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GIGABYTE Z170X-Gaming 3 Motherboard Review

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,106
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 coming out of the onboard Amp-Up audio subsystem that is implemented on the Z170X-Gaming 3.

Since isolated results don't really mean much, but we have also included some numbers from the ASRock Z170 Extreme4+, ASUS B150 PRO GAMING/AURA, ASUS Maximus VIII Extreme, ASUS Maximus VIII Impact, GIGABYTE Z170-HD3 DDR3, 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. While the GIGABYTE Z170-HD3 motherboard is based on the Realtek ALC887, a lower-end 7.1 channel HD audio codec, all of the models mentioned above 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 X99 Classified 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.


As the numbers illustrate, the Z170X-Gaming 3 features a very competent onboard audio solution. It achieved top-notch frequency response and stereo crosstalk numbers, while only falling a tiny bit short when it came to total harmonic distortion plus noise (THD+N). When it comes to subjective sound quality, using our usual mix of mix of Grado SR225i and Koss PortaPro headphones, Westone UM1 IEMs, and Logitech Z-5500 5.1 speakers, the playback was clean, we could crank the volume up on our Grado's to well past enjoyable sound levels without even touching the audio gain DIP switches, and we were just generally very pleased with the sound output. As usual, we aren't experts in this area, but we suspect that most owners will likewise be very happy with this motherboard's onboard audio capabilities.
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,106
Location
Montreal
Feature Testing: M.2 PCI-E 3.0 x4

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 Z170X-Gaming 3 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 variance 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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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,106
Location
Montreal
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. There won't be any ground breaking insights on how to overclock on this new Skylake 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. If you are trying to achieve the highest possible DDR4 memory speeds, increasing the VCCIO to 1.25V and vSA to 1.35V might be worth trying out. These last two are really only needed if you plan on seriously pushing the Uncore/cache frequency or the memory frequency. On the memory front, we are sticking with 1.40V in order to alleviate any possible bottlenecks and to stay inline with all our previous DDR4 reviews. By the way, if you have an unlocked K-series processor, there's no reason to go crazy increasing the BCLK if you can achieve similar results by just tweaking the various multipliers instead.


Auto Overclocking


The Z170X-Gaming 3 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. While AutoTuning on the cheaper Z170-HD3 achieved identical results at 1.28-1.30V, on this model the process set a fairly high vCore of up to 1.38V. This is high enough to require a very capable air or even liquid CPU cooler. The system passed all of our stability tests, but users should try manually decreasing that voltage a few notches since temperatures are otherwise going to be needlessly elevated.

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. Unlike on the Z170-HD3, this option worked perfectly and became our preferred automatic overclock method on this motherboard. While the CPU core voltage topped out at 1.32V, but it usually loitered around the 1.27-1.28V range, which is quite reasonable given the core clock. Once again, the memory and cache frequency were left untouched and kept at default levels.

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. Once again, the CPU core voltage topped out at 1.32V, but it usually loitered around the 1.27-1.28V range. We do once again wish that it had applied some kind of memory or cache overclock.

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 the DDR4-3600 memory speed option. We managed to increase the cache/uncore frequency from the stock 4000Mhz to 4250Mhz without having to touch any other voltage settings. Overall, we didn't encounter any overclocking issues on this motherboard, and whenever we did push things too far, it recovered without issue.

Since we couldn't max out both the core clock and memory frequency at the same time, we decided to do a separate test to determine the highest stable memory frequency that we could run on this motherboard.

Memory Overclocking


Click on image to enlarge

As you can see, despite only officially supporting overclocked memory speeds up to DDR4-3466, we managed to hit an impressive DDR4-3824 on this motherboard. We utilized our excellent Corsair DDR4-4000 8GB memory kit, so clearly the motherboard was still the limiting factor in this equation. Specifically, GIGABYTE's bizarre decision to limit VCCSA voltage to a maximum of 1.30V is the cause of the bottleneck in our case. On other motherboards, we have used between 1.35V to 1.38V in order to achieve over DDR4-4000. Having said that, we wouldn't recommend running above 1.30V for day-to-day use, but we do wish that they allowed more headroom just for some occasional 'extreme' overclocking fun.

Although we didn't try finding the limit, we are happy to report that the Z170X-Gaming 3 had no problems running our G.Skill TridentZ DDR4-3600 16GB memory kit at its rated speed. This is impressive because many motherboards don't handle large high-speed memory kits very well.
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,106
Location
Montreal
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 Z170X-Gaming 3 at default clocks, with two different DDR4 memory speeds with the two best automatic overclock, 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.



WinRAR x64


WinRAR x64 5.30 beta 6
Test: Built-in benchmark, processing 1000MB of data.
Comparison: Time to Finish

One of the most popular file archival and compression utilities, WinRAR's built-in benchmark is a great way of measuring a processor's compression and decompression performance. Since it is a memory bandwidth intensive workload it is also useful in evaluating the efficiency of a system's memory subsystem.





FAHBench


FAHBench 1.2.0
Test: OpenCL on CPU
Comparison: Generated Score

FAHBench is the official [email protected] benchmark that measures the compute performance of CPUs and GPUs. It can test both OpenCL and CUDA code, using either single or double precision, and implicit or explicit modeling. The single precision implicit model most closely relates to current folding performance.




HEVC Decode Benchmark v1.61


HEVC Decode Benchmark (Cobra) v1.61
Test: Frame rates at various resolution, focusing on the top quality 25Mbps bitrate results.
Comparison: FPS (Frames per Second)

The HEVC Decode Benchmark measures a system's HEVC video decoding performance at various bitrates and resolutions. HEVC, also known as H.265, is the successor to the H.264/MPEG-4 AVC (Advanced Video Coding) standard and it is very computationally intensive if not hardware accelerated. This decode test is done entirely on the CPU.




LuxMark v3.0


Test: OpenCL CPU Mode benchmark of the LuxBall HDR scene.
Comparison: Generated Score

LuxMark is a OpenCL benchmarking tool that utilizes the LuxRender 3D rendering engine. Since it OpenCL based, this benchmark can be used to test OpenCL rendering performance on both CPUs and GPUs, and it can put a significant load on the system due to its highly parallelized code.




PCMark 8


PCMark 8 is the latest iteration of Futuremark’s system benchmark franchise. It generates an overall score based upon system performance with all components being stressed in one way or another. The result is posted as a generalized score. In this case, we tested with both the standard Conventional benchmark and the Accelerated benchmark, which automatically chooses the optimal device on which to perform OpenCL acceleration.



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.


 

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,106
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: Extreme Preset
Resolution: 1920x1080
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: 1920x1080
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: 1920x1080
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.




Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward Benchmark


Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward
Resolution: 1920x1080
Texture & Shader Quality: Maximum IQ
DirectX 11
Fullscreen

Game Benchmark
Comparison: Generated Score

Square Enix released this benchmarking tool to rate how your system will perform in Heavensward, the expansion to Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. This official benchmark software uses actual maps and playable characters to benchmark gaming performance and assign a score to your PC.





Grand Theft Auto V


DirectX Version: DirectX 11
Resolution: 1920x1080
FXAA: On
MSAA: X4
NVIDIA TXAA: Off
Anisotropic Filtering: X16
All advanced graphics settings off.

In GTA V, we utilize the handy in-game benchmarking tool. We do three full runs of the benchmark and average the results of pass 3 since they are the least erratic.





Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor


Resolution: 1920x1080
Graphical Quality: Custom
Mesh/Shadow/Texture Filtering/Vegetation Range: Ultra
Lighting/Texture Quality/Ambient Occlusion: High
Depth of Field/Order Independent Transparency/Tesselation: Enabled

With its high resolution textures and several other visual tweaks, Shadow of Mordor’s open world is also one of the most detailed around. This means it puts massive load on graphics cards and should help point towards which GPUs will excel at next generation titles. We do three full runs of the benchmark and average the results.


 

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
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Messages
1,106
Location
Montreal
Voltage Regulation / Power Consumption

Voltage Regulation

Since it is a gaming-oriented model, we aren't surprised that the Z170X-Gaming 3 does not have any onboard voltage measurement points, which is what 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 utilized the Load-Line Calibration (LLC) settings in order to see if this motherboard has 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 a little lower than the average 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 these numbers are exact inline what we would expect given the frequencies and voltages involved. Overall, everything looks good here.
 
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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,106
Location
Montreal
Conclusion

Conclusion


Before talking about the many positives of GIGABYTE Z170X-Gaming 3, let's start off with the little bit of bad. For some inexplicable reason, this model features an unusually sized PCB. It is 9 millimeters / 0.35 inches narrower than the standard ATX form factor. As a result, the three mounting holes on the right side of the motherboard do not line up with the standoffs in many/most ATX cases. What this means is that instead of mounting this motherboard with 9 screws, you will likely only be able to use 6 or 7. Is this a deal-breaker? Not really, no. Motherboards don't tend to shake and shimmy much, so even with six mounting spots it will still be securely fastened to your case. Maybe just pay special attention when plugging/unplugging connectors and ports on that right-side of the motherboard. The second physical issue with this model is the fact that the top MOSFET heatsink is a bit loose due it being fastened with spring-loaded push-pins. It doesn't make a great first impression, but ideally you shouldn't be grabbing this heatsink to support the motherboard. The heatsink still managed to properly draw heat away from the MOSFETs, and ultimately once the motherboard is installed in a system, this all becomes a moot point.


When it comes to specs this model doesn't disappoint, with three steel-reinforced PCI-E 3.0 x16 slots, three PCI-E 3.0 x1 slots, six SATA 6Gb/s ports or three SATA Express ports, and two full-speed M.2 connectors. There are also two next-generation USB 3.1 Type-A and Type-C ports courtesy on an Intel Alpine Ridge controller, and while there are only three USB 3.0 ports and two USB 2.0 ports on the rear I/O panel, onboard headers can expand that number to seven and six respectively.

The onboard Amp-Up audio solution proved to be quite capable, and we liked the decisions they made such as implementing a user-replaceable TI Burr Brown op amp, a headphone gain switch, a backlit PCB isolation line, and including the Sound Blaster X-Fi MB3 software suite. The Killer E2201-powered LAN port is also a solid addition, while not quite as compatible as an Intel LAN controller in non-mainstream operating systems, the Killer NPU can actually achieve superior latency numbers if you're willing to make use of the included Killer Network Manager, which provides networking monitoring and control capabilities such as packet prioritization.

When it was time to overclock, this motherboard did not disappoint. The three automatic overclocking features worked very well, achieving very good results ranging from 4.60GHz to 4.70GHz. They are all user friendly, extremely simple to use, and obviously provide very sizeable performance gains over default clocks. As usual, we found that they could set too high a vCore - though nothing crazy or damaging - and they did not apply any type of cache or memory overclock.

When we took over control of the overclocking process, we were able to max out our Core i7-6700K, which means 4.85Ghz at 1.40V-1.41V accompanied by a mild 4.25Ghz cache/uncore frequency. It was a drama-free affair, and when we did push things too far the motherboard had no problems recovering. Since memory overclocking has been so hit and miss on different Z170 models, we decided to take special look at the Gaming 3's capabilities in this department. Despite only being officially certified for memory speed up to DDR4-3466, we were able to hit DDR4-3824, which is very respectable by any measure. We do however believe that we were bottlenecked by GIGABYTE's safety-minded decision to limit the VCCSA voltage 1.30V, but since memory controllers are different from processor to processor, it might not be an issue for everyone. We are happy to report that this motherboard had no problems applying the XMP profile of our 16GB G.Skill TridenZ DDR4-3600 memory kit, which is impressive because many motherboards don't handle large high-speed memory kits very well.

If we compare the Z170X-Gaming 3 to its bigger brother – the Gaming 5 – you save about $40 CAD by going with the lower-end model. What you lose is a DisplayPort output, a second gigabit LAN port, a matte black PCB, onboard energy-saving and overclocking buttons, and a debug LED display. Ironically, the Gaming 3 actually has the edge if you ever plan on installing two high-speed M.2 solid state drives and also plan to use the bottom PCI-E x16 slot (with operates at x4). On the Gaming 5, the x4 slot is disabled if you install a second M.2 SSD because extra PCI-E lanes had to be diverted towards the additional onboard controllers.

Despite some perhaps less than optimal physical attributes, the core parts of this motherboard are actually very good. It has a good software suite, it performs well, it overclocked our processor to its limit, and when it comes to managing PCI-E lanes this is actually one our favourite motherboards ever. Obviously, people have different requirements for a motherboard, but if you are willing to give up some SATA ports in exchange for high-speed storage possibilities, this motherboard should probably be on your short list. It can run two graphics cards, two PCI-E x1 cards, two M.2 PCI-E SSDs, and still have two SATA ports left operational. That is a pretty potent combination of present and future expansion capabilities. Overall, if you can live with its minor physical quibbles, the Z170X-Gaming 3 is a very well-rounded motherboard for $150 USD / $180 CAD.

 
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