Gigabyte Z97X SOC Force Motherboard Review
The box art for the Z97X SOC combines an in your face logo with a modern single seater racing car to emphasise the speed that it hopefully provides.
There is no question that the SOC is aimed squarely at the high-end overclockers, as all the Gigabyte orange motherboards are. If you're in any doubt of its intentions then opening the front flap dispels them all, with a shot of the Z97X completely frost-covered. We want that as a wallpaper, it looks so cool. Perhaps it's time to either grab a load of LN2 and accidentally spill it, or move our OC3D operations to the Arctic Circle.
The top half of the motherboard is understandably dominated by the LGA1150 socket. As well as being gold-plated to 15 microns, there is a huge amount of space around it to cope with the more exotic cooling solutions that the board almost demands. At the top left is a 8+4 pin CPU power input to ensure the maximum amps to your CPU. The area to the right of the DIMMs is so complicated we'll look at it below, and on a subsequent page.
The SOC supports 4 way CrossFire and 2 way SLI. There is plenty of space between the main PCI Express slots to ensure your graphics cards keep cool. Below the CMOS battery are the Gigabyte DualBIOS chips and LED indicators to remind you which you're using at a glance.
This collection of buttons, switches and monitoring points is the 'OC Touch', and it's the heart of the Gigabyte Z97X SOC. Starting at the bank of dip switches and working to the right we have, in order : DIMM switch buttons. It's becoming more common for high-end motherboards to allow you to turn the PCI lanes on and off with a dipswitch, but we think the SOC is the first to allow you to diagnose RAM problems without having to remove the sticks. A boon to serious overclockers. Next to that is the PCI lane switches, then OC Ignition, OC Tag, OC Turbo, OC Gear, BCLK adjustments, CPU Ratio +/-, power button and finally the 7 segment error display.
Below those are the buttons to toggle which BIOS you're using, jump straight to it after a OC failure and a range of other buttons that ensure your overclocking experience is as hassle free as you could imagine.
Next to the SATA 3 connections is the SATA Express which allows for transfer rates up to an eye-popping 10Gb/s. Just stop and think about that for a moment. 1GB a second from a non-RAID device.
Finally we have two internal USB headers for BIOS updates and settings backup/restore. Given that serious overclockers tend to run their motherboards on a bench table rather than have them in a case, this is hugely beneficial. Just another tick in the box of how dedicated to overclockers the design team at Gigabyte have made the Z97X SOC Force.
Overclocking is all about power and as well as the 8+4 CPU arrangement there is, just below the main heatsink, a 'OC PEG' which allows for further power draw in multi-card setups. Vital if you're trying to break the world records that can grab all the headlines.
In comparison to the main motherboard the IO area is relatively standard with plenty of USB ports (although the left hand ones are sadly still USB 2.0), display outputs including 4K support, the Realtek ALC1150 audio and the KillerNIC E2200 LAN controller.