All manner of motherboards compatible with Intel’s Skylake family are popping up at Computex 2015 this week, and the most interesting thus far is ECS’ L33T lineup of motherboards – the Z170 Claymore and the Z170 Blade. Aside from possibly being a vague reference to the excellent anime of the same name, The Claymore is a very interesting motherboard that reveals some of the oddities of Intel’s management of the available PCI-Express lanes on their processors and chipsets, which the Z170 Claymore tries to exploit to the benefit of anyone considering it. Hit the jump for more.
A full ATX design, the Claymore boasts five PCI-Express slots, but they aren’t all of the 3.0 variety. Slots 1, 2 and 3 are all using version 3.0 of the standard, and can be arranged in x8/x4/x4 if you’re running a triple Crossfire setup for fun. The bottom two are PCI-Express 2.0 x4, which use the Z170 chipset for their bandwidth. However, if you installed two PCI-E SSDs in to both of them, you’d only get x2 lanes of bandwidth because that’s the limitations of the Z170 chipset. In this manner, ECS guarantees that even if you run triple Crossfire, it will still be possible to use the M.2 SSD as well as have another two PCI-E SSDs at the cost of disabling the SATA Express port. That’s a nice bit of flexibility for enthusiasts.
There’s also a 10+2 power phase arrangement around the CPU, a port 80 debug LCD with power and reset buttons on the bottom left of the board. Connectivity on the rear I/O panel isn’t known, but at least there’s a single front-panel USB 3.0 header. What’s weird is that ECS decided, in all their wisdom, to put the front-panel audio header up near the third PCI-Express slot instead of putting it on the bottom-right side of the motherboard. Why they did this is a mystery, so I hope they have the sense to put in audio cable extensions for the people using the front-panel ports for headphones and the like.
The Z170 Blade is also a little odd. This is a mATX design, but it still has the audio connector up in between the PCI-Express slots, which means that replacing those cables, or your chassis’ front panel. means removing any graphics card you have sitting in the second slot. If you’re making a custom water-cooling loop and you’re using this board, buy a set of extra-long tweezers, you’re definitely going to need them.
Aside from that, there’s a lot to like about the board – rotated USB 3.0 front-panel port, six SATA 6GB/s ports, a 10GB/s M.2 connector and support for SLI. The holes for the VRM heatsinks might suggest that this will be a connected heatpipe, but those things are rarely done today. It may be necessary to not have a connected pipe, as there’s not a lot of space around the CPU socket to begin with. The power phase layout is interesting (possibly 6+3 phase), but should allow for some decent overclocking headroom. Given ECS’ reputation for cheap and affordable motherboards, these puppies are probably not going to break the bank.
No pricing is available at this time, but the launch should be within a week or two of the Skylake launch.