GIGABYTE Z97X Gaming 7 LGA 1150 Motherboard Review

GIGABYTE's Z97X Gaming 7 promises solid overclocking and performance. The feature list for the Z97X Gaming 7 is long and includes gamer focused features like a dedicated audio amplifier, Sound Blaster X-Fi MB3 support and more. We've had mixed results with the GIGABYTE lately, so the real question is; does it work?

Introduction

GIGABYTE is a well known staple of the DIY motherboard market. GIGABYTE was founded in 1986 and has become a billion dollar corporation with more than 7,000 employees. GIGABYTE has a diverse product portfolio including motherboards, graphics cards, desktop and laptop PCs, cases, power supplies, tablets, keyboards, mice, speakers, servers, server motherboards and even smart phones.

GIGABYTE’s motherboard line still remains what the company is best known for in the United States and possibly most of the world. Its motherboards can be found in virtually every market segment and price point. Since 1986 GIGABYTE has established a solid reputation for reliability, quality, and innovation that is generally well deserved.

As its competitors have done, GIGABYTE has extended additional branding to certain products to better focus its target market. The motherboard we are looking at in this article is part of the G1 Gaming series. This series has gamer focused features which make any motherboard with the "G1 or Gaming" brand enticing for those who purpose build machines for that usage scenario. Gaming motherboards are naturally good at other roles as well but a Killer NIC wouldn’t necessarily be desirable in some applications. There is an overclocking focus to any "Gaming" motherboard these days although GIGABYTE’s "Overclocking series" has a slightly tighter focus on that market. Still GIGABYTE G1/Gaming motherboards tend to overclock well while providing a solid gaming oriented feature set.

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The Z97X Gaming 7 is based on the Intel Z97 Express chipset and is compatible with 4th and 5th generation LGA1150 socket Intel CPUs. GIGABYTE’s Z97X Gaming 7 features Japanese made 10k durable black solid capacitors from Nippon Chemi-Con and Nichicon. These flank a CPU socket which has 15μ gold plating on the contacts. While such plating may seem frivolous or unnecessary this can be helpful in ultra humid environments where corrosion is a concern. The Z97X Gaming 7 uses an 8-phase power design with two additional phases dedicated to the DRAM modules.

Of course the feature list for the Z97X Gaming 7 is long and includes gamer focused features like a dedicated audio amplifier, Sound Blaster X-Fi MB3 support, high end audio capacitors, multi-GPU support, a Killer NIC E2201 and GIGABYTE’s "Game Controller Feature." That feature allows programmable keyboard macros which turns any keyboard into a "gaming" keyboard. There are of course many features that aren’t gaming specific such as SATA Express, M.2 support, and 4k Ultra HD display support for the integrated GPU.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

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The packaging is standard fare from just about any motherboard manufacturer. The box naturally has all the usual marketing stuff to catch your eye if you see the box on a store shelf, highlighting relevant or irrelevant product information. The GIGABYTE Z97X Gaming 7 has a very basic accessory bundle which includes: Driver disc, user manual, multi-language installation guide book, case badge, SATA cables, SLI bridge and an I/O shield. The motherboard ships in a basic anti-static bag and arrived intact with all accessories accounted for.

Board Layout

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The layout of the Z97X Gaming 7 is precisely what we’ve come to expect from GIGABYTE. That is to say that the design lacks any major oversights or problem areas and you would be hard pressed to try and come up with a better way to do things. Ordinarily I hate the location of the CMOS battery but GIGABYTE has surprised me here. You can access the battery even if two or three large video cards are installed. A lengthy PCI-Express x1 device might still need removal if you use the slot closest to the PCI-Express x8 slot, but nothings perfect.

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The CPU socket area is clear of any major obstructions. Eight chokes can be seen flanking the MOSFETS which are cooled via beautifully machined red and black heat sinks that are unfortunately secured via cheap plastic pins using springs to provide tension. I much prefer screws and this is one area where GIGABYTE often disappoints me on all but its highest end offerings.

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It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that the DIMM slots are closer to the CPU than I would like. Still mounting most cooling solutions shouldn’t be a problem. That is an issue which is created by signal degradation that occurs if trace paths are too long as data has to travel too far between the memory controller and the DRAM modules to maintain signal quality. No motherboard maker can really do anything about this so the blame rests with Intel or AMD depending on which CPU and chipset combination we are talking about.

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The chipset is cooled by a passive heatsink that is painted red with the G1 Gaming "eye" on it. The motherboard’s SATA ports and SATA Express connector are directly in front of the chipset and to the left is GIGABYTE’s auxiliary or supplementary power connection that makes use of all those extra SATA power cables people tend to have left over after building their systems.

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The expansion slot area is well thought out. The PCI-Express x16 slots are optimally positioned for multi-GPU configurations. The PCI-Express x1 slots are also positioned in probably the best way possible. The legacy PCI slot isn’t really in a good spot although I doubt many people will ever use it. The GIGABYTE Z97X Gaming 7 has support for multiple GPUs in a 16x0, 8x8, or 8x4x4 configuration. 3-Way/Quad GPU CrossFire are therefore supported but only 2-Way SLI and Quad-SLI are supported on the NVIDIA side.

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The I/O panel is typical for a motherboard in this class. The only unusual element here is the usage of gold plating for all analog audio jacks and all video ports. We have dedicated PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports, 4x USB 3.0 ports, 4x USB 2.0 ports, 1x RJ-45 LAN port, 1x optical output, 5x mini-stereo jacks for analog audio, 1x D-Sub, 1x DVI-D and one HDMI 1.4a port.