Storage and I/O
The next stop on our tour of the Gaming G1 takes us to the bottom right-hand corner of the board. Here, we get to stretch our legs while taking in the board's vast array of storage connectivity options.
The G1 has ten SATA 6Gbps ports in total. Six of these are ganged together in three SATA Express connectors driven by the Z170 chipset. The remaining four come courtesy of two ASMedia ASM1061 controllers. The ASMedia controller driving the two left-most SATA ports, labeled GSATA3 8 and 9 on the board, is connected to one of the downstream lanes coming from the ASMedia PCIe Gen2 switch chip discussed on the previous page. The ASMedia controller driving the two standard SATA ports at the top right of the cluster is connected to a single PCIe lane from the chipset.
That's a lot of SATA connectivity. It even matches the heady heights of what Intel's X99 chipset provides, albeit through the use of auxiliary controllers. Speaking of which, we would only use the ASMedia-powered SATA ports if all the others are occupied, because third-party storage controllers tend to be slower than their chipset-based counterparts, as a general rule.
All of these ports are right-angled to make for easier cable insertion with longer graphics cards installed.
Those three SATA Express connectors firmly establish the G1's place in the next-gen storage race. That showing continues with two M.2 slots: one on either side of the third PCIe x16 slot. Given that the target audience for this board could be building rigs with multiple graphics cards—presumably more than two—gumstick SSDs installed in either of these M.2 slots could be caught in a hot zone. This heat could cause some M.2 SSDs to get too toasty—Samsung's SM951 PCIe SSD already throttles itself even without a graphics card in play, for example. Be careful.
Both M.2 slots can accept PCIe or SATA-based mini-SSDs up to 80 mm long. The Gaming G1 also supports U.2 PCIe storage devices like Intel's 750 Series SSD with a M2-U2 MiniSAS adapter, which plugs into an M.2 slot:
As for potential storage bandwidth, the two Gen3 lanes that feed each SATA Express connector provide up to 16 Gbps, while the four Gen3 lanes running to each M.2 slot are good for up to 32 Gbps. Those are some impressive numbers, to be sure.
That said, not all of the storage connectivity can be used at once. The Z170 chipset shares its flexible PCIe lanes among different storage ports, which puts some constraints on which ports can be used at the same time. To help explain which ports are unusable in which scenarios, here's a graphical representation of the SATA ports with labels:
Here's how the sharing breaks down. A SATA-based SSD installed in the top-most M.2 slot, labeled M2C, will disable SATA port 4 and its accompanying SATA Express port, because they both share the same chipset link. Similarly, if you populate the lower M.2 slot, labeled M2B, with a SATA-based SSD, SATA port 0 becomes unusable. Enabling RAID mode with a SATA-based SSD installed in M2B will disable the SATA Express component of ports 4 and 5, but the regular SATA ports embedded within will remain usable. The M2C M.2 slot doesn't have this limitation.
The situation becomes even more complicated with PCIe SSDs. A four-lane PCIe SSD installed in the M2C M.2 slot will disable SATA ports 4 and 5. The accompanying SATA Express port can be used, but this drops the number of lanes going to the M2C M.2 slot down to two. Enable RAID mode, and you'll lose SATA port 3 and its corresponding SATA Express port, as well. A two-lane PCIe SSD installed in the M2C M.2 slot won't disable any SATA ports if you're running in AHCI mode. Enable RAID mode, though, and you'll lose SATA port 5 and its corresponding SATA Express port.
Now, on to the rules for PCIe SSDs in the M2B M.2 slot. Take a deep breath, and...go. A four-lane PCIe-based SSD installed in this slot won't directly disable any other ports, but if you install a SATA Express device in the port associated with SATA ports 0 and 1, it will drop the number of lanes going to the M2B M.2 slot from four to two. Enable RAID mode, and you'll lose SATA port 4 and its corresponding SATA Express port, as well as SATA ports 6 and 7. A two-lane PCIe SSD installed in the M2B M.2 slot won't disable any SATA ports if you're running in AHCI mode. Enable RAID mode, though, and you'll lose SATA port 5 and its corresponding SATA Express port, as well as the ASMedia-controlled SATA ports 6 and 7.
Got all that, or should we do an interpretive dance?
SATA ports 8 and 9 don't have to play by any of these sharing rules, because the PCI Express lane that's driving their ASMedia SATA controller isn't shared with any other device in the system.
With those two M.2 slots and the Z170 chipset's support for RAID arrays across PCIe SSDs, the Gaming G1 is primed for ludicrous storage bandwidth. One thing that Gigabyte's engineers can't overcome for the Z170X-Gaming G1 is the potential bottleneck of the DMI link between the chipset and the processor, though. Despite this link's upgrade to PCIe Gen3 speeds (versus the Gen2 speeds used by the DMI2 link of the Z97 chipset), it's still based on just four PCIe lanes, so it has a maximum potential bandwidth of 32Gbps (4 GB/s).
The Gaming G1's rear cluster bristles with ports. A few things stand out, though: several uniquely-colored USB Type-A ports, two MMCX connectors for the onboard Wi-Fi adapter, and gold-plated audio jacks. Let's dig deeper to see what's behind all these.
First up, let's start with the new hotness. Gigabyte outfits the Z170X-Gaming G1 with Intel's own Alpine Ridge USB controller. This controller powers both a Type-C USB 3.1 port and a Type-A USB 3.1 port, decked out in red. The Gaming G1 has recently been certified by Intel for Thunderbolt 3 support, too. Just head over to Gigabyte's support page to download the latest firmware and the "Thunderbolt FW Update Tool," and you too can enjoy peripheral I/O bandwidth up to 40 Gbps. To support shuffling bits at such an impressive rate, Gigabyte endows the controller with four PCIe Gen3 lanes from the chipset, offering 32 Gbps of bandwidth.
When it comes to USB 3.0, the back panel provides six ports clad in blue. A Renesas uPD720210 hub chip fed from one of the Z170 chipset's USB 3.0 ports powers three of these ports: the two above the HDMI port and the top one in the pair above the Type-C USB 3.1 port. The remaining three are connected directly to the Z170 chipset.
Four more USB 3.0 ports are available from two internal headers. These four ports are connected to another Renesas uPD720210 hub chip fed by a single USB 3.0 port from the Z170 chipset.
There's one USB 3.0 port that we haven't touched on yet: the white USB port. In addition to serving as a standard USB 3.0 port, this white connector works in concert with an onboard embedded controller—an iTE 8951E hidden underneath the chipset heatsink—to let you update the firmware using only a power supply and a thumb drive. Gigabyte calls this feature Q-Flash Plus. Although it's not something you'll use every day, it can save you from having to beg, borrow, or steal a supported CPU just to update the firmware so that your CPU of choice will boot. This port is also connected directly to the chipset.
Our USB tour brings us to the board's two yellow USB 2.0 ports. These are yellow because they feature isolated power, so their 5V output may be cleaner than average. Gigabyte claims this isolation results in two times less line noise than regular USB ports. While this feature is included primarily for users with USB DACs, cleaner power in general can hardly be seen as a bad thing. Without the help of an oscilloscope to verify these claims, we'll have to take Gigabyte's word for it. These two ports, along with four more USB 2.0 ports available through dual internal headers, are directly connected to the chipset.
A sole HDMI port provides output for Skylake's integrated GPU. This support comes courtesy of MegaChips' MCDP2800 DP-to-HDMI converter, which supports HDMI 2.0. On a top-of-the-line board like the Gaming G1, this port probably won't see a lot of use, but it's definitely nice to have when debugging hardware issues or when you're between graphics cards.
Time to break up the wall of text with a colorful diagram representing all of that information:
Since this is a gaming-focused motherboard, and a top-end one at that, Gigabyte has gone with Killer's DoubleShot-X3 Pro networking implementation. This setup is made up of a trio of adapters: two Killer E2400 Gigabit Ethernet controllers and one Killer Wireless-AC 1535 802.11ac wireless adapter. The twin E2400 GigE controllers don't support teaming, but with Killer's software you can use all three connections at once while performing client-side QoS on all three. Killer's traffic prioritization software also aims to improve ping times under conditions where multiplayer games are competing with other applications on your PC for bandwidth. While packet prioritization is nice in theory, it doesn't help if the network congestion is occurring at some point outside of the PC. You can read more about Killer's software suite in our in-depth look at the Killer E2400.
Killer's Wireless-AC 1535 is a 2x2 adapter that supports 802.11ac Wave 2 features like Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO) and Transmit Beamforming. MU-MIMO allows compatible routers to service multiple devices all at once instead of the traditional round-robin fashion. Transmit Beamforming focuses the wireless signal on the target device rather than broadcasting omnidirectionally. This capability allows the router to increase signal strength for compatible devices. Two MMCX connectors for the Wireless-AC 1535's included antenna sit between the USB 2.0-and-PS/2 port stack and the USB 3.0-and-HDMI port stack. Gigabyte rounds out the Z170X-Gaming G1's wireless connectivity options with an onboard Bluetooth 4.1 adapter from Qualcomm's Atheros division.
Now that we've covered all the various types of connectivity that the Gaming G1 has to offer, let's have a look at this board's onboard audio implementation.