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GIGABYTE Z170-HD3 Review; DDR3 On Skylake

Author: MAC
Date: November 30, 2015
Product Name: Z170-HD3
Part Number: Z170-HD3
Warranty: 3 Years
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Upgrading a system while maintaining a strict budget doesn't come easy these days. By and large, Intel Z170-based systems aren't inexpensive since the motherboards with the features people want come at a significant premium and there's also the additional expense of DDR4 memory which has to be factored into that equation. GIGABYTE has a solution though: their Z170-HD3 supports DDR3 memory modules and also comes with a pretty extensive feature set.

The history behind Skylake processors and their dual compatibility with DDR4 and DDR3 memory is a somewhat convoluted one. When the architecture was first announced, Intel made it apparent that support for low voltage 1.35V DDR3L was included, which meshed perfectly with the reduced current needs of current generation DDR4 modules. On the other hand, they issued a warning that utilizing standard voltage 1.5V+ DDR3 modules could damage the processors' integrated memory controller (IMC) and thus were not officially supported.

So where does this leave GIGABYTE's 170-HD3? It still provides a viable upgrade path since there have been certain checks and balances put in place the insure a certain amount of safety is built into GIGABYTE's ecosystem. However, if you choose to operate outside those "safe zones" then the risk is entirely in your court. When it comes to upgrading in this manner there's no such thing as a free lunch.

Although the fact that it supports DDR3 memory is obviously one of the main factors that first drew our attention, this GIGABYTE Z170-HD3 DDR3 (and its DDR4 variant) is the most affordable full-size Z170 motherboard on the market right now. This is important because at first glance it really doesn't appear that GIGABYTE have left anything noteworthy off of this model.

First and foremost, the Z170-HD3 comes with a 6-phase power design, which is still more than adequate to handle just about any overclock you can achieve with air or all-in-one liquid cooling on current Skylake processors. There are two PCI-E 3.0 x16 slots, though the second one is indeed limited to PCI-E 3.0 x4, which means that this model is targeted towards those who plan on using a single graphics card. There are also two PCI-E 3.0 x1 slots, and you can reuse your legacy PCI expansion cards thanks to the two PCI slots.

Storage wise there are six SATA 6Gb/s ports, three SATA Express ports (built into the regular SATA ports), and a full speed M.2 x4 connector that supports SATA, PCI-E, and PCI-E NVMe SSDs. When it comes to USB connectivity, there are four USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports on the rear I/O panel, as well as two internal USB headers supporting up to eight additional ports. This model features a single gigabit LAN interface powered by a Realtek controller, while the audio is supplied by a lower-end ALC887 eight-channel CODEC. As have become the norm, the sound subsystem is isolated from the rest of the system by an audio separation line on the PCB. Those who plan on making use of the CPU's integrated graphics will be glad to see a full assortment of VGA, DVI, and HDMI video outputs. Rounding things out, you will find small extras like three 4-pin PWM fan headers, two physical BIOS chips, and a rich software suite that will be examining thoroughly.

So what did they leave out? Well there are no USB 3.1 ports, no DisplayPort output, onboard power and reset buttons are missing, and there's certainly no wireless connectivity. Having said that, when you consider the fact that you can find this motherboard for under $150 CAD / $110 USD, we can overlook all those elements if this proves to be the well-rounded and budget-friendly Z170 motherboard that it appears to be at first glance.

 
 
 

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