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Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 7
It has to be said that the Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 7 looks like it would cost considerably more than it does. The Gaming 7 is second in command, falling in line behind the G1 flagship model, while the Gaming 5 and Gaming 3 exist below it.
Gigabyte offers a huge range of motherboard product families with their own distinct themes. The G.1 Sniper Z170 for example wears green and black, the standard boards are now yellow and black, while the overclocking models are orange and black.
Now we have the 'Gaming' range which comes in black, red and white. It's an interesting range of colors and I am not entirely sure what to make of it. I guess depending on the rest of your build the white highlights could look cool.
Moving past the look of the Z170X-Gaming 7 we actually have what is a rather serious motherboard.
The Z170X-Gaming 7 is cheaper than both the Asrock Z170 Extreme7+ and Asus ROG Maximus VIII Hero, though looking at the feature list you wouldn't necessarily believe it.
Onboard you'll find eight SATA 6Gb/s ports, three SATA Express ports, two M.2 slots, a Creative SoundCore 3D audio solution, two Gigabit network controllers, heaps of USB 3.0 ports and a few USB 3.1 ports for good measure.
The PCI Express slot layout and configuration is exactly the same as the Maximus VIII Hero which is a good thing. This means 2-way GPUs operate in a x8/x8 configuration, while 3-way runs at x8/x8/x4.
Along with the standard six SATA 6Gb/s ports Gigabyte has also included the ASMedia ASM1061 chip for an additional two SATA ports.
The Z170X-Gaming 7's M.2 slot configuration is complicated, not just when installing SATA M.2 devices but also when using PCIe M.2 devices.
If you were to install a PCIe x4 SSD in the second M.2 slot labeled 'M2H' then SATA0, 1, 2 and 3 all become disabled, along with the SATA Express ports that they support. When using a PCIe x2 SSD, only SATA ports 2 and 3 become disabled.
It should also be noted that while the two M.2 slots are each coupled with four lanes of PCIe 3.0 bandwidth, the second M.2 slot is linked to the third PCIe x16 (x4 wired) slot. This means either the third PCIe x16 slot can be used or the M2H M.2 slot with a PCIe SSD.
This seems confusing and we haven't even discussed SATA-based M.2 SSDs yet. If you install a SATA M.2 device in the first slot labeled 'M2D', the third SATA port is disabled. If you install a SATA M.2 device in the second M.2 slot then SATA port zero is disabled.
So, while the Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 7 offers 13 storage interfaces in total, only a maximum of 8 can be used at any one time.
Of all the boards tested, the Z170X-Gaming 7 is the only not to use the Realtek ALC1150, instead Gigabyte has gone for something a little more high-end. Its audio solution has been branded SoundCore 3D and at its heart is the Creative CA0132 audio chip. Armed with a quad-core audio processor, the dedicated audio processor is used to offload work from the CPU.
The Creative CA0132 runs analog audio through an upgradable op-amp that drives the gold-plated rear audio jacks. An on-board switch adjacent to the op-amp selects between a 2.5x or a 6x audio gain and this can be useful for high-impedance speakers or headphones, and once again we find audio capacitors from Nichicon.
Networking is double teamed by the Intel I219-V and Killer E2400, which ironically means teaming is out of the question. While I do like to have dual Intel controllers for teaming, I understand this is a feature most users purchasing the Z170X-Gaming 7 won't require.
For those that buy into the placebo effect of lag free gaming with the Killer E2400, then I guess that will be a welcomed addition, though I suspect it will be more useful for selling the Z170X-Gaming 7 to the unsuspecting consumer. In any case, it's nice to find dual Gigabit LAN controllers on the Z170X-Gaming 7.
The Z170X-Gaming 7 is USB 3.0 rich, though there are just five ports on the I/O panel with a further four available via on-board headers. Complementing the USB 3.0 support on the I/O panel is a pair of USB 3.1 ports which includes a Type-A port and Type-C port.
Speaking of the I/O panel, apart from the USB 3.0 and 3.1 ports there is a PS/2 port, DisplayPort, HDMI output, dual Gigabit LAN ports, five audio jacks and an optical audio output. There is a complete lack of legacy USB 2.0 ports, which we don't have an issue with.
Gigabyte's EasyTune software has been given a complete makeover for their Z170 motherboards and we have to say this latest version is great with its clean white appearance. The functionality is great and users can enjoy quick and hassle free auto overclocking while there are loads of advanced overclocking options as well.
All the fan monitoring and controls have been moved to a separate application called System Information Viewer and we quite like having all this separate.
We also found another handy little application called 3D OSD which is designed as a quick and easy way to monitor the system in real-time.
Finally, the Z170X-Gaming 7 UEFI is features a classic BIOS look with none of the fancy features of its competitors.