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GIGABYTE Z170X-Gaming 3 Motherboard Review


A Closer Look at the Z170X-Gaming 3 pt.2

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The lower-right corner and the bottom edge of the motherboard is where you will find the handy colour-coded front panel header, one of the four 4-pin PWM system headers, the clear CMOS jumper, two USB 2.0 headers, TPM header, and serial port header. Last but not least, above the below the third PCI-E x1 slot is aThunderbolt add-in card header.

As we have come to expected on all GIGABYTE motherboard, this model is outfitted with the DualBIOS feature, as evidenced by the presence of two individual BIOS chips This ensures instant recovery in the case of a botched BIOS update, nasty virus, or just overclocking-related craziness.

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Much like previous generations, mainstream Skylake processors support sixteen PCI-E 3.0 lanes for graphics purposes. These lanes are divided across two separate PCI-E x16 slots thanks to a handful of NXP L04083B PCI-E 3.0 switches. The third mechanical PCI-E x16 slot operates at x4, but since it shares bandwidth with the third PCI-E x1 slot, if either slot is occupied they will both be limited to x1 mode. This limitation is because the PCI-E x16 @ x4 slot and all three PCI-E x1 slots receive their lanes from the Z170 PCH.

In a regular single graphics card setup, the first PCI-E x16 slot will obviously operate at PCI-E 3.0 x16. In a dual graphics card configuration, the first and second slots will operate at PCI-E 3.0 x8, which will still provide ample bandwidth for even the highest end GPUs. This 2-Way configuration is the limit for SLI however, as NVIDIA doesn’t support SLI on any PCI-E x4 slots, which as mentioned above is the limit for the third PCI-E x16 slot. If you install three Radeon graphics cards, the expansion slots will be running at x8/x8/x4 in PCI-E 3.0 mode. This is obviously not optimal since this last slot doesn’t have a direct low latency connection to the processor, but it works in practice.

One of the unique features of the G1 Gaming models is the reinforced full-size PCI-E slots. Not only are the slots covered by stainless steel shielding, but they feature additional anchor points ensuring that even the heaviest graphics cards won’t cause any mechanical failures.

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The Amp-Up onboard audio is based on the familiar Realtek ALC1150 ten-channel HD audio codec, which simultaneously supports 7.1-channel playback and 2 channels of independent stereo output from the front-panel header. As on many of their higher-end motherboard, GIGABYTE have selected a Burr Brown OPA2134 operational amplifier (op amp). It’s a proven part that is known for its pleasing warm audio output. If its sonic qualities don’t match your tastes that is not a problem since it is fully swappable. The DIP switches next to the op-amp is the audio gain control, which allows you to set the gain from the default 2.5X to 6X for the headphone/speaker jack on the rear I/O panel. Rounding things out are just short of a dozen audio-grade Nichicon capacitors.

We are glad to see that the audio codec has been covered with an electromagnetic interference (EMI) shield, and there is a clear PCB isolation line – dubbed the audio guard light path – protecting the audio section from the rest of the motherboard. The LEDs on the underside of the motherboard glow through that isolation line and are part of the adjustable multi-color Ambient LED feature.

As with all G1 Gaming series motherboards, GIGABYTE have also included the Sound Blaster X-Fi MB3 software suite, which provides features like SBX Pro Studio, Scout Mode, and support for EAX Advanced HD 5.0.

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The Z170X-Gaming 3 has a fairly sparse rear I/O panel. Starting from left to right, there are two USB 2.0 ports, a combo keyboard/mouse PS/2 port, VGA and DVI-D video outputs, a USB 3.1 Type-C port, one USB 3.0 port, one USB 3.1 port, an HDMI 1.4 video output, one gigabit LAN port, two USB 3.0 ports, and the six audio jacks which include an S/PDIF output.

Powering these ports is a small selection of third-party controllers. An ITE IT8628E Super I/O chip is responsible for the PS/2 port on the back panel as well as fan, temperature, and voltage management and monitoring. Hidden under the shiny bronze EMI cover is a Qualcomm Atheros Killer E2201 LAN controller, otherwise known as a network processing unit (NPU). An Intel L6540 controller – codename Alpine Ridge – is responsible for the USB 3.1 Type-A and Type-C ports. An NXP PTN3360DBS controller provides HDMI 1.4b output, while an NXP P3356 is responsible for the VGA and DVI-D outputs.

The two yellow USB ports are the Dual DAC-UP USB ports, which are special ports that have been isolated from the rest of the motherboard in order to ensure noise-free power delivery to a USB Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC). This should make the audiophiles happy.

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As we have come to expect from GIGABYTE, there are no VRM components or other controllers on the backside of the motherboard. We would have liked to see metal screws used to secure both the MOSFET and chipset heatsinks, because as we mentioned on the previous page, the MOSFET heatsink near the top of the motherboard does wobble an uncomfortable amount due to the use of weak plastic push-pins.

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Lastly, on the rear of the motherboard we also get a good look at some of the LEDs that illuminate the PCB isolation line that surrounds the audio sub-system, and which are an integral part of the Ambient LED feature. These integrated LEDs are fully programmable via a utility that allows you to set the LEDs to pulse, blink or even react to the music you are listing to. Basically, it can give a pretty cool look to your system.Here is a YouTube video from GIGABYTE showing off the effects in action.

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