GIGABYTE Aorus Z270X Gaming 9 Motherboard Review

GIGABYTE’s Z270X Gaming 9 is one of the most feature rich and ultra-high end offerings you’ll see for the Z270 chipset this year. We were super fond of last year’s similar offering and as a result, the Z270X Gaming 9 has very large shoes to fill. With its massive feature set and overclocking prowess, it is poised to be one of the best motherboards of the year.

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Overclocking

All of the KAby Lake CPU’s I’ve worked with thus far have been mediocre to say the least. I never got bad results out of them but they weren’t representational of what Kaby Lake could ultimately be capable of. Thanks to some delidding action from Kyle, I received a 5.0GHz capable Core i7 7700K. While I’m still getting used to this CPU, I’ve found it very capable. The thing is, the maximum overclock in a modern Intel processor based system is determined by your CPU more than the motherboard. Outside of possibly extreme cooling via LN2, there is no magic in overclocking Z270 Express based motherboards. The differences for the average enthusiast are centered more around the experience itself. Specifically, how the system behaves with settings that don’t necessarily work. On that front, GIGABYTE’s Z270X Gaming 9 does as well as any motherboard I’ve tested. I had no problems getting the system to POST and run minor tasks out to 5.2GHz. I was not able to get anything stable past 5.0GHz. I don’t think the motherboard had anything to do with that, but there are some things I’d like to note. First, the Z270X Gaming 9 can be fickle with XMP if you are running the F1 BIOS. I had some issues with it freezing with XMP enabled. The settings detected were all correct, but for whatever reason they simple didn’t produce a stable configuration.

Upgrading to the F3R BIOS fixed that problem. The second thing I want to note is that the GIGABYTE Aorus Z270X Gaming 9 is one of the few motherboards that includes the ability to use adaptive voltage settings. Frankly, I didn’t play with this too much. I went for the throat, doing what has worked for me on the many motherboards that don’t have this feature. Essentially, you start from around 1.28v. Push your clock speed up and ratchet your voltages upwards until you achieve stability. Lastly, the final secret to getting the most out of the Z270X Gaming 9 is the load-line calibration setting. Most motherboard seem to behave the best with this set somewhere in the middle of their available LLC range. The Z270X Gaming 9 didn’t work for me unless I set this to its highest setting. This produced a stable overclock of 5.0GHz @ 1.40v with memory clocks at DDR4 3200MHz speeds. I was not able to achieve the same level of stability at DDR4 3600MHz. While the system ran that way for a while, it always crashed or hard locked after about 30 minutes or so. I think this simply places too much load on the IMC of this specific CPU to run it that way at such high speeds. Temperatures hit the 78-80c range under full load after around an hour. It’s pretty cold in my office so this CPU still runs pretty hot.

Core i5 7700K @ 5.0GHz (100x50) DDR4 3200MHz

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The Z270X Gaming 9 behaved very well during overclocking. It never forced me to clear the CMOS or load defaults just to get back to a stable system and start pushing things again. The system was stable at 5.0GHz at standard tasks at voltages around 1.32v to 1.40v or so. It wasn’t until you started pushing it with Prime95 or Realbench that you had to set the voltage higher. With some adaptive voltage tweaking, I think I could potentially shave some degrees off the load temps. I don’t think 5.1GHz is necessarily possible with this CPU, but it seems the CPU might do this under the right circumstances. Circumstances which are potentially achievable on the Z270X Gaming 9. I’ve said many times that the motherboard doesn’t make that much of a difference overclocking with today’s modern Intel CPUs. I still believe that’s true for the most part but there are some specific aspects of the Z270X Gaming 9’s design that offer potential help.

From an overclocking standpoint, you’ve got what’s likely the beefiest voltage circuitry on any LGA 1151 motherboard that exists today. I’ve yet to see another motherboard as overbuilt as the Z270X Gaming 9 is. This is one of the things I liked about this motherboard’s predecessor. In that sense the Z270X Gaming 9 is a proper sequel to the Z170X Gaming G1. A motherboard I’ve proclaimed as my favorite Z170 motherboard.

Conclusions

Dan's Thoughts:

Motherboards as expensive and as complex as the Z270X Gaming 9 present a few extra challenges and a lot of extra work to review over the standard motherboards we typically look at. The sheer volume of features and options to test are very time consuming and you’ll find yourself reading the instructions from time to time. The Z270X Gaming 9 was no different in the sense that it is extremely complex. As a complex design, it was very easy to work with given how well the motherboard behaved during testing. Features just worked as advertised and the motherboard was drama free. My out of the box experience was fantastic until I enabled XMP, but the fix for this was a simple BIOS update. I can’t really fault GIGABYTE for that because the update was available when I needed it. Should this have worked out of the box? Eh, probably. Still I don’t consider this a big deal at all. That one problem certainly didn’t diminish my overall impression of the motherboard, nor my experience with it.

I’ll say that the Z270X Gaming 9 is probably going to take the Z170X Gaming G1’s place as my favorite LGA 1151 offering out of what I’ve tested thus far. The motherboard is a worthy sequel to that motherboard and I feel it’s only going to improve as drivers and UEFI updates come along through the product’s life cycle. It’s without a doubt the best and most capable Kaby Lake motherboard I’ve tested to date. That said, it isn’t perfect. There are a couple of nitpicks I have with the layout. I wish the M.2 slots weren’t stuffed underneath the GPUs. I think this is a special concern because this motherboard probably has a higher potential for being used as a multi-GPU solution than other motherboards close to its price point. The reason for this comes down to the inclusion of the PLX chip which provides unparalleled multi-GPU capability and flexibility in the "mainstream" segment. I also do not like how the RAM slots use the locking tabs on both sides. After I wrote the earlier layout portion of the article, I attached a fan to my RAM. This doesn’t fit very well because of how close the RAM and GPU are to each other. In fact, the memory cooler sort of pushes the GPU down a little bit which I wouldn’t like if this were my personal machine. It’s a minor complaint, but GIGABYTE knows better and I have a hard time giving them a pass on this. Still, I would use this motherboard in an LGA 1151 build without hesitation if I wanted to build one. With Ryzen on the horizon and the price overlap the Z270X Gaming 9 has with X99, it’s a hard pill to swallow at $499.99.

This leads me into the value discussion. No, the Z270X Gaming 9 isn’t a "value" oriented motherboard the way some PC Chips or ECS offering coming in at $99.99 would be. It’s probably more accurate to say that the Z270X Gaming 9 isn’t a cheap motherboard. Value is somewhat relative. You have Thunderbolt 3 support without an add-in card. You get the benefits of a PLX chip and the ability to run multiple U.2 and M.2 drives. You also get stellar overclocking, a lot of network connectivity and more importantly, a relatively expensive audio solution that doesn’t eat up a PCIe slot. If you think about buying a $300 motherboard, a Thunderbolt 3 card, and a Sound Blaster ZxR, the Z270X Gaming 9 starts to look like a good value for the money. It certainly isn’t for everyone and many people would rather avoid that level of system complexity.

In short, the Z270X Gaming 9 isn’t for the feint of wallet but it represents a value in that it is the most capable Z270 Express based motherboard on the market. If a more complex and capable motherboard exists in the segment, I’m not aware of it. This is a niche product the same way a Ferrari is and as such the Z270X Gaming 9’s value must be taken in the proper context. Should its feature set interest you and you can handle the price of this monster, you won’t regret buying it. This is currently the best Z270 Express motherboard on the market in my opinion. I don’t know how I’ll feel about it when the dust settles, but its predecessor left a lasting impression on me. With few exceptions, the Z270X Gaming 9 improves on the Z170X Gaming G1’s legacy. Again, this motherboard will appeal to a niche group and even fewer will buy it. Rest assured, I doubt anyone who does will regret doing so.

Kyle's Thoughts & Bottom Line:

I am on board with every word that Dan has put for in his observations and evaluations about the GIGABYTE Aorus Z270X Gaming 9 Motherboard. I used this motherboard for about 3 full weeks on my test bench and did almost all our delid/relid and overclocking results on it. I put in a lot of time overclocking on this motherboard and it never once missed a beat. The Aorus Z270X Gaming 9 is very likely the best motherboard that GIGABYTE has ever designed and built. While it is incredibly expensive, it is also incredible feature packed, and will very likely justify its price if you are considering it for your next "go big or go home" system build.

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GIGABYTE Aorus Z270X Gaming 9 Motherboard

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