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Intel Z370 Motherboard Buyer's Guide

By: Steven Bassiri | Socket LGA 1150/1151 in Motherboards | Posted: Jan 18, 2018 12:00 am

Network Considerations

 

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The most common NIC we have seen in mid to high-end Z370 motherboards uses Intel's i219v. It's a Gbit PHY that works with the GBit MAC integrated into the PCH to produce a 1Gbit NIC. There is also an i219LM version which has more manageability features for enterprise, but it's not commonly found on consumer motherboards. We also sometimes see the i219v or other NIC with magnetics designed to protect the NIC from external power surges.

 

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The most robust and fastest NIC we find is the Aquantia AQC107, which supports 10Gbit, 5Gbit, 2.5Gbit, 1Gbit, and 100Mbit speeds. There is also the AQC108, which supports 5Gbit, 2.5Gbit, 2.5Gbit, 1Gbit, and 100Mbit speeds, but I haven't seen it integrated yet on a Z370 motherboard. If a Z370 motherboard has two Intel Gbit NIC ports, the second one is almost always provided by an Intel i211AT standalone NIC.

 

 

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Killer's e2500 is also found on motherboards, but one motherboard does something very special. On the motherboard above, we see three 1Gbit NIC ports and WIFI, and they work together providing a technology called Killer xTend. Killer xTend allows your NICs (including WIFI) to work as a switch. It also provides WIFI extension capabilities. You can even connect to the internet through the WIFI controller, extend that WIFI signal, and also provide internet to three different devices connected to the wired NICs. You can also connect to the internet through one of the wired NICs and output internet through the other two and WIFI.

 

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The two best WIFI controllers we find on a Z370 motherboard are the Killer 1535 and Intel 8265 controllers. Both of them offer 2x2 (2T2R) 867Mbps wireless-AC and Bluetooth.

 

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Some motherboards also have Wireless-AC, but it's 1x1 (1T1R) rated for 433Mbps, which is half the speed of the 2x2 controllers. I found two types, an Intel 3165 and Intel 3168. The Intel 3165 is Intel's 2nd generation Wireless-AC controller while the 3168 is part of the 3rd generation, I couldn't' find any difference between the generations in regards to numbers provided by Intel. The third generation should use less power and offer better speeds (that's what Intel says).

 

Audio Considerations

 

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Realtek's ALC1220 is the most common audio codec I have seen, we haven't seen any ALC1150 on motherboards, but I am sure there are many of those in the lower-end of the spectrum (you might also find ALC892 or 889). The ALC1220 is a codec, meaning it communicates with the audio processor inside the PCH and provides a lot of the digital to analog converters required to turn digital signals into those that speakers can use.

 

The ALC1220 offers 120dB SNR on one output with a built-in headphone amplifier. The most basic implementation is the codec all alone, and most vendors isolate the PCB and add in nicer audio grade capacitors to stay competitive. Even alone, the ALC1220 is solid, but as always, vendors have gone above and beyond to add value.

 

The most common way to improve audio features is to add an external amplifier; most of these are Texas Instruments NE5532 or OPA1600 series amplifier. They are used to amplify either the rear or front output, depending on which one isn't already being amplified by the codec's internal amplifier so that both the rear and front outputs are amplified.

 

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We also find that vendors will add in an ESS SABRE DAC, either of the SABRE9018 or the SABRE9018K2M which should improve audio quality. Some also use WIMA film capacitors. The most insane I have seen so far is an implementation with two audio codecs. One ALC1220 is for the rear IO, and the other is for the internal header.

 

That method allows for both rear and front audio to get an amplified 120dB output, and even allows them to output different audio. That vendor didn't stop there; they added an ESS SABRE9018K2M (better than non-K2M by about 6dB) and ESS SABRE9602Q headphone amplifier with output switch that offers better quality audio.

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