GIGABYTE is the manufacturer with perhaps the richest selection currently available. Counting only the motherboards based on the Intel Z170 chipset, the company is currently offering 31 different models. We already had reviews of the top gaming model of the series, the $500 Z170X-Gaming G1, as well as their one of their first attempts to integrate Thunderbolt 3 with the Z170X-UD5 TH.

In this review we are having a look at the GA-Z170X-Ultra Gaming and the GA-Z170X-Designare, two boards that are similar (but not quite the same) with the Z170X-UD5 TH, featuring Thunderbolt 3 plus U.2 support. The GA-Z170X-Ultra Gaming currently retails for $156, while the more feature-packed GA-Z170X-Designare brings the price up to $220. We will examine their features, the differences and the performance in the following pages of this review. 

Other AnandTech Reviews for Intel’s 6th Generation CPUs and 100-Series Motherboards

Skylake-K Review: Core i7-6700K and Core i5-6600K - CPU Review
Comparison between the i7-6700K and i7-2600K in Bench - CPU Comparison
Overclocking Performance Mini-Test to 4.8 GHz - Overclocking
Skylake Architecture Analysis - Microarchitecture
Z170 Chipset Analysis and 55+ Motherboards - Motherboard Overview
Discrete Graphics: An Update for Z170 Motherboards - PCIe Firmware Update

100-Series and C232/C236 Motherboard Reviews:

($500) The GIGABYTE Z170X-Gaming G1 Review
($500) The ASUS Maximus VIII Extreme Review
($370) The GIGABYTE Server MW31-SP0 Review (C236)
($310) The GIGABYTE Z170X-Extreme ECC Review (C236)
($250) The ASUS Maximus VIII Impact Review
($240) The ASRock Z170 Extreme7+ Review
($230) The MSI Z170 Gaming M7 Review
($220) The GIGABYTE Z170X-Designare (this review)
($208) The GIGABYTE Z170-UD5 TH Review
($165) The ASUS Z170-A Review
($156) The GIGABYTE Z170X-Ultra Gaming (this review)
($143) The ASRock E3V5 Gaming Review (C232)
($130) The MSI Z170A SLI PLUS Review
($125) The Supermicro C7H170-M Review

To read specifically about the Z170 chip/platform and the specifications therein, our deep dive into what it is can be found at this link.

Gigabyte GA-Z170X-Ultra Gaming Overview ($156)

The GA-Z170X-Ultra Gaming is Gigabyte's attempt to offer a gaming motherboard with U.2 support with a very reasonable price tag. Its current selling price of $156 is cheaper than expected for a quality gaming motherboard, lower even than Gigabyte's popular GA-Z170X-Gaming 7 model ($180) that has no U.2 support. It is important to note that despite recent innovations in the motherboard space, such as slot protection, the lower cost over the Gaming 7 does bring some compromises in extra controller support.

The GA-Z170X-Ultra Gaming has one U.2 connector, one M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4 slot, two SATA Express connectors and a total of six SATA 6Gb/s connectors. The one Intel I219-V network controller is paired with the Realtek ALC892 audio codec, which is surprising to see on a gaming motherboard (normally we see the ALC1150, or at a pinch, the ALC898). We expected the downgrade from the expensive Creative Core3D audio chip, and on the networking the decision for Intel is interesting given GIGABYTE's close relationship with Rivet Network's Killer team, so we had expected to see a single Killer E2400/E2500 network controller. A TPM header is present, as well as a header for an add-in Thunderbolt card, but there is no COM header on the GA-Z170X-Ultra Gaming (compared to the more expensive Gaming 7).

The sharing of bandwidth between the two PCIe x16 slots is typical, meaning that the top one will operate in x16 mode if a card is not installed in the second, or in in x8 mode if cards are installed in both of them. Despite the Z170 chipset having 20 PCIe lanes to use, there is some sharing going on here. The PCIe x4 slot shares its bandwidth with the SATA 0/1 connectors, so the SATA connectors will be disabled if a PCIe x4 device is installed there. Similarly, the U.2 slot shares its bandwidth with the SATA 2/3 connectors and the M.2 slot with the SATA 4/5 connectors. If you want to install a PCIe x4 device, a U.2 drive and a M.2 drive at the same time, the SATA connectors will all be inoperable. A PCIe x2 or slower device will not disable the SATA 0/1 connectors.

Gigabyte GA-Z170X-Designare Overview ($220)

Unlike its cheaper sibling, the GA-Z170X-Designare does not have a very specific target group. It seems as if GIGABYTE is trying to promote the board towards designers and engineers, or generally users that require the use of a professional graphics adapter. These cards hardly require a specialized motherboard though, and the GA-Z170X-Designare comes with many features that would be of general rather than targeted use. As such, the motherboard feels as an attempt to satiate engineers and professionals who entertain building a hybrid between a workstation and a gaming PC, or gamers who need something more feature-packed than the GA-Z170X-Ultra Gaming and can afford to pay the more premium price for it ($220 at the time of this review).

Much like the GA-Z170X-Ultra Gaming, the primary selling point of the GA-Z170X-Designare is that it can support U.2 drives. It only has one U.2 physical connector but, with the use of proper adapters, it can support up to three U.2 drives at once. It has two SATA Express connectors and a total of six SATA 6Gb/s connectors. Gigabyte installed dual LAN on this model, with two Intel network controllers present (I219-V + I211-AT). The network interfaces are supported by the cFosSpeed software. The audio codec is the Realtek ALC1150, which may not be equivalent to solutions coming from Creative, but it certainly is a very good product and a notable improvement over the ALC892/ALC898. Once again, TPM and Thunderbolt card headers are present, as well as an extra header for optional RGB LED strips. It is interesting to note that there is no COM header, and that can be a serious omission on a motherboard that is aimed towards professionals, especially engineers, however we rarely see it on non-IPC motherboards at this price. Last but not least, the GA-Z170X-Designare features GIGABYTE's Turbo B-Clock IC, a chip that allows for, in theory, better BCLK overclocking.

Exactly like its sibling, the GA-Z170X-Designare shares bandwidth between the two PCIe x16 slots, meaning that the top will operate in x16 mode if a card is not installed in the second slot, or in x8 mode if cards are installed in both of them. Also like with the GA-Z170X-Ultra Gaming, the GA-Z170X-Designare implements the same chipset (Intel Z170), which has 20 PCIe lanes. These 20 lanes are not enough to cover every feature of the motherboard, meaning that sharing was once again inevitable.  The PCIe x4 slot shares its bandwidth with the SATA 0/1 connectors, so the SATA connectors will be disabled if a PCIe x4 device is installed there. Similarly, the U.2 slot shares its bandwidth with the SATA 2/3 connectors and the M.2 slot with the SATA 4/5 connectors. If you want to install a PCIe x4 device, a U.2 drive and an M.2 drive at the same time, the SATA connectors will all be inoperable. A PCIe x2 or slower device will not disable the SATA 0/1 connectors.

Motherboard Comparison
  GIGABYTE Z170X-Designare
Socket LGA1151 LGA1151
MSRP at Review $220 $143
DRAM 4 x DDR4 4 x DDR4
PCIe Layout x8/x8 x16
BIOS Version Tested F20 1.11
MCT Enabled Automatically? Yes No
USB 3.1 (10 Gbps) Intel Alpine Ridge None
M.2 Slots 1 x PCIe 3.0 x4 None
U.2 Ports 1 x PCIe 3.0 x4 No
Network Controller 1 x Intel I219-V
1 x Intel I211-AT
1 x Intel I219-V
Audio Controller Realtek ALC1150 Realtek ALC1150
HDMI 2.0 No No
GA-Z170X-Ultra Gaming Board Features, Visual Inspection
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  • DanNeely - Wednesday, December 28, 2016 - link

    Lack of a good way to get video from the GPU to the TB controller probably. The displayport in connectors on these boards work; but are a serious kludge. An elegant option would either require pumping the video out of the GPU over PCIe or putting TB on the GPU itself. Both options would probably require a lot of driver work on the GPU vendors at a minimum; at the moment I suspect both are much more concerned with working on their DX12 support and can't afford to divert enough manpower to the task. Pumping the video over PCIe would almost certainly require support on the TB controller from Intel; and would probably require both the GPU and TB controller to be connected to CPU PCIe lanes (A single 4k steam would eat a big chunk of the DMI busses total bandwidth.) Reply
  • MaidoMaido - Thursday, December 29, 2016 - link

    thanks, very helpful explanation! Reply
  • DanNeely - Wednesday, December 28, 2016 - link

    "Both of the boards are strongly based on storage solutions that are either dead (SATA Express)"

    While it's dead as a storage standard, and I'll shed no tears for its pending demise, it has been used to power USB 3.1g2 front panel devices that tapped into its pair of PCIe lanes to give the controller sufficient bandwidth to operate at full speed. If 200 series chipsets add native support for USB3.1 its value as an IO kludge will go away; but the assorted rumor sites have been posting conflicting claims on what version of USB3.x will be natively supported all year. I guess we'll know soon enough...
    Reply
  • Gothmoth - Thursday, December 29, 2016 - link

    yawn.... a little late. Reply
  • The_Assimilator - Friday, December 30, 2016 - link

    "A little late" should be AnandTech's new motto. Reply
  • The_Assimilator - Friday, December 30, 2016 - link

    It's not a full review if there's no overclocking results. That's kinda the whole point of Z170... Reply
  • uklio - Friday, December 30, 2016 - link

    Review was boring and basically an extended ad rather than anything in depth. I own the Designare and there are many issues that need fixing for enthusiasts which is who these boards are aimed at. For example, the F20 bios causes my 6700k to run at a much higher voltage than normal and when overclocking, the lowest power saving state causes the CPU to run with a 9x multiplier instead of an 8x one. Considering this is the only "review" that is using the F20 bios it is such a missed opportunity.. Reply
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