As generational leaps in motherboards go, the shift from Z270 to Z370 will not go down as a major one. Yes, the revised LGA 1151 socket on these boards offers better power delivery to six-core CPUs in what used to be the domain of four-core parts, but that’s not strictly a chipset feature. Z370 itself is, as far as I can tell, a warming-over of the Z270 platform controller hub—they even share the same Intel product specification manual. Z370 motherboards are all about Coffee Lake support, for better or for worse, and motherboard makers aren’t being given the most revolutionary canvas to work with to mark the advent of a new platform generation.
What’s a mobo manufacturer to do to set itself apart when the primary changes are in a standard component that everybody has to implement? In the case of Gigabyte’s Z370 Aorus Gaming 7, its highest-end Z370 board so far, the answer is a healthy dose of fresh styling cues and new construction techniques borrowed from the company’s latest Intel X299 and AMD X399 motherboards. Gigabyte has been constantly refining its Aorus boards since the introduction of the brand with the Z270X-Gaming 5 and friends in January, and the Z370 Gaming 7 gets all of the latest improvements from that continued effort up until now.
The $250 Gaming 7 is the most extreme exponent of Gigabyte’s Z370 styling trends. Instead of the plain white and black shrouding that we saw on the company’s Z270 boards, the Z370 Gaming 7 has a sort of mecha- or cyberpunk-inspired style that manifests as elaborate metal and metal-look accents all over the I/O shroud and heatsinks. Although I quite liked Gigabyte’s simple and clean design language in the Z270 generation, this look is distinctive without evoking medieval torture devices or occult rituals. It should stand out in any windowed case.
This board isn’t all about flash, though. To supply the necessary juice to Coffee Lake CPUs, Gigabyte taps a 10-phase (8+2) power design incorporating power stages and PWM control circuitry from Intersil, an unusual choice in a high-end space that’s been dominated by International Rectifier’s PowIRStages of late. Gigabyte taps ten of Intersil’s ISL99227B Smart Power Stage modules for conversion duty, and they’re controlled by the company’s ISL69138 controller chip.
These modules integrate high-side, low-side, and driver circuitry into one package, and they are quite costly: $5.50 each at Intersil’s suggested prices. Even if Gigabyte is scoring those power stages in volume, they would still seem to make up a significant part of the Gaming 7’s bill of materials. Each unit is rated to deliver 60A, so the VRM array on this board seems more than ready to power any typical enthusiast’s overclock.
This VRM array is paired with what Gigabyte calls “server-level chokes” from Cooper Bussmann, and the units so employed are identical to those on the X99-Designare EX I reviewed some time back. This is, again, an undoubtedly high-end power-delivery subsystem more typical of Gigabyte’s high-end X299 and X99 boards than those of its mainstream offerings. That’s fitting, since the Core i7-8700K straddles the gap between Intel’s mainstream and high-end desktop CPUs.
The high quality of the VRMs on this board are let down a bit by the heatsinks that ring the socket. Although they may look bulky at first glance, the Gaming 7’s VRM heatsinks are actually spindly blocks of metal capped off with cosmetic fascias. My handy gram scale suggests that there’s more metal in these heatsinks to begin with than in those of the Z270X-Gaming 5’s, but any air space in the VRM heatsink directly above the socket is largely occupied by wiring and circuitry for the underlying RGB LEDs.
The heatsink over the bulk of the VRMs to the left of the socket is perforated with just six tiny slots in what is otherwise a featureless, smooth surface.
I didn’t notice any instances of throttling or other weirdness from overheating VRMs during my stock and overclocked Core i7-8700K testing, but these heatsinks are one of the more extreme example of form over function that I’ve seen from modern motherboards so far. Gigabyte does snake a heat pipe through the bases of both heatsinks to effect better thermal transfer throughout the system, but I’m not sure that arrangement can compensate for the large amount of surface area given over to cosmetics here. I’ll examine VRM temperatures in more depth when we turn the screws on the Gaming 7.
Perhaps because of these constraints, Gigabyte includes a tiny fan for active VRM cooling duties under the I/O shroud. This tiny fan joins similar cooling approaches from Asus on its X399 boards, and I’m not really a fan of these arrangements. Tiny fans like this have the potential to spoil the noise characteristics of a system, and I feel like more effective heatsinks with greater surface area and less decorative bric-a-brac would be a more effective choice to begin with.
Like Z270 boards, the Gaming 7 offers four DIMM slots with support for up to 64GB of RAM. Coffee Lake ups the base DDR4 speed to 2666 MT/s for JEDEC RAM, but the Gaming 7 should offer support for much higher speeds through XMP and manual tweaking. Gigabyte’s QVL offers options at insane speeds up to 4166 MT/s. I got my G.Skill DDR4-3600 sticks running on the board without a hitch simply by flipping on the XMP profile in the firmware.
You can also see the Gaming 7’s dedicated power, “OC Mode,” reset, and Clear CMOS buttons peeking out at the bottom edge of the image above. Although these features may not be missed by folks who build PCs into cases (as most will), they’re invaluable to me since I spend 95% of my time with my systems on test benches. Overclockers without the time or inclination to install their boards on anything but a test bench should appreciate these features, as well.
Expansion, I/O, and audio
Like many high-end Z270 boards, the Z370 Gaming 7 offers three PCIe x16 slots and three PCIe x1 slots, all meeting the PCIe 3.0 standard. Two of these are powered by the CPU’s 16 lanes of connectivity. The topmost x16 slot gets 16 lanes from the CPU with one graphics card installed. Deploy a second card in the middle x16 slot, and the Gaming 7 splits those lanes into a pair of x8 channels. The third x16 slot gets four PCIe lanes from the Z370 chipset, and each PCIe x1 slot gets a lane from the PCH, as well.
For PCIe storage devices, the Gaming 7 has a whopping three M.2 slots, the topmost of which sits above the first PCIe x16 slot for better thermal resilience against the primary graphics card’s exhaust. The first slot is also protected by a handsome M.2 heatsink with a pre-applied thermal pad.
Since Z370 is simply an evolution of Z270, loading up the board with expansion cards and storage devices could result in some resource-sharing conflicts. The first two PCIe x1 slots get a single lane from the chipset at all times, but the third shares its bandwidth with SATA port 0. Plug an expansion card into that slot, and SATA port 0 goes dark (or vice versa). Install a PCIe or SATA storage device in M2M_32G, the first M.2 slot, and SATA ports 4 and 5 turn off. M2A_32G, the middle M.2 slot, gets four PCIe lanes for M.2 devices at all times, but installing a SATA device in it will disable port 0, as well. Finally, M2P_32G (the bottom M.2 slot of the bunch) shares four lanes of PCIe with the bottom-most PCIe x16 slot. Install a device in one slot or the other, and its unused counterpart will go dark.
Those resource conflicts are a bit frustrating on a motherboard this expensive. The Gaming 7 only has six SATA ports to begin with. Use an NVMe SSD in the first slot as your system’s boot device, and you immediately lose two of these ports to lane-sharing. It’s a bit bemusing that Gigabyte didn’t flip the allocation of lanes for M2M_32G and M2A_32G when it was laying out the board, considering that the middle slot doesn’t ever conflict with SATA devices with an NVMe SSD installed. You can move the M.2 heatsink to this second slot, at least, but then you’re subjecting your M.2 device to the jet blast of the PC’s graphics card. This is a decidedly sub-optimal arrangement for the storage-hungry.
On the audio front, Gigabyte employs its usual arrangement of Nichicon and Wima capacitors in the board’s analog audio path. The codec that feeds this array is Realtek’s now-ubiquitous S1220 codec, complemented by an ESS Sabre 9018Q2C DAC. This chain is claimed to be good for an analog SNR of 121 dB, or on par with the claimed specs for many high-end onboard setups.
I had high expectations from the ESS Sabre DAC on this board, but the default voicing of the Gaming 7’s analog audio chain is surprisingly low-mid and low-heavy, with distant, anemic highs. A little manual EQ woke up the potential of the system, however, and I was treated to an impressively wide soundstage, deep and expansive bass, and detailed, sparkly highs afterward. The Gaming 7 might be voiced for bass-heavy music by default, but I’ve never heard such an aggressive bias in any recent motherboard. Still, impressive sound is possible from this board with a tiny bit of tweaking, and it’s definitely worthy of the price tag. Of recent motherboard audio I’ve heard, I’d say only that of Gigabyte’s own Z270X-Gaming 8 is better.
The Z270X-Gaming 7 offers plenty of possibilities for peripheral I/O. All of the back panel’s USB ports offer USB 3.0 speeds at a minimum. The leftmost yellow ports offer Gigabyte’s DAC-Up voltage-control feature, which purports to provide more juice to power-hungry devices on long cable runs if it’s needed. Although it’s unlikely they’ll be used on such a high-end board, Gigabyte offers an HDMI 1.4 jack and a DisplayPort 1.2 connector for Coffee Lake’s integrated graphics processor, as well. The lack of a separate converter chip for HDMI 2.0 means the HDMI port only supports 4096×2160 at a maximum, and only then at 30 Hz. Those looking for tolerable IGP output probably want to use the DisplayPort, which can handle 4096×2304 displays at 60 Hz.
The two blue USB 3.0 ports to the right of the gold-plated display outs draw their connectivity from the Z370 PCH. The USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C connector and the red Type-A port both draw connectivity from ASMedia’s latest ASM3142 USB 3.1 controller. Gigabyte backs this chip with two lanes of PCIe 3.0 from the chipset for a potential 16 GT/s of bandwidth, a reserve that might come in handy when transferring lots of bits over both ports at once. Above the Type-C port, we get a Killer Gigabit Ethernet jack powered by the company’s E2500 controller. If you still have a thing against Killer for some reason, Gigabyte accommodates with an Intel controller behind the second Gigabit Ethernet jack. The final USB 3.0 port also comes from the Z370 PCH.
Somewhat disappointingly for such a high-end board, Gigabyte omits built-in wireless connectivity from the Gaming 7. The company’s $200 Z370 Aorus Gaming 5 includes Intel’s Wireless-AC 3165 card built into an M.2 slot in the rear I/O panel, an ideal arrangement that doesn’t require burning a PCIe slot on a separate adapter. Not everybody wants or needs a wireless card built into their motherboard, but I feel like the Gaming 7’s features should be a strict superset of Gigabyte’s lesser boards given its price.
In a bold nod to cases of the future, Gigabyte dedicates an entire two PCIe lanes to another ASMedia ASM3142 USB 3.1 Gen 2 controller for cases with front-panel USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports. Outside of a couple of monstrous and monstrously expensive cases, however, USB 3.1 Gen 2 front-panel ports are a rare feature on today’s enclosures. I applaud Gigabyte’s forward thinking for this arrangement, but I also lament the fact that this connector (and its precious, precious chipset lanes) will likely sit unused in most systems.
Whatever we might think of them, arrays of RGB LEDs have become central features of most every modern motherboard. We’re long past the point where protesting the presence of these blinkenlights would be useful. They are well and truly ubiquitous, and they’re not going away. If you can’t stomach them, the answer is simple: turn them off. As reviewers, our main concern now is making sure motherboard makers are making RGB LEDs easy to configure and manage across a system. Given the ranges of color, animation, and synchronization available from modern RGB LEDs, the potential complexity of lighting management is daunting, and it’s a major challenge for motherboard makers to rein in that complexity in software.
For its Z370 motherboards, Gigabyte has done some nips and tucks on the RGB Fusion software that manages the multi-zone lighting and strip headers scattered across the board. The fundamental RGB Fusion interface is now cleaner and more refined. Users get a choice between three modes: a Basic Mode that applies a given color or animation to every lighting zone on the motherboard, an Advanced Mode that lets owners apply different colors and animations to the board’s four different lighting zones, and an Intelligent Mode that changes lighting in response to parameters like CPU temperature, CPU fan speed, or CPU load, to name just three such options.
Basic Mode contains eight presets, but only seven seemed usable in my testing. Static allows the user to set one color and brightness level for the entire board. Pulse gently illuminates and darkens the board in one color at one of three available speeds. Music blinks out a one-color light show in sync with any audio that’s playing through the Gaming 8’s outputs. Color Cycle takes the whole board through the standard rainbow sweep that defines RGB LED lighting for many. Flash blinks every LED on and off at one of three speeds. Double Flash unsurprisingly doubles the blink rate of Flash. Random, well, randomly illuminates each of the board’s zones with different colors in an unpredictable swirl. The Wave function is disabled on the Gaming 7, so I’m not sure how it might look on this board.
The individually-controllable zones on the Gaming 7 are broken up as follows. The lights atop the I/O shield, the lights embedded in the power-delivery circuitry, and the diodes in the upper VRM heatsink comprise one zone. The LEDs in between the DIMM slots are another such zone. A third region comprises the LED light bar and the chipset heatsink. The fourth zone controls the lighting in each PCIe x16 slot shroud. Any zone can be assigned the Pulse, Static, Flash, Double Flash, or Color Cycle effects, or users can go hog-wild with a custom animation sequence of their own.
The Custom interface brings up an array of up to seven color stops. Users can define the transition speed between stops (anywhere from five to 30 seconds) and the duration the sequence spends on each stop (anywhere from one to 60 seconds). Each stop can have a color assigned to it, as well as a choice of Pulse, Static, or Flash animation settings. In this version of RGB Fusion, the minimum duration of each stop is now just one second, but transitions remain stuck at a five-second minimum. The transition between stops isn’t quite smooth on the Gaming 7, either. Once the time set for each stop’s duration expires, the board’s RGB LED controller harshly drops light levels to near-zero and then gradually steps them up to the next stop’s color and brightness over the amount of time specified for that stop’s transition. If you want smooth rainbows of color, it’s best to set each zone to the Color Cycle animation.
On top of those custom zones, the Gaming 7 boasts two RGBW strip headers that are compatible with both standard light strips and “digital LED strips,” or strips with individually-controllable LEDs. The Gaming 7 can control standard RGB or RGBW strips using the same array of Custom settings I described for each lighting zone above. Individually-addressable strips can display those same custom settings, or builders can assign any of up to 12 distinct animation modes that Gigabyte bakes into RGB Fusion. I won’t go into those modes here, but Gigabyte provides vivid demos of each one on this board’s product page.
Unlike some competing motherboards I’ve used, Gigabyte also provides some rudimentary control over the Gaming 7’s RGB LEDs in firmware. The UEFI lets builders choose solid-color lighting for the whole board, as well as the pulse, flash, and color cycle animations. The RGB Fusion Windows utility remains the best place to tweak RGB LEDs, but for those who’d rather just set and forget some basic lighting across the board, the firmware stands ready.
Overall, RGB Fusion isn’t quite as tweakable as Asus’ Aura software yet, but I didn’t have any trouble finding a lighting arrangement I enjoyed. Folks who aren’t down with the blinkenlights can always disable them for good in the firmware, and that’s that.
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.
Every CPU has different overclocking potential as a consequence of the vagaries of semiconductor production. The job of the motherboard, then, is to make it as easy as possible to extract the maximum performance potential of each chip in a straightforward and understandable manner without causing undue risk to the hardware at hand. Most modern motherboards also offer a suite of automatic overclocking tools to let even novices try their hands at pushing frequencies to the moon, and the effectiveness of those features could tip newbies’ favor to one board over another.
I started my overclocking expedition on the Gaming 7 with the easy road. Gigabyte offers builders two methods of automatic overclocking on this board: a set of pre-baked voltage and frequency profiles in the firmware, and an automatic Windows overclocking utility available through the Easy Tune software.
First, I tried out the Z370 Aorus Gaming 7’s “CPU Upgrade” built-in overclocking profiles. These prebaked recipes range from 4.8 GHz to 5 GHz for the Core i7-8700K. I tried both the 4.9 GHz and 5 GHz profiles with Prime95 Small FFTs. The 5 GHz profile blue-screened shortly after we kicked off our torture test. The 4.9 GHz profile was more stable under Prime95, but one of my chip’s cores eventually failed the test after 10 minutes or so. I didn’t try the 4.8 GHz CPU Upgrade profile, since—spoilers—that speed matched the all-core AVX speeds I was able to achieve through manual overclocking.
Next up, I tried Gigabyte’s “AutoTuning” feature from within Easy Tune. After a reboot, the software set the all-core multiplier to 49 and proceeded to run a stress test, at which point it deemed the system stable with a 4.9 GHz overclock. I fired up Prime95 Small FFTs and was encouraged to see Vcore values in a reasonable 1.284V to 1.296V range, but that wasn’t enough juice to ensure stability under a demanding AVX workload at 4.9 GHz. Prime95 quickly showed errors, and that was the end of my foray into one-click overclocking with the Gaming 7.
With my automatic overclocking options exhausted, I turned to manual tuning. If you’ve already read my Core i7-8700K review, you know the story, but I got my system stable with a 5GHz all-core overclock and a -2 AVX offset. Using the board’s dynamic Vcore settings, I dialed in a -0.060 offset, and all was well under Prime95 Small FFTs. Temperatures under our 280-mm Corsair H115i peaked in the low- to mid- 80° C range, and the board fed our chip a reasonable 1.260V to 1.276V on the Vcore. I didn’t even have to touch load-line calibration to get the chip stable this way.
Although getting my manual overclock dialed in was simple enough, my testing did raise some concerns about the effectiveness of the board’s VRM cooling arrangement. While I tested the 4.9 GHz CPU Upgrade profile with Prime95 Small FFTs, I kept an eye on the temperature from the “VRM MOS” sensor on the Gaming 7 out of curiosity. I’m glad I did, because VRM temperatures hit eyebrow-raising levels with that stress test running. Even with the Gaming 7’s small VRM fan in action, I observed temperatures from the VRM MOS sensor rapidly climbing over 120° C, at which point I stopped the test. To be fair, I don’t believe that Prime95 Small FFTs is an entirely representative workload, but the Gaming 7’s VRM temperature sensor still crested 100° C with the “classroom” Cycles benchmark running.
I brought this issue to Gigabyte’s attention, and the company noted that the board will begin throttling the CPU because of VRM overtemperature protections at 135° C. I did some research of my own, and I found that Intersil rates its ISL99227B smart power stages for a 140° C “rising threshold” limit and 125° C “falling threshold” limit, as well as an operating range of -40° C to +125° C. As it shipped, the Gaming 7 skated concerningly close to these limits, even if I didn’t observe any throttling that could be tied to VRM temperatures. That’s a little troublesome given that more zealous overclockers could find the thermal headroom to push even higher clocks and voltages after delidding their CPUs.
By sheer luck, after I took off the VRM heatsink for pictures and gave it a thorough torquing-down on reinstallation, Blender load temperatures for the VRM MOS sensor fell to about 91° C under extended load with the 4.9 GHz CPU Upgrade profile, and Prime95 Small FFTs topped out at 124° C without the startling climb that I observed in initial testing. Those numbers are still high, but they’re probably not alarming in a typical enclosure with more fans around the socket.
Even with Gigabyte’s specifications in mind, our seemingly typical enthusiast overclock brings the board uncomfortably close to those limits under Prime95 stress testing. That’s after my heatsink removal and reinstallation, too, so it’s probably worth giving shipping Gaming 7 boards a gentle bit of extra torque on the chipset heatsink screws to be sure that the thermal pads between the heatsinks and VRMs are making good contact. That oddity could have been a preproduction issue on my board, but better safe than sorry, I say.
Because I can’t leave well enough alone, I also directed a 120-mm fan at the socket during another round of similar testing, and I found that that move easily holds VRM temperatures well under 100° C. Still, that’s not a simple or desirable step for the average enthusiast. Folks aiming to test their overclocks with Prime95 probably want to direct active cooling at the CPU socket to ensure safe VRM temperatures, in any case. It’s possible that our out-of-box board would have strayed into thermal limits even with active cooling.
In general, an overclocked Coffee Lake test system seems ready to draw a fair bit more power and to generate more waste heat than Kaby Lake CPUs, so it would have been nice to see higher-surface-area VRM heatsinks to go with the Gaming 7’s high-octane power-delivery circuitry. Mobo makers seem to have been able to hold Kaby Lake power-delivery subsystems in check with similar heatsinks, but overclocked Coffee Lake chips are going to draw more power, period, and motherboards need to be ready. This isn’t an unprecedented problem of late, either: mobo makers of all stripes have faced similar criticism of their cooling provisions for X299 VRMs from prominent members of the overclocking community.
Overall, my overclocking experience with the Z370 Gaming 7 fell in line with the experience I’ve come to expect from recent Gigabyte boards: friendly to manual tweakers, but not especially helpful to folks who just want a one-click warranty-voiding experience. Once I had my manual overclock dialed in, however, the Gaming 7 was rock-solid outside of the seemingly high VRM temperatures I observed under our most intense stress testing. Just ensure that the Gaming 7 is getting plenty of airflow over the socket in a heavily-overclocked system, and life should be good.
We’re just getting started with our coverage of Z370 mobos, but given the minimal differences between Z270 and Z370 boards, I’m comfortable calling Gigabyte’s Z370 Aorus Gaming 7 a fine foundation for Coffee Lake CPUs at $250. Even if the major changes in Z370 are in the CPU socket and not in new platform features, that hasn’t stopped Gigabyte’s constant cycle of refinement for its Aorus family of high-end motherboards. As the company’s latest mobos have crossed my bench over the past few months, I find that every one has gotten more and more polished, and the Gaming 7 is no different.
I do wish that Gigabyte (and other motherboard makers) would prioritize heatsink surface area over appearances, especially given the apparent thought and care that went into the Z370 Gaming 7’s power-delivery subsystem. While the Gaming 7 does have a fairly massive heatsink on top of its VRM circuitry, the cosmetic fascias on top of these heatsinks seem to hamper airflow over the fin structures inside. The tiny fan under the board’s I/O shroud seems like a concession to this fact more than anything, and starting with higher-surface-area heatsinks to begin with is probably a better approach. I also found that torquing down the VRM heatsink screws on my own produced better cooling results than I saw out of the box, so overclockers may want to double-check that their own Gaming 7s’ heatsinks are well and truly snug.
I only have one major complaint about the Z370 Gaming 7’s layout beyond its heat-dissipation hardware. Gigabyte put an M.2 slot above the board’s primary PCIe slot—an ideal placement to avoid cooking M.2 devices—but using that slot with any M.2 SSD disables two SATA ports. That’s a disappointing choice for storage-hungry builders, who will have to place M.2 devices underneath their graphics cards to keep all six SATA ports alight. Leave the lane-sharing and SATA-port-disabling to the M.2 slot under the graphics card and give the primary M.2 slot four unfettered lanes from the chipset, I say.
Another potential challenge for the Gaming 7 is that the Z370 Aorus Gaming 5 exists for $200. It may not have the spendy Intersil VRM circuitry or three reinforced PCIe slots of the Gaming 7, but the Gaming 5 is functionally the same board. It’s got the same complement of M.2 slots, the same number of fan headers, and the same new styling touches as the Gaming 7. The Gaming 5 loses some RGB LEDs in the bargain, and it drops the Gaming 7’s ESS Sabre DAC and dual NICs, but it keeps the Intel Gigabit Ethernet adapter that most enthusiasts will probably be happiest with anyway (justifiably or not). It also gains an integrated Intel Wireless-AC card built into the rear I/O panel. I don’t envy choosing between these two mobos, but if you’re not gunning for the most extreme overclocks around, the Gaming 5 is probably enough board for most.
None of that is to say that the Z370 Aorus Gaming 7 isn’t a completely top-shelf motherboard in its own right. The power-delivery subsystem on this board wouldn’t look out of place on an X99 or X299 mobo, and it seems ready to juice up the hottest overclocks one could want from a Coffee Lake CPU. Gigabyte’s firmware fan control is an auto-calibration routine away from being the most comprehensive I’ve found. The company also includes extras like a padded I/O shield, a couple of remote temperature probes, and a front-panel connector block that are becoming unevenly distributed in boards from other manufacturers, if they’re distributed at all.
In one of the harder tests any piece of hardware can go through in the TR labs, I had a glassy-smooth experience with the Gaming 7 over the course of a week of benching and tweaking with the Core i7-8700K. I especially applaud the company’s decision to buck industry trends and leave the dubious “multi-core enhancement” off by default in its latest firmware. Even if Gigabyte’s overclocking presets and auto-overclocking magic still need some polish to be as useful as the best in the business, I appreciate that I felt fully in control of my system with the Gaming 7 at all times.
If you want the beefiest power-delivery circuitry, the best audio subsystem, and the blingiest RGB LED lighting in Gigabyte’s Z370 lineup so far, the Z370 Aorus Gaming 7 is a fitting companion to Intel’s highest-performance mainstream CPU yet. With its reasonable price, fancy feature list, and builder-friendly firmware defaults, Gigabyte has delivered an impressive high-end foundation for Coffee Lake CPUs with the Aorus Gaming 7, and I’m happy to call it TR Recommended.