Gigabyte GA-Z170N-Gaming 5 Review (Page 3 of 12)

Page 3 - A Closer Look, Board Layout, Test System

If you have read our review on the Gigabyte GA-Z170N-WIFI, you will see the Gaming 5 model is not too different. However, the main difference comes from the not-so-subtle red and black theme, as compared to the all-black finish on the Z170N-WIFI. With a flat black soldermask on a lot of their motherboards for quite a while now, Gigabyte moved away from their older royal blue colors. The secondary colors have varied between generations, but the recent Z97 and now Z170 gaming model motherboards have been utilizing these colors. Red and black is a pretty typical combination, and while the motherboard may not necessarily be the resplendent centerpiece of every build, this color palette is quite noticeable. Otherwise, the rest of the motherboard is in a shade of gray or silver for the metal components. For reference, the photo above is rotated on its side, because the rotated "G1 Gaming" logo is placed as seen. Maybe it is my own obsessive compulsive feelings, but I think Gigabyte should fix this. The sideways letters of "Gigabyte" and the model name is not as offensive, as they are just a few rows of words, and not an entire logo. As it has gained popularity, the GA-Z170N-Gaming 5, like all Gigabyte midrange motherboards and higher, features Japanese ultra-low ESR solid state capacitors guaranteed for maximum performance for 10,000 hours. There are also ferrite core chokes and lower RDS(on) MOSFETs for maximum durability and energy efficiency.

From the photo above, you can see the heatsink configuration is relatively straightforward, with a few more extras compared to the GA-Z170N-WIFI. As the Z170 platform controller hub, or PCH, is a chipset with a 6W TDP rating, we have a passive cooler over the chip. Another heatsink is located above the MOSFETs near the processor socket, and both of them are connected together with an L-shaped soldered heatpipe. The VRM heatsink is still small, but this is not too surprising considering the size of the board. We will see again if this affects overclocking later on in our review. As this is an mITX board, we have a standard size of 170mm x 170mm.

The ATX 8-pin power connector is located near the top left corner of the motherboard, near the standard mounting screw location. This should allow for more power to be delivered to the motherboard, especially during overclocking. It is somewhat cramped in this area, but thankfully it is near the edge of the board, thus leaving sufficient room for people to attach the cable to the motherboard. A debug header is near the right side of the power connector, but this is rarely used by consumers. Otherwise, unless you have a gigantic CPU cooler sitting on the processor, I doubt you will have issues getting to this area.

At the back of the motherboard, we have a clean and simple layout. This results in an easy to add aftermarket CPU cooling solution, which will almost likely be the case, as Skylake K-processors do not come with any stock cooling. An Intel backplate made by Foxconn is found here, but practically all LGA1151 third party coolers should not have any issues with working while the backplate is in place. Right under the backplate is a PCIe Gen3 x4 M.2 port for compatible SSDs. As usual, the RAM sockets and expansion card slots use through-hole connectors. SMT (Surface-mount technology) is not capable of withstanding higher mechanical stress required for this purpose, and therefore not used.

Near the LGA1151 processor socket are components relating to the CPU voltage regulator circuit. As aforementioned, there is a small aluminum heatsink near this area to help with some overclocking. As this is a Z170 motherboard, it only makes sense to do so. The CPU socket pins, which are hidden under the removable plastic cover from the factory, are fifteen micron thick gold plated for better reliability. With Skylake desktop processors, voltage regulation is back on the motherboard from the previous generation due to heat generation at higher frequencies. This is an undesirable side effect for enthusiasts looking to overclock their CPUs. As such, a simple five phase power regulation is implemented here. We will see how all of these affect the CPU overclocking capabilities later on in this review.

Two 4-pin fan headers intended for use with the CPU fan on the Gigabyte GA-Z170N-Gaming 5. They are located almost right above the processor. The white one is intended for the CPU cooling, and is labeled as CPU_FAN. The black one beside it is labeled as SYS_FAN. The second header is designed for water cooling pumps, which allows it to operate at full speed, and makes it more convenient for closed loop systems. I will say however with the way some new mITX cases are trending towards, I think it might be nice to have a third 4-pin fan header to accommodate for a few more fans if need be.

The RAM slots are placed with enough distance from the CPU socket. You will probably experience clearance issues with the interior slot if you use memory with higher-than-normal heatspreaders and a large CPU heatsink/fan, but of course, it will vary from case to case. Many RAM manufacturers are quite aware of this issue, so low profile heatspreaders are common. In addition, many air CPU cooler manufacturers are increasing the clearance by the heatsink or fan over the RAM slots. Hopefully, both of these will result in zero space issues. The outermost slot is DIMM 2, while the inner slot is DIMM 1. The ATX 24-pin power connector is placed on this side of the motherboard, which again is a relatively standard layout.

Four standard SATA 6Gb/s and two SATA Express connectors are angled perpendicular to the motherboard, and hangs off the right side of the motherboard. As you may or may not know, the SATA Express plug is actually comprised of two SATA connections and a smaller third connection on the left. Thus if you have two SATA Express connections used, you will have to use the other two SATA connectors located between the PCH and the memory slots. All of these are native to the Z170 chipset, and supports RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10. On the right side of the SATA port block are pinouts for chassis I/O and an internal speaker. The colors on the top of the plug visually show where each plug's positive and negative terminals should be plugged in, but the colors are also a bit distracting. Even so, I like the colors, as it just makes one of the more annoying parts of building a computer a bit easier. On the other side of the SATA connections, we have a two-pin header to clear the CMOS. Overall, it is still great to see all of the connectors on the right side, and it helps in cabling. Considering the small size of the mITX form factor, Gigabyte has done a relatively good job for the ports we have looked at so far.

As with most mITX motherboards, the Gigabyte GA-Z170N-Gaming 5 only has one expansion slot, and it is a PCI Express 3.0 x16. This is a true PCIe x16 slot, with full sixteen lanes provided by Skylake processors. Thankfully, this means you can put a heavy hitting graphics card into your baby board of a computer. As I have alluded to earlier, there are two SATA 6Gb/s ports located near the PCH and memory slots. As for internal headers, they are placed between the PCH and rear I/O ports. This includes a USB 3.0 header, USB 2.0 header, and front panel audio. While the placement of these headers are not ideal for clean wiring, it is not terrible, considering the size constraints overall. In addition, it is hard to get everything in its ideal spot, and sometimes sacrifices have to be made. The CMOS battery, a CR2032, is attached to the back of the rear audio block by double sided tape. Unfortunately, it is not easily removable, but thankfully clearing the CMOS is also quite easy to do without taking out the battery.

The back panel offers quite a few external connectors. Starting on the left, we have one PS/2 connector, provided by the ITE IT8628E chip. I have not used any keyboard or mouse plugged in by PS/2 since my Windows 98 days, and this is one of the oddest inclusions. There are niche uses for the port, including people who are still holding on to their IBM Model M keyboard. Next, there are the blue USB 3.0 ports. A total of three USB 3.0 ports are located here, with an additional red USB 3.1 port. There is also a USB Type-C with USB 3.1 support. The USB 3.0 ports are native to the Z170 chipset, but the USB 3.1 ports are driven with an Intel Thunderbolt 3.0/USB 3.1 DSL6540 controller. Once again, we see no black USB 2.0 ports, which is great to see. Of course, all of these ports are backwards compatible, so you need not worry.

As for video output, we have two different types of connections. One is a DVI-D, while the other is an HDMI 1.4 output. Thankfully, we do not have any VGA outputs, but I think it would be nice to see a DisplayPort, as it is superior to practically every port, combining the locking capabilities of DVI and VGA with the output capabilities of HDMI. In addition, DisplayPort supports daisy chaining of monitors, which is helpful if you are limited in terms of physical connections. One Killer E2201 Ethernet is included here. The inclusion of Killer NICs is somewhat confusing, as many see Intel Gigabit Ethernet as a better option. Furthermore, as Gigabyte included an Intel NIC on the Z170N-WIFI, they could have done likewise for the gaming version. The last set of connections are the audio outputs. These are based off the Realtek ALC1150 codec rated at 115dB SNR. An optical output is provided in addition to five gold-plated 3.5mm analog jacks. While this makes them difficult to differentiate, gold plating does help slightly in preventing corrosion on the plug, while reducing electrostatic interference. High quality audio grade capacitors are used, and the motherboard comes with a dedicated rear audio amplifier. There is no coaxial output though. The dedicated audio zone is electrically separated from the rest of the components to reduce electrical noise. For a visual cue, an ambient LED strip lights up the audio guard path, which serves nothing else other than to look pretty.

Finally, the only connectors I have yet to mention are the two SMA connectors. This is to plug in the included antenna for the built in WiFi support. An Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8260 is connected to the motherboard via an M.2 slot. This chip provides Bluetooth 4.2 Smart and 802.11ac, with up to 867Mbps over WiFi.

Sorry for the uncooperative cabling, haha

As most motherboard models perform almost identically, we chose to play around with the Intel Core i5-6600K CPU to test the Gigabyte GA-Z170N-Gaming 5's potential performance in overclocking. The CPU used is a sealed retail processor purchased anonymously at a local retail store.

Our test configuration as follows:

Compared Hardware:
- Gigabyte GA-Z170N-Gaming 5 (Intel Z170, $150 at press time; Turbo Boost enabled)
- Gigabyte GA-Z170N-Gaming 5 (Intel Z170, $150 at press time; CPU overclocked to 4.5GHz - please see Page 12 for important notes)

Common Specifications:
CPU: Intel Core i5-6600K
CPU Cooling: SilverStone Tundra TD02-LITE
RAM: Patriot Viper Elite PC4-24000 2x8GB
Graphics: Integrated
Chassis: None
Storage: Patriot Ignite 480GB
Power: Cooler Master V750 750W
Sound: Integrated
Optical Drive: None
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 10 Pro x64

Page Index
1. Introduction, Packaging, Specifications
2. Bundle, Chipset, BIOS
3. A Closer Look, Board Layout, Test System
4. Benchmark: AIDA64 CPU
5. Benchmark: AIDA64 FPU
6. Benchmark: AIDA64 Memory
7. Benchmark: PCMark 8
8. Benchmark: 3DMark
9. Benchmark: PassMark PerformanceTest 8.0
10. Benchmark: SuperPI 1M, Cinebench R15
11. Onboard Sound Frequency Analysis
12. Overclocking and Conclusion