BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X Review
Depending on the specific features, there are multiple chipsets that support the Intel Socket 1151 processors, the Z170, H170 and B150. Biostar has motherboards that support all three of these chipsets, with the Z170 chipset being the main enthusiast grade chipset. For the Z170 chipset, Biostar has four motherboards that offer a range of features. Their flagship model is the BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X Ver 5x.
In addition to using Intel's latest Skylake processor, the BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X supports 3-way AMD CrossFire (no support for NVIDIA SLI unfortunately), 2 SATA/PCIe 32Gb/s M.2, 6 SATA 6Gb (3 SATA Express), USB 3.0 and USB 3.1 Type-C. The BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X is available through BIOSTAR's eBay store for $199.99 plus shipping
. While some might prefer to purchase through a major retailer, there are some advantages through purchasing directly from the manufacturer, removing the middle-man, and making warranty easier, which is provided by BIOSTAR for 2 years.
Having button on the motherboard to control power, reset, and various overclocking features isn't new. It's been done many times in many different ways. BIOSTAR has moved away from the traditional buttons, and integrated a touch panel with various buttons. These buttons include Power, Reset, BLCK - / +, and CPU Ratio - / +. There are also a few physical buttons used for enabling XMP and doing a BIOS clear.
BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X Features and Specifications
- BIOSTAR Hi-Fi 3D Technology
- USB 3.1 Type-C
- HDMI 2.0 true 4K
|BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X
||External GAMING Commander Box / Audio Control Software Utility
||Intel Core i7 LGA 1151 Processor
Intel Core i5 LGA 1151 Processor
Intel Core i3 LGA 1151 Processor
Intel Pentium LGA 1151 Processor
Maximum CPU TDP (Thermal Design Power) : 95Watt
||Support Dual Channel DDR4 3200(OC)/ 2133/ 1866 MHz
4 x DDR4 DIMM Memory Slot
Max. Supports up to 64GB Memory
||3 x PCI-E x16 3.0 Slot (x16 or x8, x8 or x8, x4, x4)
3 x PCI-E x1 3.0 Slot
1 x PCI-E M.2 Key A Slot(support Wi-Fi or WiGig)
||3 x SATA Express 16Gb/s Connector
Support SATA RAID: 0,1,5,10
Support PCI-E Storage RAID: 0,1,5
2 x M.2 Key M 32Gb/s Connector
||1 x USB 3.1 Type-C Port
6 x USB 3.0 Port
1 x USB 3.0 Header
2 x USB 2.0 Header
||Intel I219V - Gigabit Ethernet PHY
Killer E2201 - 10/100/1000 Controller
||AMD 3way CrossFireX
||By CPU model
||Realtek ALC898 8 Channel Blu-ray Audio
Support Blu-ray Audio
Support HD Audio
Support Biostar Hi-Fi 3D
||1 x PS/2
1 x USB 3.1 Type-C Port
6 x USB 3.0 Port
2 x HDMI Connector, resolution up to 4096 x 2160 @60Hz, compliant with HDMI 2.0
1 x DisplayPort Connector, resolution up to 4096 x 2304 @60Hz
1 x DVI-D Connector, resolution up to 1920 x 1200 @60Hz
2 x RJ-45 Port
5 x Audio Connector
1 x S/PDIF Out Port
||1 x USB 3.0 Header
2 x USB 2.0 Header
3 x SATA Express 16Gb/s Connector
2 x M.2 Key M 32Gb/s Connector
1 x Front Audio Header
1 x Front Panel Header
1 x S/PDIF-Out Header
2 x CPU Fan Header
3 x System Fan Header
1 x GAMING_Panel Header
1 x LN2 Switch
||CPU / System Temperature Monitoring
CPU / System Fan Monitoring
Smart / Manual CPU / System Fan Control
System Voltage Monitoring
||CPU Vcore/ Vring/ VSA/ VCC_IO/ VGT/ VCC_PLL_OC/ DDR/ DDR DIMMA CA Verf/ DDR DIMMB CA Verf/ DDR VPP/ PCH 1.0V
||ATX Form Factor 30.5cm x 24.4cm (WxL)
After a brief look at the BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X retail package, we'll take a closer look at the motherboard and get to installing it.
BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X Packaging
The BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X is packaged in a typical motherboard box, which has a black and silver color scheme. The front of the box briefly lists the key features, and has the BIOSTAR red targeting logo in the lower corner.
While the front of the box is plain, the back of the box we get a large amount of information on the motherboard and its features. An overview picture of the motherboard and the rear I/O tells us exactly what we can expect. For those that are unfamiliar with the Gaming Commander that is detailed as well. Six other features are called out and BIOSTAR provides some details on them.
Opening the box, we find all the accessories that BIOS star includes, broken out into three separate sections. Beneath the accessory tray is the motherboard, which is placed in an anti-static bag on top of a thin piece of foam.
BIOSTAR does a good job at including the necessary accessories, along with packaging them better than most. Included with the Gaming Z170X is the Gaming Commander, rear I/O port cover, four SATA cables, 4GB USB flash drive, user manual and various other user guides. The four SATA cables are packaged individually, and secured together with a velcro strap. The 4GB USB flash drive is a very nice change from having a driver disk included; many people are begining to build systems without optical drives, plus the USB flash drive is writable, meaning you can update it as necessary!
BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X Layout
Overall, the color scheme of the BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X is Brown and black, providing a very militaristic look. The only splash of color on the motherboard comes from the Z170 chipset heatsink, which has the BIOSTAR Gaming crosshair logo on it, which lights up in red once the motherboard is powered up. The two large sections of the heatsinks are covered with a plastic shielding, which again leans towards a militaristic vibe.
Starting in the lower right corner of the motherboard, the biggest feature we find here is the four DDR4 memory slots. BIOSTAR lists the specifications of these slots of being able to run memory up to 3200MHz, and supporting up to the standard 64GB in dual channel mode. The memory slots utilize the locking clips on both sides of the memory module versus using it on one side and a guide notch on the other; I personally prefer the locking clips on both sides. To the top right of the DDR4 slots are the two PWM CPU fan headers. If you are into heavy overclocking, BIOSTAR has instituted an LN2 BIOS cold boot switch when the temperatures are extremely low. Along the bottom edge, we find a few common features, such as the debug LED (which will also provide the temperature once the system has booted), and the standard 24-pin motherboard power connector.
Next to the motherboard power connector, we have two physical buttons, one to enable XMP and a clear CMOS button; both of which are pretty common on motherboard. Now for one of the unique features of the Gaming Z170X, the Touch sensitive buttons. None of these buttons are unique to BIOSTAR, however being Touch sensitive is. Here you have the standard Power, and Reset buttons, if you are doing testing outside of a case. Next there are buttons to increase the BCLK and CPU Ratio for overclocking.
On the other corner we have the Intel Z170 chipset, which has a large heatsink on it, along with the BIOSTAR "armor" cover. Along the left edge of the motherboard there are various connections, which from the bottom is the front panel connections, the USB 3.0 internal header, two PWM fan headers, and a USB 2.0 connection. The front SATA connections have been split into two groupings, and are horizontal to the motherboard.
Those front mounted SATA ports include a total of three SATA express connections, which means there are a total of six SATA 6Gb/s connections. For each M.2 drive you connect, you will lose access to one row of connections in the left group. Following standard Z170 chipset protocol, the SATA ports are capble of RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10.
Moving along, we find the three PCI-E 3.0 x16 slots, which are configured for x16 or x8, x8 or x8, x4, x4 with support for AMD CrossFireX, but not NVIDIA SLI. Along with the three PCI-E x16 slots, there are also three PCI-E 3.0 x1 slots. Next to the first PCI-E X16 slot is one of the two M.2 32Gb/s slots. The other is hidden beneath a cover, which we will remove in a moment. Along the edge there are several connectors, the two USB 2.0 headers (one of which we saw previously), a BIOS clear jumper, SPDIF header, Gaming Commander header and the front audio connections. Right next to the PCI-E x1 lot on the far right, there is another PWM fan header that is partially hidden by the plastic heatsink cover.
Nothing really different to see here, except that the cover on the hidden M.2 slot has been removed. It is held in place with a clip that can make it a little difficult to removed. Once it is removed, taking a look at the bottom of the cover, there are two tiny guides on one end of the cover and the main clip that will clip next to the M.2 slot. At first, I was a little confused thinking there are actually three M.2 slots, which there is. Two PCI-E M.2 Gen 3, and one PCI-E M.2 Key A. Two of them are for storage, while the Key A slot is designed to support WiGig and WiFi modules.
Moving to the last section of the motherboard it contains the Intel socket 1151, and while there isn't much to see here, we can get a close-up view of the armor shielding covering the heatsinks; remember all this shielding is plastic, and for aesthetics only. If it's not for you, it can be removed fairly easy. In the upper right corner, is the 8-pin motherboard AUX power connector.
Finally, let's take a quick look at the back I/O panel. Starting on the left we find an old school PS/2 port, and dual USB 3.0. Starting the video connections off is a DisplayPort, DVI-D, and 2 HDMI 2.0 ports. The new USB 3.1 Type-C connector is provided with the video connections. The next two clusters look identical but are slightly different. Both of them contain two USB 3.0 ports, and an ethernet jack. The difference is in the ethernet jacks, the first one (left) is controlled by the Intel I219V while the one on the right is controlled by the Atheros Killer E2201. Both of these can be combined for Dual GbE LAN. The final cluster is the audio cluster containing five 3.5mm audio jacks and the optical SPDIF out. These audio jacks are controlled by the on board Realtek ALC898.
Legit Reviews Test System
Before moving on to putting the BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X through some benchmarks, let's take a quick look at the standard test configuration we will be using, along with the testing procedure and a glimpse of the UEFI BIOS.
Intel Z170 Test Platform
Here is a quick look at the specific components used in the test system:
|Intel LGA 1151 Z170 Test Platform
||Kingston 32GB DDR4 2666MHz
||eVGA GTX 970 SC
||Intel SSD Pro 2500 180GB
|Hard Drive 2
||Sandisk Ultra II 480GB SSD
||Kingston Predator G2 x4 240GB
|USB 3.1 Type C
||Kingston DataTraveler microDuo 3C
||Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
The above listed components will be installed on an open air test bed. Windows 10 will be a fresh install with all the latest patches, drivers and firmware available at the time we begin the testing.
All testing will be done in a temperature controlled room that maintains a 72F (22.2C). A 24-hour burn in is done to allow the thermal paste time to cure before doing any thermal testing.
Where possible, we will use integrated benchmarks, and run them three times averaging the results. In situations where there are no integrated benchmarks, we will use FRAPS to an analyze the performance, doing the same game run three times before averaging the FRAPS results.
On my review sample, one thing that I quickly found is that the little cover for the hidden M.2 slot is rather difficult to put back into place. I tried several times to get it to go back in, and was afraid to keep pushing on it that it would break or cause a fault in the motherboard. Eventually I ended up breaking one of the little clips at one end of the cover. Upon further investigation, it seems the main clip wasn't set correctly, and it was pressing against the top of the M.2 slot, all my pressing caused a dent in the M.2 plastic. Trying to fix the main clip, I went with a little too much pressure and snapped it. Now for the good news; BIOSTAR has acknowledge this is a potential issue, and will be looking to redesign the cover. My recommendation is to leave the cover in place if you do not need to use the M.2 slot.
Installing the M.2 drives was very easy, and no different than any other M.2 installation. However, BIOSTAR used small thumbscrews to secure the Kingston Predator M.2 drives rather than small screws. The little thumbscrews are a nice surprise and much preferred over little screws.
The BIOSTAR UEFI BIOS is pretty basic, providing a large number of screens with various options. If you are familiar with BIOSTAR's previous motherboards, then this will look familiar. I found the UEFI BIOS to be easy to use and find the options I wanted to change.
BIOSTAR has issues two updates to their UEFI BIOS, both of which list Overclocking Stability as the key improvement. The latest BIOS is still listed as being in BETA, and while you should update to the latest version, we will utilize the 811 update, which is in production and not BETA stage.
BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X Overclocking
The Intel i7-6700K processor has a base clock speed of 4.0GHz, we have successfully run it at 4.9GHz with a small voltage increase to 1.43V. However, the average overclock on this specific configuration has been 4.7GHz. The Kingston Fury DDR4 memory kit has also been overclocked from it's based speed of 2666MHz to a maximum of 3000MHz on one test system, while the average overclock on the Kingston Fury has been 2900MHz.
Enabling Overclocking on the BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X is fairly easy, however the wording can be a little confusing if you're not well versed in overclocking. On the O.N.E menu, you enable overclocking with the CPU Ratio Mode, here you can select Per Core, All Cores, or Fixed, each one will give a slightly different overclocking option. The "Per Core" option allows you to set the CPU Frequency Ratio per core, while the All Cores and Fixed do pretty much the same thing, setting it across all the cores.
Standard overclocking process is to start with a fairly low setting and slowly increase from there. Without knowing exactly what the BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X is capable of, we started with 4.3GHz, and ran several benchmarks to validate stability. Once that was achieved, the CPU Frequency Ratio was increased. At 4.6GHz we began to experience slight instability while running the benchmarks, so we begin increasing the voltage. 4.7GHz became stable at 1.40V, which has been a very common overclock with this particular configuration. This is a very easy overclock, without doing any fine tuning. BIOSTAR offers a wide range of other tweaks that you can perform to push the system further.
Unfortunately, the overclocking options stopped at the CPU. When we tried to overclock the memory, we began to experience issues. The BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X had the memory running at its base speed of 2666MHz, with the correct timings. So let's begin trying to overclock the memory; all attempts failed at overclocking the Kingston Fury DDR4 kit on the BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X. Any attempt would cause a failure to post, requiring a reset of the BIOS.
So bottom line, the BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X is an average overclocking motherboard, with limited memory overclocking.
Value Added Software
On the included 4GB flash drive that BIOSTAR provides includes all the necessary software to get your system up and running. Using a simple installer, a list of the included drivers is provided, allowing you to select which ones you want to install.
BIOSTAR also provides several pieces of add-on software that is not necessary to make the system operational, however it does provide added value. Provided on the flash drive is the BIOSCreen Utility (Windows based BIOS update) and eHot-Line Utility (contact BIOSTAR for troubleshooting). The other software is provided via links to the BIOSTAR website.
Smart Ear 3D is an audio stream manipulation tool that converts the sound stream into a virtual 3D audio stream. I was surprised at how well it worked, and if you are not used to this type of sound stream it can take a short time to get used to it, but once you do it sounds great.
TOVERCLOCKER is a Windows based Overclocking utility. Providing all the necessary options to tweak your system to its fullest potential. The interface is clean and easy to use. It would be nice if there were some pre-configured overclocking profiles, since there is the option to save your profiles.
BIO-Remote2 is an application that allows you to control your PC through your iOS or Android device. This is great if you are planning on using your PC as a Home Theater system. It has profiles built in for a large number of Windows based applications, and an option to turn your mobile device into a touchpad device. Unfortuntely, when I tried this on my Samsung Note 4 it only provided access to Windows Media Player functions, none of the touchpad/mouse control functions.
Smart Speed LAN is a nice utility that makes it easy to shape your network traffic depending on your tasks. It has built in profiles for Gaming, Streaming, Web Browising and an Auto-Select mode. Once you select the desired profile it recognizes what you are doing and will help to speed up that specific traffic. However, you do not have to stick with what it selects. You have the option to see what is running, and select whether to give it a Low traffic priority or High priority.
With the Gaming Commander application you can take full advantage of the Gaming Commander add-on accessory. The software has a easy to use interface, providing quick access to an equalizer, and vocal sound effects.
The Gaming Commander box itself isn't a new device, BIOSTAR has included this on select Z97 motherboards as well. It has a few status LED's on the front for CPU, VGA and DDR to let you know if there is an issue. There are buttons for volume and mute as well. In addition, there is a button for the MIC, that activates the XLouder function that increases the volume on the mic quickly. A couple of headphone/microphone 3.5mm jacks are provided as well. A MIX button provides an easy way to turn on the vocal sound effects in the software. The final status indicator is the big BIOSTAR Gaming Cross-Hair symbol that gives a quick indication of the CPU temperature.
General Performance Testing
For general performance testing, we will take a look at a few benchmarks that evaluate the system more from a memory and CPU viewpoint, rather than a GPU viewpoint. Of course, this doesn't mean the GPU isn't tested with these benchmarks, it is just not a key factor.
The BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X wasn't able to push the Kingston Fury memory beyond it's default 2666MHz speed, however the timings had to be a bit looser than the others at 15-20-20-35-2T instead of the standard 15-17-17-35-2T. The Sandra Memory Bandwidth shows that the Kingston Fury DDR4 kit received an average score of 33.0GB/s, which places almost right at the top of the Z170 pack, just a little below the ASRock Z170 OC, which actually had a slightly higher than normal clock speed, with the tighter 15-17-17-35-2T. As we weren't able to overclock the memory, we will have to use this speed during all further testing.
Cinebench R15 tests both CPU and GPU performance, we have used the same GPU across all the motherboards included in this test. The difference comes down to CPU, motherboard and memory. The BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X received an average score, for both the CPU and OpenGL tests. When the motherboard was overclocked to 4.7GHz, the performance increased by just under 14%.
The PCMark Home Advanced test evaluates the system with tasks that a typical home user might do, which includes typing, web browsing, video conferencing and casual gaming. PCMark shows the BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X performing around 2% better than the lowest Z170 motherboard, and when overclocked, that increased the performance of the BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X by around 4%.
POV-RAY evaluates the system basing it's score on how well the CPU performs. The BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X performed slightly better than the EVGA Z170FTW, and about 4% lower than the ASRock Z170 OC Formula. Of course, when the BIOSTAR Gamign Z170X was overclocked, it's performance increased by 13.4%.
CPUz introduced a benchmark with their utility in 1.73, and have recently updated it. As the update severely affected the scores we have kept the 1.73 scores for this test, and will utilize 1.74 scores going forward. the BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X performed the 2nd best of the Z170 motherboards we have tested.
The BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X is an average performer even with the memory not running as fast at the other test systems. Once it is overclocked, it performs like you would expect, and outperforms the other non-overclocked systems. The overclock testing shows a gain in performance typically between 10% and 15% from it's base rated speed with just the CPU overclocked.
Gaming Performance Testing
3DMark Fire Strike Extreme
Futuremarks 3DMark benchmark has been a standard test for many years, while it includes multiple variations of the benchmark designed to test different system types, we will be taking a look at the Fire Strike Extreme test. Which is designed for high performance gaming systems. Unfortunately, the BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X failed to make a good impression with 3DMark, receiving the lowest score of the Z170 motherboards, and only slightly above the last generation Z97X test system run with an i5-4960K.
Gaming Performance Benchmark Results:
While it didn't get off to a good start with 3DMark, the BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X showed that can handle the workload of gaming. In the four games we tested, it received scores placing it at the bottom of the four Z170 motherboards, to the 2nd best performer.
Storage Device Performance
All storage testing will be done using the latest version of Crystal Disk Mark. When testing a specific device, it will be formatted prior to testing, and the test system rebooted.
To test the SATA 6Gb/s bus, we will connect a Sandisk Ultra II 480GB SSD to the motherboard. This particular Sandisk SSD is rated for up to 550MB/s Sequential Read and 500MB/s Sequential Write.
We installed a second Kingston Predator M.2 PCIe G2x4 240GB drive into the second M.2 slot. Kingston rates this Predator SSD for 1400MB/s read and 600MB/s write with ATTO 2.41a.
SuperSpeed USB 3.0
Testing SuperSpeed USB 3.0, we will connect a Thermaltake 5G BlacX dock with a Sandisk Ultra II 480GB SSD directly to the motherboards USB 3.0 ports on the back I/O cluster.
USB 3.1's performance isn't fully realized yet, and there are few Type-C devices on the market. Kingston provided us one of their MicroDuo 3C flash drives, that utilizes the Type-C connector, so we will do a quick test using that connector. Kingston rates this drive for 100MB/s Read and 15MB/s Write.
For storage performance, the BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X performs decently. On some aspects it is the fastest we have seen with the Z170 chipset, in others it is slower. In some cases it was between 10% and 20% faster then other Z170 motherboards. And where it was slower, the Gaming Z170X was less than 5% slower.
Power Consumption & LAN Speed Test
Using a reliable P3 Kill-A-Watt meter, we monitored the power consumption of the test system throughout the testing phases. During each test, we made note of the lowest and highest readings, these are the readings we are taking a look at.
Legit Bottom Line:
If power consumption is a concern, the BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X doesn't use a lot when its idle, however once it gets to work and is under a heavy load it did tend to pull more power than I've seen; pulling almost 38W more than the power sipping to just 2W more than the other power hungry system.
LAN Speed Test
Legit Bottom Line:
With two different integrated NICs we took a look at how both of them performed. We didn't evaluate the special traffic shaping features of the Killer NIC. The performance of the Intel NIC was slightly lower than we have seen on other Z170 motherboards, while the Killer 2201 NIC performed slightly better. Keeping in mind that the difference we experienced across the vaious NICs is rather small and none of the differences should pose a significant impact to network performance.
Final Thoughts and Conclusions
Overall, the BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X has a nice look and layout to it. They have done a good job at making sure all the headers and connections are placed in the right spot to make installation easy. While M.2 is superior to SATA, they have not taken over the market yet, the Z170X provides two M.2 slots and BIOSTAR has chosen to hide one of them under a cover. BIOSTAR gives the Z170X a military look with a black and brown color scheme with plastic elements on several features.
If you are into Overclocking, the BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X provided mixed results. We were able to get a good stable overclock to 4.7GHz, which is an average overclock with this configuration. Overclocking the memory was problematic though. By default it ran the Kingston Fury 2666MHz DDR4 at it's base rated settings, but we were unable to get it to boot with anything faster. BIOSTAR is looking at Overclocking stability issues, and has released a couple of BIOS updates to help.
There are two unique features on the BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X. The Gaming Commander, while not technically a new feature on BIOSTAR motherboards, it is unique to BIOSTAR. It offers a quick way to adjust volume, activate XLouder, and a visual cue to the system temperature. Next is the Touchpanel, many people will most likely rarely use it, like normal buttons on the motherboard. It's closed in once the system is built; however if you are constantly messing with the system, the Touchpanel is a nice change from physical buttons. Plus I think it looks cooler than normal buttons; aesthetics is one thing that can push a consumer towards a specific component.
For some, the biggest drawback to the BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X is the lack of NVIDIA SLI; however it does support AMD CrossFire. Perhaps the biggest physical issue I personally ran into is with the clips on the M.2 cover, as I wasn't able to get the cover back in place. BIOSTAR has taken a look at this and acknowledged this can be a problem so they are planning on re-engineering the cover.
BIOSTAR offers the Gaming Z170X through their eBay store for $199.99 plus shipping
with their standard 2 year warranty, plus a 14-day return period. At this price, it offers everything more expensive motherboards provide, plus the addition of the Gaming Commander front panel device that provides an additional audio boost with the CMedia codec and the unique touch panel.
Legit Bottom Line:
The BIOSTAR Gaming Z170X is an average performer, it doesn't stand out from the pack in performance or overclocking. We did run into some issues with memory overclocking though. The addition of the Gaming Commander and the Touchpanel are very interesting features.