Intel Core i7-7700K And Z270 Chipset Review: Kaby Lake Hits The Desktop

The Z270 Chipset, Gigabyte And Asus Motherboards

An array of 200 series chipsets, which target all market segments, is also launching today alongside Kaby Lake, including the B250, H270, Q250, Q270, and the enthusiast-class Z270. At their core, all of the 200 series chipsets are similar, but as you go down the stack, a few features are omitted – the number of USB and SATA ports are different, overclocking may or may not supported, etc. We are going to focus on the Z270 here…

z270 diagram

The high-level block diagram above gives a good visual representation of the Z270 chipset’s main features. Like the previous-gen Z170 (and a few generations to come before it), the new Z270 chipset is essentially an I/O hub, as all of the traditional Northbridge functionality previously found in a Northbridge chip has been integrated into the processor itself. Some of the new features include official support for faster DDR4 memory, 4 additional PCIe lanes, and Intel Device Protection Technology with Boot Guard. Something not pictured in the block diagram is the Z270’s support (motherboard permitting) of Intel’s upcoming Optane memory.

For the purposes of our Core i7-7700K review, we got our hands on a trio of Z270 based motherboards, two from Gigabyte and one from ASUS. Those boards include the flagship Gigabyte Aorus Z270X-Gaming 9, the Gigabyte Aorus Z270X-Gaming 7, and the ASUS Maximus IX Hero. On the pages head, we have full sets of numbers from the Aorus Z270X-Gaming 9 and Maximux IX Hero, but time constraints prevented us from running numbers on the Gigabyte Aorus Z270X-Gaming 7 – rest assured, its performance is similar to its big brother, it simply lacks a couple of features.

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Here is the $229 ASUS Maximus IX Hero. As is typically the case with ASUS’ ROG branded motherboards, the Maximus IX Hero is chock full of leading edge features. In addition to exploiting all of the features inherent to the Z270 chipset, the Maximus IX Hero offers built-in Intel i219V networking, a multitude of SATA 6Gbps ports, and dual M.2 sockets with support for RAID.

The Maximus IX Hero is also packing a digital 8-phase power design (ASUS calls it Extreme Engine DIGI+), which give users the ability to monitor and adjust power delivery across multiple sections of the board. Two phases are also dedicated to the iGPU and another two to the DRAM slots. The Maximus IX Hero is outfitted with ASUS’ latest Dual Intelligent Processors 5 as well. The DIP5 processors work with the board’s all digital VRM to give users fine-grained control over power and frequency settings, to maintain stability and smooth power delivery, especially when overclocking and pushing things well beyond their default speeds.

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The Maximus IX Hero also supports SLI and CrossFireX multi-GPU configurations (with armored slots, for added strength) and ROG Supreme FX audio with an S1220 HD CODEC that also has better isolation and power delivery than older products. ASUS uses Nichicon Premium Japanese-made audiophile grade capacitors in the sound circuitry, and shields it better as well, to ultimately improve sound quality.

In addition to the aforementioned features, the Maximus IX Hero is also outfitted with an excellent UEFI with one-click overclocking, per-header fan controls, and manual controls for virtually all integrated peripherals and accessories. ASUS also offers a few more of their proprietary features like their MemOK! and USB BIOS Flashback, which can help you recover in the event of a bad flash.

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As we've come to expect from ASUS, the Maximus IX Hero ships with an extensive accessory bundle, and like other enthusiast-class boards from ASUS, this one is highly tuned for overclockers. Not only is the layout user-friendly, but the board sports heavy-duty passive cooling, and also has integrated mounts for liquid-cooling. The Maximus IX Hero is outfitted with integrated power and reset switches, a POST code error reporter, plenty of I/O connectivity, customizable RGB Aura lighting, and stylized shrouds over the I/O ports and audio circuitry.

Other standout features of the Maximus IX Hero include USB 3.1 front-panel support with a rear USB Type C port, a new fan IC which offers better control and protection mechanisms, and a slew of included software.

Overall, the Maximus IX Hero is one great looking board in our opinion, with an extensive feature set. In our short time with the board, we found it to be rock solid, stable, and easy to work with.

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Next up is the Gigabyte Aorus Z270X-Gaming 9. This is Gigabyte’s flagship Z270-based motherboard for Kaby Lake, which packs in a slew of high-end features, including a built-in water-block in the VRM, Killer Networking – both wired and wireless, Sound Blaster audio, and everything else offered by the chipset itself.

The other new thing we should mention right away is the Aorus branding. Gigabyte has offered Auorus-branded gaming notebooks, components, and accessories for a while now, but they are now using the name with their gaming-grade motherboards as well. All of the Aorus-branded motherboards feature a newly refreshed user interface for their BIOS, with “Smart Fan 5” – the latest generation of Gigabyte’s fine-grained fan controls. We should also mention that these new boards have the ability to auto-sense what type of fan or device is plugged into a fan header and tune settings accordingly. For example, the headers can differentiate between a water pump and high-speed, PWM fan, and they support up to 2 amps per-header with built-in overcurrent protection.

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Aorus gaming motherboards like the Z270X-Gaming 9 pictured here are also outfitted with fully-customizable RGB lighting across virtually every segment of the PCB. The lighting can be configured via Gigabyte's “RBG Fusion” app for different modes (pulsing, color cycling, etc. -- 8 modes in total), and accented areas like the front edge near the DIMM slots have interchangeable overlays.

As we’ve mentioned, the Aorus Z270X-Gaming 9 is the flagship in the line-up. This board sports an EK G-Frost hybrid water-block built right in, Creative Sound Core 3D audio, with high-end caps and isolation circuitry, Killer DoubleShot X3-Pro networking with dual wired and wireless NICs, and a PLX PCIe switch for more flexible multi-GPU configurations. The Z270X-Gaming 9 actually supports 2 x PCIe x16 + 2 x PCIe x 8 setups.

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The Z270X-Gaming 9 is also packing dual M.2 ports, 3 SATA Express ports, 2 U.2 ports, and 6 SATA ports (with support for RAID), USB 3.1, and all of the IO you’d expect from a high-end board. The BIOS is loaded with overclocker friendly features too, and its accessory bundle is top-notch. The Z270X-Gaming 9 includes all of the cables, multi-GPU bridges, software, and connectors to exploit numerous graphics configurations and all of the board’s standout features.

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The Gigabyte Aorus Z270X-Gaming 7 is a couple of steps down the stack from the Gaming 9, but has similar features – minus a few. Aesthetically, they obviously look similar, with similar color schemes and shields over various sections of the board. The Aorus Z270X-Gaming 7 is not outfitted with the PLX bridge, however, so it has fewer available PCIe lanes for multi-GPU setups.

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The Aorus Z270X-Gaming 7 has one fewer U.2 port, no Wi-Fi, and it does not feature the built-in EK water-block either. Dual Gigabit LAN duties are handled by a combination of Killer and Intel NICs, and audio comes by way of a Realtek ALC1220. The board is obviously built around the same Z270 chipset though, so all of the features of the Z270 are available here as well, as are the RGB lighting, smart fan headers, refreshed BIOS, and metal reinforced x16 slots.

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The Aorus Z270X-Gaming 7’s BIOS is also loaded with overclocking friendly features, and its accessory bundle is almost as extensive.

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