US – Approx. US$470 – GIGABYTE Z170X SOC FORCE PH – TBA
Intel’s new generation platform has been with us for a while now and with a peculiar launch strategy, the Skylake platform has for the most part filled many market segments with the various SKUs now available. Going back to launch day, there weren’t a lot of motherboards present with name brands betting on their most noteworthy product lines to set the stage for next-generation desktops.
In the lab today we have the GIGABYTE Z170X SOC FORCE. This motherboard is aimed at performance seekers. Hailing from GIGABYTE’s OC series, this board continues the legacy of overclocking and benchmarking tools that make them a staple for many overclockers albeit with one little drawback in this case: the Z170X SOC FORCE currently sits at the upper range making it a premium buy. That said, its loaded with features which GIGABYTE hopes to satisfy any use-case scenario. Let’s take a closer look at the GIGABYTE Z170X SOC FORCE and see what’s new with GB’s OC series. Read on!
Supports 6th Generation Intel® Core™ Processor
Dual Channel DDR4, 4 DIMMs
22 phases digital power delivery design
Exclusive OC Touch with Metal shielding design
Exclusive Ultra Durable Metal Shielding over the PCIe Slot
Built-in advanced performance tuning IC
Intel® USB 3.1 with USB Type-C™ – The World’s Next Universal Connector
Extreme 4-Way Graphics Support with OC Brace
3 SATA Express Connectors for up to 16Gb/s Data Transfer
3 PCIe Gen3 x4 M.2 Connectors with up to 32Gb/s Data Transfer
115dB HD audio with build-in rear audio amplifier
Intel® GbE LAN with cFosSpeed Internet Accelerator Software
LED Trace Path with Multi-Color Choice
Water Cooling Ready Heat sink Design with G1/4 Threaded Fittings
GIGABYTE UEFI DualBIOS™ with Q-Flash Plus USB port
Intel has opted to stagger the launch of the Skylake CPUs with the flagship Core i7-6700K and Core i5-6600K unlocked processors debuting at launch together with the Z170 chipset. Further SKUs were released after launch for the lower end of the product stack.
Intel Skylake CPUs presents a new microarchitecture using the 14nm process seen in Broadwell processors. Intel Skylake CPUs will feature improved efficiency numbers and IPC performance together with a new IGP. As with all launch CPUs, these top-end unlocked processors are aimed at enthusiasts and support multiplier overclocking.
Also in the platform is support for DDR4. The new processors fully supports dual-channel DDR4 memory with the new DDR4 modules supporting higher default memory of 2133MHz at only 1.2v. Some motherboard makers may also opt to use DDR3 still as the processor still retain support for that.
The Intel Z170 Chipset
Accompanying the Intel Skylake 6th-gen processors is the new 100-series chipset, codenamed Sunrise Point. As the primary consumer chipset for the 6th-generation Intel Core processors, the 100-series chipset is available in various chipset series from the mainstream H110, H170 and Z170 and the business-class B150, Q150 and Q170. Intel has decided to stagger the release of their Skylake processors which made the release of the other chipset only happen recently. While it’d take an entire post to describe the finer details on the difference of each chipset, to sum it up really quick the chipsets differ in features: with the Z170 offering the most in terms of expansion and support as well as PCI-e lanes with lower model chipsets reducing on what’s offering the business-class ones expanding to include Small Business Basics and Small Business Advantage.
For the most part of what we’re reviewing we’ll take a look at the Z170 chipset, the top-end chipset for desktop and offers the most features and support for multiplier overclocking.
One of the primary changes from Z97 to Z170 is support for a newsocket, the LGA 1151. LGA 1151 supports Intel Skylake CPUs and is not compatible with LGA 1150 processors and vice versa. Mounting holes for the 115x range have remained the same though so your old LGA 1156/1155/1150 will still be compatible with the new LGA 1151 motherboards.
Support for DDR4 memory is also one of the changes that comes with the new chipset. Connectivity between CPU and chipset also utilizes DMI 3.0 allowing a full 20 PCI-e 3.0 lanes which is up to the motherboard maker on how they utilize it.
Closer Look – GIGABYTE Z170X SOC FORCE
GIGABYTE has been playing around with design themes for their motherboards for a long while now but it is with the introduction of the Z77 series that we’ve seen a unification of colors from the company when it comes to their product line. Leave it to GIGABYTE though to always break the mold and always do something different after a while but the overclocking series has pretty much remained the same over the past few generations. The GIGABYTE Z170X SOC FORCE retains the signature orange and black color scheme of the series while sporting a whole new design on its heatsinks. Reverting back to the sharper, angled lines reminiscent of those of the previous series but with a more solid and mechanical look. The board’s layout is clean and despite its busy componentry, exudes a really well-laid out feel with the armor rounding out the edges complimenting the board’s heatsink. The metal reinforcement on the PCI-e slots also gives a striking visual touch to the Z170X SOC FORCE.
Feature-wise, the board sports a ton of connectivity in terms of internal headers as well as rear I/O. A total of 3 M.2 slots are available all of which are capable of running at x4 line the sections between the PCI-e x16 slots which are, as mentioned, reinforced with metal for extra support. The OC buttons make a return on this board providing precision control and access to overclocking options in real-time.
The heatsinks feature G1/4 threads for placing custom fittings for custom loops. Another extra feature includes the shield on the PCB of the audio area and the SATA ports also covered a bit with a 6-pin PCI-e header for extra power also located there. The GIGABYTE Z170X SOC FORCE sees the return of big VRMs with a 22-phase loadout powering this motherboard.
Processor: Intel Core i7 6700K Motherboard: GIGABYTE Z170X SOC FORCE Memory: Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4-3000 Storage: Kingston HyperX FURY 240GB PSU: Thermaltake Toughpower 1000w Cooling: Custom loop (XSPC Raystorm block, EK DCP 4.0, BlackIce Stealth GT 360 rad) Monitor: LG 42UB820T UltraHD TV VGA: GIGABYTE GTX 980 Ti GAMING G1
Performance Testing – Synthetic
Cinebench R15, Cinebench R11.5
Maxon offers a nice benchmark tool called Cinebench which really stresses your entire system to render a very complex scene. The output score is completely unique to Cinebench but allows us to have a rough idea of how the CPU works with 3D rendering tasks. We use both the latest version as well as the older release.
wPrime, SuperPI 32M
wPrime is a multi-threaded benchmarking application designed to measure the raw computational power of a CPU. It can be configured to run on a custom number of threads to accomodate multi-core CPUs.
SuperPI is another benchmarking tool that utilizes the pure computational power of a CPU. This test however is purely single-threaded and shows us the performance of a single core which gives us a good picture of how a processor performs on similar tasks.
3DMark 06, 3DMark Vantage
3D Mark06 is a benchmarking software designed to measure the performance of a system in DirectX9 applications. The test has long been updated with newer version of the software for more modern use but the CPU test is still relevant and still gives us a good image of system performance by loading the CPU with logic, path-finding and physics computation tasks.
3DMark Vantage is the successor to 3DMark 06 and is targeted for DirectX10 compliant devices. Similar to our 3DMark 06 test, we only take the CPU scores using the Performance preset.
Performance Testing – Real World
Video Conversion, Audio Encoding
We use a 30-minute 350MB 720p MP4 video and convert it to standard iOS iPhone MP4 format using Xilisoft Video Converter for pure processor conversion. For audio, we convert a 73-minute album (D-Coy – Black Katipunero) into MP3 LAME 160Kbps CBR with dbPowerAmp Batch converter and note the time it takes to rip the disc.
Compression, Image Resizing
We use WinRAR on default settings to compress 3340 files of varying types including MP3s, various images and documents for a total of 3.3GB of data. We resize 3,246 varying images of different formatsand sizes (a total of 883MB) to our standard 1200×900 resolution and note the time it takes to finish up the batch job.
Performance Testing – 3D Benchmarks
3DMark 11, 3DMark Fire Strike
3DMark 11 is the most recent iteration (not counting the version for the upcoming Windows 8) of the popular benchmarking software from Futuremark. For this test we run the Performance preset of the benchmark which comes with the free version of 3DMark 11 which should present a more reproducible scenario for a lot of people.
The latest iteration of the most widely-used benchmarking application in the world gets a reboot of sorts with the latest version just going by the name of 3DMark. This version includes the Fire Strike benchmark which features tons of new implementations to put modern systems through their paces.
Out of the box, the initial BIOS for the GIGABYTE Z170X SOC FORCE allowed access to its visual UEFI BIOS but after updating to the latest version F6c, the visual BIOS has been stripped in favor of the classic BIOS screen. Multiplier based OC for the GIGABYTE Z170X SOC FORCE has remained the same and fine-grain controls are available for those that want to tweak further but documentation is lacking on these things and it is assumed that you are familiar with what you’re doing. As our processor hits a wall at 4.6Ghz at 1.35v which is our voltage limit, we mostly base our experience on this but we did experiment a bit with this board on BCLK overclocking.
A bit of fiddling around got us to 135Mhz BCLK which is about peak of what we get with a high multiplier. We could squeeze this further by dropping the multiplier further and upping the BCLK while retaining a sub-1.3v but we couldn’t figure out the cause of our instability past 140Mhz but we’ve seen Skylake boards do upwards of 300Mhz BCLK on AIO water.
On a feature-based OC perspective, the OC controls don’t always work. Pressing the multiplier buttons work in real-time but BCLK toggle doesn’t really make changes in real time. There could be a setting in the BIOS for this and we’ll update as we figure this board out further. For now, even having used all OC boards from GIGABYTE since the Z77X-UP7 I still have not gotten the handle of their OC Tag and other features are mostly reserved for benching purposes. For daily usage, most users will rely on the BIOS options to OC this motherboard. Admittedly most of the features are explicitly bench-oriented but in some scenarios, they’re useful like the ability to flash the BIOS without a CPU via USB.
Power & Temperatures
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 AIDA64 stress test is running. Power readings are taken for the entire system from the socket. Power draw for the entire system is captured for this test via an outlet wattmeter and temperatures are recorded via Intel Extreme Tuning app.
Let’s get this out really quickly as it really looks alarming from this standpoint but the higher temps of the Z170X SOC FORCE are mostly due to the higher stock voltage it uses which sits at around 1.4v-1.42v compared to the average of 1.28v-1.32v we normally see. If you’re familiar with your processor you can tweak this down for a good undervoltage since the Z170X SOC FORCE has a really stable power delivery system, we actually got this board to sit nicely on 1.25v with our i7-6700K retail processor. Idle temps look good still and for power draw, its as expected because of the large VRM area pulling more power due to the higher stock voltage. A newer BIOS update could see these numbers change in the future. But as of now, with the intended audience of this motherboard these are well within expectation but as mentioned, they could be better.
Skylake has been a very weird launch but despite of that, it is still a new platform and will be the one we will have going forward to 2016. As we’ve seen throughout the last generations, motherboard technology has reached the point where all brands can compete evenly in terms of performance and they all bring-out the best of their respective processors. What has been and always be the contention point for components is their feature set, quality and aesthetic. Let’s break it down for the GIGABYTE Z170X SOC FORCE:
Performance. Performance is the name of the game for this motherboard and it doesn’t really hold back our processor even at stock settings, its out to set the standard for really high-end board overclocking performance. While we’re still questing for a golden sample of an i7-6700K that can go past our 4.6Ghz wall, we got all the tools in this board to take it to the next level and with its dense VRM, its got an incredible amount of power feats that can really do wonders for those who know what they’re doing.
Build Quality. GIGABYTE has really taken us by surprise with the design of this board. Seeing the Z170X GAMING G1 at Computex 2015, we had mixed feelings towards the design and from the past we’ve seen GB utilize a uniform look on their boards for every generation. The Z170X SOC FORCE is different and is by far more subdued than its gaming brethren exuding a level of quality from both look and feel. The board is well-laid out and its extra features aren’t just shoved in for maximum effect.
Functionality. As we progress to the point where motherboards are gauged more on looks and features, performance takes a backseat even for a performance-oriented motherboard like the Z170X SOC FORCE. For the most part, this motherboard presents the higher-end of the spectrum for a power user who loves to overclock and chase benchmark records. Its an all-around board and there’s really nothing that both gamers or power users would not find on this board. We do miss the fact that there’s no built-in U.2 connector for a board that came out a bit later in the game.
Bundle. Our sample came as a marketing demo unit so we didn’t get to see the full loadout of accessories. We can confirm though that the board consists of the standard rear I/O shield, manuals, SATA cables and installation discs. As for the extras, there’s the OC Brace which allows benching in an out-case scenario without needing a test bench to secure your GPU. Other than that there’s really not much in terms of usable extras other than for benching purposes.
Value. At $470, this motherboard sits in Mt. Olympus at the peak of the Z170 market. While its not surprising to see Z170 boards get a higher price range than previous chipsets, anything above $400 is simply beyond what a normal consumer would want and is mostly a segment intended for extreme and high-end enthusiasts. That being said, on a feature and performance perspective, you really have to be on certain niche audience to fully utilize this motherboard. Beyond that, we would only see this board on a themed builds where aesthetic is key and there’s a premium budget set to achieve that look.
In closing, the GIGABYTE Z170X SOC FORCE is a major deviation from the original OC series as it returns to its roots of being GIGABYTE’s top-end board. With the debut of the Z87X-OC a few generations past, we saw a rather modest board with premium features for a budget price range. The Z170X SOC FORCE is the only OC series board right now from GB and its a far cry from the mid-range OC products we’ve come to love which is obviously the direction both ASUS and GIGABYTE have taken, relegating their top-end OC products at the highest end of their product stack.
In conclusion, the GIGABYTE Z170X SOC FORCE is a specialty board: its armed to the teeth with performance features for both OC and storage as well as audio amongst the rest of its repertoire. There’s a lot to like about this board except its price tag and that really sets us back from recommending this board. Its a good well-rounder and power users as well as professionals will have a lot of reasons to fit this board with high-performance storage and the availability of U.2 to M.2 connectors for NVME storage options are another potential interest for them. As for the intended audience of benchmarkers, Intel Skylake processors have a hit-or-miss ratio for OC so interest is really mixed in terms of overclocking.
Price / Where to Buy:
US – Approx. US$470 – GIGABYTE Z170X SOC FORCE PH – TBA
All that said, the GIGABYTE Z170X SOC FORCE is a solid, all-around motherboard. Its got plenty of features from the current gen and its M.2 slots are the best-in-class right now. Barring the $470 price tag, you can either look at this board and see a beautiful piece of work or a high-performance machine. Both of which are valid reasons to get this board and if you can afford it, we have no reasons to stop you.
GIGABYTE backs the Z170X SOC FORCE with a 3-year warranty. We give it our B2G Performance Award.