[section_title title=”Introduction & Closer Look”]
Introduction & Closer Look
The GIGABYTE Z170X-GAMING 7 is our next motherboard that is on the test bench for scrutiny, and it is going up against some pretty stiff competition. It is currently priced at a relative point to the GAMING M7 from MSI and the Maximus VIII Hero from ASUS. GIGABYTE have yet again changed their colour scheme on their motherboards. The theme that they appear to be going with on the Z170 products is that of a racing origin, which is immediately obvious when you see the F1 car on the front of the box. If you read my Maximus VIII Hero (or Gavin’s Formula and Hero Alpha reviews) review, then you probably could’ve picked up that the design was one of my favourites. The GIGABYTE board may have just taken that title for its aesthetic beauty. However, that’s not the only why we are taking a look at the board; we want to know how it performs! So without stringing you along any further, let’s get right into the good stuff and take a look at this GAMING 7 to see what it has to offer.
On the motherboard, we have dual Ethernet connectors, one of which is powered by the Intel controller and the other by the Killer E2400 networking chip. Unfortunately, teaming is not supported, but that is understandable as they are two separated networking chips at the end of the day. The soundcard on this motherboard is something that GIGABYTE is quite keen to show off, as one of its key features is that it has the ability to change amplifiers for the cost of about £1 ($1.50) a pop. Therefore, you can find one of them that you really like and it won’t cost you the earth to get it. I’ve got it on good authority that the chip included is something that is well balanced, so for most of us, we won’t need to change it.
Right from the get-go, you can see that the motherboard is built upon a black PCB and has some very striking and crisp white accents, with a bit of red thrown into the mix. It’s something very different from what we have seen in the past, and I really do like it a lot. Aside from the striking aesthetics, we can immediately spot the shielded PCI-E lanes which offer both SLI and CrossFire support. There are two PCI-E M.2 ports on the GAMING 7 and a whole host of other goodies like the audio controller which is customisable – I’ll cover this in a bit more detail when we get there.
Power delivery for the CPU is taken care of by an eleven phase system. The power is provided by a single 8-pin EPS connector, which also has one system fan header right next to it that is PWM based. They are a little difficult to spot underneath the massive heatsink and shroud, but that’s exactly why I remove these to give you a fully blown view of the circuitry. As there are eleven chokes (the square blocks), there should be more than enough to keep any air or water cooled system stable at some silly voltages. Granted I do not recommend this as it will shorten your CPUs lifespan for no massive gain, it’s good to know that under normal usage conditions, the board is more than up to the task. If I were to wave my magic wand and have a guess as to how they are set up, I’d have to say that there are eight phases for the CPU and the cache, two for the GPU and one for the memory controller as well as the other bits of hardware located within the CPU.
The heatsinks and the cover for the IO looks impressive all by itself, never mind on the motherboard.
The DIMM area looks rather crowded, doesn’t it? There’s a number of buttons that surround the LED debugger, and there’s also two USB 3.0 headers which can give you up to four USB 3.0 ports for front panel connections. These buttons come in rather handy when you’re overclocking. The big red one is quite clearly the on/off button. The black and white buttons are for restarting the system and resetting CMOS. There are also two more buttons that have OC and ECO written on them, both of which do as you’d expect. The OC button overclocks your CPU automatically and the ECO button optimises your system for maximum power savings to bring your bills and heat of the machine down to a minimum. The two CPU fan headers are located between the top of the DIMM slots and the upper VRM heatsink – the one in white is the main one and the black one is the optional port for things like a pump or just a secondary fan for those apartment sized heatsinks that we all know and love.
While we are up in this area of the board, it’s probably best to take a look at the overclocker features that are targeted at power users and/or extreme overclockers. Aside from the buttons that I just covered, there are also some solder points on the motherboard which allow you to monitor the voltage with greater precision and real-time monitoring too. Unfortunately, when you solder anything to the motherboard, it is my belief that your warranty is instantly void as they will assume that you’ve used the board for some pretty insane stuff. It would have been nice to see would be those removable connectors, where you can just plug in a connector and remove it whenever you would like to. As an overclocker, we typically aren’t worried about warranty anyway as we are well aware of the dangers. The solder points work just as well in all honesty, it’s just a personal preference at the end of the day.
SATA ports, you ask? Of course, eight of them coming straight up! Three of the six ports are capable of SATAe, and although it is a dead horse before it even left the gate, it is still imperative to have the connections available as other vendors have them, you cannot be the only one out. Three SATAe ports is a new one for me, though. I didn’t expect to see so many on a motherboard at this price point. It is worth noting that when the M.2 ports will disable certain SATA ports when they are in use. If you wish to use the M2D-32G port, the one closest to the CPU socket, you will lose SATA2 and SATA 3 when you are using anything but a SATA SSD. You will however lose the ability to use the PCI-E M.2 SSD in x2 mode rather than x4. However, should you decide to shove it in the slot below – M2H_G32 – then you will be able to use all but one SATA port on the motherboard and it will also run at full speed.
The PCI-E area is somewhat important, and it is great to see that the spacing between the two primary PCI-E x16 lanes (x8/x8 when both in use) are spaced apart perfectly for dual GPU systems. There’s a two slot gap between the two slots, which means that the dual graphics cards will have one full slot of room to breathe, aiding the cooling performance if you stick to the standard air cooler on your GPUs. It also allows for those massive triple slot coolers to fit with ease, but they aren’t all too common now due to the advancements and energy improvements to graphics chips. It’s also good to see that GIGABYTE recognises that people do still require at least one (or two with dual slot GPU coolers) PCI-E x1 lane for a soundcard, a Wi-Fi module or anything else that may go into the PCI-E x1 slot. As I mentioned in the SATA section just above, there are two PCI-E M.2 slots on the GAMING 7 which operate at 32 Gbps thanks to the fact that they use PCI-E lanes directly from the CPU; this will give you the very best performance for your PCI-E M.2 solid state drive. The sound isolation line does light up like on most other motherboards, and you are also able to change the colours with some software from GIGABYTE. I didn’t mess with it too much, but it works. The red line and glow just suits this board the best, for aesthetic reasons that are quite apparent.
The sound chip on this motherboard – Sound Core 3D – is something quite unique in the sense that you are able to change the amplifier at your own accord. Everyone has their own preference when you’re discussing sound, so it is nice to see that you can get something that is tuned to your exact taste. It’s easy enough to replace the amp, it’s just a simple bit of silicone that looks somewhat like a BIOS chip from yesteryear.
A gaming motherboard needs a gamer orientated amount of connectivity options, so there they are. Going from left to right, we have a PS/2 combo port for a mouse or keyboard, two USB 3.0 ports and a pair of display outputs that consist of a DisplayPort as well as an HDMI port that is fully HDCP compliant. Two more USB 3.0 ports are next on the list, followed by the Killer controlled Ethernet port and the USB 3.1 Type-C connector. Two stacks remain and they consist of the Intel controlled Ethernet port, two USB ports, the top one being USB 3.0 and the bottom being USB 3.1, and lastly we have the audio connections that also include an Optical S/PDIF port.
Unfortunately, due to this motherboard having done the rounds to various sites around the UK in the past, some of the accessories appear to be missing. As such, I’ve decided that it is best to not show what we have. For this unusual circumstance, I will just be listing the included accessories.
GA-Z170X-Gaming 7 motherboard
Motherboard driver disk
Quick Installation Guide
Four SATA cables
One 2-Way SLI bridge connector
One G Connector
One pack of back I/O dust covers