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The Gigabyte Z87X-OC Force Review

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Nov 7, 2005
The Z87X-OC Force Review

This is GIGABYTE’s flagship motherboard the Z87X-OC Force. It possesses many cool features and some top notch hardware, a lot of it over the top. So let’s begin our journey around the Z87X-OC Force.


The box is pretty large, GIGABYTE doesn’t include a window, but the back of the box fully explains all the features.

These are the accessories, they are plentiful.
1. 6x SATA6GB/s Cables
2. 1x GC-WIFI/BT4.0 Module + Internal USB cable + magnetic 2-in-1 antenna
3. 2-way SLI Bridge
4. 2-way CrossFireX
5. 3-way SLI Bridge
6. 4-way SLI Bridge
7. Voltage read connectors
8. Backpanel I/O Shield
9. USB 3.0 front panel bay
10. Manuals and DVDs

This is one very unique accessory called OC-Brace. This is a unique piece of hardware that is a nice little weapon for every open air bencher to have in their arsenal. It allows the stabilization of any PCI-E expansion card without a case, which means those big 2 and 3 slotted GPUs wont lean and put pressure on the PCI-E slots when you are using the system outside of a case. It is easy to install and can be used in the future on any motherboard, it has enough screws to support a 4-way multi-GPU system.

This is the monster of motherboards, the Z87X-OC Force. Not only does it sport the stylish orange and black color scheme, but it also features 5 full sized 16x slots, an extremely powerful 16-Phase IR3550 digitally controlled VRM, 9-fan headers, and many overclocking centric features. You will also notice the gigantic heatsinks, both the VRM heatsink and the PLX/PCH heatsink have their own fans, and the VRM heatsink also supports water cooling if you choose to use it.

This is the back-panel, it contains the following ports:
6x USB 3.0
2x USB 2.0
1x PS/2 Keyboard and Mouse port
2x HDMI ports
1x DisplayPort
2x RJ-45 1GBit Ethernet Jacks
1x 7.1 Audio outputs
1x S/PDIF Optical

The board is also equipped with GIGABYTE’s OC Touch, I will describe each button.
1.Thunderbolt(OC Ignition): This feature is one of GIGABYTE’s very unique and useful features, it allows you to basically power the system, yet not run it. When OC Ignition is engaged the motherboard will be provided power for certain systems such as the fans, lights, PCI-E slots, and memory DIMM slots. This means that one can basically jump a PSU with their motherboard without having the system “on”. So if you crash from a cold bug and need to warm up the system, OC Ignition will still work since it doesn’t rely on any component to operate (including the CPU). This means you can also do a leak test on your watercooling system without damaging your PSU. This is the safest way to jump a PSU, it also took GIGABYTE’s engineers a long time to develop.

2.This is OC Tag, one of my favorites, this will allow you to load a preset profile into the CMOS. The way I use this is that I will save a basic OC profile for LN2 into Tag, and then load optimized defaults. Then engage Tag and just make changes on top of Tag settings, and if I crash or something is too harsh I just disengage Tag, clear CMOS, and then re-engage it. That provides me a hassle free, yet very quick, recovery from a harsh overclock failure.

3.Turbo: This one is self-explanatory; it is a preset (at the factory) overclocking profile which is meant to be hassle free and which will overclock your K-Series CPU to around 4-4.2ghz.

4.We then have all the rest of OC Touch, which consists of a power button and two sets of +/- buttons used to change the base clock and multiplier on the fly in windows. The gear button will reduce the increment of the base clock adjustment, so without gear engaged (toggled) the base clock buttons will increase and decrease the clock by 1mhz, with it engaged the increment goes to 0.2mhz.

5.The POST code display is also extremely useful.

Here we have some DIP switches, they control power distribution to the 4 orange 16x PCI-E slots. This is very useful in two situations; first is when you have multiple cards in multi-GPU configurations and need to know which is causing issues, it is also useful in cutting power to the slots not in use when doing extreme overclocking so that if condensation occurs in the slots they won’t short out. Many overclockers both enthusiast and pro alike asked for this, especially those who have 4-way setups with waterblocks which are very hard to remove. The second thing of merit in this picture is OC-Peg, one of GIGABYTE’s premier features which allows for extra power from an SATA power cable to power the slots. This feature is almost required for 4-way GPU configurations.

Here we have 10 SATA III(6gb/s) ports, all the black ones are directly wired to the PCH, and the gray are wired to a single Marvell controller. You might also notice two internal USB 3.0 headers, the one closer to the 24-pin power connector is an on/off USB 3.0 port which has extra power circuitry to charge your devices faster. There is also a clear CMOS button in the bottom right hand corner of the board.
The PCI-E slot arrangement is as follows:
16x Orange Slot (16x Electrical)
16x Black Slot (16x Electrical)
16x Orange Slot (8x Electrical)
1x Black Slot (1x Electrical)
16x Orange Slot (16x Electrical)
1x Black Slot (1x Electrical)
16x Orange Slot (8x Electrical)

If you plug anything into the 16x black slot, then all your orange slots are disabled, however for any single GPU configurations the black slot will give you the best performance as it bypasses the PLX bridge chip which makes 4-way possible. If you have any multi-GPU configuration it would be wise to use the orange slots. Both the orange 16x electrical sots will operate at 16x unless you put a card in the 8x electrical slots below them, which will take bandwidth from them respectively.

Here we have two switches, one is named “SB” and the other is “BIOS_SW”. SB stands for Single BIOS mode switch, this switch will disable GIGABYTE’s Dual BIOS technology. This is useful if you hit any hard OC crashes and need quicker recovery as the Dual BIOS protocol requires the main and backup BIOSes to check each-other every boot. If you ever hit a “db” POST code error, SB switch in enable position is make sure it never comes up again. Dual BIOS switch will physically switch between the main and backup BIOS ROMs.

The back of the motherboard shows the lane allotment per PCI-E slot, this interesting feature highlighted is the PLX Bridge and the PLX bypass. Most users know that if you use the PLX Bridge it will introduce some latency and thus single card performance takes a hard hit. However GBT uses 8 PCI-E quick switches to send 16x from the CPU to the PLX bridge for the orange slots (and multi GPU operation) or send the lanes all to the single black 16x slot for single card operation. Please note that if you use the single black 16x slot, then all the orange slots will be disabled, this goes in reverse too (using an orange slot will disable the black 16x slot).

The quality of the heatsinks has definitely increased over last generation, GIGABYTE also decided to toss in a little swagger with some fans and watercooling, however I think most users who are reading this review won’t bother with either. In-fact the voltage regulator runs so cool that watercooling the heatsink might actually raise the voltage regulator mean temperature. The fans are a bit over the top, however many users like to know that there is active cooling for their top notch hardware.

The watercooling is like a hollow heatpipe that runs through the heatsink and out through two 3/8 inch OD holes, they have black plugs in them so that you wont have to see them if you don’t take advantage of the watercooling.

The underside is interesting when it comes to the PCH heatsink because GIGABYTE got it right, with the copper from the heatpipe actually touching the hottest chip soldered to the motherboard. The PEX8747 has the highest TDP of any IC on the board, and it requires the best cooling, that is what this exposed heatpipe provides.

This is one of the two identical fans found on the motherboard, they are 12v 0.1A fans, and they have their own tiny headers and their own auto fan controller.

Circuitry Analysis:
With the heatsinks removed we can see the real beast beneath:

Here we see all the delicious chips and circuits that make this motherboard a flagship, now I will explain what they all do.

The VRM:

The CPU VRM (voltage regulator module) on this motherboard features an 8-phase digital PWM controller, which controls 16 individual phases. What is most interesting is the huge amount of output capacitors present on this board. There are 18 custom made black solid-polymer 10K capacitors from Nippon Chemi-Con. This is a huge amount, and can guarantee that this VRM can support any CPU load thrown at it in no time at all.

Here is the close up of the three important components of the VRM. The little IC with the yellow dot on it is an IR3563B, a cutting edge digital PWM controller, which supports 8 phases and 2 MHz max switching frequency per phase. The Tiny IC in the upper right hand corner is an IR3599, this tiny little chip can take in 1 PWM signal and output 2 or 4, meaning you can double or quadruple the number of PWM lines for the voltage regulator system. The pride of this system is the array of IR3550 60A Power stages, these puppies can each output up to 60A while maintaining acceptable thermal output. However the truth of the matter is this VRM will usually be running at <10% capacity, which means these IR3550 will barley be stressed. What is even more beautiful about this IR powered system is that every part is meant to work with the others, International Rectifier (IR) makes all the ICs in this voltage regulator, and their technologies can all be exploited thoroughly. This results in certain technologies such as thermal load balancing to work to their full extent, since the IR has special tech in their power stages which can be exploited by the IR PWM to quickly disable and re-enable phases on the fly, much quicker and efficiently than discrete MOSFETs can perform.

Here we have the overkill memory VRM, this voltage regulator’s power stages can output 180A to DIMMs that won’t ever use more than 10A. The IR3570 provides 3 straight phases to 3 IR3550, the same high quality chips that the CPU VRM uses. This VRM doesn’t even need active cooling as the IR3550 are being heavily under-utilized, however you shouldn’t have any OCP issues with such a setup.

Circuitry Analysis:

This is the PEX8747, a 48 port PCI-E 3.0 switch chip (16 up and 32 down = 48 total), which takes 16x from the CPU and provides the PCI-E devices with 32x lanes for their pleasure. This chip provides the 4-way SLI support on this motherboard, without it 4-way SLI would be impossible to achieve. It has its own single phase VRM powered by a Richtek single phase analog PWM, there is no control over this voltage in the BIOS, but I also can’t foresee when you would need such control.

Here we see 4 of the 16 ASM1480 multiplexers (quick switches). Each of these is capable of switching 2x PCI-E 3.0 bandwidth in one of two directions. Eight of these are used to bypass the PEX8747 as it causes some latency when increasing the amount of lanes to the slots, so bypassing the PEX8747 for single card operation with 8 of these quick switches can prove beneficial. This picture also features another large attraction of the GBT Z87 platform, the new HD BIOS Mode. To support this higher quality UEFI GBT was forced to double the size of the BIOS ROM from 8MB(64Mbit) to 16MB(128Mbit), this results in a slightly higher cost of production, yet a huge reservoir for code for features never seen before.

GIGABYTE did one good one here and provided dual Intel NICs. Most GIGABYTE motherboards that have a single Intel NIC use that smaller WGI217v IC seen above as it is the PHY for the Intel MAC built into the PCH, however if a second Intel NIC is to be added it must be the entire NIC in one IC, and that is what GIGABYTE did here with the WGI210A. This is even better than the Bigfoot NIC on the Sniper 5 in my opinion.

Here we see that GIGABYTE is still using the ALC898, it offers very high quality playback, and GIGABYTe chose to keep it instead of using the ALC1150 for a few reasons. First of all it has better SNR on all its lines except the headphone jack when compared to ALC1150. ALC1150 has 115dB on the headphone and 98 on all others, but the ALC898 has 110dB on all lines. It is a trade-off. GIGABYTE does provide some nice clean circuitry here though; they added two line-drivers/amps from Texas Instruments, the DRV632, which can support 600ohm playback from the front and back headphone jacks.

GIGABYTE employees the Marvell SE9230 to provide 4x SATA III (6gb/s). This controller is basically like using two Marvell SE9172, as this chip gets two PCI-E lanes from the PCH instead of 1 so that it can support the transfer bandwidth needed with 4 drives.

This is one of two identical Rensas/NEC D720210 which are 1:4 USB 3.0 hubs, they better than the VLI hubs seen on the Z77 GIGABYTE motherboards and should provide pretty good performance and less compatibility issues. They are also made in Taiwan which is a very good sign of quality. These two hubs will take 6 of the Intel native USB 3.0 ports and turn them into a total of 10, 6 on the back panel and 4 internally through 2 headers.

IT8728F is a Super IO capable of all hardware monitoring on the motherboard, this IC also provides the PS/2 port on the back-panel and a few of the fan headers. The ITE8790E is EC (embedded controller) on this motherboard, its datasheet is not publicly available, however it provides all the extra fan header control support as well as support for many of the OC features. It also has its own BIOS designated by the EC BIOS written on the board.

The Z87 PCH is a 4.1W TDP part, while the Z77 PCH from last generation is 6.7W, this huge drop off in TDP due to the smaller processing node of the Z87 PCH. Here on this board GBT is taking advantage of the 6-6-6 allotment of connectivity, 6 SATA, 6 USB 3.0, and 6 PCI-E lanes are allotted for the connectivity on the motherboard.

Here we have two NXP level shifters, their job is to convert the Digital Video output of the Intel iGPU and make it into HDMI/DVI. These two power both of the HDMI ports on the back of the board, and you are probably wondering why they decided to put two on there. The reason is because of a demand from users for two HDMI outputs, one for an audio device (many of which are starting to use HDMI) and the second for a video device. Many enthusiasts are moving away from using built the built in audio in their monitors and towards nicer systems, and thus this makes sense for future proofing.

Two TPS2546 provide USB fast charge capabilities for USB 3.0 on/off charge.

Here we have a Texas Instruments GD75232 transmitters and receivers, which powers the COM/serial port on the motherboard.

Samsung memory OC/Audio Performance/Benchmarks:

You don't expect this board to do 9-12-12-25 T1 at 2800mhz with all 4 DIMMs, but it does it :) (Although I didn't tune much to get 32m to work).

Audio isn't to shabby either.



For the amount of money you will spend on this board you wouldn't expect anything short of awesome, and the Z87X-OC Force completely delivers in that regard and goes a bit beyond. It is not only packed with top notch features, it also carries some you will only find on the GBT Z87 OC series (such as OC ignition). This board is perfect for anyone doing an extreme multi-GPU setup, especially those who plan on using any form of aftermarket cooling such as H2O or LN2. The OC ignition + the PCI-E disable switches makes debugging 4-way GPU setups a breeze, especially when you have watercooling where everything is in place and all the GPUs are connected together. If you compare a motherboard's VRM to a human heart, then the Z87X-OC Force has a heart that will outlive any brain, it packs only the highest quality power stages and digital voltage regulation available, however it does it with style. Its predecessor the Z77X-UP7 had 32 phases of IR3550 and the Z87X-OC Force has 16, and some wonder why; the reasoning is that 8 is more than enough, 32 is overkill, and 16 is still overkill but not to the extent where it will hurt the ability to include other features while also employing top performance. With the Z77X-UP7 we saw that 10 layered PCB causes issues with memory overclocking, however the Z87X-OC Force delivers all its features in an 8-layer PCB yet as you can see can still deliver superb memory overclocking without much tinkering. GIGABYTE wasn't able to fit 32 phases with a PLX bypass on the UP7 and do it in 8 layers, it would just have caused way too much signal interference.

However GIGABYTE was able to not only fit in 16 phases with a PLX bypass on the OC Force, but was also able to include a bunch of newer OC features and some very extensive fan control which the Z77X-UP7 didn't have(The Z77X-UP7 had total control over 3 headers, the Z87X-OC Force has total control over 6 and a total of 9 headers not including the built in ones for the heatsink fans). I have to be honest, I was a bit worried even seeing 16 phases (I was scared it might have a 10 layer PCB), I prefer the 8 phase VRM on the Z87X-OC for overclocking, however this 16 phase VRM works very well and performs great, it runs so cool that if you actually hook up the watercooling barb to your loop, you will actually raise the temperature of the VRM. If that isn't something to wrap your head around then I don't know what is. There is only one major complaint I have for the Z87X-OC Force that is its watercooling for the heatsinks, I think its just a waste of money to even put in the barbs. However, I honestly believe that the price is justified, if you want the best OC board GIGABYTE has to offer with 4-way GPU capabilities, then the Z87X-OC Force is the way to go. Flagship boards don't run cheap, however this one delivers.
I have a issue with the oc buttons on these boards, and it is a real problem that renders them semi useless, why is it that to use the CPU multiplier increase button intel Speedstep needs to be in operation, meaning it down clocks the CPU once you have set the freq, surely this is a major flaw on the boards, the freq has to ramp up again once you start running a benchmark rather than starting from the set freq.
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