We made Gigabyte aware of an unnecessarily high auto vCore table back in December, prior to the launch and NDA lift of Kaby Lake processors. By the time of review, that still hadn’t been resolved, and we noted in our Gigabyte Aorus Z270X Gaming 7 review that we’d revisit thermals if the company issued an update. Today, we’re doing just that. Gigabyte passed relevant information along to engineering teams and worked quickly to resolve the high auto vCore (and thus high CPU temperatures) on the Gaming 7 motherboard.
We’ve been impressed with Gigabyte’s responses overall. The representatives have been exceptionally helpful in troubleshooting the issue, and were open ears when we presented our initial concerns. The quick turn-around time on a BIOS update and subsequent auto vCore reduction shows that they’re listening, which is more than we can say for a lot of companies in this business. In an industry where it’s easier to jam fingers in ears and ignore a problem, Gigabyte’s fixed this one.
Every now and then, a new marketing gimmick comes along that feels a little untested. MSI’s latest M.2 heat shield always struck us as high on the list of potentially untested marketing claims. The idea that the “shield” can perform two opposing functions – shielding an SSD from external heat while somehow simultaneously sinking heat from within – seems like it’s written by marketing, not by engineering.
From a “shielding” standpoint, it might make sense; if you’ve got a second video card socketed above the M.2 SSD and dumping heat onto it, a shield could in fact help keep heat from touching SMT components. This would include Flash modules and controllers that may otherwise be in a direct heat path. From a heat sinking standpoint, a separate M.2 heatsink would also make sense. M.2 SSDs are notoriously hot resultant of their lower surface area and general lack of housing (ignoring the M8Pe and similar devices), and running high temperatures in a case with unfavorable ambient will result in throttled performance. MSI thought that adding this “shield” to the M.2 slot would solve the issue of hot M.2 SSDs, but it’s got a few problems that don’t even require testing to understand: (1) the “shield” (or sink, whatever) doesn’t enshroud the underside of the M.2 device, where SMDs will likely be present; (2) the cover is designed more like a shield than a sink (despite MSI’s marketing language – see below), and that means we’ve got limited surface area with zero dissipation potential.
In the latest feature from overclocker Buildzoid, we follow-up on our full review of the Gigabyte Z270X Gaming 7 motherboard with a VRM analysis of the motherboard. The Gigabyte Gaming 7 of the Z270X family, ready for Kaby Lake, is one of the pricier boards at $240 and attempts to justify its cost in two ways: Overclocking features and RGB LEDs (naturally).
After receiving a number of emails asking how to flash motherboard BIOS, we decided to revive an old series of ours and revisit each motherboard vendor’s flashing process as quickly as possible. This is particularly useful for users residing on the Z170 platform who may want to flash to support Kaby Lake CPUs. The process is the same for all modern MSI motherboards, and will work across all SKUs (with some caveats and disclaimers).
This tutorial shows how to flash firmware and update BIOS for MSI motherboards, including the new Z270 Pro Carbon / Tomahawk boards and ‘old’ Gaming M7 Z170 motherboards. For this guide, we’re primarily showing the MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon, but we do briefly have some shots of the Tomahawk Z270 board. This guide applies retroactively to Z170 motherboards, and even most Z97 motherboards.
Article continues below the video, if written format is preferred.
CES 2017 allowed our team to dig deeper into the Zen architecture, its Ryzen family of CPUs, and the ensemble of AM4 motherboards in the pipes. There are currently “more than 50” SKUs of AM4 motherboards, according to the AMD team, and that’ll include the X370, B350, A320, and A/B/X300 chipsets. In this article, we’ll provide a GN-made block diagram of Ryzen’s PCIe lanes and other features, a look at ASRock and Biostar motherboards, and some brief notes on the S3.0 radiator.
Before diving in, here’s a block diagram that GamersNexus created to better represent the Ryzen / Chipset relationship:
AMD’s CES 2017 meeting room was primarily stocked with untouchable demos: Ryzen populated about half the room, Vega took a small (but critical) corner, and HDR screens took the rest. Given the challenges of demonstrating HDR in any medium other than analog (read: human eyes), we’ll skip that for now and focus on some of the Ryzen information. If Vega interests you, check out our write-up on the basics.
AMD’s suite served as a home to motherboards from MSI, Gigabyte, ASRock, and Biostar. We already spent some time with the MSI motherboards, including a look at the VRM design for each of the two configurations on display, and will today be focusing on Gigabyte’s X370, B350, and A320 motherboards. The company didn’t have any X300 mini-ITX boards at AMD’s suite, unfortunately, but did have micro-ATX displayed alongside the usual ATX form factor motherboards.
Despite the general lack of official documentation on AM4, we were able to get hands-on with some early AM4 motherboards from MSI at CES 2017. This is the first time – from AMD or from others – that we’ve received any detail on the new AM4 products, and the first time they’ve been demonstrated in public. The company debuted its X370 XPOWER Titanium overclocking motherboard (For Ryzen) alongside a mid-range B350 Tomahawk board, neither yet adorned with a price. We do have a release date target, though.
During PAX Prime 2016, we posted some official documentation on lower-end AM4 chipsets that would ship to bulk buyers, for use in HP-like systems at Costco-like places. Since then, we’ve learned that the X370 platform will crown the AM4 chipset accompaniment, with B350 falling next under that, and A320 (already known, see: PAX) at the low-end. A320 would be comparable to A68, were we to draw parallels to previous generation platforms. From what MSI tells us, an X300 chipset will also exist, but is not responsible for lane assignment and I/O tasking in the same way that X370 and B350 are; instead, X300 will likely see exclusive use on SFF platforms, and will perform no substantial functions. This was also detailed in our PAX coverage.
Gigabyte’s Z270X Aorus Gaming 7 motherboard was the first to host our Intel i7-7700K Kaby Lake CPU that we reviewed. The board also forced us to try a few different motherboards for our Kaby Lake CPU thermal benchmarking, because the initial numbers were astronomically high. We’ll get to that later.
Gigabyte’s newest rendition of its Gaming 7 line places the Z270 7th Gen chipset on the motherboard, alongside the RGB LEDs expected of the company’s “Aorus” brand. The board bills itself a rather high-end solution – at least, before venturing into extreme OC territory – and does so under a $240 banner. Also on our bench the next two weeks, the MSI Gaming Pro Carbon (Z270) and MSI Tomahawk (Z270) were used as a point of comparison against the Gaming 7. As Kaby Lake and the i7-7700K are brand new, the three boards are all we’ve used from the 200-series chipsets thus far.
(UPDATE: We talk about Auto vCore issues in this review. Please note that Gigabyte has since updated its BIOS to fix these problems. Learn more here.)
It’s not yet time to pen a full, in-depth comparison between Intel’s forthcoming Kaby Lake chipsets, including Z270, H270, and whatever may become of the lower-end H- and B- lines. There’s still data we’re waiting on, and won’t have access to for a little while yet. Still, some preliminary Z270 & H270 chipset specs have been reported by Benchlife, including information on PCI-e lane count and HSIO lanes. This coverage follows the same format as our Z170 vs. H170, H110, B150, & Q150 differences article.
If the early information is to be believed, the Kaby Lake-ready platform primarily focuses its efforts on largely minor improvements, like additional HSIO lanes to support a burgeoning PCI-e-enabled SSD market. Z270 will move from Z170’s 26 HSIO (High-Speed I/O) lanes to 30 HSIO lanes, providing an additional 4 lanes for M.2 and PCI-e AICs (add-in cards). H270, meanwhile, will move from H170’s 22 lanes up to parity with the Z-series platform, also hosting 30 HSIO lanes. The additional lanes fall into the category of “general purpose” PCI-e lanes, resulting in the following configuration:
Following suit with the rest of our Black Friday coverage, including Best SSDs and power supplies, we’ve next rounded-up a few honorable mentions in the motherboard department. We're specifically looking at Intel boards today, as deals on AMD boards seemed a bit scarce this year. With the looming obsolescence of the AM3/AM3+ socket, we elected to not include those boards. You’ll notice that, save for sharing a common thread in socket type (all supporting Intel’s latest Skylake processors), these picks vary quite a bit. Be assured though, these boards all have a place. Whether it’s a minimalist, no-frills gaming machine for medium to high settings or a high-end, performance-minded overclocker, there’s a board here for it.
This list comprises the best gaming Intel motherboards for Cyber Monday (and onward), including Z170, B150, H110, and other motherboards.
The Z170 boards in this list are of proven quality, and do come recommended; however, it is worth mentioning that Z170 is not tantamount to "better." A poorly designed Z170 board is not inherently superior than a well-constructed B150 or H1xx, even at a comparable price. There's more to it than the chipset. If you are curious as to what the differences are between Intel's Skylake chipsets, view this H110, H170, & Z170 guide.
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