Gigabyte Z170N-Gaming 5 & Z170N-WIFI

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TEST RESULTS

Power Consumption

Note: Motherboards sometimes vary in regard to the BLCK and Turbo Boost settings. Models that use higher clock speeds typically consume more power, making direct power consumption comparisons unfair. For these tests, boards using the same CPU have been tweaked to use the exact same clock speeds to ensure a level playing field. For Skylake models, the BLCK is manually set to 100 MHz and standard Intel prescribed Turbo Boost levels are used.

The ATX-sized Gigabyte Z170X-UD5 is a fairly energy efficient board on light load and its smaller Z170N cousins are even better, shaving off a few watts at idle and during video playback. They're the most frugal Skylake motherboards we've tested thus far.

When more demanding applications are used, the two board's power consumption figures are more middling. All three Gigabyte boards tested demand less energy when gaming on integrated graphics but also produce slightly lower framerates even though the reported clock speeds are the same across all the models compared.

Gigabyte Z170N-WIFI Stress Test Results
State
System Power (AC)
Time to Throttle
2 DIMMs
Prime95
145W
~20 secs
HandBrake +
Lost Planet 2
116W
~3 mins
1 DIMM
Prime95
109W
~5 mins
HandBrake +
Lost Planet 2
107W
Stable

Further stress testing immediately revealed a serious issue with the WIFI model. Running Prime95 (all threads) caused the the processor to throttle very quickly with the system power consumption reading jumping between ~145W and ~90W repeatedly as the CPU clock speed waxed and waned. This occurred even though the CPU temperature, as measured by various utilities, seemed to be at a safe range, around the 60°C mark, and the core voltage was reported as normal, about 1.275V. This is not an isolated case as other review sites have reported similar behavior. After discussing this problem at length with our contact at Gigabyte we were unable to find the cause or a fix.

It was suggested that a lack of cooling was at the heart of the matter but putting on a heavy duty heatsink and pointing a pair of high speed case fans at the VRM area did nothing to alleviate this issue, though perhaps it needs the aid of a proper VRM heatsink to properly draw heat away. The better cooled Z170N-Gaming 5 was completely stable under the same conditions. There have been reports of Prime95 causing Skylake processors to freeze but this did not seem to be related as the system never froze up and I also managed to cause the CPU to throttle by running combinations of non-synthetic applications. Encoding video with HandBrake while running the Lost Planet 2 demo benchmark in a window caused the frequency to dip repeatedly as well, though it took a few minutes before the problem began to manifest. This is a greater workload than most users would ever use but the fact that real world programs could bring the system to its knees is troubling.

After extensive testing, I found that power consumption could reliably predict whether the processor would throttle. Downgrading to one stick of memory lowered the stress on the integrated memory controller, causing the power draw to drop dramatically during Prime95, but it did eventually throttle as well, just taking longer to do so. However, the HandBrake and Lost Planet 2 test was stable with the system pulling 107W from the wall, about 9W less than the two DIMM configuration. It would seem that an i7-6700K with two sticks of memory is simply too much for the Z170N-WIFI's power regulation system and cooling (or lack thereof) to handle -- a serious limitation in a Z170 chipset board. The chief benefit of Z170 over lower-end chipsets is the ability to overclock but doing so on this model would draw too much power and potentially cause instability if it's pushed too hard.

Cooling

To test the board's cooling, the CPU is stressed for ~15 minutes with Prime95 and FurMark. Temperatures of the boards' chipset heatsinks are recorded using a spot thermometer. The highest temperatures are taken for comparison.

Its ability to remain stable actually hurts the Z170N-Gaming 5 in our cooling tests. At maximum load running Prime95 + FurMark, it pulls 156W from the wall, the most of any of our previously tested Skylake boards. Its relatively small heatpipe cooler takes quite a beating, producing the highest CPU temperatures of any motherboard in recent memory. The Asus Z170-A comes closest to the Gaming 5 in power consumption, using 150W, but this bigger board has the luxury of more sizable heatsinks, so it's no surprise its heatsinks run substantially cooler.

The recorded result for the Z170N-WIFI is with the less demanding combination of HandBrake and Lost Planet 2 running (two DIMMs like all the other boards compared), so it's not exactly a fair fight. This was the most I could tax the board while keeping the power draw reasonably steady despite the occasional dip in CPU clock speed. With this lighter load, its PCH heatsink runs 14°C cooler than the Gaming 5.

Boot Performance

To test boot time, the BIOS/UEFI is optimized by setting the hard drive recognition and other delays to minimum, taking care not to disable common functionality like full USB support, POST messages, etc. and the time it takes to reach the Windows loading screen (it's stopped here because this is the point where the O/S and drive become factors) is measured.

The Z170N-WIFI and Gaming 5 boot up noticeably faster than other Skylake models, hitting the Windows 7 loading screen in 12.2 seconds and 14.0 seconds respectively. Presumably, this is due to their simpler feature-sets.

Wireless 802.11n Performance

Our WiFi performance test is a simple one consisting of a single large file (700MB) transfer over 802.11n to/from a desktop connected to our network via gigabit ethernet. The task is timed to calculate the average transfer rate. It should be noted that the 802.11n router used is not the greatest, an Actiontec combination router/gateway from our ADSL provider. It's located in a central location in the lab, only a few feet away from our testing area with only one wall in-between, so it should produce close to ideal results.

The Gigabyte Z170N-WIFI/Gaming 5 ships with the same Intel 802.11ac 8260 adapter which generated fairly good WiFi transfer speeds in our lab. Of the previous WiFi-enabled motherboards we've tested in the past few years, the two Z170N boards were only slower than the Maximus VIII Impact, Asus' top-of-the-line mini-ITX Skylake model.



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