ASRock E3V5 WS (Intel C232) Super Alloy Motherboard Review

Introduction, Specifications, and Packaging


Today’s motherboard review lands right in the middle of everything. Not because it’s all over the place, but because it has a lot of usage scenarios and support for pretty much any setup. You could use ASRock’s E5V5 WS motherboard in a gaming system as well as in a server setup as both of those setups are fully supported, but its real area of operation is to act as the base for a powerful workstation.

The ASRock E5V5 WS uses an LGA 1151 socket and the board is compatible with both E3-1200 v5 processors such as the one I’ll be using later on in this review, but it also supports normal 6th Generation Intel Core processors – so basically the entire Skylake and Skylake-S line-up. As backbone behind the CPU that you end up using is the Intel C232 chipset that is perfectly tuned for workstation environments and a motherboard like this. Memory wise you can use normal DDR4 DIMMs as well as ECC UDIMM memory modules with a speed of up to 2133 MHz in the four DIMM slots with 15μ gold contacts for a total of up to 64GB RAM.

The gold contacts in the memory slots aren’t the only quality feature in this motherboard. The E3V5 WS motherboard is part of ASRock’s Super Alloy series and comes with premium 50A power chokes and is made of a high-density glass fabric PCB. It also features ASRock’s full spike protection that protects from sudden surges, lightning, and electrostatic discharges (ESD).

The network connection isn’t controlled by the average low-performance controller either and we find an Intel PHY i219LM controller on this motherboard. The Gigabit Ethernet controller supports Wake-On-LAN, supports 802.3az energy efficient ethernet and PXE. The Ethernet controller is one of the parts that is protected by the Full Spike Protection. The second part with protection is the USB. The ASRock E35 WS features two USB 2.0 ports and four USB 3.0 ports on the rear panel and you can connect another four USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports via headers. All of these are protected by the ASRock Full Spike Protection. The audio is also protected by this and we find a 7.1 channel HD Audio controller, the Realtek ALC892. It features Blu-ray audio support and uses ELNA solid audio capacitors. Last but not least, you also find legacy PS2 connectors for both your mouse and keyboard.

 

Internally we find good expansion options too. Since we are dealing with an Intel-based motherboard, we also get IRST for RAID setups across the six SATA3 6 Gb/s connectors. Supported modes include the normal RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 modes.

There are two PCIe Gen3 x16 slots that support both Nvidia Quadro and AMD FirePro workstation graphics cards as well as consumer graphics cards. There is also full support for the use of AMD’s CrossfireX technology for multiple graphics card usage. As I mentioned earlier, you can make a great workstation with this motherboard. There are three more PCIe Gen3 x1 slots available for further expansion and neither of them will be blocked by the use of two-slot graphics cards. Even with a CrossfireX setup, you’ll still have access to the three x1 slots.

Quality hardware and components are just one side of the story, we also need a good BIOS and proper software to have the best experinece. The E3V5 WS comes with both of those features too. The UEFI BIOS has the easy EZ mode dashboard besides the advanced setup pages, which contains multiple readings of the system’s current status. You can check the most crucial information of your system, such as CPU speed, DRAM frequency, SATA information, fan speed, etc.

Even better, you can reach the tech support purely from the systems BIOS, as long as the system has an internet connection. You can also install LAN drivers onto your windows installation directly from the BIOS.

The ASRock OMG (Online Management Guard) technology allows you to establish an internet curfew or restrict internet access at specified times for your kids. Stay in control of their surfing times without yelling. This probably isn’t the most used function in a workstation system, but it could be used to shut down any connection attempts outside of office hours. Another useful feature is the USB Key function that can replace the password question when you log into windows. Do it by plugging a USB drive in instead.

The well-known ASRock XFast RAM and XFast LAN are also built into this motherboard. The XFast RAM feature allows you to fully utilize the memory space that otherwise can’t be accessed in 32-bit systems, among others. XFast LAN is a quality of service protocol that prioritizes the important traffic so you don’t have to wait for loading times. ASRock Live Update and APP Shop also help to make the maintenance easier.

Specifications

The specifications are taken directly from the manufacturers product page and can as such be subject to changes in future revisions of the product.

Key Features:

  • ASRock Super Alloy
  • Server-Grade LAN chip support
  • Supports the Intel Xeon E3-1200 v5 Processor & 6th Generation Intel Core Processors (Socket 1151)
  • Supports DDR4 2133 & ECC UDIMM memory modules
  • 2 PCIe 3.0 x16 and 3 PCIe 3.0 x1
  • Supports AMD Quad CrossFireX
  • 7.1 CH HD Audio (Realtek ALC892 Audio Codec), ELNA Audio Caps
  • 6 SATA3 and 6 USB 3.0 (2 Front, 4 Rear)
  • Supports Full Spike Protection, ASRock Live Update & APP Shop
  • Microsoft Windows 10 64-bit, 8.1 64-bit, 7 32-bit, 7 64-bit, Server 2012 R2 64-bit, Server 2012 64-bit, and Server 2008 R2 64-bit support

Packaging and Accessories

A quality motherboard also deserves a great look package, and the E3V5 WS got that. The front makes no secret about the boards power.

On the rear of the box, you will find a detailed photo of the motherboard itself as well as feature highlights and specifications.

Inside the box is a user manual, a driver disk, two SATA cables, and an IO shield besides the motherboard itself.

BIOSTAR RACING H170GT3 (LGA1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction


BIOSTAR might not be the most recognizable motherboard brand in western markets but their pedigree for creating reliable products is worthy of praise. When compared to MSI, Gigabyte and ASUS, the company struggles to entice consumers with unique aesthetic designs. Furthermore, the BIOS and software package has been sorely lacking and in dire need of change. Thankfully, BIOSTAR have acknowledged these criticisms and decided to forge a brand new range based upon a racing theme to please petrolheads with an avid interest in enthusiast hardware. Each RACING motherboard sports a chequered flag PCB and stylish LED illumination while introducing a new BIOS layout. Clearly, this is a major departure from BIOSTAR’s previous products which evoked a fairly mundane appearance.

The BIOSTAR RACING H170GT3 is based on the mATX form factor and supports up to 64GB DDR4 with a maximum speed of 2133MHz. Intel’s H170 chipset blocks multiplier overclocking which means you have to resort to your processor’s default turbo frequency. Of course, there’s been some controversy surrounding BCLK overclocking on H170 and B150 motherboards to unofficially achieve boosts fairly close to traditional multiplier overclocking. Sadly, Intel has voiced their displeasure regarding this phenomenon and pressurized manufacturers to disable BCLK overclocking via a BIOS update. As a result, we have to rely on stock figures to determine the motherboard’s performance. Previously, I’ve seen some astounding results when it comes to storage with BIOSTAR products, and I’m interested to see if this trend continues.

Specifications

Packing and Accessories

Here we can see the absolutely stunning packaging which contains a carbon fibre inspired cover and vibrant text. This coincides with the RACING focus and feels quite reminiscent of a luxury sports car’s interior.

On the opposite side, there’s a detailed diagram showing the motherboard’s layout and explanation of its unique selling features. Once again, this is presented a superb manner and makes you inquisitive about the product’s specification.

In terms of accessories, the motherboard includes a user’s manual, Vivid LED DJ instructions guide, SATA cables, driver disk, and I/O shield.

MSI Z170A GAMING M5 (LGA1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction

Since the release of Intel’s Z170 chipset, MSI has unveiled a fantastic, feature-rich motherboard range which caters to contrasting user demands. For example, the Z170A GAMING PRO CARBON is an excellent choice for consumers wanting a stylish black colour scheme and great reliability at an affordable price point. In contrast to this, the MSI Z170A XPOWER GAMING TITANIUM Edition‘s gorgeous aesthetic design makes it one of the most innovative LGA1151 motherboards on the market. Of course, the iconic dragon styling on many MSI products have become a popular choice among the core gaming demographic. This red and black theme compliments mainstream hardware and retails at very competitive prices across various performance tiers.

The MSI Z170A GAMING M5 is a mid-range motherboard sporting an attractive design and impressive specification. More specifically, the product is capable of housing two PCI-E M.2 storage devices and has support for USB 3.1 Gen2 connectivity. Not only that, the motherboard includes a one year premium XSplit license and Nahimic audio enhancements. As you might expect, many of MSI’s leading technologies are incorporated such as DDR4 Boost, Game Boost and much more. Given this particular model’s astonishing software suite and military class components, I expect to see it rival higher priced offerings rather well. Could this be the best value Z170 motherboard thus far for high-end users? Let’s find out!

Specifications

Packing and Accessories

MSI always does a phenomenal job when it comes to packaging design and the Z170 GAMING M5 is no different. The bold colours and stunning product snapshot contrasts extremely well. This is one of the most eye-catching motherboard boxes I’ve seen and showcases the motherboard’s beautiful appearance.

On the opposite side, there’s a brief synopsis of the motherboard’s key selling points such as support for 3-way crossfire, 2-way SLI and Audio Boost 3.0. This is presented in a slick manner and doesn’t alienate the end-user with technical jargon.

In terms of accessories, the motherboard comes with a user’s guide, driver’s disk, metal case badge, I/O shield, SLI bridge, registration details, basic installation guide and four SATA cables. Please note, the press sample I received was previously used by another media so there’s only 3 SATA cables displayed in the photograph. Rest assured, the retail version will include four and be packaged without the need for an elastic band.

ASUS Sabertooth Z170 S (LGA1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction

ASUS have compiled a comprehensive Z170 motherboard range which caters to different sections of the consumer market. For example, the GAMING PRO line-up offers superb functionality and impeccable stability at an affordable price point. ROG products evoke a more premium feel and includes a stunning software suite for power users. The Sabertooth brand revolves around a stringent testing procedure to ensure each motherboard exhibits unprecedented reliability. The extreme thermal testing and deployment of TUF components prioritizes long-term durability. As a result, it’s a great option for consumers who demand a very high-end motherboard and have no intentions of upgrading in the near future.

Typically, motherboards opt for a red and black colour scheme because it’s the most popular option among the core gaming audience. Some time ago, ASUS unleashed the limited edition Z97 Sabertooth Mark S which utilizes an innovative white PCB and military camouflage. It’s quite rare to see motherboard sporting a white theme and while there is some competition from the MSI Krait series, ASUS is the only manufacturer to offer a pure white PCB.

The Sabertooth Z170 S is the spiritual successor to the Z97 Sabertooth Mark S and features a very unusual design philosophy. When adopting such a wacky colour scheme, it’s bound to have a polarizing reception and I’m fascinated to hear feedback on ASUS’ aesthetic choices. Looking beyond the visual aspects, I’m expecting to see some very impressive numbers given the premium electronics and DIGI+ Power Control.

Specifications

Packing and Accessories

The motherboard’s box is characterized by a white finish and contains camouflage highlights. This provides a great insight into the product’s unconventional styling and creates a web of intrigue. On the front, information regarding the 5 year warranty is displayed in a clear manner.

Moving onto the opposite side, there’s a detailed description of the product’s thermal radar monitoring made possible by the TUF ICe processor. On another note, the packaging outlines the rear I/O connectivity and basic motherboard layout.

Included in the package is a user’s guide, M.2 screws, driver’s disk, case badge, certificate of reliability, stickers and a gorgeous white I/O shield. As someone who loves the technical details of motherboards, it’s fantastic to read the reliability assessment document. Here, you can browse information regarding a huge array of tests such as moisture resistance, thermal shock, solder bath, salt spray and more!

There’s also four SATA cables, a Q Connector, CPU installation tool, back I/O dust cover and SLI bridge. The Q Connector is a really handy tool which eliminates the frustration factor when attaching front panel headers. Furthermore, the CPU installation tool is designed to minimize the contact time and pressure between your fingers and the CPU. While it’s not necessary for veteran builders, it could prevent beginners from causing damage during the build process.

Gigabyte Z170-Gaming K3 (LGA1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction


Intel’s current iteration of enthusiast processors offering impressive overclocking headroom incurs a fairly hefty premium compared to the previous generation especially if you’re opting for the i7-6700K. Unfortunately, the retail version of this CPU sporting a 3 year warranty still teeters around the £300 mark, and falls into a similar budget to the 6-core 5820K. The real savings when selecting the Z170 chipset revolve around cheaper motherboards which usually cater towards the gaming demographic with LED illumination, unusual colour schemes and a comprehensive software suite. It’s astonishing to see the kind of performance and bundled list of features on products under £100. At this price, there’s fierce competition and some manufacturers have struggled to outline the value of H170/B150 alternatives due to the narrow difference to affordable Z170 options.

The latest motherboard from Gigabyte targets the mainstream audience utilizing a single discrete graphics card, and overclocked Skylake processor. While it does technically support Crossfire, the lack of x8/x8 functionality might be a deal breaker for users wanting the absolute maximum bandwidth. There’s also no support for SLI setups either which may be a contentious issue. To be honest, I don’t see this as a huge problem because the motherboard retails for approximately £95 and dual card configurations are fairly niche in today’s market. Despite the very low price, Gigabyte has still implemented 32Gb/s M.2 storage, a great audio solution and USB 3.1. From the outset, it seems Gigabyte managed to achieve this excellent specification on a budget by removing SLI support. I’m interested to see the stock performance numbers though compared to high-end solutions and determine the motherboard’s credentials. Could this be the best value gaming Z170 motherboard ever released? Let’s find out!

Specifications

Packing and Accessories

The Z170-Gaming K3 is packaged in a visually appealing box showcasing the attractive dual tone PCB design. This draws you into the product and evokes a sense of excitement prior to the unboxing process.

On the rear, there’s a huge description regarding the motherboard’s high-speed connectivity, premium audio hardware and networking with traffic prioritization for gaming purposes. This is presented in an easy to understand manner, and the clear pictures do a great job of relaying technical information without bamboozling the end-user.

In terms of accessories, the motherboard comes with an I/O shield, user’s guide, G Connector, case badge and SATA cables opting for a very stylish metallic look. This is the first time I’ve seen a color of this ilk but I have to admit it’s a nice touch and looks fantastic. The G Connector is really useful when connecting those fiddly front panel connectors and improves the user-experience when building a new system. Other additions include a rather fetching door hanger, drivers disk, and World of Warships content code.

Supermicro X11SAE Workstation (Intel C236) Motherboard Review

Introduction, Specifications, and Packaging


Intel recently released their Greenlow based Skylake series Xeon CPUs and it’s a pleasure to take a look at the first enterprise-grade motherboard built for these processors today. I have Supermicro’s X11SAE motherboard on the test bench which is a standard ATX-sized single CPU board, but one with all the trimmings.

“Supermicro’s new X11 UP workstations, long-life embedded systems and motherboards integrate the latest technologies such as USB 3.1 and M.2 as well as step up performance, density and efficiency to provide a new generation of Green Computing solutions,” said Charles Liang, President and CEO of Supermicro. “Indeed, with Supermicro’s first-to-market integration, advanced engineering and architecture expertise, we deliver the widest range of Skylake-S platforms available to the industry, enabling our customers with exactly the best competitive advantage on the market.”

Supermicro’s X11SAE doesn’t just support the new Greenlow Intel Xeon E3-1200 v5 family CPUs, you can also use 6th Gen Core i7, i5, i3, Pentium, and Celeron series processors. The brain behind the motherboard is the new C236 chipset which comes with a lot of enhancements over the predecessors and Supermicro generally added the newest technologies to this motherboard. Additionally, the motherboard supports up to 64GB DDR4 2133MHz ECC UDIMMs in its 4 sockets. While this motherboard does support ECC and non-ECC modules, it doesn’t support RDIMMS, so make sure you get the right ones.

There are plenty of storage features on this motherboard with the eight native SATA3 6 Gbps ports provided directly by the chipset. The ports support RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 for that extra spice in your storage setup and the motherboard also has two SuperDOM ports with built-in power. You’ll also find a next-gen PCIe M.2 slot beside the default SATA3 ports, allowing you to get that extra speed. The M.2 slot doesn’t support AHCI modules, but 2242, 2260, and 2280 PCIe modules will run at a great speed thanks to the x4 slot.

Further expansion can be added through the two PCI-E 3.0 x16 and three PCI-E 3.0 x1 slots. The Supermicro X11SAE also features two legacy 5V PCI 32-bit slots for use with older hardware despite the upgrade to the newest platform.

Externally the X11SAE has two Gigabit Ethernet RJ45 LAN ports where one is powered by an Intel i210-AT and the other is powered by an Intel i219LM chip. There’s also a DVI, a DisplayPort, and an HDMI out for use when processors with iGPU are inserted into the motherboard. Further, you’ll find two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 and two USB 3.1 ports on the rear IO area. The USB 3.1 ports sport the increased bandwidth and power which allows it to run with up to 10Gbps.

Internally you can connect an additionally four USB 3.0 and size USB 2.0 ports. The motherboard also features two COM port headers, an ALC 888S 7.1 HD Audio chip, a TPM 1.2 header, and much more.

A workstation motherboard also needs a good set of monitoring abilities. You can connect up to five PWM fans with status monitor for speed control, on/off settings, and tachometer. The temperature monitoring includes the CPU and chassis environment as well as CPU thermal trip support and I2C temperature sensing logic and Thermal Monitor 2 (TM2) support.

As a Supermicro motherboard, we also have the benefits of their SuperDoctor 5 software that monitors system health of hardware and operating system services from the target nodes in real-time and provides alerts to administrators on the availability of systems in data centers.

Specifications

The specifications are taken directly from the manufacturers product page and can as such be subject to changes in future revisions of the product.

Key Features:

  • Single socket H4 (LGA 1151) supports: Intel Xeon processor E3-1200 v5, Intel 6th Gen. Core i7/i5/i3 series, Intel Celeron and Intel Pentium
  • Intel C236 chipset
  • Up to 64GB Unbuffered ECC/non-ECC, UDIMM DDR4 2133MHz; 4x DIMM slots
  • 2 PCI-E 3.0 x16 (run at 16/NA or 8/8), 3 PCI-E 3.0 x1 (in x4), and 2 5V PCI 32-bit slots
  • Single GbE LAN with Intel i210-AT, Single GbE LAN with Intel i219LM
  • 8x SATA3 (6Gbps) via C236; RAID 0, 1, 5, 10 + 1 PCIe M.2 (support PCIe x4 only, 2242/2260/2280)
  • I/O: 2x COM, TPM 1.2 header
  • 2x SuperDOM with built-in power
  • 6x USB 3.0 (2 rear + 4 via header), 8x USB 2.0 (2 rear + 6 via headers), 2x USB 3.1 (10Gbps, rear)

Packaging and Accessories

The Supermicro X11SAE comes in a neutral package and that’s all that’s needed for a board like this. It isn’t one you’ll find on a shelve in the local store while browsing around, it’s one your order because you know it’s the one you want. There’s still a sticker on the side that will tell you what’s inside and what the base specifications are.

The rear of the box explains a little bit about the series of motherboards which this one is part off. You get basic information about the series as well as a quick view of optimized chassis and systems.

Inside the box we find four SATA3 cables and the IO shield next to the motherboard itself.

MSI Z170A GAMING PRO CARBON (LGA1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction


MSI has rapidly established itself as one of the most reputable motherboard manufacturers and constantly strives to enhance the user experience through an intuitive BIOS interface and marvellous reliability. Additionally, the company offers a huge range of products to suit various colour schemes and often creates extremely-unique designs as demonstrated by the gorgeous, Z170A XPOWER GAMING TITANIUM motherboard. Some time ago, MSI released the Z170A GAMING PRO which adopted a fantastic red and black theme to please the core gaming demographic. Although, it’s difficult to stand out when using this colour scheme because manufacturers tend to fixate on a safe, popular design. That’s not to say there’s anything particular wrong with utilizing these colours, but I’d prefer to see more vendors breaking the mould through truly unusual aesthetic choices.

Since the Z170A GAMING PRO’s release, MSI has listened intently to user feedback and decided to construct a brand new model entitled, the Z170A GAMING PRO CARBON. At first glance, the only difference appears to be the new carbon fibre skin. However, this isn’t the case because MSI has made a raft of changes to enhance the motherboard’s connectivity. More specifically, the Z170A GAMING PRO CARBON features two USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports, one being type-A while the other is type-C. Furthermore, the redundant PCI slot has been dropped in favour of a fourth PCI-E x1 slot. Thankfully, the 180-degree angle SATA ports have been removed and replaced with a more suitable arrangement using right-angled connectors. Finally, the USB 3.1 Gen 1 layout features two on the rear and four via an internal header while USB 2.0 options now contain a total of 8 ports through a front four rear four setup.

With a recommended retail price of £119.99, the Z170A GAMING PRO CARBON is destined to compete alongside the ASUS Z170 PRO GAMING. As a result, it will be fascinating to see how the different products compare and I expect the Z170A GAMING PRO CARBON to remain very competitive in synthetic testing.

Specifications

Packaging and Accessories

The motherboard comes is a visually appealing box which outlines the RGB functionality, and gaming focus. I particularly like the neon design from the background vehicle which corresponds with the sort of lighting embedded onto the motherboard’s PCB.

The rear portion is packed full of information regarding the motherboard’s layout, impressive software package and premium-grade hardware. This is presented in a really clean, and concise manner with statistics to help quantify the importance of each unique feature.

In terms of accessories, there’s a detailed user’s guide, product registration card, cable labels, CPU installation guide and driver disk. It’s great to see the inclusion of cable labels because they help with diagnostics if you have multiple drives in a RAID configuration and struggle to determine which is the boot device.

Here we can see the bundled I/O shield, SLI bridge and SATA cables. The I/O shield’s red lettering and MSI dragon logo evokes a luxury feel and emphasizes the motherboard’s target audience.

ASUS B150 PRO GAMING/AURA (LGA1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction


Since the official reveal of Intel’s latest mainstream LGA1151 platform, we’ve analysed the performance numbers of various Z170 motherboards and even taken an analytical look at the non-overclocking H170 offerings. However, there’s another chipset available to consumers even though it’s primarily marketed towards business users. More specifically, the B150 chipset includes Intel’s Small Business Advantage software package to manage a small network of PCs using fairly rudimentary desktop applications. As a result, it seems quite a bizarre choice to release a B150 motherboard which adopts a lavish visual design, although it might be suitable for business clients wanting to play games during their downtime.

In a similar vein to the H170 chipset, there are some technical limitations when opting for the more budget friendly options. For example, B150 motherboards support a maximum of 18 HSIO lanes (in addition to 16 PCI-E from the CPU) compared to 26 on Z170. Additionally, overclocking is disabled even with an unlocked multiplier CPU, the PCI-E lanes are reduced from 20 to 8, and there’s a small dip in USB 3.0 ports down from 14 to 12. Despite these cutbacks, there’s still more than enough connectivity, and features to please a large quantity of consumers. The ASUS B150 PRO GAMING/AURA is a fascinating motherboard because it brings many of the high-end components from the Z170 range and comes with an excellent array of gaming focussed software. This means, it’s possibly the most ostentatious and impressive B150 motherboard I’ve encountered thus far, and I expect to see some impressive performance numbers in our typical benchmark procedure.

Specifications

Packing and Accessories

The motherboard is packaged in an attractive box which outlines the RGB sections and high-speed M.2 support. Additionally, there’s a promotional 15-day code to access a premium account in the free-to-play title, War of Warships.

On the rear, there’s a basic overview of the board layout, a technical synopsis and details about the AURA RGB lighting system. Furthermore, ASUS also provides information on the Digi+ VRM, USB 3.1 connectivity, premium audio hardware and gaming software.

In terms of accessories, the B150 PRO GAMING/AURA includes a user’s guide, cable labels, zip ties to help with cable management and drivers disk.

As you might expect, the motherboard comes with an I/O shield, SATA cables and M.2 fixing screws.

SuperMicro C7Z170-OCE (LGA1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction



SuperMicro is one of the most respected names in the server industry and synonymous with unparalleled reliability. Whether you’re after a rackmount, blade server system or workstation motherboard, there’s nothing on the market which manages to enthuse such a sense of rock solid stability. Recently, the company has taken their server roots and impeccable reputation into enthusiast consumer motherboards. This allows them to retain the server framework while offering more ostentatious motherboard designs. Additionally, SuperMicro’s highly refined production line results in a low RMA rate and each product evokes such a premium feel. While their previous attempts have been a little rough around the edges, it’s clear to see the rapid progress in terms of motherboard layout and visual exuberance. Typically, motherboard manufacturers opt for the gaming themed red and black colour scheme because it caters towards the core demographic and maximize sales.

However, they have adopted a very different approach and launched the SuperMicro C7Z170-OCE, which utilizes a very striking green colour scheme. Not only that, the motherboard incorporates an impressive array of overclocking buttons to make manual tweaks without entering the BIOS. There’s also a high-quality speaker, and LED post readout to help with system diagnostics. The C7Z170-OCE’s electrical circuitry is designed with extreme overclocking in mind and able to push any Skylake CPU to its absolute limit. Yes, that means BCLK overclocking is possible even on a locked multiplier CPU. Although, given the Z170 chipset, this wouldn’t be a sensible choice.

Another key selling point is the embedded PLX PEX8747 chip capable of supporting 3-way SLI in a x16/x8/x8 configuration. If you require a 2-way setup, then the motherboard can easily accommodate this via a x16/x0/x16. Other notable features include a Realtek ALC1150 audio solution with dedicated PCB isolation, USB 3.1 Type-C connectivity, ample supply of fan headers and much more! As you can see, the motherboard sports an incredible specification and I expect it to perform superbly across CPU intensive tasks. In the past, I’ve experienced a few issues with our DDR4-2666MHz bench memory kit on SuperMicro products, so it will be interesting to see if compatibility has improved on this latest model.

Specifications

Packaging and Accessories

The motherboard comes in SuperMicro’s iconic box design which looks fantastic and creates a sense of luxury.

On the rear, there’s a detailed description of SuperMicro’s philosophy to bring server quality to the gaming market. Furthermore, this section outlines the key specification in an easy-to-understand manner.

In terms of accessories, the motherboard is packaged with a driver disk, I/O shield, M.2 screws and a quick reference guide. Unlike the majority of other vendors, the SuperMicro guide is fairly brief and provides a technical rundown of the motherboard layout. While I find the included diagram quite useful, some users might prefer a more comprehensive set of instructions to help with troubleshooting. For example, the user’s guide directs you to URL to find the meaning of each BIOS debug code instead of printing them. This is important because when the system fails to post, you cannot access the online documentation. Although, I guess it’s easy enough to check on a phone or tablet for the meaning of each error code.

There’s also six SATA connectors in a red finish. Ideally, I’d like to see three of these with a right-angled end, and the red colour doesn’t really match the motherboard’s theme. Perhaps, swapping the red for green, or a jet black tone would enhance the overall level of synergy.

BIOSTAR GAMING H170T (LGA1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction


BIOSTAR’s retail presence in the western market is rather small as stockists focus on the more recognizable vendors among consumers. Despite this, BIOSTAR is one of the leading Taiwanese global brands and produces a huge range of affordable hardware. Back in 2013, the company launched the first motherboard with an integrated Wireless LAN module which shows their commitment to innovation. Granted, BIOSTAR’s aesthetic design is an acquired taste and I strongly believe this is an area which needs fine tuning especially if they want to appeal to enthusiasts. While some users don’t really care about a motherboard’s appearance, it’s becoming quite common for system builders to have colour coordinated builds. Nevertheless, it’s always fascinating to test any BIOSTAR product and determine how well it stacks up against the competition.

As its name suggests, the BIOSTAR GAMING H170T is built on Intel’s H170 chipset, which supports the latest Skylake processors. Unlike the more expensive Z170 platform, overclocking is theoretically disabled on H170. However, BCLK overclocking is possible on H170 motherboards with the correct BIOS and even allows non-K CPUs to reach an impressive frequency boost. On another note, it’s essential to check every H170 motherboard’s specification as some models opt for DDR3L compatibility while others use DDR4 DIMMs up to 2133MHz. This particular example caters to the lower-end audience and features a maximum capacity of 32GB DDR3 memory, dual Gigabit LAN, 32Gb/s M.2 connector, and Realtek ALC892 audio codec. As a result, the GAMING H170T offers an attractive package for the budget-conscience user and I expect it to master the price to performance ratio.

Specifications

Packing and Accessories

The motherboard comes in an attractive box which clearly displays the model name on a leatherette background. This evokes a premium feel and reminds me of the Logitech G27’s leather rim. The overall design is understated but striking enough to appeal to the gaming clientèle.

On the rear, there is a brief synopsis of the motherboard’s connectivity options, power phases and other essential features. Furthermore, graphical diagrams are used to explain the benefits of high-end components such 10K rated capacitors and durable ferrite chokes.

In terms of accessories, the motherboard comes with a basic guide to use the Smart Ear 3D Utility, product catalogue and user’s manual. Unlike many booklets these days, the product catalogue is in colour which encourages the end-user to browse BIOSTAR’s extensive product range.

Other additions include a driver disk, I/O shield, SATA cables, and M.2 screws.

SuperMicro C7H170-M (LGA 1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction


SuperMicro might not be the most recognizable name among enthusiasts with the likes of MSI, ASUS, Gigabyte and other household brands being the logical choice for consumers. However, their pedigree is unparalleled when it comes to stability and creating the best server solutions available today. As a result, I’m always overjoyed to test any SuperMicro motherboard and see this level of expertise move into other markets. Slowly but surely, SuperMicro appears to be targeting the gaming audience and releasing visually appealing products with an impressive range of features.

Approximately two months ago, we reviewed the SuperMicro C7Z170-SQ and felt it offered excellent overclocking functionality for extreme usage scenarios. In contrast to this, today’s review sample is built on the H170 chipset which theoretically disables any chance of frequency boosts. However, recent evidence shows that BCLK overclocking can be attained on non-K series CPUs and H170 motherboards via a BIOS update. The C7H170-M has been proven to allow for BCLK adjustments and huge overclocking headroom using high-end cooling apparatus. Clearly, we’re not going to change our testing CPU to keep the results fair. Although, I’m fascinated to see the maximum frequency on a H170 motherboard and see how close it gets to traditional multiplier overclocks.

Specifications

Packing and Accessories

The SuperMicro C7H170-M comes in a gorgeous box which evokes a sense of luxury. Its design is simplistic while being extremely unusual and looks stylish. I’m incredibly fond of bold cut-out for the lettering which makes this particular product stand out.

On the rear, there is a detailed overview about the motherboard and its core specification.

The package is quite barebones and comes with a layout diagram, I/O shield, driver disk, M.2 screws and server-style SATA cables. Please note, the included technical sheet also helps with the rudimentary installation procedure. Although, it’s much less detailed than other vendors. Nevertheless, this shouldn’t pose a major problem, and I don’t expect the type of customer purchasing a SuperMicro product to have limited experience in system building.

Asus Maximus VIII Extreme Overclocking Review

Introduction


The Maximus VIII Extreme is the new top of the line socket 1151 board from Asus that just begs to be paired with a 6600K or 6700K for some overclocking goodness. The board was built for overclocking from the ground up and it should be fairly capable in extreme overclocking too. We are going to put it through its paces and see just how fun and powerful this board can be when pushing 6700Ks to the extreme, but first, let’s take a look at the features that will help us achieve the overclocks we desire.

Now we see the Maximus VIII Extreme without the heat-sink in all its black on black glory, the color scheme really looks beautiful. The board is built from the ground up for overclocking and has really gone a bit overboard with the features. The board will take dual 8-pin connectors for power along with the standard 24pin.

Onboard buttons for power, reset, safe boot, MemOK, and a POST led display. There are toggles for disabling DIMM channels as well as toggles for LN2 mode and Slow Mode for extreme overclocking. There are also voltage read points for various different board voltages.

Here we have the dual BIOS chips that are thankfully socketed instead of soldered. Why is that important you may wonder well it is much easier to replace one of these socketed chips by yourself than having to send the whole board into the company for RMA.

The inclusion of the combo PS2 mouse and keyboard is always a welcome sight as it simplifies things and will also reduce the load on the CPU over USB based options while you are overclocking.

For the CPU, the board is using an 8-phase fully digital VRM controlled by ASP1405 (IR based). Mosfets are Infineon BSG0812 (dual N-MOSFET with high + low side in the same package) capable of delivering 50A each. As for the iGPU, it is the same components again, but scaled down to a 4-phase design. DRAM has a dual-phase design with the digital ASP1103 controller.

Gigabyte H170-HD3 (LGA 1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction


Intel’s Z170 platform is designed for enthusiasts utilizing incredibly fast DDR4 memory and large frequency boosts on K-series CPUs. In contrast to this, the H170 chipset caters more towards the budget-conscience consumer running a CPU at stock settings and modest DDR4 speeds. So what are the key differences between Z170 and H170? Firstly, H170 motherboards cannot support memory speeds in excess of 2133MHz and limited to a maximum of 16 PCIe lanes 3.0 lanes compared to 20 on Z170. Additionally, the HSIO Lanes have been reduced from 26 to 22 and theoretically, motherboards are restricted to a single X16 graphics slot. However, motherboard vendors can offer dual card setups via Crossfire. The only other notable change is a reduction in USB 3.0 ports from 10 to 8 which should be more than enough for the average user.

The first H170-based motherboard to arrive for review is the Gigabyte H170-HD3. This particular model incorporates a wealth of connectors including HDMI 1.4, DVI-D and D-Sub. On another note, the motherboard supports 2 way Crossfire, SATA Express an M.2 expansion port and ALC887 audio codec. Overall, the H170-HD3 is a great value package and I expect it to compare surprisingly well against the higher priced Z170 competition.

Specifications

Packing and Accessories

Gigabyte adopts a fairly clean and understated box design which outlines the motherboard’s Ultra Durable qualities.

On the opposite side, there are a number of detailed pictures illustrating the motherboard’s connectivity options and 2-way Crossfire support. Furthermore, Gigabyte also provides a brief synopsis of the integrated Realtek ALC887 audio.

In terms of accessories, the product comes with an I/O shield, user’s manual, G Connector, case badge and two SATA cables. It’s always great to see the G Connector’s inclusion on budget models which makes the install process much more user-friendly.

Gigabyte Z170X-UD5 TH (LGA 1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction


Intel’s latest Skylake architecture is built on the 14nm manufacturing process and designed to replace the previous generation, Haswell Refresh CPUs. However, the Core i7-6700K is currently a poor value proposition throughout Europe and costs upwards of £350. While the Z170 motherboards are an affordable proposition, some consumers are still waiting for CPU price cuts before considering making the switch. Furthermore, the i7-6700K is priced incredibly close to the X99-based Core i7 5820K which contains 6 cores and provides enhanced performance in multi-threaded workstation tasks.

Eventually, Skylake K-series CPUs should fall to reasonable pricing around the £250 mark and increase the sales of Z170 motherboards. The latest motherboard to arrive at eTeknix headquarters is the Gigabyte Z170X-UD5 TH which supports 3-way SLI, Turbo B-Clock Tuning IC, SATA Express, USB 3.1 Type-C and 40 Gb/s Thunderbolt 3 capable of powering dual 4K displays at 60Hz. Gigabyte’s engineering team has developed a feature-rich motherboard which utilizes the fastest connectivity options on the market. As a result, I expect it to perform remarkably well in every benchmark.

Packing and Accessories

The Z170X-UD5 TH is bundled in a visually appealing black and gold box which clearly displays the unit’s Thunderbolt 3 functionality.

On the rear, Gigabyte focused on the huge connectivity options and impressive speeds which come from Thunderbolt 3, and Intel’s USB 3.1 controller.

In terms of accessories, the motherboard comes with a user’s manual, installation guide, I/O shield, SLI bridge and driver disk.

Gigabyte also includes a G Connector to easily conect front panel headers, SATA cables and Rear I/O dust covers. These covers should prolong the rear connector’s lifespan as dust build-up can cause damage over time.

ASUS Z170I PRO GAMING (LGA 1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction


The capabilities of ITX motherboards have progressed at an exponential rate and easily provides the overclocking prowess, connectivity and stability required without making too many concessions compared to their ATX counterparts. Furthermore, the huge popularity of small form-factor LAN cases like the BitFenix Prodigy have made ITX systems a more viable proposition. However. feature-laden ITX motherboards traditionally incur a significant price increase as consumers pay for the convenience of more compact PCB designs.

ASUS has bucked this market trend and launched the aesthetically pleasing Z170i PRO GAMING motherboard around the £130 mark. This is an alluring price, given the SupremeFX audio, excellent software package and intuitive UEFI BIOS. Additionally, the 1151 chipset allows for large frequency overclocks and massive DDR4 memory speeds. When the single PCIe x16 slot is populated with a premium graphics card, you should be able to create a stunning portable gaming system which ekes out every inch of performance. Size isn’t a contributing factor during synthetic benchmarks and I expect the Z170I PRO GAMING to be quite competitive when compared against its ATX-based larger brother.

Packing and Accessories

The Z170I PRO GAMING packaging coincides with a World of Warships promotion and includes an exclusive invite code and 15-day premium account. From a visual standpoint, the box’s red and black theme fits with ASUS’ PRO GAMING branding.

On the rear, there is a brief synopsis of the motherboard’s flagship components, back I/O and main specification. The clear diagrams explain each notable feature in a clear and concise manner.

The Z170I PRO GAMING includes an I/O Shield, Cable Labels, user guide, driver disk, M.2 mounting hardware and WiFi antennas.

There is also an LGA1155 CPU holder and ample supply of SATA cables. The CPU holder is an ingenious tool which ensures the end-user avoids prolonged contact with the CPU. This reduces the chance of pin damage and offers a virtually foolproof installation procedure.

How to Flash a BIOS: Graphics Card and Motherboard Edition

Introduction


Flashing a BIOS can seem a daunting process and in some cases, it really is. You have the potential at any moment to completely break the component thanks to any number of causes from power cuts to accidental premature turn off; although the latter only normally happens if your computer is connected to a plug and someone else wants it.

So why are we required to flash the BIOS? Well firstly is system stability, in recent weeks we have seen the release of new graphics cards and motherboards and while the out of the box stability is great, things can only get better. While in the manufacturers testing facilities, they can only test so much. When testing motherboards, there are so many different types of RAM, Processor, Hard Drive, Graphics Card, etc… options available, that the manufacturer would have millions of different possibilities to test; taking up much-needed time. If you think of game testing, there is in-house, Alpha and Beta tests, consider that the early weeks after the launch is the Beta testing period where most of the issues are fixed, but there may still be some remaining.

Secondly, performance. We all want the maximum performance and while when the product is first released it roughly lands within expectations, after weeks or months of consumer testing; there could be a new stable performance level which could be permanently saved through the BIOS. This part impacts both graphics cards and motherboards, so periodically checking for updates could unleash a decent amount of performance.

Updating your BIOS can bring good and bad experiences, if you are updating to a Beta BIOS, you may experience some issues such as instability or even incompatibility with some external hardware; though that is extremely unlikely. Worst case scenario is a power cut or early removal of the flash drive and the BIOS breaks through corrupt file saving. On some motherboards and graphics cards, this can be rectified through a dual BIOS system that can repair the broken BIOS.

ECS Z170-Claymore (LGA 1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction


It’s a relief to be able to talk about this, I first caught a very brief glimpse of this motherboard at Cebit 2015 as a bare unit without heat sinks; it was nice to have a quick look considering the final products were displayed at Computex in July. Since then we have had the official launch of Skylake and the Z170 chipset and over the last few weeks, we have had some time to come to grips with what Z170 has to offer. We’ve seen motherboards which took a classic colour scheme in a new direction, multiple M.2 ports and some basic units that surprised in the performance department.

In the test bench today, we have the EliteGroupd (ECS) Z170-Claymore. One of the older brands that seemed to have taken a step back from the mainstream consumer motherboards ranges like MSI, Gigabyte and ASUS, but has probably one of the richest histories and wealth of knowledge to produce some of the best motherboards we have the chance of testing. Like in a previous article, the ECS Z97i-Drone was not only one of the strongest ITX motherboards, but also one of the overall best Z97 motherboards we have tested.

This isn’t the most flashy motherboard we’ve seen, but what it lacks in looks it’s set to make up in performance thanks to the nearly 30 years experience that ECS has put behind this. Let’s find out if that’s enough to take the win in todays review.

Specification

Special Features

Most motherboard manufacturers tend to throw in so many extra features, that most users will likely never have the chance to use most of them or even want to use them. ECS is slightly different, it offers the bare essentials and by doing this it keeps the overall cost down or the additional monetary value has been put into fine-tuning the motherboard itself. With this motherboard, ECS include four key utilities with some slightly confusing names:

  • eBlu – Easy BIOS information and updating
  • eDLU – Easy Driver information and updating
  • eSF – Smart fan control
  • EZ Charger

Packing and Accessories

I opened the delivery package and almost needed sunglasses to see. The almost glossy gold colour scheme reflected the light well but also gives off a high-end premium feel.


The back of the box offers a quick overlook of the motherboard and ports. Along with this, the key features such as the high-speed USB, M.2 and SATA Express ports and the brand new Realtek DRAGON LAN option.

The accessories available aren’t as much as some of the more mainstream options, but it offers you exactly what you need with no frills. There are the usual user manual and driver disc, a colour coded IO shield, 4x SATA cables, 2x M.2 screws and risers.

Gigabyte GA-X99-SOC Champion Sub-Zero Overclocking Review

Introduction


The GA-X99-SOC Champion is Gigabyte’s overclocking-centric motherboard for the X99 chipset and is the choice of many professional overclockers and benchmarkers around the world. The board has an OC Socket much like the one that Asus’s Rampage V Extreme had when it came out, that allowed for high uncore/cache overclocks. This board with the OC Socket will allow you to achieve much higher uncore/cache speeds than you would get with a “normal” board. This feature will allow the user to really be able to gain some traction with their benchmarks and memory bandwidth. I found in testing that this will make a huge difference in your results, as we all should know, that will be the result of higher uncore/cache. The board handles sub-zero overclocking amazingly and it should, because it was built for it. If you are wanting to put your 2011-v3 CPU under extreme cooling, then this definitely looks like the board to get.

Here we see the GA-X99-SOC Champion without the heat-sink in all its glory, the color scheme or orange and black is retained of the now classic SOC line. The board is built from the ground up for overclocking and has so many features that we will see that accommodates this for the user. The board requires an additional 4 pin (half an 8 pin) in addition to an 8 pin for power along with the standard 24pin.

Onboard buttons for power, reset, and clearing CMOS as well as a POST LED display help you quickly manipulate and diagnose issues. There is a bank of voltage read points for watching your board voltages with a multi-meter as well as toggle switches for the dual-bios feature that will make sure that you are still good to go in case you mess one up. There is also a slow mode switch on there that is useful when running close to the edge since the newer CPU-Z editions have a tendency to crash the system, with a flip of the switch you go down to the lowest frequency available and will be able to take your screenshots without issue.

Here we have the switch that activates the OC Socket. In the bios it will open up a new set of voltages for the user to tune the cache/uncore with after the switch is moved to the 2nd position. Next to it are three additional voltage read points.

One thing that is a great addition to overclocking boards is the inclusion of the PS2 mouse and keyboard ports. It really simplifies things and will also reduce the load on the CPU over USB based options while you are overclocking.

SuperMicro C7Z170-SQ (LGA 1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction


SuperMicro isn’t that much of a household name in today’s market, you get swamped by all of the advertisements from Gigabyte, ASUS and similar. But turn back the calendar and everyone and their friend at least knew the name. Focusing primarily on the server and business market, SuperMicro doesn’t really cross the consumer line on a large-scale, but when it does we get server quality and performance at a much user-friendly level.

If you take a look back through the years of motherboard design, SuperMicro was quite late to adopt any special colour schemes or unique heat sink designs, the first notable design change being the C7Z87-OCE, which took the classic green PCB and changed to blue, wow! With the introduction of Z97, SuperMicro then started to spend a little bit more time and resources on the looks with the C7Z97-OCE.

Today in the testbench, we have the SuperMicro C7Z170-SQ. This is the current gaming option from the company and it doesn’t actually look too bad. The key red touches and subtle heat sink design leans more towards a gaming feel. Let’s find out if the company has been successful in the consumer venture this time in our testing.

Specifications

Packing and Accessories

Why does it feel that this box has come straight from the 1980’s, with the cut corners and laser effect font.


The back of the box features a fair amount of text describing what SuperMicro can bring to the Z170 chipset and consumers. There is a small specification list and feature images, but something that has really caught my eye is the old style Intel Core logos. I’m sure Intel spend a lot of money on this branding, so hopefully future consumer products will feature the newer style.

You can tell that SuperMicro are focused on performance and quality rather than the ‘shiny’ things. Inside the box is a standard IO shield, extra long (server style) SATA cables and an in-depth product leaflet and driver disc.

Supermicro X10DAX (Intel C612) Workstation Motherboard Review

Introduction, Specifications, and Packaging


Today I’m taking a look at a motherboard for those that need that extra bit of power behind the curtains for heavy workstation or server tasks. The Supermicro X10DAX is aimed at workstations, but it would work well as a basis for a server as well with the features at hand. In the end, as always, it comes down to what tasks the system has to perform.

Supermicro’s X10DAX is a dual CPU motherboard with plenty of memory and multi-GPU support. The motherboard supports up to 1TB ECC DDR4 2133MHz LRDIMM memory over its 16 DIMM memory banks as well as Triple-SLI setup or Quadro-SLI with dual-GPU graphics cards. Those who will use RDIMMs instead of LRDIMMs will be limited to 512GB maximum memory capacity.

The motherboard supports up to two processors from the Intel Xeon E5-2600 v3 family thanks to the Dual Socket R3 (LGA 2011). That means up to 18 cores and 45MB cache per processor which in return equals a lot of power. The chipset is the Intel C612 which by itself provides a lof of features and enhancements over the predecessor.

One of the unique features on this motherboard versus its brothers is the overclocking features thanks to the BCLK settings in the BIOS and Supermicro has dubbed this Hyper-Speed on their motherboards. This will allow you to get that extra power from your system when it is needed and if it is needed. A great bonus that surely will be appreciated by many of the people purchasing this motherboard. Next to the Hyper-Speed technology, the Supermicro X10DAX also includes Hyper-Turbo mode which allows more power to be delivered to the CPUs and thereby maximize the CPU Turbo Mode frequency.

Supermicro also made sure that the motherboard is Thunderbolt 2 ready, but that’s an optional add-on you’ll have to get. Since this is a workstation board, it also comes with an onboard sound card. It could, for example, get a pretty hard job to edit videos without sound. The Supermicro X10DAX provides onboard 7.1 channel HD audio for just that reason.

Storage connection isn’t a problem either and we don’t have to pay for an extra SAS controller here that we probably don’t need in a workstation. Ten SATA3 ports, of which two supports SuperDOMs, should be plenty for your storage needs. If you need more than that, you’ll most likely have a server located somewhere anyway and thus eliminating the need again. You also get a Type-A USB 2.0 connector on the motherboard, placed right next to the SATA connectors. Since the SATA3 ports are controlled by Intel’s C612 chipset, we have RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 at our disposal on this board.

Dual Gigabit LAN is included thanks to a couple of Intel i210 network controllers, but we don’t find any dedicated IPMI on this motherboard. The PCI Express connectors available are three PCI-E 3.0 x16, two PCI-E 3.0 x8, and one PCI-E 2.0 x4 (in x8).

With such an amount of power at our disposal, we also need proper cooling. The Supermicro X10DAX has eight 4-pin fan headers that support tachometer monitors, status monitoring, and PWM fans. There are no dedicated CPU fan headers, so you can use any two of the eight for that.

Specifications

The specifications are taken directly from the manufacturers homepage and are as such subject to change in possible future revisions.

Key Features

  • Supports Hyper-Speed
  • Supports 3-way Geforce SLI
  • Supports 4-way SLI support with dual GPU graphics cards
  • Dual socket R3 (LGA 2011) supports Intel Xeon processor E5-2600 v3 family; QPI up to 9.6GT/s
  • Intel C612 chipset
  • 16x DIMM slots for up to 1TB ECC DDR4 2133MHz memory
  • 3 PCI-E 3.0 x16, 2 PCI-E 3.0 x8, and 1 PCI-E 2.0 x4 (in x8) slot
  • Intel i210 Dual port GbE LAN
  • 10x SATA3 (6Gbps) ports (RAID 0, 1, 5, 10)
  • 6x USB 3.0 (4 rear, 2 via header), 5x USB 2.0 (2 rear, 2 via header, 1 Type A)
  • 7.1 HD Audio with optical S/PDIF

Packaging and Accessories

The box for the Supermicro X10DAX is a default layout for the entire line-up and as such presents key features from all boards. While we can spot such things as 40GbE here, we won’t find it on this board.

The rear of the box details the different boards from Supermicro in this category for easy comparison.

Inside the box, next to the motherboard itself, we find six SATA3 cables and an IO shield with proper padding and yet unopened ports. Remember to only pop the ones that the motherboard actually has.

Included is also a Quick Start Guide that will show you the headers and jumper positions, how to install your memory depending on the amount of modules you are using, as well as front header layout and other vital information for installation.

MSI Z170A XPOWER GAMING TITANIUM Edition (LGA 1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction


Intel’s Skylake has been with us for a little over a month now and reports are coming back extremely positive, with retailers struggling to maintain stock and very few reviews having anything negative to say. We are now at the stage where motherboard manufacturers have had the chance to tweak and update drivers to ensure the best possible performance and prices have stabilised thanks to increased stock levels hitting retailers.

Today in the test bench we have the simply stunning MSI XPOWER Z170A motherboard, but this isn’t any old XPOWER version, this is the Titanium Edition. The entire PCB has been created with a non-reflective silver finish, which is designed to make you think that the entire motherboard has been made from Titanium, ignoring the electrical impossibilities of course. This new design has been inspired by MSI’s use of new Titanium chokes which was introduced on Military Class 5 component range. These new chokes are capable of withstanding higher temperatures, which results in longer lifespan and potentially higher overclocking capabilities.

Along with the new chokes, this motherboard features a unique OC Dashboard. This little addition is a small rectangular PCB with additional buttons and switches with could help overclocking and troubleshooting. The best part of this is that you can fix this onto the front of your case with the extension cable provided. This is the most expensive MSI Z170 motherboard option to date, let’s find out if this motherboard isn’t just smoke and mirrors and can actually perform well.

Specifications

Special Features

Motherboard manufacturers need to maintain a competitive edge over the competition, so bundle in all sorts of special features and programs. MSI is at the forefront of useful features and includes the following with this motherboard:

  • Command Center
  • Live Update 6
  • Fast Boot
  • Super Charger
  • Gaming App
  • Eco Center
  • M-Cloud
  • RAMDISK
  • Gaming Lan Manager
  • Nahimic Audio
  • XSplit GameCaster V2
  • SteelSeries Engine 3
  • MSI Branded CPU-Z
  • Audio Boost 3
    • Isolated Audio PCB
    • EMI Shielding
    • Dual Headphone Amplifiers
    • High-Quality Audio Capacitors
    • Gold Audio Connectors
  •  Game Boost
    • Easy Overclocking
    • 7 Gear Clock Change
  • Gaming Network Manager
    • Electric Wave Surge
  • Gaming App
    • System Mode Switching
    • Gaming Hotkey
    • Gaming Mouse Control
    • Gaming LED Remote Control
  • OC DASHBOARD
    • Easy Button 3
    • Direct OC
  •  Gaming Certified
  • Click BIOS 5
  • BIOS Flashback+
  • Military Class 5

Packing and Accessories

The packaging is just as impressive as the motherboard inside. Overall silver colouring to match the motherboard and the usual MSI and Intel branding logos. The front is actually really plain with no mention of any specifications or special features.


When you flip the box over, you are hit by a wealth of information. The biggest features are pictured with the lesser features having large titles and a centre placement. The general features and I/O configuration are then towards the bottom in a much smaller print.

I love opening up an MSI motherboard box, there is always so much to read and use. The first accessories are the manuals, drivers and other paper-based reading material; there is also a premium Gaming Series case badge if you wish to use it.

Moving to the more interesting accessories, 6x SATA cables, a triple lane SLI bridge, IO shield and V-Check cables; an extremely comprehensive range with no useless items that will never see the light of day.

 

Gigabyte MW70-3S0 (Intel C612) Dual CPU Workstation Motherboard Review

Introduction


Gigabyte’s motherboard series based on the Intel C612 chipset is quite an impressive one and I’ve already had the pleasure to test the MU70-SU0 server motherboard. Today I’m taking a look at its bigger brother, the dual socket Gigabyte MW70-3S0 workstation motherboard.

The Gigabyte MW70-3S0 workstation motherboard is based around Intel’s C612 chipset and offers you two LGA 2011-3 sockets with support for Intel’s Xeon E5-2600 V3 processors as well as 16 DDR4 modules for a total of up to 768GB RAM. The MW70-3S0 is a workstation board and as such it offers some other features than server boards, such as Multi-GPU configuration. With support for up to three graphics cards in CrossfireX or SLI via the three PCIe 3.0 x16 slots and coupled with the CPU and memory support will make sure that we don’t run out of performance anytime soon.

One of the really great things about this board’s memory support is that it supports the full speed of 2133MHz, even when all 12 memory banks are populated. In the past, you had to make the choice, whether you wanted capacity or speed. Gigabyte made sure that you’ll have a maximum speed on all memory banks at all times.

We also get plenty of storage abilities on Gigabyte’s MW70-3S0. Not only does it provide 10 SATA3 ports via the Intel C612 chipset where two of them support SATA DOMs, we also get an LSI SAS 3008 onboard controller with two Mini-SAS ports for eight SAS 12GB/s drives. The SATA ports support RAID 0/1/5/10 while the SAS ports support RAID 0/1/1E/10. The connectivity is secured by two Intel i210 Gigabit Ethernet ports that allow for easy trunking and link aggregation.

Overall, this board is built with quality components that should make sure that everything runs stable and for a long time. It is equipped with IR Digital PWM and IR PowIRstage IC controllers to guarantee a stable operating environment and OS-CON capacitors with a minimum service life of 50.000 hours. The installed chokes are high-end ferrite core chokes that again should help deliver a stable power to both CPU and memory.

Specifications

The specifications are taken directly from the manufacturers homepage and are as such subject to change in possible future revisions.

Key Features

  • Intel Xeon processor E5-1600 V3 & E5-2600 V3 product families
  • 16 x RDIMM/LRDIMM ECC DDR4 DIMM slots
  • Supports 3-Way NVIDIA SLI / AMD CrossFireX
  • 2 x GbE LAN port (Intel I210)
  • 2 x Mini-SAS (for 8 x SAS 12Gb/s ports)
  • 10 x SATA III 6Gb/s
  • 7.1+2 HD Audio
  • 2 x USB 3.0 + 2 x USB 2.0 ports
  • 1 x USB 3.0 header + 1 x USB 2.0 header

Packaging and Accessories

The box follows a very simple design and is perfect for the market it’s aimed at. There is no need for fancy artwork like we’re used to on consumer motherboards.

The rear of the box gives a little detail about 3 key points that are important to a board of this caliber including reliability, availability, and serviceability. These are all major factors for any IT admin needing a reliable product with quality components that is easy to set up and maintain.

Inside the box, we find anything we need to get started, but nothing unnecessary that would drive up the overall price on the product. We get two SATA3 cables where one of them has an angled connector at one end, two CrossFireX bridges, as well as two NVIDIA SLI bridges for 2-way and 3-way SLI and CrossFireX support. There’s also the obligatory IO shield and a driver disk

Gigabyte Z170XP-SLI (LGA 1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging


The Z170 chipset and Skylake CPU’s has been around for just over a week now and we have seen pretty much everything that each manufacturer has to offer. We now know that the huge connectivity options presented by the Z170 chipset that some manufacturers have included not on, but two or even three M.2 slots and multiple USB 3.0 ports. Along with those, you also have USB 3.1 Type A and Type C as standard and the vast majority of the Z170 series.

Today on the test bench, we take a look at one of the cheaper options on the market, the Gigabyte Z170XP-SLI. Don’t let the low MSRP of £120 fool you, this motherboard has more features than you can shake a stick at and is expected to outpace the competition at a higher price bracket.

This particular board boasts the latest Realtek audio codec to provide crisp and clear audio performance, combine that with high-speed RAM and a multi-graphics card setup and you have a great gaming computer that is capable of dominating the competition.

Key Features

Manufacturers nowadays need to find innovative ways to stand out from the crowd, Gigabyte is no exception and has crammed a huge array of features into this motherboard.

  • App Centre
    • 3D OSD
    • @BIOS
    • Ambient LED
    • AutoGreen
    • Cloud Station
    • EasyTune
    • Easy RAID
    • Fast Boot
    • Smart timeLock
    • Smart Keyboard
    • Smart Backup
    • System Information Viewer
    • USB Blocker

Packaging and Accessories

The box is of a new design, featuring a character from the game Heroes of the Storm. This comes with a sole partnership between Gigabyte and Blizzard. The colour scheme outside of the main image resembles heavily of the Ultra Durable range with the orange highlights and logos.

The back of the box focuses on more key features with a large chart showing the speed increase of USB 3.1 over USB 3.0.

Inside the box is a nice amount of accessories. First up the paper based which consists of a door hanger, Gigabyte/Heroes of the Storm leaflet, Install guide and motherboard manual

Along with those are4x SATA 6Gb/s cables, I/O shield, Ultra Durable case sticker, SLI bridge and Gigabyte G-Connector.

The G-Connector is a great addition that allows you to securely clip in all of the front panel connectors into one hub and install at once; this makes the installation 100x easier as you can do it outside of the case while the motherboard is installed.

Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 7 (LGA 1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction


We’ve had the Skylake-S processors and Z170 chipset for a little while now and in that time, we haven’t really seen much from our friends at Gigabyte. The Z170 chipset is one of the best that Intel has ever produced, even coming close to that of the X99 range thanks to the mainstream introduction of DDR4 memory support and USB 3.1 and Type-C as standard. The Z170 chipset opens the doors in terms of connectivity with the possibility of multiple M.2 ports, more USB 3.0 ports than you could ever use and Thunderbolt; which offers up to 40Gb/s transfer speeds.

Today in the testbench we have the simply stunning Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 7. Looking into the Gigabyte and Z170 hierarchy, this motherboard could be considered as the second best offering, next to the G1 Gaming motherboard. Now here is where things can get slightly confusing, on the face, there are four G1 Gaming branded motherboards, which the branding goes: Gaming 3, Gaming 5, Gaming 7 and G1 Gaming.

In a new turn of styling, the Gaming range has been slapped with a white paint brush and I like it. For too long has “Gaming” motherboard ranges focuses on the dark red and black theme; white is fresh and crisp and works well with almost any colour scheme. Now Gigabyte hasn’t left the red and black altogether, this motherboard still has some of those colours integrated with the white to create something that is extremely attractive.

Specifications

The Gaming 7 motherboard, as you would expect, has almost all of the toys with some minor cutbacks to make the G1 Gaming appealing. There are twin Gigabit LAN ports, one Intel and the other Killer, twin M.2 ports, triple PCIex16 lanes for SLI and Crossfire configurations and even onboard display outputs that are capable of 4K video playback.

Manufacturers nowadays need to find innovative ways to stand out from the crowd, Gigabyte is no exception and offers a small, but powerful array of features with this motherboard.

Gigabyte App Center:

  • 3D OSD
  • @BIOS
  • Ambient LED
  • Auto Green
  • Cloud Station
  • Easy Tune
  • Easy RAID
  • Fast Boot
  • Smart TimeLock
  • Smart Keyboard
  • Smart Backup
  • System Information Viewer (SIV)
  • USB Blocker

Support for:

  • Q-Flash
  • Smart Switch
  • Xpress Install

Packaging

With the introduction of Z170, it seems Gigabyte has moved away from the red and black theme and introduced white. This is reflected on the box with the G1 Gaming logo and a World of Warships sticker.

The back of the box is similar to that of the other G1 Gaming boards. Feature filled with large portions of the box taken up with key features such as USB 3.1 speeds and double LAN ports.

Inside the box is a few accessories. On the manual side, it consists of the usual driver disk, install guide and motherboard manual. Along with that is an A4 poster promoting World of Warships with a free activation code on the back.

Along with those are 4x clear SATA 6Gb/s cables, G1 Gaming sticker, padded and illuminated IO shield, SLI bridge and G Connector.

This is an odd design for the SATA cables, maybe they are made like this to better blend in with the colour of the motherboard or to reflect the LED’s better.

The G-Connector is a great addition that allows you to securely clip in all of the front panel connectors into one hub and install at once. This makes the installation 100 times easier as you can do it outside of the case while the motherboard is installed.

ASUS Z170 Maximus VIII Hero (LGA 1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction


The Z170 chipset and Skylake CPU’s have been around for just over a week now and we have seen pretty much everything that each manufacturer has to offer. We now know that the huge connectivity options presented by the Z170 chipset that some manufacturers have included not one, but two, sometimes even three M.2 slots and multiple USB 3.0 ports. Along with those, you also have USB 3.1 Type A and Type C as standard on the vast majority of the Z170 series boards.

Today on the test bench, we take our first look at an ASUS Republic of Gamers (RoG) motherboard in the form of the Maximus VIII Hero (M8H). If you’ve heard anything about the RoG range, you’ll know that it is the go-to motherboard range if you want the highest performance, best quality components, more accessories than you could ever use and some of the best looks available.

Specifications

The M8H follows a similar process to the RoG ranges of old with huge amount of features, but things have changed slightly, ASUS has decided to almost ditch the red colour scheme; I’ll let that sink in. So instead of the red theme, ASUS has gone for a simply stunning grey with subtle red detailing. I think this is a step in the right direction because of every manufacturer jumping on the red scheme recently.

Manufacturers nowadays need to find innovative ways to stand out from the crowd, ASUS is no exception and has crammed a huge array of features into this motherboard.

RoG Key Features

  • Extreme Engine Digi+
  • OC Zone
  • RoG RAMDisk
  • RoG RAMCache
  • RoG Overwolf
  • KeyBot II
  • UEFI BIOS

Key Features

  • Dual Intelligent Processors 5
  • ASUS Exclusive Features
    • AI Suite 3
    • USB 3.1 Boost
    • AI Charger+
    • Push Notice
    • Disk Unlocker
    • Pc Cleaner
    • HyStream
    • Media Streamer
    • Mobo Connect
  • EZ DIY
    • USB BIOS Flashback
    • Crashfree BIOS 3
    • EZ Flash 3
    • Mem OK!
  • Q-Design
    • Q-Code
    • Q-Sheild
    • Q-Connector
    • Q-LED
    • Q-Slot
    • Q-DIMM

Packaging

The M8H is a key asset to the RoG series, the box itself is almost a direct replica of older RoG boxes with the changes to the features along the bottom and the name.

The back of the box has a small diagram of the board and the key features in detail.

Inside the box is a huge amount of accessories, including driver disk, install manual, door hanger, cable labels, case sticker and fan stickers.

Along with those are 6x SATA 6 Gb/s cables, 2 way SLI bridge, I/O shield, M.2 riser and screw, front panel connector riser and CPU locator.

ASRock Rack EPC612D4U-2T8R (Intel C612) mATX Server Motherboard Review

Introduction, Specifications, and Packaging


The motherboard that I am taking a look at today is a little bit special as it is considered to be the first mATX motherboard featuring Intel Xeon E5 V3 series with LGA 2011-3 single socket. The ASRock Rack EPC612D4U-2T8R isn’t just a rarely seen form factor in this category, it also packs a huge punch and plenty of features such as quad-channel DDR4 memory support, dual 10 Gigabit Ethernet, dedicated IPMI, and native support for up to 16 storage drives.

Just because you decide to create a motherboard in the mATX form factor as ASRock Rack did here, doesn’t mean that you can’t add plenty of features to it. It’s all about using the available space properly. You get a total of eight SATA3 ports that are powered by the Intel C612 chipset and on top of that you get another eight SAS3 12Gbps ports thanks to the added LSI 3008 RAID controller. If that isn’t enough for you already, then you have plenty of possibilities to expand that with two PCIe Gen3 x16 and one PCIe Gen3 x8 slot.

The networking is a little bit special on this board as it comes with dual 10 Gigabit Ethernet thanks to the Intel X540 network controller. These ports are still RJ45 and backward compatible with normal RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet components. The ASRock Rack EPC612D4U-2T8R also features a dedicated IPMI 2.0 connection based on a Realtek RTL8211E controller that allows you to manage all your servers from a single connection, locally or remotely.

Four DDR4 DIMM slots with quad-channel support allows you to use this motherboard for memory-hungry applications and while the QVR list only has up to 16GB modules so far, you should also be able to use 32GB modules in this motherboard and get up to 128GB memory to support Intel’s latest Xeon E5 processors.

Overall, with the high performance processor, storage, and network all together in a mATX motherboard, the EPC612D4U-2T8R is perfect for the compact storage solution such as mid-range servers, web 2.0 storage servers, and other warm data servers. It also fits snugly into ASRock Rack’s previous released storage solution 1U12L-C612D4U, and currently has EPC612D4U, EPC612D4U-2T, EPC612D4U-8R and EPC612D4U-2T8R for customers’ selection.

Specifications

The specifications are taken directly from the manufacturers homepage and are as such subject to change in possible future revisions.

Key Features

There is always something that sets each and every motherboard apart for the rest, sometimes it’s in features and other times it is the software. On this motherboard, it is most likely the Network and storage capabilities as well as the form factor.

  • UATX 9.6”x9.6”
  • Single Socket LGA 2011 R3 Intel Xeon processor E5-1600/2600 v3 series
  • Supports Quad channel DDR4 2133/1866 RDIMM/LR DIMM/NV DIMM, 4 slots
  • Support 8 SATA3 by C612 and by 8 SAS3 LSI 3008
  • Supports 2 x PCIe 3.0 x16, 1 x PCIe 3.0 x 8
  • ASPEED 2400. Integrated IPMI 2.0 with KVM and Dedicated LAN (RTL8211E)
  • Supports Intel Dual 10GLAN by Intel X540

Packaging and Accessories

A server motherboard doesn’t need to come in a fancy box with flashy images and slogans, and that is why we don’t get that here. The EPC612D4U-2T8R comes in a simple black box with a little graphic and basic keywords.

The rear of the box doesn’t provide much more information either, but it will tell you a little bit about ASRock Rack as a company.

I really like that ASRock Rack also packed the motherboard properly like seen below. It provides that extra bit of protection during the transport from factory to end-customer over a motherboard that’s just loosely packed into a cardboard box.

Besides the motherboard itself, you’ll find an IO Shield, driver disk, and manual along with six SATA3 cables inside the box. It is nice to see a printed manual come along as it will help a lot with the basic task of finding the headers and pins you need to set it up.

ASRock Z170 Extreme 7+ (LGA 1151) Motherboard Review

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging


Z170 and Skylake are here, finally! The true successor to Haswell and Haswell Refresh and the first 100% successful 14nm process. Broadwell works, but due to limitations and problems, it was an extremely late release and didn’t really wow us. Skylake is set to change that by bringing back true overclocking with a fully unlocked BLCK to really allow users to fine tune an overclock thanks to the 1MHz increments. Along with this, Z170 also brings huge connectivity through 20 PCIe 3.0 lanes and 10 USB 3.0 lanes; although some manufacturers may not utilise the full amount of lanes.

ASRock is a big player in the motherboard market, producing the renowned Extreme series across both Intel and AMD CPU’s. The Extreme series offers top quality components with great style and functionality. In recent years, the series has taken multiple different colour schemes from blue and white, black and silver and now the best (in my opinion), black and copper. Along with that, the simply huge arrowhead style heat sink covers are gone and replaced with a much more subtle design.

Today we have the top of the line Z170 Extreme 7+, although I would expect an Extreme 9 in the near future. Featuring all of the key features that ASRock motherboards have incorporated for many years such as Ultra M.2 and Purity Sound. Thanks to the new Z170 chipset, ASRock has gone above and beyond with the connectivity. Typically you see one M.2 port, however, ASRock added an extra two. This might not seem amazing, but when you consider the ultra fast Intel NVME SSD drives, adding three in RAID 0 would make for an incredibly fast storage solution; let’s find out how well it performs in today’s review.

Key Features

Manufacturers nowadays need to find innovative ways to stand out from the crowd, ASRock is no exception and has crammed a huge array of features into this motherboard.

  • USB 3.1
  • USB Type-C
  • Turbo M.2
  • Purity Sound 3
  • NVIDIA SLI
  • AMD Crossfire
  • Dual Intel LAN
  • USB 3.1 Front Panel
  • Digi Power
  • Super Alloy
    • XXL Aluminium allow heatsink
    • Premium 60A Power Choke
    • Dual stack MOSFET
    • 12k Platinum capactiors
    • Premium memory alloy choke

Packaging and Accessories

The box is very similar to the rest of the Extreme range; a strong outer case with a carry handle.

On this particular box, it puts a main focus on the Super Alloy features of the motherboard.

Inside the box is a conservative amount of accessories, driver disk, manual, I/O shield, rigid SLI bridge and 4x SATA 6Gb/s cables.

Along with those, ASRock is also bundling in an additional USB front panel connection interface, but not traditional USB 2.0 or even 3.0, but USB 3.1 in Type A and Type C formats. The cables below are what are needed to enable the fastest possible data transfers and plug into the SATA Express ports on the motherboard.

When you look at the front cover, it is relatively plain. Personally I would have mounted two PCBs on top of each other to give 2x of each port or even temperature monitoring LED’s.

There is so much room behind the panel, maybe you could use it for cable sorting?