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GIGABYTE Z170X Gaming 7 LGA 1151 Motherboard Review

GIGABYTE's G1 series represents the pinnacle of GIGABYTE's engineering prowess and is targeted squarely at the gamer and overclocking enthusiasts alike. To that end the Z170X Gaming 7 offers almost everything a gamer could want and more. The G1 series gets a new look and evolves in some unexpected ways.

Introduction

GIGABYTE is the world’s largest motherboard manufacturer in terms of sales as of Q1 2015. The company was founded in 1986 and has over 7,000 employees. While generally known for motherboards GIGABYTE has a vast product portfolio including tablets, laptops, desktop PCs, graphics cards, peripherals, and other various PC components. GIGABYTE got to where it is today by building quality motherboards in a large array of price points with features specifically targeting certain types of users and markets. The G1 Gaming series is an example of one such market specific offering. As the name implies The G series from GIGABYTE has a different aesthetic design than standard GIGABYTE motherboards do. The lineup also offers more gaming oriented features. Features like Creative Labs based audio and Killer Network controllers help to differentiate the G1 series from the rest of GIGABYTE’s more contemporary offerings.

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The GIGABYTE Z170X-Gaming 7 is based on Intel’s Z170 Express chipset and is part of the GIGABYTE G1 line of gaming motherboards. The chipset sports a few improvements over the Z97 lineup giving motherboards that use it a stronger feature set. Among those features are 20 PCIe 3.0 lanes, DMI 3.0, and DDR4 memory support. While the chipset itself doesn’t actually support USB 3.1, the Intel Alpine Ridge controller does. This controller can be added onto the Z170 Express based motherboards giving them full USB 3.1 capabilities. The chipset also provides SATA Express support as well as support for up to 10x SATA 6Gb/s ports.

While the motherboard is aimed at gamers primarily overclocking is an aspect of the design GIGABYTE focused on. The Z170X-Gaming 7 features an all-digital 16+4+2 phase power system for maximum stability and overclocking potential. International Rectifier’s PoweIRstage ICs and durable black solid state electrolytic capacitors with a low ESR rating and a 10k hour lifespan. There are other improvements ranging from technical to aesthetic as well.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

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The packaging features the "Heroes of the Storm" and "Blizzcon" logos. The packaging aside from that is your standard everyday motherboard box. Inside you’ll find the following accessories: User manual, door hanger, driver disc, multilingual installation guide, SATA cables, thermal probes, SLI bridge, port covers, and an I/O shield. Our sample arrived intact and with all accessories accounted for.

Board Layout

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The Z170X Gaming 7 is a visually stunning motherboard with a striking appearance. The black / white color scheme seems vaguely familiar and it should as this was first seen on the X99 Deluxe from ASUS and that color scheme became the basis for all current ASUS motherboards outside the ROG line. We saw GIGABYTE copy the ROG line last generation making its motherboards red and black in the same way ASUS had done a decade earlier. Fortunately, GIGABYTE decided to give the G1 family a slightly different look and incorporated red "racing" stripes into the design to differentiate its motherboards from its competitors. Still the similarities between this motherboard and the ASUS Z170 Deluxe is undeniable. They have the same sort of plastic shroud around the I/O area and a similar color scheme. At a glance, one might not know these motherboards come from different manufacturers. Of course under the hood they share very little in common outside of what must be common by necessity.

There are five fan headers on the Z170X-Gaming 7. The white colored CPU_OPT header is also designed for use with water pumps. GIGABYTE has also included multiple USB headers, COM port header, thermal sensor header, TPM header, and more. Due to the gaming and overclocking focus the Z170X Gaming 7 features onboard reset, clear CMOS, and power button.

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The CPU socket area is free of major obstructions. The MOSFET cooling hardware is large but doesn’t interfere with the installation of larger CPU coolers. My only gripe here is that the second M.2 slot is very close to the CPU socket. While I don’t think it would create issues with the installation of any CPU cooler, any drive installed here will be exposed to an unnecessary amount of heat. This can cause potential performance issues with an M.2 device. This layout also precludes the possibility of linking the MOSFET and chipset cooling via a shared heat pipe. Fortunately, it isn’t necessary for this application. There is no PLX chip in need of the extra cooling.

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There are four 288-pin DDR4 DIMM slots. These support up to 64GB of memory at speeds up to 3866MHz through overclocking. So far that’s the highest claimed "rated" speed I’ve seen from a motherboard manufacturer. The memory slots are color coded red and black to denote proper dual channel memory mode operation. The slots use a single locking tab on the motherboard’s outer edge. The memory banks have two dedicated power phases for stability.

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The chipset is cooled with a passive heat sink. The design features black, white and red coloring with some silver accents to match the rest of the motherboard color scheme. What’s interesting is that the heat sink is actually open-ended and hollow. In front of the chipset you will find 8x SATA 6Gb/s ports and three SATA Express ports. Just to the left of the heat sink there are front panel headers and a fan header. USB headers are found further up on the trailing edge of the motherboard just underneath the expansion slot area. These are clearly marked marking them very easy to use provided your case had cables long enough to reach these ports.

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The expansion slot is actually interesting. There are 3x PCIe x16 slots supporting configurations of 16x0, 8x8 or 8x8x4. There are additionally three PCIe x1 slots. The PCIe x16 slots are also reinforced with a metal bracket. This is likely a forward thinking move on the part of some manufacturers to compensate for the ever increasing weight of graphics cards. Cards with self-contained water cooling units are becoming more popular and may one day be the standard. You will also find two M.2 slots in the expansion slot area. One of them is close to the CPU while the other resides just above the second PCIe x16 slot. There would be some slight overlap of the primary GPU over the SSD, but fortunately I think there would be enough breathing room to avoid any major heat issues. In this area you will also find a replaceable OP-AMP for the onboard audio.

The expansion slot area is packed full of connectivity options. You have a single PS/2 mouse and keyboard combination port, 1x HDMI port, 1x DisplayPort, 5x USB 3.0 ports, 1x USB 3.1 type-A port, 1x type-C port, 2x RJ-45 ports, 5x gold plated mini-stereo jacks, 1x optical output. Two of the USB 3.0 ports are DAC-UP ports which are designed for external USB DACs. These ports have isolated power to eliminate electrical noise.