Gigabyte GA-Z97X-Gaming 3 Mainboard Review: For the Gamers, But Cheap

The mainboard has a comfortable design, good features set and basic bundle. It has good overclocking power and typical performance. The mainboard has many pros, but we found one very bad thing: power consumption of GA-Z97X-Gaming 3 is too high.

Like all other mainboard makers, Gigabyte released its products with Intel’s Z97 and H97 chipsets in the spring of this year. There are new models in Gigabyte’s old product series and there are even new series, too.

1 gigabyte intel z97 and h97

Gigabyte’s gaming mainboard series has been redesigned dramatically. The unintuitive name of G1-Killer has been replaced with the more obvious “G1 Gaming” but the rest of the changes are not so unambiguous. The military style with camouflage colors and ammo-box-like packaging has been abandoned altogether although a few models still come under the old name of “Sniper”. The series features a new logo and a red-and-black color scheme. Gigabyte’s mainboards used to be distinguishable for their blue-colored PCB but then switched to black like other brands’ products. The company’s gaming mainboards had a special green-and-black color scheme but now they are black-and-red, just like ASRock’s Fatal1ty, ASUS’s ROG or MSI’s gaming series. Sounds like they’ve lost their individuality.

As for the logotype, the old one (a skull with a dagger) used to be good in pictures but looked cheap and incongruous as a plastic badge on a mainboard’s heatsinks. The new one is a stylized eye.

2 born to game g1 gaming motherbroard

An eye is an easily recognizable and widespread symbol and Gigabyte must have sound reasons to have chosen it, but we guess it provokes unwanted associations with the sore red eyes of gamers after a sleepless gaming night. The promo materials of the new series may lead to even more frightening associations with vampires and other demonic creatures.

3 i am a gamer

Gigabyte’s mainboards for overclocking and open-testbed experiments are still colored orange but have replaced their old OC (OverClocking) suffix with the more impressive SOC (Super OverClocking). The regular mainboard series is called Ultra Durable. Its color is yellow. Some models have a grey or black heatsink, which looks good, but there is one mainboard which comes in a yellow box but has red heatsinks like the gaming series.

4 gigabyte mainboard ultra durable

Gigabyte’s Black Edition is a special category rather than a separate series of mainboards. It may be a gaming model, like the Z97X-Gaming G1 WIFI-BK, or a regular product like the Z97X-UD5H-BK. The suffix “BK” tells you they are Black Edition. Such models undergo stress testing and come with a special certificate. This is similar to MSI’s overclocker-friendly mainboards which are tested for 24 hours or Elitegroup’s Black series with their 72-hour testing. Gigabyte’s Black Edition are tested a whole week. The company even tries to make the number look even bigger by stating it as 7 days or 168 hours. Owners of such mainboards can register at the Black Edition Members Club and take part in prize drawings. They will also enjoy a 5-year warranty, just like owners of ASUS’s TUF series products.

We were willing to test any new Gigabyte mainboard but, of course, were mostly interested in the gaming models which had changed not only in terms of their color scheme and logo but also in their capabilities. Gigabyte’s earlier mainboards for gamers used to be special and rather expensive. We tested quite a lot of them in our labs. But now the series includes rather inexpensive midrange models as well. So we are curious to learn in what aspects such models differ from their more advanced gaming cousins as well as from Gigabyte’s regular mainboards. Since we continue our series of reviews of Z97-based products, the Gigabyte GA-Z97X-Gaming 3 is the most optimal choice for our today’s tests. Packaging and Accessories

Like every other mainboard packaging, this one has the product’s model name and logos on its front. On the back of the box, there is a picture of the mainboard and its back panel, a brief list of specifications, and a description of some of its features.

5 z97x gaming 3

The mainboard is additionally packed into a cardboard wrapper. Above it, we can see the following accessories:

  • Four SATA 6 Gbit/s cables with metallic locks (two cables with straight connectors and two cables with L-shaped connectors)
  • One flexible bridge to connect graphics cards in SLI mode
  • I/O Shield
  • User manual
  • Installation guide
  • DVD with software and drivers
  • “Gigabyte Ultra Durable” sticker for your computer case

The accessories are standard enough. We can only add that the I/O Shield is soft-padded and the sticker has a revised design.

5 z97x gaming 3

Design and Features

Like other Z97-based mainboards, the GA-Z97X-Gaming 3 supports all existing LGA1150 processors and is promised to support the next-generation Core series as well. The heatsinks on the power system components have a new design, their profile resembling the series name “G1”. The heatsinks are small and use spring-loaded locks instead of screws, but that’s enough since the components don’t get very hot. The mainboard has four DDR3 slots for up to 32 gigabytes of memory clocked at 1333 to 3200 MHz.

6 GA-z975x gaming 3

The Intel Z97 chipset endows the mainboard with six SATA 6 Gbit/s ports. There are no additional SATA controllers. Two SATA ports are separate while the other four are combined into a single block, the bottom part of which forms a SATA Express connector. Two SATA ports will become disabled when you use a SATA Express or M.2 drive as the yellow sticker warns. The M.2 connector is located below the CPU socket and has fasteners for 42, 60 and 80mm SSDs. It supports both SATA and PCIe drives.

7 intel z97 chipset

The mainboard allows 16 CPU-based PCIe 3.0 lanes to be used by a single graphics card or shared fifty-fifty between the two PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 slots. Multiple graphics cards can be combined in 2-way Nvidia SLI or 3-way/2-way AMD CrossFireX mode. In the latter case, the third graphics card is to be installed into the PCIe 2.0 x16 slot which works at x4 speed and uses the same chipset-based PCIe lanes as the three PCIe 2.0 x1 slots, making them unavailable. Besides the mentioned expansion capabilities, the mainboard offers one PCI slot.

8 amd crossfirex mode

The mainboard’s back panel is densely populated:

  • Two PS/2 connectors for keyboard and mouse
  • D-Sub, DVI-D and HDMI video outputs
  • Four USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors, based on the Intel Z97 chipset, with two more available via a single onboard header)
  • Four USB 2.0 ports (with four more available via two onboard headers)
  • Gigabit Ethernet connector (based on a Qualcomm Atheros Killer E2201 controller)
  • One optical S/PDIF and five analog audio outputs (based on an 8-channel Realtek ALC1150 codec)
9 z97 maiboard back panel

Audio quality has been in the focus of mainboard makers recently, Gigabyte’s solution coming under the name of AMP-UP Audio. Its unique feature is that you can swap your opamps but the GA-Z97X-Gaming 3 is a junior model and doesn’t support such swapping. Moreover, it uses a Realtek ALC1150 codec instead of a Creative audio processor. With a SNR of 115 dB, it is quite a high-quality 8-channel audio codec, though. It has been used on other mainboards for over a year and now it is available on Gigabyte products as well. The AMP-UP Audio technology covers a number of audio-enhancing features. Particularly, the mainboard has opamps to support high-impedance headphones. The left and right audio channels are wired in different PCB layers and the entire audio subsystem is insulated from the rest of the mainboard components to minimize interference. The insulation line is highlighted in red but you can turn this illumination off in the BIOS. Like Gigabyte’s previous gaming series models, the GA-Z97X-Gaming 3 features the Qualcomm Atheros Killer E2201 network controller which supports automatic or manual traffic prioritization.

The mainboard schematic is easy to read, so you can easily count up its five 4-pin fan connectors. Two are meant for CPU fans. The second CPU fan connector can regulate 3-pin fans whereas the three system fan connectors can only lower speed. The mainboard has two BIOS chips but you cannot switch between them. One chip is only used as a backup copy for when the main chip needs to be restored. The graphics slots have handy broad latches and we can also spot a COM port. The connectors for front-panel buttons and indicators are conveniently color-coded. Some slots have labels right inside them, not only on the PCB nearby.

10 z97 mainboard schematic

Like other modern mainboards, the GA-Z97X-Gaming 3 sports premium components. A special feature of this model, the gold sputtering on the CPU socket pins is as thick as 15 microns.

The specifications of the Gigabyte GA-Z97X-Gaming 3 are summed up in the following table:

11 gigabyte ga z97x gaming 3 specs

BIOS Features

Gigabyte’s last-year LGA1150 mainboards came with a substantially redesigned UEFI DualBIOS. The classic BIOS interface was complemented with a new Dashboard mode which offered the same settings plus rich customization capabilities so that the user could group BIOS options, choose a start page, and modify the overall appearance of the interface. Now the latest LGA1150 products from Gigabyte have had their BIOS revised further.

When you enter the BIOS for the first time, you will be asked to choose your language.

12 bios system language

After that you find yourself in the start screen of the new Startup Guide which can help with initial setting-up by guiding you through a few simple steps. You can also enable Fast Boot, specify your date and time, choose your boot device order and define the operation mode for your drives. BIOS access can be restricted by means of a password. Instead of the simplified mode, you can make the BIOS open in its classic mode or in the new Smart Tweak mode (available in low- and high-resolution versions). And, finally, you can load BIOS defaults and leave the BIOS interface.

13 gigabyte startup guide

When you hover your mouse pointer over any of the nine icons, its description will appear in the bottom left. The small lines to the left and to the right of the icons transform into arrows when you move your mouse over them. The context help system will inform you that clicking on those arrows switches from Startup Guide to the new Smart Tweak mode or to the classic BIOS. In the bottom right corner of the screen there’s a list of active hotkeys, so you can learn that you can switch between the three BIOS modes by simply pressing F2.

The new Smart Tweak mode has come to replace the old Dashboard and looks very much alike. The central window with adjustable parameters is surrounded with regularly updated info panels. The running line at the bottom provides hints about controls and active hotkeys. The Dashboard mode used to contain the same options as the classic mode but now only offers the options of the M.I.T. (MB Intelligent Tweaker) section which let you fine-tune and overclock your computer. The rest of BIOS sections with their setup options are not available here.

14 gigabyte uefi dual bios

Now let’s move into the Home section (after turning the high resolution off to hide the info panels). The first screen is a collection of miscellaneous options, so you can adjust clock rates, frequency multipliers, voltages. This is, however, just a basic set which can be edited partially or fully. In the same way you can change the options of the next five pages, so you have a total of six editable BIOS pages. The Shortcuts list in the right part of the screen is editable, too. To open it and choose an entry, you just need to click anywhere in the screen with your right mouse button. After you change something in the BIOS settings, two new subsections will appear. Called Recent and Favorites, they are automatically filled with recently adjusted options (only those options which were adjusted in the Smart Tweak mode).

15 gigabyte recents and favorites

The name of the Home section looks odd now because it doesn’t act as a home page. When you switch to the Smart Tweak mode, you find yourself in the Frequency section. You cannot choose what page serves as the start screen. Moreover, you cannot change the background or set up your mouse sensitivity.

Gigabyte’s classic BIOS interface doesn’t offer the customization flexibility of the Smart Tweak mode. It is not as complex as it seems, yet still not as easy and intuitive as the new Startup Guide. It contains the full collection of setup options, though, so we’ll now browse through them.

When you switch to the classic BIOS, you will find yourself in the MB Intelligent Tweaker section. As opposed to other BIOS implementations where fine-tuning and overclocking options are mostly collected all together in a single large BIOS page, Gigabyte puts them into several pages. There are separate subsections related to the CPU, memory subsystem and voltages, each subsection being split up further into multiple pages. This interface design lets you easily see all the options in a single screen. You don’t have to look up the necessary parameter in a long scrollable list. The downside is that moving between the numerous subsections and pages may be troublesome and you can easily skip over some group of settings.

16 gigabyte uefi dualbios

In full compliance with its name, the M.I.T. Current Status subsection reports the current values of key system parameters.

17 gigabyte MIT curent status

The Advanced Frequency Settings subsection is about clock rates and frequency multipliers. A number of informational parameters will let you know the outcome of your changes whereas the CPU Upgrade and Performance Upgrade features help overclock the CPU and the whole computer automatically.

18 gigabyte MIT advanced frequency

CPU-related technologies, power-saving modes and frequency multiplier settings belong to Advanced CPU Core Settings.

19 gigabyte MIT advanced frequency cpu clock ratio

The memory subsystem is set up in a similar way. Clock rates and additional parameters are specified in one screen, and the latencies, in others. The Memory Overclocking Profiles are a one-click way to automatically overclock your memory by adjusting its clock rate, timings and voltage.

20 MIT extreme memory profile

The voltages subsection contains several pages: for the CPU, for the chipset and for the memory subsystem.

21 gigabyte advanced voltage settings

The PC Health Status subsection reports current voltages, temperatures and fan speeds.

22 gigabyte mit healt status

The second CPU fan can be regulated even via 3-pin connection. The system fan connectors can only reduce or maintain the speed of 3-pin fans. For 4-pin fans, you can choose one of the two predefined fan regulation modes (Normal or Silent), enable full speed or set everything up manually.

23 gigabyte MIT cpu fan speed control

Similar to the old Standard CMOS Features, the System Information section reports basic information about your computer. You can change your date, time and BIOS interface language here.

24 gigabyte bios interface system language

In the BIOS Features section you can set up your boot device order, disable the startup picture, accelerate the startup procedure, manage some other features (like virtualization), and define access passwords.

25 gigabyte boot option

The Peripherals section allows you to control the mainboard’s peripheral devices and onboard controllers. You can also enable Intel Rapid Start and Intel Smart Connect here.

26 gigabyte initila display output

The Power Management section contains a standard set of power-related options.

27 gigabyte power loading

The Save & Exit section is where you can apply your changes, exit without saving or load default BIOS settings. You can also manage BIOS profiles from here. The mainboard stores up to six BIOS profiles which can be given descriptive names. The profiles can be saved to external disks or loaded from them. A unique feature of Gigabyte mainboards, the current BIOS settings are saved automatically after the mainboard starts up successfully – even the total number of successful starts is recorded. Thus, you can get back to a working BIOS profile even though you have not explicitly saved it.

28 gigabyte load profiles

We should remind you of the integrated firmware update tool called Q-Flash. It is evoked by pressing F8 in the BIOS interface or the End key while starting up. As opposed to such tools on ASRock and ASUS mainboards, Q-Flash allows to save the current firmware version prior to updating.

29 gigabyte update bios from drive

We have a vast experience dealing with Gigabyte mainboards, so we thought we knew everything about their BIOS. However, we still come across new features from time to time. This time around, we found out that the classic BIOS interface offered a predefined list of frequently used BIOS pages, too. You can see it by pressing the undocumented F11 key. It differs from the similar list of the Smart Tweak mode and is not editable.

30 gigabyte advanced frequency settings

Summing up this section of our review, we can say that Gigabyte’s new LGA1150 mainboards have acquired a significantly revised UEFI DualBIOS but the changes are both positive and negative. We like the new Startup Guide which provides great help to inexperienced users in setting their computer up after turning it on for the first time. The Smart Tweak mode, however, turns out to be just a cut-down variant of the older Dashboard which used to contain the same settings as the Classic mode. Now it only offers the options of the M.I.T. section which pertain to overclocking and fine-tuning but doesn’t allow to set up anything else. The BIOS interface still provides great customization opportunities, but you can’t choose the start page anymore. You always find yourself in the Frequency section and have to spend some time reaching the customizable Home section. It is impossible to change the background picture or your mouse sensitivity, although these are not crucial downsides. The new Recent and Favorites subsections automatically remember the options you’ve changed in the Smart Tweak mode.

The classic BIOS interface has remained the same except that you only have six instead of eight editable BIOS profiles. It may be due to memory limitations, by the way. The BIOS chips may just lack capacity to store the three BIOS interface modes instead of two as earlier. To add the new Startup Guide, the developer had to remove a couple of classic-mode profiles and cut down the Smart Tweak mode functionality. It is good that the Classic mode hasn’t been limited in any way but it’s bad that it doesn’t offer any new features. MSI, for example, has added the option of choosing the start page into its new BIOS. MSI mainboards, like ASUS ones, also show you a window where you can check out the changes you’re about to apply. Gigabyte doesn’t offer anything like that. Thus, Startup Guide is in fact the only improvement whereas the rest of the changes in Gigabyte’s UEFI DualBIOS are rather negative.

Exclusive Software Tools

Exclusive software tools may add substantially to mainboard functionality. We cover them in our reviews periodically, usually after a major upgrade of a product range. So the last time we tried Gigabyte’s utilities it was in our review of the Gigabyte G1.Sniper 5. Now let’s see what tools are offered by Gigabyte for Microsoft Windows 8.1.

As earlier, you have to install the APP Center application to launch and update Gigabyte utilities for LGA1150 mainboards. APP Center appears as a gears icon in the bottom right of the screen (it is the leftmost icon in the picture).

31 gigabyte app centre

The APP Center shell is installed together with the Live Update utility by default. As you install more Gigabyte utilities, they will fill the list that opens on your clicking the APP Center icon.

32 gigabyte app centre

The gear icon in the top right of the program window opens its settings. You can choose the interface language and color, specify the update period, and allow APP Center to start along with the OS.

33 gigabyte app center preferences

The Live Update utility was a disappointment. It is supposed to keep Gigabyte’s exclusive software and installed drivers up to date, but doesn’t do that correctly. In the picture below the utility suggests to update Bigfoot Networks Killer Network Manager to version but Manager’s window in the background makes it clear that we already use that version and do not need to update.

34 gigabyte live update utility

The EasyTune utility has changed. Its window is still very large but doesn’t fill up the entire screen anymore. You can still maximize it if you want to, though. EasyTune’s Smart Quick Boost tab lets you overclock the CPU to predefined levels, automatically find optimal CPU settings or switch it to power-saving mode.

35 gigbyte easytune

The Advanced CPU OC tab is where you can set up clock rates, frequency multipliers and voltages.

36 gigabyte CPU OC tab

In the Advanced DDR OC tab you can select an XMP profile or set up your memory subsystem manually.

37 gigabyte easytune

EasyTune’s functionality is limited to these three tabs now. The rest of its earlier functions are now available in the System Information Viewer utility. It can be launched individually but its monitoring panel also opens up when you start EasyTune.

38 gigabyte hardware monitor

By splitting the functionality between two utilities, the developers managed to make their windows smaller. So, the first tab of System Information Viewer reports key monitoring data.

39 gigabyte system information viewer

The Smart Fan tab is where you can choose a predefined regulation mode for your fans.

40 gigabyte system information viewer

In the Smart Fan Advanced tab you can set up each fan manually.

41 gigabyte smart fan advanced tab

The System Alerts screen allows you to specify thresholds for different mainboard parameters.

42 gigabyte system alerts

44The Record section lets you record how certain voltages, temperatures or fan speeds change over time and represent this data visually as graphs.

43 gigabyte record section

The multifunctional Cloud Station tool works with Android and iOS-based mobile gadgets. Its start page, Home Cloud, provides access to the computer’s files via wireless connection.

44 gigabyte cloud station

The Gigabyte Remote feature allows using your smartphone or tablet as a wireless keyboard or mouse. In the Remote OC screen you can overclock your computer and monitor its parameters remotely. The AutoGreen feature will automatically switch your computer into a power-saving state if you move more than 10 meters away from it, breaking a Bluetooth connection. Cloud Station’s last screen, HotSpot, allows sharing the computer’s internet connection among mobile gadgets but the computer must have a Wi-Fi adapter for that.

The new Fast Boot utility helps enable an accelerated boot mode and automatically enter the BIOS interface after the next restart.

45 gigabyte fast boot

The Game Controller tool may be handy for a gaming mainboard. Its first screen, Hot Key, is for recording keyboard shortcuts and mouse gestures as macros which can be later used by pressing hotkeys.

46 gigabyte game controller

The Speed tab is for setting up your keyboard and mouse sensitivity in different modes which can also be switched through with hotkeys.

47 gigabyte mouse sensitivity

The Smart TimeLock utility may serve as a self-restraint for the most devoted gamers. It helps specify which time the computer is available at on weekdays and on weekends.

46 gigabyte smart time clock

The rest of Gigabyte’s exclusive utilities haven’t changed in design or functionality. So, EZ Setup will help you configure your drives and enable Intel Smart Response, Intel Rapid Start, Intel Smart Connect and Gigabyte eXtreme Hard Drive (X.H.D.) technologies. It may even change some BIOS options automatically while doing this.

47 gigabyte disk mode switch

Using the Smart Recovery 2 utility, you can create a disk volume image and later restore the whole volume or specific files out of it.

48 smart recovery 2

The USB Blocker tool can block certain types of USB-compatible devices. When you start the program for the first time or change its settings, you have to enter a password.

49 usb blocker

The @BIOS utility hasn’t changed since our previous review. Its purpose is to automatically update the mainboard’s firmware by downloading it from an appropriate server. It can also use an already downloaded file and lets you save the current firmware version before updating. The Face-Wizard option can be used to change the picture which is shown each time the mainboard starts up. The next utility, ON/OFF Charge 2, lets you quickly recharge iOS or Android-based gadgets.

Talking about ASUS’s AI Suite in an earlier review, we used to criticize it for your having to download it whole even if you only needed just a single utility out of it. This downside is hardly crucial now with broadband internet being so widespread whereas it is indeed easier to have a single shell for installing, updating, starting and removing utilities. It’s just the opposite with Gigabyte. You can download only those utilities which you really need and add the APP Center shell for launching them. The process of installing utilities one by one is rather tiresome, though. You have to agree to the EULA for each of them, for example. Moreover, Gigabyte’s exclusive programs still don’t ask for an installation path and get installed somewhere to the system disk.

Testbed and Methods

We performed all our tests on a testbed built out of the following components:

  • Mainboard: Gigabyte GA-Z97X-Gaming 3 rev.1.0 (LGA1150, Intel Z97, BIOS version F5)
  • CPU: Intel Core i5-4670K CPU (3.6-3.8 GHz, 4 cores, Haswell, 22nm, 84 W, LGA1150)
  • DDR3 SDRAM: 4x8GB G.SKILL TridentX F3-2133C9Q-32GTX (2133 MHz, 9-11-11-31-2N, 1.6 volts)
  • Graphics card: Gigabyte GV-R797OC-3GD (AMD Radeon HD 7970, Tahiti, 28 nm, 1000/5500 MHz, 3072 MB of GDDR5 memory with 384-bit bus)
  • Disk subsystem: Crucial m4 SSD (CT256M4SSD2, 256 GB, SATA 6 Gbit/s)
  • Cooling system: Noctua NH-D14
  • Thermal interface: ARCTIC MX-2
  • PSU: Enhance EPS-1280GA 800 W
  • Computer case: Antec Skeleton

We used Microsoft Windows 8.1 Enterprise 64-bit (Microsoft Windows version 6.3 build 9600) with latest updates and the AMD Catalyst 14.4 drivers.

Operational Specifics

We assembled our test configuration easily with the GA-Z97X-Gaming 3. We only use a single expansion card (the graphics card) after all, so we usually have no problems even with small micro-ATX mainboards. However, the GA-Z97X-Gaming 3 wouldn’t start although the fans were rotating. We only made it work after resetting it with the Clear CMOS jumper. Unfortunately, the mainboard would periodically remind us of this downside later on.

There’s nothing unusual about a computer refusing to start if you, for example, have been too optimistic with your overclocking. In this case, the Watch-Dog Timer technology may be triggered. It monitors the boot procedure and, if the latter goes wrong for some reason, restarts the mainboard in safe mode, suggesting that you correct your settings or load BIOS defaults. The GA-Z97X-Gaming 3, however, wouldn’t start up even when we changed such innocuous settings as turning the integrated graphics core on/off. After such changes were applied, the mainboard wouldn’t start or reboot, although its fans were rotating. Pressing the Reset button didn’t help always in this case, so we had to use the Clear CMOS jumper a few times and redo our BIOS setting-up. It is not often that you have to Clear CMOS with modern mainboards but the GA-Z97X-Gaming 3 made us recall that feature from the past.

When booting up successfully, Gigabyte mainboards show us a familiar picture with information about active hotkeys. You can enter the BIOS interface by pressing the Del key. The F9 key will open up a system info window, the same as you get when you press the same key in the BIOS. F12 shows a list of devices you can boot from. The End key launches the integrated BIOS update tool Q-Flash.

50 gigabyte ultra durable

The Tab key, which is traditionally used for removing the startup image, is not in the list. You can turn off the startup picture in the BIOS but there is no point in doing this. The mainboard will only show you the AMI logo and report the date and BIOS version but won’t tell anything about the startup procedure. It is hardly a downside because today’s mainboards start up very fast and you can’t read anything from the screen anyway. To make the process even faster, you can enable Fast Boot in the BIOS.

51 american megatrends

As opposed to some other LGA1150 mainboards, Gigabyte ones set standard settings when you choose Load Optimized Defaults in their BIOS. However, there is no LGAA1150 mainboard that would come with all of CPU power-saving technologies enabled by default. You can usually lower your computer’s power draw by simply switching each power-related option in the BIOS from Auto to Enabled. Oddly enough, the power consumption of the GA-Z97X-Gaming 3 did not change after our doing this. We’d be glad if this model were the first mainboard to have all power-saving features enabled by default. Clearly, if a feature works, changing it from Auto to Enabled won’t produce any effect. Unfortunately, the mainboard’s power consumption is actually higher than average (as you will see in one of the next section of our review) and the only explanation is that those features do not work at default settings and do not work when enabled explicitly, either. The GA-Z97X-Gaming 3 is the first out of dozens of LGA1150 mainboards we’ve tested to have this problem.

The automatic overclocking features, called CPU Upgrade and Performance Upgrade, are a disappointment, too. When we selected the minimum CPU Upgrade value, the mainboard made our CPU work at 4.3 GHz. This is quite okay for our Core i5-4670K, but its voltage was increased to 1.268 volts, which would surely lead to overheat and throttling. We didn’t even check out the higher CPU Upgrade values because the minimum one was impractical already.

52 intel core i5 4670K cpu

The Performance Upgrade option promises to boost performance by 20 to 100% but when you choose the minimum value (20% Upgrade), it suggests the same unrealistic CPU overclocking parameters with the addition of memory overclocking to 1600 MHz.

53 cpu-z

So, both automatic overclocking technologies are virtually useless but Gigabyte mainboards have one more feature you may use to some effect. Other brands’ mainboards allow changing Intel Turbo Boost parameters via BIOS options like Multi Core Enhancement or Enhanced Turbo. In this case, the CPU can increase its frequency multiplier at high loads to the maximum level which is normally used by Turbo Boost for single-threaded loads only. For example, with our Intel Core i5-4670K, the clock rate will be 3.8 GHz at any load instead of changing dynamically from 3.6 to 3.8 GHz. Gigabyte mainboards offer a more productive version of the enhanced Turbo mode, which is enabled via the “K OC” option. It increases the CPU frequency multiplier by x2 not only at peak load but at other loads as well. As a result, the CPU will be clocked at 3.8 GHz at high loads, at 3.9 (instead of 3.7) GHz when three of its cores are in use, and at 4.0 GHz when only one or two CPU cores are in use.

Overclocking without changing any voltages is optimal for any CPU, and it was easy to do so on Gigabyte LGA1150 mainboards. You just switch the CPU Vcore and CPU Vcore Offset options in their BIOS from Auto to Normal. After that, the mainboard will keep its voltages at the default level rather than increase them automatically. And thanks to Intel’s power-saving technologies, the voltages will be lowered in idle mode. Additionally, CPU VRIN Loadline Calibration can be disabled.

54 gigabyte cpu vcore offset

There are some nuances, though. When the CPU is overclocked to 4.2 GHz, the GA-Z97X-Gaming 3 raises its voltage to 1.35 volts at high loads, which is too much. As far as we know, our CPU sample is supposed to work at 1.2 to 1.25 volts even when clocked at 4.3 GHz. With the Gigabyte, the CPU behaves just like on ASRock’s LGA1150 mainboards we tested earlier: you cannot overclock them without adjusting voltage, so you have to fix it at 1 volts (near the default level) and the mainboard increases it to about 1.35 volts at high loads. Now, Gigabyte mainboards seem to behave in the same manner. Instead of changing nothing for the Normal value, they fix the voltage at the default level, so it gets too high at high loads. We will check this out with an ASUS mainboard, which is sure to allow overclocking without any voltage adjustment, and with some other Gigabyte mainboard, too. It would be a shame if Gigabyte’s LGA1150 products turned out to have lost their key advantage in the way of easy CPU overclocking.

Energy efficient overclocking is only possible if you don’t increase voltage. It will ensure higher performance and, despite the increased power consumption, you can expect long-term savings due to the reduced amount of energy spent for each computation. Energy efficient overclocking is going to be environment-friendly as we showed in our Power Consumption of Overclocked CPUs review. However, when we test mainboards, we want to check them out under different conditions and loads, so we choose what overclocking method ensures the highest results. Higher clock rates and voltages mean harsher test conditions and it is under such conditions that we can better see any flaws or problems in mainboard design.

We used to increase voltage in the offset mode and the LGA1150 CPUs also support a similar adaptive mode, but such methods do not work well with Haswell-based CPUs. The fact is as soon as the default voltage is changed even by a tiny value, the Haswell’s integrated regulator will spot it and increase the voltage further at high loads, which means high heat dissipation, high temperature and, eventually, overheat. To avoid this, the Haswell must be overclocked at a constant voltage. The downside is that the CPU’s power-saving technologies cease to work: the CPU frequency multiplier drops at low loads but the voltage doesn’t drop anymore and always remains at the constant and high level. This is the only way to deal with the integrated voltage regulator, though. Moreover, it doesn’t affect the computer’s power draw in idle mode. That’s why we overclock our CPU to 4.5 GHz in our mainboard reviews, fixing the voltage at 1.150 volts.

55 i5 4670K cpu

We also apply the XMP data to our memory modules.

56 xmp data memory modules

When we overclock by fixing the CPU voltage at a certain level, some of the power-saving technologies get disabled. The CPU’s frequency multiplier is lowered at low loads but its voltage always remains high. Anyway, we stick to this overclocking for the duration of our tests, especially as it doesn’t affect the computer’s idle power draw much.

57 intel core i5 4670K cpu

By the way, earlier we published an article called Haswell and LGA 1150 Platform: Right Operation and Overclocking where we explained the basic rules for optimizing LGA1150 platform parameters and for overclocking Haswell-based CPUs on mainboards from different brands. There you will find our illustrated recommendations on enabling Intel’s power-saving technologies and increasing CPU power targets as well as on how to overclock Haswell-based CPUs with and without voltage adjustment. Although the article’s recommendations about setting Gigabyte mainboards up for higher energy efficiency stay true, the GA-Z97X-Gaming 3 is an exception. Its power-saving technologies didn’t work fully by default, yet we also couldn’t make them work after turning them on manually. Besides, we have some doubts that Gigabyte’s newest products can overclock without increasing voltage. And, of course, our shopping recommendations should be corrected as well. We couldn’t expect that Gigabyte’s mainboards would become so poor in terms of energy efficiency after a firmware update. So, at the current moment, Gigabyte’s LGA1150 mainboards seem to be the least attractive choice compared to what is offered by other brands.


Nominal Mode

We usually benchmark mainboards in two test modes: at the default settings and with the CPU and memory overclocked. The first mode is interesting because it shows how well the mainboards work with their default settings. It is a known fact that most users do not fine-tune their systems, they simply choose standard BIOS settings and do nothing else. So here is the performance you can expect from the mainboards if you don’t tweak their settings (the results of the Gigabyte GA-Z97X-Gaming 3 are colored differently).

We run the CPU test of the 3D rendering suite Cinebench 15 five times and calculate the average result.

58 cinebench cpu test

We have been using Fritz Chess Benchmark for a long time already and it proves very illustrative. It generates repeatable results and its performance scales perfectly depending on the number of computing threads.

59 fritz chess benchmark

63×264 FHD Benchmark v1.0.1 (64-bit) helps us test video transcoding performance. The original version of the benchmark with the version r2106 coder could make use of AVX instructions but we use version r2334 to enable the new AVX2 instruction set available on Haswell-based CPUs. The results are the average of five runs of the benchmark.

60 x264 benchmark

We benchmark performance in Adobe Photoshop CC using our custom test that is based on the Retouch Artists Photoshop Speed Test and consists of typical processing of four 24-megapixel images captured with a digital camera.

61 adobe photoshop cc

We use WinRAR 5.10 Beta 4 to benchmark the speed of archiving an Adobe Photoshop CC distribution.

62 winrar performance

Metro: Last Light is a very beautiful video game but its frame rate depends heavily on the graphics card. So we had to use the Medium Quality settings to maintain playability at a screen resolution of 1920×1080 pixels. The diagram shows the averaged results of five runs of the integrated benchmark.

63 metro last night mq

F1 2013 is less demanding on the graphics subsystem than the previous game. At 1920×1080 pixels we chose the highest settings by enabling Ultra High Quality and all image-enhancing options. The diagram shows the averaged results of five runs of the integrated benchmark.

64 f1 uhq

The new version of Thief is not acclaimed by critics, yet its visuals are top-notch. It’s got an integrated performance benchmark and lets you enable AMD’s Mantle technology. We had to choose Low Quality settings to see any effect from overclocking the computer. You wouldn’t need to overclock your CPU to enjoy the game, though.

66 thief lq performance

Similar mainboards are prone to deliver similar performance under the same conditions, just as we see in the diagrams. The mainboards exchange their positions from one diagram to another, yet the difference between them is never really large. Now let’s see how our configurations perform with the CPU and memory overclocked.

Overclocked Mode

67 overclocked cinebench cpu test
68 overclocked fritz chess benchmark
69 overclocked x264 benchmark
70 overclocked adobe photoshop
71 overclocked winrar
72 overclocked metro last night
73 overclocked f1 uhq
74 overclocked thief lq

Once again we see no difference between the mainboards, so the Gigabyte GA-Z97X-Gaming 3 performs as expected in both the default and overclocked modes.

Power Consumption

We perform our power consumption measurements with an Extech Power Analyzer 380803. This device is connected before the PSU and measures the power draw of the entire system (without the monitor), including the power loss that occurs on the PSU itself. In the idle mode we start the computer up and wait until it stops accessing the system drive. The mainboards are sorted in the order of ascending power consumption. The results of the Gigabyte GA-Z97X-Gaming 3 are colored differently for the sake of readability.

75 idle power consumption

The ASUS needs less power than the other two mainboards but the difference is small. None of these mainboards uses optimal settings, so let’s turn on all CPU-related power-saving technologies by explicitly enabling CPU C-State options, which are set at Auto by default, to see which mainboard is really the most economical.

76 idle eco power consumption

The ASUS and MSI mainboards need less power now, just as expected, but the Gigabyte’s power draw hasn’t changed. It looks like the latter’s power-saving technologies do not work not only at the default settings but even when enabled explicitly. It is a rare and very disappointing downside.

We want to remind you that we install an AMD Radeon HD 7970 graphics card into our test configurations. If we instead used the CPU-integrated graphics core, the overall power draw would be lower than 30 watts. Haswell-based CPUs are indeed very economical when idle, so it is a shame that the mainboards do not ensure this advantage by default. You have to correct some BIOS options for that.

For power consumption tests under high load we run the LinX 0.6.4 utility, which is a graphics shell for Intel’s Linpack test and supports AVX instructions. It is heavier on the CPU than ordinary applications, yet it is just an application nonetheless. It is quite possible that there are some other programs that can be just as heavy. That’s why we stick to using LinX for the purpose of checking the computer out for stability and for measuring its power consumption.

77 cpu load linx power consumption

The ASUS is far more economical than its opponents at high load, but it’s not a good thing, actually. ASUS’s regular (not special series) mainboards may drop their CPU clock rate, ensuring power savings at the expense of performance. This effect is only going to be observed at really high loads. That’s why we didn’t see any difference between the mainboards in our performance tests above.

Now let’s see how much power the mainboards need in idle mode when overclocked. We don’t have a special Eco mode here because we always use as many power-saving technologies as possible while overclocking. That’s why the standings are the same as in the Eco mode without overclocking. Compared to the Eco mode, the mainboards need 1 watt more power and the gap between them remains the same. Take note that the ASUS and MSI mainboards consume less at the overclocked settings with increased voltage than in the first diagram (i.e. at their default settings). It proves once again that default settings are not optimal and you should enable power-saving technologies on your LGA1150 mainboard manually in order to achieve minimum power consumption. This isn’t true for the Gigabyte, though. The power-saving modes do not work on it, so it remains the least economical of all.

78 idle overcloked power consumption

By the way, you have to count in the graphics card’s power draw at high loads to calculate the overall system consumption. We use high CPU loads in our power consumption tests, but if we load the AMD Radeon HD 7970 by running some heavy game, the total power draw will be close to 250 watts at default settings and even higher at overclocking. When overclocked and working at high load, the mainboards from ASUS and MSI need the same amount of power and almost 20 watts less than the Gigabyte.

79 cpu load linx overclocked power consumption

The GA-Z97X-Gaming 3 is a rather simple product, so its high power draw cannot be explained by extended functionality, additional controllers or an advanced power system. It is comparable to the ASUS Z97-A in its capabilities but needs more power than the higher-class MSI Z97 MPOWER.

Gigabyte’s LGA1150 mainboards lost their appeal a year ago when a firmware update made them uneconomical. This problem wasn’t solved but we hoped that the new breed of the company’s LGA1150 products would be different. Well, they are different, but not in the good way. There’s nothing good about the GA-Z97X-Gaming 3 consuming more power than its competitors at default settings. There are no LGA1150 mainboards that have optimal settings by default, yet you can correct this manually, but not with the GA-Z97X-Gaming 3. Gigabyte’s older mainboards were not very economical, either. They wouldn’t gain much from your enabling power-saving technologies and would get downright uneconomical when overclocked. But now, the GA-Z97X-Gaming 3 does not react to your turning on its power-saving features at all. When overclocked and working at low load, its power consumption grows up by 1 watt only, just like with the other mainboards and not more (as with Gigabyte’s older products), but there’s nothing good about that, either. If power-saving features do not work at all, you can’t notice a negative effect from turning them off.

We’re talking about power-saving technologies not working on Gigabyte’s LGA1150 mainboards, but that’s only our supposition. It doesn’t describe the whole situation, of course. If the problem were limited to power-saving features only, Gigabyte mainboards would consume more than others at low loads but would need the same amount of juice at high loads when those features get turned off. However, Gigabyte mainboards need more power than their opponents in this case. Thus, the problem is larger. Even though it shows up in a different way with the newest LGA1150 models, it still persists.


Our general feeling about the Gigabyte GA-Z97X-Gaming 3 is that of disappointment. The new black-and-red color scheme of Gigabyte’s gaming mainboards is far from original as gaming products from other brands use the same colors. We don’t like the new logo, too. These are our subjective impressions, though. As for its objective properties, it’s got a user-friendly design, standard accessories and good functionality. Although a junior model in its series, it is not limited functionally. It could overclock our CPU just like other mainboards and its performance is blameless.

The new Startup Guide mode of Gigabyte’s UEFI DualBIOS is very helpful, especially for inexperienced users who can set up their mainboard easily in it. The Smart Tweak mode, however, is just a cut-down version of the older Dashboard which used to contain all the settings of the classic BIOS mode. The BIOS interface still provides great customization opportunities, but you can’t choose the start page anymore. It is impossible to change the background picture or your mouse sensitivity, although these are not crucial downsides. The classic BIOS mode has remained the same except that you only have six instead of eight BIOS profiles. Although it’s good that the Classic mode has retained its functionality, it is bad that it doesn’t offer anything new. It turns out that the Startup Guide mode is the only positive innovation. The rest of the changes in Gigabyte’s UEFI DualBIOS are on the negative side.

The automatic overclocking technologies, CPU Upgrade and Performance Upgrade, suggest unrealistic operation modes but you can ensure a small performance boost by means of the K OC feature which raises the CPU clock rate by 200 MHz above the default level at any load. After our today’s tests we have some doubts if Gigabyte’s new mainboards can overclock CPUs without increasing their voltage, but we still need to check this out with other models. We didn’t like that the mainboard would often refuse to start after our changing some BIOS settings. We even had to occasionally use the Clear CMOS jumper. Overall, the GA-Z97X-Gaming 3 has both highs and lows, but the biggest problem with this model is its high power consumption.

The mainboards from ASUS and MSI we tested earlier were not perfect, either, so why are we so critical of the Gigabyte? The fact is the downsides of the other models only show up in specific situations. For example, the ASUS Z97-A has a cut-down M.2 connector which is not compatible with most existing M.2 drives. However, such SSDs are seldom used in desktop PCs, so it won’t be a problem for you if you’ve got no M.2 drive. The MSI Z97 MPOWER was unable to overclock our CPU without increasing its voltage, but it is the same as others at default settings or if overclocked with increased voltage. As opposed to these two, the GA-Z97X-Gaming 3 is only the same as others when it doesn’t work. As soon as you turn it on, its high power consumption shows up. It doesn’t matter if you use its default settings or overclock, if the computer is idle or at high load, this problem persists whatever you do.

There are imperfect products from any brand but you can always choose another and better one. This rule doesn’t work here, however. Gigabyte’s LGA1150 mainboards had a firmware update in August 2013 which made them uneconomical. This problem hasn’t been solved over the past year. Each LGA1150 mainboard from Gigabyte was not eco-friendly, consuming too much power. We hoped they would improve with the release of Intel’s 9 series chipsets, but it is not so. We would be glad if the GA-Z97X-Gaming 3 were a special case, but we fear that all of Gigabyte’s new products are like that. Moreover, it is a junior model in the gaming series, yet its power draw is higher than that of the higher-class MSI, let alone the simpler ASUS. We wonder if Gigabyte’s flagship products, with broader functionality and lots of extra controllers, will need even more power. Hopefully, we will be able to check this out soon enough and then we will make our final verdict about Gigabyte’s newest mainboards.

About The Author

XbitLabs Team

We are a team of enthusiasts thriving to provide you with helpful advice on buying tech.

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