Battle of the high-end Intel Z170 motherboards

By Bryan Chan & Koh Wanzi - 20 Oct 2015

Gigabyte Z170X Gaming GT

Gigabyte Z170X Gaming GT

The Gigabyte Z170X Gaming GT is located just below the flagship Gigabyte Z170X Gaming G1 in Gigabyte’s G1 Gaming series.

The Gigabyte Z170X Gaming GT is a step below the flagship Gigabyte Z170X Gaming G1. (Image Source: Gigabyte)

Frankly speaking, we found the choice of color combination a tad bit jarring. To our eyes at least, the matte black PCB is too muted a background for the striking red-and-white I/O shield and heatsinks. Even the RAM slots use an alternating red and black color scheme. The PCIe slots are red and silver, and we can’t help but think that maybe black should have been used in place of the red.

The number of power phases on the board has taken a cut from the 22 on the Gaming G1 to just 14. Even though this is more than the 12 power phases on the ASRock Extreme 7+, the Gigabyte board actually did worse in our overclocking tests, which goes to show that the number of power phases isn't everything. 

The board features a 14-phase power design.

But on the topic of the PCIe slots, one standout feature is the use of stainless steel shielding to reinforce the slots. According to Gigabyte, this boosts the retention force by up to 3.2 times and adds resistance to shearing forces – as when you wriggle the card to remove it – by up to 1.7 times. Of course, we have no way of verifying these facts, but those are the figures if you want them. Nevertheless, we’re sure we’re not alone in worrying about a board’s PCIe slot when installing a particularly heavy card, so it’s definitely reassuring to have some form of structural reinforcement.

All three of the PCIe 3.0 x16 slots are reinforced with metal.

The board has three PCIe 3.0 x16 slots, all of which sport the stainless steel shielding. Gigabyte has also taken care to leave an extra-wide gap between the first and second slots in order to leave sufficient room for ventilation in dual-graphics cards systems.

Unlike the Gigabyte Z170X Gaming G1, there’s no PLX chip, so triple-GPU systems will run in the standard x8/x4/x4 mode. However, the third PCIe 3.0 x16 slot actually shares bandwidth with the second M.2 socket, so if you do install an M.2 drive into the second slot, the third PCIe 3.0 x16 slot will no longer be useable.

Note that we mentioned a second M.2 slot, and that’s because the board actually has two, which support both PCIe and SATA devices. The topmost slot runs entirely off the PCIe 3.0 lanes on the chipset and doesn’t share bandwidth with any other slots, so this is your best bet if you have just one M.2 drive.

The Gigabyte Z170X Gaming GT has dual onboard M.2 slots that support both SATA and PCIe drives.

Gigabyte has also gone with a total of eight SATA 6Gbps ports, six from the Z170 chipset and two from an ASMedia ASM1061 controller. In addition, there are three SATA Express connectors thrown into the mix as well.

There are a total of eight SATA 6Gbps ports, two of which are provided via the ASMedia ASM1061 controller.

Moving on to the rear I/O panel, we have one USB 3.1 Type-C port, one USB 3.1 Type-A port (red) and five other USB 3.0 ports. The white port is the Q-Flash Plus port that allows you to connect a thumb drive with the latest BIOS file on it and update the BIOS without needing to install the CPU or memory. The yellow ports are also USB 3.0 ports, but they double as USB DAC ports that enable you to hook up a USB DAC.

One thing to note is that Gigabyte has gone a different route with its implementation of USB 3.1 support, opting for the Intel Alpine Ridge controller instead of the more common ASMedia ASM1142. Unlike the latter controller which supports just two PCIe lanes, Alpine Ridge is a four-lane PCIe controller that supports the maximum data rate of USB 3.1.

There are also the usual HDMI and DisplayPort connectors, and a legacy PS/2 port that we’re pretty sure no one will be needing.

The five USB 3.0 ports are color-coded for different functions. The yellow ports double as ports for hooking up a USB DAC, the white port is the Q-Flash Plus port, and the blue ones are regular USB 3.0 ports.

Dual Gigabit Ethernet ports are present, but teaming is not supported. One of the ports uses an Intel I219-V controller while the other uses a Killer E2400 chip.

This time, the audio solution doesn’t use the Realtek 1150 codec, and instead relies on a Creative Sound Core 3D processor. In addition, there are two TI Burr Brown OPA2134 operational amplifiers and Nichicon Muse MW audio capacitors. Furthermore, the op-amps can even be swapped out for higher-end parts if you wish, or if you want to alter the sound signature. Now, here’s something you don’t see every day in an onboard audio solution!

The board has a dedicated Creative Sound Core 3D audio processor and op-amps that can be upgraded.

The board also comes with a dual BIOS switch, which should be a welcome feature for overclockers.

The Gigabyte Z170X Gaming GT has onboard dual BIOS to help it recover from failed flashes.