The Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 7 is a top mid-range socket LGA1151 motherboard based on the new Intel Z170 chipset, supporting the sixth generation Core i processors. It brings high-end network and audio interfaces, three PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots, eight SATA-600 ports (allowing three SATA Express connections), nine 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, that goes 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 Z170X-Gaming 7 motherboard in Figure 1. It uses the ATX form factor, measuring 12” x 9.6” (305 x 244 mm).
The Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 7 comes with three PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots and three PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots. There are also two M.2 slots 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, and it shares its lanes with the second M.2 slot. So, if the second M.2 slot is used by a PCI Express SSD, this third PCI Express 3.0 x16 slot will be disabled.
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, and also improving mechanical strength of each slot.
[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 Z170X-Gaming 7 supports DDR4 memories up to 3,866 MHz.
The Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 7 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 Z170X-Gaming 7, 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.
[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). Two of those ports are shared with the M.2 slots. The Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 7 comes with two additional SATA-600 ports, controlled by one ASMedia ASM1061 chip. 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 a SATA Express port, except for the ports on the top right, which are controlled by the ASMedia chip.
The Intel Z170 chipset supports four USB 2.0 ports and ten USB 3.0 ports. The Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 7 offers four USB 2.0 ports, available through two headers located on the motherboard. There are nine USB 3.0 ports, all of them controlled by the chipset, being five 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 Z170X-Gaming 7 does not support FireWire or Thunderbolt ports.
One of the highlights of this motherboard is the professional-grade onboard audio, generated by a Creative Sound Core 3D chip (5.1 channels, 24 bit sampling, 102 dBA SNR at the analog outputs and 101 dBA SNR at the analog inputs). This chip is covered by a gold-plated shield, which helps to reduce induced noise. All the audio section is physically separated from the other circuitry by a line that glows in red (there are some LEDs at the solder side of the board, near the semi-transparent line). All the capacitors on this circuit are bi-polarized audio models from the Japanese manufacturer Nichicon. The analog audio outputs are independent and gold-plated, and the motherboard also comes with an on-board optical SPDIF output.
The operational amplifier (op-amp) of the analog audio section is replaceable. You can use the Burr-Brown OPA2134PA op-amp that comes with the board, or buy a kit with a different amplifier and an IC extraction tool, to adjust the audio nuances to your personal taste. There is also a small switch that allows you to set the gain of the main audio output.
Figure 5 shows the audio section of the motherboard, without the plastic cover that protects it.
The portrayed motherboard has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, one controlled by an Intel I219V chip and the other one controlled by an Atheros Killer 2400 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, DisplayPort output, HDMI output, three USB 3.0 ports, one USB 3.1 Type C port, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, one USB 3.1 Type A port (red), optical SPDIF output, and the analog audio jacks.
[nextpage title=”Other Features”]
This motherboard comes with a POST diagnostics display, so you can see, through a two-digit code, which component is preventing your computer from turning on. There are also a clear CMOS, reset, and power buttons, a button that improves system performance (OC) and another one that reduces power consumption (ECO). The motherboard also brings voltage monitoring points.
The Z170X-Gaming 7 has two BIOS chips, selectable by a switch. Besides that, it has multicolor LED lights on the audio section, white plastic parts, and on the rear panel shield. You can configure the color of those LEDs by a software that comes with the motherboard.
In Figure 8, you can see the accessories that come with the Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 7.
[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 7 has 11 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.
The Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 7 uses high-end “black” solid capacitors (a.k.a. 10K capacitors) and all coils on this motherboard are ferrite ones.
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 Z170X-Gaming 7 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; and two SATA-600 ports controlled by an ASMedia ASM1061 chip
- External SATA: none
- USB 2.0: four USB 2.0 ports, available through two headers on the motherboard
- USB 3.0: nine USB 3.0 ports, five 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 DisplayPort and one HDMI connectors
- On-board audio: produced by a Creative Sound Core 3D chip (5.1 channels, 24-bit resolution, 102 dB SNR for the outputs, and 101 dB SNR for the inputs), on-board optical SPDIF output, and audio amplifier for analog headphones with replaceable operational amplifier (OPA2134PA)
- On-board LAN: two Gigabit Ethernet ports, one controlled by an Intel I219V chip, and one 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), three PCI Express 3.0 x1 slots, and two M.2 slots compatible with PCI Express 3.0 x4 and SATA-600 SSDs
- Memory: four DDR4-DIMM sockets (up to DDR3-3866, 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, POST diagnostics display, voltage monitoring points, power and reset buttons, selectable color LED lights
- 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 220.00
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.
The Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 7 is a very complete motherboard, targeted to the enthusiast that is building a gamer computer or workstation, using a sixth generation (“Skylake”) Core i3, Core i5, or Core i7 CPU, but do not want to spend a small fortune on a high-end motherboard.
Actually, offering a high-end audio interface, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, nine USB 3.0 ports, two USB 3.1 ports, eight SATA-600 ports (supporting up to three SATA Express connectors), and two M.2 slots (accepting both SATA-600 and PCI Express 3.0 x4 SSDs), the only thing that lacks on the Z170X-Gaming 7 to call it a high-end motherboard is a slot configuration that could support SLI with three or four video cards and Crossfire with four video cards.
So, if you are building a desktop computer based on a sixth generation Intel Core i CPU, and want a high-end sound, want to use two M.2 SSDs, and don’t intend to install more than two video cards, the Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 7 is an excellent motherboard.