In our continuing series of reviews on Z170 based motherboards (got to love when new CPUs are released!), GIGABYTE has kindly sent us a board for the masses in their Z170X Gaming 7. The Gaming 7 motherboard falls second in line of their G1 Gaming lineup with the G1 being the flagship, and the Gaming 5 and Gaming 3 below it. The G1 Gaming series (it’s a popular trend now to group motherboards for their intended use) uses a unique theme of black, red and white to set it apart from their overclocking SOC series (typically orange and black), and their regular line. The Gaming 7 appears to have some good features to offer the gamer, so let’s take a look at what it has to offer and see how its performance shakes out against the other Z170 motherboard I reviewed.
Specifications and Features
Below is a list of specifications from the GIGABYTE website for the Z170X Gaming 7 motherboard. Some highlights are that it accepts up to 64GB of DDR4 dual channel system memory while supporting speeds up to 3666 MHz (the highest I have seen listed so far). The board supports using the integrated GPU on the CPU with HDMI and DisplayPort options. For the audio, the Gaming 7 uses the Creative Sound Core 3D chip for its processing as well as using as high end TI Burr-Brown OPA2134 operational amplifier to drive your headphones/speakers. The networking is handled by dual NICs, one the venerable Qualcomm Atheros Killer E2400, and the other, the tried and true Intel GBe LAN.
As far as available slots and ports, the board offers three PCIe slots, which also include steel shielding for added support and cooling. This setup is good for 3-way CFx and 2-way SLI. There are two M.2 ports, three SATA Express connectors, six native SATA 6Gbps ports, and two more SATA 6Gbps ports from the ASMedia controller. For USB ports, there are a slew of those as well. There are two USB3.1 ports (one Type-C and one Type-A) on the back panel. Five native USB 3.0 ports are also on the back panel, and four USB2.0 ports can be had via internal headers. There are a total of five fan headers – one for the CPU, one for water cooling pumps (runs at 100% by default), and three other system fan headers.
There are many more specifications listed below Please take a look at the table for more details.
|GIGABYTE Z170X Gaming 7|
(Please refer “CPU Support List” for more information.)
|Chipset||Intel® Z170A Chipset|
(Please refer “Memory Support List” for more information.)
|Multi-Graphics Technology||Support for 3-Way/2-Way AMD CrossFire™ and 2-Way NVIDIA® SLI™ Technology|
ASMedia® ASM1061 chip:
Chipset+Renesas® USB 3.0 Hub:
Chipset+Intel® USB 3.1 Controller:
|Internal I/O Connectors|
|Back Panel Connectors|
|I/O Controller||iTE® I/O Controller Chip|
|Form Factor||ATX Form Factor; 30.5cm x 24.4cm (12″ x 9.6″)|
There are a few specific features I wanted to show and they are listed below. First is the Intel USB3.1 controller that offers 32 Gb/s of total bandwidth. It supports the the new reversible Type-C connector as well as the traditional Type-A we are all used to, which helps with compatibility.
The audio used is Creative’s Sound Core3D audio processor, which helps offload the workload from the CPU. The audio processor is also covered for EMI protection. Couple that with the Creative SBX ProStudio Audio Suite, and you have a total solution from Creative – hardware and software. A GIGABYTE exclusive is the use of upgradeable OP-AMPS so you can choose the type you want for your listening needs if the included OPA2134 OP-AMP doesn’t tickle your fancy. It also uses high-end Nichion capacitors, and like most boards these days, separates the audio section from the rest of the board to further reduce EMI interference. Along this separation line are programmable LED’s.
The GIGABYTE Z170X Gaming 7 comes with dual NICs, the Killer E2400 Gaming NIC (Qualcomm Atheros), and an Intel GBe NIC. Both are intended to be used by the gaming crowd and include the ability to prioritize traffic to make sure you have the lowest ping for the best online gaming experience.
A new feature to motherboards with the release of the Z170 chipset are the use of metal shielding on the PCIe slots. This metal shield is said to offer additional support to the PCIe slots for those heavy graphics cards. I’m not going to lie, I like the looks of these as opposed to the plain old PCIe slots we are used to. I’ve never had a slot break on me, but more support and better looks aren’t something I will refuse.
Another unique feature in this chipset is its ability to adjust BCLK without straps. That is right folks, you have complete 1 MHz at a time control over the BCLK again just like in the socket 775 days because Skylake cuts the cord between other clock realms (think PCIe and DMI to name two). This will allow for much more granular control over CPU and system ram clock speeds. For the competitive overclocker, this can yield some gains in specific situations.
Also included are SATA Express ports, which use PCIe lanes to bypass the SATA 6Gbps limit on your regular SATA ports for speeds up to 16GB/s. Here is to hoping we see more of those type drives released soon to make use of them.
Last, but not least, is a cool feature named USB DAC UP. What this does is use discrete power for the USB ports to help get a cleaner signal for attaching/using a DAC as they are fairly sensitive to such power fluctuations.
More Features can be found on the GIGABYTE website.
Extreme Intel® USB 3.1 Controller
The Intel® USB 3.1 controller utilizes 4 PCIe Gen3 lanes, offering 32 Gb/s of 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 Standard-A connector for better compatibility over a wider range of devices.
Creative® Sound Core3D™ Quad-Core Audio Processor
Combining world’s first Quad-Core Creative Sound Core3D Audio Processor Plus Advanced Creative SBX PROSTUDIO Audio Suite.
Creative SBX Pro Studio™ Audio Suite
SBX Pro Studio™ suite of audio playback technologies deliver a new level of audio immersion. Realistic surround sound, the ability to clearly hear specific sounds in a gaming environment are just a few elements of SBX Pro Studio that enhances the overall experience, be it movies, games or music.
GIGABYTE Exclusive : Upgradable OP-AMP
+ Users can choose audio quality based on individual listening preferences.
High End Audio Capacitors
GIGABYTE G1™ Gaming motherboards use high end, Japanese branded Nichicon audio capacitors. These professional audio capacitors deliver the highest quality sound resolution and sound expansion to create the most realistic sound effects for professional gamers.
Killer™ E2400 Gaming Network / Intel® Gigabit LAN
Killer™ E2400 is a high-performance, adaptive gigabit Ethernet controller that offers better online gaming and media performance compared to standard solutions.
Industry Leading Ultra Durable™ PCIe Metal Shielding
The innovative one piece stainless steel shielding design from GIGABYTE reinforces the PCIe connectors to provide the extra strength required to support heavy graphics cards.
1.7x Stronger in shear tests, 3.2x stronger retention force.
Dual PCIe Gen3 x4 M.2
With two PCIe Gen3 x4 M.2 connectors onboard, GIGABYTE brings to the user PCI-Express connectivity for SSD devices. Delivering up to 32 Gb/s data transfer speed per connector, the dual M.2 provides an ideal storage solution as it also supports RAID modes.
Built-in Advanced Performance Tuning IC
Thanks to the onboard TURBO B-Clock Tuning IC, GIGABYTE 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 200MHz are now possible, so that overclockers are not limited to the 5% ranges of traditional straps.
Next Generation SATA Express
SATA Express combines the benefits of PCI Express and SATA to provide much higher bandwidth, featuring data transfer rates of up to 16Gb/s.
Clean, low-noise power for your Digital-to-Analog Audio converter
GIGABYTE USB DAC-UP provides clean, noise-free power delivery to your Digital-to-Analog Converter. DACs can be sensitive to fluctuations in power from the other USB ports, which is why GIGABYTE USB DAC-UP takes advantage of an isolated power source that minimizes potential fluctuations and ensures the best audio experience possible.
Below are some slides from the GIGABYTE Press Deck showing many familiar and additional features the motherboard has to offer.
Retail Packaging and Accessories
The next set of slides looks at the retail packaging and accessories. With the new chipset comes some new design and partnerships for GIGABYTE’s G1 Gaming series boxes. On the front we see a wicked looking character from the new Blizzard game, Heros of the Storm. Your typical fare is on the front outside of that with the name of the motherboard, CPU support, and some high-level features. The back of the box goes into a bit more detail on the features such as the USB3.1 use/connectors, the dual Intel and Killer E2400 NIC, as well as the Creative Sound Core 3D, and others. I assume I still don’t need to describe the sides or the top, so we will leave it at that.
When you open up the box, you are greeted with the motherboard sitting on top of a thin cardboard partition in an anti-static bag. Below the board is where you will find the included accessories. The accessories are also your typical fare of a couple SATA3 6Gbps cables, driver disk, manual, rear I/O panel, and a convenient consolidation type connector for the front panel headers.
Meet the GIGABYTE Z170X Gaming 7
Our first glimpse of the board shows the black PCB with a white I/O cover, red and white MOSFET coolers, and red trim on the DIMM slots and PCIe slots. The relatively new trend to cover the rear I/O ports with a shroud is also used on the Gaming 7. It is made out of plastic and is mostly white with some red trim/highlights and the G1 Gaming moniker written on it. This shroud extends down over the audio section of the board. The VRM heatsink is partially covered by this shroud and continues the same white/red theme – same with the PCH heatsink as well. Overall, the board has a pretty good aesthetic. I like how the I/O shroud reaches to the VRM heatsink so you don’t see the ICs between it and the VRMs. A good feature of this shield is that you do not need to remove the screws and I/O cover in order to mount it to the motherboard. The shroud is secured from a different location allowing the native motherboard holes to be used without removing it and then mounting it with the motherboard.
Other notable items from this high-level view are four color coded DIMM slots, the three PCIe x16 physical slots with the metal shielding, the two M.2 slots (one just above PCIe 1, and below PCIe 1). The back of the board shows us the PCIe electrical setup as x16/x8/x4, which will be quite typical with this chipset, unless you run into a rare board with a PLX chip that offers more lanes.
A Closer Look
As we zoom in on the lower left hand portion of the board, we get a better look at the cover for the Creative Sound Core 3D and its Nichion caps. If you look at the bottom of the board, just below and to the left of the last PCIe slot, you will see the upgradeable OP-AMP socket, which is a pretty unique feature. If for some reason you don’t like the output of the current one, just drop a compatible model right in to upgrade!
The three PCIe slots breaks down to x8/x8 with two GPUs, with the 3rd slot at x4 (no 3 card SLI as it requires 8x). The x4 slot comes from the PCH and shares its bandwidth with the M.2 slots. The M.2 slots are located just above the first PCIe slot, and just below it.
The upper right hand portion of the board around the DIMM area sports two USB3.0 headers to the left of the 24-pin power. To the right of that, we see the OC and ECO buttons, the debug LED, CMOS reset and reset buttons, voltage read points. Three fan headers are also in this area and include the CPU, OPT, and System fan headers. We know from the specifications that the DIMM slots will support up to 64GB of DDR4 ram.
The socket area is pretty clean, and we can see the VRM/MOSFET area hiding underneath the more than capable heatsinks. Delivering power to the CPU and those VRMs is your single 8-pin CPU power connection.
The rear I/O (from L to R) has a PS/2 mouse/keyboard port on top of two USB3 headers. These USB ports, in yellow, are the ones to use if you have a DAC as it has much more stable power going to them. To the right of those is the DisplayPort and HDMI for use with the iGPU. Next to it are two USB3 ports, then your Killer E2400 NIC, which is above a USB3.1 Type-C connector. Then comes the Intel NIC above another USB3 port and USB3.1 Type-A. Last is the audio stack including the optical S/PDIF out.
For SATA ports, we are looking at a total of three SATA Express and a total of eight SATA 6Gbps ports handled by two controllers (ASMedia ports 6/7 are on the top right).
Across the bottom of the board are a slew of outputs. From left to right again is the front panel audio, the removable OPA-AMP chip, CAP switch (controls gain for rear headphone/speaker jack to adjust amplification), COM port, TPM (Trusted Platform Module), two USB 2.0 headers, BIOS switch, system fan header, and finally the front panel header.
Below is a slideshow of just a few of the IC’s used on the GIGABYTE Z170X Gaming 7. It shows the Super I/O, Killer E2400 NIC, DP to HDMI converter for the iGPU, and finally an ASMedia PCIe to SATA converter.
UEFI BIOS and Overclocking Software
Below are some screenshots of the UEFI BIOS. It looks like they made a couple of changes on the classic view, but everything remains where you would expect it to be. The simplified front end worked well (first slide), but I found myself in classic mode just because I was more comfortable. About the only complaint I had is the M.I.T/Overclocking section was too sectioned off. You have to back out of one area, say memory, to go change voltage. I suppose I prefer one large page that can change a lot of the high-level overclocking items like voltages, multiplier, BCLK, and memory, but add sections to dive deeper into those things.
Overall it looks good, and maneuvering around it was fine. It felt a bit like I was in the mud in that movements felt a bit slow through there, but it was not bad at all. It was just a bit different from my windows environment and other BIOS I have used.
The many slides below are from the M.I.T section and cover everything from the memory timings/sub-timings, voltages, CPU options, internal voltage regulation control, and even shows the PC health status. There are plenty of options needed to get the most out of any CPU you drop in the socket.
GIGABYTE has recently moved towards a software application umbrella as I like to call it, named APP Center (AC). AC is the framework to install their other applications such as the familiar monitoring and overclocking tool, EasyTune, USB Blocker, System Information Viewer, ON/OFF Charge, Cloud Station, Ambient LED, and more. Most of our readership would be most interested in EasyTune, which is GIGABYTE’s desktop overclocking and system optimization utility. EZ Tune provides the following features.
• The Smart Boost tab provides you with different levels of CPU frequency to choose to achieve desired system performance. After making changes, be sure to restart your system for these changes to take effect.
• The Advanced CPU OC tab allows you to set CPU base clock, frequency, and voltages, and integrated graphics frequency. You can save the current settings to a profile. You can create up to 2 profiles.
• The Advanced DDR OC tab allows you to set the memory clock.
• The Advanced Power tab allows you to adjust voltages.
• The HotKey tab allows you to set hotkeys for your profiles.
Test Setup, Benchmarks, and Overclocking
Listed below is the test system used for benchmarking:
|CPU||Intel 6700K @ Stock (4.2 GHz) and 4.7 GHz Overclocked|
|Motherboard||GIGABYTE Z170X Gaming 7|
|RAM||2×4 GB DDR4 GSkill Ripjaws 4 @ 3000 15-15-15-35 1.35v|
|Graphics Card||MSI GTX 980 Ti Gaming 6G|
|Solid State Drive||OCZ Vertex 3|
|Power Supply||SeaSonic SS-1000XP (80+ Platinum)|
|Operating System||Windows 7 x64 SP1|
AIDA64 and MaxxMEM – Memory Bandwidth and Throughput
Cinebench R11.5 and R15 – CPU Rendering Benchmark
Super Pi 1M and 32M / Pifast – Single Threaded CPU Benchmark
WPrime 32M/1024M, x624, PoV Ray R3.73, 7Zip, and Intel XTU – Multi-Threaded CPU benchmarks
x264 Pass 1 and 2
PoV Ray R3.73
Below I have put together a comparison between the MSI Z170 Gaming M7 and the GIGABYTE Z170X Gaming 7. As we saw in past comparisons, there is usually very little difference between boards for most of the tests, and this still holds true here. Just about every result is within a percentage point/margin of error.
As a side note here, I had to retest the MSI board at DDR4 3K speeds because the sticks I originally used on that board couldn’t hit their XMP profile and were run at 2666 MHz (CL14-14-14-36). I wish there was time to add the 2666 MHz results to the graphs to illustrate the minute difference between the two memory speeds. Needless to say, there wasn’t much of a difference to speak of, but I have seen quite a bit of forum goers at OCF and others making mention of the difference in speeds that may effect the outcome of the results. That wasn’t so here.
Overclocking on this board was just as easy as the rest, outside of having to change options in the different sections of the BIOS. Plenty of options, and I managed to reach the same clocks as I did with the previous board at similar voltages, so everything looks in order.
The one concern I had was with the vdrop and vdroop being way too high for my liking. For example, I set 1.4v in the BIOS to be greeted by 1.36v in Windows at idle. Once I loaded up the CPU, that dropped to 1.30v. So, there was .04v drop, and .06v droop. That’s a .1v in total, which is quite a bit. Enabling LLC in the BIOS to the ‘High’ setting put things back in order, but that was a lot of drop and droop, so be aware of this when overclocking until its fixed, presumably with a BIOS update down the line.
Below are some screenshots of a 4.9GHz Hyper Pi run with the memory at its XMP rating of 3000 MHz. The CPUz screenshot is to show the 175 BCLK. The board didn’t like booting at 200 MHz or over, but I didn’t take a long time to try and dial it in. The MSI board managed 200+ BCLK with the same amount of, or lack thereof, tinkering.
The GIGABYTE G1 Gaming series has joined the likes of others in the market with boards targeted at the ever growing and loyal gaming crowd. With a ‘nothing less than the best’ attitude in the Z170X G1, or mid-range models like the Gaming 7 or Gaming 5, and down to the more budget oriented Gaming 3 model, there is something for everyone in the lineup. The Gaming 7 we reviewed brings with it all the technologies we would expect with the latest platform. USB3.1 Type-A and Type-C connectors, the new Metal Shielding around PCIe slots, separate audio section with EMI shielding, dual M.2 32Gbps slots, and even SATA Express ports. The Gaming 7 kicks things up a notch by using Dual NICs from the Killer E2400 and the Intel port, Sound Core 3D audio, and a pretty robust power delivery area for overclocking. Couple that with an appearance that fits with many system themes, particularly with the programmable RGB LEDs on the back helping that, on the surface we have a pretty good board.
Digging in a little deeper, the performance landed close to the MSI I reviewed earlier witch is expected between motherboards, so all is well there. I was able to overclock to 4.9GHz just as before, and still have trouble reaching 5GHz using voltages I would be comfortable with. I’m comfortable at this point to believe its a CPU/voltage limit for the one I have. Hopefully, the retail version I pick up when these CPUs finally become available, I will get a solid chip and reach 5GHz.
I ran into two problems with the board, the first being a high amount of vdrop and vdroop when overclocking/setting the voltage manually, nearly .1v in total difference between load and what I set in the BIOS. Now, this is easily resolved by using the high LLC setting in BIOS, but that is a lot of sag without. We are hoping this is resolved with a new BIOS in the future. The other issue was that EasyTune wasn’t working. I could install App Center and EasyTune, but when trying to load EasyTune I would get an error. All other applications I tried worked fine. I have been working with GIGABYTE on the issue, but it seems like its just my setup as it is working fine for them and did in another reviews as well.
As usual, I save the price for last. The GIGABYTE Z170X Gaming 7 can be found at Newegg.com for $219.99. This puts it $10 cheaper than the MSI Gaming M7, the same price as the EVGA Z170 FTW, or $10 more than the always formidable mid-range ASrock boards (Gaming K6+ in this case). Without a doubt it has some competition, but warrants strong consideration among those in the crowded ~$220 price segment.
Joe Shields (Earthdog)