GIGABYTE Z270X Gaming 7 LGA 1151 Motherboard Review

GIGABYTE’s Z270X based offerings feel like slightly modified clones of the Z170X line. But hey there are tons of pretty lights on these! In all seriousness, the Z270 chipset based offerings are far more of an evolution than a revolution. That said, GIGABYTE has made improvements that are certainly worth checking out.

Introduction

GIGABYTE is one of the most prolific and influential motherboard manufacturers on the planet today. GIGABYTE is known for innovative features which target the enthusiast market. GIGABYTE motherboards are stable, feature rich, and are quite competitive in what can only be classified as a cut-throat market. There are a lot of competitors over the years that have challenged the "Big three" motherboard brands that have been cut down for one reason or another. GIGABYTE stands as one of the few brands which has not only survived this tumultuous market for decades, but thrived in it. That’s almost akin to not only surviving a minefield, but thriving in one.

GIGABYTE often plays follow the leader with ASUS. This isn’t to say that GIGABYTE doesn’t innovate or that other manufacturers don’t do the same things. They all copy each other when something works. In this case ASUS’ separate, gamer focused Republic of Gamers brand has been very successful. To that end, GIGABYTE has followed suit re-branding what used to be the "G-series" as "Aorus." GIGABYTE’s G-series used to have some identity of its own despite being a bit corny. The older G-Series motherboards sported names like "Sniper" and had a green and black color scheme which was polarizing to the public to say the least. While I liked it, many people didn’t and GIGABYTE switched gears and has begun restyling its enthusiast and gaming line. Today the Aorus packaging and logos are unique. Although, the motherboard’s aesthetics are very similar to many other products with a white and black color scheme. In truth, there are only so many tasteful color combinations one can use for a motherboard. In a couple of years white and black may end up being as played out as red and black has been for the last several years. Even MSI, who switched almost everything to red and black have now gone another direction. The Aorus branding may or may not ever see the success ASUS’ ROG brand has, but I think it’s a welcome change for GIGABYTE. GIGABYTE is certainly committed to the brand with laptops and other peripherals coming out to extend the brand’s product lineup.

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As you may have guessed, the Z270X Gaming 7 is based off Intel’s latest and greatest chipset. Like its predecessor, the GIGABYTE Z270X Gaming 7 has an 8+2 phase power system with black and solid electrolytic capacitors. It supports all the latest technologies such as USB 3.0, 3.1, SATA Express, NVMe, M.2, U.2, Thunderbolt 3, PCI-Express 3.0, DMI 3.0, Gigabit Ethernet, DDR4, and Intel’s brand new LGA 1151 compatible Kaby Lake CPUs. In short, there are no surprises there. I’ll be straight forward about my opinions here. The Z270 Express chipset itself is barely worth talking about. The only exiting aspect of its design is that 4x PCIe lanes have been added to the chipset bringing the total PCIe lane count of the platform to 30 from 24 on the outgoing Z170 chipset. No additional M.2 slots or other features have been added. The same DMI 3.0 limitations apply with a total bandwidth over that link of only about 4,000MB/s. The only real feature improvement is support for Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology (RST) v15 and the upcoming Optane SSD’s using 3D XPoint-technology. Given that Kaby Lake can be run on Z170 Express chipset based motherboards with a simple UEFI / BIOS update I don’t think there is any reason to upgrade to a new motherboard unless you want to upgrade your systems feature set or simply make a change for some reason. Such a move won’t gain you any performance or any compelling features from the chipset side. Optane may eventually be amazing but you can’t do anything with it today. The launch of Z270 Express seems a bit redundant but as usual, Intel always launches chipsets with CPUs whether we need them or not.

When there’s a chipset launch as lame as this one, motherboard manufacturers end up in a tough spot. They need to make motherboards based on the new chipsets but making those otherwise uninteresting designs compelling is difficult at best. On the motherboard manufacturing side of the equation, some companies are starting to do things like improve fan control or add RGB headers. Unfortunately, this is about all that’s going on this round. This entire Z270 launch is so dull that one company that briefed us spent more time talking about LEDs and RGB related features than the actual product itself. Sure, some brands are making some name and marketing moves but from a pure product or technical perspective there is very little going on. We won’t really see anything compelling until X99’s successor is launched. By then AMD’s Zen will be out with its platform and perhaps at that time, X99’s successor will be the upgrade to have. Ultimately, we have no choice but to wait and see how the market shakes out.

The GIGABYTE Z270X GAMING 7 isn’t a slightly tweaked Z170 Gaming 7 with a tweaked PCB. With some previous chipset launches, motherboard companies did little but tweak the PCB and replace the chipset. Almost no features or even cosmetic qualities were altered to coincide with the new chipset. That’s not quite the case with the Z270 chipsets but it certainly feels that way. There is no "meat and potatoes" when it comes to this generations changes. In this case GIGABYTE’s rebranded its LED feature as "RGB Fusion" and changed its packaging. GIGABYTE did have some room to catch up to features found on competing motherboards and that’s what they’ve done. GIGABYTE now has a dedicated water pump header as ASUS does. 2 AMP, 4-pin hybrid fan headers are now found throughout the PCB. Additional temperature sensors are located all over the motherboard. Previously you never had more than one or two temperature sensors on most motherboards. On the plus side, all the overclocking features and capabilities of the previous generation were retained for the enthusiast. The turbo B-Clock generator allows greater base clock frequency adjustments than the stock generator. OC buttons allow for adjustment of hardware settings without going into the UEFI or Windows based applications.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

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The packaging is virtually the same as any standard motherboard. There isn’t a premium feel with the Z270X Gaming 7’s packaging. The box art is simple and I find this is one of those less is more type situations. The box is only a side note in this regard as it could have the usual space ships or race cars on the package for all the difference it makes. The important thing is that the standard packaging got the job done and our sample arrived intact and ready to go. Inside the box, you’ll find the following accessories and items: Driver disc, user manual, SATA cables, I/O shield, thermal probes, Velcro straps, RGB header extension, SLI bridge, G-connector, I/O panel port plugs, case badge, and a multi-lingual installation guide.

Board Layout

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The layout of the Z270X Gaming 7 is overall solid. That said, I do have a handful of complaints. I do not like the location of the dip switches on the underside of the far most PCIe slot. These are back in the corner where they might be difficult to manipulate when the motherboard is installed in a computer case. I also do not care for the fact that the clear CMOS and reset buttons are right next to each other. On more than one occasion, I’ve accidentally hit the wrong one and cleared the CMOS mistakenly. This is only an issue when bench testing and not while in a system chassis so the problem is minimal. One thing I’ve always appreciated about GIGABYTE motherboards is their diligence with labeling the ports and switches so clearly. Inside the ports, when viewed directly above one can see the label as to what the port is for. Veteran system builders don’t need this but it’s a nice touch showing attention to detail. Additionally, there are a staggering eight fan headers grace the PCB’s surface.

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The CPU socket area is clear and free of obstructions. As with its predecessors, any LGA 1151 motherboard made today could run into clearance issues with the RAM slots and the CPU. Taller memory modules will therefore be potentially problematic with some cooling solutions. You can see 10 chokes flanking the CPU socket in the usual arrangement. The MOSFET coolers are well made and have a nice sense of style. Near the CPU socket you’ll find the turbo B-Clock generator which overrides the stock base clock generator allowing for a greater range of base clock frequencies.

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There are 4x 288-pin DIMM slots supporting up to 64GB of DDR4 DRAM at speeds up to DDR4 4000MHz through overclocking. Strangely, these do not use the single sided locking tabs. Although GIGABYTE has never given us any indication as to why this is the case, other motherboard manufacturers have stated that some customers prefer the dual locking tabs over the single sided variety. Some companies like ASUS have switched entirely to the newer single sided style on most if not all its motherboards whether necessary for clearances or not. There is plenty of clearance between the PCIe slots and the memory slots and therefore the single sided variety of locking tabs aren’t needed. These slots also feature the steel reinforcement or armor as the marketing calls it.

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The chipset is cooled with a flat and passive heat sink which has the same aesthetic design elements as the MOSFET coolers. The flat heat sink prevents clearance issues with expansion cards. In front of the chipset you’ll find the SATA Express, SATA 6GB/s, and U.2 ports. Next to the chipset heat sink you’ll find the dual UEFI BIOS ROMs. These are soldered onto the PCB and cannot be removed. Also, GIGABYTE is using the smaller style debug display for error and POST code reporting. The front panel headers are nicely color coded.

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The expansion slot area is in my opinion flawless. The steel reinforced PCI-Express x16 slots are spaced perfectly for dual GPU configurations. Three card configurations aren’t recommended due to the lack of PCIe lanes. Having said that, the slot spacing is excellent for that as well. Unfortunately, the third card would have to hang over the motherboards edge which is a problem because not many chassis support that. There is a PCIe x1 slot above the primary PCIe x16 slot which is my preferred layout. The CMOS battery is even placed so that removal of it doesn’t require removal of the graphics card. Additionally, the M.2 slots are perfectly placed. The first one is located above the primary PCIe x16 slot and below the CPU. This location should keep it out of the way and prevent thermal throttling of the SSD’s controller. The secondary M.2 slot places the SSD underneath the secondary GPU in cases where there might be one. This isn’t ideal but there are only so many places to put an M.2 slot onboard where this wouldn’t be a potential issue.

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The I/O shield is the standard stamped steel piece. This one has some printing on it and is dark chrome in color. It looks a little better than the worst of the stamped I/O shield. Beyond that, the back-panel area is packed full of I/O options. On the back-panel you will find the following ports: 1x PS/2 keyboard / mouse port, 2x USB DAC UP 2 ports, 1x DisplayPort, 1x HDMI port, 3x USB 3.0 ports, 1x USB 3.1 Type-C port, 1x USB 3.1 Type-A port, 2x RJ-45 Gigabit LAN ports, 1x optical port and 5x mini-stereo ports. The stereo jacks are gold plated as are the HDMI and DisplayPort connections.