It has been a while since Overclockers.com had a chance to review a Gigabyte board. Not because they haven’t put anything out though, that is for sure. Gigabyte, like all other board partners, came out with an entire line of Z87 boards but we just now had a chance to look at them, specifically the Z87X-OC. While this isn’t the much more robust and expensive Z87X-OC Force, the board still packs a lot of features for the extreme overclocker, which this boards is geared towards. We will take a look at what makes this board tick and see how it stacks up against a couple of other boards we have had the pleasure of reviewing.
Specifications & Features
As I always start off in this section, we use what is readily available for the system specifications. Here is the long list from the Gigabyte Z87-OC webpage. Plenty of memory multiplier options, PCIe slots, fan headers, and a bunch of things for the overclocker is what you can find in the list below.
|GIGABYTE Z87X-OC Specifications|
(Please refer “CPU Support List” for more information.)
(Please refer “Memory Support List” for more information.)
|Onboard Graphics||Integrated Graphics Processor:|
Chipset + 2 Renesas® uPD720210 USB 3.0 Hubs:
|Internal I/O Connectors|
|Back Panel Connectors|
All the icons and quoted information below were sourced from the Gigabyte website.
The first feature I would like to discuss really isn’t a feature per say, but a class of boards that Gigabyte has come out with called “OC Motherboard.” As the name states, these are boards made with overclocking in mind. As you will see a bit later, this board has a lot of features designed to satisfy both enthusiasts and overclockers trying to get the most out of their hardware. So, look for this stamp on Gigabyte boards if you are into a more ‘hard core’ type of overclocking.
Next up is a really neat feature in my opinion, especially for the extreme (LN2/Dry Ice) overclocker. The OC Ignition button cuts all power to the CPU only. Meaning things like your SSD/HDD’s and fans are left powered on which is helpful when using sub ambient cooling methods to prevent moisture and ice buildup. You can even use this feature to leak test your custom liquid cooling too without having to boot up the system or ‘jumper’ your PSU. A very nice value add directed towards the extreme crowd here.
I wanted to show off this part of the board in more detail as there is A LOT going on right here. This area is right by the DIMM slots in the upper right hand corner of the board. You have the overclocking buttons for BCLK and multiplier, power and reset buttons, debug, gearing for BCLK, and a slew of voltage read points. Other items include the Direct to BIOS, Gigabyte’s memory safe, and BIOS switches. Keep this handy until you learn what all of these, which are mostly unlabeled, buttons and switches do. But as you can likely tell, a board with this many options for overclocking or help with overclocking, is made for doing just that.
Getting a bit more granular, we see a couple things Gigabyte wanted to focus on. This board, like others more focused on overclocking, comes with a simple 4 option DIP switch that will enable and disable PCIe ports. This allows easy troubleshooting without actually removing the card from your system. Along those lines, the “OC PEG” auxiliary power exists to add additional power to the PCIe slots on the motherboard, which helps with stability in quad-fire situations especially.
The OC Brace is a cool add on for those using up to four GPUs in an open case or test bench. It helps to better support graphics cards and ensure good contact in their slot, which prevents GPU’s not showing up upon boot. Also, if you are using a pot on a GPU or four, this will help stabilize the additional weight the copper/aluminum pots put on the card and the slot.
Last up in this grouping is something I really like and wish more boards that are geared towards overclocking would do. That is to place a USB port or two around the SATA area, which for a lot of open air benches is right where the person driving is. This prevents one reaching over the back and presumably a pot and fans trying to plug in a USB stick. I used this port as described to save data from benchmarks and to flash the BIOS as well. Great location on these, especially for a board made from the ground up with the overclocker in mind. Please hold the extra SATA, give me these on every board made for hard core overclocking!
As you can see below, the Z87X-OC supports AMD CrossFireX in 4-way configurations and NVIDIA SLI in 2-way setups. Peculiar, is that it handles AMD four way, but not NVIDIA… something to note if you want to run more than two NVIDIA GPUs, this would not be the board to choose.
Another really cool features on this board is the OPT fan support which is another CPU 4-pin fan header that can be used to connect a water pump to. This header is configured for continuous full speed operation and is also good for air cooled setups using two fans.
Next up, Gigabyte likes to tout a better solid state capacitor, which that is used in most every board now days made for running long periods of time under extreme performance conditions. Not sure this is any better or worse than anything out in this class, but here is the information none the less.
Gigabyte also has gold plated their connectors for the CPU and 24-pin ATX connectors. As we all know, gold is a great conductor and is resistant to metal corrosion. This feature is also located in the DDR3 and PCIe slots.
The new UEFI BIOS on this board, as far as looks go, is a site to behold. The Black and Orange theme really looks good to me. Gigabyte offers a fully customizable interface to add whatever options you like to a custom home page. You can even dump a custom background image on it!
The last item of mention here will be the Gigabyte’s updated (finally!) EasyTune software. I am not sure how many years have gone by with the EasyTune software looking nearly identical outside of platform differences, but we are updated! Its interface is black and orange themed like the BIOS, and like previous versions of EasyTune, you can monitor your system with it (temps/voltages). And of course you can do your windows based overclocking with it as well. More on this later…
Packaging & Accessories
Moving on to the retail packaging, the black and orange theme we saw above with the BIOS leaked its way out to the box! On the front we see the name Z87X-OC, the “OC badge”, and a picture of the heatsink covering the power bits, all sitting on a jet black background. You can see see a reflection of me in the gloss finish on the packaging in a blue shirt!
Flipping the box over to the backside, we see a clear picture of the board and a holy ton of features jammed into that space. Things from the rear I/O, the overclocking buttons area, quad CrossFireX setups, and we can go on. There is nothing really to speak of on the ends.
When we open up this box, we are greeted with the board and of course the accessories are hidden below it.
Gigabyte ships all of what you need and more to get going out of the box. We can see the Overclock brace on the left, SLI and CFX bridges, SATA cables, manuals and driver disk, voltage read point plugs, and the rear I/O plate. Again, plenty to get started.
The Gigabyte Z87X-OC
Below you will see your first real pictures of the board. As we already figured out, it is a flat black (true black mind you) PCB with “OC orange” highlights on the four PCIe slots, two DIMM slots, and the VRM plus PCH heatsinks. Overall I have to say I like it, though it’s obvious it may not be for everyone. The area around the PCB is pretty clean outside of some of the dark caps to the left of the socket, which should make for fairly easy insulating if you are taking the board cold. There is a lot going on in the upper right hand corner with all the voltage read points, DIP switches, and buttons that is for sure. We will look at that a bit later too.
Nothing of note on the backside really, and following that are a couple of different angles of the board.
A Closer Look
Now it is time to get a bit closer and see what is going on. As one can probably count there are 8 power phases for the CPU with two (not pictured) for the memory side of the house. Not exactly the most robust we have seen in overclocking type motherboards, but not as much is needed compared to a couple CPU generations ago. So, I am sure we will be fine, even under extreme cooling, clock speeds, and voltages. One can also see the 8-pin ATX and the additional 4-pin (needed only when going extreme cooling/voltages). Also seen in the picture below are a couple fan headers, the OPT fan header described earlier, and finally the extra 6-pin PCIe power connector for when you start adding GPUs.
On the bottom left hand side of the board is where we typically find the audio and always find the PCIe slots. The audio is handled by the Realtek ALC892 chip on this board, not the new 1150. The audio section is also not separated physically like some other boards do to improve the audio quality. But that is OK, this is made for overclockers, not for gaming. That said, the sound is more than adequate for most users I have to imagine. It is fine for me, I know that.
As we know from above, the Z87X-OC sports four PCIe slots for your multi-gpu pleasure. Just know that one can only use four AMD GPUs or two NVIDIA GPUs due to the electrical setup of the PCIe slots and NVIDIA’s requirements. There is not a PLX chip in use here, so some of the lanes come from the PCH in this configuration.
Speaking of the PCH area, there really isn’t much going on of note there. We can see the six SATA 3 ports, the two front USB ports, and two BIOS chips to the left of the heatsink.
Taking a look at the upper left hand side of the Z87X-OC, here we see the 4/8-pin ATX power plug and the additional 4-pin ATX for when you want to take the board cold and need the extra power. The eight phases for the CPU are hidden under the heatsink. Otherwise, not too much here either!
When checking out the top right side of the board, there is a lot going on there. This is where the DIMM slots are, but more importantly all of the hardwired overclocking goodies too! Things like the BCLK and multiplier buttons, BIOS switch, memory safe button, voltage read points, front panel USB3, and debug LED to name most. Speaking of the debug LED, that thing was placed quite poorly in my opinion. If you are working on the left side of the board, you cannot see it with a full length graphics card unless you are standing on top of it really. Same for being in front too, one has to almost look directly down at it to see it as the 24-pin ATX power lead gets in the way. Put that bad boy at the upper right or on the bottom of the board.
Overall there are a ton of features for overclocking hardwired in. This really helps when pushing the limit to get into the OS, and then use those buttons to push higher.
The next section will go over the I/O parts of the board. Starting on the bottom from left to right, we have the front panel audio, a fan header, COM ports, two USB2 ports, another fan header, a second front panel USB3 connector, another system fan header, and the front panel header for the power/reset/HDD activity LED.
Moving over to the SATA ports we see six SATA3 ports. No more, no less. Perfect for an overclocking board. Also worth noting again is the two USB2 ports next to the SATA ports that make for easy access when using an open air benching station. Very convenient to have these located where they are.
The rear I/O area has a pretty typical setup. Again from left to right, two USB2 ports, the overclock ignition button, two USB3 ports sitting on top of an HDMI port, optical out on top of a second HDMI port and DisplayPort. Next to that is a legacy PS/2 connector and the NIC, which is above four USB3 ports. Last, the audio jacks.
So now we get to take off the covers and see what is doing underneath the heatsinks. We can now more clearly see the eight phase CPU power and the IR chips that it is made out of. The controller is the IR 3563B while the MOSFETs are 3553M (40A). Seems pretty formidable, and it likely is. What I am a bit disappointed in however, is that the same higher quality parts found on the Z87X-OC Force didn’t make it down here. For example, the IR 3550 @ 60A nor the IR 3570A controller didn’t make the transition to this board. It shouldn’t make too much of a difference, but I would have liked to see those parts trickle down to its little brother and make the entire line more formidable.
Below is a list of some of the ICs that make this board go.
- ALC892 – Audio
- ITE IT8892E – PCIe to PCI bridge
- ITE IT8790E – Super I/O
- ITE IT8728F – Super I/O
- IR 3553M – Buck Gate Driver (40A)
- IR 3563B – Controller
UEFI BIOS, Overclocking Software
Below I have put together a slideshow of the sweet looking UEFI BIOS Gigabyte has implemented on this board. It has, by default, a black background with orange highlights just like the board. Overall the BIOS was fine, though I have to admit I found myself going back to the old school BIOS in the end as I was just a lot more familiar with where things are. With that being mentioned, this BIOS is highly customizable so you can put nearly any screen in any place to have easy access at your finger tips. A lot of companies are doing this now, so it is nice to see Gigabyte joining the bandwagon there.
As far as overclocking options go, there are PLENTY to get a novice or extreme overclocker on their way. About the only thing that was seemingly tricky or out of place, at least to me, was the on the fly overclocking the new UEFI BIOS provides. In order to get things to stick dynamically and be able to test out the clocks in the BIOS so to speak, you need to flip the ‘switch’ on the function to “On” instead of “Off” which requires one to hit apply to get the clocks to stick.
Next is Gigabyte’s EasyTune software which has a LONG overdue makeover with Z87 and this board. Like the new UEFI BIOS, the theme here is also the black on orange as well. Maneuvering through here was also quite painless with all the things most overclockers need at their finger tips. Fan, voltage, BCLK, and CPU multiplier controls all make an appearance.
Test Setup, Benchmarks, and Overclocking
Listed below is the test system used for benchmarking:
|CPU||Intel i7 4770K @ 3.9 GHz (Stock) and 4.9Ghz Overclocked|
|Motherboard||Gigabyte Z87X OC|
|RAM||2×4 GB Kingston HyperX Predator DDR3-2666 11-13-13-32|
|Graphics Card||MSI GTX 780 Lightning|
|Solid State Drive||256 GB Vertex 3|
|Power Supply||SeaSonic SS-1000XP (80+ Platinum)|
|Operating System||Windows 7 x64 SP1 (Fresh Install)|
Below are the stock and overclocked results for this setup. Like usual in my motherboard reviews, I have used AIDA64 (latest version), Maxmemm, SuperPi 1M/32M, Wprime 32M/1024M, Cinebench R10/R11.5, and Pifast. In most cases there are very few performance differences between motherboards, so we are going with simple screenshots of the results. Since I finally have a few boards to compare against, I have thrown together a couple of graphs at the end.
AIDA64/MaxxMem – Memory Bandwidth and Throughput
Cinebench R10 and R11.5 – CPU Rendering benchmark
Super Pi 1M and 32M / Pifast – Single threaded CPU benchmark
WPrime 32M and 1024M – Multi threaded CPU benchmark
Overall Performance (Compared to other boards)
So, the results up top really do not show much when they are not compared to anything really. Now that I have a large enough data set, I have put together a results graph using the five motherboards I have reviewed. To be honest, as expected, there really is not too much of a difference between boards here in this set of 2D benchmark testing. For the most part, all results were within 1-2% or so of each other, which a lot of times can be a variance between runs.
There really isn’t too much out of the ordinary here with the Gigabyte board, although the ASUS Z87-WS does show big difference in memory read performance in MaxxMem.
Pushing the Limits
As is the usual for this section, I managed to get back up to 5.1 GHz and I’m temperature limited here. The times shown are pretty good compared to the other boards actually. But, as expected, this board can handle these clocks and most certainly a lot more… I wish I had the time to put it under LN2 before publishing, but that just wasn’t the case.
Now we get to wrap this review up. All told, we have a very solid board made especially for the overclocking crowd. Now, there are other boards out there that lean in that direction, but this board seems to leave out some of the bells and whistles the other, more expensive boards offer. Things like dual NIC cards, or fancy audio codecs, are replaced with features an overclocker really wants. Things like the USB ports on the ‘front’ of the board allowing for easy access to them on an open air testing/benching environment, and the slew of buttons on the board that allow for BCLK and Multiplier adjustment among other things. I like that they did this, which kept the cost down just a bit for those not too concerned with having superior audio or NIC teaming on an ‘overclocking’ board. There are a lot of things to love on this board, especially for an extreme overclocker on a budget that doesn’t want to blow $250-$400 on a board, that is for sure.
There are a couple of things I took issue with on the board, and the first being the location of the LED debug display. As we can see it is placed just above the 24-pin ATX power lead. Being at the right or above, depending on board orientation, a full length video card in the top PCIe slot will severely hamper the viewing angle down to basically a ‘top down’ view. This is annoying for me, who for the most part sits down while using this board and testing. Obviously, with LN2/Dry Ice you will likely be standing, but the location could be better. The other issue is more of a ‘getting used to it’ issue than it is a problem. But in the BIOS, as I mentioned above, I found myself going back to the old school BIOS rather than using the new UEFI BIOS. I occasionally found minor bouts of instability with the new BIOS when trying to apply settings on the fly, while the other allowed me to boot right into them. I know there are several BIOS’ out for this board, both approved and at the Gigabyte website, or 3rd party (our own sno.lcn posted an overview of the Gigabyte Z87X-OC and links to beta BIOS’).
So what is the price? At Newegg.com we are looking at $199.99 (there is a MIR currently taking it down to $180). Compare this to the ASRock OCFormula at $264.99, or the MPower Max at $239 and you have some decisions to make. I really think for a pure overclocking board, I would go with the Gigabyte over the others as I am not using some of the features they offer at the price premium. With that said, Gigabyte has listened to the overclocker and implemented a lot of great features on this board. And without hesitation, this board is Overclockers.com approved!
– Joe Shields (Earthdog)