High end or mainstream? That’s the broad choice you have to make when building a powerful Intel-based desktop these days. The Haswell-E platform sits comfortably at the high end, an offshoot of its dual-socket Haswell-EP brother. The name of the game here is high core counts, massive memory bandwidth, and dozens of PCI Express lanes. If this high-end platform has a drawback, it’s that the -EP release cycles can leave your choice of processor one microarchitecture generation behind what’s available on the mainstream platform.
So, what do you do if you want an abundance of PCIe lanes, but you also want your system to sport the latest Skylake cores? Gigabyte’s Z170X-Gaming G1 motherboard just so happens to tick those two boxes. Selling for $473 at Newegg right now, the Gaming G1 sits right at the top of Gigabyte’s Z170 lineup. It’s products like this one that really let Gigabyte’s engineers show off what they can do. Let’s start digging in.
The Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming G1 qualifies for the E-ATX club, thanks to its 10.4″ (26.4 cm) width. That makes for 8% more board area compared to the G1’s standard ATX counterparts, and the extra room lets Gigabyte pack in components (and functionality) without making the board overly cramped.
The basic red-and-white-on-black color scheme that we saw on Gigabyte’s more affordable Z170X-Gaming 7 carries over to the Gaming G1, as well. This board has fancy white SATA ports covered with an LED-backlit metallic shroud, something the Gaming 7 can’t boast. Otherwise, this board has the same snowy accents, white plastic port shroud, and pure black PCB of its less-expensive sibling. The Gigabyte-exclusive “Durablack” Nippon Chemi-Con capacitors give the CPU socket area a nice blacked-out look, too.
That prominent plastic shroud is made up of two separate pieces, the largest of which hangs over the left VRM heatsink and the rear port cluster. The smaller portion offers a glimpse at the fancy WIMA capacitors for the board’s audio setup, as well as the LED Trace Path lighting below. For those who aren’t fans of the look, these pieces can be removed with a handful of small screws on the underside of the board. Removing the shrouds could also improve airflow over that left VRM heatsink. We left the fancy body kit in place during our testing, though.
Skylake eschews the fully-integrated voltage regulator (FIVR) used by Haswell chips, so it falls to the motherboard’s VRMs to supply each of the processor’s input voltage rails. Gigabyte has gone all out with the Gaming G1’s power delivery system. A 22-phase VRM setup hides under two heatsinks. 16 of these phases are for the CPU, four are for the on-die graphics, and the remaining two are for the system agent and I/O.
Gigabyte uses International Rectifier’s digital PWM controller and PowIRstage ICs in this board’s power delivery system. PowIRstage combines the three components of a power phase—the driver, high side MOSFET, and low side MOSFET—into a single package. This setup potentially offers higher efficiency and better thermal performance than a VRM whose power phases use discrete components.
The VRM heatsinks—along the top and to the right of the CPU socket—are a hybrid design with built-in G1/4″ threaded fittings ready for water cooling. The embedded water channel in these two heatsinks ensures that the VRM components won’t get too hot and bothered when the heatsinks are plumbed into a liquid-cooling loop. More heatpipes snake their way through the heatsink on the left. Underneath this heatsink is a
PLX Avago PEX 8747 48-lane PCI Express switch. The heatpipes snake all the way down to the PCH heatsink, too, so liquid-cooling the VRMs also helps to cool those two chips.
Liquid-cooling isn’t a requirement, of course. The heatsinks work fine air-cooled, and that’s how we ran the board for our testing. All of the heatsinks are firmly secured to the board with screws to ensure that they make good contact with the components beneath.
The CPU socket on the Gaming G1 is more crowded than we’d like. The left heatsink is the most troublesome. Even with a height of just 22 mm, its close proximity to the socket meant it ran afoul of the hose connections to the water block of our Cooler Master Nepton 240M. Despite their 29-mm height, the other two heatsinks stay out of the way.
Thankfully, Gigabyte’s engineers put more distance between the CPU socket and the DDR4 DIMM slots. The company recommends installing DIMMs in the red slots first. For builders who are only installing two sticks, using the red slots gives maximum clearance between the processor’s heatsink or water block and the DIMMs. Thanks to DDR4’s higher-density modules, up to 64GB of RAM can be installed on the Gaming G1 with all four slots populated. Gigabyte uses slots with locking mechanisms on only one end, which can make life easier when swapping DIMMs in crowded cases.
Since LGA1151 retains the same mounting mechanism as Haswell’s LGA1150 socket, be sure to check for adequate clearance around the socket first if you’re planning to use an oversized CPU cooler. Here are some measurements to help you figure out which components can safely fit together on the board:
The Gaming G1’s four PCIe 3.0 x16 slots are arranged to accept a quartet of double-wide video cards. To pull that feat off in a standard-height ATX board, Gigabyte had to put a PCIe x16 slot in the topmost position. This layout puts the first video card in closer proximity to the processor than we’d like. To make matters worse, the PCIe switch chip and its heatsink are sandwiched between the top PCIe x16 slot and the CPU. These decisions make for a fairly cramped socket area. At least the heatsinks are all shorter than 30 mm.
A total of five fan headers are situated within easy reach of the CPU socket: two CPU fan headers and three more for system fans.
To feed those PCIe x16 slots, Gigabyte uses an Avago 48-lane PCI Express Gen3 switch. This switch is set up so that sixteen of its lanes function as upstream links connected to the Skylake CPU’s Gen3 PCIe lanes. The remaining 32 Gen3 lanes function as downstream links, supplying the four x16 slots.
With two graphics cards installed in the first and third x16 slots, each card gets sixteen lanes for a x16/x0/x16/x0 arrangement. That slot spacing gives two beastly triple-wide graphics cards one slot’s worth of breathing room. Adding a third video card in the second or fourth x16 slot will force either the first or third slot to run with eight lanes, for either a x8/x8/x16/x0 or a x16/x0/x8/x8 arrangement. Using all four PCIe x16 slots creates an x8/x8/x8/x8 arrangement. Two groups of four ASMedia ASM1480 multiplexers handle the lane switching. You can spot them above the left and middle PCIe x1 slots.
The Gaming G1 can support two-, three-, and four-way SLI or CrossFire configs. Provided your case has an extra slot’s worth of room below the board, you can install as many as four double-wide video cards. To help you on your way to such an absurd build, Gigabyte includes two-, three-, and four-way SLI bridges, along with a single two-way CrossFire connector.
Peppered around those four x16 PCIe slots, we find three x1 slots. These slots aren’t connected to Gen3 lanes from the chipset. Instead, they’re connected to an ASMedia ASM1184e PCI Express Gen2 switch chip. This PCIe switch’s single upstream port is connected to one chipset lane, and three of its downstream ports feed the PCIe x1 slots. That’s right: these are Gen2 x1 slots, rather than Gen3. The fourth downstream port from the ASMedia switch is connected to the board’s two left-most SATA 6Gbps ports, labeled GSATA3 8/9.
Here’s a graphical representation of the G1’s expansion slots. It shows how each one is connected to the platform’s PCIe lanes:
The stainless steel shielding on the PCI Express x16 slots isn’t just for show. Gigabyte has reinforced these metal shields with extra anchor points on the board. We’re told this setup makes the slots 1.7 times stronger in the face of shearing stresses and 3.2 times stronger in retention tests. This setup could help to prevent damage to the slots if you’re transporting a system that has a gargantuan video card or four.
Now that we’ve looked at this board’s CPU socket and expansion slots, let’s move on to the Gaming G1’s storage subsystem.
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 2×2 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.
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.
The Z170X-Gaming G1 has the same UEFI as Gigabyte’s other 100-series boards. Users are presented with the familiar, if a little old-school, Classic Mode interface to configure options and get their tweaking done.
While I won’t rehash our coverage of Gigabyte’s 100-series firmware from the Z170X-Gaming 7 review, I will reiterate some gripes.
My biggest gripe is that if you enable an XMP profile or change the memory multiplier, the CPU is automagically overclocked by applying the single-core turbo multiplier—normally only used if one core is busy—to all cores, no matter how many of them are active. For our Core i7-6700K, this tweak means that if more than one core is active, the chip will run at 4.2GHz rather than 4.0GHz. The worst part is that the firmware continues to show the default non-overclocked Turbo multipliers in this stealth-overclocked state.
A lot of modern boards play games like these with multipliers, but at least some of them provide a single config option, say “Enhanced Turbo,” that disables this behavior. Not so for the Gaming G1. Instead, you have to set the four turbo multipliers to their proper values of 42, 40, 40, and 40 manually.
Another complaint is that the fan speed controls available in the firmware leave a lot to be desired. Gigabyte only gives us predefined profiles for silent, normal, and full fan speeds or a manual fan slope option. Gigabyte tells us that it’s working on implementing full-featured fan speed controls on par with its Windows utility in the firmware, so we’ll keep an eye out for that update in the future.
Overall, the firmware is functional enough, and it has enough knobs and dials to satisfy all but the most hardcore overclockers. A smorgasbord of multipliers, voltages, timings, and power and voltage regulator settings is at hand for those who want to tweak. Gigabyte even includes a full complement of integrated graphics slice and unslice options.
Like the firmware, the Z170X-Gaming G1’s suite of tweaking and monitoring software carries over from Gigabyte’s other 100-series boards almost unchanged. For full coverage of the Windows software, check out our Z170X-Gaming 7 review. I’ll spend this section of the review focusing on how the G1’s software differs from what’s available on the Gaming 7.
The biggest difference lies with the Easy Tune utility. Easy Tune’s Advance Power configuration options are shown above, and they are far richer on the Gaming G1 than on the Gaming 7. For reference, the Gaming 7 offers just two options in this pane: load-line calibration for the CPU cores and for the integrated graphics. Clearly the more advanced VRM implementation of the G1 affords users a more tweakable power delivery system.
Apart from this one difference, the rest of Gigabyte’s Windows software operated in exactly the same way on the Gaming G1 as it did on the Gaming 7, including the excellent fan speed controls provided by the System Information Viewer app.
A given processor’s maximum stable frequency is mostly determined by the limitations of the particular chip on hand and the CPU cooler one straps on top. Still, the choice of motherboard can play a big role in easing the journey to peak clock speeds.
We put Gigabyte’s Z170X-Gaming G1 through its paces using our Core i7-6700K CPU, cooled with Cooler Master’s Nepton 240M. The Nepton has a 240-mm radiator and a $110 asking price, so it’s definitely a cooler that might be seen in a system built around the Gaming G1. It also does a good job of keeping our four Skylake cores from feeling the heat as we push clock speeds to the limit.
Given that we recently ran our overclocking gauntlet on the Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 7, I was curious if we would see any tangible differences moving to the Gaming G1 and its more impressive power delivery system. Let’s find out.
The first stop on our journey to overclocked bliss was Gigabyte’s firmware. Advanced Frequency Settings, under the M.I.T. menu, provides a Performance Upgrade option with five different presets: 20%, 40%, 60%, 80%, and 100%, which correspond to clock speeds of 4.3GHz, 4.4GHz, 4.5GHz, 4.6GHz, and 4.7GHz, respectively. As usual, those percentages don’t correlate with the associated increases over the stock speed of our chip. Thankfully, understanding the naming scheme wasn’t a requirement for using the option.
With a 20% Performance Upgrade, the firmware supplied our CPU with 1.32V. All Turbo multipliers were set to 43x, and the base clock remained at 100MHz. This amount of voltage seemed a bit heavy-handed for only a 300MHz overclock, but this collection of settings was completely stable in our Prime95 stress test. We saw no signs of any throttling, and temperatures maxed out at 81°C.
Next up was the 40% Performance Upgrade option. Rebooting into Windows, we found that the firmware was still supplying 1.32V to the processor, while Turbo multipliers were set to 44x. Our Prime95 torture test was completely stable at 4.4GHz, and the Nepton was keeping temperatures to a maximum of 83°C. We repeated this same process with the 60% and 80% Performance Upgrade options. Both were stable, with clock speeds of 4.5GHz for the 60% option and 4.6GHz for the 80% option during our Prime95 run. The board continued to supply 1.32V to our processor in both cases. Maximum temperatures rose slightly to 85°C for the 60% option and to 87°C for the 80% option during our Prime95 run.
The 100% Performance Upgrade option didn’t fare as well, however. The firmware supplied our chip with 1.332V in its attempt to secure a stable 4.7GHz clock speed. Under these conditions, Prime95 instantly found errors. These results are exactly what the Z170X-Gaming 7 exhibited when we used its firmware’s Performance Upgrade option.
Leaving no overclocking stone unturned, we moved on to the firmware’s CPU Upgrade option. This second automatic overclocking method has settings for the Core i5-6600K and Core i7-6700K. We tried all three of the pre-baked profiles for the Core i7-6700K: 4.4GHz, 4.5GHz and 4.6GHz. These three set the Turbo multipliers to 44x, 45x, and 46x, and all three fed the CPU with 1.32V. Unsurprisingly, given our previous testing, these settings were completely stable in our Prime95 test with no signs of throttling. These were the same results that we saw from the Z170X-Gaming 7.
With the firmware’s automatic overclocking options exhausted, we turned our sights towards Gigabyte’s Easy Tune application. Easy Tune pairs a pre-baked overclocking profile with an auto-tuning feature that increases clock speeds bit by bit, testing stability along the way.
Enabling Easy Tune’s OC profile, or pressing the onboard OC button, gave us a 4.4GHz clock speed at 1.32V. This config was completely stable in our Prime95 stress test. It also yielded the same configuration as the 4.4GHz CPU Upgrade firmware option. Both pressing the onboard OC button and enabling Easy Tune’s OC profile caused the OC button to illuminate.
Next, we tried Easy Tune’s auto-tuning feature. Once we clicked through the obligatory warning screen, it popped up a 30-second countdown timer with a message alerting us that a system reboot was required to kick off the auto-tuning process. After Windows came back up, Easy Tune kicked things off at 4.4GHz and steadily increased clock speeds in 100MHz increments, running stress tests at each point along the way. The utility made it all the way to 4.6GHz before it declared victory.
The final result was a 15% overclock to 4.6GHz. Easy Tune got there by setting all turbo multipliers to 46x and using a core voltage of 1.332V. Testing with Prime95 showed the system to be perfectly stable with no throttling, and CPU temperatures peaked at 88°C. The whole auto-tuning process lasted less than ten minutes.
With the board’s automatic overclocking features taken care of, we turned our attention to manual tuning in the firmware. We started by tweaking the multiplier alone, with all the voltages at “auto.” We got up to 4.6GHz this way using a 46x multiplier with the standard 100MHz base clock. At this speed, the firmware was supplying our CPU with 1.32V. This config proved to be stable during the Prime95 run. We saw no signs of throttling, and temperatures topped out at 86°C.
To push clock speeds further, we turned to manual voltage adjustments. By taking matters into our own hands, we made it to 4.7GHz at 1.368V. Prime95 was completely stable with no throttling, but our Nepton was feeling the strain. CPU temperatures topped out at 92°C.
As we’ve come to expect with our particular Core i7-6700K chip, 4.8GHz was out of the question. Prime95 found errors on one of the worker threads instantly. Pushing the CPU voltage only succeeded in inducing thermal throttling.
Our manual-tuning result of 4.7GHz is the same final clock speed that we were able to achieve with the lower-priced Z170X-Gaming 7, but the Z170X-Gaming G1 got there with less voltage: 1.368V vs 1.38V. This decrease in voltage dropped the processor’s package temperature by five degrees. This is a tangible benefit of the more advanced power delivery system on the Gaming G1.
Z170-based boards feature a revised reference clock architecture that decouples the PCIe and DMI bus speeds from the base clock. This setup allows one to tweak the base clock without having to worry about running other system devices out of spec. While it’s much easier to overclock using multipliers alone, we ran a quick test to see how the Gaming G1 fared when overclocking with base clock tuning.
The Z170X-Gaming G1 behaved the same as the Gaming 7 during our base-clock exercise. Like the Gaming 7, you can’t leave the memory multiplier setting on “auto.” When overclocking the base clock on the Gaming G1, we needed to manually set the memory multiplier to keep our DDR4 DIMMs humming along at or near 3GT/s, too. With that knowledge, overclocking the base clock was a breeze.
A few minutes later, our CPU was sitting at 4.2GHz using a 200MHz base clock. Trying to push higher than that wasn’t successful. Still, a doubling of the stock base clock speed is impressive. If that’s your overclocking method of choice, Skylake is definitely for you.
Finding the top stable clock speed of our Core i7-6700K using the Z170X-Gaming G1 was a breeze. The pre-baked profiles in the firmware worked surprisingly well. Both the pre-baked profiles and Easy Tune’s auto-tuning functionality only left 100MHz of clock speed on the table for our particular chip. This last morsel of speed was easily achieved using manual tuning through the firmware.
Now that we’ve had our fun with tweaking, let’s see how the Gaming G1’s performance stacks up.
Since many chipset functions now reside on the CPU die, and since there’s only a handful of third-party peripheral controllers out there these days, we rarely see meaningful performance differences between motherboards anymore. That said, we still test system performance when we review motherboards to ensure everything is functioning correctly.
When it comes to testing motherboard performance, we’ve usually gathered benchmark results using the CPU’s peak stock memory multipliers. Since DDR4 is so new, however, and Skylake’s 2133MHz maximum stock DDR4 speed is so conservative, we’ve continued a practice we began with our X99 reviews. We test our Z170 boards with the memory clocked at the highest speed we can attain while keeping the CPU at its stock clocks.
We tested the Z170X-Gaming G1 against Gigabyte’s own Z170X-Gaming 7, Asus’ Z170-A, and MSI’s Z170A Gaming M5. All the boards were able to clock our DDR4 DIMMs up to 3000MHz while maintaining stock CPU clocks, so the results below were gathered with these settings.
Gigabyte’s Z170X-Gaming G1 ends up at the back of the pack for a handful of tests. Most notably, this board runs 3-4% behind the leader in our gaming tests. Considering the run-to-run variance of these tests and the small percentage difference, we wouldn’t worry too much. Boot times are similarly close, but the Gaming G1 takes home the trophy here.
Unlike our performance results, one’s choice of motherboard can have a notable impact on power consumption. We measured total system power draw (sans monitor and speakers) at the wall socket for five minutes of idle time at the Windows desktop. We then repeated the test under a full load of Cinebench rendering with the Unigine Valley demo running at the same time.
The Z170X-Gaming G1 has the highest power consumption at idle and under load. This outcome isn’t exactly surprising, given all of the extra controllers and other hardware it has onboard. A decked-out board like this one pays the price at the wall outlet. Its idle and load power draws come in at 19W and 26W higher than the power-efficiency leader in each test.
The following page is loaded with detailed motherboard specifications, system configurations, and test procedures. If you’re worried that you won’t be able to fully appreciate all the tables of data to come with the excitement of the conclusion lingering in the back of your mind, feel free to jump straight to the last page.
We’ve already gone over the Z170X-Gaming G1’s most important details, but for completeness, here’s the full spec breakdown.
|Platform||Intel Z170, socket LGA1151|
|DIMM slots||4 DDR4, 64GB max|
|Expansion slots||4 PCIe 3.0 x16 via PLX PEX8747 and CPU (x16/x0/x16/x0 or x8/x8/x8/x8)
3 PCIe 2.0 x1 via ASMedia ASM1184e and Z170
|Storage I/O||3 SATA Express via Z170
4 SATA 6Gbps (two ASMedia ASM1061)
2 M.2 up to type 2280 from the Z170 chipset (SATA and PCIe)
|Audio||2/5.1-channel HD via Creative Sound Core3D (CA0132 chip)
TI Burr-Brown OPA2134 op-amp for front panel (upgradable)
2 JRC NJM2114 op-amps for L/R rear port cluster (upgradable)
Support for Sound Blaster Recon3Di
|Wireless||802.11ac Wave 2 via Killer Wireless-AC 1535
Qualcomm Atheros Bluetooth 4.1
|Ports||1 PS/2 keyboard/mouse via iTE IT8628E Super I/O
Two MMCX connectors for the Killer Wireless-AC 1535’s antenna
1 HDMI 2.0 via CPU (and MegaChips MCDP2800)
4 USB 3.0 via Z170
2 USB 2.0 via Z170
3 USB 3.0 via Renesas uPD720210 hub chip connected to Z170
1 Thunderbolt 3/USB 3.1 (Type C) via Intel Alpine Ridge controller
1 USB 3.1 (Type A) via Intel Alpine Ridge controller
4 USB 3.0 via internal header and Renesas uPD720210 hub chip connected to Z170
4 USB 2.0 via internal headers and Z170
2 Gigabit Ethernet via twin Killer E2400
1 line in/mic in
4 analog out ports (front, center, rear, headphone)
1 digital S/PDIF out
|Overclocking||All/per-core Turbo multiplier: 8-127X
Uncore ratio: 8-127X
Base clock: 80-500MHz
CPU graphics slice ratio: 10.00-30.00X
CPU graphics unslice ratio: 10.00-30.00X
System memory multiplier: 8.00-41.33X
CPU voltage: 0.6-1.80V
CPU graphics voltage: 0.6-1.80V
CPU IO voltage: 0.8-1.30V
CPU system agent voltage: 0.8-1.30V
CPU core PLL overvoltage: +15-+945mV
DRAM voltage: 1.0-2.0V
PCH core voltage: 0.8-1.30V
|Fan control||1 x CPU (PWM), 1 CPU_OPT (DC), 5 x SYS (DC)
Predefined silent, normal, and full speed profiles (firmware)
Manual profile with PWM/°C slope (firmware)
Predefined quiet, standard, performance, and full speed profiles (Windows software)
Smart Fan Mode profiles with five temp/speed points per fan (Windows software)
RPM Fixed Mode to set fan speed at a fixed RPM (Windows software)
Our testing methods
As a reward for making it this far, you may now gaze upon our test system:
Performance testing and overclocking were carried out on an open-air testbed. We also installed the machine in Antec’s P380 full tower case, which Jeff reviewed a while back. Here’s what the system looked like assembled and powered on:
We used the following configurations for testing:
|Processor||Intel Core i7-6700K|
|Cooler||Cooler Master Nepton 240M|
|Motherboard||Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming G1||Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 7||MSI Z170A Gaming M5||Asus Z170-A|
|Platform hub||Intel Z170|
|Audio||Creative Sound Core3D (CA0132)||Creative Sound Core3D (CA0132)||Realtek ALC1150||Realtek ALC892|
|Memory size||8GB (2 DIMMs)|
|Memory type||Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 SDRAM at 3000MHz|
|Graphics||Sapphire Radeon HD 7950 Boost with Catalyst 15.7 drivers|
|Storage||OCZ ARC 100 120GB|
|Power Supply||Cooler Master V750 Semi-Modular|
|Operating System||Microsoft Windows 8.1 Pro x64|
Thanks to Antec, Cooler Master, Corsair, and OCZ for providing the hardware used in our test systems. Our thanks to the motherboard makers for providing the boards, too.
We used the following versions of our test applications:
- 7-Zip 9.20 64-bit
- TrueCrypt 7.1a
- Chrome 40.0.2214.115
- x264 r2431
- DiRT Showdown demo
- Fraps 3.5.99
- Cinebench R15
- Unigine Valley 1.0
Some further notes on our test methods:
- All testing was conducted with motherboard power-saving options enabled. These features can sometimes lead to slightly slower performance, particularly in peripheral tests that don’t cause the CPU to kick into high gear. We’d rather get a sense of motherboard performance with real-world configurations, though; we’re not as interested in comparing contrived setups with popular features disabled.
- DiRT Showdown was tested with ultra detail settings, 4X MSAA, and a 1920×1200 display resolution. We used Fraps to log a 60-second snippet of gameplay from the demo’s first race. To offset the fact that our gameplay sequence can’t be repeated exactly, we ran this test five times on each system.
- Power consumption was measured at the wall socket for the complete system, sans monitor and speakers, using a Watts Up Pro power meter. The full-load test combined Cinebench’s multithreaded CPU rendering test with the Unigine Valley DirectX 11 demo, which we ran with extreme settings in a 1280×720 window. We then recorded the peak power consumption during the Cinebench run. Our idle measurement represents the low over a five-minute period sitting at the Windows desktop.
- Our system build was performed using all of the hardware components listed in the configuration table above. Completing this process as our readers would allows us to easily identify any pain points that arise from assembling a system with this particular motherboard.
The tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. All tests except power consumption, were run at least three times. Unless otherwise indicated, we reported the median result for each test. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.
Gigabyte’s Z170X-Gaming G1 is a very impressive motherboard. It’s the class of board that lets the engineers go wild without worrying too much about price. In short, it’s a halo product, and as halo products go, it’s a very good one.
There are some negative points, though. Right now, the Gaming G1’s firmware only offers Gigabyte’s Classic Mode interface. While it’s certainly functional, this UI leaves a lot to be desired. Its 1024×768 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 for its Z170 boards. We’re told that full-featured fan speed controls for the firmware are also coming soon. When these pieces fall into place, there will be little to dislike about the Gaming G1.
Those minor complaints aside, the Z170X-Gaming G1 offers a lot to like already. Gigabyte gives us four PCIe 3.0 x16 slots, and each one can run in x8 mode for crazy builds with four-way graphics setups. Pros who need Thunderbolt 3 will find it on this board, thanks to Intel’s Alpine Ridge controller. Three SATA Express connectors, ten SATA 6Gbps ports, and two M.2 slots driven with quad Gen3 lanes make for some mind-boggling potential storage options.
That’s not to mention this board’s decked-out onboard audio solution. Three upgradable op-amps give owners ample customization opportunities. On the networking side, Killer’s DoubleShot-X3 Pro suite pairs the company’s handy client software with twin E2400 GigE controllers and a Killer 1535 802.11ac Wi-Fi adapter. A 22-phase power delivery system and built-in watercooling for the VRMs should be ready for the most extreme overclockers. That top-end power setup let us get our Skylake CPU to 4.7GHz without using as much voltage as we did on lesser boards, a fact that bodes well for the long and healthy life of the CPU.
The Z170X-Gaming G1 sells for $473 online. If you’re after an absolute top-end Skylake motherboard that wants for nothing, then this is the board for you. This mobo is also ready to serve as the basis of a four-way SLI or quad-CrossFire rig, and it lets builders assemble such a system around Intel’s latest microarchitecture. For us regular folks with finite wallets, this is an amazing piece of hardware that’s awfully fun to read about, even if it won’t end up in the average PC.