Firmware and Windows software
The move to an ostensibly new chipset didn't occasion a major overhaul of Gigabyte's firmware for Z370. The same Spartan interface that's graced the company's Z270 and refreshed X99 boards soldiers on in the Z370 Aorus Gaming 7, and it's been carried over largely unchanged from those earlier iterations. If you'd like an in-depth analysis of this firmware's capabilities, check our our Z270X-Gaming 5 review.
Invoking the Gaming 7's firmware at start-up will drop users straight into the MIT screen, where settings for CPU frequency, memory frequency and timings, and voltage live. I've enjoyed how easy it is to get in, do what's needed, and get out of the firmware thanks to the front-and-center presentation of MIT, even if Gigabyte hasn't taken my suggestion to rename some of its voltage-control modes using industry-standard terms. Experienced users who know what they're after will find Gigabyte's current firmware easy to command, but first-time users may still find direction and documentation hard to come by.
The company's continued insistence on hiding common voltage-control modes like offset Vcore behind opaque terms like "Normal" in the firmware, for example, is especially odd considering that the Easy Tune software now calls that mode "Dynamic Offset," as we'd expect. Easy Tune at least no longer requires one to enable "Normal" voltage-control mode to access that dynamic or offset mode in Windows—it's fully self-contained and controllable from within the OS. Now, if Gigabyte's firmware engineers would just take a page from the Windows software team...
The biggest—and bravest—change that Gigabyte has made with its Z370 firmware is to kick the Enhanced Multi-Core Performance setting to the curb. That feature now ships in Auto mode by default, and my observations of system behavior in Auto Mode have confirmed that the i7-8700K follows Intel's stock parameters. Given that performance differences among motherboards are so minor these days as to barely warrant testing, I'm glad the company has abandoned benchmarking gamesmanship in favor of user-friendliness and predictable behavior. This likely wasn't an easy decision to make or push through, and I'm glad the end result is the right one.
I still find that I need to bump up the Gaming 7's mouse sensitivity in firmware to get the fine control I want for stuff like fan curves. A 1.5x setting is enough to get fine control from my Logitech G502 mouse, so I'm curious why Gigabyte doesn't just make this the default across all its products. Otherwise, slow mouse movements are basically ignored or only sporadically registered, and that's a frustrating experience that simply shouldn't be an issue in modern UEFIs. Otherwise, Gigabyte's firmware seems to have largely matured to the best it's going to be for the time being, and I've found it functional and simple enough to use, even if I'm not head-over-heels for it.
One of our biggest nitpicks for motherboards in the past few years has been their ability to detect and control any common type of fan. Some boards do fine with PWM fans and fall flat on their faces with voltage-controlled (or three-pin) fans. Others cheap out and only include three-pin fan headers. Getting true plug-and-play fan control no matter what types of spinners one installs is a luxury that sets better motherboards apart.
For its part, Gigabyte has made universal fan compatibility a headlining feature of its Aorus motherboards. The Smart Fan 5 branding on the Gaming 7 means that each of its six (or seven, if you count CPU_OPT) system fan headers can automatically sense the type of fan that's plugged in and control them. Two of the board's headers can detect liquid-cooling pumps, as well. The only necessary user intervention is if a builder wants to configure fan curves of their own, and that requires diving into the Smart Fan 5 interface in the system's firmware.
Builders can set up custom fan control settings on Aorus boards through the firmware or the System Information Viewer utility in Windows. The firmware fan control interface gives builders access to practically every tweaking parameter available from the Gaming 7. Each of the board's fans has a five-point speed curve to tweak, and Gigabyte offers three prebaked curves (normal, silent, and full speed) per fan header.
The firmware also lets owners choose the input one of several temperature sensors to control fan speed. Instead of relying on just one motherboard temperature sensor in an indeterminate location, the Gaming 7's headers can respond to changes in CPU temperatures, chipset temperature, and VRM temperatures, or signals from the two included thermocouples, among other inputs. Overall, Gigabyte's latest firmware fan control interface is excellent, and it almost negates the need for Windows software entirely.
System Information Viewer's Smart Fan 5 Advanced mode still doesn't let users choose the temperature source that controls each fan, though. For that reason alone (and because of the fact that manually finding the lowest speed each fan can run at isn't that big a deal), I'd forgo SIV and just tweak fans in the Gaming 7's incredibly-capable firmware. I've long felt that Gigabyte's Windows software needs a unified redesign similar to that of Asus', and the advent of Z370 does little to change that view. At the very least, Gigabyte needs to bring the custom temperature source options from its firmware into SIV.
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