The Gigabyte Z170X-Ultra Gaming is a mid-range socket LGA1151 motherboard based on the Intel Z170 chipset, supporting the sixth generation Core i processors. It brings LED illumination, three PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots, six SATA-600 ports (allowing two SATA Express connections), U.2 port for high-performance SSDs, six USB 3.0 ports, and two USB 3.1 ports, one of them Type C. Let’s take a good look at it!
The Z170 chipset is the first model to be launch on the new 100-series, and it is also the higher-end chipset on this family. The main differences between the Z170 and its predecessor, the Z97, are the DMI 3.0 bus to communicate with the processor (it offers twice the bandwidth, that goes from 2 GB/s per direction to 4 GB/s), the presence of ten USB 3.0 ports (against six on the Z97), and the support to 20 PCI Express 2.0 lanes controlled by the chipset (Z97 has only eight PCI Express 2.0 lanes.)
Like the Z97, the Z170 supports six SATA-600 ports, Smart Response (installing an SSD as a cache for the main hard drive), Smart Connect (allowing the computer to receive emails and refresh webpages while in sleep mode), and Rapid Start (faster boot times) technologies.
You can see the Gigabyte Z170X-Ultra Gaming motherboard in Figure 1. It uses the ATX form factor, measuring 12” x 9.6” (305 x 244 mm).
Figure 1: Gigabyte Z170X-Ultra Gaming motherboard
The Gigabyte Z170X-Ultra Gaming comes with three PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots and three PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots. There are also one M.2 slot supporting both PCI Express 3.0 x4 and SATA-600.
The two first PCI Express x16 slots work on x16/x0 and x8/x8 configurations, which means the first slot work at x16 if the second one is unused, but it it is occupied, they will both work at x8. The third PCI Express 3.0 x16 slot works always at x4 speed.
The motherboard supports CrossFire and SLI with two video cards.
The PCI Express x16 slots are covered by stainless steel shields, that work as a shield against interference, and also improving mechanical strength of each slot.
Figure 2: slots
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Intel socket LGA1151 CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor, not the chipset, that defines what memory technologies you can have and the maximum amount of memory that is possible. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.
These CPUs are compatible with both DDR3L (up to 1,600 MHz) and DDR4 (up to 2,133 MHz) memory. So, it is the motherboard that defines which memory type (DDR3 or DDR4) can be installed, since DDR4 slots are physically different from the DDR3 slots. According to Gigabyte, the Z170X-Ultra Gaming supports DDR4 memories up to 3,866 MHz.
The Gigabyte Z170X-Ultra Gaming has four memory sockets. You can install up to 64 GiB with this motherboard if you use four 16 GiB modules.
In order to enable the dual-channel mode, you must install two or four memory modules. When installing two memory modules, use the first and third memory slots to enable dual-channel mode.
There are red LEDs between the memory slots, covered by acrylic diffusors, so the memory modules are illuminated when the motherboard is powered on.
Figure 3: memory sockets; install two or four modules for the best performance
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The Intel Z170 chipset is a single-chip solution, which is also known as a PCH (Platform Controller Hub). This chip has six SATA-600 ports, supporting RAID (0, 1, 10, and 5). The motherboard comes with the six ports, four of them installed on the motherboard edge and rotated 90°, so the installation of video cards will not block them.
Notice that four SATA-600 ports are grouped in pairs, and each pair can be used as a SATA Express port.
There is also a U.2 connector (formerly known as SFF-8639), for installing high-performance SSDs that use this connector.
Figure 4: the six SATA-600 ports and the U.2 connector
The Intel Z170 chipset supports four USB 2.0 ports and ten USB 3.0 ports. The Gigabyte Z170X-Ultra Gaming offers six USB 2.0 ports, two on the rear panel and four available through two headers located on the motherboard. There are six USB 3.0 ports, four on the rear panel and two available through a header. There are also two USB 3.1 ports, one Type A and one Type C, controlled by an Intel “Alpine Ridge” DSL6540 chip.
The Gigabyte Z170X-Ultra Gaming does not support FireWire or Thunderbolt ports.
The portrayed motherboard comes with independent analog audio outputs, meaning that you won’t need to use the line in or mic in jacks when connecting an six-channel analog speaker set, and an optical and coaxial SPDIF output. You also can route digital audio to your video card to have digital audio in its HDMI connector using the available “SPDIF_O” header, in the case your video card do not have the HDMI audio functionality.
Figure 5 shows the audio section of the motherboard.
Figure 5: audio section
The portrayed motherboard has one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by an Intel I219V chip.
In Figure 6, you can see the motherboard rear panel with two USB 2.0 ports, a shared PS/2 keyboard/mouse connector, one USB 3.1 Type C port, one USB 3.1 Type A port (red), Mini DisplayPort input, Mini DisplayPort output, HDMI output, four USB 3.0 ports, one Gigabit Ethernet port, optical SPDIF output, and the analog audio jacks.
Figure 6: motherboard rear panel
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The Z170X-Ultra Gaming has two BIOS chips. Besides that, it has red LED lights all over the motherboard, being this feature called “Ambient surround LED” by Gigabyte.
In Figure 7, you can see the accessories that come with the Gigabyte Z170X-Ultra Gaming.
Figure 7: accessories
[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the Gigabyte Z170X-Ultra Gaming has seven phases for the CPU. The voltage regulator uses an Intersil ISL95856 controller chip (digital design). Each phase uses two or three MOSFETs, but we were not able to identify the models.
Figure 8: voltage regulator circuit
The Gigabyte Z170X-Ultra Gaming uses high-end “black” solid capacitors (a.k.a. 10K capacitors) and all coils on this motherboard are ferrite ones.
If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on the subject.
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The main specifications for the Gigabyte Z170X-Ultra Gaming include:
- Socket: LGA1150
- Chipset: Intel Z170
- Super I/O: ITE IT8628E
- Parallel ATA: none
- Serial ATA: six SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset (RAID 0, 1, 10, and 5) supporting two SATA Express connector; one U.2 port
- External SATA: none
- USB 2.0: six USB 2.0 ports, two at the rear panel and four available through two headers on the motherboard
- USB 3.0: six USB 3.0 ports, four on the motherboard rear panel and two available through a header, controlled by the chipset
- USB 3.1: two USB 3.1 ports, one Type A and one Type C, controlled by an Intel DSL6540 chip
- FireWire (IEEE 1394): none
- Thunderbolt: none
- On-board video: controlled by the CPU; one Mini DisplayPort and one HDMI connectors
- On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC892 codec (eight channels, 24-bit resolution, up to 192 KHz sampling rate for both the inputs and outputs, 90 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the inputs and 97 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs), on-board coaxial and optical SPDIF connectors
- On-board LAN: one Gigabit Ethernet ports, controlled by an Intel I219V chip
- Buzzer: no
- Infrared interface: no
- Power supply required: EPS12V
- Slots: two PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots (working at x16/x0 or x8/x8), one PCI Express 3.0 x16 slot (working at x4), three PCI Express 3.0 x1 slots, and one M.2 slot compatible with PCI Express 3.0 x4 and SATA-600 SSDs
- Memory: four DDR4-DIMM sockets (up to DDR3-3866, 64 GiB maximum)
- Fan connectors: two four-pin connector for the CPU cooler, and three four-pin connector for auxiliary fans
- Extra features: two BIOS chips, red LED lights
- Number of CDs/DVDs provided: one
- Programs included: motherboard utilities and drivers
- More Information: https://www.gigabyte.com
- Average Price in the U.S.*: USD 170.00
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.
The Gigabyte Z170X-Ultra Gaming is a tough motherboard, which has as highlight (no pun intended) the “Ambient surround LED” red illumination. However, even if its name suggests the opposite, it is simpler (and less expensive) than the Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 7, because it lacks high-end audio and network interfaces, and brings a simpler voltage regulator circuitry.
Even so, it is a fairly complete motherboard, targeted to the user that is building a gamer computer or workstation, using a sixth generation (“Skylake”) Core i3, Core i5, or Core i7 CPU, up to two video cards, and that do not want to spend a small fortune on a high-end motherboard.
So, if you are building a desktop computer based on a sixth generation Intel Core i CPU into a case with transparent window, and like light inside the case, the Gigabyte Z170X-Ultra Gaming is an excellent choice.