Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force LGA 1150 “Z97-Chipset” Motherboard Review

ReviewHardware 5 months ago by
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Detailed Score

The GA-Z97X-SOC Force is an interesting board for overclockers and enthusiasts with all the overclocking and tuning options available near them.

Diehard PC Gamer and Hardware Enthusiast.

Pros Excellent Orange/Black Color Scheme
Several Overclocking Enhancements Over Z87
Spaced PCI-E Slot Layout For Multi-GPU Setups
UEFI Dual BIOS (Full HD Resolution Support)
SATA Express 10 GB/s Port
OC Panel Provides Easy On-The-Go Tuning
Excellent Ultra Durable Component Set
Amazing Value
Cons Only 2 SATA 6 Gbps Ports
Only 2-Way SLI Support
No M.2 PCIe Slot for NGFF SSDs
Presentation  10
Performance  9
Usability  8
Features  9
Value  9

Introduction

With a year gone since Intel launched their fourth generation Haswell processors, its time of the year when the chipzilla introduces their new platform. The original Haswell processors which were the first industry product to feature the 22nm process node launched in June of 2013 so we will probably be looking at the replacement now but Intel has a different strategy planned for this year and instead of releasing a completely new architecture or a die shrink, Intel will refresh their Haswell processors and launch two separate tiers of Haswell processors. The Haswell Refresh which are the locked series will be available in retail next month while the Devil’s Canyon which are targeted for overclocking will arrive a month after the first refresh series.

Since launch is just around the corner, Intel has also announced their latest 9-Series platform and just like last time, motherboard vendors have new products for launch which they are launching ahead of the official NDA deadline from Intel. Since no Haswell Refresh processors are currently available and due to the fact that the K-Series processors will only be available by June 2014, we will stick with the current flagship Haswell offering for our review today on the latest Z97 chipset powered motherboard. So let’s introduce and talk a bit about the manufacturer who has sent us one of their top 9-Series chipset based product for testing.

Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force LGA 1150 “Z97-Chipset” Motherboard Video Review

With over 20 million motherboard shipments over the last year, we are talking about the one and only, Gigabyte. Founded in 1986, Gigabyte has become the pioneer of the motherboard industry with a large lineup of products that not only include boards but All-In-Ones, Laptops, Tablets and Gaming Peripherals. As of 2013, the company matches ASUS as the vendor with most shipments of boards giving an idea of the company’s growth in the current year.

With the launch of Intel’s Haswell platform, Gigabyte launched three tiers of lineups for their motherboards - Gaming/Overclocking/Ultra Durable/Black Edition (BK). Each lineup is built for a specific range of consumers. With the 9-Series chipset, Gigabyte is expanding their motherboard line with new products, one of which will be detailed in this review.

Today, we will be taking a look at the GA-Z97X-SOC Force motherboard which is Gigabyte’s high-performance overclocking motherboard. Specifically, the motherboard offers better features and a much powerful power supply area to allow for better overclocks. But before we talk about the board itself, let’s take a look at the new chipset and socket which support the latest Haswell processors.

Intel LGA 1150 Socket

The Intel LGA 1150 was first introduced during the launch of Intel’s 8-Series platform (Haswell and Z87 Express chipset). As denoted by its name, the LGA 1150 has 5 less pins compared to the LGA 1155 socket which supports Ivy Bridge and Sandy Bridge processors.
Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC FORCE_LGA 1150 Socket

The LGA 1150 socket will be featured on the 9-Series chipset motherboards and will extend support to new CPUs which include Haswell Refresh, Devil’s Canyon (Haswell Refresh K-Series) and Broadwell. Broadwell, which is the codename for Intel’s next generation 14nm processor is planned for launch in 2015 for desktop PCs. The socket on 9-Series chipset boards will also feature support for all existing Haswell processors which will provide current user with an easy upgrade path over the new series.

Intel did one thing right with the new socket and that’s the socket positioning which allows LGA 1155 socket coolers and mounting brackets to remain compatible with the newer socket. So if you have a old LGA 1155 socket cooler that you wish to use with the new LGA 1150 socket? It could be done so, but do note that while the socket looks the same as LGA 1155 socket, the processors are incompatible due to different pin layout so you don’t want to try putting an Ivy Bridge or Sandy Bridge processor into the LGA 1150 socket otherwise it would damage the pins permanently.

Cooler Compatibility With LGA 1150 Socket

While Haswell processors ship with their own boxed coolers and cooler makers providing retention brackets for LGA 1150 compatibility, it should be noted that LGA 1150 socket is easily compatible with both reference LGA 1150 boxed coolers and custom products.

So if you’re upgrading from LGA 1155 to LGA 1150, you can easily equip your cooler on the latest socket from Intel without any sort of troubles.

Intel 9-Series Z97 Platform Control Hub (PCH)

Intel’s upcoming processors would be compatible with the 9-Series “” chipset fused on the LGA 1150 socketed motherboards. There are different tiers of the chips on the Haswell Refresh platform which include Z97 and H97. The motherboard we would be testing today is based on the Z97 PCH. The 9-Series chipset in a whole isn’t much different from 8-Series Lynx Point. The following chart mentions key differences between both platform control hubs:Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC FORCE_Z97 PCH

Item 8-Series “Panther Point” 9-Series “Lynx Point”
I/O Port flexibility Yes Yes
Total USB 3.0/2.0 Ports 14 USB Ports 14 USB Ports
USB 3.0 Capable Ports Upto 6 Upto 6
xHCI Ports All USB Ports by xCHI All USB Ports by xCHI
PCI Express Upto 8 PCIe 2.0 (5GT/s) Upto 8 PCI-e 2.0 (5GT/s)
PCIe M.2 Storage Support
Total SATA Ports 6 SATA 6 SATA
SATA 6 GB/s Capable Ports Upto 6 Upto 6
Legacy PCI No Legacy PCI for any SKU Legacy PCI on certain SKUs
Digital Display I/F Display moved to processor Display moved to processor
Analog Display I/F VGA VGA
SPI SFDP, Quad Read SFDP, Quad Read

The main feature of the Intel 9-Series chipset is support for Intel’s Haswell Refresh and Broadwell processors which means that the new Z97 and H97 will have higher longevity. Aside from that, there’s also PCIe M.2 slot storage support which is 67% faster than SATA Gen 3 (6 GB/s) and its speeds matches SATA Express which are rated at 10 GB/s. Various motherboards have also included M.2 Ultra and SATA Express ports which give user more accessibility. The Z97 chipset will remain as Intel’s high-end mainstream offering while the enthusiast platform will be updated with the X99 chipset in Q3 2014.

It should be noted that due to improvements in 4th and 5th generation core processor power efficiency, the requirements for the processor’s power supply have also been altered. Intel recommends that the users running the Haswell Refresh CPU platform check the list of tested PSUs for ones capable of supporting the latest Intel  Core processors. The list can be found at: http://www,intel.com/go/powersupplies/.From the filters at the top right of the page, set 12V2 Min Load 0A to “Yes” to see which PSUs have been found to support the processor’s new power requirements. To make use of the power supplies that meet the 12V2 Min Load 0A, you have to enable the “Lowest CPU Idle power setting”. This option is located under the power tab section and you must set the “Intel Dynamic Power technology” to custom in the primary power settings section in supplied UEFI BIOS on the motherboard.

Gigabyte SOC Super Overclock Products

Like i mentioned previously, the GA-Z97X-SOC falls in the GigabyteI’s overclock lineup which includes the SOC OC and SOC Force branding for the motherboards and SOC branding for the graphic cards lineup. Featuring top of the line components and built for overclockers in mind, the SOC lineup is prepared to handle the most mean overclock tricks you can throw at them

This guarantees that Gigabyte’s SOC products do what they are meant to do, overclock like a beast and offer the best stability possible because that’s the absolutely everything an overclocker would want out of a product that is built to overclock. Lastly, the Ultra Durable design guarantees lasting quality on the SOC products with premium design and stability.

Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force Motherboard

The Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force motherboard which we received is the top tier overclock motherboard. From the looks and the features it boasts, anyone could point out that it’s not built for the average consumer. The SOC design boasts several enhancements geared towards overclockers but enthusiasts who wish to get the best board to feed their performance needs should also look into the OC series from Gigabyte.Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force Z97 Motherboards

You can check out the features, unboxing, accessories and testing results below for the Gigabyte GA-Z97X -SOC Force Motherboard.

Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force Specifications

The Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force is feature-rich and delights overclockers with a variety of features and packages. All of the features have been provided in the following chart, do take a look before we head on to much more detailed overview of these features.

CPU
  • Supports 4th and 5th Gen Intel Core i7 / Core i5 / Core i3 / Pentium / Celeron processors for LGA 1150 socket
Chipset
  • Intel Z97 Chipset
Memory
  • Support four DDR3 DIMMs 1066/1333/1600/1866*/2133*/2400*/2667*/3000*(*OC) DRAM (32GB Max)
Onboard Graphics Integrated Graphics Processor:

  • 1 x DisplayPort, supporting a maximum resolution of 4096×2160
  • 1 x HDMI Port, supporting a maximum resolution of 4096×2160
  • 1 x DVI-D Port
Audio
  • Chipset integrated by Realtek ALC1150 (115dB SNR HD Audio)
LAN/Wireless LAN
  • Killer E2200 Gigabit LAN (10/100/1000 Mbit)
Expansion Slots
  • 3 x PCIe 3.0 x16 slots (x16 ;x8/x8 ;x8/x4/x4 ;x8/x4/x4/x4 Electrical)
  • 1 x PCIe 3.0 x16 slots
  • 1 x PCIe 2,0 x1 slots
  • 2 x PCI Legacy slots
Multi-Graphics Technology
  • Support for AMD CrossFire technology
  • Support for NVIDIA SLI technology
Storage Interface
  • 6 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
  • 1 x SATA Express 10Gb/s connectors
USB
  • Up to 4 USB 3.0/2.0 ports
  • Up to 4 USB 2.0/1.1 ports
  • 1 x USB 3.0/2.0 Internal Headers
  • 1 x USB 2.0/1.1 Internal Headers
  • 2 x USB 2.0/1.1 Ports Internal
Internal I/O Connectors
  • ATX 24-Pin power connector
  • 8-pin + 4-pin ATX 12V power connector
  • CPU x 1 / System x 7 FAN connectors
  • 1 x Clear CMOS jumper
  • 1 x Restart
  • 1 x Power Switch
  • 1 x Gear Button
  • 1 x BCLK UP
  • 1 x BCKL Down
  • 1 x CPU Ratio UP
  • 1 x CPU Ratio Down
  • 1 x Onboard Voltage Measurement Module
  • 2 x BIOS Switch
  • 1 x Direct to BIOS Switch
  • 1 x OC Trigger Switch
  • 1 x OC PCIE Switch
  • 1 x Clear Battery Button
  • 6 x Serial ATA 6Gb/s Connectors
  • 1 x USB 2.0 connectors
  • 1 x USB 3.0 connector
  • 1 x Serial port connector
  • 1 x Front Panel Audio connector
  • 1 x Front Panel connector
  • 1 x Chassis Intrusion connector
Back Panel Connectors
  • 1 x PS/2 keyboard/ mouse port
  • 1 x Coaxial S/PDIF-out port
  • 4 x USB 2.0 ports
  • 4 x USB 3.0 ports
  • 1 x 6 in 1 audio jack
  • 1 x HDMI port
  • 1 x DVI-D port
  • 1 x Display port
  • 1 x LAN port
BIOS
  • Gigabyte UEFI Dual BIOS
  • The motherboard provides a Desktop Management Interface(DMI)
Operating System Support for Microsoft Windows 8.1/8/7/Vista/XP
Support for Chromium OS
Support for Steam OS
Form Factor ATX Form Factor

Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force

Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force Features:

  • Supports 4th and 5th Gen Intel Core / Pentium / Celeron processors for LGA 1150 socket
  • Supports DDR3-3000(OC) Memory
  • USB 3.0 + SATA 6Gb/s
  • Durable Black Solid Capacitors
  • OC PEG (Extra power connector for enhanced PCIe stability)
  • 8+4 Pin CPU Power Connector
  • 15u Gold Plated LGA 1150 CPU Socket
  • IR Digital CPU Power Design
  • OC Touch Panel
  • Gaming Headphone Amplifier
  • Audio Noise Guard
  • OC Brace
  • Premium 4-Way CrossFire / 2-Way SLI
  • Multi-GPU: NVIDIA SLI & AMD CrossFire Support
  • Gigabyte Patented DualBIOS With LED Indicators
  • Front USB 3.0
  • SATA 3 Connectors
  • OC Connect (2 USB)
  • Clear Battery Button
  • SATA Express Connector (10 Gb/s)
  • Killer Gaming Network
  • Native 4K Resolution Support

Exclusive Gigabyte OC Features:

  • OC PCIe Swtich (Manually turn on or off each installed PCIe lane of the motherboard).
  • OC DIMM Switch (Manually turn on or off each channel of installed memory DIMM)
  • OC Brace (It allows extreme overclockers and system testers to safely install upto four graphics cards in an open case or test bed without risking PCIe slot damage)
  • OC Ignition (Maintains power to your motherboard and connected components while the system is shut down. This means that the system fans will continue to provide airflow in cold bug situations, while i-ram drive users will not lose installed data. It allows users to also test water cooling setups and allows case mod demonstrations without having to turn on the PC).
  • OC Tag (Load your customized settings at the touch of a button)
  • OC Turbo (One touch overclocking button automatically loads the most optimized Gigabyte overclocking configuration for your processor and memory)
  • OC Connect (Positions two USB connectors on the near side of the motherboard facing the overclocker. This makes it easier to save date, flash the BIOS or install software in open bench testing platforms.)
  • OC PEG (Adds Auxiliary power to the PCIe slots of your motherboard, improving system stability in extreme configurations.)
  • OC Gear BCLK Steppings
  • Power Button
  • 80 Port Debug Display
  • CPU Ratio +/- Buttons
  • BCKL Ration +/- Buttons
  • Restart Switch
  • Gigabyte Memory Safe (Reduces DDR3 module timing to eliminate memory comparability issues)
  • Direct To BIOS Switch (Enter BIOS menu instantly after reboot without hitting the ‘DEL’ button)
  • Gigabyte Settings Lock (Automatically remember your last successful settings, even after clearing CMOS)
  • Single BIOS Mode Switch (User can select which BIOS they want to use.)
  • Dual BIOS Switch (Enable or Disable Gigabyte DualBIOS)
  • OC Trigger Switch (Jump between low and extremely high frequencies in an instant).
  • Onboard Voltage Measurement Module
  • Clear CMOS (Clear CMOS settings without losing your pre-configured profiles)

Gigabyte SOC Ultra Durable Design

Gigabyte has featured their Ultra Durable design across their Z97 motherboards which make use of the industry leading PowIRstage controllers from International Rectifier. These 100% digital controllers offer enhanced precision in delivering power to the motherboard’s power hungry and energy sensitive components. The PowerIR stage ICs used on the Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force have the highest rating of 40A with lower losses, excellent thermal management and higher efficiency. The new DirectFET technology helps save motherboard space and less electrical leakage as compared to MCM packages (Multi-Chip Module).

The design also incorporates 10K durable black solid capacitors which are rated to perform at maximum efficiency for a guaranteed minimum of 10K hours. They feature ultra-low ESR and come in customized jet black color from Nippon Chemi-Con. The 3x (15u) gold plated CPU socket design delivers superior conductivity and signal transmission for better reliability and stability overtime.

Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force – Unboxing

Gigabyte ships the motherboard in a box shaped package with a distinctive orange and black color scheme which follows their OC tradition. There’s a picture of a Formula F1 car which represents that the board is built for die har enthusiasts who want to push the barrier of overclocking. Intel Z97 chipset and Core logos can also be spotted on the box.Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC FORCE_Box Front

The back of the box has several labels and marketing materials like the OC features we listed above in the article. Some basic features include support for NVIDIA SLI, AMD CrossFire, Killer E2200, HDMI and 4K Resolution support. Aside from that, there are tons of specifications which have already been detailed above so there’s no point in giving them another round-up. The motherboard is built for overclocking in mind hence the several tools listed which give users more accessibility while performing overclocks.Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC FORCE_Back

The front cover flips over to give a neat appearance of the board itself from the plastic cover. The other side cover features a shot of the Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force motherboard with LN2 cooling and covered in ice demonstrating that it was used to perform a wickedly insane overclock.Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC FORCE_Flip Cover

We will detail the accessories later, for now we take a look at the GA-Z97X-SOC Force which looks amazing and simplistic. We have the motherboard out of the box, now its time to take a closer look at it so head on to the following paragraph.Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC FORCE_Box Shot

Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force – A Closer Look

Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC FORCE_Motherboard

We first take a closer look at the board itself, being an ATX form factor motherboard that retains the orange and black color scheme from last generation motherboards. The board offers a neat design and the arrangement of the components is some of the best we have seen on Z97 motherboards.Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC FORCE_Heatsink

Moving onward, we can note that the Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force is supplied powered through an 8+4 Pin power configuration, in addition to the 24-Pin ATX connector. This regulates enough power to allow LN2 OC offering enhanced stability and the users to gain some impressive numbers on Intel processors.Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC FORCE_Power

The motherboards makes use of two large heatsinks, both featuring a combination of silver, orange and black colors which aesthetically good. Both heatsinks are bulky and used to cool the VRMs and PCH. The top heatsink has the Ultra Durable logo while the bottom PCH heatsink comes with a Gigabyte logo.Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC FORCE_PWM

Beneath the top heatsink is an 8-Phase PWM supply featuring an Ultra Durable design which includes All Digital power on CPU and memory. Gigabyte makes use of the PowIRstage controllers from International Rectifier that are 100% digital controllers delivering precise power to motherboard’s components. We can also see an assortment of several 10K durable black solid state capacitors and other high-quality power implementations which supply power to the CPU socket for overclocking.Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC FORCE_OC

The Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force has four DDR3 DIMM slots which support 1066/ 1333/ 1600/ 1866/ 2133/ 2400/ 2667/ 3000/ 3300 MHz(OC) DRAM with capacities of upto 32 GB. We can also find voltage adjustment points and the OC panel near the DIMMs.
Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC FORCE_Storage

Near the Z97 PCH are 2 SATA ports, all 2 of which are SATA III ports offered by the Z97 chipset. There’s also a USB 3.0 header connector near to the slots. front connectors switches and DualBIOS near the PCH heatsink. Gigabyte has also include two easy access USB 3.0 ports near the SATA ports which allow easy access while debugging and overclocking.Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC FORCE_PCH Heatsink

Gigabyte has went with SATA Express on their motherboard with two SATA Express ports delivering transfer speeds of 10 GB/s by taking advantage of both the SATA and PCI-Express bus. This translates into better SSD performance for next generation NAND Flash products.Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC FORCE_PCIE

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The expansion slots consists of three PCI-e 3.0 x16 slots, one PCI-e 2.0 x16 slot (x16 ;x8/x8 ;x8/x4/x4 ;x8/x4/x4/x4 Electrical), one PCI-e x1 slots and two legacy PCI slots.
Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC FORCE_PCIE Side

The motherboard features an extra 6-Pin PEG connector that supplies additional power to the mainboard to stabilize the PCI-e lanes when loaded with expansion cards such as graphics cards and PCI-e based storage.Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC FORCE_Audio

For audio, Gigabyte went with the Realtek ALC 1150 Codec (115dB SNR HD Audio) with a Built-In Read Audio Amplifier. The audio tech is completely isolated from the rest of the board which is indicated by an orange line that runs through the board. This features the Audio Noise guard which protects it against EMI interference.

Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force -OC Panel

Being an overclock oriented board, the motherboard comes with several tools and switches offering ease of management, trouble shooting and tuning options for overclockers and enthusiasts.Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC FORCE_OC Panel

The best part is that rather than scattering all of these tools across the board, Gigabyte offers them on a single space of the PCB termed as the OC Panel. We had already detailed the basic tools in the specifications above but we are going to list them again so you can get details easily. Following are all the features offered through the OC Panel:

  • Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC FORCE_DDR3 DIMMSOC PCIe Swtich (Manually turn on or off each installed PCIe lane of the motherboard).
  • OC DIMM Switch (Manually turn on or off each channel of installed memory DIMM)
  • OC Brace (It allows extreme overclockers and system testers to safely install upto four graphics cards in an open case or test bed without risking PCIe slot damage)
  • OC Ignition (Maintains power to your motherboard and connected components while the system is shut down. This means that the system fans will continue to provide airflow in cold bug situations, while i-ram drive users will not lose installed data. It allows users to also test water cooling setups and allows case mod demonstrations without having to turn on the PC).
  • OC Tag (Load your customized settings at the touch of a button)
  • OC Turbo (One touch overclocking button automatically loads the most optimized Gigabyte overclocking configuration for your processor and memory)
  • OC Connect (Positions two USB connectors on the near side of the motherboard facing the overclocker. This makes it easier to save date, flash the BIOS or install software in open bench testing platforms.)
  • OC PEG (Adds Auxiliary power to the PCIe slots of your motherboard, improving system stability in extreme configurations.)Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC FORCE_OC
  • OC Gear BCLK Steppings
  • Power Button
  • 80 Port Debug Display
  • CPU Ratio +/- Buttons
  • BCKL Ration +/- Buttons
  • Restart Switch
  • Gigabyte Memory Safe (Reduces DDR3 module timing to eliminate memory comparability issues)
  • Direct To BIOS Switch (Enter BIOS menu instantly after reboot without hitting the ‘DEL’ button)
  • Gigabyte Settings Lock (Automatically remember your last successful settings, even after clearing CMOS)
  • Single BIOS Mode Switch (User can select which BIOS they want to use.)
  • Dual BIOS Switch (Enable or Disable Gigabyte DualBIOS)
  • OC Trigger Switch (Jump between low and extremely high frequencies in an instant).
  • Onboard Voltage Measurement Module
  • Clear CMOS (Clear CMOS settings without losing your pre-configured profiles)

Gigabyte Tech and OC Panel Slides:

Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC I/O Panel:Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC FORCE_IO

Being an overclocking board, you won’t find a tons of features such as the ones that are bundled on Gaming boards but the Z97X SOC comes with the most generally used ports that include four USB 3.0 (Blue colored) alongwith four USB 2.0 ports (Black colored). There’s HDMI, VGA, DVI-D and a full length Display connector providing display connectivity using Intel’s integrated graphics. An SPDIF port, PS/2 port and a Killer E2200 powered LAN port can also be found along with the 6 channel audio jack that is powered by the ALC 1150 audiophilc code. To sum it up, you get the following I/O ports on the Z97X SOC Force:

  • 4 x USB 3.0 Ports (Blue Colored)
  • 4 x USB 2.0 Ports (Black Colored)
  • 1 x DVI-D
  • 1 x VGA
  • 1 x HDMI
  • 1 x Display port
  • 1 x SPDIF
  • 1 x PS/2 Port
  • 1 x LAN Port (Killer E2200 LAN)
  • 1 x 6-Channel Audio Jack (ALC 1150)

Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force Gallery:

Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force – Accessories

The Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force is shipped with the usual accessories which includes a Driver DVD, Driver’s Manual, Setup Guide book, four SATA connectors, SLI Bridge, CrossFire Bridge, Gigabyte Ultra Durable Sticker, Gigabyte OC Brace panel and Gigabyte voltage check connectors.

  •  1 x Drivers Manual
  • 1 x Setup Guide
  • 1 x OC Brace Panel
  • 4 x SATA III Black Cables
  • 1 x CrossFire Bridge
  • 1 x SLI Bridge
  • 1 x Driver DVD
  • 12 x Gigabyte Voltage Check Connectors
  • 1 x Gigabyte Ultra Durable Sticker

Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC FORCE_Accessories

Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force – Utilities

Gigabyte Software AppsEach motherboard manufacturer develops a wide range of exclusive utilities and software for their latest hardware and products these days. Gigabyte bundles their GA-Z97X-SOC Force motherboard with some new software utilities allowing easier management and ease of control over the various features on the motherboard. Following Utilities can be found on the installation disk:

  • Gigabyte App Center
  • Gigabyte EasyTune Utility
  • Gigabyte System Information Viewer
  • Gigabyte Cloud Station
  • Gigabyte Game Controller
  • Gigabyte Smart Switch
  • Gigabyte Chromium OS

Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force – BIOS

Gigabyte’s latest UEFI BIOS is well crafted and suits perfectly with the GA-Z97X-SOC Force overclocking board. The Real-Time Overclocking UEFI BIOS features the black and orange color scheme like the board and runs at full-HD resolution of 1920 x 1080P offering a seamless experience providing enhanced set of details for users to tune and look at while overclocking the motherboard. Gigabyte kept their previous Z87 series BIOS intact and they have re-used it in the Z97 series since it still looks fresh and offers a lot of tools for configuration and settings.

Gigabyte UEFI BIOS

The main panel of the BIOS has  CPU and Memory stats listed on the left side that include information such as frequencies, voltages, temperatures, fan speeds and DRAM timings. The System status bar on the right indicates +3.3V, +5V and +12V supplies along with system and PCH temperatures. The top section of the BIOS shows real-time panels indicating voltage, fan speed and temperatures. Rest of the stuff is centered around the BIOS panel with overclocking options and several tools which can be seen below:

Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force BIOS Shot

Test Setup

Processor
  •  Intel Core i7-4770K
  • Intel Core i7-3770K
Motherboard:
  • Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC w/ Core i7-4770K
  • MSI Z87 MPOWER MAX w/ Core i7-4770K
  • Intel DZ87KLT-75K w/ Core i7-4770K
  • ASRock Z77 Extreme 6 w/ Core i7-3770K
Power Supply: Xigmatek NRP-MC1002 1000 Watt
Hard Disk: Kingston HyperX 3K 90 GB (OS)
Seagate Barracuda 500GB 7200.12
Memory: 4 x 4 GB Kingston HyperX 2400 MHz
10th Anniversary Edition Memory Kit
Case: Cooler Master HAF 932
Video Cards: EVGA GeForce GTX 770 ACX
Cooling Solutions: Phantek PH-TC14PE Triple Fan
OS: Windows 8 Ultimate 64-bit

Overclocking With Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force

We pushed our Core i7-4770K a little over 100 MHz then our previous highest clock obtained on the Z87 MPower Max which did 4.7 GHz. With the Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force, we were able to push the Core i7-4770K to 4.8 GHz which is a good clock speed for the flagship Haswell chip.

We pushed the multiplier to x48 with a BCLK of 100 MHz at 1.38V max voltage and achieved an overclocked of 4.8 GHz which is pretty good for a Haswell chip considering how they overclocked. We also enabled XMP 1.3 profile for our memory clocking it to 2400 MHz at 1.65V on all four DDR3 modules. You can find the CPU-z screenshot below

*(The overclock was stressed for 1 hour which is enough to tell whether it was stable or not for testing).Core-i7-4770K-4.8-GHz

Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force – BENCHMARKS

X264 HD Encode BenchmarkGA-Z97X-SOC Force_x264 HD

This benchmark measures the encoding performance of the processor. It offers a standardized benchmark as the clip as well as the encoder used is uniform.

Cinebench R11.5GA-Z97X-SOC Force_CineBench R11.5

Cinebench is based on Maxon’s Cinema 4D. It is used to compare graphics as well as processor performance. We are using the CPU performance numbers for our comparison.

PCMark 7GA-Z97X-SOC Force_PCMark7

PCMark 7 is a complete PC benchmarking solution for Windows 7 and Windows 8. It includes 7 tests combining more than 25 individual workloads covering storage, computation, image and video manipulation, web browsing and gaming. Specifically designed for the full range of PC hardware from netbooks and tablets to notebooks and desktops, PCMark 7 offers complete Windows PC performance testing for home and business use.

POV-RayGA-Z97X-SOC Force_POVRay

The POV-Ray package includes detailed instructions on using the ray-tracer and creating scenes. Many stunning scenes are included with POV-Ray so you can start creating images immediately when you get the package.

3DMark Vantage CPU PerformanceGA-Z97X-SOC Force_3DMark CPU

3DMark Vantage is a DirectX 10 video card benchmark test for Windows that is designed to measure your PC’s gaming performance. While the overall benchmark is great, the utility also provides a good indication of the CPU performance.

WinRarGA-Z97X-SOC Force_Winrar

WinRAR is a powerful archive manager. It can backup your data and reduce the size of email attachments, decompress RAR, ZIP and other files downloaded from Internet and create new archives in RAR and ZIP file format.

SuperPIGA-Z97X-SOC Force_SuperPI

Super PI is used by many overclockers to test the performance and stability of their computers. In the overclocking community, the standard program provides a benchmark for enthusiasts to compare “world record” pi calculation times and demonstrate their overclocking abilities. The program can also be used to test the stability of a certain overclock speed.

Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force – Gaming Performance

Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force – Battlefield 4 Performance

Battlefield 4 is the latest installment in the Battlefield franchise. Developed by DICE and published by EA, Battlefield 4 takes multiplayer FPS to the next level unleashing new levels of destruction and the game changing LEVOLUTION. Battlefield 4 is a true next generation experience on the PC rendered with the power of Frostbite 3 which features stunning DirectX 11.1 effects and Tessellation which only a few games dare to match. In addition to the engine, Battlefield 4 would also be the first to support AMD’s latest Mantle API which will leverage the game performance on AMD hardware.GA-Z97X-SOC Force_Battlefield 4

Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force – Elder Scrolls Skyrim Performance

Bethesda released their Elder Scrolls Skyrim in 2011 and the hype level shattered the roofs. The game was met with wide success and is built with the latest Creation engine which meant a farewell to the much older game bryo engine from Bethesda. The game has one of the most biggest and well crafted world ever created. The game requires a good CPU for stable performance, most GPUs can handle the game well. It wasn’t until users started pouring in their custom content and mods for the PC version such as high-resolution textures and more which required GPUs with higher VRAM for adequate performance. Skyrim is known as one of the reasons by PC gamers for GPUs with higher VRAM.GA-Z97X-SOC Force_Skyrim

Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force – CRYSIS 3 Performance

Crysis franchise is the crown jewel for the PC gamers. Even after going multi-plat, the game is considered to be the most brilliant and gorgeous game ever brilliant, a visual marvel in short. The third and most probably the last title in the Crysis trilogy blends in the most deepest story line of the franchise with graphics that would make any other game cry in shame. Powering the game is the beastly and much user friendly CryEngine 3 that adopts all the features of DirectX 11 API. Simply speaking, the game demands a high performance graphics card than a high performance CPU to play well on higher settings.

GA-Z97X-SOC Force_Crysis 3

Power Consumption And Thermals

The Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force is built for overclocking though higher overclocks mean higher power consumption for which high quality PSU’s are recommended. In the chart below, you can see that the Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force consumes wattage similar to MSI’s Z87 board at default settings but as soon as we overclock, we can see that the board demands more power. In the case of LN2 or higher voltage overclocking, the Z97 SOC Force comes with another 8-Pin+4-Pin power connector configuration which means that it would require a beefy power supply to meet the overclockers demands.

On the temperature side, we see that the Haswell Core i7-4770K has temperatures similar to the Core i7-3770K at default settings but as soon as its overclocked, the CPU pushed around the 70-80C even with the top-end air cooler available in the market (Phantek’s PH-TC14 PE). This is due to the low quality TIM used beneath the heat spreader rather than flux less solder. This is a similar issue as faced on Ivy Bridge so expect higher temperatures when overclocking. A water cooling setup is recommended for 24/7 overclocked usage.

Intel seems to finally be fixing this issue once and for all with their upcoming Haswell Refresh processors. The K-Series Haswell Refresh processors in specific are codenamed Devil’s Canyon which would offer used an improved design that incorporates updated packaging materials, improved TIM (Thermal Interface) and processors that are specifically re-engineered for enhanced performance and overclocking. So many users who have been waiting for Intel to update their TIM design since Ivy Bridge can now check out the new processors for their overclocking needs.

Conclusion

The GA-Z97X-SOC Force from Gigabyte costs $209.99 US which is a great price for those looking to get a massive overclocking feature set in a single product. Starting off with the design, the GA-Z97X-SOC Force takes the Ultra Durable design and combines it with overclocking tools of the Super Overclock series to deliver a tremendously power board design that provides users unparalleled amount of overclocking performance. Features such as the OC Panel which has a ton of tuning and configuration options and on the go DIY OC kits make this board a perfect companion for overclockers and enthusiasts alike. Gigabyte also sticks loyal to their classy orange and black color scheme which looks amazing to this day and we are expecting a similar color scheme on the high performance X99 chipset when it becomes available in a couple of months.

So it all comes down to the question that who is the 9-Series platform aimed for? The Z87 chipset launched last year supports the entire Haswell and Haswell Refresh processors so anyone who has already purchase the last generation platform won’t get as many gains from 9-Series as compared to users upgrading from Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge. That said, the 9-Series platform does have some new features such as M.2 PCIe interface and the uber fast SATA Express port which is capable of delivering transfer speeds of 10 GB/s. For storage enthusiasts, features like these do matter a lot and people aiming for RAID configurations and PCIe powered SSD drives will see these products quite interesting. Aside from that, the most interesting thing regarding 9-Series is that it’ll not only support Haswell and Haswell Refresh but also feature support for Devil’s Canyon and Broadwell which gives users an easy upgrade path instead of changing their entire PC year over year. A user with the current Haswell processor can purchase a Z97 motherboard and upgrade to Broadwell easily once it launches next year.

The UEFI BIOS and addons on the GA-Z97X-SOC Force motherboard are amazing and its design is simple yet powerful. To sum it up, the GA-Z97X-SOC Force is an interesting board for overclockers and enthusiasts with all the overclocking and tuning options available near them.

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