Gigabyte Z170 motherboards are built enthusiast-tough

Skylake is here, and Gigabyte has a raft of Z170 motherboards to go with Intel's sixth-generation Core CPUs. The G1 Gaming, Super Overclocking, and Ultra Durable-series boards are targeted at three distinct classes of system builder. Let's discuss each model line's particular appeal.

First off, there are some common features shared among all three board lines. Gigabyte uses Intel's own USB 3.1 controller, code-named Alpine Ridge, across all of its Z170 boards, which it's usually pairing with the reversible USB 3.1 Type-C port. Mobos from other manufacturers tend to use an ASMedia chip for USB 3.1 connectivity. We'll have to get our hands on a Gigabyte board bearing this controller to run some comparison tests.

Gigabyte also touts the use of metal reinforcement shields on its Z170 mobos' PCIe slots. These shields are claimed to provide 1.7 times the resistance to shearing forces and 3.2 times more strength in card-retention tests. Builders can rest easy knowing that their extra-beefy graphics cards won't overburden these mobos' PCIe slots.

Now, on to the product families. The G1 Gaming series is the flashiest of the lot. These boards' critical components are shrouded in white plastic covers bearing the G1 Gaming logo. They also feature RGB LED accent lighting under the shrouds that could let builders better coordinate their mobos' bling with the rest of a lighting scheme in tricked-out rigs.

Higher-end G1 Gaming-series boards get amenities like liquid-cooling-ready VRM heatsinks and Creative-powered onboard audio, with premium components like Burr-Brown DACs and upgradeable op-amps in the analog signal path. As for USB 3.1 connectivity, the Alpine Ridge controller gets four PCIe 3.0 lanes for a potential 32Gb/s of peripheral I/O bandwidth. A practical feature that builders will love is Gigabyte's take on a front-panel block connector that's similar to Asus' Q-connector.

G1 Gaming boards are also bedecked with Killer Networking's wired and wireless networking controllers. The fanciest boards in the series get dual Killer E2400 Gigabit Ethernet controllers and the company's Wireless-AC 1535 Wi-Fi card. The full array, working in concert with Killer's own software, is supposed to provide better networking performance by way of packet prioritization for games, Internet, and system traffic.

Super Overclocking boards are, as the name suggests, targeted at those shooting for record-setting overclocking attempts. To that end, these boards feature extensive on-board controls for modifying key system parameters. Other tweaking-friendly design touches include a pair of edge-mounted USB ports for easy BIOS flashing or software installation, plus an extra PCIe power connector that's meant to provide more juice to the PCIe slots with demanding setups like 4-way SLI. For good measure, the SOC Force Z107 board seen above has pre-tapped VRM heatsinks for liquid-cooling loops, and triple M.2 slots.

Finally, the Ultra Durable line looks like it could be Gigabyte's Z170 bread-and-butter. These more subdued boards get some nice features of their own, with perks like twin Intel Gigabit Ethernet ports headed for what we'd assume to be the highest-end mobos of the lot. Those boards will be bundled with cFos' network-optimization software, as well. Realtek's ALC1150 codec and a built-in headphone amp for the rear audio connectors should provide good analog audio output, and overclocking-friendly features like a debugging LCD, dedicated Clear CMOS and reset buttons, and dual firmware chips could make tweaking a breeze. The SOC line's extra PCIe power connector should make an appearance on some Ultra Durable boards, too.

It appears that Gigabyte is only giving the Alpine Ridge USB 3.1 controller two lanes of PCIe connectivity on Ultra Durable boards, however, for a total of 16Gb/s of bandwidth, and we'd like to see the G-connector front panel port block make an appearance on these boards, as well. That's too good a feature for the G1 Gaming series to get to itself.

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