Gigabyte Continues its three-pronged approach to the Z170 motherboard market. The company’s gaming-focused boards usually have tweaked peripheral payloads adorned with LED lighting and a color theme that purports to appeal to gamers. Its overclocking-oriented models are aimed at, well, extreme overclockers and the competitive benchmarking circuit, where exotic forms of sub-zero cooling are more commonplace. Then there’s the Ultra Durable family of boards, a more value-oriented line that’s meant to deliver solid gaming and overclocking performance with a reasonable price tag attached.
After looking at two of Gigabyte’s gaming-specific boards, the Z170X-Gaming G1 and the Z170X Gaming 7, we were eager to try out one of the Ultra Durable boards, so we asked the company to send over its GA-Z170X-UD3. This mid-range offering has been a staple of our past couple of System Guides. That’s because it serves up three PCIe x16 slots, an abundance of next-gen storage interfaces, Intel-powered USB 3.1 connectivity, and all the other goodness that you’d expect from a Z170-based board. At $120 on Newegg right now, the Z170X-UD3 looks like an appealing value among Z170 mobos. Let’s dig in to find out if this board lives up to its billing.
Gigabyte has kept the familiar bling-on-black visual theme of previous Ultra Durable boards with the Z170X-UD3. Slivers of gold from the heatsinks and some nickel accents from the EMI shields on the audio, networking, and clock circuitry pepper the matte-black PCB.
The UD3 is just slightly skinnier than full-size ATX boards, measuring in at 9.25″ (23.5 cm) wide. Thankfully, this slight trimming at the waistline isn’t enough to make the board feel cramped. Those dimensions do leave builders with only six screw holes for mounting the motherboard to the case, or seven if your case can provide a standoff for the hole to the lower right of the DIMM slots. Being down three standoffs on wider motherboards can cause the Z170X-UD3’s PCB to flex if you apply pressure to the unsupported right-hand side of the board. Connecting the 24-pin ATX connector makes that lack of support especially evident.
Examining the back of the board reveals two small clusters of surface-mounted components: one that serves the CPU socket on the front, and a second directly behind the Intel Alpine Ridge USB 3.1 controller in the upper-right quadrant of the board. The underside of the board also reminds us that only the chipset heatsink is secured with screws. Unlike some of Gigabyte’s higher-end motherboards, the Z170X-UD3’s two VRM heatsinks are held in place with push pins.
While we’re talking about voltage regulation, it’s worth noting that the Skylake platform does away with the fully-integrated voltage regulator (FIVR) used by older Haswell CPUs. This puts the responsibility of CPU voltage regulation back on the motherboard maker. To meet this challenge, Gigabyte outfits the UD3 with an 8+3-phase VRM. While the MOSFETs safely hide under the two VRM heatsinks flanking the CPU socket, the inductors and capacitors are clearly visible riding shotgun. These “Durable Black” capacitors, as Gigabyte likes to call them, are rated for 10,000 hours of continuous use. The VRM heatsinks are a little closer to the CPU socket than we’d like, particularly the one to the left. Thankfully, at only 26 mm tall at their tallest point, they’re unlikely to cause issues for larger CPU coolers.
Since the LGA1151 socket carries over support for prior generation cooler mounting mechanisms, we’re able to keep using our trusty Nepton 240M from Cooler Master. This closed-loop liquid cooler has a beefy copper block with a tendency to run afoul of capacitor banks located close to the CPU socket.
Thankfully, Gigabyte has put enough distance between the capacitors and the socket that we didn’t run into any issues mounting our cooler. Gigabyte advises that DIMMs should be installed in the gray set of DIMM slots first. This means that you will only need to use the slot closest to the CPU socket if you’re installing four DIMMs.
We can’t check for compatibility with all possible coolers, so we’ve provided some measurements below to help you figure out which components can safely fit together on the board:
Four fan headers are within easy reach of the CPU socket: two for CPU fans and two for system fans. A PCIe x1 slot in the first expansion slot position also leaves a healthy amount of room between the CPU socket and the topmost PCIe x16 slot. To ensure easy installation and removal of DIMMs, Gigabyte uses slots that feature the one-sided snap-in mechanism that’s become more common these days.
Thanks in part to its 22-nm manufacturing process, the Z170 chipset dissipates only 6W of heat. This lets Gigabyte outfit the UD3 with low-profile chipset heatsink that does a good job of staying out of the way of long graphics cards.
The Z170X-UD3 serves up three PCIe x16 slots. The left and middle x16 slots above are connected directly to the Skylake CPU. When one graphics card is installed in the left-most slot, all sixteen Gen3 lanes are routed to that slot. For some dual-GPU goodness, simply pop your second graphics card in the middle slot, and each of the pair will get eight PCIe Gen3 lanes from the processor. The right-most x16 slot in the picture above is fed by four Gen3 lanes from the chipset. Not all of these lanes are dedicated solely to that slot, however. If you install a PCIe card in the right-most x1 slot, only a single Gen3 lane is routed to the right-most x16 slot at the same time. The other two PCIe x1 slots at the far left and center of the expansion area get chipset-powered PCIe 3.0 connectivity all the time, regardless of what’s plugged into the board.
Without the use of third-party PCI Express switch chips, the Skylake platform provides enough PCIe lanes for two-way SLI setups. Gigabyte fully supports this configuration with the Z170X-UD3. AMD’s CrossFire multi-GPU protocol has more lenient bandwidth requirements that let the third chipset-driven PCIe slot above join in the fun. That said, we usually recommend going for the fastest single graphics card you can afford before stepping up to more exotic multi-GPU setups.
The Z170X-UD3’s expansion slot layout can handle something as wild as a pair of triple-slot video cards, but in more typical multi-GPU setups, installing a pair of double-slot cards will still allow access to two of the PCIe x1 slots and the four-lane PCIe x16 slot. Thankfully, these two x1 slots are those that do not share lanes with the four-lane x16 slot.
For easy reference, here’s a diagram of the UD3’s PCIe lane routing and expansion slots:
Now that we’ve found a useful way of getting block diagrams out of our system, it’s time to move on to the board’s storage subsystem.
Storage, sound, and the little things
The UD3’s SATA-based storage all resides in the lower-right corner of the board.
Here we find not one, not two, but three SATA Express connectors. All three of these connectors and their six embedded SATA 6Gbps ports are driven by the Z170 chipset—no auxiliary storage controllers herer. All of these ports are right-angled to make cable insertion easier with longer graphics cards installed.
The UD3’s next-gen storage support continues with two M.2 slots, one on either side of the primary PCIe x16 slot. The M.2 connector above the primary PCIe x16 slot, labeled M2D, would be where we’d install M.2 SSDs first. The second M.2 slot, labelled M2A, will end up sandwiched between two video cards in multi-GPU setups. Even in a more mundane single-card system, this slot sits under the blower coolers common on many dual-slot graphics cards today. 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.
The M.2 slots accept mini-SSDs up to 80 mm long (commonly referred to as M.2 2280). Both SATA and NVMe SSDs will work here. Gigabyte also supports U.2 NVMe storage devices like Intel’s 750 Series SSD with its M.2 to U.2 adapter card, which plugs into an M.2 slot. Gigabyte sells this adapter separately as the GC-M2-U2-MiniSAS.
Both of these next-gen interfaces serve up some impressive numbers. The two Gen3 lanes that feed each SATA Express connector provide up to 16 Gbps per block, while each M.2 slot’s four Gen3 lanes are good for up to 32 Gbps.
That said, not all of this storage connectivity can be used at once. The Z170 chipset provides 26 multi-purpose, high-speed I/O lanes that can be shared between different storage ports. That lane-sharing 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 that we’ll talk to in the following paragraphs:
Here’s how the sharing breaks down. A SATA M.2 SSD installed in the M2A M.2 slot will disable SATA port 0. If you populate the M2D M.2 slot with a SATA-based SSD both SATA port 3 and its accompanying SATA Express port will become unusable.
The situation becomes even more complicated with PCIe SSDs. Since the M2A M.2 slot has its own dedicated PCIe lanes, installing a PCIe SSD in this slot while the controller is in normal mode doesn’t cause you to lose any SATA ports. Like the M2D M.2 slot, though, setting the controller to RAID mode and installing a PCIe-based SSD in the bottom M.2 slot will disable SATA port 5 and its corresponding SATA Express port.
A four-lane PCIe-based SSD installed in the M2D M.2 slot will disable all the SATA ports on the bottom row—ports 0 through 3. Enable RAID mode, and you’ll lose SATA port 5 and its corresponding SATA Express port, as well. A two-lane PCIe SSD installed in the M2D M.2 slot will disable SATA ports 2 and 3 and the SATA Express port they’re embedded in. Enable RAID mode, and you’ll lose those two ports along with SATA port 5 and its corresponding SATA Express port.
With those two M.2 slots and the Z170’s support for RAID arrays across PCIe SSDs, the UD3 is ready to serve up some impressive storage performance. Unfortunately, the DMI link between the chipset and the processor is the next bottleneck. 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 32 Gbps (4 GBpit’ss). That bandwidth has to be shared between all devices connected to the chipset.
The Z170X-UD3’s rear port cluster has something for everyone. Gigabyte includes VGA, DVI, and HDMI 1.4b display outputs on the Z170X-UD3. Those ports are likely only of interest to buyers looking to tap into a Skylake CPU’s integrated graphics processor, though. Folks using discrete graphics cards don’t have to worry about these onboard display outputs.
Sandwiched between the trio of display outputs, we have both Type-A and Type-C USB 3.1 ports. These ports are powered by the Intel Alpine Ridge USB 3.1 controller, seen in the center of the picture below:
Unlike some of Gigabyte’s higher-end boards, the UD3 feeds the Alpine Ridge controller with only two Gen3 PCIe lanes. This endows it with up to 16 Gbps of bandwidth, rather than the 32 Gbps that four Gen3 lanes would provide. The USB 3.1 Gen2 spec tops out at 10Gbps, so the 16Gbps pipe here isn’t really a limitation.
The UD3 only provides us with three rear USB 3.0 ports. Thankfully, four more USB 3.0 ports are available from two internal headers. All ports are connected directly to the Z170 chipset.
Two USB 2.0 ports above the lone PS/2 port, round out the USB connectivity found on the rear port cluster. A further four ports are supported via two internal headers.
The Gigabit Ethernet port is powered by Intel’s I219-V controller. On top of the normal Intel GigE drivers, Gigabyte bundles the cFosSpeed traffic-shaping software for Windows. This software, like the suite of software provided with Killer’s Gigabit Ethernet controllers, performs packet prioritization on the client PC. While this utility is nice in theory, it doesn’t help if the network congestion is occurring at some point outside of the PC.
Time for a colorful diagram to graphically tie up all of the words above:
The Z170X-UD3’s is fitted with Gigabyte’s “Amp-Up” audio implementation. Underneath the gold EMI shield lies a familiar Realtek audio codec, the ALC1150. A Texas Instruments OP1652 dual-channel op-amp and high-end Nippon Chemi-con audio capacitors round out the remaining audio hardware.
The quality of a motherboard’s onboard audio isn’t determined purely by component selection, however. The quality of the analog signals themselves is just as important. To this end, Gigabyte has physically isolated the audio circuitry and components from the rest of the PCB to minimize interference and provide an environment that’s as noise-free as possible.
To highlight the onboard audio, Gigabyte has added orange LED lighting that traces the border of the isolated circuitry. As we’ve come to expect from Gigabyte’s onboard lighting, three modes of operation are available: a solid glow, a pulsing pattern, and a mode that flashes the audio trace path lighting in time with audio piped through the onboard stereo output. The lighting can also be disabled altogether for a less flashy system build.
The UD3’s analog audio output was pleasing to my ears. I didn’t detect any unwanted noise under a variety of load and idle conditions. There were no pops, no hissing, nothing to disturb the listening experience. That said, audiophiles will still want to use a dedicated sound card. They could also opt for this board’s digital S/PDIF output, though the board can’t encode multi-channel audio on the fly. As a result, games are limited to stereo output and virtualized surround sound.
The Z170X-UD3 includes a number of welcome builder-friendly perks. First off, in the box we find a high-quality cushioned I/O shield. This not only makes installing the motherboard in a case easier, it also removes one source of sharp edges that your fingers will come in contact with during the build.
Gigabyte also includes a detachable front-panel wiring block with the UD3—a “G-Connector.” Asus has long shipped its motherboards with a similar port block, so we’re glad to see other companies following its example. We first saw this feature on Gigabyte’s high-end Gaming series boards, and I’m very happy to see this plug carried over to the Ultra Durable lineup, especially this mid-range model. The G-Connector 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 chipset heatsink are the two SPI flash chips that put the “dual” in Gigabyte’s DualBIOS redundant firmware setup. While motherboards may have moved to UEFI-based firmware, it seems the DualBIOS name is here to stay. I guess “DualUEFI” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. Gigabyte’s boards have been fitted with backup firmware chips for years, and the Z170X-UD3 carries on that tradition. Directly above the front-panel header is the “clear CMOS” jumper. Just short these two pins together for a few seconds, turn on your system, and your existing firmware configuration will be a thing of the past.
Gigabyte has unfortunately chosen not to endow the UD3 with support for its Q-Flash Plus feature. Although Q-Flash Plus doesn’t get used every day, the ability to update a motherboard’s firmware with nothing more than a USB thumb drive and a power supply can save you from having to borrow a supported CPU to update the board for a newer chip or to get around some other show-stopping issue.
Unlike some of Gigabyte’s top-end motherboards, the UD3 lacks a hardware-based shortcut to enter the firmware. We point this out because with the ultra-fast-boot option enabled, no amount of key-mashing on boot-up will get you into the firmware. Thankfully, there’s a software solution via Gigabyte’s Fast Boot Windows utility, which has a handy “Enter BIOS Setup Now” button that reboots directly into the UEFI.
Over on the left-hand side of the UD3, we see an interesting mix of old and new. A serial port header comes courtesy of the iTE IT8628E Super I/O controller. To the right of this, we have a connector used by Gigabyte’s Thunderbolt add-in card.
Traveling all the way up to the top of the board, we find a handy little two-digit diagnostic display that shows debug codes when the system boots. This readout can be very useful if you’re trying to solve issues that occur very early in the boot process. That said, it can get crowded up at of the top corner of the board, so it may be a little difficult to read the display once the system is assembled. Gigabyte details all of the codes this readout can display in section 3-3 of the board’s user manual, should you need help figuring out what your own UD3 is trying to tell you when it won’t boot.
Now that we’ve covered the Z170X-UD3 from head-to-toe, let’s check out the firmware.
The Z170X-UD3 has the same UEFI as Gigabyte’s other 100-series boards. Users are presented with a single firmware interface, called Classic Mode. This old-school aesthetic should appeal to seasoned tweakers who learnt their craft on BIOSes of old. Newbies may miss the novice-friendly Startup Guide interface that we saw on previous generation boards, though.
Rather than rehashing the in-depth coverage of Gigabyte’s 100-series UEFI firmware from our Z170X-Gaming 7 review, I’ll instead call out some of my gripes. It’s not all bad though. After I gripe I’ll point out one positive change in the UD3’s firmware that I’m very pleased about.
The major shortcoming of the UD3’s firmware is the fan speed controls. They leave a lot to be desired.
This board’s firmware-based fan speed controls are limited to predefined profiles for silent, normal, and full fan speeds, or a manual option where a PWM duty cycle step can be assigned across the range of CPU temperatures.
These extremely limited fan speed controls are a stark contrast to what’s available from some of the competition. At least we get full-featured fan speed controls in Gigabyte’s System Information Viewer utility for Windows. The company tells us that it’s working on implementing these same controls in the firmware, so we’ll keep an eye out for that update in the future.
When testing the Z170X-UD3, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the firmware no longer messed with the CPU’s Turbo multipliers when the memory multiplier was changed. You can now safely enable an XMP profile or manually adjust the speed of your RAM without the firmware automagically overclocking the CPU. After seeing more and more motherboard makers apply this sleight-of-hand, it’s refreshing to see Gigabyte back away from this practice. Hopefully other motherboard makers follow suit.
Overall, the UD3’s firmware is perfectly functional, and it has enough knobs and dials to satisfy all but the most hardcore tweakers. A smorgasbord of multipliers, voltages, timings, and power settings is available for those who want to get tuning.
As with its firmware, the Z170X-UD3’s suite of tweaking and monitoring software is carried over from Gigabyte’s other 100-series boards almost entirely unchanged. For full coverage of the Windows software, check out our Z170X-Gaming 7 review.
The only difference between the Gaming 7’s software and the UD3’s is that the Ultra Durable board’s interface has a blue theme instead of the industry-standard red that anything with the “gaming” sticker needs to carry. Color choices aside, Gigabyte’s Windows software utilities are well laid out, easy to use and fully-featured.
After our lament of the woeful state of the UD3’s firmware-based fan speed controls, it’s worth spending a few moments on the excellent fan-control functionality the board’s Windows software offers.
Despite its name, System Information Viewer is also the place to go to adjust this board’s fan speed controls. Here you can configure an ideal fan response curve by adjusting five points on a graph of “fan workload” (or speed) versus CPU temperature. There’s even a calibration function that measures the actual speed ranges of the fans connected to the board. This ensures each fan has an accurate profile.
A fixed-RPM mode, as its name suggests, spins the fan at a constant RPM—at least until CPU temperatures reach 70°C, at which time the fans will run at full speed. Gigabyte also bakes in a handful of pre-defined profiles for quiet, standard, performance, and full speed fan operation, which round out the available fan speed control options. All in all, this fan control functionality is superb. I just want to see this level of control in the firmware as well.
Before we get into our overclocking tests, we should note that a given CPU’s frequency potential (also known as the silicon lottery) and your choice of CPU cooler tend to have a greater impact on overclocking results than your choice of motherboard does these days. Still, you want the journey to peak clock speeds with modern CPUs to be as fun as possible. The quality of the overclocking experience is where your choice of motherboard becomes important. Ideally, you want a motherboard that will help you along the way, not one that forces you to become too acquainted with your clear-CMOS jumper.
To find out what kind of travel companion Gigabyte’s Z170X-UD3 will be on this journey, we put it through its paces using a Core i7-6700K CPU cooled with Cooler Master’s Nepton 240M. The Nepton has a 240-mm radiator, and before it was superseded by the company’s MasterLiquid Pro 240, it had a $110 asking price. This puts it towards the high end of the range of coolers that might be seen in a system built around the UD3. That said, it should do a good job of keeping our four Skylake cores from getting too torrid as we push the clock speeds up.
The first stop on our overclocking journey is the firmware. Advanced Frequency Settings, under the M.I.T. menu, provides a Performance Upgrade option with presets from 20% to 100% in 20% increments. These options correspond to clock speeds from 4.3GHz to 4.7GHz in 100MHz steps.
With a 20% Performance Upgrade, the firmware supplied our CPU with 1.25V. All Turbo multipliers were set to 43x and the base clock remained at 100MHz. This collection of settings was completely stable in our Prime95 stress test. We saw no signs of any throttling and temperatures maxed out at 78°C.
Our quest for more speed brought us back to the Performance Upgrade firmware option, this time for a 40% upgrade. Rebooting into Windows, we found that the firmware was still supplying 1.25V 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 in check with a maximum of 79°C.
We repeated this same process with the 60% Performance Upgrade options and we were rewarded with a stable 4.5GHz clock speed with a core voltage of 1.25V. Prime95 was stable with no thermal throttling, but temperatures rose to 80°C during the run.
With the 80% Performance Upgrade option locked in, we booted to the Windows desktop at 4.6GHz with a core voltage still at 1.25V. This wasn’t enough voltage for a stable Prime95 run, however. Worker threads instantly saw errors once the test was kicked off.
Despite our previous failure, we decided to shoot for the moon and try out the 100% Performance Upgrade option. In an attempt to secure a stable 4.7GHz clock speed, the firmware supplied our chip with 1.380V. Our Prime95 stress test was not impressed, instantly spitting out errors. A perfect 100% was out of reach.
In our attempt to leave 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. The first two pre-baked profiles for the Core i7-6700K, 4.4GHz and 4.5GHz, used Turbo multipliers of 44x and 45x, respectively. Both fed the CPU the same 1.25V to the core, and both were completely stable in our Prime95 run. The 4.6GHz preset didn’t fare so well. With Turbo multipliers set to 46x and a slightly elevated core voltage of 1.26V Prime95 still gave errors almost immediately on startup.
With the firmware’s automatic overclocking options thoroughly tested, 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 instantly gave us a 4.4GHz clock speed at 1.25V. This config was completely stable in our Prime95 stress test. It also yielded the same configuration as the 4.4GHz CPU Upgrade firmware option.
Next, we tried Easy Tune’s auto-tuning feature. Once we clicked through the obligatory warning screen, up popped a 30-second countdown timer with a message alerting us that a system reboot was required to kick off the auto-tuning process. Once 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 declaring victory.
The board achieved this result with 46x Turbo multipliers and a core voltage of 1.28V. Testing with Prime95 showed the system to be perfectly stable with no throttling, and CPU temperatures peaked at 84°C. The whole auto-tuning process lasted a little less than ten minutes.
Having thoroughly exhausted the board’s automatic overclocking features, it was time to step out on our own with manual tuning in the firmware. We started by tweaking the multiplier alone, with all the voltages left at “auto.” This got us to 4.5GHz using a 45x multiplier alongside the standard 100MHz base clock. At this speed, the firmware was supplying our CPU with 1.25V. This config proved to be stable during the Prime95 run. We saw no signs of throttling and temperatures topped out at 81°C.
Seeking more speed, we took voltage control into our own hands. By manually setting the core voltage, we made it to 4.6GHz at 1.29V. Prime95 was completely stable with no throttling, and our Nepton was keeping temperatures in check at or below 86°C.
Unfortunately, pushing higher than 4.6GHz proved fruitless. Either Prime95 would find errors on one or more worker threads, or we’d push voltage so high that we’d hit thermal throttling.
A 4.6GHz final clock speed is very respectable for this CPU and cooler combination. It is, in fact, only 100MHz lower than the highest speed we’ve ever achieved on any Z170 board, so those numbers are right where we’d expect to be for our multiplier overclocking results.
The fun doesn’t end there, though. Skylake K-series CPUs allow tweaking of the base clock without having to run other system devices out of spec. That’s thanks to a revised reference clock architecture that decouples the PCIe and DMI bus speeds from the base clock. While it’s much easier to overclock using multipliers alone, we ran a quick test to see how the UD3 fared when overclocking with base clock tuning.
We first tried for a 200MHz base clock, leaving everything else on “auto.” We quickly ended up with a board that didn’t POST. Thinking our folly was in leaving the other settings on auto, we manually set the CPU Multiplier to 20x and the DDR4 speed to 3000 MT/s. Those settings didn’t help matters, unfortunately, so it was time for another trip back to the clear-CMOS jumper. We decided to try a different tack at this point.
Starting with the stock base clock of 100MHz, we increased its speed in 10MHz increments, testing stability along the way. We didn’t make it very far, however. At 130MHz things started to unravel for the UD3. After briefly seeing the firmware splash screen the system rebooted and we landed back in the boot failure guard. 120MHz was perfectly stable, however. Ignore the insanely low core voltage reading by CPU-Z below. CPU-Z was having some trouble with this board, it seems.
In the end, 120MHz was as far as we could push base clocks with this board. With the availability of K-series unlocked chips and base clock increases being more a novelty than a staple for today’s overclockers, this low result isn’t really anything to worry about.
Overall, overclocking on the Z170X-UD3 was a pleasant ride. The pre-baked profiles in the firmware worked fairly well, leaving only 100MHz of clock speed on the table. This last morsel of speed was easily achieved using both manual tuning through the firmware, as well as Easy Tune’s auto tuning feature. While I would have liked to have control over the stress tests that the auto-tuner uses, it’s hard to fault the outcome.
Now that our overclocking journey has come to an end, let’s see how the UD3’s performance stacks up.
Since many traditional chipset functions now reside on the CPU die, and there are 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 that our test subjects are 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 XMP profile speed we can attain while keeping the CPU at its stock clocks.
We tested the Z170X-UD3 against Gigabyte’s own Z170X-Gaming 7 and Z170X-Gaming G1, MSI’s Z170A SLI Plus and Z170A Gaming M5, and Asus’ Z170-A and ROG Maximus VIII Impact. All the boards were able to keep our DDR4 DIMMs ticking along at 3000 MT/s while maintaining stock CPU clocks, so the results below were gathered with these settings.
Gigabyte’s Z170X-UD3 ends up around the middle of the pack for a handful of tests. Most notably, this board runs roughly 3% 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. The UD3 is the clear winner in our boot-time testing, though.
While one’s choice of motherboard might not affect performance much, it 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 UD3 puts in an impressively low idle power consumption result. It bests all the other boards we’ve tested, including our previous power-sipping champ, Gigabyte’s own Z170X-Gaming 7. Once we crank up the load, however, we see the UD3’s appetite for power grow. It finishes looking a little hungrier than the competition.
The following page contains all of the detailed motherboard specifications, system configuration details, and test procedures behind everything you’ve read so far. It’s hard to make this kind of content interesting, especially considering our closing thoughts are lurking just beyond. But, if you do jump straight to the conclusion, know that you’ll be missing out on a couple of pictures of the test hardware, in and out of its chassis. I’ll work on adding some easter eggs to those tables of data for next time.
We’ve already gone over the Z170X-UD3’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||2 PCIe 3.0 x16 via CPU (x16/x0 or x8/x8)
1 PCIe 3.0 x16 via Z170 (x4, or x1 if third PCIe x1 slot is populated)
3 PCIe 3.0 x1 via Z170 (third one shares a PCIe lane with x4 slot above)
|Storage I/O||3 SATA Express via Z170
2 M.2 up to type 2280 from the Z170 chipset (SATA and PCIe)
|Audio||8-channel HD via Realtek ALC1150 with TI OP1652 amplifier|
|Ports||1 PS/2 keyboard/mouse via iTE IT8628E Super I/O
1 HDMI 1.4b via CPU
1 DVI via CPU
1 VGA via CPU
3 USB 3.0 via Z170
2 USB 2.0 via Z170
2 USB 3.1 (1 Type A and 1 Type C) via Intel Alpine Ridge USB 3.1
4 USB 3.0 via internal header and Z170
4 USB 2.0 via internal headers and Z170
1 Gigabit Ethernet via Intel I219-V
1 Serial/COM via internal header and iTE IT8628E Super I/O
5 analog out ports (front, center, rear, line in, mic in)
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: 0.6-1.50V
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), 3 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-UD3||MSI Z170A SLI Plus||Asus ROG Maximus VIII Impact||Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming G1||Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 7||MSI Z170A Gaming M5||Asus Z170-A|
|Platform hub||Intel Z170|
|Audio||Realtek ALC1150||Realtek ALC1150||SupremeFX Impact III (ALC1150)||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 has put together quite the solid offering in the Z170X-UD3. The company takes all the goodness that the Z170 chipset has to offer and adds useful features like Intel’s Alpine Ridge USB 3.1 controller and a USB 3.1 Type-C port with Gen2 speeds to the mix. We also get welcome niceties like a padded I/O shield and a front-panel connector pin block in the box.
If there’s one thing that takes some of the shine off this board, though, it’s the firmware. It’s a little lacking in both functionality and aesthetics. We’ve long complained that Gigabyte’s firmware for its 100-series boards seems to have taken a step backwards compared to the company’s 9-series offerings. We’re still waiting for Gigabyte to deliver on its promises to spiff up its firmware for these boards, a point of contention we’ve had since last September.
We’re also not big fans of this board’s non-standard ATX layout. The UD3 is narrower than the average ATX board, so most cases will only be able to secure it at six points rather than the nine we’d prefer. That lack of structural support makes plugging in the 24-pin ATX power connector feel more precarious than we’d like, and frankly, it feels a little cut-rate.
That said, if you don’t mind the extremely limited fan speed controls in the firmware and you can live with—or you even prefer—Gigabyte’s “Classic Mode” firmware interface, the Z170X-UD3 seems like a great mid-range motherboard choice. Gigabyte makes up for the board’s rather Spartan firmware with a fully-featured and capable set of Windows utilities that offer the kinds of fan control fine-tuning we want, among other things.
While we didn’t have a lot of success with base-clock overclocking on the UD3, our multiplier overclocking results on this board with the Core i7-6700K were within 100MHz of the best results we’ve ever gotten from any board. The overclocking menus in the board’s firmware offer more than enough options to keep seasoned tuners busy. The software-based auto-overclocking functionality built into Easy Tune also makes the UD3 easy to tweak, and it delivered results that were only 100MHz off the best results we got with manual tuning.
Overall, our experience with the Z170X-UD3 has made us feel good about choosing it as a midrange Z170 pick for our past few System Guides, some minor flaws aside. This board’s $120 price tag makes it an appealing value right now, too: it’s about $25 less than the UD3 has commanded in the past. If you can pick up a UD3 for a similar price when it’s time to build a system, and you’re OK with its slight drawbacks, we think you’ll be rewarded with a rock-solid foundation for your Skylake PC.