Accustomed to customary configurations, our AMD editor gets sideways with a prosumer Xeon platform. Will Gigabyte's X170-Extreme ECC bridge the gap between his work and hobbies?
All work and no play makes me a dull nerd. I go to work in the morning, come home at night, take care of the house, rinse, and repeat. By amassing real life issues, projects, and my techie side jobs, it's no wonder that my once powerful college PC has become a relic by today’s standards. Reviewing AMD products is fun, but looking at 2012 hardware in 2016 can definitely make for some uninspired writing.
As I trudged through the last AMD 970 chipset motherboard review , the powers that be gave me a new task: apply my professional experience to consumer hardware. Traditionally, prosumer products get scant attention because they are costly, but Thomas Soderstrom's C232 motherboard pick in his 2016 Q1System Builder article mixed things up a bit. Naturally, I was intrigued with the challenge, and since Zen is still out on the horizon (though quickly approaching), it’s time to ascend to Intel’s C236 and C232 chipsets! And hence, Gigabyte's X170-Extreme ECC. But first, a little background.
Intel's C236 And C232: The Platform Differentiation Game
With the introduction of Skylake processors, Intel split its consumer grade Core series from its Xeon brand by using the Sunrise Point PCH. In the past, builders were able to deploy the sometimes-less-expensive Xeon processors into their consumer grade motherboards to reach performance levels similar to the in-demand Core i7 brethren. By using consumer-grade motherboards, tweakers were also able to overclock their Xeons for impressive gains without the headaches of locked down server UEFIs. Product NameIntel® Core™ i7-6700 ProcessorIntel® Xeon® Processor E3-1230 v5Code Name Skylake Skylake Essentials Processor Number i7-6700 E3-1230V5 Status Launched Launched Launch Date Q3'15 Q4'15 Lithography 14nm 14nm Recommended Customer Price $303.00 - $312.00 $250.00 - $261.00 Included Items Thermal Solution - E97379 Performance # of Cores 4 4 # of Threads 8 8 Processor Base Frequency 3.40 GHz 3.40 GHz Max Turbo Frequency 4.00 GHz 3.80 GHz Cache 8MB SmartCache 8MB SmartCache Bus Speed 8 GT/s DMI3 8 GT/s DMI3 TDP 65W 80W VID Voltage Range 0.55V-1.52V Supplemental Information Embedded Options Available Yes No Conflict Free Yes Yes Datasheet Link Link Memory Specifications Max Memory Size (dependent on memory type) 64GB 64GB Memory Types DDR4-1866/2133, DDR3L-1333/1600 @ 1.35V DDR4-1866/2133, DDR3L-1333/1600 @ 1.35V Max # of Memory Channels 2 2 Max Memory Bandwidth 34.1 GB/s 34.1 GB/s ECC Memory Supported ‡ No Yes With Sunrise Point, Intel gives Xeons their own chipsets. On the downside, Xeons and their motherboards have locked-down multipliers, which force manufacturers to design workarounds for effective overclocking. For example, overclocking the BCLK frequencies was proven quite effective when Thomas implemented this approach with his ASRock sample . On the upside, using the server mindset grants these Xeon chipsets additional features that some prosumers need. Essentials Intel® Z170 PCH Intel® C236 PCH Intel® C232 PCH Launch Date Q3'15 Q4'15 Q4'15 Bus Speed 8 GT/s DMI3 8 GT/s DMI3 8 GT/s DMI3 Embedded Options Available No Yes No Lithography 22nm 22nm 22nm Recommended Customer Price $47.00 $49.00 $34.00 Supports Overclocking Yes No No Graphics Specifications # of Displays Supported ‡ 3 3 0 Expansion Options PCI Support No No No PCIe Revision 3.0 3.0 3.0 PCIe Configurations ‡ x1, x2, x4 x1, x2, x4 x1, x2, x4 Max # of PCIe Lanes 20 20 8 I/O Specifications USB Revision 3.0/2.0 3.0/2.0 3.0/2.0 # of USB Ports 14 14 12 USB 3.0 Up to 10 Up to 10 Up to 6 USB 2.0 Up to 14 4 6 Max # of SATA 6.0 Gb/s Ports 6 8 6 RAID Configuration 0/1/5/10 0/1/5/10 0/1/5/10 Integrated LAN Integrated MAC Integrated MAC Integrated MAC PCIe Port Revision 3 3 3 PCIe Port Configurations 1x16, 2x8, 1x8+2x4 1x16, 2x8, 1x8+2x4 1x16, 2x8, 1x8+2x4 The C236 chipset follows the connectivity of Z170 fairly closely, but implements more advanced technologies aimed at the server and workstation crowd. While Z170 lacks Intel vPro, RST Enterprise, Node Manager, Standard Manageability, and Trusted Execution Technology, C236 enables them all, though some of these features are still available to the Q170 chipset.
Similarly, Intel's C232 follows the B150 but with a few more differences. C232 supports multiple PCIe configurations by default but does not support Intel Virtualization Technology or RST. As Michael Sexton reported in hisarticle on the C232 and C236 chipsets, the added cost and lack of extra features might not make the C232 the smartest choice for most applications. Advanced Technologies Intel® Z170 PCH Intel® C236 PCH Intel® C232 PCH Intel® VT-d ‡ Yes Yes Yes Intel® vPro Technology ‡ No Yes No Intel® HD Audio Technology Yes Intel® RST Yes Yes No Intel® RST enterprise No Yes Yes Intel® Standard Manageability No Yes No Intel® SRT Yes Yes No Intel® SIPP No Intel® Small Business Advantage No Intel® Node Manager Yes No Intel® Platform Protection Technology Trusted Execution Technology ‡ No Yes Yes Product vendors get to start tacking on bells and whistles, and with the additional cost of C236/C232 chips, most prosumer grade boards include things like debug LEDs, on-board power buttons, and additional probe points for voltage measurements. Given the server and workstation targets, up-time is at a premium, and vendors take the additional time to test and verify that products meet a broad spectrum of operating conditions, usage scenarios, and 24x7 utilization. For most professionals, that makes a big difference.
Gigabyte's X170: The Camo Clad C236
At first, I was confused by the “X170” name, but given the similarities with the Z170 line, this is an effective way to pull attention from that market. The GA-X170-Extreme ECC is a beautiful specimen. After reviewing more budget-oriented products, it is nice to move up to a truly high-end product. Given my affinity with Arma and DayZ, I actually enjoy the camo paint job adorning this motherboard.
Using my reviewer goggles, though, I am puzzled by this design choice. Most enthusiasts like to stick with RGB colors when accessorizing their rigs, and professionals really shouldn’t care what the product looks like as long as it performs. Is Gigabyte trying to appeal to the operator in all of us or simply trying to distinguish the product against a sea of red, blue, and neon yellow color palettes? Regardless of color scheme, this product is well polished from a board and packaging perspective.
As usual with the Gigabyte boards I’ve tested, the X170-Extreme ECC comes with the “Ultra-Durable” branding plastered on all but one side of the box. This package is less flashy than those from some of my previous reviews, and Gigabyte’s use of a matte black base enables the company to use glossy pictures in order to emphasize selling points of the product. The front and sides of the box attempt to be minimalist, but the back looks as if the marketing team had one too many brainstorming sessions. The camo stripe conflicts with the abundant small text, color schemes clash with the primary use of yellow and brown, and the sense of refinement is lost.