Z97X SOC FORCE Review

GIGABYTE Z97X-SOC FORCE Overclocking Motherboard Review


The new 9-series chipset from Intel are now officially launched and with every chipset generation comes an entire salvo of motherboards. This time around though, there isn’t an accompanying processor to coincide with the chipset launch as was the norm for processor launches for the past years.

This time around, we will be seeing a refresh of the existing 4th-generation Core series processors dubbed Haswell Refresh later after the chipset release. One of the main feature of the 9-series chipset is that it will support the upcoming Broadwell generation of Intel processors. This continues the trend that Intel has started with its Socket LGA1155 being compatible with both 2nd-generation and 3rd-generation Core processors. With the release of the 4th-generation Core processors, Intel has released the new LGA1150 socket and 9-series board owners will rest easy knowing their boards will accept the upcoming processors readily.

Intel 9-Series Specification

The Intel 9-series will see the arrival of the enthusiast-oriented Z97 and H97. Both boards will support Haswell and Haswell refresh processors in the LGA1150 package. The upcoming Devils Canyon variant of the Haswell Refresh is rumored to be compatible only with Z97. The Z97 Express chipset offers x16/NC/NC, x8/x8/NC, and x8/x4/x4 PCI-e bandwidth for multi-GPU configurations. Both chipset introduces M.2 SATA and SATA Express, new high-speed storage interfaces for modern storage devices that offer 67% more bandwidth than existing SATAIII connection.

GIGABYTE 9-Series

GIGABYTE’s 9-series line-up will debut the new look of the G1 GAMING series of motherboards and Black Edition series boards. Continuing on their successful path are the Ultra Durable line and OC line of products.

For this review we will be looking at the flagship overclocking motherboard from the OC series from GIGABYTE. Brandishing the company’s signature OC Orange scheme, we check out the new hotness in this GIGABYTE Z97X-SOC FORCE review. Taking on the best that the Z87X-OC FORCE had to offer, the new OC series is now dubbed the SOC series for Super Overclocking which the company aims to do as the most used OC board in HWBOT in the past year.

Features

  • Supports 4th and 5th Generation Intel® Coreâ„¢ processors
  • Premium 4-way CrossFireâ„¢ support with OC Brace
  • Precise digital CPU power design
  • SATA Express support for 10 Gb/s data transfer
  • Exclusive GIGABYTE OC Features
  • Killerâ„¢ E2200 gaming networking
  • 2x copper PCB design
  • Realtek ALC1150 115dB SNR HD Audio with Built-in rear audio amplifier
  • New Heatsink design with 8 onboard fan connectors
  • Long lifespan Durable Black Solid caps
  • APP Center including EasyTuneâ„¢ and Cloud Stationâ„¢ utilities
  • GIGABYTE UEFI DualBIOSâ„¢

Closer Look

GIGABYTE has went dark with their packaging during last generation and the OC series packaging continues this tradition. As a complete break-away from the previous simpler, subtle packaging style, the SOC FORCE features a racing car in the front with the model name in bold print. The box is also semi-gloss instead of fully glossy like the 8-series boards. The back of the box still features the function highlights and marketing bullets of the product. A front flap allows a peek of the motherboard inside.

Included in the package are documentation, driver installation disc, SATA cables, SLI bridges, and unique to the OC range of GIGABYTE products (and some other OC from other brands) are test probe lead connectors and definitely unique to GIGABYTE is the OC Brace.

The OC Brace is an exclusive GIGABYTE accessory for overclockers and enthusiasts that attaches to the screwholes on the rear PCI area for out-case applications such as testing and benchmarking. This small accessory is a godsend and very handy.

Every generation usually calls for a new style for motherboards. In the case of GIGABYTE, we mourn the death of their previous designer. The Z87 generation of GIGABYTE motherboards marked a generation of subtly aggressive yet sleek and refined designs from the board maker for its motherboards. The new designs are personally dull and lacks creativity. Anyways, the board features a smooth, matte black finish on the PCB with a metallic, orange tint on its heatsink highlighted by black trims. Contrary to the Z87X-OC FORCE, there is no upper VRM block.

The GIGABYTE Z97X-SOC FORCE features a four PCIe x16 slots for quad-GPU action. All slots are certified PCIe3.0. Two legacy PCI slots are available as well as a single PCIe x1 slot.

The GIGABYTE Z97X-SOC FORCE supports dual-channel DDR3 memory up to DDR3-3000 speeds via overclocking. XMP profiles are fully supported.

The GIGABYTE Z97X-SOC FORCE features an 8-phase VRM cooled by a long, semi-narrow heatsink bearing the Ultra Durable branding. Wait, did I just say 8-phase? Yup, an 8-phase VRM. GIGABYTE has taken note that the Z87X-OC held much more market than its FORCE brethren with its meaty 16-phase VRM, and that influenced the decision to promote the standard OC design as the flagship FORCE model for the Z97 lineup. In case you didn’t know also, the 9-series generation of boards from GIGABYTE borrows heavily from the GIGABYTE VGA department. The SOC designation was a GIGABYTE Windforce model and the new G1 GAMING logo is also the GIGABYTE VGA logo, although clad in red for the G1.

Rear I/Os include a good loadout of USB3.0, USB2.0, HDMI, DVI, VGA, LAN & 8-channel audio ports. A PS/2 port is also present for legacy peripherals which improves usability when overclocking.

Here’s one of the new stuff we can see from the 9-series boards: the new SATA-Express interface. For the price of two SATA ports, you get ultra-fast SATA Express for currently non-existent products. They are on their way, though.

Time to see the exclusive goodies we get with the Z97X-SOC FORCE overclocking motherboard. First up we have the OC Buttons, refined from the Z77X-UP7, the OC Buttons have evolved from a modest feature to a fully-specialized toolset. The OC buttons allow on-the-fly frequency adjustment, profile saving, downclocking, etc. plus a handful more tools to complement any overclocker.

Also aimed at out-case situations is the inclusion of internal USB2.0 headers. Because GIGABYTE can.

PERFORMANCE TESTING - CPU PERFORMANCE

Test Setup

Processor: Intel Core i7 4770K
Motherboard: GIGABYTE Z97X-SOC FORCE
Memory: Kingston HyperX 10th Anniversary DDR3-2400
Storage: ADATA SX900
PSU: Seasonic X-760
Cooling: Custom-liquid loop (XSPC Raystorm, BlackIce Stealth GT 360, EK DCP 4.0)
Case: Dimastech EasyXL
Monitor: LG E2350V
VGA: MSI GTX780 Lightning

A bit of a note first. There is a need to point out that this is a new chipset only. The new 9-series motherboards are intended to be the foundation of the upcoming Haswell refresh and Broadwell processors that will arrive after this motherboard has launched. That said, this launch is essentially an extension of the Haswell range and we don’t expect any performance gains. In the interest of fairness, we will be presenting the data here for your reference only and will update accordingly when new data is gathered, either from other boards or the new processors.

CPUZ

SiSoft SANDRA 2014,CINEBENCH 11.5

wPrime, SuperPI 32M

WORKLOAD TESTS

Video Conversion, Audio Encoding

Compression, Image Resizing

OVERCLOCKING

OC’ing at a glance: Just like its name suggests, the GIGABYTE Z97X-SOC FORCE is made for OC and there is no doubt its practically the same board as the Z87X-OC. That said, we’re seeing the numbers play a bit here but ultimately the same level of performance was achieved.

TEMPERATURE & POWER CONSUMPTION

We check to see how motherboard makers tune their default BIOS settings and see how it impacts temperatures and power consumption. The system is left to idle for 30 minutes before readings are taken and load data is taken 30 minutes while Prime95 blend test is running. Power readings are taken for the entire system from the socket.

CONCLUSION

As I type this review, I cannot help but feel the extreme need to give the new 9-series motherboard the proper review they deserve but without the new processors from Intel, we are at the mercy of their release cycle.

Focusing on the GIGABYTE Z97X-SOC FORCE, GIGABYTE has certainly seen the perfection that was the Z87X-OC and tailored their flagship 9-series OC board after it. The ease of use, rich features and sturdy build make this an excellent platform for enthusiasts who like to chase numbers and participate in competitive overclocking. As a system platform, it lends itself well as a solid motherboard packed with the latest features from both Intel and GIGABYTE dresses it up nicely.

Ultimately though, the decision is still up in the air? Should you get a Z97 board? The answer varies from person to person, but as for the time being we will revolve around the concept that the 8-series is dead and gone and the only market option is the 9-series. That said, if you already have a Z87 board and do not see yourself needing SATA Express or m2 then there’s no point to get one unless you will be upgrade to the later generation of processors on launch.

Going back to the Z97X-SOC FORCE, with the Devils Canyon variant of the Haswell refresh slated to be Z97-exclusive, competitive overclockers will have to get these new-gen boards if they want to fiddle with the latest and greatest. The GIGABYTE Z97X SOC FORCE offers a full-featured overclocking platform, formed from the history of the GIGABYTE OC brand.

As for our verdict… we refuse to give the GIGABYTE Z97X-SOC FORCE a final score now. Not without the new Haswell refresh or any next-gen chips to base data off. With that said, this review is…

TO BE CONCLUDED.

Until when we don’t know.

As for our recommendation, if you are buying a Z97 board right now and want to be ready to compete with the bad boys of extreme OC come Devils Canyon, the GIGABYTE Z97X-SOC FORCE is one of the most affordable option you have at $209.

The GIGABYTE Z97X-SOC FORCE is backed by a 3-years warranty.

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