Today we say farewell to our series of Intel-based Motherboard Memory Lane articles on HWBOT, having exhausted history’s quota of Intel Chipsets from the Intel P965 platform to the present day. All of which leads us to the current mainstream Intel platform, the Z270 chipset that was in fact launched just a few months ago. The Z270 chipset arrived with a new Kaby Lake series of backwards compatible processors and the hope of improved overclocking capabilities. Let’s take a look at the chipset, the processors and motherboards, plus a few of the outstanding scores that have been submitted to HWBOT.
Intel Z270: Overview
First announced back in August 2016, the new Z270 platform was officially launched in January 2017. The Z270 Platform Controller Hub (PCH) was designed as a direct replacement for the previous Z170 that had arrived in August of the previous year. Whereas the 100 series, (codenamed Sunrise Point) included six PCH offerings with Q-,B-,H- and Z- offerings, the 200 series used the codename Union Point and featured five PCH models; the Intel Z270, Q270, H270, Q250 and B250. All members of the Union Point family had specific feature limitations in terms of PCIe lane count and connectivity options. The Z270 remains the high-end model – boasting a full complement of connectivity it is the only family member that allows full CPU and memory overclocking.
A direct comparison of the Intel Z270 PCH and its predecessor reveals very little difference. In short the two main differences are that the Z270 platform offers 24x PCI gen 3.0 lanes direct from the PCH compared to 20x lanes with the Z170. One other new feature that end users can enjoy with a Z270 motherboard is support for Intel Optane Technology. The additional PCIe lanes can be regarded as Intel’s acknowledgment that motherboard vendors were keen to expand support for faster M.2 drives, bringing more bandwidth to the PCH specifically for that reason.
The Z270 PCH uses the same DMI 3.0 interface that the previous generation enjoyed, offering data bandwidth between CPU and PCH of 8GB/s. Dual channel DDR4 support with default speeds of 2,133MHz (and increasingly, 2,400MHz) also remained unchanged, although DDR3 was no longer supported. Integrated Intel HD Graphics 630 allowed for three independent displays with HDMI, DisplayPort and DVI options. In terms of PCIe 3.0 from the CPU, the Z270 offered the same 1x 16, 2x 8 or 1x 8 + 2x 4 configuration options.
If you compare the connectivity and network options, the Z270 looks identical to its predecessor. You are getting support for a total of up to 14x USB 2.0 port and 10x USB 3.0 ports, 6x SATA 6Gb/s SATA ports, plus an integrated Gigabit Ethernet MAC and HD audio support. The Z270 is manufactured using Intel’s 22nm process with dimensions of 23mm x 23mm and has a TDP of 6 watts.
Most Popular Intel Z270 Motherboards
Looking at previous Intel platform product eco-systems we found that ASUS and its Republic of Gamers branded motherboards were becoming increasingly popular with enthusiasts on HWBOT. An examination of the Z270 era further underlines that notion, proving that the company remains ahead of its rivals in terms of design and innovation. Let’s take a look at the top ten Z270 motherboards in terms of score submissions on HWBOT so far:
- -ASUS ROG Maximus IX Apex – 17.51%
- -ASUS ROG Maximus IX Hero – 10.13%
- -ASUS ROG Maximus IX Formula – 5.94%
- -ASUS Strix Z270E Gaming – 4.77%
- -MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon – 4.27%
- -ASUS PRIME Z270-A – 4.25%
- -ASUS ROG Maximus IX Code- 3.41%
- -MSI Z270 Gaming M7 – 3.27%
- -ASUS ROG Strix Z270F Gaming – 3.22%
- -GIGABYTE Z270X Gaming 7 – 3.14%
Gone are ASRock and EVGA, two companies that we are used to seeing on this list. GIGABYTE did not perform so well in previous Z170, Z97 and Z87 platforms, and once again we find that they have only one board in the top ten with the Z270X Gaming 7 taking only 3.14% of all Z270 submissions, arriving in tenth place. MSI are doing reasonably well and have two boards in the top ten with a combined 7.54% of all submissions.
The leader of the Z270 pack is clearly ASUS who dominate the the top four and have seven boards in the top ten which collectively account for just over 49.23% of all submissions. The seven ASUS boards feature six ROG branded boards, again underlining the continued strength of a brand which spans several price points and form factors. Of the seven boards, the ASUS ROG Maximus IX Apex motherboard proves to be most popular with enthusiasts, featuring in 17.51% of all Z270 submissions so far.
The ASUS ROG Maximus IX Apex quickly established a reputation for being an overclockers dream at launch. With presets for various CPU and memory configurations, many of them configured by well known Elite overclockers, the Apex board came flying out of the traps at launch and has simply never looked back. The majority of Elite and Extreme overclockers on HWBOT who are breaking world records are using the Apex board, such is its dominance. It also used a unique cutaway PCB shape that gave it a very attractive and distinctive look. Here’s what Tom Logan on overclock3d.net had to say back in January of this year:
“It’s the ultimate expression of the ROG ethos, blistering performance allied to game-changing looks. We love it, and the relatively affordable pricing is just the cherry on top, which is why it is the first product that has won the OC3D Ultimate Award. The bar has been raised, a new standard has been set casting all that come before it into the shadows. ROG is back and it’s back with a vengeance.”
Most Popular Intel Z270 Compatible Processor: Intel Core i7 7700K
With the launch of Intel’s 7th generation Core series processors, the company waved goodbye to the ‘tick-tock’ product launch cadence that it had previously used. Kaby Lake architecture processors were neither ‘tick’ nor ‘tock’, branded as an ‘Optimized’ architecture rather than a wholly new one. It was the first platform launched as part of Intel’s new “process-architecture-optimization” model and was manufactured using the same 14nm process that had been used with both Broadwell and Skylake architecture processors.
Intel’s 7th generation Core processors were led by the flagship Core i7 7700K, a CPU which retails today for $339.99 USD. In very similar fashion to its Skylake brother, the Core i7 6700K, it is a quad-core processor with eight threads. Each core is clocked at 4.2GHz with a maximum turbo frequency of 4.5GHz amounting to TDP of 91 watts, identical to Skylake. The increased clock frequency compared to the previous generation is without doubt the most appealing factor for most enthusiasts, offering a marginal performance boost over the Core i7 6700K at stock settings.
Indeed, as with most of Intel’s’ recent processor offerings, we find that the top SKU is both unlocked and the most popular model with overlockers. The Core i7 7700K is involved with 67.39% of all Z270 platform submissions. It’s cheaper alternative, the Core i5 7600K registers with 16.62% of all submissions. Which brings us to the first ever unlocked Core i3 processor, the Core i3 7350K, a dual-core chip with hyperthreading clocked at 4.2 GHz that retails for a fairly reasonable $150 USD. It is responsible for 5.54% of all submissions, making it the most used Core i3 part on HWBOT ever.
In pure overlocking terms, the Kaby Lake architecture has indeed proved to be very popular. One metric that paints that story very clearly is the the fact that only 4.22% of all Z270 submissions use the previous gen Core i7 6700K Skylake part, despite being fully compatible. Kaby Lake is in some respects similar to Sandy Bridge – a processor that can really scale and produce higher clock speeds, even without exotic cooling. Indeed most Core i7 7700K processors can boost from a base clock pf 4.2GHz to to 5GHz without breaking too much sweat. Use an all-in-one water cooler, and you can push it even further. Features such as ‘AVX offset’ allow for improved stability at higher clock speeds and voltages. For most enthusiasts, 5GHz at 1.35v with DDR4-3600 is a reasonable and doable configuration. In terms of most world records on HWBOT, the Core i7 7700K remains the fastest in single threaded benchmarks and has the best IPC performance of any processor manufactured by Intel to date.
Intel Z270: Record Scores
We now take a look at some of the highest scores posted using the Z270 platform starting with the highest reference clock for the ASUS ROG Maximus IX Apex.
Reference clock overclocking may not be the most important benchmark of the Z270 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 ROG Maximus IX Apex motherboard came from Polish legend Xtreme Addict. He managed a reference clock of 583.94 MHz using an Intel Core i7 7700K processor configured at 4,200MHz (Stock)
(8 x 583.94MHz).
You can find the submission from Xtreme Addict here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/3415507_xtreme_addict_reference_frequency_rog_maximus_ix_apex_583.94_mhz
Although 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 Z270 platform and the ASUS ROG Maximus IX Apex came from Russian master slamms who pushed an Intel Core i7 7700K to a 7383.72MHz, a massive +75.8% beyond stock settings.
You can find the submission from slamms here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/3412339_slamms_cpu_frequency_core_i7_7700k_7383.72_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 Z270 platform was submitted by futto-kun from Japan who completed a run in just 4min 14sec 469ms using an Intel Core i7 7700K clocked at 7,129.9MHz (+69.76%).
Here’s a great shot of the LN2 cooled rig from GalaxOCLab:
Check out the submission from GalaxOCLab here: http://hwbot.org/submission/3508501_futto_kun_superpi___32m_core_i7_7700k_4min_14sec_469ms
Thanks for joining us for today’s trip down Motherboard Memory Lane. Return in two weeks time when we will begin our historical examination of AMD platforms and motherboards.