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GIGABYTE Z170X-Gaming 3 Motherboard Review


Feature Testing: M.2 PCI-E 3.0 x4

One of the big advancements of the Skylake LGA1151 platform was the fact that it brought the M.2 connector to the maintream. Not only did it make this new storage connector available at a more reasonable price, but properly implemented too. While most X99 LGA2011-v3 motherboards had an M.2 connector, many were speed limited or had a caveats list a mile long. Since all Z170 motherboard manufacturers are now boasting of their “full speed” PCI-E 3.0 x4 M.2 connectors with support for NVMe SSDs, we thought it was time to test out those claims. While there are no M.2 SSDs on the market that make full use of this interface’s theoretical maximum bandwidth of 32Gbps (4GB/s), we went searching for one that could at least break the 2000MB/s barrier and quickly settled on the Samsung SSD 950 PRO 256GB.

This next-generation NVMe PCI-E SSD combines Samsung’s newest UBX controller with its industry-leading 3D V-NAND and is capable sequential read speeds of up to 2,200MB/second and write speeds of up to 900MB/sec.

One of the ways that we will be evaluating the performance of a motherboard’s M.2 interface is by verifying that is capable of matching or exceeding these listed transfer rates. The other is by checking to see whether it performs as well as when we install the SSD 950 PRO onto a ASUS Hyper M.2 x4 expansion card plugged directly into a PCI-E 3.0 x16 slot. If the M.2 connector is getting its PCI-E lanes from the Z170 PCH – instead of directly from the processor – we want to see if that implementation is causing any performance issues when compared to a direct link.

One of the coolest aspects of the GIGABYTE Z170X-Gaming 3 is the fact that it features two M.2 connectors, which can mean less cable management issues if you decide to ditch wired storage. Although you can RAID the two together, we aren’t going to be able to test that out since we don’t have another SSD 950 PRO laying around. Nevertheless, we are interested in determining whether there is a performance difference between both connectors.

M.2 top vs M.2 bottom vs PCI-E

As can see, the performance of the M.2 interface on the Z170 Extreme4+ is excellent. It was within 1% of the performance of the PCI-E slot, and in some cases consistently outperformed it in a few categories.

While transfer rates are obviously an important metric, we figured that it was also worthwhile to take a peak at instructions per second (IOPS) to ensure that there wasn’t any deviance there either:

M.2 top vs M.2 bottom vs PCI-E

Once again, the differences are essentially non-existent and well within the margin of error for this benchmark. As a result, we think that it is fair to say that the M.2 interface on the Z170X-Gaming 3 has been very well implemented and should ensure that you get optimal performance from any current or future M.2 x4 solid state drives.

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