Audio, accessories, and lights
The Z170X-Gaming G1's audio implementation is another area where Gigabyte's engineers didn't hold back. In fact, Gigabyte claims that the Z170X-Gaming G1's onboard audio offers sound quality equivalent to a discrete Creative sound card. Creative has certified this board for a greater-than-120dB signal-to-noise ratio, too.
Gigabyte has gone with a Creative CA0132 audio chip for this board's audio codec. This chip lies underneath the Sound Core3D-emblazoned EMI shield. It contains the audio codec and four independent DSPs that Creative's software stack can use for various voice and audio effects.
Above the Creative chip, we can see the high-end DAC that backs up the audio chip, a Burr Brown PCM1794 from Texas Instruments (TI). Gigabyte then runs the analog audio through triple upgradable op-amps. The left and the right audio channels for the rear audio connectors are driven by separate JRC NJM2114 op-amps, and a Burr Brown OPA2134 from TI handles front-panel audio duties. Two onboard switches along the bottom edge of the board select between a 2.5x or a 6x audio gain, which can be useful for high-impedance speakers or headphones. High-quality audio capacitors from both Nichicon's MUSE FG ("Fine Gold") series and WIMA's FKP 2 series, seen above, round out the audio hardware.
All of this hardware adds up to an onboard audio implementation that my ears were happy with. I couldn't hear any interference under both system load and idle conditions, and any unwanted hissing and pops were pleasantly absent.
One of the more unique accessories that ships with the Gaming G1 is a 5.25" front-panel bay that provides USB 3.1 Type-A and Type-C ports.
This front panel bay houses a second PCB with an ASMedia ASM1142 USB 3.1 controller on board. The bay itself is powered by two SATA power ports, and it connects to the motherboard using the provided SATA Express cable. Few (if any) shipping cases offer USB 3.1 on their front panels, so this add-on seems like a great idea.
Gigabyte tells us this method of bringing the controller directly to the front-panel connector protects the USB 3.1 signal from picking up unacceptable amounts of noise due to cable length.
On to more mundane accessories. Gigabyte includes a detachable front-panel wiring block—a "G-Connector." This DIY-friendly add-on makes the finicky job of wiring up the front-panel header much more pleasant. It sure beats fumbling with a flashlight in a dimly-lit case.
To the left of the CMOS battery are three SPI flash chips. The two leftmost chips put the "dual" in Gigabyte's DualBIOS redundant firmware setup. (Motherboards may have moved to UEFI-based firmware, but the DualBIOS name is here to stay.) Gigabyte's boards have been fitted with backup firmware chips for years, and the Z170X-Gaming G1 is no exception. If for some reason you want to disable DualBIOS functionality, you can do so by moving the switch at right above from position 1 to position 2. You can also manually select between either the main firmware chip or the backup by using the switch on the left.
Speaking of firmware, the Gaming G1 lacks a hardware-based shortcut to enter the firmware. This omission is a little irksome. With the ultra-fast-boot option enabled, no amount of key-mashing on boot-up will get you into the firmware. Instead, Gigabyte provides a software solution via its Fast Boot Windows utility, which has a handy "Enter BIOS Setup Now" button that reboots directly into the UEFI. There is a dedicated clear-CMOS button, but that's far too heavy-handed an action when all I want to do is enter the firmware.
The top right hand corner of the board is where all of the onboard buttons live. The big, red, illuminated power button doubles as a handy way to see whether the board is connected to power. To the left of the go button is a two-digit diagnostic display that shows debug codes when the system boots. This readout can be handy if you're trying to solve problems that occur very early in the boot process. Above this display, we have two smaller clickers: a white reset button and a black clear-CMOS button. Finally, a pair of buttons that enable either OC Mode or ECO Mode round out the dedicated controls.
Voltage monitoring points can be found on the right-hand side of the DIMM slots. While this feature may be of limited use to most builders, we're happy to see them included. The Gaming G1 also includes a header for a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) at the bottom of the board for the paranoid.
Another builder-friendly perk that the G1 includes is a high-quality cushioned I/O shield. This means no little metal tabs that can get caught in the rear I/O ports during installation, and you don't have to worry about accidentally partaking in a mid-build bloodletting.
The shield also has embedded LEDs, and RGB LEDs at that. This is only one component of the lighting system embedded in the Gaming G1. LED Trace Path lighting lights up the lower section of the plastic shroud above the Nichicon and WIMA capacitors and runs the length of the board's audio section. LEDs behind the SATA Express and SATA ports illuminate the shroud above those ports, too. Finally, the top-right-hand edge of the board, starting at the onboard power button, gets in on the fun. Not only can the Gaming G1 put on an impressive light show, it can do so in seven different colors. For those who can't settle on just one color, it can cycle among all seven, too.
Like Gigabyte's previous incarnations of these lighting effects, a Beat mode lights the board up in time with any audio piped through the onboard stereo output. Still mode provides a bright, solid glow, which could also serve the functional purpose of lighting the way to a particular port at the back of the PC. Finally, pulse mode does just as its name suggests—it pulses the color you've chosen. If all of this lighting is too much to stomach, it can be completely disabled, too.
Now that we've covered Gaming G1 from a hardware perspective, we can look at the board's softer side.