With the launch of Intel’s latest chipset and the i7-6700 CPU it’s no surprise that they brought along with them a long list of new motherboards from every manufacture. At the launch I took a look at one of MSIs boards. After the launch though we jumped into GPU mode and covered the latest budget cards. Past that I slipped in a vacation and then of course our 17th LAN event. With all of that past us I can finally revisit Z170 and take a look at the Gigabyte GA-Z170X Gaming 7. I’m excited to see what Gigabyte has packed into the board as far as features go and to find out how it compares to the MSI. So today I’m going to dig through the Gaming 7s features then put it to the test, let’s get to it!
Product Name: Gigabyte GA-Z170X-Gaming-7
Review Sample Provided by: Gigabyte
Written by: Wes
Pictures by: Wes
Amazon Link: HERE
Support for Intel® Core™ i7 processors/Intel® Core™ i5 processors/ Intel® Core™ i3 processors/Intel® Pentium® processors/ Intel® Celeron® processors in the LGA1151 package
L3 cache varies with CPU
|Chipset||Intel® Z170 Express Chipset|
4 x DDR4 DIMM sockets supporting up to 64 GB of system memory
* Due to a Windows 32-bit operating system limitation, when more than 4 GB of physical memory is installed, the actual memory size displayed will be less than the size of the physical memory installed.
Dual channel memory architecture
Support for DDR4 3666(O.C) /3600(O.C.) /3466(O.C.) /3400(O.C.) /3333(O.C.) /3300(O.C.) /3200(O.C.) /3000(O.C.) /2800(O.C.) /2666(O.C.) /2400(O.C.) /2133 MHz memory modules
Support for ECC UDIMM 1Rx8/2Rx8 memory modules (operate in non-ECC mode)
Support for non-ECC UDIMM 1Rx8/2Rx8/1Rx16 memory modules
Support for Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) memory modules
Integrated Graphics Processor-Intel® HD Graphics support:
* Support for DisplayPort 1.2 version.
Integrated Graphics Processor+MegaChips MCDP2800 chip:
1 x HDMI port
* HDMI feature is currently limited. Visit GIGABYTE website for future updates.
Maximum shared memory of 512 MB
Creative® Sound Core 3D chip
Support for Sound Blaster Recon3Di
TI Burr Brown® OPA2134 operational amplifier
High Definition Audio
Support for S/PDIF Out
1 x Intel® GbE LAN chip (10/100/1000 Mbit)(LAN1)
1 x Qualcomm® Atheros Killer E2400 chip (10/100/1000 Mbit) (LAN2)
* Teaming is not supported.
1 x PCI Express x16 slot, running at x16 (PCIEX16)
* For optimum performance, if only one PCI Express graphics card is to be installed, be sure to install it in the PCIEX16 slot.
1 x PCI Express x16 slot, running at x8 (PCIEX8)
* The PCIEX8 slot shares bandwidth with the PCIEX16 slot. When the PCIEX8 slot is populated, the PCIEX16 slot will operate at up to x8 mode.
1 x PCI Express x16 slot, running at x4 (PCIEX4)
* The PCIEX4 slot shares bandwidth with the M2H_32G connector. The PCIEX4 slot will become unavailable when an SSD is installed in the M2H_32G connector.
3 x PCI Express x1 slots
(All of the PCI Express slots conform to PCI Express 3.0 standard.)
|Multi-Graphics Technology||Support for 3-Way/2-Way AMD CrossFire™ and 2-Way NVIDIA® SLI™ Technology|
2 x M.2 Socket 3 connectors
3 x SATA Express connectors
6 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors (SATA3 0~5)
Support for RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, and RAID 10
* Refer to "1-10 Internal Connectors," for the supported configurations with the M.2, SATA Express, and SATA connectors.
ASMedia® ASM1061 chip:
2 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors (SATA3 6~7), supporting AHCI mode only
5 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports on the back panel
4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports (available through the internal USB headers)
Chipset+Renesas® USB 3.0 Hub:
4 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports (available through the internal USB headers)
Chipset+Intel® USB 3.1 Controller:
1 x USB Type-C™ port on the back panel, with USB 3.1 support
1 x USB 3.1 port on the back panel
|Internal I/O Connectors||
1 x 24-pin ATX main power connector
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V power connector
2 x M.2 Socket 3 connectors
3 x SATA Express connectors
8 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
1 x I/O shield audio LED power connector
1 x CPU fan header
1 x water cooling fan header (CPU_OPT)
3 x system fan headers
1 x front panel header
1 x front panel audio header
2 x USB 3.0/2.0 headers
2 x USB 2.0/1.1 headers
1 x Trusted Platform Module (TPM) header
1 x serial port header
1 x Clear CMOS jumper
1 x power button
1 x reset button
1 x Clear CMOS button
1 x ECO button
1 x OC button
1 x audio gain control switch
Voltage Measurement Points
1 x BIOS switch
|Back Panel Connectors||
1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse port
1 x DisplayPort
1 x HDMI port
1 x USB Type-C™ port, with USB 3.1 support
1 x USB 3.1 port
5 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports
2 x RJ-45 ports
1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector
5 x audio jacks (Center/Subwoofer Speaker Out, Rear Speaker Out, Line In/Mic In, Line Out, Headphone)
|I/O Controller||iTE® I/O Controller Chip|
System voltage detection
CPU/System/Chipset temperature detection
CPU/CPU OPT/System fan speed detection
CPU/System/Chipset overheating warning
CPU/CPU OPT/System fan fail warning
CPU/CPU OPT/System fan speed control
2 x 128 Mbit flash
Use of licensed AMI UEFI BIOS
Support for DualBIOS™
PnP 1.0a, DMI 2.7, WfM 2.0, SM BIOS 2.7, ACPI 5.0
Support for APP Center
* Available applications in APP Center may vary by motherboard model. Supported functions of each application may also vary depending on motherboard specifications.
System Information Viewer
Support for Q-Flash
Support for Smart Switch
Support for Xpress Install
Norton® Internet Security (OEM version)
Intel® Smart Response Technology
|Operating System||Support for Windows 10/8.1/7|
|Form Factor||ATX Form Factor; 30.5cm x 24.4cm|
Packaging and Accessories
The packaging for the Gaming 7 is a little different than expected. Gigabyte went with a full gaming theme and to be specific the focus was on Heroes of the Storm. The sponsor HotS a lot with Blizzard so this wasn’t a huge shock. So on the cover we have the full product name across the bottom of the motherboard with the HotS logo taking up as much or more space. The background has a photo of a spider lady that could possibly also be from HotS, sadly I don’t have enough time in the game or in other Blizzard games to confirm though.
It isn’t until we get to the back of the packaging where we have anything really going on. Here we have a photo of the motherboard, something I personally would prefer to have on the front of the box. Below that they have broken down a few of the board’s features like its USB 3.1 controller, network card, and audio and for each they have a bit of information on them. There is a red section with even more features but with less information for each photo as well. Down near the bottom we have a line of all of the required logos and certifications. They also slipped in a specification listing as well as a line drawing of the rear panel. I love when manufactures include the line drawing of the back I/O panel because this helps people figure out if the board will have enough connections for their setup.
Inside the motherboard is wrapped up in a static protective bag and then sits in a pull out cardboard tray. Under that tray you will find all of the included accessories and documentation. You get the driver/software disc, a paper showing their collaboration with Blizzard with Heroes of the Storm, a G1 Gaming sticker, an installation guide, and a normal manual. They also include a nit Heroes door hanger as well. For accessories you get a flexible black SLI bridge, a helper kit to help get your front panel connections hooked up, plugs for all of the unused I/O ports, four SATA cables and the rear I/O panel. The rear I/O panel is slightly tinted but still reflective and has red labels for all of the connections. Of the four included SATA cords two have right angled connectors on one end and the cables have an interesting silver wrapping on them that isn’t really going to blend in on any build.
Board Layout and Pictures
The styling of the Gaming 7 was interesting and stood out as soon as I pulled it out of the packaging. What I found the most interesting was that they seemed to mix up a few different styles and trends. Specifically they blended the blacked out PCB and plastic components with large white panels over a good portion of the board as well as on the cooling. This was then mixed in with the red that nearly everyone seems to use on their gaming boards now. The good thing is most builds will be able to find something that matches, the downside is the three color theme takes away from the clean styling that a lot of people are going for now. Personally I would have preferred them to go all white and black or drop the white and replace it with more black or even more red.
For cooling the Gaming 7 has two large heatsinks around the CPU that help keep the chokes and power circuitry cool. The base heatsinks are thick and black aluminum with a short heatpipe that connects the two. On top of them are the red and white panels to match the rest of the red and white. They don’t have an excessive amount of fits but you can see a few small fits facing the CPU in the photo below. For the Z170 chipset Gigabyte uses a thin heatsink next to the PCI slots. This makes sure it doesn’t get in the way of the video cards and other long cards. They didn’t connect this heatsink with the other two though, given the location in their product line I would have expected it, but obviously there is enough cooling to keep the chipset cool.
Now to take a peek at the features around the board we take a closer look at each section starting up in the top left corner. Here the white plastic panel that covers the rear I/O panel covers up all of the space between the rear I/O and the left heatsink so there isnt any room for anything there. This made things a little tighter for everything else so up along the top edge we have the 8 pin CPU power as well as a four pin fan header tucked in. There are two 4 pin PWM fan headers to the right of the CPU socket, the white one is the primary CPU fan but the second is there for heatsinks with two fans.
On the top right we have the four DDR4 DIMMS in alternating red and black. Just past that up in the top corner are a few buttons. The biggest is the large red power button but just below it is a small rest button and CMOS button. In this corner I wasn’t impressed at all with the overall build quality of the board when I can see things mounted clearly out of the lines that they drew for them. There is a nice LED trouble code readout as well as OC and ECO buttons. Below those buttons we have the 24 pin power connection and then Gigabyte slipped in two USB 3.0 headers. Most boards still only have one USB 3.0 header so it is nice to see that the Gaming 7 has two in addition to rear I/O connections. Lastly in this section we have another four pin PWM fan header just below the USB 3.0 headers giving us a total of four so far.
Down in the bottom right corner next to the chipset heatsink we have the SATA/SATA Express ports. All of them are right angled for clean wiring. Between the two clusters you get three SATA Express ports and then an additional two SATA 3 ports. If you don’t need the SATA Express ports just yet you can use the individual ports to get a total of eight SATA ports. Down below the heatsink and SATA ports we can see another twisted choke. In the corner is the front panel connection header that has labels on the PCB as well as color coded areas inside of the plug to help you get everything hooked up. We have a fifth 4-Pin PWM fan header then two USB 2.0 ports next to the TPM and COM headers. There is a small switch to turn on “Single BIOS”. Down in the bottom right corner just above the front panel header they also slipped in a tiny two pin header to clear the CMOS with as well.
The rest of the bottom edge has a small LED demo header. The Cap_SW switch is actually for the build in audio card. This turns on a gain boost for high impedance speakers and headphones. You can select between the standard 2.5x or the 6x high amplification mode. The chip next to that switch is an upgradable OP-AMP, audiophiles can replace this to change the sound of the amp, this is the first time that I have ever seen this on a motherboard but I welcome the addition as it shows that they are working on improving the build in audio quality even more. The last header in the bottom left corner is the front panel audio connection, no big shocker there given everything else it is sitting with.
You can hardly see it in this photo but in addition to the six different PCI slots the Gaming 7 also has two M.2 connectors in between them as well. This means you can hook up more than one M.2 SSD or device. Paired with all of the SATA Express ports you really should be all set. For PCI slots we get three full length PCI Express x16 slots, you also get three PCIe x1 slots. Due to the limited CPU lanes though there are a few stipulations. For starters the bottom x16 length slot is actually only a x4 slot, in addition to that it shares bandwidth with the bottom M.2 slot so if you end up using that you can’t use the bottom PCIe slot. The top slot runs at a full x16 if you are running just one card and if you use a second it and the second x16 slot will share the bandwidth and both run at x8 each. It’s a little disappointing that all of the features on the Gaming 7 can’t be used at the same time but this is a limitation of building on the consumer level chipset, the enthusiast X99 chipset has the additional CPU lanes needed. Each of the x16 slots also comes with a metal casing around it for less interference. This isn’t something I had seen previous to the Z170 launch but MSI did have this as well on the board I covered at launch.
So for the audio card I kind of hinted at things before when mentioning the switch for turning the gain up as well as the replicable OP-AMP. The rest of the sound card is actually covered up with the plastic cover but we do know what is inside. Gigabyte worked with Creative Labs to get their SoundCore™ 3D Gaming Audio on the Gaming 7. This includes high end Nichicon MUSE MW Audio Caps and a quad core audio processor. It also means you get all of the Creative tuning software in windows to control the sound as well.
Before diving into the connections available, I wanted to point out that this is the first time that I’ve ever seen gold visible on the outside of a rear I/O panel, specifically in the audio connections and display connections, normally it is only used on the contact areas because it prevents corrosion. Going with it on the outside here is a little wasteful. For to start things off, over on the left we have two USB connections along with a PS2 port for your old school mouse or keyboard. Next we have a full sized DisplayPort as well as an HDMI for display connection options. From there we have two more USB ports, this time USB 3. You get two Ethernet options and below those we have two more USB 3.0 ports as well as a new universal C type USB 3.1 port. Then down at the end there is a standard 5 plug audio configuration with an optical connection in the 6th spot.
The back of the Z170X Gaming 7 keeps things simple. Here we can see the flat black PCB. What I did find really interesting here though is we can clearly see that the resin line in the PCB meant to split the audio card from the rest of the board for better noise isolation doesn’t actually split it apart at all, it just runs down the side but the top and bottom are still connected. We can also see the surface mounted LEDs in the same area that Gigabyte lets you control in their software.
Its funny it doesn’t seem all that long ago that software was just an afterthought. Things have changed over the past few years though, not only is it important that the software works well, but it plays a big role in your overall user experience. You don’t really interact with most of the motherboard features but from time to time you might need to jump into the software and change things. Because of that a lot of the manufactures have been working on combining their software to make it easier to install and use and they have also been adding a lot of features, especially in their gaming lines. So what has Gigabyte been up too? Well last time I took a look at a Gigabyte board they had made big improvements by combining their software together finally into a new Windows 8 like style. Well things look slightly different but they have the same software for the Z170X Gaming 7 and they call it their APP Center.
You install the base app center and for the most part it just runs in your task manager out of the way. When you open it up you can see and install various features and drivers. Sadly what I wanted to install was the EasyTune software and the @BIOS software but the APP Center didn’t prompt for those. I had to jump on Gigabytes website and download the installers for those, but once installed they did integrate right into the APP Center. Hopefully in the future they can get those integrated into the download/install section as well.
The @BIOS software is very simple but important. Here you can download the latest BIOS updates and install them. While doing this you can also take advantage of their “Face Wizard” as well. With it you can upload a new boot screen so when you boot you are greeted to a custom image as the BIOS is loading up.
One of the other options you can install from the APP Center is the ambient LED lighting control panel. Here you can turn the lighting on the Gaming 7 on and off and you can even set a specific color or color theme to rotate through. Its small but a nice touch on the board, especially if you are going for a specific color scheme.
By far the most useful program is Gigabytes EasyTune. Here we can dive into auto overclocking as well as access nearly the same amount of tenability as in the BIOS. The opening page is really simple to let people who aren’t all that comfortable with digging into settings get right into the auto overclocking. There is also an ECO mode as well. As we can see the overclock mode just gives us a small bump over the 4.2 on the default mode but it overclocks all four cores not just the one. Down along the bottom we can see our bios version, CPU clock speed, GPU clock speed, and memory clock speed.
When moving past the auto tuning we can get into the advanced turning tabs where we can overclock and also adjust the power on the CPU and the memory. On the memory page you can even get into the timings!
The advanced power page doesn’t have much going on but you can get into VCore loadline settings as well as the VAXG Loadline as well.
The last page seems a little tossed on and in my opinion it should just be an option in the app store itself as I think more people will find it there than deep in EasyTune. This page lets you program and use hotkeys. I have seen this from MSI and Asus as well and their features are a little more flushed out but I’m glad to see that gigabyte is adding it as well. Basically if you aren’t running a keyboard that has software to programs macros or have hot keys to open software you can use this to get the same functionality.
Test Rig and Procedures
|AMD FM2+ Test System|
|CPU||Intel i7-6700K||Live Pricing|
Noctua NH-U14S for cooling
Noctua NT-H1 Thermal Paste
|Memory||Kingston HyperX FURY DDR4 16GB kit 2666MHz||Live Pricing|
|Storage||Kingston HyperX 240GB SSD||Live Pricing|
|Video Card||Nvidia GTX 780||Live Pricing|
|Power Supply||Cooler Master V1000 Power Supply||Live Pricing|
|Case||Microcool Banchetto 101 Test bench||Live Pricing|
|OS||Windows 7 Pro 64-bit||Live Pricing|
|Passmark Performance Test 8.0||Overall PCMark score|
|PCMark 8||We use the Home Accelerated benchmark and track the overall score|
|3DMark||We run the 2013 Fire Strike test on the performance setting|
|In Game Tests|
|Bioshock Infinite||Using the Adrenaline Action Benchmark Tool, we run Bioshock Infinite on the “Xtreme” quality setting.|
|Tomb Raider||Using the Adrenaline Action Benchmark Tool, we run Tomb Raider on the “Xtreme” quality setting.|
|Hitman: Absolution||Using the Adrenaline Action Benchmark Tool, we run Hitman: Absolution on the “Xtreme” quality setting.|
|Sleeping Dogs||Using the Adrenaline Action Benchmark Tool, we run Sleeping Dogs on the “Xtreme” quality setting.|
|Passmark||Passmark Advanced network test|
|CrystalDiskMark||Read speed testing on both SATA and USB 3.0 using a 60GB Corsair Force GT SSD|
To start off our performance testing I ran the Z170X Gaming 7 through our base benchmark suite. THE results between boards aren’t that important, the key is making sure that the Gaming 7 doesn’t have any weird issues. So to test that I hooked up our GTX780 and hit a nice variety of tests. None of the results showed any issues. There was a bit of a performance premium on the Gigabyte but that could be related to us having to test with a Mushkin DDR4 kit because we ran into issues with our Kingston HyperX kit. After speaking with Gigabyte and Kingston it sounds like they are hard at work getting the compatibility issues worked out. Gigabyte has already released one BIOS update working on the issues but I would expect to see more in the near future until they have it worked out.
|Motherboard||Overall Score||Graphics Score||Physics Score|
|MSI Z170A Gaming M5||8653||9635||12451|
|Gigabyte Z170X Gaming 7||8849||9783||13622|
|PCMark 8 Home Accelerated Score|
|MSI Z170A Gaming M5||4712|
|Gigabyte Z170X Gaming 7||4798|
|Passmark Overall Score|
|MSI Z170A Gaming M5||5507.6|
|Gigabyte Z170X Gaming 7||5669.8|
|Bioshock Infinite Average FPS|
|MSI Z170A Gaming M5||108.28|
|Gigabyte Z170X Gaming 7||108.96|
|Tomb Raider Average FPS|
|MSI Z170A Gaming M5||57.8|
|Gigabyte Z170X Gaming 7||57.9|
|Hitman: Absolution Average FPS|
|MSI Z170A Gaming M5||46.8|
|Gigabyte Z170X Gaming 7||46.3|
|Sleeping Dogs Average FPS|
|MSI Z170A Gaming M5||60.3|
|Gigabyte Z170X Gaming 7||61.1|
USB and SATA
The next set of testing I ran consisted of digging out our trusty Corsair Force GT and doing read speed testing in CrystalDiskMark through both the SATA and USB 3 interfaces. Typically the results aren’t far apart but in this case I was very impressed with the both the SATA and USB 3 performance of the Gaming 7. In the USB testing the Gigabyte came in over 30MB per second faster than the MSI.
|MSI Z170A Gaming M5||435.6|
|Gigabyte Z170X Gaming 7||442.8|
|USB 3.0||Read Speed|
|MSI Z170A Gaming M5||220.3|
|Gigabyte Z170X Gaming 7||251.5|
For the last set of testing I tested the Gaming 7 using Passmarks advanced network benchmark. For the NIC Gigabyte went all out on the Z170X Gaming 7 with two high end NICs. They included both an Intel NIC and a Killer NIC, recently I have been impressed with the performance of the Killer NICs but it is nice to have the option to go with ether or. Because they went with both I went ahead and tested both NICs. If you asked me last year how the results would come out I would have predicted the complete opposite but the Killer NIC dominated in this benchmark. This was especially interesting when tested next to the Intel NIC that was also on the same board. The Intel NIC on the other hand did alright but in comparison to the Killer NICs it looks very slow.
|Motherboard||Average Network Speed|
|MSI Z170A Gaming M5||873.0|
|Gigabyte Z170X Gaming 7||
Overall and Final Verdict
So now that we have taken a look at the Z170X Gaming 7’s features, software, and performance how does it all stack up? Well Right out of the hole I wasn’t a huge fan of the Black, Red, and White theme that Gigabyte went with. I would have much preferred they sent with just black and red or black and white or even a white PCB with red trim. The three colors together will make it a little hard for people trying to stick with one color scheme. That said the board was packed full of features. From stuff like the metal covered PCI slots and the high number of SATA and M.2 options. It’s funny the Gaming 7 has so many features that it runs into the limitations of the Z170 platform as far as limited CPU lanes. This means in a few cases like the bottom M.2 if you use some of the boards features you lose functionality on other features. That isn’t on Gigabyte though, just interesting that they packed in that many features.
I was especially impressed with some of the features with the Creative SoundCore 3D Gaming Audio. The quad core sound processor is nice as are the high end caps but I was really impressed with them including an upgradable OP-AMP and the switch that adds support for high impedance headphones and speakers. The customizable lighting around the audio was also cool. I do wish they would have focused a little more on having a fully separated PCB like a lot of the other manufactures have been doing with their built in audio. The Gaming 7 had a resin section splitting part of the PCB but then it just stops, it seems like they wanted it to look like it was separated without actually doing that.
The other issue I ran into with our original board was a few chocks that were mounted extremely twisted. This didn’t seem to be an issue with the replacement board that we got in but keep an eye out. The reason we replaced our original board in the first place was due to the memory compatibility issues with a few of the kits, specifically the Kingston kit that we test with. They seem to be hard at work getting those compatibility issues worked out, but if you are doing a build soon with the Gaming 7 I would recommend looking at other DDR4 kits, this is disappointing because I personally prefer to run Kingston but until the issues are worked out things will go much smoother if you work with just about anything else.
So the Gaming 7 did have a few issues but I was really impressed with its performance as well. Not only did it do very well in all of our standard testing, the network testing really opened my eyes to the performance of the Killer NIC compared to the Intel NIC that was also included with the Gaming 7. I think if I’m looking for pure performance I use the Killer NIC and if you are worried about reliability you go with the Intel. Gigabyte also included their impressive APP Center software that lets you install and update your Gigabyte software up to date with a clean and easy to use interface. Things like the EasyTune let you toy with your performance in a similar way to working in the BIOS without having to reboot over and over. The @BIOS software helped me update the BIOS quickly, and they also have a tool to adjust and play with the lighting controls for the built in lighting on the motherboard.
So where does the Z170X Gaming 7 fall into the market? Well at just under $220 currently it isn’t exactly a budget board but it does fall well under the $400 and $500 dollar boards that are the highest end. With the number of features on the board you are going to be hard pressed to find boards that give much more, especially at this price. With all of the M.2 slots, additional internal USB 3 headers, and SATA Express you know that any build with this board is going to have a lot of life and upgradability in the future.
Live Pricing: HERE