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There's a lot to like about Gigabyte's Z170X-Gaming 7. The board makes full use of the resources the Z170 chipset offers. Plenty of next-gen storage connectivity, thoughtfully spaced PCIe 3.0 slots, dual Gigabit Ethernet controllers from Killer and Intel, and Creative onboard audio with an upgradable op-amp make for quite the feature-packed board. Those PCIe slots are reinforced with metal shielding to prevent damage from stress and strain, and Gigabyte's customizable LED lighting spices up the Gaming 7's already spiffy appearance. Gigabyte also has us rejoicing by including a front-panel cable block.

There are some negative points, though. Right now, the Gaming 7's firmware only offers Gigabyte's Classic Mode interface. While it's certainly functional, this UI leaves a lot to be desired. Its 1024x768 resolution and general style make the board seem dated. This situation will hopefully change when Gigabyte finishes work on the Startup Guide and Smart Tweak interfaces. What may not change, however, is the firmware's fan speed controls—or lack thereof. Gigabyte's Windows software has such excellent fan speed controls that it's a real shame the UEFI-based fan tools are so limited.

Even so, overclocking our Core i7-6700K on the Gaming 7 was a breeze, and we even managed to best the overclocking results from our previous Z170 motherboard reviews by as much as 200MHz. That's a pretty significant margin based on a motherboard change alone. The board's most unique feature—its Intel Alpine Ridge USB 3.1 controller—is something we sadly haven't had a chance to properly put to the test yet. If Intel's controller produces a measurable performance gain over competing USB 3.1 controllers, its inclusion here could certainly push the Z170X-Gaming 7 towards the top of many folks' wish lists.

At $219.99, the Z170X-Gaming 7 does ask more of builders' wallets than other gaming-focused boards. If you're after a top-end mobo with Intel's Alpine Ridge USB 3.1 controller hooked up to four PCIe Gen3 all its own, the Gaming 7 is a good choice. For those on a more modest budget who still want Alpine Ridge, Gigabyte's own Z170X-Gaming 5 could also be a compelling option for $169.99. Some important differences between the Gaming 7 and the Gaming 5 are that the Gaming 5's Alpine Ridge controller is fed with only two Gen3 PCIe lanes from the chipset, and the Gaming 5 uses a Realtek ALC1150 audio codec rather than its fancier cousin's Creative audio solution. Still, it retains many of its beefier brother's fancy features for those who can't shell out 220 clams.TR

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