Date: Wednesday, October 14, 2015
GIGABYTE is one of the world’s largest motherboard manufacturers and most established computer brands. The company has a diverse product lineup covering a wide range of computer related products such as cases, graphics cards, laptops, and even mobile devices. It seems no matter how much the company branches out, motherboards always remain its core business and a subject of much of if not most of the company’s focus.
Like most companies, GIGABYTE has special branding for certain product families which are geared toward a specific niche or subset of the market. GIGABYTE’s G1 line has been around for a long time and although it’s gone through many changes as it tries to settle on an identity which doesn’t directly copy its competition, that’s sort of what has happened. By that I mean, GIGABYTE’s G1 family once sported a black and green color scheme which was honestly unique enough to stand out on its own. GIGABYTE then decided that a theme was needed to help sell the product line. GIGABYTE added fake guns and dollar store toy parts to its motherboards to try and set it apart. GIGABYTE started using names like "Sniper" to promote the lineup as having gamers first. As GIGABYTE moved away from that, MSI has gone that direction, although GIGABYTE did it in the G1 line while MSI’s doing it in its "Arsenal" gaming line that comprises its more budget oriented offerings.
The motherboard business is very tough. Competition is fierce and standing above the rest on a technical level is often next to impossible. Any technical leads any of the manufacturers have is usually short lived as the other motherboard makers copy that feature and put their own spin on it. GIGABYTE has always had very clear design direction with the G1 line and the feature set certainly wasn’t a carbon copy of what MSI and ASUS was doing. Still I think the G1 line never gained the same traction that the Republic of Gamers or MSI Gaming motherboards did. Indeed MSI’s simple addition of the word "gaming" to existing models and a red / black color scheme was enough to sell a lot of motherboards. This proved so successful that MSI has moved everything in line with that strategy. While the features were comparable, different and had an identity of their own, GIGABYTE has never been content with that. The various schemes they’ve tried over the years just haven’t had the lasting impact that it would have liked. Last year GIGABYTE transitioned to a red / black color scheme and copied the ROG "Eye" logo in an effort to get in on the action. GIGABYTE’s ROG-like clones were indeed so similar that I’ve mistaken more than a few G1 boards for ASUS ROG parts at a distance. ASUS recently went with a white and black color scheme and followed suit. This generation GIGABYTE added red to the color scheme to separate itself from ASUS to some degree. The gaming "eye" logo has been retired it seems and the "G1" logo is now prominent on packaging.
I think GIGABYTE is finally starting to develop its own identity, and its G1 series and branding may stick around for a while.
The Z170X-Gaming G1 is a massively feature-rich design based on Intel’s Z170 Express chipset designed for use with its 6th generation socket LGA 1151 CPUs and Core i3, i5 and i7 series processors. The GIGABYTE has 22 power phases divided into four rails. There are 16 phases dedicated to the CPU, with 4 allocated to the VCCGT. The remaining two phases are split between the VCCSA and VCCIO rails. GIGABYTE is using multiple International Rectifier PowIRstage PWMs of varying specifications. The memory subsystem features a 3+2 phase power arrangement consisting of IR3570s and an IR3553 IC. The Z170X Gaming 7 also features 10k rated black metallic capacitors from Chemi-Con. On paper at least the VRM design of the Z170X Gaming 7 is ridiculously overbuilt. The Z170X-Gaming G1 is one of those halo products which places cost on the back burner and gives engineers a chance to show off what they can really do. Its price also reflects this at $473.99 according to PC Hound.
The feature set seems virtually endless. If you simply tally the features this motherboard offers there is a case to be made for it being a value solution. For example, there are three network controllers, a water block, top tier overclocking components, and a fully integrated Sound Blaster ZxR. You’ve got extra drive controllers, an Alpine Ridge controller for USB 3.1, and support for up to four GPUs. All the latest features are supported such as USB 3.1 Type-C, SATA Express, Aftermarket purchases of an equivalent audio solution, water block, and even an inexpensive version of the drive controller, wireless controller, and secondary Gigabit Ethernet controller could all easily total up the price of the Z170X-Gaming G1 and surpass it.
Overclocking is the name of the game when marketing a motherboard towards gamers who either by necessity or desire tend to push their machines a little harder than most users would. To that end there is a multitude of features and design choices which are intended to provide an exquisite overclocking experience. Voltage check points allow for the user to determine voltage settings accurately and via the hardware directly. Onboard controls make using the Z170X-Gaming G1 on a test bench easier. The power phases are cooled using hybrid heatsinks that feature both heat pipes and integrated water cooling capabilities to augment air cooling capabilities. GIGABYTE has added its own "Turbo B-Clock" base clock generator allowing for a wider range of base clock frequency adjustments that range from 90MHz to 500MHz. There are no strap settings on the Z170 platform allowing for more flexibility than we’ve seen before. The focus on gaming performance isn’t limited to overclocking alone. A Sound Blaster audio solution has long been a favorite among gamers for a variety of reasons. GIGABYTE has integrated such a solution into the Z170X Gaming G1. Killer NICs designed with gaming in mind provide connectivity options while dual M.2 slots, 4-Way SLI and Crossfire support help round out the feature set.
Main Specifications Overview:
Detailed Specifications Overview:
The packaging of the Z170X-Gaming G1 is top notch. The box is huge and has a definite premium feel to it. The artwork is nice and there is the standard box flap with product information on it that when opened reveals a window that showcases the motherboard. In the package you will find the following accessories: GA-Z170X-Gaming G1 motherboard, motherboard driver disk, wireless module driver disk, user's manual, quick Installation guide, six SATA cables, I/O shield, one, 2-Way SLI bridge connector, one 3-Way SLI bridge connector, one 4-Way SLI bridge connector, one 2-Way CrossFire bridge connector, one GC-USB3.1 BAY device, one GC-M2-U2-MiniSAS adapter, one pack of G connectors, one Wi-Fi antenna, one Wi-Fi antenna retention cover and one pack of back I/O dust covers. The SATA cables are braided just to add an extra element of class to an otherwise mundane accessory.
The layout of the Z170X-Gaming G1 is superb. The PCB is packed with components and features which GIGABYTE still managed to keep elegant and functional. The motherboard build quality is outstanding. The PCB is straight and solder joints look good, consistent and clean. There is superb attention to detail. The machine and paint work on the heat sinks is very good. The motherboard feels heavy enough to flatten small woodland mammals if dropped on one. The onboard switches and controls are placed logically as are power and fan headers.
The CPU socket area looks pretty crowded. Having said that the heat sinks are carefully designed to prevent these from interfering with the installation of most cooling hardware. You can see the caps on the heat sinks and the embedded heat pipe running next to the base clock generator. Two fan headers are provided for the CPU cooler. One is color coded white and is the primary, while the black one is the CPU_OPT header for those using a second fan.
The Z170X-Gaming G1 has four 288-pin DDR4 DIMM slots supporting memory speeds up to DDR4 3866MHz at this time. The chipset supports up to 64GB of DRAM, using four modules. The DIMM slots are color coded red and black to denote proper dual channel memory mode operation. You can see the 3+2 power phases used for the memory subsystem. That’s definitely quite beefy which is nice to see. Just to the left of the 24-pin ATX power connector you’ll find the onboard controls. A power, reset, ECO, OC button and power button are all present here. The only thing I dislike is the close proximity of the clear CMOS button to the reset button. This is something I’ve complained about before and is common on GIGABYTE motherboards. They did color code them, although there is nothing on the PCB to indicate which button does what. Looking at the image above, you may also have taken note of the dual USB 3.0 headers.
The chipset is under a very large heat sink that has an embedded heat pipe. There is also a large shroud covering the back of the SATA / SATA Express ports which buts up to the heat sink. To the left you’ll see the clear CMOS battery which has good placement in my opinion. Next to that are two dip switches. One manually switches between the two BIOS ROMs, the other toggles between single and dual BIOS mode. Above the CMOS battery are two soldered on BIOS ROMs. I would like to have seen these mounted in sockets instead. Given the excessive nature of the motherboard I wouldn’t think it unreasonable in this case despite the fact that GIGABYTE never does this.
The expansion slot area is gorgeous and well thought out. The Z170X-Gaming G1 utilizes a PEX PLX8747 chip to multiplex the PCIe lanes and allow for more flexible PCIe lane configurations. The PCI-Express x16 slots support configurations of 16x16, or 8x8x8x8 for 4-Way SLI and Crossfire, The slots are reinforced with steel brackets. This is done to support the ever increasing weight of GPUs beyond the original PCIe specifications. PCIe x1 slots are placed in between each PCI-Express x16 slot. There are 2 M.2 slots here as well. The first one is ideally placed to avoid placing an M.2 drive underneath a GPU in singe and 2-Way GPU systems. If using three or four GPUs you can’t avoid putting a GPU over the M.2 slots however. 80mm M.2 drives are supported. 110mm devices aren’t common but so far ASUS is the only motherboard manufacturer I’ve seen that supports those. You can see three replaceable OP-AMPs and the Creative Sound Core3D chip behind the expansion slots. There is also an LED trace path showing the PCB isolation. There is a path cut in the white shroud which allows you to see it.
The I/O panel features 1x PS/2 keyboard / mouse port, 7x USB 3.0 ports, 2x USB 2.0 (DAC UP) ports, 1x USB 3.1 Type-A port, 1x USB 3.1 Type-C port, 2x RJ-45 LAN ports, WiFI antenna connectors, 5x gold plated mini-stereo jacks, and 1x optical out ports. The USB DAC UP ports have isolated power for connecting USB audio DACs if desired.