The Gigabyte Z170N-Gaming 5 and Z170N-WIFI are among the most affordable Z170 mini-ITX motherboards on the market. They’re equipped with most of the same features but sport less sophisticated voltage regulation and cooling than pricier models.
January 17, 2016 by Lawrence Lee
|LGA1151 Mini-ITX Motherboard|
The first mini-ITX Skylake motherboard we examined was the Asus Maximus VIII Impact. It’s packed with features like discrete audio, a high-end voltage regulation system, and even an add-on fan controller card. Though an excellent board, it’s the most expensive (US$240) model of its kind and overkill for the majority of DIYers.
The Gigabyte Z170N-Gaming 5 and Z170N-WIFI take a decidedly more pragmatic approach. Though based on the same Z170 chipset and mini-ITX form factor, they’re more barebones, offering little in the way of extras and premium features. Priced at about US$150 and US$135, they’re two of the cheapest such models on the market. Spend any less and you’re looking mostly at non-enthusiast H170 or B150 chipset mainboards with no overclocking capabilities.
Being the more upscale model, the Z170N-Gaming 5 ships in a more decorative box adorned with promotional imagery for Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard’s popular multiplayer battle arena game. Both boards ship with the usual driver discs, documentation, and I/O shield, two SATA cables, as well as the same WiFi antenna with a magnetic base. The Gaming 5 also includes a case sticker and door hanger, and its SATA cables are a more fanciful silver color rather than boring black.
On paper, the two boards are more similar than different. Both have six SATA 6 Gbps ports, four of which are part of the two side-mounted SATA Express connector blocks, an M.2 slot with PCI-E x4 support on the back, an Intel-based 802.11ac/Bluetooth 4.2 adapter, and two DDR4 DIMM slots allowing up to 32GB of RAM. The Gaming 5 model supports slightly higher memory (3333 MHz) and sports a single Killer gigabit NIC, two display options, and a USB 3.1 connectivity. The WIFI model can handle up to 3200 MHz memory and is equipped with dual Intel ethernet controllers, a third display output courtesy of a second HDMI port, and is USB 3.0 compatible only.
Physically, they have nearly identical layouts, though the Gaming 5 has an 8-pin auxiliary CPU power port and dual heatsink cooling connected via heatpipe while the WIFI settles for a 4-pin plug and exposed VRMs, despite both boards using the same 5-phase power regulation system. The lack of cooling is not surprising for a budget model but it’s odd to see it paired with the Z170 chipset which is primarily used for overclocking which puts extra thermal strain on the components. The Gaming 5 is more impressive visually, adopting slicker red/chrome accents rather than the grey used on the WIFI.
Specifications: Gigabyte Z170N-WIFI
(Gigabyte Z170N-Gaming 5 differences in bold)
|CPU||Support for Intel® Core™ i7 processors/Intel® Core™ i5 processors/ Intel® Core™ i3 processors/Intel® Pentium® processors/ Intel® Celeron® processors in the LGA1151 package|
|L3 cache varies with CPU|
|(Please refer "CPU Support List" for more information.)|
|Chipset||Intel® Z170 Express Chipset|
|Memory||2 x DDR4 DIMM sockets supporting up to 32 GB of system memory|
* Due to a Windows 32-bit operating system limitation, when more than 4 GB of physical memory is installed, the actual memory size displayed will be less than the size of the physical memory installed.
|Dual channel memory architecture|
|Support for 3200(O.C.) /3000(O.C.) /2800(O.C.) /2666(O.C.) /2400(O.C.) /2133 MHz memory modules|
Support for DDR4 3333(O.C.) /3300(O.C.) /3200(O.C.) /3000(O.C.) /2800(O.C.) /2666(O.C.) /2400(O.C.) /2133 MHz memory modules
|Support for ECC UDIMM 1Rx8/2Rx8 memory modules (operate in non-ECC mode)|
|Support for Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) memory modules|
|(Please refer "Memory Support List" for more information.)|
|Onboard Graphics||Integrated Graphics Processor-Intel® HD Graphics support|
|1 x DVI-D port, supporting a maximum resolution of 1920×1200@60 Hz|
* The DVI-D port does not support D-Sub connection by adapter.
|2 x HDMI port, supporting a maximum resolution of 4096×2160@24 Hz|
* Support for HDMI 1.4 version.
1 x HDMI port, supporting a maximum resolution of 4096×2160@24 Hz
* Support for HDMI 1.4 version.
|Maximum shared memory of 512 MB|
|Audio||Realtek® ALC1150 codec|
|Support for Sound Blaster X-Fi MB3|
|High Definition Audio|
|Support for S/PDIF Out|
|LAN||2 x Intel® GbE LAN chips (10/100/1000 Mbit)|
Killer E2201 chip (10/100/1000 Mbit)
|Wireless Communication module||Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, supporting 2.4/5 GHz Dual-Band|
|Bluetooth 4.2, 4.1, BLE, 4.0, 3.0, 2.1+EDR|
|Support for 11ac wireless standard and up to 867 Mbps data rate|
* Actual data rate may vary depending on environment and equipment.
|Expansion Slots||1 x PCI Express x16 slot, running at x16|
(The PCIEX16 slot conforms to PCI Express 3.0 standard.)
|1 x M.2 Socket 1 connector for the wireless communication module (M2_WIFI)|
|Storage Interface||1 x M.2 Socket 3 connector on the back of the motherboard (Socket 3, M key, type 2260/2280 SATA & PCIe x4/x2/x1 SSD support)|
|2 x SATA Express connectors|
|6 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors|
|Support for RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, and RAID 10|
|* Refer to "1-7 Internal Connectors," for the supported configurations with the M.2, SATA Express, and SATA connectors.|
|USB||2 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports available through the internal USB header|
|6 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports (4 ports on the back panel, 2 ports available through the internal USB header)|
5 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports (3 ports on the back panel, 2 ports available through the internal USB header)
|1 x USB Type-C™ port on the back panel, with USB 3.0 support|
1 x USB Type-C™ port on the back panel, with USB 3.1 support
1 x USB 3.1 Type-A port (red) on the back panel
|Internal I/O Connectors||1 x 24-pin ATX main power connector|
1 x 4-pin ATX 12V power connector
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V power connector
6 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
2 x SATA Express connectors
1 x M.2 Socket 3 connector
1 x CPU fan header
1 x system fan header
1 x front panel header
1 x front panel audio header
1 x USB 3.0/2.0 header
1 x USB 2.0/1.1 header
1 x S/PDIF Out header
1 x speaker header
1 x Clear CMOS jumper
1 x chassis intrusion header
|Back Panel Connectors||1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse port|
2 x HDMI ports / 1 x HDMI port
2 x SMA antenna connectors (2T2R)
1 x DVI-D port
4 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports / 3 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports
1 x USB 3.1 Type-A port (red)
1 x USB Type-C™ port, with USB 3.0 support / with USB 3.1 support
2 x RJ-45 ports / 1 x RJ-45 port
1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector
5 x audio jacks (Center/Subwoofer Speaker Out, Rear Speaker Out, Line In, Line Out, Mic In)
|H/W Monitoring||System voltage detection|
CPU/System temperature detection
CPU/System fan speed detection
CPU/System overheating warning
CPU/System fan fail warning
CPU/System fan speed control
* Whether the fan speed control function is supported will depend on the cooler you install.
|BIOS||2 x 64 Mbit flash|
Use of licensed AMI UEFI BIOS
Support for DualBIOS™
PnP 1.0a, DMI 2.7, WfM 2.0, SM BIOS 2.7, ACPI 5.0
|Unique Features||Support for APP Center|
* Available applications in APP Center may vary by motherboard model. Supported functions of each application may also vary depending on motherboard specifications.
System Information Viewer
|Support for Q-Flash|
|Support for Smart Switch|
|Support for Xpress Install|
|Bundle Software||Norton Internet Security (OEM version)|
|Intel® Smart Response Technology|
|Intel® Wireless Display|
|cFosSpeed (WIFI model only)|
|Operating System||Support for Windows 10/8.1 64-bit|
|Support for Windows 7 32-bit/64-bit|
* Please download the "Windows USB Installation Tool" from GIGABYTE’s website and install it before installing Windows 7.
|Form Factor||Mini-ITX Form Factor; 17.0cm x 17.0cm|
Motherboard driver disk
Two SATA cables
Quick Installation Guide
Wireless module driver disk
|Remark||Due to different Linux support condition provided by chipset vendors, please download Linux driver from chipset vendors’ website or 3rd party website|
|Most hardware/software vendors may no longer offer drivers to support Win9X/ME/2000/XP. If drivers are available from the vendors, we will update them on the GIGABYTE website.|
* The entire materials provided herein are for reference only. GIGABYTE reserves the right to modify or revise the content at anytime without prior notice.
* Advertised performance is based on maximum theoretical interface values from respective Chipset vendors or organization who defined the interface specification. Actual performance may vary by system configuration.
* All trademarks and logos are the properties of their respective holders.
* Due to standard PC architecture, a certain amount of memory is reserved for system usage and therefore the actual memory size is less than the stated amount.
The two boards have near identical layouts that are fairly standard for Intel based mini-ITX boars. However, the component arrangement is not as clean as some higher-end models. The front audio and USB connectors are not located on the edge of the board, residing further inward near the curve of the heatpipe portion of the VRM/PCH cooler. The USB 3.0 header’s placement near the CPU socket is particularly troublesome as USB 3.0 cables tend to be thick and stiff. This may complicate cable management, especially if a large third party CPU heatsink is used.
The Gigabyte Z170N-Gaming 5 and Z170N-WIFI have near identical BIOS menus with all the same major features and settings. For these two boards, Gigabyte only offers the old school "classic mode" that is heavy on text and light on graphics. On previous Gigabyte Z170/Z97/Z87 models I’ve used, a vided a simplified alternative was offered with a pleasant consolidated UI to keep less advanced users out of trouble.
The frequency and voltage options lack the daunting variety of competing enthusiast models but all the basics are present for casual overclocking, if you dare to try it on a mini-ITX board with a fairy basic voltage regulation system and limited VRM cooling.
The behavior of the audio LED can be changed in the BIOS and with a utility in Windows, but on the Gaming 5 model, the "pulse" setting does not work, and neither the "pulse" or "beat" options function on the WIFI version. Obviously Gigabyte is reusing the same menu across their board lineup regardless of the audio LED’s capabilities on each particular board, but if a model doesn’t support a feature, it shouldn’t be displayed as an option.
Two 4-pin fan headers are provided on the top edge of the board, with the CPU fan header performing PWM control only, while the single system fan header relies on voltage control. Automated control via the BIOS is slope-based so the fan curve is a straight line with the only option being its steepness. There are a trio of presets to choose from and if you prefer manual control, the number of options expands to eight. For more dynamic options, you’ll have to use software.
Measurement and Analysis Tools
Video Test Clips
H.264/MKV 1080p: A custom 1080p H.264 encoded clip inside an Matroska container with a 22 mbps bitrate.
Before testing, certain services/features
like Indexing, Superfetch, System Restore, and Windows Defender are disabled
to prevent them from causing spikes in CPU/HDD usage. We also make note if energy
saving features like Cool’n’Quiet, SpeedStep or S3 suspend-to-RAM do not function
Our main test procedure is designed to measure the overall system power consumption
at various states. We also measure the hottest points on the external heatsinks using an infrared thermometer.
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
System Power (AC)
Time to Throttle
Lost Planet 2
Lost Planet 2
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.
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.
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.
Gigabyte’s utilities are effectively applets living inside a depository called "App Center" though each application opens up in its own window. This makes it a bit messier than more consolidated solutions like Asus’ AI Suite, though it should be noted that Asus does provide some software that lives outside AI Suite as well, most notably the ROG utilities on their high-end boards. This version of App Center feels more lightweight and responsive than previous versions.
Being SPCR, fan control is of high importance and System Information Viewer does an adequate job, offering fan calibration and both dynamic and fixed control for both fan headers. Smart fan allows users to adjust the fan curve with six different points but in response to CPU temperature only. Fixed RPM control has a high degree of granularity with very small (less than 10 RPM) selectable increments but the resulting speed is often off by 100~150 RPM. With earlier versions of SIV, I noted a substantial delay when changing speed but with these two boards, the speed changes almost instantly so this problem seems to have been addressed.
The latest beta version of SpeedFan does not pick up either board’s controllers, so we’re stuck with what Gigabyte gives us for now.
Like previous versions of SIV, clicking a button on the top right corner transforms the interface into a hardware monitor that docks itself to the edge of the screen. This means you can’t monitor frequencies, temperatures, voltages, and fan speeds while you’re making adjustments. Another peeve is the warning system which works perfectly the first time, popping an unobtrusive notification above the system tray when a sensor reader exceeds its designated limit. However, if change the parameters afterwards so the warning should no longer apply, the notification persists. A restart is required to make the change take effect.
On-the-fly frequency and voltage tuning can be performed from the EasyTune utility but Gigabyte’s branded version of the Intel Extreme Tuning Utility is far more comprehensive, making EasyTune redundant.
As the Gaming 5 features a Killer NIC, it can use the Killer Network Manager, a traffic shaping application that is easier to use and more pleasant to look at than the cFosSpeed utility that ships with the WIFI model. These kinds of programs are useful for setting bandwidth/traffic priority to certain applications and services such as games, streaming, and VOIP.
3D OSD provides an overlay in games, displaying the framerate, clock speed, and other information in real time.
While most of the provided software functions as intended, some simply didn’t work at all. I was particularly interested in trying out AutoGreen, which can put your PC to sleep or lock it when a paired smartphone goes out of range. For example, you could walk away from your desk with your phone in your pocket without having to remember to lock down your PC for privacy concerns. This sounds great on paper but numerous attempts to pair resulted in an error message. After playing around with the HomeCloud mobile app, I eventually I did manage to pair successfully but then it began going to sleep repeatedly on its own even with my phone right next to it.
Also, the Sound Blaster X-Fi MB3 audio application, which is touted as a feature on the Gaming 5, doesn’t function. During setup, an error message popped up but the application installed regardless. However, all the options inside the app were grayed out.
Overall, I would say Gigabyte’s software is slowly improving but not quickly enough for my liking. Testing out the various utilities, I found a couple of apps that didn’t work properly, a few bugs, some spelling errors, and the occasional annoying UI choice carried over from earlier versions. These aspects are obviously not a deal-breakers but the lack of polish on the software doesn’t help inspire confidence in their hardware or brand.
These Gigabyte mini-ITX motherboards don’t really skimp on features compared to larger models with the exception of the lack of USB 3.1 on the WIFI model. Obviously there are fewer DIMM slots, expansion slots, and fan headers, but those are common tradeoffs in mini-ITX. Both the Z170N-Gaming 5 and Z170N-WIFI offer six SATA 6 Gbps ports, a PCI-E x4 M.2 slot, a SATA Express option, as well as a capable integrated wireless card/antenna. Energy efficiency under normal loads is also fairly good and they’re freakishly frugal when sitting idle or doing mundane things like watching video.
However, being Z170 motherboards, we have higher expectations. The main benefit over B150 and H170 boards is the ability to overclock but this is out of the question for the Z170N-WIFI. Our i7-6700K processor at stock speeds buckled under the pressure when taxed with synthetic loads or a combination of heavy duty real world applications. My guess is the lack of a VRM heatsink has something to do with it; whatever the reason, the issue cripples its potential. A Z170 model that can’t overclock is no better than a H170 model, which puts the Z170N-WIFI’s very existence into question.
The Z170N-Gaming 5 fared better under the same circumstances, staying stable throughout all of our tests, but that’s hardly worthy of a compliment. Our synthetic stress testing caused the Gaming 5 to draw more power and produce more heat than any Skylake model tested previously. While it has a two-piece heatpipe cooler, the VRM heatsink is surprisingly small, and this coupled with the board’s relatively simplistic 5-phase power regulation design are likely to blame.
The Z170N-Gaming 5 and Z170N-WIFI are currently selling for approximately US$150 and US$135 respectively, making them among the most affordable Z170 mini-ITX models on the market. However, if you can’t use the chipset to its full potential, as is the case of the Z170N-WIFI, you might as well downgrade to a cheaper H170 or B150 model. The other option is to go in the other direction — spending an extra US$15 is certainly worthwhile to acquire the more capable Z170N-Gaming 5. It has everything most DIYers need for a compact PC, though if cooling is a big concern, you may want to take it a step further and select a pricier model with better power regulation and bigger heatsinks.
Our thanks to Gigabyte for the Z170N-Gaming 5 and Z170N-WIFI motherboard samples.
The Gigabyte Z170N-Gaming 5 is recommended by SPCR
* * *
Articles of Related Interest
Asus Maximus VIII Impact Mini-ITX Skylake Motherboard
Intel Core i7-6700: Skylake i7 at 65W
Skylake Memory Scaling with Kingston Predator DDR4-3000
Asus Skylake Z170 Motherboards: Maximus VIII Gene vs. Z170-A
Intel Core i7-5775C: Broadwell for Desktops
Skylake: Intel Core i7-6700K
* * *