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Aorus' Z270X-Gaming 5 motherboard reviewed

The first of a new flock

Along with Intel's unveiling of its full Kaby Lake product family this morning, Intel's 200-series chipsets are also making their debut on a raft of motherboards from all the major players. Gigabyte isn't just introducing new 200-series motherboards this morning, though. It's using this opportunity to launch its Aorus motherboard brand. Aorus will serve a role in Gigabyte's motherboard lineup that's similar to Asus' Republic of Gamers boards. That means lots of RGB LED lighting, sleek aesthetic touches, and gaming software pack-ins.

The Aorus (say or-rus) motherboard lineup will offer several boards to start with, and we're saying hello by looking at the $195 Z270X-Gaming 5. This raptor will sit at the base of the Aorus lineup, but it comes with many of the same features as its fancier brethren. That includes a multi-zone RGB LED lighting system that Aorus calls "RGB Fusion." The accompanying RGB Fusion software can apply a dizzying array of colors and effects to these LEDs, and the pickiest RGB LED fans can even customize different regions of the board to display individual color and animation schemes.

Aorus motherboards also get a major fan-control upgrade. The Gaming 5 (and all other Aorus boards) will come with what the company calls "hybrid fan headers." These plugs can auto-detect three- and four-pin fans or liquid-cooling pumps and adjust power delivery and speed control accordingly for those devices. This fan-header versatility is often luck-of-the-draw with any given motherboard, so we're happy to see Aorus boards trumpeting it loud and clear. All five system fan headers on the Gaming 5 will feature this multi-modal intelligence.

With all those RGB LEDs providing visual punch, Gigabyte's stylists wisely stuck to a neutral palette for the Aorus family. The plastic fascias over the board's audio circuitry and I/O port block are covered in a fancy matte white finish that subtly reveals a faceted design in the right light. The board's VRM and chipset heatsinks boast black, white, and silver accents in an eye-catching design that isn't at all tacky. All this classy-looking jewelry will likely be hard to appreciate inside a case, but it sure looks nice outside of a box. Gigabyte secures the board's heatsinks with screws for an extra-solid feel.  

Kaby Lake CPUs stick to the external voltage-regulation circuitry that made its return with Z170 boards, and Gigabyte's engineers outfitted the Z270X-Gaming 5 with an appropriately beefy 11-phase system that rings the CPU socket. Gigabyte doesn't make any particular claims about the lifespan or provenance of the Gaming 5's power-delivery hardware, but 11 power phases should be more than adequate for a motherboard of this class.

Kaby CPUs also drop into the same LGA 1151 socket that underpinned Skylake, so closely-packed DIMM slots and VRM heatsinks could cause issues with massive tower coolers. The capacitors and chokes that ring the socket are all low-profile enough that our Cooler Master and Corsair liquid coolers had no problems getting comfortable. To give builders a sense of how their hardware will or won't fit the Z270X-Gaming 5, we've taken measurements at a variety of points around the socket to create the illustrations below.

Thanks to the Z270 chipset, the Gaming 5 feeds its PCIe slots, M.2 connectors, and U.2 connector entirely with Gen3 connectivity. Each of the board's x16 slots is metal-reinforced to prevent damage during transport with an expansion card installed. Even with four additional PCIe 3.0 lanes to play with from the chipset, however, some of those ports and slots have to share connectivity.

Let's start with the PCIe x16 slots. With one expansion card (a graphics card, most likely) installed in the first PCIe x16 slot, that card gets the full 16 lanes of PCIe 3.0 from the Kaby Lake or Skylake CPU. Install another graphics card or expansion card in the second PCIe x16 slot, and the board will split the CPU's lanes into a pair of x8 connections.

The third PCIe x16 slot and the bottom M.2 slot (M2P_32G) share four lanes from the Z270 chipset. With no M.2 drive installed there, the third slot gets all four lanes. Install a PCIe x2 storage device in the bottom M.2 slot, and the third slot will still get two lanes to work with. A typical NVMe drive and its PCIe 3.0 x4 connection will deactivate the bottom PCIe 3.0 slot.

The first and second PCIe x1 slots each get one lane from the Z270 chipset. The third PCIe x1 slot shares its connectivity with one of the board's SATA ports. Now is as good a time as any to talk about how the Gaming 5 allocates PCIe lanes to its storage devices, so let's get to it.