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GIGABYTE Z170-HD3 Review; DDR3 On Skylake

MAC

Associate Review Editor
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Nov 8, 2006
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Feature Testing: SATA Express Results

Feature Testing: SATA Express Results


Aside from the fact that it is included on basically every Z170 motherboard, there has basically been zero new developments on the SATA Express front since it was first launched on 9-series motherboards back in April 2014. Nevertheless, thanks to storage experts ASMedia - which is a subsidiary of ASUS - we do have a pretty neat SATA Express storage device in the form of the Hyper Express enclosure. We figured that it would be interesting to show you this high-speed interface was capable of on this Z170 HD3 DDR3 motherboard.


The unit that ASUS provided us came packed with two Kingston SSDNow mS200 120GB mSATA solid state drives. These are based on the LSI SandForce SF-2241 controller and are rated at an impressive 550MB/s read and 520MB/s write speeds. Now this is not a review of this device, since this is still a pre-production product and you will not be able to buy one pre-assembled with SSDs inside. We just want to show you a little bit of what SATA Express is capable of.

As you have probably know, most current SATA 6Gb/s devices struggle to get anywhere near that interface's theoretical 750MB/s limit. Due to overhead you are realistically looking at real-life transfer rates of up to about 550 to 575MB/s. By comparison, at the moment all 9-series chipsets seem to be limited to a 10GB/s interface that tops out at about 1GB/s of bandwidth, but we will eventually see SATA Express 16Gb/s implementations capable of supporting transfer rates of up to 2GB/s.

With all of this in mind, let's take a peak at the results.

SATA 6Gb/s vs. SATA Express - Click on image to enlarge

As you can see above, a modern solid state drive is capable of about 535-550MB/s. Often this is not a controller limitation, but an interface one. If you were to combine one of these modern SATA controllers with a faster interface, the results could be way above SATA 3's limits. That is what SATA-Express is promising to do. Not only do you get up to 1GB/s of bandwidth but there is a built-in backward compatibility with current SATA devices.

With the Hyper Express enclosure, we were able to get very close to the 740MB/s mark. This is a limitation with this configuration of the pre-production Hyper Express, but it at least gives a small glimpse at what we can expect from future SATA Express devices...if there ever are any. We are still hopeful that sometime in the (hopefully) not too distance future there will be devices that are fully capable of utilizing this interface's 1GB/s of bandwidth.
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
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Messages
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Location
Montreal
Feature Testing: Onboard Audio

Feature Testing: Onboard Audio


Since fewer and fewer consumers seem to be buying discrete sound cards, the quality of a motherboard's onboard audio is now more important than ever. We figured that it was worthwhile to take a closer look at just how good the analog signal quality is on this new GIGABYTE Z170-HD3 DDR3, especially since it features an audio chip that we have never tested before.

Since isolated results don't really mean much, but we have also included some numbers from the ASUS X99-A, ASUS X99-PRO, ASUS Rampage V Extreme, GIGABYTE X99-Gaming G1 WIFI, MSI X99S Gaming 7, EVGA X99 Classified, and ASUS X99 Deluxe motherboards that we have previously reviewed. This Z170-HD3 motherboard is based on the Realtek ALC887, a lower-end 7.1 channel HD audio codec, whereas most of the other models in this comparison feature onboard audio solutions that are built around the higher-end Realtek ALC1150 codec, but feature different op-amps, headphone amplifiers, filtering capacitors, secondary components and layouts. The GIGABYTE X99-Gaming G1 WIFI and EVGA are both based on the same Creative Core3D CA0132 quad-core audio processor, but feature vastly different hardware implementations.

We are going to do this using both quantitative and qualitative analysis, since sound quality isn't really something that can be adequately explained with only numbers. To do this we have turned to the RightMark Audio Analyzer, basically the standard application for this type of testing.

Since all the three motherboards support very high quality 24-bit, 192kHz audio playback we selected that as the sample mode option. Basically, what this test does is pipe the audio signal from the front-channel output to the line-in input via a 3.5mm male to 3.5mm male mini-plug cable, and then RightMark Audio Analyzer (RMAA) does the audio analysis. Obviously we disabled all software enhancements since they interfere with the pure technical performance that we are trying to benchmark.


Click on image to enlarge and reveal additional motherboards

As you can see, this motherboard's onboard audio is quite good in several respects, but it obviously doesn't compare favoribly to the higher-end audio implementations on the much pricier X99-based models. This is no surprise since the datasheets reveal that the ALC887 has a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) with a 97dB signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), while the more familiar ALC889/892/898/1150 codecs all feature an SNR that is closer to 110dB. Qualitatively speaking this had no discernable effect on our listening enjoyment using a mix of Grado SR225i and Koss PortaPro headphones, Westone UM1 IEMs, and Logitech Z-5500 5.1 speakers

As we tend to repeat, we aren't experts in this area, but we suspect that your average user will likewise be perfectly satisfied with this motherboard's onboard audio capabilities.
 
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MAC

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Location
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Auto & Manual Overclocking Results

Auto & Manual Overclocking Results


It wouldn't be an HWC review if we didn't include some overclocking results, so we thoroughly tested this motherboard's capabilities, especially its auto-overclocking functionality. This reviewer has just now gotten his hands on the Skylake platform, so there won't be any ground breaking insights on how to overclock on this new platform, but our personal pointers are to increase the vCore up to around 1.40V if you're cooling can handle it, while increasing the VCCIO up to 1.20V, and the System Agent voltage up to 1.25V. These last two are really only needed if you plan on seriously pushing the Uncore/cache frequency or the memory frequency. While faster memory speeds are always welcome, we haven't really noticed any substantial gains from overclocking the cache. If you have an unlocked K-series processors, there's no reason to go crazy increasing the BCLK if you can achieve similar results by just tweaking the various multipliers instead.

On the memory front, although Skylake was designed with DDR4 and DDR3L in mind, which has a memory voltage range of 1.20V to 1.35V, we had no issues using up to 1.65V with our enthusiast DDR3 kit. Is this safe in the long run? That's debatable. Intel has explicitly stated that even 1.50V could eventually damage the integrated memory controller, hence why they only certified support for the lower voltage DDR3L memory. However, we suspect that much in the same way that overclocking "damages" a processor, any negative effects probably won't be apparent during a normal ownership timeframe (2-3 years).


Auto Overclocking


The Z170-HD3 DDR3 features four types of automatic overclocking, two software based and two BIOS based. Within the EasyTune utility there is an OC preset and the more intelligent and supposedly more capable AutoTuning feature. The OC preset is super simple; you just click on the icon, the system reboots and the overclock is applied. This increases the core clock to 4.4Ghz, which is fairly minimal increase that isn't really worth much additional testing, so we focused on AutoTuning instead. AutoTuning is a "smart" auto-overclocking feature in that it doesn't utilize presets. Instead, AutoTuning slowly increases the system frequencies and does some stress testing at each level until it finds the limit, and then reboots to lock-in the overclock. The whole process takes about 5 to 10 minutes.


Click on image to enlarge

Although it won't blow anyone away, from a stock 4.0-4.2Ghz to a steady 4.6Ghz in the time it takes to reboot it still pretty cool. However, AutoTuning failed to recognize our memory kit's XMP profile and as a result kept memory frequency and timings at default levels. Voltage-wise we have no complaints since the applied CPU core voltage was very reasonable, never exceeding 1.30V even when all the cores were fully loaded. It is still high enough to require a capable CPU cooler, but you should have that anytime you attempt to overclock. As always, users can easily try manually decreasing that a few notches if temperatures are a concern, or increasing if stability is an issue. Most importantly of all, the system passed our stability tests so clearly it was a stable overclock with our particular chip.

Next let's check out the two BIOS-based automatic overclocking options.


Click on image to enlarge

Within the BIOS, the first setting that you encounter in the Advanced Frequency Settings menu is Performance Upgrade, which consists of a drop down menu that contains options ranging from Auto to 100% Upgrade. Naturally, we went straight to the 100% Upgrade option that set a 4.7Ghz CPU frequency and DDR3-2133 memory speeds. Regrettably, this simply resulted in a failure to boot and the motherboard would soon recover and automatically load the BIOS. Next we tried the 80% Upgrade option, which set a 4.6Ghz core clock and increased the memory speed to DDR3-1866. This option worked perfectly and became our preferred automatic overclock method on this motherboard. As you can see above, the CPU core voltage topped out at 1.32V, but usually loitered around 1.27-1.28V range. Despite the high-ish memory speeds, the memory timings were quite loose at 13-13-13-33-2T, but if you are knowledgeable enough to recognize that, then you should be able to tweak those settings yourself.

Last but not least, from within the M.I.T section of the BIOS there is an option called "CPU Upgrade" that lists a variety of overclocks based on what CPU model you have installed. We decided to try it out and selected the highest option for a Core i7-6700K, which is 4.60hz. Let's see if it worked:


Click on image to enlarge

As you can see above, the CPU Upgrade feature delivered on its promise of a 4.60Ghz overclock. It is using roughly the same voltage as the two previous overclocks, so there's nothing to complain about there. We do wish that it had applied some kind of overclock to the memory, but there's the aforementioned Performance Upgrade option for those that want that. This obviously brings us to the point of asking why exactly both this options even exist at the same time? They co-exist fine, but it is a little confusing as to why two such similar features have been implemented in the BIOS. Perhaps the CPU Upgrade option exists only for those who explicitly don't want their memory overclocked, but it seems to us like that could be an option that could be implemented into the Performance Upgrade feature.


Manual Overclocking


Click on image to enlarge

When it came time for some hands on overclocking, we experienced no problems pushing our i7-6700K up to its full potential, which is about 4.85Ghz at 1.40-1.41V. No fancy tricks were required, we just increasing the CPU multiplier to 48X, gave the BCLK a tiny bump up to 101.05Mhz, and selected a 25.33X memory multiplier. Speaking of which, the Kingston HyperX Beast DDR3-2400 11-13-13 memory kit that we used in this system has a default voltage of 1.65V, and as we mentioned previously that is already very high on a Skylake processor. As a result, we obviously did not want to push the voltage any higher given the concern's we have over the health of integrated memory controller (IMC). Nevertheless, using this default voltage and timings we were able to push this kit up to DDR3-2560, which should help it make up some of the bandwidth deficit when compared to DDR4. Overall, we didn't encounter any overclocking issues on this motherboard, and whenever we did push things too far, it automatically recovered and booted into the BIOS.
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
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Messages
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Location
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System Benchmarks

System Benchmarks


In the System and Gaming Benchmarks sections, we reveal the results from a number of benchmarks run with the Core i7-6700K and GIGABYTE Z170-HD3 DDR3 at default clocks, with the Performance Upgrade 80% preset applied, and using own our manual overclock. This will illustrate how much performance can be achieved with this motherboard in stock and overclocked form. For a thorough comparison of the Core i7-6700K versus a number of different CPUs have a look at our "The Intel i7-6700K Review; Skylake Arrives" article.


SuperPi Mod v1.9 WP


When running the SuperPI 32MB benchmark, we are calculating Pi to 32 million digits and timing the process. Obviously more CPU power helps in this intense calculation, but the memory sub-system also plays an important role, as does the operating system. We are running one instance of SuperPi Mod v1.9 WP. This is therefore a single-thread workload.



wPRIME 2.10


wPrime is a leading multithreaded benchmark for x86 processors that tests your processor performance by calculating square roots with a recursive call of Newton's method for estimating functions, with f(x)=x2-k, where k is the number we're sqrting, until Sgn(f(x)/f'(x)) does not equal that of the previous iteration, starting with an estimation of k/2. It then uses an iterative calling of the estimation method a set amount of times to increase the accuracy of the results. It then confirms that n(k)2=k to ensure the calculation was correct. It repeats this for all numbers from 1 to the requested maximum. This is a highly multi-threaded workload.



Cinebench R15


Cinebench R15 64-bit
Test1: CPU Image Render
Comparison: Generated Score


The latest benchmark from MAXON, Cinebench R15 makes use of all your system's processing power to render a photorealistic 3D scene using various different algorithms to stress all available processor cores. The test scene contains approximately 2,000 objects containing more than 300,000 total polygons and uses sharp and blurred reflections, area lights and shadows, procedural shaders, antialiasing, and much more. This particular benchmarking can measure systems with up to 64 processor threads. The result is given in points (pts). The higher the number, the faster your processor.



Sandra Processor Arithmetic and Processor Multi-Media Benchmarks

SiSoftware Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility. The software suite provides most of the information (including undocumented) users like to know about hardware, software, and other devices whether hardware or software. The name “Sandra” is a (girl) name of Greek origin that means "defender", "helper of mankind".

The software version used for these tests is SiSoftware Sandra 2015 SP3. In the 2012 version of Sandra, SiSoft has updated the .Net benchmarks and the GPGPU benchmarks have been upgraded to General Processing (GP) benchmarks, able to fully test the new APU (CPU+GPU) processors. The two benchmarks that we used are the Processor Multi-Media and Processor Arithmetic benchmarks. These three benchmarks were chosen as they provide a good indication of three varying types of system performance. The multi-media test shows how the processor handles multi-media instructions and data and the arithmetic test shows how the processor handles arithmetic and floating point instructions. These two tests illustrate two important areas of a computer’s speed and provide a wide scope of results.






AIDA64 Memory Benchmark

AIDA64 Extreme Edition is a diagnostic and benchmarking software suite for home users that provides a wide range of features to assist in overclocking, hardware error diagnosis, stress testing, and sensor monitoring. It has unique capabilities to assess the performance of the processor, system memory, and disk drives.

The benchmarks used in this review are the memory bandwidth and latency benchmarks. Memory bandwidth benchmarks (Memory Read, Memory Write, Memory Copy) measure the maximum achievable memory data transfer bandwidth. The code behind these benchmark methods are written in Assembly and they are extremely optimized for every popular AMD, Intel and VIA processor core variants by utilizing the appropriate x86/x64, x87, MMX, MMX+, 3DNow!, SSE, SSE2, SSE4.1, AVX, and AVX2 instruction set extension.
The Memory Latency benchmark measures the typical delay when the CPU reads data from system memory. Memory latency time means the penalty measured from the issuing of the read command until the data arrives to the integer registers of the CPU.



If you are wondering why the Auto OC memory benchmarks are so poor - no it's not a mistake! - the preset seems to use a terrible mix of loose primary timings, loose secondary timings, the 2TB command rate, and perhaps the “Enhanced Stability Mode” is automatically applied in the BIOS, which tends to kill memory performance.
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
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Messages
1,087
Location
Montreal
Gaming Benchmarks

Gaming Benchmarks



Futuremark 3DMark (2013)


3DMark v1.1.0
Graphic Settings: Fire Strike Preset
Rendered Resolution: 1920x1080
Test: Specific Physics Score and Full Run 3DMarks
Comparison: Generated Score


3DMark is the brand new cross-platform benchmark from the gurus over at Futuremark. Designed to test a full range of hardware from smartphones to high-end PCs, it includes three tests for DirectX 9, DirectX 10 and DirectX 11 hardware, and allows users to compare 3DMark scores with other Windows, Android and iOS devices. Most important to us is the new Fire Strike preset, a DirectX 11 showcase that tests tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. Like every new 3DMark version, this test is extremely GPU-bound, but it does contain a heavy physics test that can show off the potential of modern multi-core processors.




Futuremark 3DMark 11


3DMark 11 v1.0.5
Graphic Settings: Performance Preset
Resolution: 1280x720
Test: Specific Physics Score and Full Run 3DMarks
Comparison: Generated Score


3DMark 11 is Futuremark's very latest benchmark, designed to tests all of the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. At the moment, it is lot more GPU-bound than past versions are now, but it does contain a terrific physics test which really taxes modern multi-core processors.




Futuremark 3DMark Vantage


3DMark Vantage v1.1.2
Graphic Settings: Performance Preset
Resolution: 1280x1024

Test: Specific CPU Score and Full Run 3DMarks
Comparison: Generated Score

3DMark Vantage is the follow-up to the highly successful 3DMark06. It uses DirectX 10 exclusively so if you are running Windows XP, you can forget about this benchmark. Along with being a very capable graphics card testing application, it also has very heavily multi-threaded CPU tests, such Physics Simulation and Artificial Intelligence (AI), which makes it a good all-around gaming benchmark.




Valve Particle Simulation Benchmark


Valve Particle Simulation Benchmark
Resolution: 1680x1050
Anti-Aliasing: 4X
Anisotropic Filtering: 8X
Graphic Settings: High
Comparison: Particle Performance Metric

Originally intended to demonstrate new processing effects added to Half Life 2: Episode 2 and future projects, the particle benchmark condenses what can be found throughout HL2:EP2 and combines it all into one small but deadly package. This test does not symbolize the performance scale for just Episode Two exclusively, but also for many other games and applications that utilize multi-core processing and particle effects. As you will see the benchmark does not score in FPS but rather in its own "Particle Performance Metric", which is useful for direct CPU comparisons.




X3: Terran Conflict


X3: Terran Conflict 1.2.0.0
Resolution: 1680x1050
Texture & Shader Quality: High
Antialiasing 4X
Anisotropic Mode: 8X
Glow Enabled

Game Benchmark
Comparison: FPS (Frames per Second)

X3: Terran Conflict (X3TC) is the culmination of the X-series of space trading and combat simulator computer games from German developer Egosoft. With its vast space worlds, intricately detailed ships, and excellent multi-threaded game engine, it remains a great test of modern CPU performance.


 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,087
Location
Montreal
Voltage Regulation / Power Consumption

Voltage Regulation

Since it is a lower end model, it is needless to say that the Z170-HD3 DDR3 does not have any of the onboard voltage measurement points that we usually rely on in order to accurately measure the various system voltages. As a result, in this abbreviated overview, we utilized the AIDA64 System Stability Test to put a very substantial load on the system while also monitoring the stability of the all-important CPU vCore line. This testing was achieved with a 90 minute run, and in order to increase the strain on the motherboard's voltage regulation components we overclocked our Core i7-6700K to 4.5Ghz at 1.30V (in the BIOS). Although voltage droop is part Intel's specifications, we set the Load-Line Calibration (LLC) setting to High in order to see if this motherboard had what it takes to maintain a rock steady vCore line.


Although the above only represents an approximately 15 minute portion of the 90 minute run, we watched attentively throughout and there were never any dips or spikes. The vCore line was straight as an arrow during the whole test and it never deviated from 1.308V.

We also kept an eye on the other system voltages using the Hardware Monitor widget of the System Information Viewer (SIW), GIGABYTE's new voltage monitoring application, and did not notice any great variations there either. What you set in the bios appears to be exactly what the board put outs, and it seems to be able to maintain those voltages even when under heavy load. That is exactly what we want from a motherboard.


Power Consumption

For this section, every energy saving feature was enabled in the BIOS and the Windows power plan was changed from High Performance to Balanced. For our idle test, we let the system idle for 15 minutes and measured the peak wattage through our UPM EM100 power meter. For our CPU load test, we ran Prime 95 In-place large FFTs on all available threads, measuring the peak wattage via the UPM EM100 power meter. For our overall system load test, we ran Prime 95 on all available threads while simultaneously loading the GPU with 3DMark Vantage - Test 6 Perlin Noise.


The stock power consumption numbers look great, they are very much inline with what we have seen from similarly configured motherboards from other manufacturers. We aren't using any of the numerous power saving software options that GIGABYTE offers, so there's definitely room for improvement if that's of interest to you. Obviously, once you start overclocking and pumping extra voltage into the processor the power consumption starts climbing, but the increase is not at all that substantial when compared to previous processor generations and this motherboard has proven itself to be more than capable of handling the additional load.
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,087
Location
Montreal
Conclusion

Conclusion


When we first heard of the GIGABYTE Z170-HD3 DDR3 it seemed like the perfect entry-level Z170 motherboard for those who wished to carry over the DDR3 memory from their current setup in order to build a very affordable single graphics card system. Has our opinion changed over the course of this review? Not at all!

This is a motherboard that perfectly fits the unique demands of a certain customer base. It is fully featured, well designed, and there really aren't any noteworthy shortcomings for us to report. This is a model that comes with no extras, but considering the fact that it is one of the cheapest Z170 motherboards on the market it also did not leave us wanting for anything. If you have the budget to buy a DDR4 memory kit, we wouldn't hesitate to recommend the non-DDR3 Z170-HD3, but if you are dead set on using DDR3, this is a great choice.


Having said all of that, obviously we do have some concerns when it comes to running non-DDR3L memory on this motherboard. The motherboard will handle it fine, whether your processor does over the long run is anyone's guess. In our case, we installed an enthusiast memory kit with an XMP profile that is programmed to DDR3-2400 at 1.65V. We experienced zero issues running this kit at its full potential, though that was perhaps to be expected since it was one of the kits listed on GIGABYTE's Qualified Vendor List (QVL) for this model. In order to ensure a trouble-free experience, it would be a wise idea to check this list to make sure that your DDR3 memory kit is supported.

We do have to emphasize that at default settings this motherboard set a DDR3-1600 memory speed with a low 1.35V memory voltage, so clearly GIGABYTE are doing their best to help preserve the processor's integrated memory controller. If you decide to manually set a 1.50V or 1.65V memory voltage, that's your doing and you have to be willing to accept the risks involved. As the expression goes, caveat emptor, which in this case means let the buyer beware that he or she is responsible for not causing the premature death of their Skylake CPU.

Overall, the GIGABYTE Z170-HD3 DDR3 provides excellent Bang for the Buck in our opinion, and as long as buyers are aware that they ideally shouldn't be using a high voltage memory kit, it is easy to recommend to just about anyone wanting to upgrade to the Skylake platform at the absolute lowest possible cost.

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Monitor/Nixeus_VUE24A/DGV.gif" border="0" alt="" />​
 
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