Gigabyte Continues its three-pronged approach to the Z170 motherboard market. The company's gaming-focused boards usually have tweaked peripheral payloads adorned with LED lighting and a color theme that purports to appeal to gamers. Its overclocking-oriented models are aimed at, well, extreme overclockers and the competitive benchmarking circuit, where exotic forms of sub-zero cooling are more commonplace. Then there's the Ultra Durable family of boards, a more value-oriented line that's meant to deliver solid gaming and overclocking performance with a reasonable price tag attached.
After looking at two of Gigabyte's gaming-specific boards, the Z170X-Gaming G1 and the Z170X Gaming 7, we were eager to try out one of the Ultra Durable boards, so we asked the company to send over its GA-Z170X-UD3. This mid-range offering has been a staple of our past couple of System Guides. That's because it serves up three PCIe x16 slots, an abundance of next-gen storage interfaces, Intel-powered USB 3.1 connectivity, and all the other goodness that you'd expect from a Z170-based board. At $120 on Newegg right now, the Z170X-UD3 looks like an appealing value among Z170 mobos. Let's dig in to find out if this board lives up to its billing.
Gigabyte has kept the familiar bling-on-black visual theme of previous Ultra Durable boards with the Z170X-UD3. Slivers of gold from the heatsinks and some nickel accents from the EMI shields on the audio, networking, and clock circuitry pepper the matte-black PCB.
The UD3 is just slightly skinnier than full-size ATX boards, measuring in at 9.25" (23.5 cm) wide. Thankfully, this slight trimming at the waistline isn't enough to make the board feel cramped. Those dimensions do leave builders with only six screw holes for mounting the motherboard to the case, or seven if your case can provide a standoff for the hole to the lower right of the DIMM slots. Being down three standoffs on wider motherboards can cause the Z170X-UD3's PCB to flex if you apply pressure to the unsupported right-hand side of the board. Connecting the 24-pin ATX connector makes that lack of support especially evident.
Examining the back of the board reveals two small clusters of surface-mounted components: one that serves the CPU socket on the front, and a second directly behind the Intel Alpine Ridge USB 3.1 controller in the upper-right quadrant of the board. The underside of the board also reminds us that only the chipset heatsink is secured with screws. Unlike some of Gigabyte's higher-end motherboards, the Z170X-UD3's two VRM heatsinks are held in place with push pins.
While we're talking about voltage regulation, it's worth noting that the Skylake platform does away with the fully-integrated voltage regulator (FIVR) used by older Haswell CPUs. This puts the responsibility of CPU voltage regulation back on the motherboard maker. To meet this challenge, Gigabyte outfits the UD3 with an 8+3-phase VRM. While the MOSFETs safely hide under the two VRM heatsinks flanking the CPU socket, the inductors and capacitors are clearly visible riding shotgun. These "Durable Black" capacitors, as Gigabyte likes to call them, are rated for 10,000 hours of continuous use. The VRM heatsinks are a little closer to the CPU socket than we'd like, particularly the one to the left. Thankfully, at only 26 mm tall at their tallest point, they're unlikely to cause issues for larger CPU coolers.
Since the LGA1151 socket carries over support for prior generation cooler mounting mechanisms, we're able to keep using our trusty Nepton 240M from Cooler Master. This closed-loop liquid cooler has a beefy copper block with a tendency to run afoul of capacitor banks located close to the CPU socket.
Thankfully, Gigabyte has put enough distance between the capacitors and the socket that we didn't run into any issues mounting our cooler. Gigabyte advises that DIMMs should be installed in the gray set of DIMM slots first. This means that you will only need to use the slot closest to the CPU socket if you're installing four DIMMs.
We can't check for compatibility with all possible coolers, so we've provided some measurements below to help you figure out which components can safely fit together on the board:
Four fan headers are within easy reach of the CPU socket: two for CPU fans and two for system fans. A PCIe x1 slot in the first expansion slot position also leaves a healthy amount of room between the CPU socket and the topmost PCIe x16 slot. To ensure easy installation and removal of DIMMs, Gigabyte uses slots that feature the one-sided snap-in mechanism that's become more common these days.
Thanks in part to its 22-nm manufacturing process, the Z170 chipset dissipates only 6W of heat. This lets Gigabyte outfit the UD3 with low-profile chipset heatsink that does a good job of staying out of the way of long graphics cards.
The Z170X-UD3 serves up three PCIe x16 slots. The left and middle x16 slots above are connected directly to the Skylake CPU. When one graphics card is installed in the left-most slot, all sixteen Gen3 lanes are routed to that slot. For some dual-GPU goodness, simply pop your second graphics card in the middle slot, and each of the pair will get eight PCIe Gen3 lanes from the processor. The right-most x16 slot in the picture above is fed by four Gen3 lanes from the chipset. Not all of these lanes are dedicated solely to that slot, however. If you install a PCIe card in the right-most x1 slot, only a single Gen3 lane is routed to the right-most x16 slot at the same time. The other two PCIe x1 slots at the far left and center of the expansion area get chipset-powered PCIe 3.0 connectivity all the time, regardless of what's plugged into the board.
Without the use of third-party PCI Express switch chips, the Skylake platform provides enough PCIe lanes for two-way SLI setups. Gigabyte fully supports this configuration with the Z170X-UD3. AMD's CrossFire multi-GPU protocol has more lenient bandwidth requirements that let the third chipset-driven PCIe slot above join in the fun. That said, we usually recommend going for the fastest single graphics card you can afford before stepping up to more exotic multi-GPU setups.
The Z170X-UD3's expansion slot layout can handle something as wild as a pair of triple-slot video cards, but in more typical multi-GPU setups, installing a pair of double-slot cards will still allow access to two of the PCIe x1 slots and the four-lane PCIe x16 slot. Thankfully, these two x1 slots are those that do not share lanes with the four-lane x16 slot.
For easy reference, here's a diagram of the UD3's PCIe lane routing and expansion slots:
Now that we've found a useful way of getting block diagrams out of our system, it's time to move on to the board's storage subsystem.
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