EVGA is fairly still a newer company when it comes to parts other than graphics cards. They are primarily a NVIDIA partner, and offer 24/7 tech support which is kind of rare when it comes to computer hardware. Their mission is to create hardware through differentiation, intelligent innovation , market knowledge, and real-time operation. I will be looking over the EVGA Classified Z170 board from their motherboard lineup. Let’s see if this classified motherboard can stand out from the crowd of Z170 board’s as described.
I really enjoy the look of this board just by inspecting it. The boar feels heavy while holding it, and the heat sinks look interesting for the board’s design. There is a heat sink that covers both the VRM and the PCH.
The CPU socket uses higher gold content for lower inductance, and better power delivery. This is a premium feature that some board’s choose to ignore due to the extra cost.
The board laid out shows 6 PWM fan headers. All the fan headers are 4 pin but are backwards compatible with 3 pin. These headers have a safe power limit of 1 Amp @ 12 Volts (12 Watts). There are two at the top labeled for CPU_1 or CPU_2 if you require more than one CPU fan header. If you install the I/O shield, there is one header hidden underneath the plate.
This board also features the standard headers like USB 2.0, front panel audio, and a USB 3.0 header. I want to point out here that a newer function is available as a header called Thunderbolt. This technology allows high-speed data between multiple devices with up to 20 Gbps flowing each way.
The board has been designed with a 6 layer PCB which can benefit by a cooler board and possibly higher overclock settings.
This board features a Power and Reset switch as well as a debug code which is useful for troubleshooting. To the right is a useful reset CMOS button for easy “reset to defaults” for your UEFI BIOS.
Another useful feature that EVGA includes is a built-in speaker for beep codes. This is also a very tradition feature used for troubleshooting by the amount of beeps indicated.
There is dual BIOS support for up to two separate profiles. This is really useful for testing overclocking results, or even having a backup default in case something goes wrong with your first bios.
The PCIe slots are very sturdy upon inspecting them. There is an easy release lock which just requires you to press down to release your card’s. There are 4 large slots and two smaller ones. One slot for x16 is available for a single GPU, but if slot 2 or 3 is used then the lanes are x8. The first small slot is PCIe 4 which is rated for x4, and the even smaller slot is for x1 speeds. The last large PCIe slot is slot 6, and is also rated at x1 from the PCH. Slot 2 is rated for x4 if slot 3 is also in use with slots 1 & 2. The slots can be configured ideally for 2-WAY SLI + a PHYSX card.
There are three m.2 slots included on this board. Key- M M2 Socket 3 (1) disables SATA ports 4/5. Ports 4/5 are for the Intel controlled chipset and I wouldn’t recommend installing any m.2 stuff here unless you need to, This will force you to use the Marvell controlled ports which are not as good as the Intel ones for best performance of your SSD or hard drive. The Socket 3 (2) slot would be a better for a few reasons. First I installed my GPU into slot one for best performance and x16 speeds, this covers Socket 3 (1) and is harder to get to. Socket 3 (2) is easier to get to if you’re only using one GPU and only disables your PCIe slot 4 which is your x4 slot. The smaller Key-E M2 socket will disable your PCIe slot 5. It can get tricky with M.2 slots, especially using NVMe drives, be sure you are using the correct slot for the best performance. Also, make sure in your UEFI bios the correct corresponding slot is enabled for use. I will show this later in the software section of this review.
The rear panel has a number of features:
- The first two USB ports all the way to the left are USB 2.0
- The two red ports next to the USB 2.0 ports are USB 3.1
- You have dual NICs here an Intel I219 & Killer E2400
- The blue ports x4 are USB 3.0 ports
- Easy clear CMOS button
- Display port 1.2
- HDMI 1.4 port
- The audio section has Optical out and analog 3.5mm jacks
The E2400 NIC helps with network latency and prioritizes network traffic. This NIC is useful for gamers looking for an enhanced experience.
The memory slots have the standard DDR4 locking where just the top clips are needed to lock or unlock your modules. This is where reading your manual definitely comes in handy. You must make sure that slot 2 is populated for the board to even post. This Z170 board supports a maximum of 64GB of DDR4 up to 3600MHz+ in dual channel configurations.
The board has three power connectors available. The main 24 pin is displayed in the above paragraph, and the 8 pin EPS CPU power above the iGPU VRM heat sink, and an extra ATX 6-pin PCIe connector for additional power to the PCIe slots rather than pulling from the main 24 pin motherboard connector. This is additionally useful for SLI setups.
This Z170 board’s PCH controls the SATA 6 Gbps ports. Looking all the way to the right the first 4 ports are controlled by a Marvell controller. While the 2x SATA Express, and 2 other SATA ports are controlled by the Intel controller. SATA Express is a significant increase over SATA III but requires a much larger connector.
Circuit / Phase Inspection
We can observe here that all the connections are well soldered, and if you inspect closely can see where some of the circuits trace to for better identification and their purpose.
EVGA has a 12 Phase PWM design here. They label it online as an 8 phase PWM, but total including the integrated GPU I count 12, and that doesn’t include the extra phases for memory. It has a 6+2 VRM for CPU regulation, and 4 inductors for the integrated GPU on your CPU.
The custom branded EVGA inductors are using IR35201 digital PWMs which all contribute to the CPU phases. The extra phase below the CPU is for the VCCSA which is for the system agent voltage and controlled by a IR3553 PWM controller.
The memory uses two IR3553 for the main DDR voltage with a single IR3553 for your VPP rail. The memory is controlled with a 3+2 phase digital PWM using a IR3570 for its power phases.
Here we can identify the Killer E2400 chip that is used for one of the board’s NICs.
This classified board relies on the Realtek ALC1150 for its audio processing. The larger brother of this board has a Creative Sound Core3D chip. This unit does have a separating red LED for a cool effect to separate the audio portion from the rest of the board.
Bios / Software
The EVGA UEFI BIOS is really simplified. When you first get into the bios you’re introduced to the “OVERCLOCK” section of the bios. This board was designed with overclocking in mind. The bios doesn’t overwhelm you and provides only the options that require tweaking or setting. I was easily able to set a multiplier of 45x which yields a 4.5GHz overclock. You will notice I have adaptive voltage set, originally I had set a static voltage of 1.24 for testing and booting into Windows before I set adaptive mode. You should not stress test or do synthetic testing with adaptive on, as this will increase voltage as needed and may damage your chip. Once you have the right voltage and a stable overclock, you can set adaptive with a target voltage, and will be fine for gaming and normal computer use. You can also set your other voltages but most of those I just keep at auto because they seem to get in the right ballpark with “Auto” enabled.
You will notice I have adaptive voltage set. Originally, I had set a static voltage of 1.24 for testing and booting into Windows before I set adaptive mode. You should not stress test or do synthetic testing with adaptive on, as this will increase voltage as needed and may damage your chip. Once you have the right voltage and a stable overclock, you can set adaptive with a target voltage, and will be fine for gaming and normal computer use. You can also set your other voltages but most of those I just keep at auto because they seem to get in the right ballpark with “Auto” enabled.
The memory section is where you will want to set your values or select your XMP profiles. I selected XMP profile 1 and my memory was automatically set to all the correct speeds and values for my RAM. You can manually tweak your settings as well if you want to overclock your RAM and lower values. Here you can overclock your RAM if you wish to. Generally, it’s better to just set your XMP profile and tune in a higher CPU overclock. You will have better performance with a higher CPU overclock rather than instability due to higher memory speeds.
The “Advanced” section is where you will tweak all your hardware devices , CPU configuration, fan profiles, and power management.
The “Power management” section has some features that will allow you to disabled the red LED lights on the board if you want no distractions. Personally, I love the LED lighting and keep it enabled. You can also set you ACPI sleep states here to control the way your PC hibernates or sleeps.
The onboard configuration is important if you are using m.2 configurations. Like I explained above in the design section that you need to make sure you have the slot enabled that you want to use. Also, make sure you read what each slot does as certain devices will get disabled with the use of each socket.
The “H/W Monitor Configuration” is the section where you can set all your PWM fan headers to either the desired speeds or set fan curves for each header. Every fan header on this board is a 4-pin PWM, but is backward compatible with 3-pin fans. In PWM mode a 3-pin fan will run at 100% speeds unless you set DC mode. DC mode will reduce voltage like PWM, but is not as accurate.
I use an open air test bench, and have physical switches on my fans for variable speeds so I set my speed to “MAX” so they can be controlled properly. I also set my CPU fan headers to “MAX” because the H100i GTX requires you to do so for proper pump performance, and Corsair Link being able to set your fan speeds within the software. Set DC mode for 3-pin fans, if you are using 4-pin set PWM as it’s the best way to control variable fan speeds.
The boot section allows you to configure your boot priorities and boot states. You can also disable the speaker beep here if you wish to do so. If you are using an NVMe drive try using UEFI boot mode. UEFI will be required for some newer hardware, and some m.2 drives need UEFI mode but not all. Whenever possible use UEFI because this can give you more control over your hardware from your OS.
The Save & Exit” menu allows you to save your bios settings and also save them as profiles. You can also load profiles from USB devices, and update your bios from here as well to the latest version. Always make sure you are using the latest BIOS as manufacturers constantly update them to provide better performance and sometimes even add new features. The latest bios for this board does improve NVMe legacy boot times and improves memory compatibility.
If anyone has tried to figure out how to boot into the boot selection menu it is F7. Normally most computers use F12, F11, or sometimes Esc, but EVGA used F7 for this board. I couldn’t figure out how to do this , and didn’t see this listed in the manual. This is an important feature to know about as it helps you boot to USB drives for Windows installation.
EVGA offers all your drivers for this Z170 board here, and only offers one tool specifically for the motherboard. I did have one problem with one of the drivers for Win 10 x64. I downloaded the Intel Rapid Storage driver and software, but it wouldn’t open correctly to install. I tried this several times with no luck. It’s easily fixed by downloading the latest driver from Intel’s site.
The one piece of software EVGA included for tuning your motherboard is the EVGA E-LEET Tuning Utility X. I personally love the E-LEET utility and feel it has some awesome features. E-LEET allows you to view and tweak all your major motherboard settings, overclocking settings, Voltages and other monitoring features that can be adjusted on the fly within Windows. You can see above the error message I ran into while trying to use this software. I can replicate this 100 % of the time and it has to do with EVGA Precision X OC and Windows accessing these kernels at the same time. This is easily fixed by closing Precision X and then opening E-LEET. You can then also open Precision X at the same time, but you will get this error if you close E-LEET and try to reopen it.
You will also run into similar problem with application that use the same hardware kernel. This error is from a popular temperature monitoring program called RealTemp. Same rules apply to getting the program to open like above.
I also thought I would try to call and report this to EVGAs 24/7 Technical support. I didn’t wait long and did get a person fast. I reported this problem to the support agent, but they advised me this utility barley gets updated and I should try using the Intel Extreme tuning Utility. I just found this strange that EVGA support wouldn’t recommend its own utility for this motherboard. It’s the only one they even have available, and it was designed for it. I’m still a fan so I will still use the utility as it offer adjustments and viewing certain settings only this utility offers.
Above you can see under “Memory what divider and values are set. Under Overclocking you can adjust your values and fine tune your overclock right here within the software. Also you can capture a screenshot with the tool of your awesome overclock just by hitting F5 or the “Capture Screen” button.
The “Monitoring” section tab allows you to view all the voltages applied to the board as well as temperature readings. You can also view the fan speeds here under the Fans section. The “Voltages” section is my favorite as you can easily look at your target voltage and adjust it right here, and also change between “Adaptive”mode or “Override” mode.
E-LEET offers the “Processes” tab that allows you to set program”Affinity” and also create shortcuts for them. This is a neat section that isn’t built into other tools that I have seen. You can also do this within Windows task manager, but it’s still cool to have quick access to it within the software. This is pretty much it for the E-LEET X software. You can save or load your profiles from the “Options” tab.
I will be testing the Z170 Classified using the E-LEET utility,and AIDA64 Extreme for benchmarks. I will also be testing the power consumption of this board for a general idea of what to expect during heavy and idle loads. I will test the Watts used by using a KILL A WATT. Please keep in mind that each system is different and actual loads can vary greatly even with similar hardware.
My test bench is as follows:
- Motherboard- EVGA Z170 Classified K
- CPU: Intel Core I7 6700K
- Network Card- netgear AC 1200 USB
- Cooler- H100i GTX V2
- Memory- Anarchy X 16GB DDR4 2800MHz
- Video Card: Nvidia GTX 1060
- Storage- PNY CS2210 480GB / Samsung 950 pro m.2 512GB
- Power Supply- bequiet! Dark Power Pro 11 1000W
- OS: Windows 10 x64 Pro
- Headphones- Creative H7
The CPU was overclocked to 4.5 GHz for benchmark purposes, and the memory was set to its XMP profile. You have to control the PWM fan speeds and curves using the UEFI BIOS. For the 4.5 GHz overclock I used 100% or performance speeds for maximum cooling to keep my overclock stable. The above screenshot is due to E-leet having bugs, and just a double verification of my overclock.
My temperature above is with a H100i GTX at idle and full load. In this case, full load mean stress testing with ADIA64, and idle sitting at the desktop. I chose a 4.5GHz overclock because it’s a good place to start, and a decent overclock. I also like to keep my every day temperatures below 75°C, and my voltages around 1.24. I find pushing any higher causes the temps to raise a great deal more than its worth. This will all vary on your type of cooling and system configuration. I could have squeezed more but with my memory speed at 2800MHz I didn’t see the need in my system to push any higher.
You can see the performance above for the memory bandwidth and CPU cache, this should give you a good indication of the kind of performance to expect from this Z170 board.
I ran the ADIA64 Disk Benchmark to show the read performance and to give an idea of how much bandwidth you can saturate over the SATA bus. At over 500 MB/s we see my PNY CS2210 480GB is getting accurate speeds. The tests ran were over the Intel bus and not the Marvel. The Intel ports are going to give you the best performance on this board.
The power consumption is rather good, and this is thanks to the digital PWM controller. The power gets delivered effectively and can achieve a really low power consumption level at idle. This board manages even when overclocked to pull fewer watts than the ASRock motherboard, and this is most likely due to the different PWM controllers.
This EVGA board has a lot of great features, however there are some faults that I found. First the lack of software and accessories for a “Classified” board are disappointing. I also had the specific Ring error problem with the only software that is provided for this motherboard. Be careful of m.2 configurations, and this is not limited to only this board. If specific slots are enabled other ports and slots get disabled. This is a technology road block, and will improve over time. This board would have also been great with RGB lighting as Z170 is still new enough when RGB was just starting to become massively popular. The last issue was not easily finding that F7 would bring me to the boot menu. If you’re not going to use standard shortcuts, at least list how to access the boot menu in the manual.
I definitely had to test some DOOM using this board and my GTX 1060. I like the simplicity and ease of overclocking with the Z170 Classified K. It has an extremely simple UEFI bios with only the important settings that need tweaking or adjusting. Everything was easy to configure and had no input lag. I also love the cohesive color scheme of this board, the red and dark PCB really go well with the industries famous red and black colored components from almost every manufacturer. I definitely recommend this board for anyone looking for easy overclocking and a simple UEFI design. Just because it is simple doesn’t mean it’s not great. This is what makes this board awesome. You can buy the EVGA Classified K right now from Newegg for $190.00.