The GIGABYTE X170-Extreme ECC Motherboard Review: For When Skylake Xeons need SLI and Thunderbolt 3by Ian Cutress on October 17, 2016 2:00 PM EST
When we reviewed the GIGABYTE MW31-SP0, I stated at the time that due to the design of many of the Xeon focused motherboards, only two or three were actually geared up for SLI certification. It comes down to the motherboard implementing the C236 chipset (over the C232) and the manufacturer providing an x8/x8 PCIe lane allocation and actually going for certification. The reality seems to be that not that many Xeon users want/need SLI for gaming, hence the low number of products available. But GIGABYTE aims for the X170-EXTREME ECC to be the best motherboard on the market for just such an occasion, while bundling Thunderbolt 3 support as well.
Other AnandTech Reviews for Intel’s 6th Generation CPUs and 100-Series Motherboards
Skylake-K Review: Core i7-6700K and Core i5-6600K - CPU Review
Comparison between the i7-6700K and i7-2600K in Bench - CPU Comparison
Overclocking Performance Mini-Test to 4.8 GHz - Overclocking
Skylake Architecture Analysis - Microarchitecture
Z170 Chipset Analysis and 55+ Motherboards - Motherboard Overview
Discrete Graphics: An Update for Z170 Motherboards - PCIe Firmware Update
Price Check: Intel Skylake i7-6700K and i5-6600K – Latest Skylake Price Check (3/29)
100-Series and C232/C236 Motherboard Reviews:
Prices Correct at time of each review
($500) The GIGABYTE Z170X-Gaming G1 Review
($500) The ASUS Maximus VIII Extreme Review
($370) The GIGABYTE Server MW31-SP0 Review (C236)
($310) The GIGABYTE X170-Extreme ECC Review (C236, this review)
($250) The ASUS Maximus VIII Impact Review
($240) The ASRock Z170 Extreme7+ Review
($230) The MSI Z170 Gaming M7 Review
($208) The GIGABYTE Z170-UD5 TH Review
($165) The ASUS Z170-A Review
($143) The ASRock E3V5 Gaming Review (C232)
($130) The MSI Z170A SLI PLUS Review
($125) The Supermicro C7H170-M Review
To read specifically about the Z170 chip/platform and the specifications therein, our deep dive into what it is can be found at this link.
GIGABYTE X170-Extreme ECC Overview
Sitting at $310, the X170-Extreme ECC is near the top of the cost pile for Skylake based systems whether the user is specifically looking at a Xeon/prosumer build or otherwise. For the money, GIGABYTE offers plausibly the consumer board with the highest specifications cable of supporting E3-1200 v5 Xeons as well as SLI, USB 3.1, dual PCIe 3.0 x4 SSDs in RAID and Thunderbolt 3 all in one package without the need for add-on peripherals.
Due to the fact that Intel removed Xeon support from motherboards using consumer grade chipsets, users who preferred Xeon functionality (either for ECC or support packages) now have to migrate towards motherboards with C232 or C236 chipsets instead. C232, as we explained in the review of the MW31-SP0, is an analogue to the Q150 chipset whereas C236 is more of a Z/H170 hybrid, with up to 20 PCIe lanes from the chipset but a lack of overclocking support. The motherboards with these server grade chipsets are typically, generally speaking, engineered to work at peak rates for several years (and server grade cooling), and should be built as such. This is perhaps why a user would look at a server-class chipset while only looking at standard consumer-grade processors (C232 and C236 accept Core 6000 series CPUs as well as Xeon E3-1200 v5 CPUs).
Back specifically to the GIGABYTE X170-Extreme ECC, and this element of 'over-engineering' comes through in design, aesthetics, the functionality and the price. The top GBT boards use the more expensive International Rectifier ICs for power delivery for example, as well as Alpine Ridge for Thunderbolt connectivity, and this is no exception. GIGABYTE was Intel's primary motherboard partner when the Alpine Ridge controller was launched, so it makes sense to see it on GIGABYTE's top line prosumer Xeon motherboard.
For BIOS, GIGABYTE has removed the '3D' mode and reverted back to a classic (but HD) menu implementation that makes it easier to navigate. The software in the OS moves through a singular interface, unifying a design ID between various GBT features on fan profiles and monitoring, however external vendor packages such as the Killer networking interface and the Sound Blaster audio get their own implementations. GIGABYTE lacks a RAMDisk utility, which might be worth while for a prosumer system loaded up to the gills.
Performance is middle of the road in our benchmarks, given the priority here is stability over tweaking every iota out of the stock performance. The X170-Extreme ECC doesn't enable any form of multi-core turbo due to the aforementioned stability focus of the market, but there still needs to be some fine-tuning, given for example the high DPC Latency. Despite that, the POST time is particularly good for a dual NIC system (Intel and Killer) with Alpine Ridge and other chipset controllers, as in fact the best POST time we’ve seen on any Skylake 100-series or C23x motherboard so far. While we had issues with testing the audio due to the Sound Blaster implementation and USB 3.1 testing due to the Alpine Ridge controller, we were able to source a Thunderbolt 3 device from Akitio with a 1.2 TB Intel SSD 750 and performance was identical to the 1.2 TB drive we tested on a native U.2 port back at launch. Nothing extraordinary came from the rest of the testing.
Quick Links to Other Pages
In The Box and Visual Inspection
Test Bed and Setup
System Performance (Audio, USB, Power, POST Times on Windows 7, Latency)
CPU Performance, Short Form (Office Tests and Transcoding)
Gaming Performance 2015 (R7 240, GTX 770, GTX 980)
Quick Board Feature Comparison
|GIGABYTE X170-Extreme ECC|
|MSRP at Review||$310||$143|
|DRAM||4 x DDR4||4 x DDR4|
|BIOS Version Tested||F2c||1.11|
|MCT Enabled Automatically?||No||No|
|USB 3.1 (10 Gbps)||Intel Alpine Ridge||None|
|M.2 Slots||2 x PCIe 3.0 x4||None|
|Network Controller||1 x Intel I219-V
1 x Killer E2400
|1 x Intel I219-V|
|Audio Controller||Realtek ALC1150||Realtek ALC1150|
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SetiroN - Monday, October 17, 2016 - linkThere is only one thing that's worse than camo: pixelized camo.
I honestly fail to understand who in the world would ever buy a socket 1150 Xeon solution instead of socket 2011.
dave_the_nerd - Monday, October 17, 2016 - link1) Digital camo has been standard-issue in the military for a while now.
2) Anybody who only needs a 4c/8t system, but is otherwise doing "workstation" or server-grade work. (Uptime requirements, longevity requirements, need ECC ram for data crunching, need virtualization features, etc.)
zepi - Monday, October 17, 2016 - link4c/8t LGA2011 solution hardly costs much more, especially since this board is approaching the pricing of workstation mobos...
Einy0 - Monday, October 17, 2016 - link2) The supposed advantages are 95% marketing. Uptime is more about your OS if you select quality components to go with the CPU. Longevity, seriously??? I can show you desktops built 30+ years ago that run today the same as they did then. How many CPUs actually die? I personally have had one die, it was 7 years old. Virtualization, again no more features on the 1151 Xeon versus the i7. ECC, that's the one feature an 1151 Xeon has over a similar i7. Now when we start talking multi-socket and what not well that's obvious. I've had these conversations in the past with engineers and developers at work. Everyone just assumes that when Intel says they need a Xeon to do something there is a reason. Yup, there is a reason, they can make more money from the same chip with a Xeon badge on it.
HollyDOL - Tuesday, October 18, 2016 - linkYep, you can show 30 old desktops still working, but how many of them were running 24/7? None.
mkaibear - Tuesday, October 18, 2016 - linkUp until very recently I had a desktop of about that vintage running SCO Unix. That ran 24/7. In fact we were scared to turn it off because it ran chunks of the factory...
devol - Saturday, October 22, 2016 - linkThere are more differences than just ECC memory. For instance i7 cpu's don't support hugetlb/hugepages, and several other 'server' focused virtualization extensions. Until Skylake though, the PCH had basically no support for needed features for SR-IOV.
bigboxes - Monday, October 17, 2016 - linkI'm sorry. I can't see the motherboard. Where is it in the picture?
stardude82 - Friday, November 18, 2016 - linkI think it's generally acknowledged now that the digital camouflage was a failure.
BrokenCrayons - Monday, October 17, 2016 - linkYeah, it's really off-putting to see camo. I think they're going for some kind of military/tactical thing, but Gigabyte's failed to realize that camo just makes a product look trashy and redneck to people in the US these days.