NZXT today announced its first-ever motherboard, the NZXT N7, a $300 Z370 board with integrated HUE RGB and GRID fan controller. This is NZXT’s first attempt at a motherboard, and seems to take a very NZXT-approach to everything: It’s visuals first, with this one, using the company’s newfound perforated design aesthetic across a steel surface plate on the board. NZXT has a lot of interesting – and odd – design decisions in the N7 motherboard. We’ll walk through some of those today.
The NZXT N7 motherboard is an ATX Z370 option, and we think we found NZXT’s OEM partner – we’ll save that for the end.
GamersNexus secured an early exclusive with the new Gigabyte Gaming 7 motherboard at CES 2018, equipped with what one could confidently assume is an AMD X470 chipset. Given information from AMD on launch timelines, it would also be reasonable to assume that the new motherboards can be expected for roughly April of this year, alongside AMD’s Ryzen CPU refresh. This is all information learned from AMD’s public data. As for the Gigabyte Gaming 7 motherboard, the first thing we noticed is that it has real heatsinks on the VRMs, and that it’s actually running what appears to be a higher-end configuration for what we would assume is the new Ryzen launch.
Starting with the heatsink, Gigabyte has taken pride in listening to media and community concerns about VRM heatsinks, and has now added an actual finstack atop its 10-phase Vcore VRM. To give an idea, we saw significant performance improvement on the EVGA X299 DARK motherboard with just the finned heatsinks, not even using the built-in fans. It’s upwards of 20 degrees Celsius improvement over the fat blocks, in some cases, since the blocks don’t provide any surface area.
Recapping our previous X299 VRM thermal coverage, we found the ASUS X299 Rampage Extreme motherboard to operate against its throttle point when pushing higher overclocks (>4GHz) on the i9-7980XE CPU. The conclusion of that content was, ultimately, that ASUS wasn’t necessarily at fault, but that we must ask whether it is reasonable to assume such a board can take the 500-600W throughput of an overclocked 7980XE CPU. EVGA has now arrived on the scene with its X299 DARK motherboard, which is seemingly the first motherboard of this year to use a fully finned VRM heatsink in a non-WS board. Our EVGA X299 DARK review will initially look at temperatures and VRM throttling on the board, and ultimately look into how much the heatsink design impacts performance.
EVGA went crazy with its X299 DARK motherboard. The craziest thing they did, evidently, was add a real heatsink to it: The heatsink has actual fins, through which a heatpipe routes toward the IO and into another large aluminum block, which is decidedly less finned. The tiny fans on top of the board look a little silly, but we also found them to be unnecessary in most use cases: Just having a real heatsink gets the board far enough, it turns out, and the brilliance of the PCH fan is that it pushes air through M.2 slots and the heatsink near the IO.
EVGA’s X299 DARK motherboard uses some brilliant designs, but also stuff that’s pretty basic. A heatsink with fins, for one, is about as obvious as it gets: More surface area means more spread of heat, and also means fans can more readily dissipate that heat. The extra four phases on the motherboard further support EVGA in dissipating heat over a wider area. EVGA individually places thermal pads on each MOSFET rather than use a large strip, which is mostly just good attention to detail; theoretically, this does improve the cooling performance, but it is not necessarily measurable. Two fans sit atop the heatsink and run upwards of 10,000RPM, with a third, larger fan located over the PCH. The PCH only consumes a few watts and has no need for active cooling, but the fan is located in such a way that (A) it’s larger, and therefore quieter and more effective, and (B) it can push air down the M.2 chamber for active cooling, then force that air into the IO shroud. A second half of the VRM heatsink (connected via heatpipe to the finned sink) is hidden under the shroud, through which the airflow from the PCH fan may flow. That’s exhausted out of the IO shield. Making a 90-degree turn does mean losing about 30% pressure, and the heatsink is far away from the PCH, but it’s enough to get heat out of the hotbox that the shroud creates.
Here's an example of what clock throttling looks like when encountering VRM temperature limits, as demonstrated in our Rampage VI Extreme content:
MSI has updated BIOS versions for their Intel 100, 200, and 300 series motherboards. They’re the latest of several manufacturers, including Gigabyte a week ago, to address security vulnerabilities in Intel’s TXE (Trusted Execution Engine). Intel says they have “provided system and motherboard manufacturers with the necessary firmware and software updates,” so it’s now up to those manufacturers to implement them. An Intel tool that detects whether systems are vulnerable is available here, as well as a list of vendors that have already released updates.
Owners of affected MSI motherboards should visit and find their model. BIOS and other downloads can be found under the “service” tab for each board. Instructions are similar for most other manufacturers.
With our Best AM4 Overclocking Motherboards content up, we figured it was time to publish something in the same vein for Intel. Intel presently has two mainstream platforms: the 200-series and 300-series, with the former hosting Kaby Lake CPUs (like the i7-7700K, presently on sale) and the Skylake-X/KBL-X series (X299), while the latter hosts the new Coffee Lake series (i7-8700K, i5-8400). Oddly, Intel decided against launching Coffee Lake with lower-tier B-series motherboards, so we’re left with only Z370 to fill both the mainstream and enthusiast segments of Coffee Lake.
We rummaged through the Internet’s Black Friday sales to find the best Z370 and Z270 Intel motherboards, including boards we think fitting for the 8700K, 8500, 8300, and 7700K. If you missed our previous content, we have a GN Pick Black Friday Sales guide (that lists some CPUs), a DDR4 memory sales guide, and a Best CPUs of 2017 listing. For those unsure of which CPU to buy, we have reviews of the i7-8700K here, the i5-8400 here, and the i3-8350K over here. If you’re interested in Ryzen stuff, check out our motherboard round-up or Best CPUs guide, both linked above.
Gigabyte is releasing security updates for Intel motherboards making use of Intel ME (Management Engine) and TXE (Trusted Execution Engine). The first batch of updates will be for Z370 and 200-series boards, with older generations following. Gigabyte will be supplying patched BIOS versions as well as the latest Intel ME and TXE drivers on their website.
Gigabyte’s announcement follows a notice from the Intel Security Center about “security vulnerabilities that could potentially place impacted platforms at risk.” These vulnerabilities have to do with MINIX, a lightweight OS designed by educator Andrew Tanenbaum (as discussed in this week’s HW News), and its use in Intel’s ME. As reported by Tom’s Hardware earlier this month, a Google team led by software engineer Ron Minnich is responsible for uncovering MINIX’s role in the ME and expressing their concerns in a presentation bluntly titled “Replace your exploit-ridden firmware with a Linux kernel.”
Continuing our holiday buyer’s guides, hardcore overclocker Buildzoid has joined us to analyze the best AMD motherboards currently on the market, looking at X370 and B350 for overclocking. The boards scale from $75 to $350 as we step through nearly every single AM4 motherboard out there, with clear guidance as to which boards are most suitable for different tasks. This was primarily done as a video, but the written section below will recap the highlights. Timestamps are also provided, if the video is preferred.
For this AMD motherboard buyer’s guide, we’re primarily highlighting boards in the $120 to $200 price range, but do talk about some of the budget Ryzen motherboards. VRM capabilities and heatsinks, BIOS menus, and memory overclocking compatibility all factor into our choices.
Since our delid collaboration with Bitwit, we’ve been considering expanding VRM temperature testing on the ASUS Rampage VI Extreme to determine at what point the VRM needs direct cooling. This expanded into determining when it’s even reasonable to expect the stock heatsink to be capable of handling the 7980XE’s overclocked heat load: We are seeking to find at what point we tip into territory of being too power-hungry to reasonably operate without a fan directly over the heatsink.
This VRM thermal benchmark specifically looks at the ASUS Rampage VI Extreme motherboard, which uses one of the better X299 heatsinks for its IR3555 60A power stages. The IR3555 has an internal temperature sensor, which ASUS taps into for a safety throttle in EFI. As we understand it, the stock configuration sets a VRM throttle temperature of 120C – we believe this is internal temperature, though the diode could also be placed between the FETs, in which case the internal temperatures would be higher.
Internet cafes and gaming centers probably aren’t a market segment most would recognize in the US, but they’re popular in other parts of the world--in particular, Asia--and ASUS seems to target that segment with the purpose-built Expedition A320M Gaming motherboard.
The entry-level AM4 board uses the low-end A320 chipset, and offers features that appear to identify with the rigors of crowded public places, such as iCafes and libraries. One such feature is the moisture-resistant coating on the motherboard, intended to protect against higher humidity environments. This is particularly useful in places like Taiwan, where humidity is high enough to cause corrosion on some components (that we’ve seen in person, no less). Additionally, the board has certain anti-theft features to help curb theft of memory modules and GPUs.
This week's hardware news recap includes some follow-up discussion from our Intel i7-8700K review, primarily focused on addressing incorrect references of thermal testing cross-review/cross-reviewer. We also talk Coffee Lake availability and pricing, as it was unknown at time of finalizing the review, and dive into some of the new Z370 motherboards. EVGA's Z370 FTW and Classified K have both been announced (and we followed-up with EVGA to get pricing information), alongside a new Micro board in Z370 format.
Beyond this, we've got the usual listing of new product announcements and industry news, including USB3.2's specification, headless video cards, Star Citizen 3.0 alpha pushed to Evocati, and AIM's death.
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