ECS Z170 Claymore Motherboard Review

ECS Z170-CLAYMORE_V1_LGA_1151_Intel_Motherboard_3_1 Earlier this year, it was reported that Elitegroup Computer System (ECS) was no longer going to market its own branded motherboards, instead they were going to focus on OEM motherboards.  While OEM system builds has been ECS's main focus for many years, they have released products for the DIY crowd, with high end features while keeping the price down.  With increased pressure from the top tier motherboard manufacturers, these budget minded motherboards often get overlooked.  However, if you look at the features ECS builds into their motherboards, these budget boards are sometimes a great option. ECS Z170 Claymore LAGFree Take for example, the ECS Z170 Claymore motherboard, here we have a motherboard designed for the latest Intel Skylake processors, that integrates some of the latest technology.  This motherboard includes support for the latest technology that the Intel Z170 chipset permits; DDR4 memory, PCIe Gen 3, M.2, USB 3.1 and overclocking support.  That is not all that the motherboard has to offer!  ECS implemented several new features such as the Realtek DRAGON LAN 8118AS, which is new to the market and is looking to compete with the Killer NIC for online gaming traffic priority shaping, HDMI 2.0 makes an entrance offering 60FPS at 4K UHD resolutions and several other features.  Once available, the ECS Z170 Claymore motherboard has a suggested retail price of $159.99, which makes the specifications of the motherboard look very enticing. Features and Specifications
ECS Z170 Claymore
Chipset Intel® Z170 Express Chipset
CPU Support Supports 6th gen Intel® Core™ family/ Pentium / Celeron series processors for LGA 1151 socket 12 Phase Thermal Design Power 100% Solid capacitor design Supports Intel® Hyper-Threading Technology Intel® K Series Unlock CPU Support Low RDs(on) to minimize switching losses
Graphics Supports DirectX® 12 Supports HDMI 2.0 Technology ( resolution up to 3840 x 2160 pixels )
Memory Dual-channel DDR4 Memory architecture 4 X 288-pin DDR4 DIMM socket Support up to 64 GB
Expansion Slot 5 X PCI Express X16 Gen 3.0 slot(s) Supports AMD CrossFire™ Technology 1 X M.2 slot for SSD
Storage Support by Z170 Express Chipset RAID0, RAID1,RAID5, RAID 10 configuration
Audio  8-Channel HD audio CODEC Realtek ALC1150 8-channel High Definition audio CODEC
LAN Realtek DRAGON LAN Chip 8118AS
USB Support by Z170 Express Chipset 6 X USB3.0 port(s) up to 5Gb/s Back Panel 4 port(s); Onboard 2 port(s) 8 X USB2.0 port(s) Up to 480 Mb/s Back Panel 4 port(s); Onboard 4 port(s) Support by ASMedia ASM1142 Controler 2 X USB3.1 port(s) up to 10Gb/s ECS EZ Charger (Gray USB header)
Rear Panel I/O 1 X PS/2 Keyboard & PS/2 mouse connectors 1 X Audio port (Line-in,4x Line-out, Mic in) 1 X HDMI 2.0 port(s) 1 X Display port 2 X USB3.1 port(s) 4 X USB3.0 port(s) 4 X USB2.0 port(s)
Connectors & Headers  1 X 24-pin ATX Power Supply connector 2 X 4-pin CPU_FAN connector 3 X 4-pin SYS_FAN connector 1 X Power on button 1 X Reset button 1 X Front Panel switch/LED header 1 X Front panel audio header 1 X USB 3.0 header - Support additional 2 USB ports 2 X USB 2.0 header - Support additional 4 USB ports 4 X SATA III 6Gb/s connector(s) 1 X CLR_CMOS header 1 X TPM header 1 X Debug LED 1 X Chassis intrusion header
Form Factor ATX Form Factor 305*244mm
Warranty 3 Year Part and 2 Year Labor
After a brief look at the ECS Z170 Claymore packaging, we'll take a closer look at the motherboard and get to installing it.

ECS Z170 Claymore Packaging

ECS-Z170-Claymore-Box-Front While most motherboard manufacturers are going for black and bright colors for their packaging, ECS has gone with a more refined front cover.  The front of the box is all gold, with black lettering for their logo and model.  If you are familiar with ECS and their motherboard branding we can see the first change here.  The "L337" branding has been modified to "LEE7".  Slight difference, but nothing drastic. ECS-Z170-Claymore-Box-Back While the front is plain and doesn't offer much information, the back of the box changes that.  Here you can see the major features of the Z170-Claymore, an overview of the motherboard, and the rear I/O ports.  All the basic information you need to know about the motherboard can be found back here. [gallery ids="174226,174225"] Opening the box, we find the motherboard which is resting on a foam pad inside a standard anti-static bag.  Below the motherboards tray is another tray with the accessories and documentation.  All pretty standard. ECS-Z170-Claymore-Accessories ECS includes a pretty standard accessory pack with the Z170 Claymore.  There is a detailed user manual, software disc, four SATA cables, a rear I/O shield and two little standoffs for the M.2 slot.  The I/O shield has a few ports specifically identified; HDMI 2.0, USB 3.1 and LAGFree Realtek DRAGON LAN.

ESC Z170 Claymore Layout

ECS-Z170-Claymore-Full-View The ECS Z170 Claymore has a fairly relaxed color scheme with the overall color being black, with a couple gold highlights.  At first glance, we can see that it follows a fairly standardized ATX layout.  There is nothing that we can see at this point which immediately jumps out screaming for attention. ECS-Z170-Claymore-DDR4 Starting off in the corner with the four DDR4 slots, we find that the slots utilize the one locking clip on one side, and a guide on the other.  The four DDR4 slots are capable of supporting up to 3200MHz Dual Channel memory with the 64GB size limitation of the Z170 chipset.  To the top left of the first DDR4 slot, ECS has placed a little informational tag, letting you know which memory slots to fill first.  Found along the edge of the motherboard is the SuperSpeed USB 3.0 internal header and the standard 24-pin motherboard power connector.  In the corner we find two PWM fan headers listed as CPU_FAN2 and SYS_FAN3.  CPU_FAN1 can be found along the edge, to the top right of the DDR4 slots, just below the heatsink. ECS-Z170-Claymore-Front-Panel Checking out the bottom left quarter of the motherboard, we find a large "shield" shaped heatsink over the Intel Z170 chipset, of which ECS has placed a more refined shield with the latest LEE7 logo.  Of course that's not all that we find here.  Near the Z170 chipset is a split Debug LED that presents common codes for investigating issues.  From this viewpoint, the CLR_CMOS jumper is to the upper left of the chipset heatsink; this is important to know if you are doing overclocking, as this is the only way to reset the BIOS.  Along the left edge of the motherboard is the familiar front panel header, which ECS has printed a label on the motherboard identifying how to connect the panel connectors.  Between the front panel connectors and the Debug LED is the on-board Power and Reset buttons, which will glow Blue when the motherboard is turned on.  In this section, there is also a grey USB 2.0 header, which is part of ECS EZ-Charger system which will provide power to the USB ports, even if the system is turned off, and provides a boost of power to certain devices. ECS-Z170-Claymore-SATA-Connections It is becoming pretty common for the SATA connectors to be horizontal to the motherboard.  ECS has followed this trend and placed a total of six SATA 6Gb/s connections.  In addition, there is one SATA Express connector, which utilizes two of the SATA 6Gb/s connections.  All of these connections are supported by the Intel Z170 chipset. ECS-Z170-Claymore-PCIe-Sockets In the upper left section, we find the familiar five PCIe x16 Gen 3 slots, this motherboard will support up to 3-way CrossFireX, however there is no support for NVIDIA SLI.  At the end of the M.2 slot is a little printed graph showing the best slots to utilize when installing multiple graphics cards.  When running The M.2 slot supports 2242/2260/2280 M.2 SSD's, it appears to share bandwidth with two of the SATA ports.  Along the edge we find various headers that include the TPM, SPDIF, Buzzer, SYS_FAN2 PWM and another USB 2.0 header.  If you are wanting to use the front audio connection, this is placed just above the middle PCIe x16 slot. ECS-Z170-Claymore-CPU-Socket The area around the CPU socket isn't very exciting.  The Intel socket 1151 is protected by the standard cover, protecting the pins.   There are two large heatsinks covering the MOSFETS and VRM, which are connected by a heatpipe.  Instead of being plain black, ECS has included a piece of gold colored heatsink to add a splash of color and of course provide some additional surface area.  The standard 8-pin ATX motherboard power connector is found along the edge, with nothing obstructing it's use.  Just to the left of the top heatsink is the final PWM fan header, listed as SYS_FAN1. ECS-Z170-Claymore-Rear-IO Taking a look at the rear I/O ports, we find that ECS has included separate PS/2 Keyboard/Mouse ports rather than the single combo port.  Next is the integrated DisplayPort and HDMI 2.0 connections (to my knowledge, ECS is the only manufacturer implementing HDMI 2.0 at this time).  ECS did not include a Type-C connector, instead they provide two USB 3.1 connectors that are controlled by the ASMedia ASM1142.  Next a pair of USB 2.0 ports, which are still useful for keyboard/mice.  SuperSpeed USB 3.0 is represented with four connectors.  Then we have the Realtek DRAGON ethernet connector along with two more USB 2.0 ports; these are grey and designed to charge USB devices even if the PC is not powered up.  Finally the audio cluster, which includes an input, 4 output and a microphone 3.5mm connectors, there is no SPDIF connection.

Legit Reviews Test System

ECS-Z170-Claymore-Test-Bed Intel Z170 Test Platform ECS-Z170-Claymore-CPUz-Base Here is a quick look at the specific components used in the test system:
Intel LGA 1151 Z170 Test Platform
Component Brand/Model Live Pricing
Processor Intel i7-6700K Click Here
Memory Kingston 32GB DDR4 2666MHz Click Here
CPU Cooler Corsair H105 Click Here
Video Card eVGA GTX 970 SC Click Here
Hard Drive Intel SSD Pro 2500 180GB Click Here
Hard Drive 2 Sandisk Ultra II 480GB SSD Click Here
Power Supply Corsair CX750M Click Here
USB 3.1 Type C Kingston DataTraveler microDuo 3C Click Here
Operating System Windows 10 Pro 64-bit Click Here
  Testing Process 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. Installation Process Installing the ECS Z170 Claymore is extremely simple, assuming you've installed a motherboard before.  Everything is well thought out, with plenty of space around the CPU socket to install an AIO liquid cooler with ease.  If you install your memory after installing the GPU, there won't be any issues with the clips as the clips on that side of the memory slots are just guides, the actual clip is towards the outside edge of the motherboard.  For both the memory and front panel connections, ECS prints the configuration right on the motherboard, making one less trip to the manual to see exactly how to set it up. BIOS [gallery ids="174961,175075"] We had a bit of an odd experience with the ECS BIOS.  There appears to be two different graphical UEFI BIOS screens, they both provide the same information, just look a little different.  On the default screen, ECS provides the options to run in Normal or Performance mode, and adjust the boot order.  Beyond that the "Advanced" BIOS menu options will need to be used, which looks like a standard graphical BIOS screen. ECS-Z170-Claymore-BIOS-Main Now that we have the system up and running, let's get to some Overclocking and benchmarking.

ECS Z170 Claymore Overclocking

This specific configuration of hardware has been used for testing many Z170 motherboards.  We have been able to successfully overclock the Intel i7-6700K up to 4.9GHz; while the Kingston Fury DDR4 kit has been up as high as 3000MHz.  While those are the best results we have obtained, the average overclock of the processor has been 4.7GHz or 4.8GHz, and the Kingston Fury has been averaging 2900MHz or 2933MHz. ECS-Z170-Claymore-BIOS-MIB ECS has a Windows based overclocking utility, however it is not compatible with the Z170 Claymore.  I hope ECS spends sometime to make it compatible, as there are some users that prefer to do their overclocking within the Windows environment.  For those that prefer to overclock through BIOS settings, the ECS M.I.B. X is their section within the BIOS for overclocking the CPU, and Memory.  The "Quick OC" option is a pre-configured profile to overclock the system to 4.9GHz!  I would highly recommend using this option with care. ECS-Z170-Claymore-BIOS-CPU-OC Overclocking the CPU is done rather easily, simply increase the CPU Ratio to the desired setting.  For our overclocking experience, we will disable the Intel SpeedStep Technology (EIST), and the Turbo Boost.  From there we will slowly increase the CPU Ratio until we are unable to boot into Windows, then back it down until we can run our benchmark suite successfully. [gallery ids="174959,174960"] ECS provides a large number of ways to adjust the voltage of the various components.  Should you need to adjust the voltages, each of the adjustments are done in whole numbers, based in Millivolts.  Of course there are a couple of exceptions, the "Core PLL Voltage Offset" is increased in whole numbers, but it shows it as 15mV per unit.  The other exception is the DIMM Voltage, here ECS has provided a drop-down menu that makes it much easier to control the voltage.  Still a lot of calculations need to be done to keep it under control and not fry your components. ECS-Z170-Claymore-Benchmarks-CPUz-OC By slowly increasing the CPU ratio, we were able to get the ECS Z170 Claymore to run stable at 4.7GHz.  We were unable to get it to run stable at anything higher, even by increasing the voltage to the CPU.  Previously I mentioned the "Quick OC" option, after all testing was done at the 4.7GHz, I attempted to use this option, and as suspected, the system failed to POST. When doing overclocking, it is entirely possible you will need to reset the BIOS multiple times.  Most motherboard manufacturers have made this extremely easy to do with a push of a button, or a temporary jumper change.  On the ECS Z170 Claymore, you have to do a jumper change in order to reset the BIOS.  While this is a reliable method of doing a BIOS reset, it can be highly annoying if you find yourself having to frequent resets. ECS-Z170-Claymore-BIOS-Memory-Config The Kingston Fury DDR4 kit ran at it's rated speed of 2666MHz right from the start.  We have been able to overclock this kit up to 3000MHz without increasing the voltage.  Unfortunately, on the ECS Z170 Claymore, any attempt at overclocking the memory failed, resulting in a BIOS reset.

Value Added Software

Like most manufacturers, ECS includes an installer disk to get your motherboard up and running as quickly as possible.  In addition to the required drivers, ECS also provides a few additional pieces of software to enhance your experience. [gallery ids="174738,174739,174737,174736"] The installer is pretty basic, but it does the job easily, if you utilize the AutoRun capabilities, it should start up when you insert the disk; if not, it's easy to start up manually.  Once it starts up, you are presented with a screen to install Google Chrome, in the bottom corner is a button to install the drivers.  ECS doesn't provide an easy way to install specific drivers, rather they go the extremely easy method of installing all drivers automatically.  This makes it easy to get up and running as quickly as possible.  The Utilities tab provides links to installing the additional software on the disk; the ECS software we will take a quick look at.  The Information tab provides very little information on the drivers that are installed, it would be helpful to see the specific version numbers.  The final option is to install Google Chrome (again).  There are obvious enhancements that would be nice, but as it stands the installer is easy to use and is laid out well. ECS-Z170-Claymore-Software-eBLU ECS eBLU is an important piece of software to keep the ECS Z170 Claymore running smoothly.  It is a Windows based BIOS update tool, which will check ECS servers for any BIOS updates, and provide an easy method to install the update.  This is a nice tool to have, making it easy to keep the BIOS up to date. ECS-Z170-Claymore-Software-eDLU Perhaps more frequently updated than the BIOS are drivers, so ECS has their eDLU tool which performs a similar function to the BIOS tool but focuses on drivers.  Once again it will check the ECS servers and grab all updated drivers.  Both tools are easy to use, but it would be nice if they were integrated into one. ECS-Z170-Claymore-Software-ESF ECS also provides their eSF tool, which is an easy way to adjust fan speed depending on the temperature.  It includes several pre-configured profiles, or you can create your own custom profile. The last tool that ECS provides is their EZ Charger, which doesn't have a user interface it simply resides in the system tray once it is installed.  EZ Charger provides additional power on select USB ports (grey ports on the back I/O cluster), even when the system is powered off.  What resides in the system tray is an icon to show when a device is charging or when no approved device is detected on the EZ Charger grey USB ports. Time to get to doing some performance testing.

General Performance Testing

Testing the ECS Z170 Claymore general performance we will take a look at several benchmarks that evaluate the system from a memory and CPU viewpoint.  The GPU is taken into account for these scores, however it is not a key factor in these tests. ECS-Z170-Claymore-Charts-Sandra The ECS Z170 Claymore handled the Kingston Fury DDR4 memory kit without any issues.  We did not need to do any fine tuning of the timings or speed, the motherboard automatically ran the kit at it's rated speed of 2666MHz with 15-17-17-35-2T timings.  Unfortunately, that was the best that the ECS Z170 Claymore could do, any attempt at speeding up the memory failed. ECS-Z170-Claymore-Charts-Cinebench Cinebench R15 focus's on the CPU and GPU performance for rendering various scenes.  The ECS Z170 Claymore performed on par with what we have come to expect of the Intel i7-6700K and Z170 combination.  When we overclocked the system, the OpenGL score increased 7%, which by itself isn't too bad, however we have seen better increases.  The CPU score however, increased almost double that to 13.6%!  Now that is a good performance gain from the overclock. ECS-Z170-Claymore-Charts-PCMark8 The PCMark Home Advanced benchmark tests the system against tasks a typical home user might perform, these include basic typing, web browsing, video conferencing and casual gaming.  PCMark gave the ECS Z170 Claymore an overall score of 4721 at 4.0GHz, which is a slightly above average score, with it scoring close to 4% above the lowest scoring Z170 motherboard. ECS-Z170-Claymore-Charts-POV-RAY POV-RAY's main focus is how well the CPU performs.  As such, at stock speeds, the ECS Z170 Claymore received an average score, which is what we would expect.  Since the focus is on the CPU performance, the overclocked Z170 Claymore, received a 14% boost in performance compared to it's 4.0GHz test. ECS-Z170-Claymore-Charts-CPUz-Bench CPUz is still refining their new benchmark utility, and with CPUz 1.74 the results from the previous version (1.73) is no longer valid.  At base clock speeds, there was less than 1% variance between the three Z170 motherboards.  Of course, once we tested the ECS Z170 Claymore at 4.7GHz, we received nearly 17% increase in scores. ECS-Z170-Claymore-Charts-LAN-Speed-Test Without testing any special traffic shaping features of the Realtek DRAGON LAN Chip 8118AS, it performed slightly better than the Z170 motherboards running the Intel LAN, but slightly less than the Killer NIC based Z170.   With that, one of the key features of the Dragon LAN Chip is that it automatically detects a wide range of online game packets to give them priority processing. Legit Bottom Line:  Overall, the performance of the ECS Z170 Claymore met our expectations.  It's performance matched what we have seen with more expensive motherboards.  

Gaming Performance Testing

3DMark Fire Strike Extreme ECS-Z170-Claymore-Charts-3DMark GTA V ECS-Z170-Claymore-Charts-GTA-V Dirt: Rally ECS-Z170-Claymore-Charts-Dirt Witcher 3 ECS-Z170-Claymore-Charts-Witcher-3 Thief ECS-Z170-Claymore-Charts-Thief Gaming Performance Benchmark Results: From our testing the gaming performance was typical for this system configuration.  Between each of the test systems, there was a small difference in performance, with the ECS Z170 Claymore typically coming in the middle of the pack.  Keep in mind though that there was usually a 1% or 2% difference in gaming performance between all the Z170 motherboards.

Storage Device Performance

All storage testing will be done using the latest version of CrystalDiskMark, version 5.0.3.  When testing a specific device, we will format it and reboot the test system prior to testing.  The drives used in this test is the SanDisk Ultra II 480GB SSD which has a rated speed of "up to" 550MB/s Sequential Read, and "up to" 500MB/s Sequential Write.  The M.2 drive that we will use is the Kingston Predator which is rated for 1290MB/s Read and 600MB/s Write. SATA 6Gb/s ECS-Z170-Claymore-Charts-SATA M.2 ECS-Z170-Claymore-Charts-M2 SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ECS-Z170-Claymore-Charts-USB-30   Benchmark Results:  In each of the storage performance tests, the ECS Z170 Claymore performed rather well.  While its scores are mostly what we would expect, the SATA 6Gb/s Sequential Write speed was a little surprising, it rated higher than we have seen and actually slightly higher than SanDisk's rated speed.  Overall, if storage is high on your priority list, there is nothing on the ECS Z170 Claymore that should hold you back.  

Power Consumption & Chipset Temperatures

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. ECS-Z170-Claymore-Charts-Power Legit Bottom Line:  At base clock speeds, the ECS Z170 Claymore was sipping less power than any Z170 motherboard we have tested.  While a power difference of 11W might be minor, overtime that can add up, especially if your system is sitting idle a large amount of time.  As you should expect, once the system was overclocked, the power consumption jumped from 44W to 68W at idle, a 24W increase in power for the overclocked system.  A 42W increase in power between the stock speed and overclock speed was observed once the system was under a load. CPU Temperatures The testing environment was kept at a constant 72F (22.2C), we used HardwareMonitor to evaluate the CPU temperature during the testing phase, the highest and lowest reported temperatures are being reported. ECS-Z170-Claymore-Charts-Temp Legit Bottom Line:  When idle, the Intel i7-6700K was showing a 21.25C with the Corsair AIO cooler running in silent mode.  Once the system was under pressure, that jumped to 51.50C, which is still very cool for this processor, however it was slightly higher than we have seen.  Of course, once we overclocked the system to 4.7GHz, the load temperature jumped up to 93.50C!  That is a very high temperature, and is dangerously hot, I wouldn't recommend running your system at those temperatures for too long.

Final Thoughts and Conclusions

ECS-Z170-Claymore-Overview While it was rumored that ECS would no longer be marketing its own brand of motherboards for the DIY community, the Z170 Claymore shows that they are still working hard on making budget minded motherboards that features the latest technology.  At a suggested retail price of $160 it is one of the cheaper Z170 options, that still provides a lot of value with it's feature set. However, there are a couple of things to be aware of.  First, if you want a motherboard to run NVIDIA SLI, the ECS Z170 Claymore is not for you, it supports 3-way CrossFireX.  Next, if extreme overclocking is a requirement, we had issues overclocking the memory on the Z170 Claymore; but at stock speeds, the Kingston Fury memory had no issues.  Finally, if you want a flashy motherboard with different colors or inticate heatsinks, the ECS Z170 Claymore maintains a simple design with a basic (yet functional) MOSFET and chipset heatsink, both of which has copper colored accents. ECS-Z170-Claymore-Rear-IO A couple key benefits of the ECS Z170 Claymore are a little harder to validate.  First we have the first motherboard with the Realtek DRAGON 8118AS ethernet connection, that is designed to compete with the KILLER NIC to shape gaming traffic automatically.  The LAN SpeedTest results shows that it works rather well for standard network traffic, for online gaming experience there are so many variables it's hard to determine how well it works.  Instead of including a single USB 3.1 and a Type-C connection, ECS has implemented two USB 3.1 Type-A ports, which in my opinion is better than a Type-C connection as I expect the Type-A connector to be more useful, not to mention being backwards compatible with USB 3.0. If you are looking for a motherboard that implements the latest technology, and performs great without breaking the bank the ECS Z170 Claymore is a good option.  In our testing, it performed just as well as the more expensive Z170 motherboards.  Of the Z170 motherboards we have tested, the EVGA Z170 FTW is the closest motherboard in price ($189.99 plus shipping), and lacks some of the options that the ECS Z170 Claymore implements. Those missing features on a $30 more expensive motherboard would be USB 2.0 headers, SuperSpeed+ USB 3.1 ports and HDMI 2.0 for those using integrated graphics.  Plus for the suggested retail price of $159.99 shipped you get a 3 year part warranty and 2 years labor warranty with the ECS Z170 Claymore. Legit Reviews Value Award Legit Bottom Line:  ECS might not be the first motherboard manufacturer that comes to mind when looking for top performing motherboards, however the Z170 Claymore shows its strength by implementing the latest technology while keeping to a low price point.  The ECS Z170 Claymore performs just as well as motherboards that cost more, and shouldn't be overlooked when trying to keep the price down.