GIGABYTE Z270X-Gaming SOC Motherboard Review

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Today’s newest victim for the torture table is GIGABYTE’s new Z270X-Gaming SOC, their flagship overclocking motherboard. This board has one job, and only one job, to be as fast as physically possible while pushing your CPU as far as possible. There’s notably fewer features than the Z170X-SOC Force, though, because GIGABYTE has gone back to the roots of the extreme overclocker with this board. If anything can handle the punishment, it’ll be this board.

Specifications and Features

Compared to the Z270X-Gaming 8 which recently graced our front page, you’ll note quite a few less add-ons for the Z270X-Gaming SOC. We get a single Intel NIC, a Realtek-powered audio section with only one interchangeable opamp, and fewer storage connections. Gone are the water cooling heatsink, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.

What you gain though, that’s for the serious power users of you readers. A stronger VRM, support for the GIGABYTE OC Touch panel, and internal USB Type-A connectors for those who don’t use a case.

All specifications in the table below are provided by GIGABYTE.

GIGABYTE GA-Z270X-Gaming SOC Specs
CPU Supports 7th/ 6th Generation Intel® Core™ Processors
Chipset Intel® Z270 Express Chipset
Memory 4 DIMM Dual-Channel DDR4 4000 MHz+ (Up To 64 GB)
Expansion Slots 1 x PCI Express x16 slot, running at x16 (PCIEX16)
* For optimum performance, if only one PCI Express graphics card is to be installed, be sure to install it in the PCIEX16 slot.
1 x PCI Express x16 slot, running at x8 (PCIEX8)
* The PCIEX8 slot shares bandwidth with the PCIEX16 slot. When the PCIEX8 slot is populated, the PCIEX16 slot operates at up to x8 mode.
2 x PCI Express x16 slots, running at x4 (PCIEX4_1, PCIEX4_2)
* The PCIEX4_1 slot shares bandwidth with the M2P_32G connector. The PCIEX4_1 slot and M2P_32G connector operate at up to x2 mode when both are populated.
* The PCIEX4_2 slot shares bandwidth with the PCIEX8 and PCIEX16 slots. When the PCIEX4_2 slot is populated, the PCIEX16 slot operates at up to x8 mode and the PCIEX8 operates at up to x4 mode.
2 x PCI Express x1 slots
(All of the PCI Express slots conform to PCI Express 3.0 standard.)
Graphics Integrated Graphics Processor-Intel® HD Graphics support:
1 x DisplayPort, supporting a maximum resolution of 4096×2304@60 Hz
* Support for DisplayPort 1.2 version.
1 x HDMI port, supporting a maximum resolution of 4096×2160@60 Hz
* Support for HDMI 1.4 version.
Maximum shared memory of 1 GB
Multi-GPU Support Support for NVIDIA® Quad-GPU SLI™ and 2-Way NVIDIA® SLI™ technologies
Support for AMD Quad-GPU CrossFireX™ and 3-Way/2-Way AMD CrossFire™ technologies
Storage Chipset
2 x M.2 connectors (Socket 3, M key, type 2242/2260/2280/22110 SATA and PCIe x4/x2 SSD support)
1 x M.2 connector (Socket 3, M key, type 2242/2260/2280 SATA and PCIe x4/x2 SSD support) (M2P_32G)
1 x U.2 connectors
2 x SATA Express connectors
6 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors (SATA3 0~5)
Support for RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, and RAID 10
* Refer to “1-10 Internal Connectors,” for the installation notices for the PCIEX4_1/M.2/SATA connectors.
ASMedia® ASM1061 chip
2 x SATA 6 Gb/s connectors (SATA3 6, 7), supporting AHCI mode only
LAN 1 x Intel® GbE LAN chip (10/100/1000 Mbit) (LAN1)
Audio Realtek® ALC1220 codec
TI Burr Brown® NE5532 operational amplifier
High Definition Audio
2/5.1-channel
Support for S/PDIF Out
USB Chipset+ASMedia® ASM2142 USB 3.1 Gen 2 Controller
1 x USB Type-C™ port on the back panel, with USB 3.1 Gen 2 support
1 x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A port (red) on the back panel
Chipset
8 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports (4 ports on the back panel, 2 ports onboard, 2 ports available through the internal USB header)
4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports (2 ports on the back panel, 2 ports available through the internal USB header)
Back I/O Ports 1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse port
1 x OC IGNITION button
1 x DisplayPort
1 x HDMI port
1 x USB Type-C™ port, with USB 3.1 Gen 2 support
1 x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A port (red)
4 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports
2 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
1 x RJ-45 port
1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector
5 x audio jacks (Center/Subwoofer Speaker Out, Rear Speaker Out, Line In, Line Out, Mic In)
Internal I/O Ports 1 x 24-pin ATX main power connector
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V power connector
1 x 4-pin ATX 12V power connector
1 x U.2 connector
2 x M.2 Socket 3 connectors
2 x SATA Express connectors
8 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
1 x CPU fan header
1 x water cooling CPU fan header
2 x system fan headers
1 x system fan/water cooling pump header
1 x front panel header
1 x front panel audio header
1 x S/PDIF Out header
1 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 header
2 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports
1 x USB 2.0/1.1 header
1 x OC Touch header
1 x RGB (RGBW) LED strip extension cable header
1 x Thunderbolt™ add-in card connector
1 x Clear CMOS jumper
1 x power button
1 x reset button
1 x Clear CMOS button
1 x OC Turbo button
1 x CPU Ratio Down button
1 x CPU Ratio Up button
1 x audio gain control switch
1 x BIOS switch
1 x DualBIOS™ switch
OS Support Windows® 10 64-bit (for 7th Generation Intel® Processors)
Windows® 10 64-bit / Windows® 8.1 64-bit / Windows® 7 32-bit / 64-bits (for 6th Generation Intel® Processors)
* Please download the “Windows USB Installation Tool” from GIGABYTE’s website and install it before installing Windows 7.
Form Factor ATX Form Factor; 12 in. x 9.61 in. (30.5cm x 24.4cm)

Even though GIGABYTE did pare down the feature set of the SOC some, we still see plenty of features. Onboard temperature sensors, RGBW LED strip support, and a plethora of PWM fan headers. For the serious overclockers we see the onboard Turbo button, BCLK adjustment buttons, power/reset buttons, and plenty more.

The next table lists the high-level feature set of the GA-Z270X-Gaming SOC. All images and descriptions provided by GIGABYTE.

GIGABYTE GA-Z270X-Gaming SOC Features
Overclocking Made Easy
GIGABYTE OC Touch provides an array of physical buttons and switches to bring access to overclocking features at your fingertips—making overclocking on the fly extremely fast and easy.
OC Connect
OC Connect positions two USB connectors on the near side of the motherboard facing the overclocker. This makes it easier to save data, flash the BIOS or install software in open bench testing platforms whether for extreme overclocking or simply pretesting the PC before final component installation inside a case scenarios where accessing the rear panel I/O can be an inconvenience.
Turbo B-Clock
Built-in Advanced Performance Tuning IC
Turbo B-Clock Tuning IC in the GIGABYTE 200 series motherboards enable overclockers to have the ability to change their BCLK frequency to a desired value of their choice. With the new linear range adjustment option of the Tuning IC, ranges from 90MHz to 500MHz are now possible, so that overclockers are not limited to the 5% ranges of traditional straps.
*Turbo B-Clock overclocking range may vary according to CPU capabilities.
Smart Fan 5
With Smart Fan 5 users can ensure that their gaming PC can maintain its performance while staying cool. Smart Fan 5 allows users to interchange their fan headers to reflect different thermal sensors at different locations on the motherboard. Not only that, with Smart Fan 5 more hybrid fan headers that support both PWM and Voltage mode fans have been introduced to make the motherboard more liquid cooling friendly.
All Hybrid Fan Pin Headers
– All Hybrid Fan Headers can automatically detect the type of cooling device whether it be fan or pump with different PWM or Voltage mode.
– Supports up to 2 amps with built-in overcurrent protection—a must for high-end high current fans.
Immersive VR Gaming Experience
– VR requires more performance than Full HD graphics for a steady 90 FPS or greater.
– Only Gaming PCs can provide the best VR experience.
High-Bandwidth (HB) SLI Bridge
Take your gaming performances to a whole new level by multiple GeForce GTX cards with High-Bandwidth(HB) SLI Bridge.
Easy to Install “G-Connector” Design
The tiny cables of the front panel connectors can be hard to manipulate as space is restricted and indicators being tiny. With the G-Connector, you can connect all the FP cables at once, simplifying the process of building your next PC and saving you some frustrations.

Packaging

I received an early release of the Z270 SOC, meaning there were no retail boxes currently available to show you guys.

Accessories

Being there were no retail packages, there were also no retail accessories available when I received this board.

What I did receive though was perfect for our readership, the optional (read: not included) GIGABYTE GC-OC Touch. This panel connects to the bottom of the Z270X-Gaming SOC and allows for handheld control of a number of features. Namely these are power/reset, clear CMOS/battery, BCLK speed +/-, CPU multi +/-, and quite a few other functions. You can see them all below in the pictures. Also this little board gives convenient voltage read points.

For those wondering, the gear button allows you to change between +/- 1 MHz and +/- 0.1 MHz steps in the BCLK frequency.

OC Panel – Front

OC Panel – Rear

OC Panel – Cable

The GIGABYTE GA-Z270X-Gaming SOC

Orange and black, or according to popular culture black and black. That’s the color scheme here, as we’ve seen on previous SOC boards. The orange is tastefully done, just enough color to say “I’m not here to screw around” was used on this board. Moving to the back we see the PCIe slots soldered exactly as described in the specs table above; one x16, one x8, and two x4. All heatsinks and covers were attached with screws to ensure the best connection possible.

Motherboard – Front

Motherboard – Rear

A Closer Look

Zooming in on the PCIe area of the Z270 SOC we can see more closely the four full length PCIe slots, two PCIe x1 slots, and the two M.2 connectors. Note both M.2 spaces support up to 110 mm devices. The four main PCIe slots are protected with GIGABYTE’s metal shielding, to improve slot strength and reduce potential EMI.

Motherboard – PCIe Area

In the upper left corner of the Z270X-Gaming SOC we find an 8-pin CPU power connector and optional 4-pin for when you’re really pushing the envelope. There is also a system fan header here.

Moving over to the upper right, we immediately spot the four DIMMs. There are also four SATA III ports here, the 24-pin ATX power connection, a USB 3.0 internal header, and a system fan header here. Over by the VRM heatsink and the fourth DIMM we can see the CPU fan header and CPU option header, the white connector supports 1 A and the black supports 2 A allowing for the use of water pumps without the need for external power.

Motherboard – Upper Left

Motherboard – Upper Right

In the lower left corner of the motherboard we find a few connections including the front audio, an S/PDIF output, RGBW LED header, Thunderbolt connector, and a front USB 2.0 connection. There is also a Gain switch for the audio which changes from 2.5x to 6x levels of gain, allowing the use of both high and low impedance devices.

Moving to the lower right, I’ll get the connections here out of the way first. There are two SATA Express connectors which can be used as four SATA III ports, a U.2 connector, two USB 3.0 Type-A ports, your front panel connections, and the OC Touch connector. There is a PWM system fan header here which also supports water pumps, meaning 2 A of current.

Now, for the overclocking functions in this corner, you guys ready for all of this? To start we have the power switch, reset switch, and CMOS clear switch which are pretty standard fare. We also find CPU ratio up and down buttons and an OC Turbo button (this will up your CPU multi and RAM speeds to GIGABYTE optimized levels). For troubleshooting there is the debug display, four LED’s by the U.2 connector for CPU, VGA, DRAM, and BOOT status, and two LED’s between the USB 3.0 ports showing when the main or backup BIOS are in use. The last two pieces are the BIOS Switch and DualBIOS Switch, the first allows you to boot from the main or backup BIOS while the second allows you to enable/disable the DualBIOS function.

Motherboard – Lower Left

Motherboard – Lower Right

For rear panel connectivity we find a nice set of ports on the Z270X-Gaming SOC. There’s the ever-present PS/2 keyboard/mouse connector, four USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, one USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A port, one USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C port, two USB 2.0/1.1 ports, an HDMI 1.4 connection, a DisplayPort 1.2 connection, Ethernet port, five 3.5 mm audio jacks, and one S/PDIF port. There’s also the OC Ignition button back here.

The USB ports are broken down by color here, the yellow ports Gen 1 with the USB DAC functionality, red is the Gen 2 port, blue are Gen 1, and black are 2.0/1.1 ports.

The OC Ignition button allows you to maintain power to the motherboard and connected components while the system is shut down. This can be helpful when extreme overclocking to help avoid condensation. Please see the manual regarding usage of this feature.

Motherboard – I/O Ports

Stripping the GA-Z270X-Gaming SOC

For the voltage regulation on the Z270X Gaming SOC there are a monstrous 14 phases. Here we see them all uncovered.

Motherboard – VRM Exposed

There’s a dual International Regulator IR35201 setup, these are each fully digital, 8-phase PWM controllers. As best as I can tell there are 10 phases dedicated to the CPU itself and four for the iGPU.

I struggled a little bit here finding the correct LLC setting for this board when running my normal 5 GHz at 1.4 V setting, so here’s the gist of it.

  • Extreme @ 1.4 V overshot to 1.5 V
  • Medium @ 1.4 V slightly overshot to 1.41 V
  • Low @ 1.4 V slightly undershot to 1.39 V
  • Auto @ 1.4 V fell to 1.35 V and let the system crash under load

While comparing to a multimeter, CPUz was accurate to ±0.1 V on vCore.

IR35201 VRM Controller

Handling the power after the IR35201 controllers were ten IR3553M MOSFETs and 4 sets of ON Semiconductor NTMFS4C06N and NTMFS4C10N MOSFETs

IR3553M

NTMFS4C06N and NTMFS4C10N

The heatsinks for the VRM and chipset on the Z270X-Gaming SOC were plenty adequate and made great contact with their intended parts. The “fins” in each piece help increase surface area for better cooling potential.

The aesthetic covers for the audio section and rear I/O are simple, but they work. The smaller piece that goes over the audio section actually has a window for the LED lighting in the audio section to shine through.

Heatsink – Front

Heatsink – Rear

Aesthetic Covers – Front

Aesthetic Covers – Rear

Here we see the audio section of the Z270X-Gaming SOC. Driven by the Realtek ALC1220 CODEC and using a TI NE5532 Opamp, this is more than enough for an overclocking motherboard and even your above average users.

Motherboard – Audio Section

On the Z270X-Gaming SOC we find just one Gigabit Ethernet port, it is controlled by the Intel i219 NIC pictured below.

Intel i219 Ethernet Controller

UEFI BIOS and Overclocking Software

Seen here is the first screen in the BIOS, pressing ALT will show options on the right and bottom sides. This is how you can access Easy Mode, Q-Flash, and Smart Fan quickly.

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Here we go into detail of all the settings in the MIT section of the BIOS.

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This section shows all the Peripheral options in the BIOS, this includes RGB Fusion where you can set the motherboard LED colors.

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And this last set of screenshots is the last few screens you find in the BIOS for things like saving profiles.

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Here we see the GIGABYTE APP Center, this is where you will find many motherboard controls, Windows controls, third party software, and a preferences screen. Basically, GIGABYTE has made a one-stop-shop for all the motherboard software they have. I’ll cover a few of these pieces of software next, but go to the GIGABYTE website to see all of the utilities available.

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Here we see Easy Tune, GIGABYTE’s overclocking software. There’s controls here for frequency, voltage, memory timings, fan settings, and more.

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Lastly we’ll touch on System Information Viewer and V-Tuner. System Information Viewer shows all kinds of sensors (like the built-in ones) as well as performs fan control, allows recording of system sensors, and has a sidebar hardware monitor. V-Tuner allows overclocking of an installed graphics card. If you have multiple GPU’s in the system, you can overclock them individually.

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Test Setup, Benchmarks, and Overclocking

Listed below is the test system used for benchmarking.

Test Setup
CPU Intel i7-7700K @ 5 GHz 1.4 V / 4.2 GHz Ring
Cooler CoolerMaster Glacer 240L
Motherboard GIGABYTE GA-Z270X-Gaming SOC
RAM 2×8 GB DDR4 GSKILL TridentZ @ 3866 MHz 18-19-19-39 1.35 V
Graphics Card EVGA GTX 750Ti FTW
Solid State Drive OCZ Trion 150 480 GB
Power Supply EVGA SuperNova G2 850 W
Operating System Windows 10 x64

We’ll perform our usual set of benchmarks which tests rendering, memory performance, and single/multi-threaded CPU performance. For 2D benchmarks we’ll use SuperPi 1M and 32M, wPrime, PiFast, and Intel XTU. For rendering it’s Cinebench R11.5 and R15. Memory performance is checked against AIDA64 and MaxxMEM. For encoding, we use x265 (HWBOT Version) and PoV Ray. A more real-world test is included in 7zip. Testing is performed with the CPU at 5GHz to eliminate any inherent differences in stock BIOS options. Memory speed is XMP, unless otherwise specified.

We’ll be comparing the GA-Z270X-Gaming SOC to a few different motherboards, their models and links to the reviews are below.

Memory Bandwidth and Throughput Benchmark – AIDA64 and MaxxMEM

AIDA

MaxxMEM

CPU Rendering Benchmarks – Cinebench R11.5 and R15

Cinebench R11

Cinebench R15

Single Threaded CPU Benchmarks – Super Pi 1M and 32M and PiFast

SuperPi 1M

SuperPi 32M

PiFast

Multi-Threaded CPU Benchmarks – WPrime 32M and 1024M, x265 (HWBOT Version), PoV Ray R3.73, 7Zip, and Intel XTU

wPrime

x265

POVRay

7zip

XTU

Comparison Graphs

Overall, the results seemed to be in line with the expected performance of a top-tier motherboard. MaxxMEM Copy is the only place we see the SOC not at the top or equaling other boards. On the Pi calculations and Cinebenches the Gaming SOC was in line with the other boards in the comparison, it trailed a touch in XTU though. Coming around to the multi threaded benchmarks and GIGABYTE made a strong show in x265, POVRay, and 7-Zip.

Pushing the Limits

For some reason I could never get the Z270X-Gaming SOC to stabilize over 5.0 GHz, even enough to complete Cinebench R15. The board simply takes more vCore than the Gaming 8 I reviewed previously and cannot get my CPU past 5.0 GHz. I had plenty of discussions with GIGABYTE about what the issue could be, and all tests came out without improvement.

Conclusion

Even though my overclocking results were somewhat limited, the board performed well. It met or exceeded expectations in all of the test suite at 5 GHz. The color scheme is a bit subdued from previous generations, with the board being mostly black with a few pops of orange spread around. The convenience of the OC Touch is great for those pushing the limits on a benching table.

As we’ve seen, the Z270X-Gaming SOC is a very purpose-built board. The reduction in non-necessary features over the previous generation is a welcome sight indeed for a board of this caliber. Said reduction is also reflected in the MSRP of this board, it comes in at a mere $249.99! This is a huge drop from the $400 for the Z170 SOC Force we saw last year. Even so, I can only give the Z270 SOC Force a “meh” rating since a gaming motherboard from the same manufacturer out-overclocked it.

oc_meh

Click the stamp for an explanation of what this means.

-Austin (ATMINSIDE)

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Discussion
  1. Good review. Well that is interesting that a more expensive overclocking motherboard does not overclock as high as the Gaming 8 with the same CPU.:shrug: