Date: Wednesday, January 20, 2016
GIGABYTE is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of computing related products. GIGABYTE has a diverse and well recognized brand which includes items like cases, laptops, graphics cards, and mobile devices. Despite the modern age of product diversity, the company has always had a focus on motherboards for DIY and enthusiast oriented personal computers. In fact, ASUS recently surpassed ASUS in terms of volume shipments to become the number one motherboard manufacturer by volume which is an impressive feat to say the least.
We’ve seen many GIGABYTE motherboards cross our test benches over the years so it’s easy to get a more precise picture of the brand that marketing fluff or a Wiki article doesn’t quite give you. In our experience, GIGABTYTE has offered numerous enthusiast focused motherboards over the years at varying price points. Most of the time the products make a fair amount of sense and offer either value, or absolute performance to the enthusiast. Naturally some products are both value oriented and great performers with most motherboards falling on either side of that spectrum just as it’s competition does. We’ve seen a lot of what GIGABYTE can offer on the high end of the spectrum lately so it’s time to check out a slightly more value oriented alternative that’s more realistic an option for the masses than halo level products such as GIGABYTE’s Z170X Gaming G1. Motherboards like that are nothing short of fantastic, and in my opinion GIGABYTE is making some of the best options out there right now.
The Z170X-UD5 is based on Intel’s Z170 Express chipset and offers mid-level features in the sub-$200 price point at the time of this writing. This is a socket LGA 1151 based motherboard which is compatible with Intel’s Skylake core microarchitecture based processors. It supports up to 64GB of RAM at speeds up to DDR4 3466MHz through overclocking.
From the start, GIGABYTE’s Z170X-UD5 was designed with the enthusiast in mind. In addition to the usual enthusiast oriented features, GIGABYTE incorporates a separate clock generator called the "Turbo B-Clock" generator. This is more flexible than the default Intel clockgen providing a range of base clock frequency adjustment between 90MHz-500MHz. This is due to the clockgen being separate from the chipset and CPU on Skylake processor based systems. The 2x copper PCB is used here along with long lasting black metallic 10k rated solid electrolytic capacitors. A 15μ gold plated socket is also used in the Z170X-UD5’s construction to resist potential corrosion and ensure proper connectivity. There are of course many other features on the Z170X-UD5 that we’ll talk about as we go through each section.
Main Specifications Overview:
Detailed Specifications Overview:
The packaging for the Z170X-UD5 is pretty basic. Heroes of the Storm artwork adorns the box along with a black and yellow color scheme. The box lacks flaps or windows to get a sneak preview of the motherboard. This basic box design has been around for about two decades and gets the job done. Our sample arrived, intact and with all accessories present. Inside the box you’ll find the following items: Driver disc, user manual, quick installation guide, four SATA cables, I/O shield, SLI bridge, 1x G-connector, and one pack of I/O dust covers.
The motherboard layout is quite good with no major problem areas or points of concern. I’m not wild about the CMOS battery location but I’ve seen far worse places to put it. For the most part, headers and ports are placed logically and are marked so you know what all of them do without getting out the manual. There are two M.2 slots, one of which is placed above the primary PCI-Express expansion slot, close to the CPU. This happens to be Kyle’s favorite place for an M.2 slot, and I have to admit, it’s not a bad way to go. The second M.2 slot is located between the primary and secondary PCIe slots where the drive can get baked. Placement of a single M.2 slot is rough, and placing two of them is even worse. Personally I think SSD manufacturers need to embrace U.2 (SFF-8639) on the consumer side as it makes sense from two perspectives. One is it allows for enterprise class SSDs to be modified for consumer use as Intel has done with its SSD 750 line. The second benefit is that you can mount the drive away from the motherboard and components like your GPU which could heat up the SSD significantly even to a point of causing throttling in the drive controller.
The CPU socket area is generally free from clutter. GIGABYTE advertises an all new heat sink design and that’s true I suppose as I hadn’t quite seen this design before. The MOSFET cooling hardware is securely mounted with actual screws instead of tension post style mounts that never make any sense to me. Unfortunately, it’s not all good as these heat sinks are a bit hit and miss in terms of cooling performance. The one to the right of the CPU stays relatively cool while the one behind the CPU reaches temperatures up to 117F! That’s slightly hotter than the hottest running motherboards we’ve seen to date.
The Z170X-UD5 has four 288-pin DDR4 DIMM slots which are color coded to denote proper dual channel memory mode operation. CPU’s IMC not with-standing, the Z170X-UD5 is theoretically capable of DDR4 memory speeds up to 3466MHz. These slots use a single locking tab on the motherboards outer edge for memory module retention. This is of course, the preferred design these days but it isn’t necessary as traditional dual locking tab slots would have worked here. In front of the DIMM slots you’ll find onboard controls. These controls consist of power, reset, clear CMOS, OC and ECO buttons.
The chipset is cooled with a flat heat sink matching the black and gold theme the MOSFET coolers have. Naturally the heat sink is low enough that it won’t create installation problems for GPUs or other expansion cards. Directly in front of the chipset are three SATA Express ports which can also be used as SATA 6Gb/s ports. There are a total of eight available here. In this area you will also find several front panel headers and the BIOS switch.
The expansion slot area is well thought out. The M.2 slot placement above the primary PCIe slot is a good move. The second M.2 slot placement could be better and this design doesn’t allow the use of longer 110mm drives. However, 80mm drives are far more common at present. There are 3x PCIe generation 3.0 x16 slots on the Z170X-UD5. These are reinforced with metal to help support larger and heavier GPUs. These allow for 16x0, 8x8, and 8x8x4 lane configurations for multiple GPUs. While 3-Way Crossfire is supported, only standard SLI and Quad-SLI are supported. I do not like the fact that the third PCIe slot is so close to the second, but I doubt many people will use 3-Way Crossfire on this motherboard. Additionally, there are 4x PCIe x1 3.0 slots for other devices.
You can also see the PCB isolation for the onboard audio as it’s marked. There are angled lines showing what part belongs to the audio system as well as the usual Tron-style light path that denotes the edge of the audio hardware.
The I/O Shield offers a host of connectivity options. There are two USB 2.0 ports, 3x USB 3.0 ports, 2x USB 3.1 ports (one Type-A, one Type-C), 2x RJ-45 ports, 1x HDMI port, 1x DVI-D port, 1x DisplayPort, 1x optical output, 5x mini-stereo jacks, and lastly a combination PS/2 mouse or keyboard port.