Choosing the right motherboard is more than just having enough USB ports and enough PCIe slots for graphics cards, but it’s often one of the most overlooked parts in a computer. A solid motherboard for gaming will boast enough space for extra cooling and oversized parts, and support for high-end RAM and plenty of connectivity.
And in that sense, the Biostar Z170GT7 is well-suited for gaming machines. The Z170 chipset supports Intel’s latest Skylake processors, with three-way SLI or Crossfire, DDR4, M.2 SSDs, and USB Type-C for the future-proofer in all of us.
The Biostar is paired up with a very fair $130 price tag, an attention-grabbing value for the feature set offered. Is the racing-inspired Z170GT7 bound for burnout, or track ready?
It’s hard to make a motherboard look all that exciting, but Biostar is certainly giving it a shot. The matte black PCB is silk-screened with a checkered flag, but it doesn’t stop there. Every spot on the motherboard, from the heatsinks to the I/O panel, is decked out in racing-inspired touches. Between the racing strips and color-changing LEDs, the Biostar looks ready for a day at the racetrack.
Like the fins and curves of a racecar, some of the design choices on the Z170GT7 are as functional as they are attractive. The checkered housing on the I/O panel is designed to shirk dust and prevent static build-up. The effectiveness of these touches remains to be seen, but at least the shielding and extra materials add to board’s sturdy construction.
The only thing stopping the Z170GT7 from installing like any other motherboard is the casing around the I/O panel. The oversized housing and oddly-shaped clips on the I/O shield mean fitting the motherboard requires a bit more finagling than we’re used to. It shouldn’t be a problem once installed, however, and it looks sharper than the competition.
Everything but the USB
How many USB ports each user needs is a personal preference, but without dedicated keyboard and mouse ports, five offered on the Z170GT7’s rear panel feel like too few. We prefer to keep the front ports open for incidentals like thumb drives and chargers, and we quickly filled the rear ports just hooking up standard peripherals. When we connected our Oculus Rift, we had to use a hub – not ideal.
This motherboard looks ready for a day at the racetrack.
Still, USB Type-C is a blessing that allows for video, data, and power to external devices, an option only found on the newest motherboards. Peripheral support is limited for now, but motherboards are a pain to replace, and in a year or two you’ll be thankful it’s there.
There are also two HDMI video outputs on the Z170GT7’s I/O panel. That seems another odd choice, as most PC gamers would likely have preferred an HDMI and DisplayPort, rather than doubling down on the older standard. The upshot is both HDMI ports are 1.4 compliant, which means 1080p at 120Hz, or 4K at 24Hz. They’re accompanied by VGA and DVI-D, both of which support up to 1,920 x 1,200 at 60Hz.
Not all connections are outward-facing, and the Z170GT7 packs in a decent selection of internal headers. That includes two USB 2.0 headers, but just one USB 3.0 header. There are three 16GB/s eSATA connections, and a 32GB/s M.2 drive slot. There are nine total SATA ports, but only three are available when operating as SATA Express. Overall, this list is a standard offering for the category, although we would’ve liked to see more USB 3.0 headers inside, considering the lack of ports on the back.
If the racing stripes and glowing lights didn’t give away the Z170GT7’s gaming heritage, header and connection placement certainly does. The M.2 slot is tucked over by the PCIe slots for easy access, and even our fairly massive Thermalright Macho Rev B CPU cooler doesn’t block system fan headers. The Z170GT7 recognizes that gamers need more space for oversized parts and cooling, and fulfills that need admirably.
Like many motherboards designed for gaming, the Z170GT7 is equipped with two separate BIOS chips. That means, should you decide to tinker with the UEFI settings and something goes wrong, you won’t have to send the board back to the factory to fix.
Unlike some motherboards that opt for reset and power buttons, Z170GT7’s motherboard boasts GT Touch, a touch capacitive panel with four options: Power, reset, eco, and sport modes. Should you choose to reach inside your case while it’s running, the two modes boast different power settings, mostly in terms of power draw while idling. The same settings are accessible from Z170GT7’s no-frills GT Touch software package.
As more tasks are offloaded to the CPU, motherboards still have to handle audio, an area where Z170GT7 really packs in the buzz words. Brush away all the Hi-Fis and “pro audio”s and you’re left with a fairly run of the mill audio setup. It looks quite a bit like its competitors on paper, except that other boards from MSI and Asus sport optical audio output, where the Biostar does not.
Those who prefer their battlestations to feature flashing lights and LEDs galore will be glad to know the Biostar comes equipped with some of its own onboard. In addition to the heatsinks around the CPU, there are also RGB LEDs that run the length of the board on the I/O side, shining brightly through the rear panel of our test case. They’re managed from Biostar’s software, which gets the job done. There’s even a second, empty port, which can be used to connect another LED strip for further lighting customization.
The DT Accessory Pack
At around $130, the Z170GT7 is affordable for a gaming-oriented Z170 motherboard. Other competing boards usually sit closer to $150, but it turns out that $20 makes a difference in feature set.
In the case of the MSI Z170A Gaming Pro, it means three extra USB ports and optical audio, but with two-way SLI/Crossfire to the Z170GT7’s three.The Asus Z170 Pro Gaming also includes built-in DisplayPort, optical audio, and two more USB ports than the Z170GT7. ASRock’s Fatal1ty Z170 has the same two-way SLI as the other competitors, plus two more USB ports and a DisplayPort instead of the second HDMI.
But the Biostar’s extra GPU slot means a lot more to gamers than a few extra ports. The Biostar’s lack of dedicated USB 2.0 for a keyboard and mouse means gamers will need to take full advantage of internal headers. Other than that minor annoyance, the Z170GT7 is an excellent value for gamers looking to build on the Z170 platform, without losing the features of a high-end board.