Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3 LGA 1150 “Z97-Chipset” Motherboard Review

Hassan Mujtaba
Posted Jul 10, 2014
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Introduction

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 four 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 entry level Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3 motherboard which is part of the G1 Gaming lineup which is aimed towards the gaming and mainstream audience. You will find some useful features like Killer LAN and Audio chipsets on this board due to its line positioning but comes at a low cost of $132.99 US which is the affordable range for any budget user. 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.

Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3 LGA 1150 “Z97-Chipset” Motherboard Video Review

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 Z97X-Gaming 3_Socket_LGA 1150

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 trouble.

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 Z97X-Gaming 3_PCH_Z97

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 G1 Gaming Series Products

Gigabyte initiated their G1 Gaming series brand with the arrival of the Z68 chipset during the Sandy Bridge generation of processors. The G1 Gaming brand which initially featured three motherboards; Killer/Sniper/Guerrilla has now expanded into a wider variety with the introduction of Z97 chipset.

Currently, Gigabyte is offering 10 products based on the G1 Gaming design scheme which include the high-end Black Edition and mainstream Gaming motherboards. The main feature that distinct this lineup from the rest of the series is that it features components that are optimized for gamers such as Bigfoot’s Killer E2200 LAN chip, Creative Audio X-Fi MB3 chipset with AMP-UP Audio and on-board amplifier (ALC1150 Codec) and the Ultra Durable 5 design scheme. You can find the entire Gigabyte G1 Gaming lineup at –  http://www.gigabyte.com/products/list.aspx?s=42&p=344&v=2

Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3 Motherboard

The Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3 motherboard which we received is the entry level G1 Gaming motherboard. From the looks and the features it boasts, it can be pointed out that GIgabyte had to tone down the design scheme to offer a cost effective motherboard while retaining the most basic features of their G1 Series products. The G1 Gaming 3 is geared towards gamers who want the best stability and useful features like faster LAN and better audio at a low-cost which can support the latest processors and adds in the ability to overclock on a Z97 chipset optimized motherboard.

You can check out the features, unboxing, accessories and testing results below for the Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3 Motherboard.

Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3 Specifications

The Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3 is fully optimized for gamers and mainstream users as seen from its design. 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
  1. Support for Intel Core i7 processors/Intel Core i5 processors/ Intel Core i3 processors/Intel Pentium processors/Intel Celeron processors in the LGA1150 package
  2. L3 cache varies with CPU

(Please refer “CPU Support List” for more information.)

Chipset
  1. Intel Z97 Express Chipset
Memory
  1. 4 x DDR3 DIMM sockets supporting up to 32 GB of system memory
    * Due to a Windows 32-bit operating system limitation, when more than 4 GB of physical memory is installed, the actual memory size displayed will be less than the size of the physical memory installed.
  2. Dual channel memory architecture
  3. Support for DDR3 3200(O.C.) / 3100(O.C.) / 3000(O.C.) / 2933(O.C.) / 2800(O.C.) / 2666(O.C.) / 2600(O.C.) / 2500(O.C.) / 2400(O.C.) / 2200(O.C.) / 2133(O.C.) / 2000(O.C.) / 1866(O.C.) / 1800(O.C.) / 1600 / 1333 MHz memory modules
  4. Support for non-ECC memory modules
  5. Support for Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) memory modules

(Please refer “Memory Support List” for more information.)

Onboard Graphics Integrated Graphics Processor:

  1. 1 x D-Sub port, supporting a maximum resolution of 1920×1200@60Hz
  2. 1 x DVI-D port, supporting a maximum resolution of 1920×1200@60Hz
    * The DVI-D port does not support D-Sub connection by adapter.
  3. 1 x HDMI port, supporting a maximum resolution of 4096×2160@24Hz or 2560×1600@60Hz
    * Support for HDMI 1.4a version.
  4. Support for up to 3 displays at the same time
  5. Maximum shared memory of 512MB
Audio
  1. Realtek ALC1150 codec
  2. Support for Sound Blaster X-Fi MB3
  3. High Definition Audio
  4. 2/4/5.1/7.1-channel
  5. Support for S/PDIF Out
LAN
  1. Qualcomm Atheros Killer E2201 LAN chip (10/100/1000 Mbit)
Expansion Slots
  1. 1 x PCI Express x16 slot, running at x16 (PCIEX16)
    * For optimum performance, if only one PCI Express graphics card is to be installed, be sure to install it in the PCIEX16 slot.
  1. 1 x PCI Express x16 slot, running at x8 (PCIEX8)
    * The PCIEX8 slot shares bandwidth with the PCIEX16 slot. When the PCIEX8 slot is populated, the PCIEX16 slot will operate at up to x8 mode. (The PCIEX16 and PCIEX8 slots conform to PCI Express 3.0 standard.)
  1. 1 x PCI Express x16 slot, running at x4 (PCIEX4)
    * The PCIEX4 slot shares bandwidth with all PCI Express x1 slots. All PCI Express x1 slots will become unavailable when a PCIe x4 expansion card is installed.
    * When installing a x8 or above card in the PCIEX4 slot, make sure to set PCIE Slot Configuration (PCH) in BIOS Setup to x4. (Refer to Chapter 2, “BIOS Setup,” “Peripherals,” for more information.)
  1. 3 x PCI Express x1 slots
    (The PCIEX4 and PCI Express x1 slots conform to PCI Express 2.0 standard.)
  1. 1 x PCI slot
Multi-Graphics Technology
  1. Support for 3-Way/2-Way AMD CrossFire™and 2-Way NVIDIA® SLI™ Technology
Storage Interface Chipset:

  1. 1 x M.2 PCIe connector
    (Socket 3, M key, type 2242/2260/2280 SATA & PCIe SSD support)
  2. 1 x SATA Express connector
  3. 6 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors (SATA3 0~5)
    (M.2, SATA Express, and SATA3 4/5 connectors can only be used one at a time. The SATA3 4/5 connectors will become unavailable when an M.2 SSD is installed.)
  4. Support for RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, and RAID 10
USB Chipset:

  1. 6 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports (4 ports on the back panel, 2 ports available through the internal USB header)
  2. 8 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports (4 ports on the back panel, 4 ports available through the internal USB headers)
Internal I/O Connectors
  1. 1 x 24-pin ATX main power connector
  2. 1 x 8-pin ATX 12V power connector
  3. 1 x M.2 PCIe connector
  4. 1 x SATA Express connector
  5. 6 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
  6. 1 x CPU fan header
  7. 1 x water cooling fan header (CPU_OPT)
  8. 3 x system fan headers
  9. 1 x front panel header
  10. 1 x front panel audio header
  11. 1 x S/PDIF Out header
  12. 1 x USB 3.0/2.0 header
  13. 2 x USB 2.0/1.1 headers
  14. 1 x serial port header
  15. 1 x Clear CMOS jumper
  16. 1 x Trusted Platform Module (TPM) header
Back Panel Connectors
  1. 1 x PS/2 keyboard port
  2. 1 x PS/2 mouse port
  3. 1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector
  4. 1 x D-Sub port
  5. 1 x DVI-D port
  6. 1 x HDMI port
  7. 4 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports
  8. 4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
  9. 1 x RJ-45 port
  10. 5 x audio jacks (Center/Subwoofer Speaker Out, Rear Speaker Out, Line In, Line Out, Mic In)
I/O Controller
  1. iTE I/O Controller Chip
H/W Monitoring
  1. System voltage detection
  2. CPU/System/Chipset temperature detection
  3. CPU/CPU OPT/System fan speed detection
  4. CPU/System overheating warning
  5. CPU/CPU OPT/System fan fail warning
  6. CPU/CPU OPT/System fan speed control
    * Whether the fan speed control function is supported will depend on the cooler you install.
BIOS
  1. 2 x 64 Mbit flash
  2. Use of licensed AMI UEFI BIOS
  3. Support for DualBIOS
  4. PnP 1.0a, DMI 2.7, WfM 2.0, SM BIOS 2.7, ACPI 5.0
Unique Features
  1. Support for APP Center
    * Available applications in APP Center may differ by motherboard model. Supported functions of each application may also differ depending on motherboard specifications.
    @BIOS
    EasyTune
    EZ Setup
    Fast Boot
    Game Controller
    ON/OFF Charge
    Smart TimeLock
    Smart Recovery 2
    System Information Viewer
    USB Blocker
  2. Support for Q-Flash
  3. Support for Smart Switch
  4. Support for Xpress Install
Bundle Software
  1. Norton Internet Security (OEM version)
  2. Intel Rapid Start Technology
  3. Intel Smart Connect Technology
  4. Intel Smart Response Technology
Operating System
  1. Support for Windows 8.1/8/7
Form Factor
  1. ATX Form Factor; 30.5cm x 22.5cm
Remark
  1. Due to different Linux support condition provided by chipset vendors, please download Linux driver from chipset vendors’ website or 3rd party website.
  2. Most hardware/software vendors may no longer offer drivers to support Win9X/ME/2000/XP. If drivers are available from the vendors, we will update them on the GIGABYTE website.

Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3 Features:

  • Supports 4 and 5 Generation Intel Core processors
  • Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi MB3 gaming audio suite
  • Audio Noise Guard with LED path lighting
  • Realtek ALC1150 115dB SNR HD Audio with Built-in rear audio amplifier
  • Killer E2200 gaming networking platform
  • Extreme multi graphics support
  • SATA Express support for 10 Gb/s data transfer
  • M.2 for SSDs drives with up to 10 Gb/s data transfer
  • Long lifespan Durable Solid caps
  • APP Center including EasyTune and Cloud Station™ utilities
  • GIGABYTE UEFI DualBIOS

Exclusive Gigabyte Features:

GIGABYTE AMP-UP Audio Technology

GIGABYTE G1 Gaming motherboards are equipped with the GIGABYTE exclusive AMP-UP Audio Technology, which provides the industry’s highest level of onboard audio features and technologies. With GIGABYTE AMP-UP Audio, gamers and audiophiles are able to experience crisp, ultra realistic sound effects while gaming, and the richest possible sound experience when listening to their favorite music and movies.

Realtek ALC1150 115dB SNR HD Audio

The ALC1150 is a high-performance multi-channel High Definition Audio Codec that delivers an exceptional audio listening experience with up to 115dB SNR, ensuring users get the best possible audio quality from their PC.

The ALC1150 provides ten DAC channels that simultaneously support 7.1-channel sound playback, plus 2 channels of independent stereo sound output (multiple streaming) through the front panel stereo outputs. Two stereo ADCs are integrated and can support a microphone array with Acoustic Echo Cancellation (AEC), Beam Forming (BF), and Noise Suppression (NS) technologies. The ALC1150 incorporates Realtek proprietary converter technology to achieve Front differential output 115dB Signal-to-Noise ratio (SNR) playback (DAC) quality and 104dB SNR recording (ADC) quality.

Built-in Rear Audio Amplifier

Specially designed for gamers, GIGABYTE motherboards utilize a high-capacity amplifier which is able to drive 600Ω loads, giving gamers a fuller range of dynamic sound with crisper details and less distortion when using high quality professional headphones.

Additional Sound Blaster X-Fi MB3

GIGABYTE G1 Gaming motherboards also include Sound Blaster X-Fi MB3 software suite. Sound Blaster X-Fi MB3 software suite is a powerful audio platform offering premium audio quality, effects and features for gamers. It features SBX Pro Studio suite of technologies, which is designed to give you the fullest audio experience.

Dedicated Audio Hardware Zone

+ Separation on the PCB layer protects the board’s sensitive analog audio components.
+ Separate analog and digital ground to protect against Electromagnetic Interference (EMI).
+ LED trace path lighting illuminates to show the separation of the PCB layers.

Locating the right and left audio channels on separate PCB layers, GIGABYTE 9 Series G1 gaming motherboards are able to eliminate channel crosstalk and maintain the best audio quality.

Killer E2200 Gaming Network

GIGABYTE G1 Gaming motherboards feature the Killer E2200 from Qualcomm Atheros, a high-performance, adaptive gigabit Ethernet controller that offers better online gaming and online media performance compared to standard solutions.

Extreme Multi-GPU Support

Flexible graphics capabilities supported for either 3-Way CrossFire or 2-Way SLI action, delivering the ultimate in graphics performance for gaming enthusiasts who demand the highest frame rates without compromising on resolution.

SATA Express Connector

GIGABYTE motherboards feature an onboard SATA Express connector which provides performance far superior to that of current SATA technologies. SATA Express features data transfer rates of up to 10Gb/s, considerably higher than SATA Revision 3 (6Gb/s), which won’t bottleneck faster NAND flash technologies in cutting edge SSDs. SATA Express combines the benefits of PCI-Express and SATA to provide much higher bandwidth, allowing SATA Express based drives to perform at similar speeds as PCI-Express based drives.

M.2 Onboard Connector

GIGABYTE G1™ Gaming motherboards come equipped with an onboard M.2 slot, providing users PCI-Express connectivity for SSD devices. Delivering up to 10 Gb/s data transfer speeds, M.2 offers users considerably faster storage performance than current mSATA and even SATA Revision 3 (6Gb/s) storage devices.

GIGABYTE App Center Including EasyTune and Cloud Station Utilities

GIGABYTE APP Center gives you easy access to wealth of GIGABYTE apps that help you get the most from your GIGABYTE motherboard. Using a simple, unified user interface, GIGABYTE APP Center allows you to launch all GIGABYTE apps installed on your system.

GIGABYTE EasyTune App

GIGABYTE’s EasyTune is a simple and easy-to-use interface that allows users to fine-tune their system settings or adjust system and memory clocks and voltages in a Windows environment.With Smart Quick Boost, one click is all it takes to automatically overclock your system, giving an added performance boost when you need it the most.

GIGABYTE Cloud Station APP

GIGABYTE Cloud Station is composed of several GIGABYTE’s unique apps that allow your smart phones/tablet device to communicate, share resources, and control desktop PCs via wireless connection.

4K Ultra HD Support

4K resolution is the next technological milestone in high-definition content delivery, utilizing approximately 4,000 pixels on the horizontal axis, more than four times today’s standard HD pixel density. GIGABYTE motherboards provide native 4K support with integrated Intel HD Graphics via HDMI.

HDMI – The Next Generation Multimedia Interface

HDMI is a High-Definition Multimedia Interface which provides up to 5Gb/s video transmitting bandwidth and 8-channel high quality audio all through a single cable. Able to transmit superior, uncompressed digital video and audio, HDMI ensures the crispest rendering of digital content up to 1080p without the quality losses associated with analog interfaces and their digital-to-analog conversion. In addition, HDMI is compatible with HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection), allowing the playback of Blu-ray/HD DVD and other protected media content.

GIGABYTE OPT Fan Support

Many of today’s 3rd party water cooling systems require CPU fan power support for both the cooling fan and the water pump. GIGABYTE 9 Series motherboards feature OPT fan support, an additional CPU fan pin header that can be used to connect a water pump and configured for continuous full speed operation. The OPT Fan is also useful for high performance coolers employing two fans.

All Solid Caps and Low RDS(on) MOSFETs

GIGABYTE uses All Solid Caps (Capacitors) and Low RDS(on) MOSFETs which are rated to work at higher temperatures to provide a longer lifespan.

5x (15μ) Gold Plated CPU Socket Design

GIGABYTE 9 Series motherboards come equipped with a gold plated CPU socket, which means that enthusiasts can enjoy absolute reliability and longevity for the CPU socket overtime, without having any concerns about corroded pins and bad contacts.

Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3 – Unboxing

The Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3 motherboard comes inside a regular boxed package which sticks with the red and black color scheme. I am surprised that several major manufacturer’s have used the red and black color scheme for their Gaming series motherboards. While the color scheme is same for the gaming series boards across the various companies, they do use different design schemes which avoids from issues with the other brands. At the front, we can spot a large robotic eye which is the official logo for Gigabyte products and is somewhat related to the terminator too (Just Joking). The G1 Gaming series brand is clearly mention and the motherboard supports the latest Core processors from Intel.Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3_Box_Front

The back of the box is where all the juicy specifications and details are mentioned. Although majority of these are used for marketing, they do offer users an insight on the various features of the motherboard and the labeled motherboard map provided on the back by Gigabyte is very useful. There’s also details regarding the G1 Gaming features which include G1. Audio, G1. Networking, G1. Looks and G1. Performance, call these the four basic pillars of what makes a G1 Gaming Series a brand for gamers.Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3_Box_Back

We will detail the accessories later, for now we take a look at the Z97X-Gaming 3 which looks neat 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 Z97X-Gaming 3_Side_1Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3_Side_2

Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3 – A Closer Look

Gigabyte’s G1 Z97X-Gaming 3 comes with the LGA 1150 socket which supports Intel’s Haswell, Haswell Refresh, Devil’s Canyon and Broadwell processors. The socket is powered by a single 8-PIN connector while the ATX 24-Pin connector supplies power to the rest of the motherboard. The socket is 5x (15μ) Gold Plated CPU which adds in stability and uninterrupted power transfer to the processor.Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3_Socket

The VRM and PCH are cooled by three sets of heatsinks which feature the red and black color scheme. Based on aluminum, the VRM heatsinks offer limited cooling while the PCH heatsink is a bit bulky, covering more space. It should be noted that the motherboard is not geared for overclocking but optimized for gaming but can support a decent amount of overclocking thanks to the Ultra Durable 5 components.Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3_Power

The VRM heatsinks feature the G1 label which is a nice implementation for a low-cost motherboard. As you can note, the heatsink is set in place through two push-and-pull screws. The area beneath the heatsink has adhesive paste which makes contact with the VRMs so that heat can be transferred on the heatsinks and cooled by case fans cooling.Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3_Heatsink

Four DDR3 DIMMs offer dual channel memory support with capacity of up to 32 GB. Two slots are colored silver while the remaining two are colored black giving a nice touch to the motherboard’s aesthetics. The motherboard supports speeds of up to DDR3 3200(O.C.) / 3100(O.C.) / 3000(O.C.) / 2933(O.C.) / 2800(O.C.) / 2666(O.C.) / 2600(O.C.) / 2500(O.C.) / 2400(O.C.) / 2200(O.C.) / 2133(O.C.) / 2000(O.C.) / 1866(O.C.) / 1800(O.C.) / 1600 / 1333 MHz memory modules which is more than impressive for a mainstream motherboard.Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3_Memory

For storage, the motherboard comes with six SATA 6 Gbps ports and a single SATA Express port rated at 10 GB/s which offers support for high transfer speed storage solutions. A USB 3.0 header is located to the right of these slots.Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3_Storage

In addition to the storage ports, there’s also Dual BIOS chips and a smart panel connector. There’s no fancy stuff like OC, Power On/Off, Reset switches aside the regular CMOS clear jumper which is a bit let down but this much is expected given the pricing of the motherboard.Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3_Z97

Expansion slots include two PCI-e 3.0 x16 (x8/x8 electrical), 1 PCI-e 2.0 x 16 (electrical x4) 3 PCI-e 2.0 x1 and a PCI Legacy slot. The board comes with AMD CrossFIreX and NVIDIA SLI Multi-GPU technology support. The first PCI-e 3.0 x16 slot runs at the advertised speed while the second PCI-e 3.0 x16 slot runs at x8 speed. The single PCI-e 2.0 x16 operates in x4 speed but the rest of the PCI-e x1 slots will become unusable when using a add-on card in the x4 expansion slot.Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3_Expansion

At the top of the expansion slots is a single M.2 SSD slot which is able to support Intel’s next generation form factor (NGFF) solid state drives. Featuring up to 10 GB/s data transfer speeds, the slot allows for high-end storage usability.Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3_M.2

By taking off the VRM heatsinks, we can note that the Z97X-Gaming 3 makes use of a 8 Phase power design featuring Ultra Durable 5 components which include all Solid Caps (Capacitors) and Low RDS(on) MOSFETs which are rated to work at higher temperatures to provide a longer lifespan.Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3_VRM

Last up is a closer look at the AMP-UP Audio which has a PCB that is isolated from the rest of the board. The ALC1150 is a high-performance multi-channel High Definition Audio Codec that delivers an exceptional audio listening experience with up to 115dB SNR, ensuring users get the best possible audio quality from their PC.Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3_AMP-UP

The ALC1150 provides ten DAC channels that simultaneously support 7.1-channel sound playback, plus 2 channels of independent stereo sound output (multiple streaming) through the front panel stereo outputs. Two stereo ADCs are integrated and can support a microphone array with Acoustic Echo Cancellation (AEC), Beam Forming (BF), and Noise Suppression (NS) technologies. The ALC1150 incorporates Realtek proprietary converter technology to achieve Front differential output 115dB Signal-to-Noise ratio (SNR) playback (DAC) quality and 104dB SNR recording (ADC) quality.Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3_Audio

GIGABYTE motherboards utilize a high-capacity amplifier which is able to drive 600Ω loads, giving gamers a fuller range of dynamic sound with crisper details and less distortion when using high quality professional headphones.

GIGABYTE G1 Gaming motherboards also include Sound Blaster X-Fi MB3 software suite. Sound Blaster X-Fi MB3 software suite is a powerful audio platform offering premium audio quality, effects and features for gamers. It features SBX Pro Studio suite of technologies, which is designed to give you the fullest audio experience.

Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3 Gallery:

Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3 I/O Panel:

Being a Gaming series product, we were expecting a variety of I/O ports on the Z97X-Gaming 3 motherboard. It comes with a two PS/2 ports (1 x PS/2 Keyboard, 1 x PS/2 Mouse), VGA, DVI, HDMI display connectors, 4 USB 3.0, 4 USB 2.0, 1 x Killer E2200 powered LAN, 6 Channel Audio Jack (Powered by the ALC1150 audio codec) and an S/PDIF out port.

  • 1 x PS/2 keyboard port
  • 1 x PS/2 mouse port
  • 1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector
  • 1 x D-Sub port
  • 1 x DVI-D port
  • 1 x HDMI port
  • 4 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports
  • 4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
  • 1 x RJ-45 port
  • 5 x audio jacks (Center/Subwoofer Speaker Out, Rear Speaker Out, Line In, Line Out, Mic In)

Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3 – 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, Gigabyte Ultra Durable Sticker, Gigabyte G1 Gaming Series Sticker and a black / red color I/O panel.

  •  1 x Drivers Manual
  • 1 x Setup Guide
  • 4 x SATA III Black Cables
  • 1 x NVIDIA SLI Bridge
  • 1 x Driver DVD
  • 1 x Gigabyte Ultra Durable Sticker
  • 1 x G1 Gaming Series Sticker
  • 1 x Black/Red I/O Panel

Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3 – Utilities

Each motherboard manufacturer develops a wide range of exclusive utilities and software for their latest hardware and products these days. Gigabyte bundles their Z97X-Gaming 3 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:

  • Norton Internet Security (OEM version)
  • Intel Rapid Start Technology
  • Intel Smart Connect Technology
  • Intel Smart Response Technology

Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3 – BIOS

Gigabyte retains their UEFI BIOS which we have already seen in our Z97X-SOC-Force motherboard review. Although the UEFI BIOS works well with the Z97X-Gaming 3 motherboard, the orange and black color scheme doesn’t goes well with the red and black color scheme of the G1 Gaming series products as it does with the OC lineup, but the color doesn’t affect performance and is more of an aesthetic issue. 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.

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-Z97X-Gaming 3-BIOS-Shot

Test Setup

Processor
  •  Intel Core i7-4770K
Motherboard:
  • Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3 w/Core i7-4770K
  • Biostar Hi-Fi Z97WE w/Core i7-4770K
  • MSI Z97 XPOWER AC w/Core i7-4770K
  • MSI Z97 MPOWER MAX w/Core i7-4770K
  • Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC w/ Core i7-4770K
  • MSI Z87 MPOWER MAX w/ Core i7-4770K
  • ECS DRONE Z87H3-A3X w/ Core i7-4770K
  • Intel DZ87KLT-75K w/ Core i7-4770K
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 Z97X-Gaming 3

The Core i7-4770K chip we used is a golden sample which overclocks to 4.8 GHz without any issue. The Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3 pushed it to 4.6 GHz with a BCLK of 100 MHz (x46 Multiplier) at 1.40V max voltage and achieved an overclocked of 4.6 GHz which is pretty good for a Haswell chip considering how they overclock. 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:Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3-4.6-GHz-OC-CPUz

*(The overclock was stressed for 1 hour which is enough to tell whether it was stable or not for testing).

Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3 – BENCHMARKS

X264 HD Encode Benchmark

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.Gigabyte Z97X-Gaminng 3_x264 HD

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.Gigabyte Z97X-Gaminng 3_CineBench R11.5

PCMark 7

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.Gigabyte Z97X-Gaminng 3_PCMark 7

POV-Ray

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.Gigabyte Z97X-Gaminng 3_POV-RAY

3DMark Vantage CPU Performance

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.Gigabyte Z97X-Gaminng 3_3DMark Vantage

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.Gigabyte Z97X-Gaminng 3_Winrar

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 Z97X-Gaminng 3_SuperPI

Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3 – Gaming Performance

Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3 – 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.Gigabyte Z97X-Gaminng 3_Battlefield 4

Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3 – 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.Gigabyte Z97X-Gaminng 3_Skyrim

Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3 – 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.Gigabyte Z97X-Gaminng 3_Crysis 3

Power Consumption And Thermals

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 75-85C 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. This issue has been fixed with the release of the latest Devil’s Canyon processors and we will soon have a review on the CPU ready.

The heatsinks featured on the Z97X-Gaming 3 aren’t of the top most quality and the overclock we achieved should be the most one should expect from this product. Given its price and positioning, we will consider this a good overclock and an All-In-One liquid cooling solution should be preferable along with some additional case fans if anyone is going to do overclocking on this board.

Conclusion

The Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3 is a gaming motherboard first so we take a look at what it has to offer in this department. The Killer E2200 LAN chip from BigFoot and that added AMP-UP audio technology which delivers high-quality audio (115dB Signal-to-Noise ratio (SNR) playback (DAC) quality and 104dB SNR recording (ADC) quality) are well additions to this scheme. Gigabyte had to make compromises in the OC department of this product but it lacks nothing and all the basic I/O, storage features are available.

Availability of both M.2 SATA and SATA Express ports is welcomed to drive high performance storage devices. The board supports both NVIDIA SLI and AMD CrossFireX which will allow users from both camps to found this a nice low cost solution for Haswell and beyond. For overclocking, the board has some drawbacks due to the low-quality heatsinks used on the VRMs but it can still drive a Haswell chip to 4.5 – 4.6 GHz with some adjustments provided you have the adequate airflow inside your PC casing for which you will need to purchase extra fans. The board does have several fan headers so there’s no need to worry when equipping multiple fans in addition to the main CPU cooler.

The thing I loved the most about this motherboard is that it kept its design diverse while retaining the red and black color scheme which almost all other manufacturer is following on their gaming series lineup. The Z97X-Gaming 3 from Gigabyte lacks nothing and is a well-built, low-cost motherboards designed for gamers and mainstream users who are aiming to upgrade to Haswell, Haswell Refresh or the next generation Broadwell processors.

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