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.

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Overclocking

There is always a bit of a learning curve when it comes to new motherboards and CPUs. Given that there are few changes to the CPU or motherboards this time around I had certain expectations going into this. My experiences with the Z270X Gaming 7 were nothing like I expected. This motherboard lacks the same range of CPU voltage adjustments that I’m used to seeing. There is no offset voltage, or selection between manual, and adaptive voltages. The voltages chosen for the CPU vCore have an odd impact. The system won’t POST or may not make it into Windows depending on how the value is set. Once you start load testing things get a little strange. The system will start adjusting the voltage on its own and you have no control over it. I think that’s where the biggest challenge lies in tuning this motherboard. Other settings have absolutely no effect on the overclocking experience that I’ve found thus far. Essentially, you set the vCore voltage and hope for the best. The system was stable up to 5GHz for basic desktop tasks and even for some load testing. Unfortunately, whenever you start encoding tasks the system would BSOD on me. The general stability leads me to believe that some actual voltage control might be enough to hit 5GHz on these chips.

On the upside, the memory controller seems much improved. Stability seems unaffected by memory speeds. I could run the maximum speed of our test memory at DDR4 3600MHz without issues. Like Kyle, I had to increase the DRAM voltage slightly to get the system stable over the default memory clocks. Other than that, I didn’t have to do anything special at any speed.

For testing I used two different CPUs. One Core i5 7600K and one Core i7 7700K. Both CPU’s would hit 4.8GHz without any real difficulty. Ordinarily I get somewhat different results out of different CPUs. In this case I didn’t so I have to conclude for now at least that 4.8GHz isn’t too difficult and 5GHz might be reachable in some cases. Getting back to the Z270X Gaming 7 itself, it doesn’t respond well to a "bad" overclock. I had to reset the CMOS on more than one occasion. Sometimes the watchdog feature would kick in and allow the system to POST but this was the exception and not the rule. I think this is probably an issue of BIOS maturity over anything else. Hopefully this improves with future UEFI BIOS releases.

Core i7 7600K @ 4.8GHz (100x48) DDR4 3600MHz

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As you can see, virtually no difference was discernible between the two CPUs.

Core i7 7700K @ 4.8GHz (100x48) DDR4 3600MHz

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I think Kaby Lake is easily the best overclocking CPU Intel has put out since Sandy Bridge and that’s almost exciting. I say almost simply because Kaby Lake doesn’t have much to offer on the desktop over existing Skylake CPUs. Whether it’s worth the upgrade comes down to personal choice but the IPC improvements and clock speed equality might just be enough to make some Sandy Bridge holdouts consider an upgrade. There are some benefits to the platform beyond the CPU but again, that doesn’t matter enough for everyone.

Editor's Notes on Overclocking (1/3/2017): This was one of the first Z270 motherboards we have started testing and overclocking Kaby Lake with, and is the first Z270 board we have reviewed. Given how in-depth these motherboard reviews are, you might guess that these take a couple of weeks to get completed even when things are moving fast. What we have learned is that the 7700K CPU that Dan is using above is the weak link assuredly when it comes to overclocking this Gaming 7 motherboard. What we have not had time to do yet, is take this motherboard and put a 7700K that is verified to run 5GHz on it, which we will be doing this week. Given our experiences with the 7700K CPU used in this review, and our current 7700K overclocking experiences, I have very little doubt that the Z270X Gaming 7 will have any issues running a solid 5GHz with the right CPU. An update is sure to follow quickly.

Overclocking Addendum (1/4/2017): So we got the motherboard back onto the test bench last night and got to run some overclocking testing with our "good" 7700K processor. First and foremost, we had excellent results as expected. We were able to run the 7700K at 5GHz and our 32GB Corsair memory kit at 3600MHz using its XMP settings with a vCore of 1.34v. (I inadvertently set this to 1.34v instead of 1.32v as we have on our other Z270 motherboards and I will go back and check stability at 1.32v vCore as well today.) All the other Z270 motherboards we have tested to date have been stable with this particular CPU at 1.32v vCore and 5GHz/36000. The screenshot below shows the system stable after running full load for 7 hours. We ran a full DVD encode using Handbrake and then turned on ASUS RealBench stress test for another 6.5 hours.

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Getting this to happen was not without issue though as Dan alluded to above. However, there is not truly what I would call a "problem," but rather just something you need to be aware of if you are going to be overclocking with the GIGABYTE Z270X Gaming 7 motherboard. Many of us have heard the term "vDroop" thrown around over the years as it applies to CPU overclocking. vDroop is when you set your vCore at X volts in the UEFI and then when the CPU is under load, the CPU vCore voltage drops to a lower value...hence the "droop." For the most part we do not have an issues or true problems with this any more since good CPU Load Line Calibration (LLC) was put in place many years ago on most enthusiast level motherboards. With this motherboard and the CPU LLC set to AUTO, we were seeing up to 0.1v vDroop, which is a huge value and was severely impacting overclocking stability as Dan alluded to above. The Z270 Gaming 7 does in fact have good CPU LLC in place, it just seems that it is not turned on by default.

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Getting proper enthusiast level LLC requires setting it to "Turbo" in the UEFI as shown above. There are several settings for LLC; AUTO, Standard, High, and Turbo. As noted at AUTO we saw maximum vDroop of 0.1v, with Standard we saw maximum vDroop of 0.1v as well, with High we saw maximum vDroop of 0.02v, and with Turbo we saw no vDroop. I have noted maximum vDroop as the vCore is dynamic on these CPUs. Using the Turbo CPU LLC, and the vCore set to 1.34v in the UEFI, the vCore ranged from 1.34v to 1.356v under 100% CPU load.

So to recap, in order to overclock the Gaming 7 to 4.5GHz/3600MHz, we made the following changes in the UEFI: 1. Set CPU multiplier to 50. 2. Set the CPU vCore to 1.32v. 3. Set the BCLK Adaptive Voltage to Disabled. 4. Set CPU Load Line Calibration to Turbo. Of course depending on what CPU and RAM you are using, your mileage may vary.

Conclusions

Dan's Thoughts:

My experiences with the Z270X Gaming 7 were good excluding the overclocking frustrations, which ended up being extremely likely not the fault of the motherboard, but rather a lacking 7700K CPU. Out of the box the system came up and performed like it should have. The physical layout shows a sharp attention to detail. GIGABYTE’s RGB Fusion system is great for LED lighting control. It now achieves parity if not superiority over competing solutions that I’ve worked with thus far. Unfortunately, I can’t get too excited for this motherboard as it barely builds on the previous generation. It’s so much like the preceding motherboards that it feels as though I’ve seen this motherboard a hundred times before. There isn’t any compelling reason to go to a Z270 Express based motherboard if you already have a Z170 based motherboard. That isn’t to say that the Z270X Gaming 7 isn’t a good motherboard because it is.

To some extent the minor issues are a result of this being a new generation of chipset with new motherboard designs. The product feels a little more mature out of the gate than X99 did and maybe a bit better than Z170 did. Presently, I can’t comment on the price of this motherboard as I don’t know it. At the time of this writing these are unreleased and retail pricing hasn’t been disclosed. As such, I can’t say whether or not I think this motherboard is worth the cost or not or if it’s too expensive for what it is. Since this is the first Z270 Express based motherboard I’ve worked with I can’t comment on how it compares to any other offerings either. This is a good motherboard but it could stand for some improvement on the UEFI BIOS front which is par for the course with new chipsets and motherboard designs. As a result, I think it deserves to be on your short list when shopping for a Z270 Express based motherboard.

Kyle's Thoughts:

I have spent a lot of time with the GIGABYTE Z270X Gaming 7 motherboard in the last month as well as a few other new Z270 motherboards and I can say that I had nearly zero issues using the motherboard. I did have one issue with overclocking out of the gate, and that was getting the motherboard to hold its vCore with overclocking even with Adaptive Voltage turned off. I reached out to GIGABYTE and they had me a new "F3" UEFI (which we used for all testing here) that fixed this issue as you can see in Dan's screenshots above. We have actually seen this issue before with GIGABYTE motherboards and I will check this again with the latest release UEFI as soon as Dan has the board back to me today or tomorrow for a bit more overclocking testing with a "good" CPU.

As mentioned above, I think the particular 7700K we were using for overclocking this motherboard was what was holding us back. I am 99.99% sure that I will update this conclusion with a stable 5GHz overclock in a few days.

The GIGABYTE Z270X Gaming 7 has a great layout and feature set that I liked using. I love the new color scheme on this motherboard and its build quality and PCB are exceptional. And given its white accents with all the RGB LED support, you can really make it any color you want should you need to show it off inside your case.

While there is hardly any reason to upgrade from a Skylake to a Kaby Lake desktop processor in terms of performance, you do get to bring on some more PCIe express lanes. Once the Kaby Lake processors are out, the only reason to purchase a Skylake system is if you find a good deal on the processor, or are in need of almost assured "ludicrous speed" RAM as we saw in our testing.

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Here is the GIGABYTE Auros PDF slide deck that covers all its new Z270 motherboards and features.

The Bottom Line

The GIGABYTE Z270X Gaming 7 is an extremely well built motherboard that is full of features and we think will support any level of Kaby Lake overclocking your CPU is capable of when using air or water cooling. We are waiting to see where street price lands on this board and will update this review appropriately. One thing that has come with minimal chipset upgrades from Intel, and that is stability and maturity. Often with new motherboards, we very much get the feeling that the platform is going to take some time to mature. Working with the Z270X Gaming 7 felt like we had a very mature platform on our hands and we did not find a bunch of odd quirks that we had to deal with. I find it likely that you will hit the ground running with this motherboard and a new Kaby Lake processor. Given that and the fact that Kaby Lake overclocking looks to be virtually limited to setting the right vCore and turning on XMP RAM profiles for edge-of-the-envelope performance, it makes the Z270 platform a bit more inviting. However, we do not see many Skylake owners making the jump to upgrade. Maybe you 2600K / Sandy Bridge guys are finally ready to let go? But you do get four more PCIe lanes and Intel Optane support with Z270!

(Update-1/4/2017): GIGABYTE has told us that the MSRP of the Z270X Gaming 7 is $239.99. Also, please note our excellent overclocking and stability results updated above. Given all noted previously and the excellent audio implementation we are going to give this motherboard our Editor's Choice Silver Award.)

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GIGABYTE Z270X Gaming 7

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