This time around it’s Gigabyte’s turn at the Z97 based Gaming motherboard, here we have the Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 7 (wow that naming convention seems familiar!). Gigabyte’s ATX board, as you can see, is once again based upon the new Z chipset and comes with both 2-way SLI and 3-way CrossFire support, courtesy of its second x8 PCIE lane and third x4 PCIE lane. Other features to note is the inclusion of a Debug LED (most useful) and an on-board power button, also quite useful. In addition to this the motherboard is also equipped with Qualcomm’s Atheros Killer E2201 LAN.
The Gigabyte Z97X-GAMING 7 came well packaged (although the box seemed to have had a hard life!) in a red and back box, with Gigabyte’s red eye taking centre stage.
The back of the box shows an image of the Z97X-GAMING 7 highlighting various features of the board and its design.
Within the box we find the motherboard nestling inside an anti-static bag, beneath which we find the the bundled accessories etc.
In the box in addition to the motherboard itself we find the following:
4 x Serial ATA (SATA) Data Cables
I/O Panel Shield
At the time of writing the Gigabyte Z97X-GAMING 7 is retailing for approximately £133 on Amazon and comes with an impressive 4 year warranty.
First impressions of the Gigabyte Z97X-GAMING 7 are good but out of all the boards that I have looked at so far this is the most, well, subtle! I guess that’s the best way to put it. In some ways, one could consider that a good thing, but for me nothing about the aesthetics of the Z97X-GAMING 7 makes it pop. It, might just be a little too subtle for its own good, of course this is a matter of taste so… 😉
Looking at the right side of the board and starting at the right hand corner we find a most welcome set of features; a power switch, BIOS switches (Dual BIOS), clear CMOS button and a reset button. Near the centre of the board we find the main 24-pin power connector, in its usual place. Next to this we find another most welcome edition, a Debug LED (personally I would like to see this on all motherboards) and just above it we have the single USB 3.0 header. Next to this working right to left we find a plethora of SATA ports, suggesting that there’s more than just the six Intel ports here. The first two grey ports (but they’re all grey so that doesn’t help!), are an addition to the Intel ports and controlled by a Marvell controller. The next six ports contain four Intel controlled SATA ports and an Intel SATA Express port, the other socket there seems to be a blank! Next we find an additional two ports again controlled by the Intel chipset, bringing the total to six. NOTE: If either the M.2 port is used or the eSATA, this effectively replaces one of the main Intel SATA ports. The motherboard manual doesn’t explain this setup well and the implementation is a bit odd too IMHO, bottom line: Don’e use the ports closest to the 24-pin power connector unless you have to. Finally, in the far left corner we find an additional power connector to be used if you’re installing two or more GPUs.
Taking a look at the bottom of the board from right to left we find one of four system fan headers (SYS_FAN4) followed by the main front panel header and two USB 2.0 headers. Next we have another system fan header (SYS_FAN3) followed by a TPM header and a Com port. SYS_FAN2 is next followed by a dedicated SPDIF out and finally the HD Audio header. Looking at the PCIE lanes we find the following configuration:
PCIEX1_1 (PCIe 2.0 x1 slots) is used for PCI Express x1 lane width cards.
PCIEX16 (PCIe 3.0 x16 slots) is used for PCI Express x16 lane width graphics cards.
PCIEX1_2 (PCIe 2.0 x1 slots) is used for PCI Express x1 lane width cards.
PCIEX1_3 (PCIe 2.0 x1 slots) is used for PCI Express x1 lane width cards.
PCIEX8 (PCIe 3.0 x16 slots) is used for PCI Express x8 lane width graphics cards.
PCI used to install expansion cards that have a 32-bit PCI interface.
PCIEX4 (PCIe 3.0 x16 slots) is used for PCI Express x4 lane width graphics cards.
Looking at the left side of the board we find the Gigabyte AMP UP audio implementation based upon the ever so popular Realtek ALC1150 chipset, with its 115db SNR and built in rear audio amplifier. What can’t be seen here is Gigabyte’s Audio Guard and Trace Path Lighting, an isolation barrier to separate the board from the audio, in an attempt to cut down on unwanted noise. Next to this, with no cover we can just about make out the Killer Ethernet controller. Finally we have the IO panel, described in more detail further down the page. Tucked just behind the IO panel and almost in the centre of the board we find the final system fan header (SYS_FAN1).
The top of the board is dominated by the Intel 1150 socket and the CPU power phase heat-sinks, nice they are, but they’re a little subtle for my liking. And sadly they are only held on by way of plastic clips, not screws. This is a bit of a disappointment as most other boards in this price range feature screwed on heat-sinks. Don’t go picking this board up by one of them that’s for sure! In addition to the socket and the heat-sinks in the right hand corner we find the CPU 8-pin power socket. Working right to left we find two CPU fan headers (CPU_FAN & CPU_OPT). Finally next to this we find the four DIMM slots supporting up to 32GB RAM.
Above left we see a shot of the smart Gigabyte south bridge heat-sink, that’s actually secured by way of screws, which is always good to see. Unlike…
the CPU power phase heat-sinks that are only secured by way of plastic clips, which is a shame.
Options on the board that I do like to see though is the inclusion of a debug LED, always useful if things go wrong. If you don’t have one, then if things do go wrong you’re likely to find yourself stabbing around in the dark…
Also on the Gigabyte Z97X-GAMING 7 we also find a useful power button, Clear CMOS button, BIOS switch (supporting the boards dual BIOS) and a reset switch. None of these features are necessary, but they are useful nonetheless.
PS/2 keyboard port
PS/2 mouse port
USB 3.0 Port (Intel)
USB 3.0 Port (Intel)
USB 2.0 Port x 4
RJ-45 LAN Port
USB 3.0 Port (Intel)
USB 3.0 Port (Intel)
HD Audio Jacks
Optical SPDIF Out Port
Above we can also see the black IO Shield of the Gigabyte Z97X-GAMING 7 on the left and installed on the right.
Looking at the back of the board there’s not much to see, but you can see the plastic clips holding the CPU power phase heat-sinks in place. OK James stop moaning about those now… 😉
As the new Devil’s Canyon CPUs were not available at the time of review (and to be fair there’s very little (in fact almost nothing!) between a Haswell and a Haswell Devil’s Canyon anyway!), our testing was performed with an Intel Core i5-4670K.
A new build was put together to house the Gigabyte Z97X-GAMING 7 motherboard and the Haswell 4670K CPU. The following components were used:
It’s worth noting that we are using a rather new tech here, an M.2 mSATA based SSD (SM2280S3/120G) from Kingston Technologies, this is fully supported by the M.2 port aboard the Gigabyte Z97X-GAMING 7. We here at pcG are big fans of the MSATA (outgoing) and the new incoming M.2 SSDs, as they’re so easy to fit, support transfer speeds up to 10 GB/s and capacities up to 1TB. All of this without any wiring too! Awesome, I think… 😉
A new installation of Windows Home Premium 64bit (Service Pack 1) was performed and the following drivers were then installed. The latest Gigabyte Drivers were used and can been obtained here (I did not use the ones on the disc as I wanted to be using the latest).
* The latest BIOS version (F6) was already installed and was used throughout testing…
Intel Chipset Driver (INF driver ver: 10.0.13)
Realtek High Definition Audio Driver (R3.94)
Killer LAN Driver (220.127.116.11)
Intel USB3.0 Driver (18.104.22.168)
NVIDIA Graphics (337.88 WHQL)
During testing the following tools/benchmarks & games were used/played:
Unigine Heaven 4.0
Metro Last Light
Saints Row IV
There were no issues with the Gigabyte Z97X-GAMING 7 during installation into the Cooler Master HAF XB case and the board fired up first time without issue. The Kingston M.2 128GB drive was also recognized and setup appropriately on SATA port P4. With the BIOS left at stock the Intel Core i5-4670K CPU was set to its default of 3.4GHz with the Kingston Beast memory defaulted 1333MHz. With stability proven at the Load Optimized Defaults setting it was time for some overclocking…
Well actually the first job is to decide what BIOS/UEFI you want to use, as there seems to be three versions! A basic Startup Guide, a classic BIOS and a HD UEFI BIOS! No while this seems like a good idea it just confuses in my mind, as when you can’t find something in one place you just start looking elsewhere. The HD UEFI may look good but its not as Gamer friendly as I would have hoped, with more than one OC option seemingly doing the same/similar things. No OC GENIE here! 😉
After some time and some strange failed reboots, I managed to dial in our basic overclock of 4.5GHz at 1.260 volts using an XMP profile of 2400MHz for the Kingston Beast memory. I did not use the CPU Grade setting in the UEFI because the voltage applied is MASSIVE! 1.352 volts at 4.5MHz, is just crazy in my opinion, you have been warned! I simply dialed in a multiplier (45) and a manual vCore voltage of 1.260 volts; a little more than normally required, but without it the board was a little unstable.
Again I left the CPU Upgrade well alone and tried for 4.8GHz (knowing that the CPU is capable), but failed and with 1.380 volts failing at 4.7GHz I didn’t want to push any further. I’m sure there are ways of improving the Gigabyte Z97X-GAMING 7’s overclocking ability, but out of the box it’s definitely not as easy as some of the other boards that we have recently tested.
Below are couple of shots from the BIOS, showing some of the options on offer.
For testing purposes I ran the motherboard at both its Load Optimized Defaults speed of 3.4GHz (RAM: 1333MHz) and at 4.5GHz (RAM: 2400MHz), which is fine for everyday use at a voltage of 1.26 volts.
As you can see from the two sets of data there’s not much of a performance difference in the scores when looking at both Stock (3.4GHz – 3.8GHz Turbo) and 4.5GHz, but the additional performance is there, even if it’s negligible. Strangely (this is the second time this has happened!) Unigine also posted a strange result as the performance went down a little when overclocked, although it’s still within the margin of error.
What can be seen from the data above is that when it comes down to it a Gaming PC that’s running at 4.5GHz & 2400MHz isn’t much faster than one running at 3.4GHz and 1333MHz! Sorry guys but its true…
The performance (both stock and overclocked) of the Gigabyte Z97X-GAMING 7 is pretty much on par with the rest of the 97 chipset boards that we have recently tested. What can also be seen is that looking across the four Z and H 97 based boards there’s literally no performance difference between any of them, all results are within the margin of error! That’s why here at pcG we don’t really talk about motherboard performance as they all perform pretty much the same (as long as you’re comparing apples to apples of course!), like we are here.
Hardware (GIGABYTE AMP-UP Audio™ Technology)
GIGABYTE G1™ Gaming motherboards are equipped with the GIGABYTE exclusive AMP-UP Audio Technology, which provides the industry’s highest level of onboard audio features and technologies. With GIGABYTE AMP-UP Audio, gamers and audiophiles are able to experience crisp, ultra realistic sound effects while gaming, and the richest possible sound experience when listening to their favorite music and movies.
Realtek ALC1150 115dB SNR HD Audio
The ALC1150 is a high-performance multi-channel High Definition Audio Codec that delivers an exceptional audio listening experience with up to 115dB SNR, ensuring users get the best possible audio quality from their PC.
The ALC1150 provides ten DAC channels that simultaneously support 7.1-channel sound playback, plus 2 channels of independent stereo sound output (multiple streaming) through the front panel stereo outputs. Two stereo ADCs are integrated and can support a microphone array with Acoustic Echo Cancellation (AEC), Beam Forming (BF), and Noise Suppression (NS) technologies. The ALC1150 incorporates Realtek proprietary converter technology to achieve Front differential output 115dB Signal-to-Noise ratio (SNR) playback (DAC) quality and 104dB SNR recording (ADC) quality.
Built-in Rear Audio Amplifier
Specially designed for gamers, GIGABYTE motherboards utilize a high-capacity amplifier which is able to drive 600Ω loads, giving gamers a fuller range of dynamic sound with crisper details and less distortion when using high quality professional headphones.
Gaming Audio is one of my favourite subjects, I guess I’m an aspiring Gaming Audiophile, if there is such a thing. And I have already seen (or is that heard!) what the Realtek ALC1150 chipset is capable of, and to be fair it’s very good. But aboard the Gigabyte Z97X-GAMING 7 it’s even better thanks to that high-capacity amplifier; it’s really noticeable providing that extra punch where it’s needed. In fact it’s the best on-board audio I have heard!
The central point for all Gigabyte software is the APP Center. This plays host to a wealth of apps that can be downloaded here. Although, I’m not a fan of software, unless it helps me Game in some way and I normally steer clear. For the purpose of this review (and for Gaming!) I looked at the Easy Tune overclocking tool and the Game controller, among a few others no mentioned.
I was hoping that Easy Tune may help me with the overclocking, but I struggled to get any better results. I also ran into issues when looking at the CPU section of the software, where it refused to update the screen’s data properly!
The Game Controller app worked fine, and can be used to assign macros to keyboard shortcuts, a handy feature indeed. Especially if your existing keyboard doesn’t support said functionality.
Gigabyte’s first Gaming board tested here at pcG has been met with mixed reactions. While the board itself is a great board, with an excellent feature set such as its SLI and Crossfire support, inclusion of a Debug LED and the excellent (amplified) audio, it’s let down by an overly complex UEFI/BIOS and heavy handed overclocking voltages.
The Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 7 came well packaged (in cardboard only) and ships with a decent accessory bundle, including that all important SLI bridge, giving you a big clue that the board indeed supports SLI (always nice to see).
The board is good looking too, not as eye-catching as the ASRock boards recently tested, subtler, but maybe too subtle for some. The smart looking CPU heat-sinks, while looking good are only held on by way of plastic clips, which is a little poor at the price bracket.
Once powered up everything was good, and the board performed well at both stock and overclocked settings. But getting to those overclocked setting was not as simple as it should have been. I experienced a few failed reboots, when only changing simple settings within the UEFI. The voltage dialed in by the CPU Upgrade function within the UEFI was very heavy handed at 1.352 volts at 4.5GHz! Using this functionality and venturing further up the GHz ladder is likely to end in a meltdown! 😉
Having got those niggles out of the way, I have to say that once setup manually at 4.5GHz at 1.260 volts, the board performed faultlessly during all of the testing, and that red Audio Noise Guard with Trace Path Lighting looks really cool when lit up (see Hardware Installation above). At approximately £133 at the time of review, the Gigabyte Z97X-GAMING 7 is also more expensive than most of the Z97 boards tested so far, although to be fair it does have the best feature set so far.
Overall the Gigabyte Z97-GAMING 7 is a good motherboard, I’m just not sure that it’s necessarily a Gaming motherboard…
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Many thanks to Gigabyte for providing this sample for review