Event Coverage

Gigabyte teases refreshed Intel X99 and Z170 boards and more ahead of Computex 2016

By Koh Wanzi - 21 Apr 2016

Gigabyte teases refreshed Intel X99 and Z170 boards and more ahead of Computex 2016

Here's a mix of current and upcoming motherboards from Gigabyte. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to look more closely at the new models, because they're still technically prototypes.

Computex 2016 is still over a month away, but it looks like Gigabyte is already waiting to burst out of the stables. The company surprised us yesterday with teasers as to what to expect in June, when the world’s technorati flock to Taipei for one of the largest computer and technology expos.

Unfortunately, there’s no shiny new platform waiting to be unveiled in the wings. Even though Intel is expected to launch Kaby Lake – Skylake’s successor, but really just a refreshed 14nm chip – toward the end of the year, the chipmaker isn’t going to be releasing a new chipset in 2016. The ‘tick-tock’ manufacturing cycle has officially been thrown out the window, and it looks like we’re also stuck with the Intel Z170 platform for another year.

As a result, board manufacturers have instead taken to refreshing their motherboard line-ups with new features, in a bid to add more value and appeal to consumers on the upgrade cycle.

Gigabyte didn’t provide us with a whole lot of details, but it did talk enhancements ranging from usability and aesthetic improvements to performance upgrades.


New Intel X99 and Z170 motherboards

Gigabyte will be refreshing its Intel X99 and Z170 product line-ups with new and more feature-rich boards.

Gigabyte will be rolling out new Intel X99 motherboards for Intel’s upcoming 14nm Broadwell-E processors. It highlighted a new breed of three-way X99 boards that will work with both 28-lane and 40-lane CPUs, and will enable you to run up to three GPUs in x16 mode each. However, Gigabyte didn’t provide the specifics as to how exactly this will work, and we’ll probably have to wait till the actual announcement to find out. Still, this is good news for enthusiasts if it pans out, because they’ll now be able to maximize the performance of multi-GPU setups.

On top of that, Gigabyte cited support for three NVMe SSDs in RAID 0 on its upcoming Intel Z170 boards. It’s claiming sequential read speeds of around 3,300MB/s, and it even had a demonstration with CrystalDiskMark scores on hand to prove it. Boards like the ASRock Z170 OC Formula already support triple NVMe M.2 SSDs in RAID 0, but Gigabyte intends to offer greater flexibility by supporting a wider range of drive form factors, for instance the 2.5-inch and PCIe add-in card versions of the Intel 750 series SSDs.

Here's a look at the CrystalDiskMark scores with three Intel 750 series SSDs in RAID 0 (top left).

This is the set up that's running three Intel 750 series SSDs.

Then there’s something called ‘Dual Armor’, which appears to be an enhanced version of the current metal reinforcements found on the PCIe slots of certain Gigabyte boards. This time, it looks like Gigabyte is extending the feature to the DIMM slots. However, the primary benefit probably still lies with the PCIe slots. Other than protecting the slots from being damaged under the weight of heavy cards, this reduces the chance of you accidentally yanking the card out and damaging the slot when you forget to release the latch.

And since these are enthusiasts and gamers we’re talking about here, no board refresh would be complete without snazzy new lighting features. The new Intel X99 and Z170 boards will both feature full RGB LEDs that can be customized according to your liking.

There’s even room for one final value-added feature – dual dedicated PWM water pump headers. This lets you control the pump speeds from within the BIOS itself, instead of having to make do with one of the case fan headers.


Intel C232 and C236 workstation boards

Gigabyte wants to focus on the professional crowd as well. Here's a shot of the Gigabyte X170-Pro ECC paired with 8GB of DDR4 ECC RAM, an Intel 750 series SSD, and an Intel Xeon E3-1230 v5 processor.

Gigabyte also took some time to talk about how it is catering to content creation professionals who favor Intel Xeon processors and NVIDIA Quadro or AMD FirePro graphics cards. Intel’s naming scheme for its new Xeon chipsets isn’t exactly the easiest to remember, so Gigabyte opted to slap its own X150 and X170 tags on its workstation motherboards.

We’ve already seen one of these boards in the Gigabyte X170 Extreme ECC, which also happens to be the world’s first Intel C236 motherboard to receive Thunderbolt 3 certification.

The company detailed features that set it apart from more consumer-focused chipsets. For instance, Gigabyte has included a range of I/O options for various use cases, namely, support for SATA Disk-On-Module storage, the industry-standard 5-pin PMBus connector that allows communication with the PSU on its status, and SGPIO connectors for third-party SGPIO backplane boards or chassis.


Thunderbolt 3 is the future

Gigabyte's latest Brix devices also support Thunderbolt 3.

Finally, Gigabyte unequivocally declared that Thunderbolt 3 would be a major feature in all its products, including its Brix mini PCs. We’ll definitely have to wait for Computex for something a little more specific, but the company hinted at a comprehensive Thunderbolt 3 ecosystem that would include several accessories to extend functionality on Thunderbolt 3-equipped products.

Gigabyte has been leading the charge on Thunderbolt 3 certification on motherboards for a while now – it announced the first Thunderbolt 3-certified motherboard, and the first certified Intel C236 and X99 boards – so we’re not really surprised that it’s pushing hard for Thunderbolt 3 adoption.

It also dropped an interesting tidbit of information for us at the end. The Gigabyte Z170X UD5-TH is actually Intel’s official reference board for manufacturers building Thunderbolt 3 devices. Clearly, Gigabyte likes the idea that it is setting the standard here.

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