The Gigabyte Z170MX-Gaming 5 is a mid-range microATX socket LGA1151 motherboard based on the Intel Z170 chipset, supporting the sixth generation Core i “Skylake” processors. It brings high-end network and audio interfaces, three PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots, six SATA-600 ports (allowing three SATA Express connections), seven USB 3.0 ports, and two USB 3.1 ports (one of them Type C). Let’s take a good look at it!
The new Intel Z170 chipset was launched with the LGA1151 socket, targeted to the sixth generation Core i “Skylake” CPUs. The main difference between LGA1151 and LGA1150 platforms is the compatibility with DDR4 memories.
The Z170 chipset is the first model to be launch on the new 100-series and it is also the higher-end chipset on this family. The main differences between the Z170 and its predecessor, the Z97, are the DMI 3.0 bus to communicate with the processor (it offers twice the bandwidth going from 2 GB/s per direction to 4 GB/s), the presence of ten USB 3.0 ports (against six on the Z97), and the support to 20 PCI Express 2.0 lanes controlled by the chipset (Z97 has only eight PCI Express 2.0 lanes).
Like the Z97, the Z170 supports six SATA-600 ports, Smart Response (installing an SSD as a cache for the main hard drive), Smart Connect (allowing the computer to receive emails and refresh webpages while in sleep mode), and Rapid Start (faster boot times) technologies.
You can see the Gigabyte Z170MX-Gaming 5 motherboard in Figure 1. It uses the microATX form factor, measuring 9.6” x 9.6” (244 x 244 mm).
Figure 1: Gigabyte Z170MX-Gaming 5 motherboard
The Gigabyte Z170MX-Gaming 5 comes with three PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots and one PCI Express 3.0 x1 slot. There is also an M.2 slot supporting both PCI Express 3.0 x4 and SATA-600.
The two first PCI Express x16 slots work on x16/x0 and x8/x8 configurations, which means the first slot work at x16 if the second one is unused, but it it is occupied, they will both work at x8. The third PCI Express 3.0 x16 slot works always at x4 speed.
The motherboard supports CrossFire with up to three video cards and SLI with two video cards.
The PCI Express x16 slots are covered by stainless steel shields that work as a shield against interference, while also improving mechanical strength of each slot.
Figure 2: slots
[nextpage title=”Memory Support”]
Intel socket LGA1151 CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor, not the chipset, that defines what memory technologies you can have and the maximum amount of memory that is possible. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.
These CPUs are compatible with both DDR3L (up to 1,600 MHz) and DDR4 (up to 2,133 MHz) memory. So, it is the motherboard that defines which memory type (DDR3 or DDR4) can be installed, since DDR4 slots are physically different from the DDR3 slots. According to Gigabyte, the Z170MX-Gaming 5 supports DDR4 memories up to 3,466 MHz.
The Gigabyte Z170MX-Gaming 5 has four memory sockets. You can install up to 64 GiB with this motherboard if you use four 16 GiB modules.
In order to enable the dual-channel mode, you must install two or four memory modules. On the Gigabyte Z170MX-Gaming 5, the first and third memory sockets are black, while the second and fourth are red. When installing two memory modules, use two sockets with the same color.
Figure 3: memory sockets; install two or four modules for the best performance
[nextpage title=”On Board Peripherals”]
The Intel Z170 chipset is a single-chip solution, which is also known as a PCH (Platform Controller Hub). This chip has six SATA-600 ports, supporting RAID (0, 1, 10, and 5). One of those ports is shared with the M.2 slot. The SATA ports are installed on the motherboard edge and rotated 90°, so the installation of video cards will not block them.
Notice that the SATA-600 ports are grouped in pairs and each pair can be used as two independent SATA ports or as a SATA Express port.
Figure 4: the six SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset
The Intel Z170 chipset supports four USB 2.0 ports and ten USB 3.0 ports. The Gigabyte Z170MX-Gaming 5 offers six USB 2.0 ports, two on the rear panel and four available through two headers located on the motherboard. There are seven USB 3.0 ports, all of them controlled by the chipset, being three of them at the rear panel, and four available through two headers. There are also two USB 3.1 ports, one Type A and one Type C, controlled by an Intel “Alpine Ridge” DSL6540 chip.
Gigabyte claims that the two USB3.0 ports (yellow ones) on the rear panel provide a low-noise power, for use with audio and other DAC interfaces.
The Gigabyte Z170MX-Gaming 5 does not support FireWire or Thunderbolt ports.
This motherboard supports 7.1 audio format, or eight channels. On this motherboard, the audio is generated by the chipset using the Realtek ALC1150 codec, which is an excellent audio codec, providing 115 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog outputs, 104 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs, and up to 192 kHz sampling rate for both inputs and outputs with 24-bit resolution. These specifications are good even for the user who wants to work professionally by capturing and editing analog audio.
The analog audio connections are independent if you use up to 5.1 analog speakers and there is an optical SPDIF output on the rear panel. There is a connector where you can install an SPDIF coaxial output.
The analog audio section of the motherboard also uses a replaceable Burr-Brown OPA2134PA operational amplifier (op-amp) from Texas Instruments and a set of switches that control the gain of the headset output.
Figure 5 shows the audio section of the motherboard.
Figure 5: audio section
The motherboard has one Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by an Atheros Killer 2201 chip, which is a high-performance Gigabit Ethernet controller.
In Figure 8, you can see the motherboard rear panel with a shared PS/2 keyboard/mouse connector, two USB 3.0 ports low-noise ports, VGA output, DVI-D output, one USB 3.1 Type C port, one USB 3.0 port, one USB 3.1 Type A port (red), HDMI output, two USB 3.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, optical SPDIF output, and the analog audio jacks.
Figure 6: motherboard rear panel
In Figure 7, you can see the accessories that come with the Gigabyte Z170MX-Gaming 5.
Figure 7: accessories
[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the Gigabyte Z170MX-Gaming 5 has seven phases for the CPU. The voltage regulator uses an Intersil ISL95856 controller chip (digital design). Each phase uses two MOSFETs, but we were not able to identify the models by their codes.
Figure 8: voltage regulator circuit
The Gigabyte Z170MX-Gaming 5 uses solid capacitors and all the coils on this motherboard are ferrite.
If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on the subject.
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The main specifications for the Gigabyte Z170MX-Gaming 5 include:
- Socket: LGA1150
- Chipset: Intel Z170
- Super I/O: ITE IT8628E
- Parallel ATA: none
- Serial ATA: six SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset (RAID 0, 1, 10, and 5) supporting one SATA Express connector
- External SATA: none
- USB 2.0: six USB 2.0 ports, two on the rear panel and four available through two headers on the motherboard
- USB 3.0: seven USB 3.0 ports, three on the motherboard rear panel and four available through two headers, controlled by the chipset
- USB 3.1: two USB 3.1 ports, one Type A and one Type C, controlled by an Intel DSL6540 chip
- FireWire (IEEE 1394): none
- Thunderbolt: none
- On-board video: controlled by the CPU; one VGA, one DVI-D, and one HDMI connectors
- On-board audio: produced by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC1150 codec (7.1+2 channels, 24-bit resolution, 192 kHz sampling rate, 115 dB SNR for the outputs, and 104 dB SNR for the inputs), on-board optical SPDIF output, and audio amplifier for analog headphones with replaceable operational amplifier (OPA2134PA)
- On-board LAN: one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by an Atheros Killer E2400 chip
- Buzzer: no
- Infrared interface: no
- Power supply required: EPS12V
- Slots: two PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots (working at x16/x0 or x8/x8), one PCI Express 3.0 x16 slot (working at x4), one PCI Express 3.0 x1 slot, and one M.2 slot compatible with PCI Express 3.0 x4 and SATA-600 SSDs
- Memory: four DDR4-DIMM sockets (up to DDR3-3466, 64 GiB maximum)
- Fan connectors: two four-pin connector for the CPU cooler, and three four-pin connector for auxiliary fans
- Extra features: two BIOS chips
- Number of CDs/DVDs provided: one
- Programs included: motherboard utilities and drivers
- More Information: http://www.gigabyte.com
- Average Price in the U.S.*: USD 150.00
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.
When we analyzed the Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 7, we concluded that it was a very resourceful motherboard for anybody building a workstation or gamer computer using a sixth generation Core i3, Core i5, or Core i7 processor.
The Gigabyte Z170MX-Gaming 5, on the other hand, is its budget version. Besides being smaller (because it uses the microATX form factor) and less expensive, it keeps most of the excellent characteristics of the Z170X-Gaming 7, such as the support to SLI (with two video cards) or CrossFire (with three video cards), the USB 3.1 ports, and the high-end audio and Ethernet interfaces. The main differences between the Z170MX-Gaming 5 and the most expensive model are the simpler voltage regulator and the absence of the second M.2 slot.
So, if you are building a desktop computer based on a sixth generation Intel Core i CPU, and you don’t intend to install more than two video cards, the Gigabyte Z170MX-Gaming 5 is an excellent cost/benefit ratio motherboard.