Friday, 15 January 2016

Gigabyte Z170MX-Gaming 5

Gigabyte Z170MX-Gaming 5

While mini-ITX might be grabbing the headlines recently, there’s a slightly less drastic way to get a smaller PC. The micro-ATX form factor allows for cases that are significantly smaller than ATX chassis, yet you still have the option of using sound cards, PCI-E SSDs or other expansion slot devices along with your graphics card, which simply isn’t possible with mini-ITX motherboards. The Maximus VIII Gene from Asus is the micro-ATX king here, but the stunning-looking Gigabyte Z170MX-Gaming 5 costs a massive £40 less.

The Z170MX-Gaming 5 sports a similar colour scheme to Gigabyte’s larger ATX Z170X-Gaming 3, but lacks the large white shrouds of the Gaming 5 and Gaming 7 ATX models. However, it still sports the great-looking steel expansion slot shrouds, which match the chrome details of the heatsinks and the shiny CPU socket, attractively complementing the red and black details on the motherboard. There’s a bright LED backlight around the audio circuitry too, which can pulse or beat in time to music – it looks feature-packed, edgy and very smart as a result.

There are three 16x PCI-E slots, which support both CrossFire and SLI, with the top two slots dropping to 8x mode in two-way setups. However, there’s a potential issue using multi-GPU setups, which is that using two dual-slot cards leaves next to no space for the upper card’s cooler to breathe. Such a setup may result in GPU throttling, especially if you’re using two high-end AMD GPUs with reference coolers. Using waterblocks or third-party cards with exotic coolers may solve the problem, but it’s worth remembering this layout issue if you intend to build a small multi-GPU system, especially as the Maximus VIII Gene suffers from the same problem.

Another with issue using two dual-slot graphics cards is that doing so will mean you’re unable to use any other devices requiring a PCI-E slot. While there’s a 1x slot in addition to the three 16x slots, it’s located below the primary 16x slot, so will be obscured completely by most graphics cards. You can, of course, just use either of the secondary 16x slots for a sound card though. Thankfully, the M.2 slot is easily accessible, being located above the primary 16x slot and supporting up to 80mm SSDs.

The Z170MX-Gaming 5 also offers beefed-up audio circuitry with an isolated PCB, Nichicon capacitors, a DAC-Up low-noise USB port and a gain control switch for fine tuning. You can even change the included op-amp too. Gigabyte has also bundled Creative’s SBX Pro Studio software, which works alongside the standard Realtek audio suite to bolt on features such as Creative’s Crystalizer and EAX effects, as well as the ability to tweak bass redirection and crossover frequency.

One area the Maximus VIII Gene, and indeed the Z170MX-Gaming 5’s larger siblings, have an advantage over this board, however, is when it comes to overclocking and testing tools. The Gene, for example, offers the full complement of an LED POST code display, the usual Asus ROG features such as USB BIOS flashback, and buttons for power, reset and clearing the CMOS.

The Z170MX-Gaming 5 lacks any buttons or LED displays, but then it does cost £40 less. Gigabyte hasn’t cut back on too many other features though – you get both USB 3.1 Type-A and Type C ports powered by Intel’s own Thunderbolt 3 controller (Thunderbolt can be used over the Type-C connector), plus three SATA Express connectors.

The claimed 104dBA SNR recording quality proved to be spot on with our own testing using RightMark’s Audio Analyzer software, recording a noise level of -104.8dBA and a dynamic range of 105.2dBA. These results just pip most basic sound cards too; for example, Asus’ Xonar DGX 5.1 managed -103dBA and 103dBA respectively. Storage results were fine too – read and write speeds on the SATA 6Gbps ports of 563MB/sec and 529MB/sec were as expected and, when using Samsung’s new 256GB 950 Pro M.2 SSD, we saw read and write speeds of 2,300MB/sec and 962MB/sec respectively.

We noticed a slight deficit at stock speed in the performance numbers, though, which seems to be down to the Z170MX-Gaming 5 not quite boosting our Core i7-6700K to its maximum 4.2GHz boost speed, according to CPU-Z. Instead, it hovered around 4GHz. We only apply the XMP profile in stock-speed tests, though, so it’s worth remembering to give the target CPU ratio a boost in the EFI if you plan to run the Z170MX-Gaming 5 at stock speed. For example, the Gene managed a system score of 136,794 compared to 129,197 for the Z170MX-Gaming 5 – it isn’t a deal breaker, but you may as well have the fastest performance possible.

Gigabyte’s EFI is also relatively plain and simple compared with Asus and MSI’s recent offerings, and isn’t quite as clear as either. The voltage, memory and CPU settings are all in different sections and, while you can save up to eight overclocking profiles, there’s no quick-access favourites section or fan control suite.

Most PC enthusiasts will just be concerned with the overclocking features, though, and it’s easy to push this board to its limits once you know your way around. We settled with a 4.8GHz clock speed using a 1.43V vcore, 1.1V System Agent voltage and the loadline calibration on high. Itisn’t a bad result, but the Gene managed to add an extra 100MHz, putting it ahead in our benchmarks, and with lower power consumption too.

While the Z170MX-Gaming 5 didn’t set our benchmarks alight, it’s easy to overclock and has class-leading on-board audio. It looks great, sports most of the features you’d expect at this price and costs significantly less than Asus’ Maximus VIII Gene. The Gene sports a considerable number of extra features, but if you just want to build a small PC, apply a decent overclock to your CPU and get on with some gaming, the Z170MX-Gaming 5 is an excellent choice. Just beware of using more than one air-cooled GPU. ANTONY LEATHER

The Z170MX-Gaming 5 isn’t as feature-packed as the Maximus VIII Gene, but it’s £40 cheaper, overclockable and looks great.

Chipset Intel Z170
CPU socket Intel LGA1151
Memory support 4 slots: max 64GB DDR3 (up to 3466MHz)
Expansion slots Three 16x PCI-E 0, one 1x PCI-E
Sound Realtek ALC1150
Networking Killer E2201
Overclocking Base clock 80–500MHz, CPU multiplier 8-500x; max voltages, CPU 1.8V, RAM 2V
Ports 6 x SATA 6Gbps (Z170), 1 x M.2, 1 x USB 3.1 Type-A, 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C, 3 x USB 3, 2 x USB 2, 1 x LAN, 8-channel surround audio out, line in, mic, optical S/PDIF out, 1 x HDMI 1.4, 1 x DVI-D, 1 x VGA, 1 x PS2
Dimensions (mm) 244 x 244