EVGA was on their game and had Skylake/Z170 platform motherboards ready on launch day. Initial Z170 chipset offerings from EVGA include the mini-ITX Stinger, the FTW, and today’s review sample – the Classified. The EVGA Z170 Classified is complete with all the latest technologies the Skylake/Z170 platform has to offer and supports true 4-way SLI using up to four NVIDIA graphics cards. It all looks great on paper, but let’s go find out for ourselves!
Specifications and Features
Below are the key specifications and design details as provided by the EVGA product page. As mentioned above, support for 4-way SLI is possible on the Z170 Classified as is 4-way CrossFireX. Dual Intel LAN ports, the Creative Sound Core3D audio solution, and plenty of storage options that include a pair of M.2 ports and two SATA Express ports are a few of the highlights. The motherboard also supports up to 64 GB of DDR4 memory at speeds up to and beyond 3200 MHz. The Z170 Classified is built around the E-ATX form factor, which makes it a little wider than the more common ATX form factor. So, choose your PC case wisely. Lastly, the Z170 Classified comes with a 3-year warranty.
• Supports Intel® CoreTM 61h Generation Processor Family for LGA Socket 1151
• Intel® Z170 Chipset
• Enthusiast Layout Supporting 4-Way SLI®, 3-Way SLI®, and 2-Way SLI®
• 4 DIMM Dual-Channel DDR4 3200MHz+ (64GB)
• PCI Express® 3.0 Ready
• 2 USB 2.0 ports (two rear panel)
• 8 USB 3.0 Ports (six rear panel, two onboard)
• 2 USB 3.1 Ports (two onboard)
• 1 HDMI Port
• 1 DisplayPort 1.2 Port
• 8 SATA 6G Ports (2 SATA Express)
• 2 M.2 (Key M/E) Up to 32Gbps (M)
• 2 Intel Gigabit Ethernet Port (10/100/1000)
• Creative Sound Core3D Quad-Core Audio Processor + Optical
• E-ATX Form Factor
• Supported CPUs – Intel® 61h Generation Socket 1151 Processors
• Socket Type – LGA 1151
• PCH – Intel® Z170
• DIMM QTY- 4 DIMM Slots
• Memory Type – DDR4 Up to 3200MHz+
• Memory Capacity – 64GB
• SATA 6Gb/s Ports/Controller – 6/Intel® Z170 PCH – 2/Marvell 9220
• SATA Express – 2/Intel® Z170 PCH (Shared with SATA)
• RAID Support – RAID 0, 1, 5, JBOD
• USB 2.0 Ports/Controller – 2/Intel® Z170 PCH
• USB 3.0 Ports/Controller – 8/Intel® Z170 PCH
• USB 3.1 Ports/Controller – 2/ASMedia ASM1142
• Network Speed – 10/1000/1000
• Network Ports/Controller – 2/Intel® i219/i21 0 Gigabit Ethernet PHY
• Audio Controller – Creative Sound Core3D Quad-Core Audio Proessor + Optical
• PCI-E Slot Arrangement – 1×16, 2×16, 3×8, 4×8
• PCI-E x16 Mechanical Slots – 6
• PCI-E x1 Mechanical Slots – 1
• M.2 – 1/M.2 Key M (Up to 32Gbps) – 1/M.2 Key E
• BIOS Type – Full UEFI with mouse/keyboard control
• Software – EVGA E-LEET X Tuning Utility
• Fan Headers – 7/4-Pin PWM
• Dimentions – Width: 1 0.375in – 263.5mm/Length: 12in – 304.8mm
Below is pictorial list of the main features the Z170 Classified has to offer. As you peruse through these features, it becomes apparent early on that the Z170 Classified is geared towards the enthusiast gamer and overclocker. Enthusiast options are found scattered about the PCB and include such things as a PCI-E disable switch, triple BIOS switch, Probe-It voltage read points, onboard power and reset buttons, and the list goes on and on. We’ll explore what you see below in more detail later in the review, but the list gives you a good idea of what the Z170 Classified offers the enthusiast user. All images and descriptions courtesy EVGA.
|BRAND NEW GUI BIOS INTERFACE|
Focused on functionality
|PCI-E DISABLE SWITCH|
Quickly and easily troubleshoot!
|E-LEET X TUNING UTILITY|
Adjust your overclocking in O.S.
|TRIPLE BIOS SUPPORT|
Use 3 separate profiles!
|RIGHT ANGLED 24 PIN|
Improved cable management
|HIGHER GOLD CONTENT|
Lower inductance, better power delivery!
|EZ VOLTAGE READ POINTS|
Easy read dedicated read points
|ONBOARD CPU TEMP MONITOR|
Monitor CPU temps quickly & easily
|PASSIVE CHIPSET HEATSINK|
No fans, lower noise, longer lifespan
|DUAL 8 PIN CPU POWER|
Optional 8 pin provides up to 600w
|8 PHASE PWM|
Cleanest variable power switching
|8 LAYER PCB M.2 SLOT|
Improved overclock stability and PCB cooling
Next generation form factor
Reset and CMOS Reset Buttons –
Power at your fingertips
|4-WAY SLI + PHYSX SUPPORT|
Engineered to handle the most demanding video loads
The front of the retail box has “Z170 Classified” spelled out in big bold letters with a red glow. Several icons printed on the front mention additional features the motherboard supports. The back of the box goes over the Z170 Classified’s features in much greater detail and includes a couple nice images of the motherboard, key features and specs, and additional images explaining some of the high-level features. The box sides contain additional information on the package contents, EVGA’s new look GUI BIOS, and yet another list of features. Overall, a nice presentation that gives the potential buyer a good idea of the motherboard’s capabilities.
Inside the outer carton is a black box that holds all the goodies. The accessory stack sits on top and the motherboard below. The motherboard comes wrapped in an anti-static bag that also holds a foam bed to protect it. There are stickers attached to the motherboard that explain proper CPU and memory installation procedures. The extensive accessories include the following.
|• EVGA Driver Install Disc|
• Rear Case I/O Shield Panel
• Rear Case I/O Cover
• Probe-It Cable
• M.2 (Key E) Mount Screw
|• 2x SATA 6GB/s Cables|
• 2-way SLI Bridge
• 2 Port USB 3.0 Bracket
• User’s Manual
• Case Badge
With the motherboard relieved from all the packaging, we get a chance to have our first look at the Z170 Classified. If you were expecting a colorful motherboard with a lot of accents and bling – forget it. This board is black on black with the only accent being the silver “Classified” band on top of the PCH heatsink. It comes off as being a very classic style that will easily blend in nicely with many different types of themed builds. If you opt to install the I/O cover included in the accessories, you’ll be approaching “black-out” territory with the only exception being the “EVGA Z170” lettering on the cover. Clean lines and a classic look is the best way we can describe the aesthetics.
The EVGA Z170 Classified Up Close
Beginning with a look at the outer edges of the Z170 Classified, we’ll start at the bottom-left area. For additional power to the PCI-E lanes, there is a 6-pin PCI-E power connector that you’ll want to use when using multi-GPU setups. Next in line is the front panel audio header followed by a 4-pin PWM fan header, the EVGuage header, the built-in system speaker, and the Thunderbolt GPIO header.
Moving over to the bottom-right edge, we come to another 4-pin PWM fan header, a front panel USB 3.0 header, and a USB 3.1 Header. The USB 3.0 header is native to the Z170 chipset, and the USB 3.1 header uses an ASMedia ASM1142 controller. Sitting on the very corner are the connections for the chassis wiring.
Over to the right side of the motherboard, we come to the SATA 6 GB/s ports and a pair of SATA Express Ports. All of the SATA 6 GB/s and SATA Express ports are native to the chipset, except the two at the top. Those two use a Marvell 9220 controller. Above the SATA ports, we find another 4-pin PWM fan header and the PCI-E disable DIP switches. Those DIP switches can come in very handy if you’re troubleshooting a graphics card issue. You can turn off any of the five PCI-E slots to help isolate the problem.
The upper-right side of the motherboard has the three position BIOS switch, the right angle 24-pin main ATX power connector, a post code LED display, the Probe-It belt header, the onboard power and reset buttons, and the clear CMOS button. Having a three position BIOS switch can save you from disaster should a BIOS flash go bad. Simply throw the switch to another position, and you should be good to go. The Probe-It belt is included in the accessories and gives you a safe way to monitor voltages using a volt meter. The post code LED display will show the CPU temperature once the motherboard completes the boot cycle.
Along the top of the motherboard are three more 4-pin PWM fan headers – two of which are for CPU fans if you’re using an air cooler with a push/pull configuration. The extreme overclockers will be glad to see the Z170 Classified has dual 8-pin CPU AUX 12V power connectors. The motherboard will run fine using just one, but the DICE/LN2 crowd will benefit from having both available.
As we turn our attention to the left side of the board, we first land at the I/O area. There are two USB 2.0 and six USB 3.0 ports available – all of which are native to the Z170 chipset. There are two LAN ports that are both provided by Intel (I219 and I210). A clear CMOS button is next in line followed by the two display connections (HDMI and DisplayPort). The last item here is the block containing the audio jacks and optical out port. Noticeably missing from the I/O area is any sign of a USB 3.1 port, which means you’ll have to use the motherboard header and 2-port USB bracket included in the accessories to bring USB 3.1 support to the back of your case. Being a motherboard built for overclocking and gaming, it’s understandable why this approach was taken.
At the bottom-left side of the motherboard, we find the bits that make up the Creative Core3D 5.1 audio feature. The Core3D audio solution includes support for 5.1 channel HD audio and offers isolated audio traces and built-in audio shielding. Just next to the audio components is the M.2 (Key E) port, which can be used for devices like Wi-Fi modules.
Looking at the PCI-E expansion slots, we find five PCI-E x16 slots and one PCI-E x4 slot. The Z170 Classified can offer up to 40 PCI-E lanes because of the onboard PLX (now Avago Technologies) PEX 8747 chip. Here is how it all breaks down (image taken from user’s manual).
Between the bottom two PCI-E slots is the M.2 (Key M) port than can offer SSD storage speeds up to 32 GB/s through PCI-E 3.0 x4 mode.
The CPU socket area is pretty wide open and should accommodate just about any cooling solution imaginable, be it air, water, LN2 pots, etc. We can also see the four DDR4 DIMM slots from this vantage point, which support up to 64 GB of memory at speeds up to 3200+ (OC). One final note here is the last of seven 4-pin PWM fan headers, which is located between the top PCI-E slot and the larger MOSFET heatsink.
The passive cooling solution attached to the Z170 Classified consists of two MOSFET heatsinks and another large heatsink covering the PCH and PLX chips. All the heatsinks are joined together with a heatpipe and use thermal pads to cover their targets, except over the PCH where a standard TIM is applied. All areas were making excellent contact and just the right amount of TIM was used on the PCH.
With the heatsinks removed, we can have a close-up look at the power delivery area. There are a total of 12 power phases located around the CPU area – eight for the CPU and four for the iGPU. Voltage regulation for these power phases is handled by a pair of International Rectifier IR35201 controllers. A few more power phases are located to the right of the DIMM slots, which are probably for the memory and PLL. Voltage regulation for those power phases is handled by the International Rectifier IR3570B controller.
Below are several up-close pictures of the ICs that provide many of the motherboard’s functions. Descriptions are below each picture.
The EVGA GUI BIOS
EVGA’s BIOS implementation is extremely well laid out and gives you a good deal of options to tweak your system’s performance. It’s clean, concise, and not bloated with things you’ll never use. That makes for quick and efficient visits into the BIOS. The top area of the screen stays consistent as you navigate your way through the different areas and gives you real-time monitoring information, memory status, graphics card status, and CPU status.
When entering the BIOS, you land in the overclock section. This area contains the CPU multiplier options, BCLK settings, and several voltage options. For the memory overclocking and XMP options, you need to slide over a tab and visit the Memory area. The Memory tab has the XMP options, memory voltage control, and a long list of timings that can be adjusted.
The Advanced tab holds nine sub-menus mostly dedicated to system setup. Of particular interest is the H/W Monitor Configuration sub-menu where you’ll find the fan control options. Each fan can be set to Smart Fan, Max, or you can assign a percentage value to the speed you wish a fan to run at. Each fan will need to be set to either DC Mode (3-pin) or PWM Mode (4-pin), so the Smart Fan setting works correctly. Peruse the thumbnail images below for all the options found in the Advanced area of the BIOS.
The Boot tab and Save & Exit tab are pretty self explanatory. The Save & Exit tab offers the ability to save up to 16 BIOS profiles or save as many as you like to a USB storage device. You can also flash the BIOS firmware from within the Save & Exit tab.
Bundled Software – EVGA E-LEET Tuning Utility
E-LEET is a very low overhead desktop monitoring and overclocking tool with its roots coming from CPU-Z. A couple times in the past, E-LEET had trouble working with new motherboard releases and early adopters had to wait for a fully functional version. That’s not the case this time around. Everything seems to work perfectly, including the monitoring functions and all the overclocking options. Nice job here!
Benchmarks and Overclocking
Here are the components used in today’s test bed.
|Test System Components|
|Motherboard||EVGA Z170 Classified|
|CPU||Intel i7 6700K Skylake|
|Memory||G.SKill Ripjaws V DDR4-3600 MHz 2X4 GB Kit|
|SSD||ADATA XPG SX930 240GB SSD|
|Power Supply||Corsair HX1050 Professional Series|
|Video Card||EVGA GTX 780 Ti Classified|
|Cooling||EKWB Supremacy EVO Water Block – 360 mm Radiator – MCP35X Pump|
|OS||Windows 7 Professional SP1 x64|
One thing worth mentioning at this point is Windows 7 compatibility. You may have heard the Z170 chipset dropped support for EHCI mode, which means USB devices will not work unless an XHCI driver is slipstreamed into your copy of Windows 7. Basically what happens is when you boot from the Windows 7 installation disk, you won’t have a keyboard/mouse to get the OS installed – even if they are connected to USB 2.0 ports. Windows 8/8.1/10 users won’t be effected as the appropriate drivers are on the install disk. Many manufacturers are adding a special BIOS setting or offering utilities to get around the issue, but we had to take the slipstream method to get it installed on the Z170 Classified. EVGA plans to add a USB Legacy Mode option in the BIOS to skirt this problem, and that should be available within a week or two they say. I guess Windows 7 really is getting old!
We’ll use our typical set of motherboard benchmarks to test compression, rendering, video conversion, memory performance, and 2D performance. Because we’re just getting started with the Skylake/Z170 platform, we don’t have a lot of comparison data to share at this time. So, we’ll keep it simple and provide screenshots of the stock and overclocked benchmark results.
For stock testing, the CPU was set to its turbo speed of 4.2 GHz with the memory set to 3333 MHz. The Z170 Classified’s official memory support is up to 3200 MHz, but we were able to surpass that a little. As you can see by the E-LEET pictures above, 3466 MHz was able to get to the desktop and was relatively stable. However, it wasn’t able to complete our entire suite of benchmarks at that speed, so ultimately, we had to settle on 3333 MHz for our memory speed. EVGA tells us they are still tuning for higher memory speeds and hope to support speeds up to 4000 MHz in the near future. If they can accomplish that, they’ll be on to something for sure!
Overclocking proved to be very fruitful and landed us at a 4.8 GHz overclock using 1.43 V, while still leaving the memory set to 3333 MHz. That 4.8 GHz CPU speed seems to be as far as our CPU can go and be considered completely stable. It didn’t seem to matter if we used the override or adaptive CPU voltage option, or if the Vdroop was enabled or disabled – either scenario was perfectly stable for our overclock. If you venture into extreme overclocking however, those two settings will likely need to be set to override and disable respectively for optimal stability.
Compression, Rendering, and Video Conversion Benchmarks
Cinebench R10 – R11.5 – R15
x264 Pass 1 and 2
PoV Ray R3.73
7zip Compression Benchmark
Wprime 32M and 1024M
SuperPi 1M and 32M
Aida64 Cache & Memory
After checking these results against other Skylake/Z170 motherboards we’ve reviewed to date, the benchmark scores landed right where they should have. They came in just a tad lower than boards tested with DDR4-3600 MHz memory and a bit higher than those tested with DDR4-3000/2666 MHz memory. Once EVGA gets their memory support tuned for faster speeds, this board has the potential to be something real special. EVGA is typically very good about providing BIOS updates in a timely manner, so we’re looking forward to good things on that front.
Pushing the Limits
Just as our CPU is known to do, it will get to the desktop at 5.0 GHz and complete a suicide run of SuperPi 1M. That’s about all it will do at that speed though, as anything multi-threaded results in a blue screen. If nothing else, it shows the EVGA Z170 Classified will take your CPU as far as it can go without getting in the way.
EVGA has a very attractive option for those looking to get into the Skylake/Z170 game. The motherboard offers plenty of enthusiast-level features gamers and overclockers will appreciate. With true 4-Way SLI support, dual Intel LAN, Creative Core3D audio, plenty of storage options, and a hefty stack of accessories, there is plenty to keep even the most demanding user satisfied.
Aesthetically, the Z170 Classified’s clean and classic black color scheme will easily integrate into just about any themed system build. There definitely aren’t any gaudy looks going on here!
Motherboards outfitted with a PEX PLX 8747 chip used to be common place during the Z77 days, but have since become pretty hard to come by. The main reason for that is PEX’s acquisition by Avago Technologies and the subsequent price increase on the PLX 8747, which has reportedly doubled. EVGA was hell-bent on providing an overclocking motherboard with 4-way SLI capability to keep with the classified tradition, and we think that’s the right call because of how rare this kind of feature is nowadays. Even with that, the price on the Z170 Classified is $399, which is $100 less than the only other Z170 motherboard we could find offering a PLX chip (GIGABYTE Z170X Gaming G1). There may be others out there or more to be released later on, but the point is that’s what true 4-way SLI is going to cost these days.
If you’re in the market for an overclocking motherboard that supports all the gaming horsepower you’ll ever need… Here it is.