Just when I begin to think that we've reviewed almost every kind of Skylake motherboard in the Indian market today something new pops up and today is no different and this time its Biostar who've given us their beloved and coveted Biostar Racing Z170GT motherboard for review.
Since many of you might not be familiar with this manufacturer so allow me to give you a brief introduction before we get on with the review. Founded in 1986 Biostar has been active ever since in the designing and development of add-on cards, multimedia products and motherboards. Originally founded as a manufacturer of XT form factor boards the company has grown tremendously especailly in the budget segment & now with their Racing series boards that comprise of B150, H170 and Z170 PCH plans to give everyone a new and fresh approach to motherboard's aesthetics.
Coming back to our Biostar Racing Z170GT in hand the board is perceived, designed and build to look like a professional race car not to mention perform like one aswell, kind of a computer race car if there is one!
The board features everything that a Z170 PCH board should along with a few added extras that we'll discuss later on. But one thing that makes this motherboard stand out of the crowd is its RGB LED! OK, I understand that RGB is too mainstream and almost everything nowadays has them but Biostar added a wist to this and its a welcome one for sure, the Biostar Racing Z170GT incorporates RGB LED right into its VRM heatsink and its fully cutomizable! How cool is that!
Packing and Closer Look
Biostar has done a great job at the packing of the product making it look premium and theme centric at the same time. The Racing Z170GT is rightfully placed in the center of the black checkered background. The top cover is a flip lid and we can see the motherboard securely resting inside the box through a clear see through window. Its plain and simple with to the point information.
Flip the box and at the back we have some vital details of the product along with a wired diagram of the I/O panel. Exclusive features such as the GT Touch panel, Vivid LED DJ and I/O armor are briefly stated on the top aswell.
On the accessories front the Racing Z170GT is fairly loaded with 4x SATA 6Gb/s cables, IO shield, and driver DVD with manuals. Sadly no decals are provided along with, it would have been a nice touch to include a racing style batch logo with this board.
My sample came with a "Free Gift" in the form of an RGB LED strip with no RMA rights. This is something we've never seen before since LED strips have never been remotely associated to motherboards, until now.
Looking at the motherboard we are pleased to see the distinct combination of color, materials and patters employed by Biostar on the board. A checkered flag runs through the center of the board to justify he racing theme. The base is a matte finish black whereas a carbon fiber finishing is done on the chipset heatsink accentuated by a metallic R logo.
Four black DIMM slots supporting upto 64GB of memory working at a maximum frequency of 3200Mhz is placed right next to the capacitive touch button panel and a debug LED display.
BIOSTAR provides their capacitive touch panel on the Z170GT7. While it doesn't have as many options as the one found on the GAMING Z170X, it does offer Power, Reset, Sport (OC), and Eco (down clock). A nice addition which other manufacturer's should also shift to from conventional on-board switches.
There is an LN2 switch that can be used to down clock the CPU core and cache to 8x on-the-fly.
The CPU area is clean and has enough clearance for beefy air coolers. The LGA 1151 socket rests in the center surrounded by VRM heatsinks that are carbon fiber coated and joined to each-other via a electric cable instead of a copper pipe. The LEDs are embedded into the heatsink and look like white stripes when not in use.
Strip off the heatsink and we come to know that Biostar Racing Z170GT uses a 6+2 phase all digital power delivery system with the first six phases coming from three doubled PWM phases. The iGPU phases each has their own PWM line to ensure constant power to the display and also to reduce heat.
This kind of a power arrangement is not suitable for high frequency over-clocking and a Z170 PCH board should have atleast a 10 phase system, only our tests will tell how good this arrangements holds.
Coming to the south bridge the board is equipped with four full sized PCI-E 16x slots and three PCI-E 1x slots. The first two PCI-E 16x slot is hardwired to the CPU itself whereas the fourth one to the PCH at 4x and the third on shares a 4x bandwidth with the second and third PCI-E 1x slots.
Since the board is CrossFireX compatible and not SLI to shave off licensing fees, in multi-GPU configuration you'll get the following bandwidth.
Single GPU: 16x/0x/0x/0x
Double GPU: 8x/8x/0x/0x
Triple GPU: 8x/8x/4x/0x
Racing Z170GT comes with six SATA 6GB/s connectors along with the option to convert them into three SATA express connectors working at 16GB/s. The M.2 connector supports a full 60mm M.2 SSD working at 32GB/s
The IO panel on the Z170GT7 totes five USB 3.0 ports, a USB 3.1 Type-C port, 1Gbit Intel LAN, gold plated audio TOSLINK, PS/2 keyboard, HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI, and VGA.
Unlike other manufacturer's who opt for Realtek ALC 1150 audio solutions on majority of their motherboards Biostar went for the ALC 898 instead which is a high quality codec with its own advantages. While the ALC 1150 has a higher SNR output on headphones making it a favorite for gaming motherboards the ALC 898 used over here has an even output for both speakers and headphones, though its lower for headphones when compared to the latter's.
Two sense amplifiers are located to detect and provide the proper audio for your device. Biostar does include PCB isolation for the analog audio as well as non-polarized electrolytic audio capacitors but it doesn't light up like others.
Just like most Skylake motherboards the I/O panel activity and fan control are handled by a IT8625E chip near which two switchable 64-bit BIOS ROM provide backup in case you mess up a OC.
Remove the I/O shield and we find the Realtek RTD2168 which provides the D-SUB (VGA) output since Intel removed the native support for VGA/D-SUB in the iGPU. Two NXP PTN3360DBS high-speed level shifters turn digital video from the iGPU into an output that is compatible with HDMI and DVI.
An Intel i219v PHY is used for providing Intel 1Gbit LAN. A LAN surge protector is also included to nullify any static hindrance to the LAN ports while communication.
BIOS and Bundled Software
BIOSI've used some motherboard's from Biostar earlier and their BIOS is quite flashy to be precise but with the Racing Z170GT they've revamped the design to make it more user friendly and less flashy putting all the vital details right in the front.
O.N.E. is the place to go in order to fine-tune or improve the system performance by overclocking; here we can adjust the BCLK, set the multiplier for both core, memory controller and also the integrated Intel graphics. If the used memory kit has a XMP profile, it can be set here, otherwise on Auto setting it will stay at the default Intel spec of 2133MHz
There are only two major flaws in the BIOS and Biostar needs to fix them immediately atleast for their Z170 PCH board, firstly the LLC option is no where to be found making it impossible to keep a complete control over the CPU voltage while over-clocking. Second, enabling the XMP 2.0 profile for the memory is quite a pain and didn't work for me most of the time booting me into Windows with stock 2133Mhz frequency!
Bundled SoftwareOut of the many utilities like the BIOS updater, eHot line (the live tech support app) and BIOS splash screen changer the Racing App is the most useful one.
The App provides basic system information on startup screen. This includes all the technical details of the CPU and Memory per DIMM slot.
Smart ear is a nifty app which does look flashy and provides basic volume and gain control. It works quite well and is easy to understand from the get go itself.
Vivid LED DJ is the only way you can control your board's LED. Three color presets namely as Normal, Eco and Sport are present and you can change the color associated with each of them along with the behavior. The sparkle mode is too blunt and a distraction while working, breath and shine & music work really well.
Sadly the heatsink LED cannot be controlled & keeps pulsating from red to yellow at brief intervals.
H/W monitor and OC/OV provide control over overclocking feature for the CPU but I advice not to use it since real-time overclocking is a big no! Moreover you can't change the multiplier from the app only BCLK setting can be altered so its very basic might come useful when working on non K processors.
Test Setup and BenchmarksInstallation on the Biostar Racing Z170GT motherboard was easy and we booted into windows easily with stock settings. One thing that might trouble some of you who don't read the provided manual is that the board doesn't follow the conventional A1-B1-A2-B2 DIMM configuration like other board but instead takes the A1-A2-B1-B2 path making you install RAM sticks adjacent to each other and not in alternate fashion.
The configuration of our test bench for this review was as follows:
CPU: Intel Core i5 6600K 3.5Ghz
Motherboard: BIOSTAR Racing Z170GT7
RAM: Kingston HyperX Savage 16GB DDR4 (2x8) 3000Mhz Memory Kit
Cooler: Corsair H100i GTX 240mm Liquid Cooler
Graphics Card: Gainward Phantom GLH GeForce GTX 960 2GB DDR5
Storage: Corsair Neutron GTX 480GB SSD
Power Supply: Corsair AX860i 860W 80+ Platinum
OS: Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit
I had a few apprehensions regarding the overclocking potential of this product mainly due to the absence of the LLC settings but thing didn't go drastically wrong, well for most part of it.
We managed to achieve a stable 4.6Ghz on the Intel i5 6600K at 1.32v which we brought down to 1.26v anything lower than that was impossible. The XMP 2.0 profile for the Kingston Savage worked fine aswell taking the memory to a 2666Mhz CL15 without any issue. Sadly the second XMP 2.0 profile didn't work for the board nor did manual tuning helped us to attain the kit's maximum frequency of 3000Mhz.
Now for the down side, I know that my processor sample is capable of 5Ghz but not on this board for one simple reason, the automatic LLC generator on the motherboard raises the voltage drastically from what we've set into the BIOS once we move up to 4.7Ghz or higher. Even our multi-meter showed similar readings to what CPU Z or the BIOS displayed once a successful Windows bootup was done.
Even setting lower voltages than intended didn't help much and we only managed to run at 4.7Ghz stable with 2666Mhz on the RAM. 4.8Ghz was attainable but wasn't Intel XTU stable due to very high core voltage.
So for the benchmarks we'll use the two stable combinations obtained ie 4.6Ghz on the CPU and 2666Mhz on the memory with 4.7Ghz on the CPU and 2666Mhz on the memory.
AIDA64 Cache & Memory BenchmarkAIDA64 implements a set of 64-bit benchmarks to measure how fast the computer performs various data processing tasks and mathematical calculations. Memory and cache benchmarks are available to analyze system RAM bandwidth and latency.
A pint worth pointing out over here is that the motherboard is bottlenecking the memory performance drastically and results are nearly cut to half for what they should be originally! Read speeds are still fine but copy and read speeds take a direct hit.
AES-256 and SHA-1 Hash Benchmark
AES-256 and SHA-1 Hash benchmark emulates real life data processing scenarios through a set of pre-defined algorithms scoring both the CPU and GPU respectively. It is a very useful test to determine how efficient the processor and graphics card will be on a particular motherboard when it comes to real life working.
Cinebench R15 & Cinebench R11.5
As Cinema 4D is a real-world application - used on films such as Spider-Man and Star Wars - Cinebench can be viewed as a real-world benchmark.
Intel XTUIntel XTU is a utility mainly used to overclock the processor and memory to benchmark the system for its stability and performance. The score obtained is a projection of the computer's true potential signifying its performance in real-life tasks.
The same story such as the previous can be seen over here aswell!
This suite allows you to measure the performance of your computer. The benchmark shows a rating in MIPS (million instructions per second). There are two tests, compression with LZMA method and decompression with LZMA method. Once the total passes reaches 100, the score is taken. Higher the score better is the computer's overall performance.
SuperPi Mod v1.5
SuperPi is a simple program that utilizes the processing power and memory speed of the system to calculate the value of Pi upto 1 Million or 32 Million decimal point depending upon what you choose. The time is calculated in minutes and seconds so lower the score faster is your computer.
I can't start gaming benchmarks without running my all time favorites Crysis 3 but its a game that no system loves! The CryEngine 3 behind this scenic beauty can bring down any system to its knees and I mean any system. I set everything to Very High at 1920x1080 resolution with SMAA 2X and motion blur medium.
Batman Arkham Knight
Since the game is powered by Epic's Unreal Engine 3 and supports DX11 tessellation so playing this game on 1920x1080 resolution with all settings maxed out can be any modern system's 'worst nightmare'! While benchmarking all setting were set to normal with nVidia exclusive features disabled.
Based on the DICE's Frostbite Engine 3 this game not only taxes a CPU and GPU both by reproducing lush details on the screen but also utilizes the DX11 and DX11.1 features coupled with 64-bit binaries! Settings were at Ultra with antialiasing deferred at 2x MSAA and ambient occlusion enabled.
My VerdictBiostar had gone quiet for some time but with the Racing Z170GT motherboard its back in the mainstream race and it looks more impressive than ever before. The heatsink embedded LEDs is a brilliant move speaks volume about how one can still improvise in the seemingly saturated RGB LED market. The brightness is perfect and doesn't hurt my eyes though the strip near the audio chips is a bit too sharp for my taste and the chipset LED is alienated from the rest but that is something I can pass upon.
The absence of LLC settings is gravely felt since the on-board LLC generator over-compensates for the voltage making it a nightmare to achieve a decent OC. Also 3000Mhz memory support is a bit off and needed to be worked upon. BIOS wise its a fresh approach and I expect some fixes to roll out soon since the latest and so far the only BIOS is a December 2015 release.
So is the Biostar Racing Z170GT Motherboard worth buying for an offer price of $129 or Rs 12000 (approx)? Both yes and no! Yes if you are looking for a great looking motherboard and are not into high level overclocking but still don't want to lose upon the Z170 PCH facilities like extra PCI-E lanes and more I/O connectivity since the motherboard is ideal for gaming and other day to day usage with a hint of styling. No if you are looking for something with top notch overclocking potential, high frequency memory support along with powerful audio output while gaming using headsets.
I give it a 7.5/10