Gigabyte Z97X SOC Force Motherboard Review
There are many things to like about the Gigabyte Z97X SOC Force.
The first of the orange Gigabyte OC motherboards was the X58, which feels like a lifetime ago now. It was a stripped down, no messing, 100% pure bread overclocking machine. Later models, although released at nowhere near the rate of many other named models we could mention, have maintained the excellent performance whilst gradually adding back the features that were stripped out of the first edition. Today this refinement has left us with the Z97X SOC Force, a motherboard which stays true to the hardcore overclocking lunacy of the first X58 OC, but keeps all of the features that we've become accustomed to from modern motherboards.
So we have plenty of PCI Express slots and lanes, loads of USB ports, plentiful SATA 6Gb/s ports and even SATA Express. When you add those features to the additional ones of double thickness gold plating, high quality capacitors to handle a serious loading, a KillerNIC traffic shaper and wrap that all up in the gorgeous orange and black colour scheme, it's a recipe for success. To sell it at a barely believable £150 it would be award winning even if it couldn't overclock much further than its contemporaries.
But oh boy it does overclock much further than them. If you're not used to the world of overclocking then let us make a comparison. Getting a car to pass 200MPH is relatively easy. 220MPH isn't unheard of. Once you get towards 250MPH the amount of power you require is significantly more than that needed for 220MPH. Hence the Bugatti Veyron. CPU's work in a similar way. We know that an average motherboard will obtain 4.8GHz from our particular i7-4770K. A good one could get 4.9GHz, and a really barnstorming one can hit the giddy heights of 5GHz. The Gigabyte Z97X SOC Force managed to obtain 5.2GHz. Let that sink in. We were so flabbergasted that we stuck our i5-4670K in and it got that to 5.1GHz too. Remember we're just using a hybrid cooler on our CPU, nothing exotic. The easy overclocking performance is quite simply unsurpassed. Bring any Z97 or even Z87 motherboard to the party, this will out-overclock it with minimal effort if you are just looking for CPU-Z suicide shots thanks to those BCLK and Multiplier buttons. If you actually want stability to benchmark or run a system on then the Gigabyte is is definitely up there with the best of them which is a massive achievement but its isnt screaming off into the distance like it does for the suicide runs.
The only negatives we can find are that the BIOS isn't quite as swish as we'd perhaps like it to be. It has no actual problems, so it's somewhat of a matter of taste. The Unigine results hint at some limited 3D performance, but the gaming results are fine. We'd like it to adjust the system agent voltage when applying an XMP profile. Lastly the automatic overclocking of the CPU is a boon for most, but it's worth keeping an eye on the voltage applied as it tends to err on the side of too much. But these are very minor niggles and, at worst, something you only need to fix once and then forget about.
To come equipped with a full range of features, some outstanding looks, and so much raw performance that you can almost feel the Z97X SOC Force straining at the leash, and to do all that at a price one would expect to find the most basic motherboards, is an amazing achievement, and the Z97X SOC Force easily wins our OC3D Gold Award.