Gigabyte’s X99-SOC Force reminds us of standing in a small room at the top of the skyscraping Taipei 101 building, the floor awash with liquid nitrogen. When there are overclocking records at stake, no amount of health and safety fluff is going to get in the way of a dedicated LN2-sniffer sloshing steaming flasks full of the stuff. You can practically smell the faint vanilla odour of coolant the instant you pull the SOC Force out of its packaging. This is a board that’s simply begging to be sat on an open test bench and tortured with super high voltages and super-low temperatures.
And that, therefore, means this motherboard is not necessarily one for the vast majority of us – even those looking to put together a mean X99 machine. That’s nothing to do with the feature-set – this high-priced board still includes all the important X99 features despite its OC obsession.
The issue is that it’s not tuned for stock CPU performance. The SOC Force isn’t designed to toddle along at conservative settings, and so doesn’t impress in performance terms straight out of the box. Straight CPU performance is pretty mediocre, as is the DDR4 memory performance. PCIe storage performance is rather lackluster too, offering the lowest 4K performance of all the boards capable of being tested with our Plextor M.2 SSD. The gaming performance is pretty good though, again demonstrating Gigabyte’s dominance when it comes to motherboard gaming support at the moment.
Even when it comes to our basic overclocking tests, the SOC Force doesn’t really set the world alight. It did get the joint highest overclock in the test, but was short of the X99 Deluxe in actual overclocked benchmark performance. But such pocket calculator stuff is not where the SOC Force wants to be – the enclosed GPU bracket, designed to support multiple graphics cards on an open test bench, and plethora of buttons and switches on the motherboard itself speak to this.
Gigabyte clearly wants this to be the pro-OC board of choice. There’s a host of features designed specifically to allow you to get into your OS at the lowest CPU settings and quickly throw the voltages and frequencies through the roof to hit your OC records. There are even physical buttons to allow you to shift the ratio up and down and push the baseclock around in either 0.1MHz or 1MHz increments. The fine-grain physical controls are very impressive, and if you’re looking to get your handle onto HWBot then the £300 cost of the SOC Force is unlikely to deter you.
But this isn’t a board for someone who isn’t going to be filling their garage with LN2 canisters. If you’re only going to be messing with CPU ratios and maybe a little light voltage tweaking to get your Haswell‑E chip running quicker then this isn’t worth the premium. That said, we still can’t help but love the no-nonsense approach Gigabyte has taken with its straightforward function-over-style layout.