Introduction & Closer Look
The Z170-Gaming K3 is a newly released budget motherboard for the Intel Z170 platform which is aimed specifically at those who want to build a Skylake rig but cannot afford the more expensive options. The K3 is centred on a budget-friendly mind set, but that does not mean that it comes severely compromised in order to hit tight budget requirements. It also comes with that GIGABYTE brand that people have become familiar with, one which you can trust and one which will also be there for you should things go wrong. The K3 promised to bring us Skylake at a budget of less than £100 for the board; but does that mean that it will perform like a low-budget board or is there some fight within it? Let’s take a look at the K3 in a little more detail before we venture on to the testing.
Upon a first glance over the motherboard, it would appear to be pretty basic to the majority of you, and that is okay. The thing which you should focus upon is that there are still some of the key features there which make the Z170 platform a true corker for speed – such as the PCI-E M.2 slot which can take full advantage of the latest M.2 drives that boast speeds of over 2000 MBps. While I cannot personally see the logic in pairing an expensive M.2 SSD with a budget motherboard, I am sure that I am not the only one that doesn’t see an issue with this, and I am sure that there are plenty of people out there who have actually done just that. The LAN controller of choice for this motherboard is the Killer E2201 which is a little surprising as you typically find the standard Intel controllers on budget boards. Seeing that GIGABYTE have gone with a custom controller over the standard Intel one does baffle me somewhat, but I am sure that they have a good reason behind this.
Being a budget orientated board, you’d expect it to be missing things such as a heatsink on the VRM circuitry or the lack of features that a chipset typically provides. However, with this being a Z170 based motherboard, users are more than likely to purchase a CPU with some form of overclocking in mind. While this is not strictly true for all users, it is important to cater for those whom intend to use the feature set of the Z170 motherboards to its fullest. While it is not officially supported, and actually frowned upon (or so it seems), you can overclock locked CPUs with special BIOS files that have the bugged microcode that Intel leaked by accident. This is done purely at your own risk, and the risks are detailed within the linked article; but feel free to check it out if you are interested. For now, though, let’s get a little closer to the motherboard to see what the Gaming K3 has to offer to the consumer.
The Gaming K3 comes with seven power phases overall for the CPU, which is more than enough for your typical gamer and budget conscious builder. It’s most likely that two of the phases are used for the iGPU (integrated graphics), one for the IMC and other miscellaneous components within the CPU, and the remaining four are used for the CPU cores.
As with any ATX motherboard you may find on the market today, you’d expect to see four DIMM slots, with the obvious exception to the (seriously cool) overclocker boards such as the LN2 variant from GIGABYTE on the mainstream platforms (Z**) or the SOC Champion on the enthusiast platform (X99). There are no fancy options such as voltage read points, LED debugger or anything of that nature, which is entirely understandable as they do nothing but add cost. They are nice features to have, sure, but for the cost it is quite difficult to justify adding them in as you’d then be encroaching on your next line up in the chain. No complaints from me in this area, as there is still a basic debugging tool which can be used to narrow down your problems by giving you a rough idea on the POST error(s). In the shot you can also see some of these weird looking lines on the right hand side of the motherboard. They are for the LED lighting, just like with most motherboards today ranging from anywhere as low as £30 right the way up to the top-tier mark. They are controllable, which is seemingly something many of us want in our systems of today.
There are SATA ports, of course! Perhaps a little low on the port count, but they are all coming from the PCH, which means no added expense. They are all capable of running various forms of RAID (check the specs on the following page) which is a native feature of the chipset, but it is worth mentioning for those wanting to get a little more speed out of their drives without diving into some crazy M.2 PCI-E market. However, with that said, there is an M.2 PCI-E port included which although not visible on this shot, it is on the next.
Due to the way that this motherboard is wired internally, you cannot use SLI as the secondary slot does not run faster than x4 when the two slots are populated. The minimum requirement for SLI is x8/x8 (software dictates it will not run on less than x4) which rules this motherboard out for dual graphics cards, unless you are a happy camper in the AMD side of the reserve. There is no minimum requirement bar running at x4 or more as far as I am aware (please enlighten me if I am wrong here, guys and gals.) Furthermore, in this shot, you can also see various headers for USB ports and other things such as the onboard audio headers. Let’s not forget the M.2 PCI-E lane either, as that is an absolute key factor of the Z170 platform as it is a native feature that should be implemented wherever possible. While most of you probably think along the same (or at least similar) wavelength as I do and agree that multiple GPUs may not be on the cards, pardon the pun, for many of the adopters of this motherboard, there will always be someone who disagrees. Would you run dual graphics cards on it based purely on the limitations of the lanes?
Last but as always, not least, we have the IO of the Gaming K3. What we have here is a fairly large array of connections. We have a legacy PS/2 port which can be used for either a keyboard or a mouse, two USB 3.0 ports beneath it and a DVI-I port next to those. Two red USB 3.1 Type-A ports are next on the list and a HDMI port is then followed up with the LAN port (powered by the Killer E2200 chipset), another two USB 3.0 ports, and finally we also have the audio connectors. There is no optical S/PDIF connection on the Gaming K3, but I can’t imagine that too many people in this price range would be using the connection anyway.
Accessories are where we make the final stop of the introduction to the Gaming K3. I know, I know, it is the same routine every single time, but we’ve become accustomed to such a style and we hope that it is useful to you, our avid fans, that it remains in this format. Anyway, that’s a discussion for another day. What we have in the box besides the Gaming K3 are the following bits and bobs:
- Four SATA cables
- Motherboard driver disk
- I/O Shield
- User’s Manual
- One G Connector
- Quick Installation Guide