If ever you need a demonstration of our commitment to provide you regular fresh content and to push the boundaries we bring you our review of the Gigabyte Z87X-OC. Why such commitment you ask? With such searing temperatures and most people laying in the park or doing everything they can to keep cool it seems the perfect opportunity to lock ourselves indoors and test an overclocking motherboard. We all know how well high ambient temperatures and overclocking go together.
The Gigabyte overclocking range first broke cover with the X58 chipset. We found it to be an extraordinary performer whether we were running on just air-cooling or we had our mad scientist hat on with a barrel of dry ice. The gorgeous black and orange colour scheme reappeared on the Z77 UP7. One of the finer motherboards from the last generation with a wealth of features and great performance.
Now the black and orange has been dusted off once more to bring us the Gigabyte Z87X-OC. The combination of the fullsome Haswell feature set alongside the overclocking tweaks you would expect from a 'board bearing such a simple title should give us some decent performance. However, we know that the Maximus VI Extreme flattered to deceive so we hope that history doesn't repeat. At least the Z87X-OC is around half the price, so expectations are naturally a little lower.
The specifications of Z87 motherboards at anything other than the base price point are all fairly similar, and the Z87X-OC is no exception. However, it does have a few features not normally seen, such as the positioning of the internal USB ports, and the Gear buttons, more of which later.
In keeping with a board aimed squarely at the enthusiasts, rather than someone wandering past a shelf, the Z87X-OC comes in a very simple box, dominated by the model name. One very cool feature for anyone who is looking to push their system hard is the inclusion of the PCI bracket. Nearly everyone who is in the pursuit of records runs on an open bench table for ease of access. This has the downside of meaning that your GPU isn't secured, and this becomes ever more of a problem the more cards you install. By providing a bracket to keep the cards stable, up to four, it's a small feather in the cap of the Gigabyte, albeit on that most of you will never use.
The Z87X-OC itself is a little bit of a mixed bag in looks. The black and orange obviously looks lovely, but the heatsinks are extremely plain and uninteresting. The MSI Gaming has set the bar high and it's up to everyone else to keep up.
The area around the CPU socket is kept as clean as possible to allow for easy use of exotic cooling solutions.
It's nice to see the CMOS battery below the second PCI slot. There are some things that are best cured by the old school battery removal technique, and it's nice to know we don't have to take out the GPU to do so. The PCIe x1 slot would be better at the bottom of the 'board for those with a modern sound-card. Where it is it's pretty useless unless you're not running a GPU, and who has a sound card but no graphics card?
Tucked away by the RAM slots are all the important buttons that allow you to easily overclock. We'll cover the buttons in detail on a subsequent page, but below those are a switch for the OC Trigger button that's found at the rear of the Z87X-OC, BIOS selection switches, the amazing Settings Lock button which remembers your previous settings even after a CMOS clear, memory safe and CMOS clear buttons round out the set.
With a lot of cool add-ons available for the front of our cases, it's nice to see some proper USB ports available at the front of the OC. It's worth noting that these support the On/Off charge which enables you to swiftly charge your mobile devices, and most of us have a phone or MP3 player plugged in at all times.
At the rear we have, from left to right, USB2, OC Ignition, USB3 and display outputs, PS2, GigaLAN and the 8 channel audio.
We still think the Gigabyte BIOS is the nicest looking of the current Z87 models. The OC has been skinned to match the colour scheme of the board itself. Within the overclocking options you have plenty to tweak and play with to extract the most from your setup, and most options have a helpful explanatory text as well as the normal limits available.
Should you ever get lost amongst the submenus there is a handy guide that allows you to swiftly find what you need, and customise it should you desire that minute level of control.
Overclocking is always a case of stability but when you're going for records the limiting factor, besides heat, is booting into your OS. By no means unique to the Z87X-OC, it's still good to see the ability to tweak your BCLK and multipliers once you've actually made it into Windows. You can boot at a more sensible setting and adjust once you're in there to gain those final few MHz.
It's not only about fine tuning your setup either, as often you go beyond the point of no return and the system refuses to POST. The Gigabyte offers the biggest suite of tools to save you from that situation without losing your hard work that we've ever seen.
Time to discover if the Z87X-OC has enough performance to match its potential.
Intel Core i7-4770K
Club3D HD7970 Royal Ace
Corsair Vengeance Pro 2400MHz
Corsair Neutron GTX
Windows 7 x64
With the first batch of Z87 motherboards we were pushed for time to get them all done by the NDA. With the Maximus Extreme it was too flawed to manage some serious overclocking. So finally we have a combination of time and stability and thus can really see what the limits of our i7-4770K are. With a reasonable low voltage of 1.176v on the CPU we obtained a stable 4.9GHz, which is right up there with anything else we've tested. We think it's probably the limit of our CPU at sensible volts without a combination of de-lidding and utilising a more extreme cooling solution.
For those who've been clamouring for the differences that uncore overclocking can make, we've increased the uncore from the stock 4GHz to 4.5GHz for our testing today.
Increasing the voltage slightly up to 1.212v got us to the magical 5GHz barrier. We'll be thermally limited on our H100i at this point, but it's always fun to try a little further and with the OC Gear on the Z87X-OC we were able to get into Windows at a borderline voltage, and then bump our i7-4770K to 5.1GHz. The highest overclock we've seen so far.
The CPU benchmarks are extremely close between the best of our review models. All of the tests are only a handful of points apart, although the Gigabyte Z87X-OC is probably on balance just at the top. It's extremely close though.
The memory tests are where the much-yelled-for uncore overclocking should bear fruit. It doesn't though. At least not compared to the MSI GD65 Gaming, although the read speed of the Z87X is quite a chunk ahead of the rest. If anything this test shows how brilliant is the MSI's memory bandwidth.
The pure CPU based tests of SiSoft Sandra always sort the chaff from the wheat. When the margins between motherboards are so tight, any difference in the bottle-necking of each respective offering is magnified. In the arithmetic test the Z87X-OC is the top of the bunch, with an aggregate of 145.11. Moving to the fractals of the multimedia test and the Z87X-OC is surprisingly second to the Sniper M5. Finally the GD65 Gaming just edges the cryptography bandwidth test.
Amongst some tightly contested results, PC Mark Vantage is where the Z87X-OC finds the biggest gains, particularly in the calculation and memory tests. The gaming result is a little disappointing, but we'll get a better idea of whether that's indicative performance in the 3D tests later. PC Mark 7 is a mixed bag, with the computation performance of the Maximus VI stealing the show. Elsewhere the Z87X-OC continues its extremely consistent performance and is the first of our Z87 setups to pass the 7000 PC Mark barrier.
PC Mark Vantage
PC Mark 7
Our final calculation tests before we move on to the 3D benchmarks, and the Z87X-OC just shades the M5, although when you're down to the level of tenths of a point, the differences become an error tolerance thing. Still it's the highest scoring of our motherboards.
wPrime95 is extremely tight across all the big overclocks. In the 32M place test the Sniper M5 just edges the OC by 3 thousandths of a second. As we move to the 1 billion place test though the Z87X-OC stretches its legs and tops the graph by half a second. 165.2 seconds to calculate a billion places is shifting in anyone's book.
CatZilla is so GPU bound that whether the i7 is at stock or heavily overclocked the scores don't vary much. As the image quality increases to realistic levels the gaps become negligible. Certainly the gaming result of PC Mark Vantage isn't replicated here.
Unigine Valley is nothing if not beautiful. Once again though we see that 3D testing is far more about the GPU that you have installed than any particular choice of motherboard. If you're mainly building a gaming rig then spend the money on a great graphics card rather than a stunning mobo.
With differences measured in mere tenths of a frame the Unigine Heaven results continue the trend. However if there is a point to note it's that the Gigabyte Z87X-OC is consistently a tenth of a frame ahead of the rest. Useful for the world record hunters amongst you.
3D Mark Vantage
In the P-Score the Z87X-OC, with 40873 versus 40771 from the M5, just shades it. Bumping up the image quality to the Extreme preset and it just falls behind the leading GD65 Gaming. It's all very tight though.
3D Mark 11
By a margin of 4 points in the Performance test and a single point in the Extreme preset, the Z87X-OC just tops our 3D Mark 11 graph over the G1.Sniper M5.
The 3D Mark scores ebb and flow between the usual suspects. In the middle two tests, Cloud Gate and Fire Strike, the Z87X-OC wins out, and it's just shaded in the Fire Strike Extreme and Ice Storm benchmarks. The consistency is outstanding though.
Unlike some other motherboards, the black and orange colour scheme of the Gigabyte range is reserved just for their high-performance models. So far it's existed on just four. The X58 OC, which was a stunning performer for the money. The Z77-UP7 which combined excellent performance with a wealth of features but had a price-tag to match. In the Z87 range there are two, the Z87X-OC Force, which is hilariously expensive and probably the genuine rival to the Maximus VI Extreme in the 'more money than sense' category, and today's review the Z87X-OC, which is to be found at a very reasonable £165. This puts it right in the zone of some other great motherboards such as the G1.Sniper M5 and the MSI GD65 Gaming.
Don't think that the heavily trimmed price when compared to its big brother has meant a crippling lack of features though. Everywhere you look, and regardless of what you desire, the Z87X-OC has got it covered. Quad-GPU support? Of course. Lots of USB ports and more fan headers than are likely to be filled. The real stars of the show though are the BIOS and the OC Gear. The BIOS has every option you could expect from something that's billing itself as an extreme overclocker. Those words thankfully still mean more than just a marketing slogan, but the user-friendliness of the BIOS is a far cry from the almost unfathomable DFI LanParty days. A lot of 'boards offer all the tuning options you need to make the most of your 4th Generation Intel CPU, and as we're so thermally-limited the average user wont need the tweaks that can get you over the hump into truly stunning overclocks. It's nice to have them there though.
What really raises the Z87X-OC above is the recovery options. With a couple of BIOS to choose from, and plenty of profiles you're unlikely to get stuck but even if you do you can clear your CMOS without fearing that you've lost a weeks worth of fine-tuning. With getting through the OS boot procedure being the death of many an overclock the OC Gear buttons really come in to their own, allowing you to boot at a fairly sensible overclock and once you're at the desktop you can push on, as our OC3D record 5.1GHz shows. Speaking of user-friendly things, the OC Ignition button at the rear of the Z87X-OC will power up the motherboard without actually turning it on. If you want to check your water loop, or just show off your choice of case-lighting, you can do so without actually having the system running. We're sure that the modding community will leap upon this supremely handy feature.
Of course all that would be for naught if the results didn't back up the CPUz, and the Z87X-OC is extremely consistent throughout our tests. It was either at the top or darn close in every test, and the few it did stand as the king of the hill it did so by a decent margin. What was most impressive, if the 5.1GHz overclock and performance didn't already have you reaching for your wallet, is how easy it was to attain this level. It's a joy to use with no head-scratching, no need to wade through a welter of beta BIOS releases. Just fire it up and get tweaking.
Such is the capability of the Z87X-OC that we've struggled to think of anything we don't like. If the orange colour scheme doesn't float your boat then that could be a problem, but we tend to think that the reason everyone has red and black systems is because that particular combination goes with the motherboards that provided the best performance. So far that's not the case as the Z87X-OC is clearly the weapon of choice if you're looking for a LGA1150 motherboard. Of course one of our team absolutely loves the black and orange combination and it's certainly not offensively garish.
All in all the Z87X-OC is a performance motherboard done right. It's a joy to use, relatively cheap to buy and is bristling with a wealth of features to suit everyone from the fit and forget users to the people surrounded by vials of liquid nitrogen. At £165 it's almost a steal and makes more expensive options look even sillier than they already do, especially when you consider that for the most part we have a VERY capable CPU and if you find one like ours you are very lucky, our point here is that the motherboard is overkill for 99% of the CPU's available today and it can max these out with ease. So why pay more? Unquestionably an OC3D Gold Award winner.
Thanks to Gigabyte for supplying the Z87X-OC for review. Discuss your thoughts in the OC3D Forums.