Hardware review: AORUS Z270X GAMING 7

Intel’s latest desktop chipset is here and, for the most part, it’s similar to the familiar Z170 it replaces. Don’t be wary though, as unlike with the change from P67 to Z68, there are some key differences between the chipsets that may come in handy for a number of users.

What the Z270 chipset offers is a platform that allows Intel to effectively re-launch Skylake CPUs under the Kaby Lake revision. These two revisions of the Core architecture are mostly identical. In fact, there’s no difference between the two in terms of IPC. That, however, will be covered in the Core i7 7700K review.

For now, you should look at all Z270 motherboards as a second attempt by all vendors at the LGA 1151 CPUs. As you’d expect, things are much better all around. While the Z170 boards didn’t always live up to expectations, the Z270 series boards are vastly improved and this is true for GIGABYTE, or AORUS if you prefer.

Technical specifications

Socket and CPU support: LGA 1151 (6th and 7th Generation Core CPUs)

Max memory/frequency: 128GB/DDR4 4000

Size/form factor: ATX (305mm x 244mm

SATA 6Gbps ports: 6

M.2 / SATA-Express / U.2: 2 (32Gbps) / 3 / 1

Onboard audio: Creative Sound Core 3D (CA0132 + Burr-Brown op-amp)

Expansion slots: 3 x PCIe 3.0 x16 / 3 x PCIe 3.0 x1

Total USB ports: 7 (2 x USB 2.0, 3 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB3.1 Type A + C)

Price and supplier information
Supplier: Rectron
Website: www.gigabyte.com
RRP: R4,499

Why the name change? Nobody can answer that yet, and I for one believe that GIGABYTE is a stronger brand than AORUS. It’s especially strange because there isn’t a new design language, UEFI or marketing strategy to go along with the name change. It’s purely a branding change, replacing the name you’ve become familiar with over many years to something new.

That shouldn’t deter you though, as the GAMING 7 is a highly capable motherboard with a number of neat tricks up its sleeves. Keep in mind that AORUS is a gaming brand and as such the GAMING 7, as the name suggests, is aimed purely at gamers and not the overclockers or power users (which also explains in part the absence of any benchmarks). There are other products for the overclocking demographic, which we’ll be looking at in future. For now, you should know that the GAMING 7 checks all the typical boxes that we’ve come to expect from a premium gaming motherboard.

At the time of writing there was no local pricing available, but you can expect a retail price around R4,399. It isn’t cheap, but that’s what mid- to high-end boards cost these days. It’s possible that by the time you read this it’ll be slightly cheaper, but for now, assume that this is a  R4,500 motherboard.

For your cash you get a board designed around the Kaby Lake CPU update. I’m wary of calling this a micro-architecture, as an overwhelming number of changes to this CPU family are process side, courtesy of what Intel terms as “14nm+” and their second “tick” in the formerly tick-tock product cycle. That means the motherboard features an additional four PCIe lanes from the PCH, bringing the total up to 24. What the Z270 GAMING 7 has done with the additional lanes is pretty interesting, as it’s one of the few boards that allows you to populate all PCI Express slots while utilizing both your M.2 ports as well. Previously, as with GIGABYTE’s former forerunner, the Z170 GAMING 7, you had to decide between using the M.2 port or the PCI Express x4 slot, but not both. Technically the Z170 could have done this as well, by simply dividing the four lanes in two, but for some reason it wasn’t done. On the 270, you get to use virtually all connectivity features concurrently. The GAMING 7 adds a U.2 connector to the board as well, but loses out on the ASMedia ASM1061 controller. For those still adamant on Windows 7, this may result in a rather troublesome Windows 7 installation, but it’s of course still possible (on that note, Intel doesn’t officially support Kaby Lake on Windows 7).

You should also note that this AORUS board, unlike its predecessor, features USB 3.1 support exclusively (which is obviously backwards compatible). Moreover, two of these ports (Type-A and Type-C) are second-generation, high-speed ports, while the other five are first generation. Even the internal USB header via the Realtek controller is USB 3.1, albeit first generation.

Another first for this line of motherboards is a total of eight fan/pump headers (up to 2A/12V rating), which means that there’s really no need for a fan controller due to limited fan support. Each of these is PWM/voltage controllable and can be assigned to behave in accordance to seven different temperature sensors. There’s a redesigned fan control system as well, which should help manage not only temperature curves, but noise levels as well.

Network access is revised too, much like all other components. The new Killer E2500 controller replaces the older E2400. This change will likely have zero benefit for the vast majority of users compared to the 2400, but it doesn’t hurt having the latest iteration of the controller and its software.

The one side where this motherboard has gone backwards is in HDMI support. In this day and age of 10-bit colour depth, HDR and UHD, it’s rather perplexing as to why an HDMI 1.4 port was included, when the previous board featured HDMI 2.0 output for 4K at 60Hz. In AORUS’s defense, it’s somewhat understandable given the Intel HD630 IGP has no hope of playing anything at UHD resolutions (aside from maybe Solitaire, and games released prior to 2005) and the vast majority of 4K content is 24Hz anyway. That said, it does come as a surprise as the previous board counted this as one of its highlight features.

Overall, this is a great refresh that once again brings the motherboard up to date with cutting-edge technology (barring the HDMI issue). In addition to that, the GAMING 7 officially supports DDR4 4,000MHz on select sets of memory that have such high frequency profiles. In testing, it turned out that the motherboard can’t manage to overclock to 4,000MHz on the memory using Samsung single-sided B-die DIMMs. This is in contrast to another Z270 motherboard that had little to no issues with the memory frequency. That doesn’t mean the claims for DDR4 4,000MHz are incorrect, but it means that only specific 4,000MHz rated DIMMs in the QVL will be able to reach this frequency (or perhaps it’s something a firmware update can help with). In other words, the unsuccessful attempt to reach 4GHz with these particular ICs  is a reflection of overclocking ability at present with those specific sticks rather than an overall representation of the motherboard. Other sets rated at 4GHz operated just fine, in full four-DIMM configurations.

As mentioned earlier, the Z270X GAMING 7 is a refined Z170X. The first offering was competent, but this one is even better, fixing the few shortcomings the previous motherboard had. GIGABYTE’s software has come a long way, and it’s now head and shoulders superior to what the UEFI offers, even though that has improved as well. It still lacks the polish that you’ll find on an MSI or ASRock UEFI, but it’s a step in the right direction and certainly workable under all conditions, especially in the EZ mode.

As for layout, the GAMING 7 makes improvements here as well. The POST code LED, for example, is located on the outside edge of the board, in line with the front panel header cluster. It’s convenient and avoids the clutter that results from having the display in the traditional position, competing for space with buttons and wires from the ATX 12-pin connector. For a gaming motherboard, there are plenty of other conveniences too, including reset, clr CMOS, Turbo, ECO and obviously power buttons. There are switches for single or dual BIOS mode, and you may select via another switch which of the two BIOS images you’d prefer to use.

The inclusion of an upgradable Burr-Brown op-amp to the familiar Recon 3Di audio controller ensures you have some of the best onboard audio available today. For those who prefer to use a USB DAC, there are two specialized USB ports meant specifically for this, reducing electric noise and offering a cleaner signal than what would otherwise be possible via a normal USB port.

It’s hard to dislike the GAMING 7. Positioned above this model are the GAMING 8 and GAMING 9. Given just how fully featured this board is, it’s hard to imagine what AORUS/GIGABYTE could possibly add to this template that would justify the significantly higher price of either of the higher-end models. The GAMING 7 even features a high-bandwidth SLI connector for those playing at 4K or other similarly taxing resolutions. It’s a high-end offering with plenty of features and connectivity options. If it comes in at the estimated price it’s a great purchase – but even if it sells for more, it may still be worth your time as it features everything you’d need in a modern gaming platform.

There’s really nothing to fault here. The Z270X GAMING 7 is an impressive board, fit for any high-end gaming machine.

8The Z270X GAMING 7 is a solid offering with great audio capabilities, easy overclocking and a host of connectivity options. It’s hard to go wrong with this one.

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