M.2 SSDs to your system.

While it may not be meant for gamers, the Rampage VI Apex is sure to set some records in the high-end overclocking realm.

Strix X299-E

Unlike the uncompromising motherboards we've talked about so far, the Strix X299-E aims to bring a more entry-level motherboard to the ROG line. 

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Keeping the same design cues as the other ROG motherboards, the Strix X299-E also keeps a lot of the same features. Users can expect the same PCIe slots and headers as other ROG boards. Additionally, features like onboard RGB lighting with Aura Sync Software, USB 3.1 Gen2, SupremeFX audio, and Intel Gigabit networking make the Strix X299-E a compelling product that should suit the needs of most users.

ROG Rampage VI Extreme, Rampage VI Apex and ROG Strix X299-E motherboards will be available at leading resellers in North America starting in late June with the STRIX series arriving first.

Source: ASUS

Computex 2017: ASUS Announces Prime and TUF Intel X299 Motherboards

Subject: Motherboards | May 30, 2017 - 08:00 AM |
Tagged: x299, VROC, skylake-x, raid, NVMe, LiveDash, kaby lake-x, Intel, HEDT, computex 2017, asus, 802.11ad

Alongside the announcement of Intel's Core i9 Skylake-X and Kaby Lake-X CPUs, ASUS has unveiled details of their X299 motherboards. While we've already taken a look updates to the Republic of Gamers line of products, ASUS also released details about their "Prime" and "TUF" X299 products.

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ASUS PRIME

The Prime line of motherboards from ASUS are their entry-level options for any given platform. However just because they are the lowest cost boards doesn't mean that they are lacking in features.

All X299 Prime motherboards feature 3-way SLI thanks to the additional PCIe lanes available in the X299 platform (supported 44 lane CPUs are required). These available x16 slots are all reinforced with ASUS SafeSlot technology to help prevent heavy GPUs from damaging your motherboard.

The new Prime motherboards also feature the Realtek S1220A which we first saw on ASUS's Z270 products. ASUS claims that the S1220A paired with high-quality audio components on board help produce an onboard sound that rivals some dedicated sound cards.

Additionally, all X299 boards feature RGB LED headers with Aura Sync compatibility for maximum customizability. 

For the storage-focused, Intel VROC technology found on ASUS's X299 boards will allow for high-speed M.2 NVMe SSD RAIDs without being bottlenecked by chipset bandwidth, unlike on the Z270 platform.

Though the use of an add-in card users will be able to RAID multiple M.2 SSDs into a bootable array, utilizing full bandwidth from the available CPU PCIe lanes. ASUS even says that you can link multiple of these VROC cards together! 

In addition to these features, the Prime X299-Deluxe adds some very exciting features

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Wireless networking has seen an enhancement with the adoption of integrated 802.11ad Wi-Fi. This brand new wireless technology capable of 4.6Gbps transfer speeds uses spectrum in the 60Ghz range. While these high-speed radio waves cannot penetrate surfaces like walls, for applications like super fast file transfer between PCs in one room, or high-quality video streaming to wireless displays this should be ideal.

Along with Intel VROC support, the Prime X299-Deluxe has dual onboard M.2 Slots and a single U.2 Slot for high-speed storage options.

The new LiveDash display is a small OLED panel on the motherboard that allows you to display system statistics as well as custom animations and text for additional customization.

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In addition to the features on the motherboard, ASUS is including their ThunderboltEX 3 expansion card with the Prime X299-Deluxe so that owners can utilize Thunderbolt 3 technology with up to 40Gbps of bandwidth.

ASUS TUF X299

The TUF line has always been focused on ultimate reliability and durability. This is accomplished with high-quality components and more stringent testing standards than other products. 

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The ASUS TUF X299 Mark 1 is the all-new flagship motherboard for the TUF line. Redesigned Thermal Armor design helps to streamline airflow across the motherboard while also providing cooling to the onboard M.2 slot.

The Fortifier backplate uses a carefully shaped metal plate to stiffen the board to prevent warping. A removable GPU holder is also supplied to help support the weight of heavy graphics cards.

The new version of ASUS TUF Detective software allows users to perform diagnostics wirelessly over an included USB Bluetooth adapter rather than depending on a wired connection like the previous implementation.

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The TUF X299 Mark 2 removes the Thermal Armor and Fortifier, but retains all of the great reliability and durability aspects of the TUF Mark 2,

ASUS Prime X299-Deluxe, Prime X299-A and TUF X299 Mark 1 motherboards will be available at leading resellers in North America starting in late June

Source: ASUS