GIGABYTE has released a new motherboard based on the LGA 1151 platform as a little brother to the recently reviewed X99 Designare EX. This newest board is the Z170X Designare. Much like its big brother this board features extensive RGB LED control, a VRM which is more than adequate, and much more. Get comfortable, we’re in for the long haul on this one!
Specifications and Features
With three PCIe 3.0 x16 slots, DDR4 4000 MHz support, dual Gigabit LAN, and a plethora of storage connections it is fair to say the Z170X Designare is loaded. Add in RGB LED support (both integrated and a connection for a strip), dual USB 3.1 Type-C ports, and a solid audio section then you’re looking at a board which should appeal to the masses.
All specifications in the table below are provided by GIGABYTE:
GIGABYTE GA-Z170X-Designare Specs
Support for Intel® Core™ i7 processors/Intel® Core™ i5 processors/Intel® Core™ i3 processors/Intel® Pentium® processors/Intel®Celeron® processors in the LGA1151 package
4 x DDR4 DIMM sockets supporting up to 64 GB of system memory * Due to a Windows 32-bit operating system limitation, when more than 4 GB of physical memory is installed, the actual memory size displayed will be less than the size of the physical memory installed.
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.
1 x PCI Express x16 slot, running at x4 (PCIEX4) * The PCIEX4 slot shares bandwidth with the SATA 3 0/1 and PCI Express x1 connectors. When the PCIEX4 slot is installed with a x4 or above card, the SATA 3 0/1 and PCI Express x1 connectors become unavailable.
3 x PCI Express x1 slots (All of the PCI Express slots conform to PCI Express 3.0 standard.)
Integrated Graphics Processor-Intel® HD Graphics support:
1 x HDMI port, supporting a maximum resolution of 4096×[email protected] Hz * Support for HDMI 1.4 version.
1 x DisplayPort, supporting a maximum resolution of 4096×[email protected] Hz * Support for DisplayPort 1.2 version.
Maximum shared memory of 512 MB
Support for NVIDIA® Quad-GPU SLI™ and 2-Way NVIDIA® SLI™ technologies
Support for AMD Quad-GPU CrossFireX™ and 2-Way AMD CrossFire™ technologies
1 x M.2 connector (Socket 3, M key, type 2242/2260/2280/22110 SATA and PCIe x4/x2 SSD support)
1 x U.2 connector
2 x SATA Express connectors
6 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
Support for RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, and RAID 10
* Refer to “1-9 Internal Connectors,” for the installation notices for the U.2, M.2, SATA Express, and SATA connectors.
2 x Intel® GbE LAN chips (10/100/1000 Mbit)
Support for Teaming
Realtek® ALC1150 codec
High Definition Audio
Support for S/PDIF Out
Chipset+Intel® USB 3.1 Controller:
2 x USB Type-C™ ports on the back panel, with USB 3.1 support
6 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports (4 ports on the back panel, 2 ports available through the internal USB header)
6 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports (2 ports on the back panel, 4 ports available through the internal USB headers)
Back I/O Ports
1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse port
1 x Mini-DisplayPort In
2 x USB Type-C™ ports, with USB 3.1 support
4 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports
2 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
1 x HDMI port
1 x DisplayPort
2 x RJ-45 ports
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
2 x SATA Express connectors
6 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
1 x M.2 Socket 3 connector
1 x U.2 connector
1 x CPU fan header
1 x water cooling fan/pump header (CPU_OPT_PUMP)
2 x system fan headers
1 x system fan/water cooling pump header (SYS_FAN2_PUMP)
1 x front panel header
1 x front panel audio header
1 x S/PDIF Out header
1 x USB 3.0/2.0 header
2 x USB 2.0/1.1 headers
1 x RGB LED strip extension cable header
1 x Clear CMOS jumper
1 x Trusted Platform Module (TPM) header
1 x Thunderbolt™ add-in card connector
1 x power button
1 x reset button
1 x Clear CMOS button
1 x OC button
Support for Windows 10/8.1 64-bit
Support for Windows 7 32-bit/64-bit * Please download the “Windows USB Installation Tool” from GIGABYTE’s website and install it before installing Windows 7.
ATX Form Factor; 30.5cm x 24.4cm (12in x 9.6in)
The next table lists the high-level feature set of the Z170X Designare. All images and descriptions provided by GIGABYTE.
GIGABYTE GA-Z170X-Designare Features
Ambient Surround LED
Set the Color that Matches Your Style Now offering more LED customizations than ever, users can truly adapt their PC to represent their lifestyle. With full RGB support and a redesigned Ambient LED application, the user has complete control over the LEDs which surround the motherboard.
Light Up Your Case to Match your Motherboard With an onboard Pin Header for aftermarket LED Strips, users now have the ability to sync the lighting in their computer case with the lighting on their motherboard. By using the Ambient LED Application, included in GIGABYTE APP Center, users are also able to specify the lighting modes available and ensure that everything is illuminating their system in harmony.
Immersive VR Gaming Experience
– VR requires 30% more performance than Full HD graphics for a steady 60FPS or greater. – Only Gaming PCs can provide the best VR experience.
To create a seamless VR experience GIGABYTE Motherboards offer the best features to make your virtual reality feel like your actual reality.
With technologies such as Thunderbolt™ 3 to transfer data and video, NVMe support via M.2 or U.2, and a one piece metal shielding to brace for heavier discrete graphics cards its obvious that GIGABYTE has the tools you need to start your journey in VR. To set the mood GIGABYTE Motherboards include Ambient Surround LED to put you in the center of action.
NVIDIA® QUADRO® Professional Graphics Supports
NVIDIA® QUADRO® 3D Workstation Professional Graphics Solutions designed and built specifically for artists, designers, and engineers, NVIDIA Quadro GPUs power more than 100 professional applications across a broad range of industries. Professionals trust them to enable their best work using applications such as Adobe® Creative Cloud, Avid Media Composer, Autodesk Suites, Dassault Systemes, CATIA and SOLIDWORKS, Siemens NX, PTC Creo, and many more.
2-Way SLI™ / CrossFire™ Multi-Graphics
Multi-graphics configuration offers better graphics performance for gaming enthusiasts who demand the highest frame rates without compromising on resolution.
PURE SPEED, MORE POWER
Exclusively on GIGABYTE Powered Motherboards
Intel® USB 3.1 + Power Delivery 2.0
The Intel® USB 3.1 controller utilizes four PCIe Gen3 Lanes, offering up to 32 Gb/s total bandwidth, for uncompromised transfer speeds of up to 10 Gb/s per USB 3.1. With twice the bandwidth compared to its previous generation, and backwards compatibility with USB 2.0 and 3.0, the much improved USB 3.1 protocol is available over the new reversible USB Type-C™ and the traditional USB Type-A connector for better compatibility over a wider range of devices.
100W USB Type-C™
Power and Charge From USB Type-C With Power Delivery 2.0 Support
Redesigned to take full advantage of all the features that USB Type-C can support, GIGABYTE’s new Z170 motherboards with Intel’s USB 3.1 controller not only supports USB 2.0, 3.0, and 3.1, but also completely supports Power Delivery 2.0. This means users are able to get up to 100 watts through their Intel powered USB Type-C port. This opens the door for users looking to clean up their cable cutter and power or recharge their devices through this universal connector, the Type-C Port.
Triple NVMe PCIe SSDs in RAID 0 Support
Extreme Performance with Gen3 x4 NVMe PCIe SSDs
GIGABYTE’s Z170 motherboards offers the industry’s best compatibility in terms of NVMe storage for users who demand high capacity and seek the best performance. GIGABYTE’s unique design supports up to three Intel® 750 Series NVMe PCIe SSDs which can be configured in RAID for record speeds of up to 3525 MB/s (Sequential Read), making GIGABYTE the obvious choice for the ultimate PC.
U.2 Onboard (NVMe PCIe Gen3 x4)
NVMe Performance for PCIe SSDs
The new Intel 750 series SSDs offer an incredible increase in performance over SATA drives. Using the NVMe protocol which takes advantage of the fast bandwidth of PCIe Gen3 x4 lanes (32 Gb/s), the drives are a clear advantage for users looking to boot their OS faster, load their games in a flash and access large files without waiting. By implementing the U.2 port onboard to support the 2.5” Intel 750 Series drive, GIGABYTE ensures that the users can benefit from the best performance.
Fast Onboard Storage with NVMe PCIe Gen3 x4 110mm M.2 (Up to 32 Gb/s)
GIGABYTE’s M.2 solution offers considerably faster storage performance and support for both PCIe and SATA interfaces for M.2 SSD devices.
Dual Hybrid Fan Headers
Precise PWM and Voltage Control for Water pumps or Fans
Many of today’s modern computers feature water cooling to ensure that the CPU or graphics cards stay cool and quiet while they are put under heavy load. In order to provide the best support for water cooling solutions, GIGABYTE has equipped its X99/Z170 motherboards with an additional water pump power header. This allows the user to have full control over two water pumps or fans. An additional benefit of these headers with GIGABYTE’s motherboards is the option to choose between voltage calibration or PWM modes.
Support for DDR4 XMP Up to 4000MHz and Beyond*
GIGABYTE is offering a tested and proven platform that ensures proper compatibility with profiles up to 4000MHz and beyond. All users need to do to attain this performance boost is to ensure that their memory module is XMP capable and that the XMP function is activated and enabled on their GIGABYTE motherboard.
What is XMP?
DDR4 memory modules are available at a stock frequency of 2133MHz, but as frequency tweaking requires a considerable amount of effort and knowledge, memory vendors encode XMP profiles which can automatically modify the timings of the supported memory modules to work with your CPU and to achieve increased performance.
* XMP Profile support may vary depending on memory module. Please visit www.gigabyte.com to see the complete validated memory support list.
Built-in Advanced Performance Tuning IC
Thanks to the onboard Turbo B-Clock Tuning IC, GIGABYTE Z170X-Designare 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.
Ultra Durable™ PCIe Armor
Enhanced Strength PCIe Design, Support for Heavy Graphics Cards For Extreme / VR Gaming Station
Dual Armor DIMM and PCIe Metal Shielding
Never worry about your heavy graphics card damaging your motherboard again. GIGABYTE’s proprietary Ultra Durable PCIe Metal Shielding reinforces the PCIe connector to prevent slot damage due to heavy graphics card. The DIMM and PCIe metal shield also provides extra strength for when you forget to release the lock while replacing your component, adding a fool proof option which can save your PC’s life.
Ultra Durable™ Memory Armor
GIGABYTE’s exclusive one piece stainless steel shielding design prevents against PCB distortion and twist (Plate bending) in addition to preventing any possible ESD interference.
High Definition Audio Design
The Realtek ALC1150 is a high-performance multi-channel high definition audio codec that delivers an exceptional audio listening experience with up to 115dB SNR, ensuring users get the best possible audio quality from their PC.
High Quality audio capacitors deliver the highest quality sound resolution and sound expansion to create the most realistic sound effects for professional gamers.
GIGABYTE Patented DualBIOS™ (UEFI) Design
GIGABYTE Ultra Durable™ motherboards feature GIGABYTE DualBIOS™, an exclusive technology from GIGABYTE that protects arguably one of your PC’s most crucial components, the BIOS. GIGABYTE DualBIOS™ means that your motherboard has both a ‘Main BIOS’ and a ‘Backup BIOS’, Protecting users from BIOS failure due to virus, hardware malfunction, improper OC settings or power failure during the update process.
Long Lifespan Durable Black™ Solid Caps
GIGABYTE motherboards integrate the absolute best quality solid state capacitors that are rated to perform at maximum efficiency for extended periods, even in extreme performance configurations. With ultra-low ESR no matter how high the CPU load, this provides peace of mind for end users who want to push their system hard, yet demand absolute reliability and stability. These exclusive capacitors also come in customized jet black, exclusively on GIGABYTE motherboards.
15μ Gold Plated CPU Socket Design
GIGABYTE motherboards come equipped with a 15 micron thick gold plated CPU socket, which means that enthusiasts can enjoy absolute reliability and longevity for the CPU socket overtime, without having any concerns about corroded pins or bad contacts.
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.
ESD Protection for USB and LAN
GIGABYTE motherboards raise the bar in terms of protecting your system, providing advanced electrostatic discharge (ESD) protection for both your Ethernet LAN and USB ports, both common sources of ESD-related failures. Each LAN and USB port is paired with a dedicated protection filter that can withstand high electrostatic discharges, protecting your system from common electrical surges and even direct lighting strikes.
Just like its big brother, the GIGABYTE X99 Designare EX, the packaging for the Z170X Designare is absolutely vibrant. The front displays an open cockpit racecar in an RGB gradient, a few high-level features, and the brand/model. The rear has in-depth features and specifications, along with a picture of the motherboard itself.
Opening the box we see the cardboard tray and ESD bag holding the motherboard. Digging further down we see all the accessories loose under the motherboard.
The first portion of accessories include the padded I/O cover, RGB LED strip cable, and four SATA cables. Plenty in the way of cables to get almost any system started up.
In the other portion of the accessories we see the manual, install guide, driver CD, G-Connector, SLI bridge, Velcro cable ties, and HDD/SSD cable labels. It’s nice to see the cable labels and Velcro ties included to help keep the system nice and tidy.
The GIGABYTE GA-Z170X-Designare
Let’s take a look at the front of the motherboard first. The color scheme of the PCB is black/gray, the heatsinks are black with blue and silver accents. On the chipset heatsink is the word GIGABYTE and on the cover for the I/O connectors are the words Ultra Durable. Very attractive board which should pair with most builds.
On the rear of the board we see all covers and heatsinks are attached with screws, this is preferred over pin connections. The audio section has great separation from the rest of the board with a strip of LED’s following this opaque separation area. There is also a strip of LED’s down the other side of the board, from top to bottom. Of course, these LED’s are RGB. The first full length PCIe slot is soldered in at x16, the second at x8, and the third at x4.
There’s also a bonus shot of the motherboard with all the covers and heatsinks removed, we’ll dig in to the details momentarily.
A Closer Look
We’ll first take a closer look at the PCIe section of the motherboard. GIGABYTE, as is becoming typical on their high-end boards, have again used the metal support/shielding on the PCIe slots here. The three main PCIe slots are broken down in to x16, x8, and x4. If using dual GPU’s, you’re looking at an x8/x8 arrangement and you have extended spacing here for good airflow between two graphics cards. Also seen here are three PCIe x1 slots for use of add-in cards. Notice the M.2 slot is above the PCIe slots, below the CPU socket. It supports up to 110mm devices of the M key variety.
Looking below the PCIe slots we see most of the typical “bottom board” connectivity. Front audio, an RGB LED connector, a Trusted Platform Module connection, and two front USB 2.0 connectors are in this area.
Moving over to the first corner of the board, the lower right, we see the rest of the connectivity across the bottom. There is a PWM fan/pump header and the front panel connections to round out connectivity here. There are also six SATA III connections in this corner, four of which double as the two SATA Express connections, and a U.2 connection. We can also see the Intel Z170 Express chipset peeking in to the picture at the top.
Jumping over to the opposite corner of the board we get a good look at the motherboard VRM section. There are 11 phases here, managed by a hybrid digital PWM Intersil 95856 controller, will be plenty to push to the limits of any ambient cooling. The MOSFET chips here, per phase, are an RA12 for the low side and an RA18 for the high side. The MOSFET chips are all part of the Vishay PowerPAK lineup.
Swapping sides here we get to the upper right hand portion of the Z170X Designare. Here we first notice the four DDR4 DIMM slots, all of which are protected by shielding similar to the PCIe slots. There are also three PWM fan headers, a front USB 3.0 connector, the 24-pin ATX power connector, power/reset switches, a CMOS clear button, an “OC” button, and the debug display. It’s nice to see a few features here left noticeably missing from the X99 version, the power/reset switches and debug display.
Looking back to the rear I/O ports there’s a configuration I haven’t seen before! There are two USB 3.1 Type-C ports, four USB 3.0 Type-A ports, two USB 2.0 ports, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, a PS/2 port, an HDMI v1.4 port, a DisplayPort v1.2 connection, and a Mini-DisplayPort input. For audio there are five 3.5mm connections and an S/PDIF output. As with big brother the display input is still listed as “for future feature upgrade” so we’ll know more about it… sometime.
Stripping the GA-Z170X-Designare
The heatsinks and covers for the Z170X Designare are plentiful! As mentioned earlier the theme is black with blue/silver accents. Two large heatsinks keep the VRM cooled down, and a mid-sized heatsink keeps the Z170 Express chipset cool. There are also covers for the audio section and rear I/O area. The thermal pads on the heatsinks make great contact with their intended components.
Zooming in close on the audio section we see the Realtek ALC1150 codec and Nippon capacitors used to attain the 115dB SNR. Plenty of hardware here to drive higher impedance cans. GIGABYTE mentions a rear audio amplifier, but did not give their recommended maximum impedance. The two amps I see in the circuit are a Diodes Incorporated AS358M-G1 and a Texas Instruments OPA1652.
The dual Gigabit Ethernet connections on the Z170X Designare are both Intel powered. One off the newest i219v and one off the slightly older i211AT. The board does support LAN Teaming for anyone interested in transfers requiring more than a single Gigabit connection.
Below are some thumbnails, click for a bigger view, of the other miscellaneous integrated circuit chips on the Z170X Designare. For the dual USB 3.1 Type-C ports we find dual Texas Instruments TPS 65982 IC’s, these are both the controller and power delivery chip.
UEFI BIOS and Overclocking Software
In the first slideshow we find all the main screens of the BIOS. When you boot first the Z170X Designare will go to the MIT tab in Advanced Mode. Moving the mouse to the right or bottom will bring out two toolbars. One contains links to the Easy Mode, Language, Q-Flash, and Smart Fan portions of the BIOS.
Further exploring the MIT tab we get in to Advanced Frequency, Memory, and Voltage settings. There are also pages for PC Health and Miscellaneous Settings. In these screens are all the overclocking and tweaking controls you could want or need, to my knowledge.
Bringing up the rear with the third and final slideshow of the BIOS we find the System, BIOS, Peripherals, Chipset, Power, and Save & Exit tabs. Things such as boot order, SATA settings, RGB LED controls, and more can be found here.
Here’s a look at some of the software available with the Z170X Designare. One gripe here, you have to download and install each piece of software individually, but only after installing App Center. It would be better to include it all in one install package, but allow the user to choose which pieces to install. EasyTune allows system tweaking, it even comes with an “AutoTune” function for automatic overclocking.
Test Setup, Benchmarks, and Overclocking
Listed below is the test system used for benchmarking.
Intel 6700K @ Stock (for the motherboard – 4.2 GHz), 4.7 GHz for Overclocking
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, and Intel XTU. For rendering it’s Cinebench R11.5 and R15. Memory performance is checked against AIDA64. For encoding, we use x265 (HWBOT Version) and PoV Ray. A more real-world test is included in 7zip. Stock testing is performed with the BIOS as you get it out of the box, which will vary from motherboard to motherboard. When overclocking, a CPU speed of 4.7 GHz will be used for testing purposes. Memory speed is unchanged.
Memory Bandwidth and Throughput Benchmarks – AIDA64 and MaxxMEM2
CPU Rendering Benchmarks – Cinebench R11.5 and R15
Single Threaded CPU Benchmarks – Super Pi 1M and 32M
Multi-Threaded CPU Benchmarks – WPrime 32M and 1024M, x265 (HWBOT Version), PoV Ray R3.73, 7Zip, and Intel XTU
Overall, the results seemed to be in line with the expected performance of a top-tier motherboard. Currently there are no graphs to show, as this board was the change to Win10 for Z170 in my samples, so later Z170 motherboard reviews will include a more in-depth comparison.
Pushing the Limits
Like most other boards I’ve reviewed, the Z170X Designare hit 4.8GHz on the CPU. It seems to be fairly stable at this level, running Cinebench R15 without issue. Booting 4.9GHz almost happened, but I couldn’t quite reach the OS at this speed. It seemed like the limits were typical of my CPU and Win10, though.
Once again I’ll start with some cons in the conclusion. The BIOS isn’t my favorite, but it works and has a ton of tweaking options, even if it isn’t the fastest I’ve used. Revisiting the bundled software, it would be great to have one download package which allows you to choose the components to install instead of multiple downloads.
The black main color with blue and silver accents should go well with almost any build. The built-in RGB LED lighting should help with this as well. As with its big brother, the Z170X Designare is absolutely loaded with features and I could only begin to scratch the surface here. The VRM is another solid design and was plenty capable of pushing my CPU to its limits. The inclusion of a second USB 3.1 Type-C is great for future compatibility as the market seems to be moving toward those connections quickly!
The Z170X Designare isn’t cheap, with an MSRP of $250 and selling at the same on Newegg, but it seems to be in line with the boards I would consider direct competitors (Maximus VIII Hero, Gaming Z170A XPOWER Titanium Edition, Z170 Classified K, etc). It is nowhere near the most expensive Z170 motherboard on the market. With just a few cons, lots of positives, and a price in line with other boards of its caliber; the Z170X Designare gets the Overclockers.com Approved award!
Click the stamp for an explanation of what this means.
There is a lot of competition in the mid-range sector of the motherboard market. With varying feature sets among boards in this market, it’s sometimes unclear which boards offer what features. So, today, we have a Z170-PRO from ASUS, which we’ll explore to find out what all it has to offer. Read More