Gigabyte GA-Z170N-WIFI Review (Page 3 of 12)

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

The Gigabyte GA-Z170N-WIFI is a subtle looking motherboard, but what more should you expect for something of this size and nature? Gigabyte has been using flat black soldermask on their lineup for quite a number of years now, but the secondary colors always varied between generations, and even models within the same generation. For the Gigabyte GA-Z170N-WIFI, it is quite uniform. All of the components are in various shades of monochrome; there are no exceptions. Even the capacitors are custom made to be black in color, which makes it very sleek in my opinion. The GA-Z170N-WIFI is designed for small form factor PCs, but it certainly carries the classy vibe of a mainstream performance model. While aesthetics are not really an issue when it comes to internal components of a computer compared to the way the board is built and how well it performs, surprisingly it can be a deciding factor for some users. Of course, the comments on the look are just a personal opinion. As it has gained immense popularity for the last couple years, the GA-Z170N-WIFI, like all Gigabyte midrange motherboards, features Japanese ultra-low ESR solid state capacitors guaranteed for maximum performance for 10,000 hours. We also have ferrite core chokes and lower RDS(on) MOSFETS for maximum durability and energy efficiency.

As you can see in the photo of the Gigabyte GA-Z170N-WIFI above, the heatsink configuration is very simple. Because the Z170 PCH is a simple chipset with a 6W TDP rating, a simple passive cooler over the chip makes a whole lot of sense. No heatsink is installed over the MOSFETs placed around the processor socket. Either way, the Gigabyte GA-Z170N-WIFI will work just fine even in cases with not a whole lot of airflow. This is a standard mITX board at 17cm by 17cm.

As with most motherboards, the ATX 4-pin power connector is located horizontally at the top left corner, just next to the standard mounting screw location. Unfortunately, this is not an EPS 8-pin block, so you will need to lay off the extreme overclocking a bit. It is fairly cramped in this area, but it is one of the better ones I have seen, since it is located right on the edge of the board with nothing in between. This leaves sufficient room for people with average sized fingers to unlatch their cables. A debug header, not normally used, is on the right side of the power connector. Unless you have a Noctua NH-D15 sitting over your processor or a large water cooling radiator at the top of your case, you should not have a whole lot of issues getting in and out of this area. For a motherboard of this nature, this is quite an unlikely case.

Above is a shot of the motherboard at the back. The design is relatively simple and clean; great for those thinking of adding aftermarket CPU cooling solutions. A standard Intel backplate is found here, but all LGA 1151 aftermarket coolers should be designed to work with this backplate in place. Located just below the backplate is an M.2 port for compatible SSDs. As always, the RAM socket and expansion card slots uses through hole connectors, as shown in our photo above; SMT (Surface-mount technology) is not capable of withstanding higher mechanical stress required for this purpose.

Within close proximity of the LGA1151 processor socket are components relating to the CPU voltage regulator circuit. There are no heatsinks in this location, but the Gigabyte GA-Z170N-WIFI is not designed for extreme overclocking anyway. The CPU socket pins are fifteen micron thick gold plated for best reliability. With Skylake desktop processors, voltage regulation is now back onto the motherboard due to heat generation at high frequencies; an undesirable side effect for enthusiasts looking to overclock their CPUs. As such, the GA-Z170N-WIFI features a five phase power design. Since steady and precise level of voltage control is required for performance tuning, we will explore the board's overclocking potential later on in this review.

The RAM slots are placed a fair distance from the CPU socket, and it is about as far as you can physically put it. You will very likely experience clearance issues with the inside slots if you have memory with tall heatspreaders in conjunction with a large CPU heatsink/fan, but I doubt you will have something too extreme, since this mITX motherboard is not designed for extreme overclocking. That said, many RAM manufacturers are aware of this issue, so low memory kits with low profile heatspreaders are quite common today than it was a couple of years ago. The outermost slot is DIMM 2, while the one closest to the processor socket is DIMM 1. The ATX 24-pin power connector is placed along the side of the motherboard as far as standard design is concerned.

There are two 4-pin fan headers intended for use with the CPU fan on the GA-Z170N-WIFI. The white one is labeled CPU_FAN, while the black one is labeled SYS_FAN. SYS_FAN is designed for water cooling pumps. What it does is it can operate at full speed in order to accommodate water pumps, which is very convenient for those with closed loop systems.

Four standard SATA 6Gb/s and two SATA Express connector are angled perpendicular to the motherboard for optimal cabling convenience. An additional two SATA 6Gb/s ports are located between the PCH and memory slots, which you will see in the next photo. All of them 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. A two-pin header for clearing the CMOS is on the left side. This is a pretty good layout in my opinion, and it is quite optimal as far as cabling is concerned, given the size constraints of the GA-Z170N-WIFI's form factor.

There is only one expansion slot on the Gigabyte GA-Z170N-WIFI, and -- you guessed it -- a PCI Express 3.0 x16. It may be the only one you have, but it is really the only one you need. This is a true PCIe x16 slot with full sixteen lanes provided by Skylake processors. Rock away with your high end graphics card; mITX systems do not need to be handicapped by any means. As I have mentioned earlier, two additional SATA 6Gb/s ports are located between the PCH and memory slots. As far as internal headers are concerned, the rest 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. Interestingly, the CR2032 battery is attached to the back of the second LAN port block by double sided tape. It is not designed to be removed easily by the end user, but the clear CMOS header is easily accessible anyway. Generally speaking, good placement of connectors in this segment of the motherboard is usually very challenging, and Gigabyte has done a reasonably good job of organizing it in an efficient and user friendly manner in my opinion. It is not the best in every way, especially considering the location of the USB 3.0 header is near the middle of the board, but there is only so much you can do. Trust me, I used to design PCBs at a large consumer electronics firm.

The back panel offers a generous array of available external connectors. It features one PS/2 connectors provided by its ITE IT8628E chip. Why anyone would need any PS/2 ports in 2015 is beyond me, but hey -- at least they are there. There is a total of four USB 3.0 ports; two adjacent to the PS/2 on the first block, and two adjacent to the Gigabit Ethernet jack on the second block. They are all native to the Intel Z170 chipset. For once, we have gone without USB 2.0 -- yay! The Gigabyte GA-Z170N-WIFI also has a USB Type-C port with USB 3.0 support. It is a shame it does not support USB 3.1.

Moving on, we have three video connectors. This includes a DVI-D and dual HDMI 1.4 output. I am glad VGA is gone as well, but I would much rather see a DisplayPort in place of one of the HDMI outputs. DisplayPort is vastly superior in every practical way compared to legacy ports like DVI and VGA, and in the context of your PC, even HDMI, especially since you can daisy chain multiple monitors together. Even if someone were to use this motherboard for a media center setup, I doubt they will be connecting two TVs simultaneously. Two Intel Gigabit Ethernet with cFosSpeed controller makes for two LAN jacks with teaming support. An Intel based network solution is always desirable due to performance reasons. The rest are audio connectors based off the Realtek ALC1150 codec rated at 115dB SNR; an optical output can be seen in addition to the five standard 3.5mm analog jacks. High quality audio grade capacitors are used, and the motherboard comes with a dedicated rear audio amplifier. There is no coaxial output. The dedicated audio zone is electrically separated from the rest of the components to reduce noise. To give the user a visual cue of this design, an ambient LED strip lights up the audio guard path for some cool eye candy.

Of course, the Gigabyte GA-Z170N-WIFI did not get its name if it did not have built-in WiFi support. An Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8260 is connected to the motherboard via an M.2 slot, and has two SMA connectors at the back for the user to connect the included antenna. The wireless module is Bluetooth 4.2 Smart and 802.11ac compatible that supports up to 867Mbps over WiFi.

Using a chassis is overrated. Cardboard box for the win.

As most motherboard models perform almost identically, we chose to play around with the Intel Core i7-6700K CPU to test the Gigabyte GA-Z170N-WIFI'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-WIFI (Intel Z170, $145 at press time; Turbo Boost enabled)
- Gigabyte GA-Z170N-WIFI (Intel Z170, $145 at press time; CPU overclocked to 4.5 GHz - please see Page 12 for important notes)

Common Specifications:
CPU: Intel Core i7-6700K
CPU Cooling: Noctua NH-U14S (Dual fan)
RAM: Patriot Viper 4 PC4-22400 2x8GB
Graphics: Integrated
Chassis: None
Storage: Kingston HyperX Predator PCIe 480GB
Power: SilverStone Strider Platinum ST75F-PT 750W
Sound: Integrated
Optical Drive: None
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 10 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