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GIGABYTE Z170X-SOC Force (Intel Z170) Motherboard Review

By: Steven Bassiri | Socket LGA 1150/1151 in Motherboards | Posted: Oct 26, 2015 2:23 pm
TweakTown Rating: 93%Manufacturer: GIGABYTE

Packaging and Overview

 

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GIGABYTE provides the Z170X-SOC Force with the same over-the-top packaging that I saw when I reviewed the Z170X GAMING G1. Not only are there four boxes arranged at multiple levels, but all components from the motherboard to the accessories are protected from the elements. It is the type of packaging I like to see on a product that costs $400.

 

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The Z170X-SOC Force comes with a healthy amount of accessories; 4x braided SATA6Gb/s cables, OC-Brace for caseless GPU mounting, 8x voltage read cables, orange LED backlit IO shield, 4-way SLI Bridge, 3-way SLI Bridge, 2-way SLI bridge, 2-way CrossFireX bridge, dust covers for iGPU outputs, G-Connector, manual, driver DVD, and an OC series case badge.

 

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The GIGABYTE Z170X-SOC Force has eight fan headers. The six circled in red are all 4-pin voltage mode headers that can be controlled through the UEFI or Windows. They are voltage mode which means they will control both 3 and 4-pin fans. There are two headers circled in blue, and these are 3-pin headers that operate at full speed at all times (no control) and is useful for subzero overclocking. The back of the motherboard is bare of most components except for some quick switches, a few MOSFETs, and orange LEDs which illuminate the PCB divide for the audio.

 

The first thing many notice is that the board has four equally spaced full sized PCI-E slots, and the heat sink in the middle handles the PCI-E lane expansion for 4-way multi-GPU support. The orange and black color theme is one that is pretty much unique to the OC series from GIGABYTE; the good news is that a lot of vendors are making orange colored accessories in light of the popularity of the series. There are also aluminum shields over anything that might be deemed "ugly" so that the motherboard will look great in case mods.

 

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The IO panel features a PS/2 keyboard/mouse port, 2x USB 2.0, DVI, mini-DP, SOC Link button (for external HW-OC control), HDMI, 5x USB 3.0 (single white port is for USB flashback and OC-Link), 1x USB 3.1 Type-C, 1x USB 3.1 Type-A (red port), 1Gbit Intel NIC, and TOSLINK with 7.1 audio outputs.

 

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The PCI-E slots are easy enough to identify. The orange 16x slots all have a single piece metal shield to prevent heavy GPUs from hurting the port and in total they provide 32x PCI-E 3.0. GIGABYTE claims that this single piece design is superior to the two-piece design that is on some other brands. The first and third 16x slots are full speed 16x when using one card in each, but if you add a card into the slot below either, they will share 8x with that slot. From top to bottom you can run; 16x/0x/16x/0x, 16x/0x/8x/8x, 8x/8x/16x/0x, or 8x/8x/8x/8x. Each of the black PCI-E 3.0 1x slots is directly connected to the PCH.

 

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The three M.2 slots can each operate at 32Gb/s. If you use an M.2 SSD, which uses SATA, all 4x PCI-E lanes, or RAID, then you will lose two SATA ports per each M.2 port used. This is how the M.2 slots on the Z170 platform work and you need to reference the manual to see exactly which slots and M.2 drive type will disable which SATA ports. The SATA area is quite busy.

 

From left to right there are two right-angled USB 2.0 ports for easy access when using a test bench instead of a case, 6-pin PCI-E power socket for extra juice for your GPUs, 3x SATA Express (each SATA Express port turns into 2x SATA6Gb/s when SATA Express not in use), and 2x SATA 6Gb/s from an ASMedia controller. There are two USB 3.0 internal headers located right below the 24-pin power connector. They are positioned for front panel USB 3.0 case connectors.

 

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GIGABYTE's OC Touch is one of the main OC features of the SOC Force series. The Z170X-SOC Force has all of the OC Touch features of its predecessors and an added shield to help keep fingers from touching the circuits below (perhaps even to negate the spread of cold. The buttons from the top row from left to right provide; Mem Safe (failsafe memory profile for booting), Settings Lock (applies last known good boot settings), Direct to BIOS (takes you to BIOS on next boot), Turbo (built in GIGABYTE Turbo Profile), OC Ignition (Provides power to fans and ports without turning the CPU system on for water-cooling loop testing and extreme OC conditions), Gear (to control BLCK increments between 1MHz and ~0.1MHz), Multiplier 1x increase, Multiplier 1x decrease, BLCK 1x increase, BLCK 1x decrease, and power button.

 

On the bottom row there are two switches; the top switch controls which of the two BIOS ROMs is engaged and the bottom one is a Trigger switch that can decrease the CPU and Uncore ratios to 8x on-the-fly. The left-most black button is a CBAT button that clears motherboard power as if you removed the battery and cleared the CMOS, next to it is a typical Clear CMOS button. The blue button is a reset button, and right next to it are PCI-E disable switches that control power to each of the four full-sized PCI-E 3.0 slots.

 

There is also the handy POST Code display for all your troubleshooting needs. Some people might not like that these OC features are located near the memory that is usually cooled for LN2 overclocking, and GIGABYTE has provided HW-OC, which allows a tethered phone to control the motherboard's OC parameters like multiplier, BLCK, and voltage and provide on-the-fly monitoring and adjustments just like the buttons.

 

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The Single BIOS Mode switch allows you to disable the dual BIOS functionality for quicker overclocking recovery. The audio section has a shield over it, and the PCB divide has SOC Force written into it for a cool effect when the motherboard is powered on.

 

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The VRM is a big one, with more than 20 phases in total. The VRM heat sink is connected by the heat pipe to the heat sink that cools the PLX bridge chip that expand PCI-E lanes. The heat sink has built in water cooling that uses a copper pipe connected to nickel plated threads.

 

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GIGABYTE has provided shields and heat sinks for almost everything. The IO shield, OC Touch area, SATA area, and audio all have their own brushed aluminum shields. The heat sinks are all screwed to the motherboard, and while the VRM and PCH use heat pads, the PLX chip gets thermal paste.

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