Welcome back to our Motherboard Memory Lane series. This week we’ll actually be looking at a platform that should remain pretty fresh in the memory of most overclockers – the relatively recent Intel Z170 platform. The Intel Z170 platform arrived alongside a brand new batch of Skylake architecture processors just under three years ago and remains a popular platform today. Let’s once again take a look at the motherboards and processor models that were popular in this era, as well as a few of the most exceptional scores and submissions that were made by overclockers on HWBOT.
Intel Z170: Overview
In the minds of most enthusiasts the newly arrived Skylake architecture processors replaced the previous generation Haswell and Devil’s Canyon architecture chips. This due to the fact that its true predecessor, the Broadwell architecture, basically failed to turn up as a desktop PC option. For most us, Skylake replaced Haswell, just as Z170 replaced Z97.
The Intel Z170 platform officially landed on August 5th 2015, sporting a new CPU socket and a new line of CPUs. Aimed the mainstream PC market, Z170 was eventually joined by several other PCH variants that include the Intel H110, B150, Q150, H170 and Q170. The Z170, as with all Z-series PCH models, was aimed at the enthusiasts and was the only one (at launch) to support CPU multiplier and BCLK overclocking.
The new platform was codenamed Sunrise Point and arrived with a new LGA 1151 socket that would go on to support subsequent Kaby Lake architecture chips (pending a BIOS update). It also supported both DDR3, DDR3L and DDR4 memory standards, being the first DDR4-capable mainstream consumer desktop platform. Dual channel memory support included default speeds of 1,600MHz (DDR3) and 2,133MHz (DDR4).The vast majority of Z170 motherboards supported DDR4 only.
When comparing the Z97 PCH and the new Z170 PCH we find plenty of similarities. These include an integrated Gigabit Ethernet MAC, six SATA 6Gb/s ports and support for HD Audio support. Intel upped their game in terms of USB support with up to USB 3.0 ports and fourteen USB 2.0 ports, this is possible due to the 20 lanes of PCIe Gen 3.0 available direct from the PCH. Motherboard vendors were allowed to essentially pick and choose how many USB ports, M.2 ports and GbE to use, having more flexibility than with previous platforms.
The Intel Z170 PCH connected to the processor using an updated DMI 3.0 connection which offered bandwidth of up to 8 GT/s. As with Lynx Point, the Z170 PCH accessed the integrated graphics core from the processor, supporting up to three simultaneous digital displays including HDMI, DisplayPort and DVI (VGA was officially retired, although many board vendors continued to add VGA ports via a standard converter). It was manufactured using Intel’s 22nm process with dimensions of 23mm x 23mm and had a TDP of 6 watts.
Most Popular Intel Z170 Motherboards
Arguably ASUS had dropped the ball with the previous Z97 platform, with unpopular heatsink designs that eventually proved to have lasting damage to their reputation. With Z170 the company had clearly upped their game, taking the lion’s share of the top ten that we see below:
- -ASUS Maximus VIII Hero – 10.00%
- -ASUS Maximus VIII Gene – 5.51%
- -ASUS Z170-A – 5.46%
- -ASRock Z170 OC Formula – 5.29%
- -GIGABYTE Z170X-Gaming 7 – 5.14%
- -MSI Z170A Gaming M5 – 3.92%
- -ASUS Z170 Pro Gaming – 3.90%
- -ASUS Maximus Extreme – 3.60%
- -MSI Z170A Gaming M7 – 3.56%
- -ASUS Maximus VIII Impact – 3.56%
With six of the top ten boards on the list and a combined percentage of 32% of all Z170 submissions, ASUS are clearly in the driving seat with this platform. The numbers also point to the growing strength of the Republic of Gamers brand which had expanded to include ATX, M-ATX and Mini-ITX form factor offerings. It’s interesting to see that the flagship ROG Maximus VIII Extreme does not top the list with the more affordable (and arguably more balanced) ROG Maximus VIII Hero taking top spot.
GIGABYTE’s apparent demise in the high-end enthusiast space continues as they have just one entrant in the top ten, the GIGABYTE Z170X Gaming 7 motherboard. ASRock are represented by the Z170 OC Formula, a new addition to the Formula series which continued to enjoy a fairly loyal fanbase. MSI again enjoy a solid showing with two MSI Gaming models.
Most Popular Intel Z170 Compatible Processor: Intel Core i7 6700K
Intel’s Skylake architecture processors were officially launched as Intel’s 6th Generation Core series. The company’s tick-tock cadence persisted with a new architecture based on the same 14nm manufacturing process it had developed for Broadwell. Major architectural changes from the perspective of overclocking included the move away from the FIVR design we saw with Haswell. The voltage regulator was moved from the processor, back to the motherboard. This helped make Skylake CPUs scale better with higher voltages, a issue that had plagued Haswell architecture CPUs. In terms of PCIe, all Core i7 processors had 16x lanes of PCIe Gen 3.0.
When it comes to the more recent mainstream CPU launches from Intel, it’s actually pretty easy to predict which model will be most popular with overclockers – the highest performing ‘K’ sku. With the launch of Skylake and Intel’s sixth generation processor series, the Core i7 6700K is the overwhelming candidate, being involved with 61.25% of all Z170 platform submissions. The Core i7 6700K featured four CPU cores and eight threads with Hyper-Threading. It used a base clock of 4.0GHz with a 4.20GHz Turbo Boost frequency, an 8 MB last-level cache, dual-channel DDR3/DDR4 memory controller with both 1,600MHz and 2,133MHz support. It featured an Intel HD Graphics 530-series IGP and LGA 1151 packaging. The Core i7 6700K retailed for $339 USD dollars at launch.
With only two ‘K’ SKUs, the runner up is also fairly easy to fathom. The Core i5 6600K is responsible for 25.54% of all Z170 submissions. It had a base clock of 3.5GHz boosting to 3.9GHz and as with its senior partner the Core 6700K, it had a TDP of 91 watts, around 4 watts less than Haswell equivalent chips.
In general, the overclocking experience with Skylake architecture processors was improved compared to Haswell with improved scaling with higher voltages. The emergence of non-K SKU overclocking also happened during the Skylake era. Motherboard vendors released BIOS updates that allowed users to overclock non-K SKU Core processors. Intel eventually issued a microcode update that essentially killed the practice, but in reality it had only a minor effect on the numbers. To date, non-K model processors represent only a very small percentage of Z170 platform submissions on HWBOT.
Intel Z170: Record Scores
We now take a look at some of the highest scores posted using the Z170 platform starting with the highest reference clock for the ASUS Maximus VIII Hero.
Reference clock overclocking may not be the most important benchmark of the Z170 era, however it remains a reliable way to determine a motherboard’s ability to clock highly. The highest reference clock submitted on HWBOT using a ASUS Maximus VIII Hero motherboard came from Indian overclocker ksateaaa23. He managed a reference clock of 383.01 MHz using an Intel Core i7 6700K processor configured at 3,064.06MHz (8 x 383.01MHz).
You can find the submission from ksateaaa23 here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/3355647_ksateaaa23_reference_frequency_maximus_viii_hero_383.01_mhz
Even though raw CPU frequencies are not really treated as true benchmarks, they remain an important performance metric for most overclockers. The highest CPU frequency ever submitted to HWBOT using the Intel Z170 platform came from Germany’s der8auer who pushed an Intel Core i7 6700K to a 7056.7 mhz, a massive +75.42% beyond stock settings.
You can find the submission from der8auer here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/3390082_der8auer_cpu_frequency_core_i7_6700k_7056.7_mhz
Finally we come to the classic SuperPi 32M benchmark, an important benchmark in terms of historical relevance. The fastest SuperPi 32M run submitted on HWBOT using the Intel Z170 platform was submitted by GalaxOCLab from Hong Kong who completed a run in just 4min 22sec 765ms using an Intel Core i7 6700K clocked at 6,905MHz (+72.63%).
Here’s a great shot of the LN2 cooled rig from GalaxOCLab:
Check out the submission from GalaxOCLab here: http://hwbot.org/submission/3310532_galaxoclab_superpi___32m_core_i7_6700k_4min_22sec_765ms
Thanks for joining us for today’s trip down Motherboard Memory Lane. Return next week when we will take a look at the current Intel Z270 platform.