The Claymore leaves little doubt about ECS’ intent to stay in the enthusiast space, but how does it stack up to competitors?
Rumors that ECS would leave the branded motherboard business turned out to be unfounded, as the firm instead dropped the word “Gank” out of the branding of its latest motherboards. The L337 Gaming website is similarly fading into the background as the company focuses more of its effort on the ECS brand, and the hardware that represents it. Even though the old logo remains in spirit, L337 has transformed to LEE7.
The Z170-Claymore leads ECS’s LGA 1151 effort with all the parts and interfaces a mid-market enthusiast would want, such as dual USB 3.1 ports, a status code display for debugging, overclocking support in firmware, PCIe 3.0 M.2, and the ability to support multiple graphics cards. These specs look particularly good with regard to its mid-market $160 price.
ECS isn’t buying the hype over USB 3.1 Type-C connectors, instead outfitting the Claymore with two USB 3.1 Type A ports. This allows the ports to support many more types of devices, since most users will likely never replace their Type A to B or Micro USB cables with Type-C versions. Meanwhile, Type A to Type-C cables are likely to become commonplace as people use these to charge their phones.
Other rear-panel USB ports include four USB 3.0 and four USB 2.0, the latter making sense for at least two ports since all USB keyboards and mice use either USB 2.0 or 1.1 modes. Other keyboard and mouse options include two PS/2 ports, where most of ECS’ competitors believe that one is more than sufficient.
The Claymore’s I/O panel still has leftover space, causing us to question what might be missing. One thing thankfully gone is the VGA port of yore, though breaking out to one is still possible through DisplayPort. DVI is also missing, though breaking out to that is easy via HDMI. Gigabit Ethernet is limited to a single port, but we didn’t expect two at this price level. The real shocker is probably that the Z170-Claymore doesn’t have any optical S/PDIF output, not even via a combined jack, and instead relies on an internal header and a separately-purchased third-party breakout plate to fulfill the needs of those specific users. On the other hand, the lack of DTS Connect or DDL often makes 5.1 or 7.1 analog connections a preferred solution for positional audio in games.
ECS outfits the Z170-Claymore with five PCIe x16 slots, though only the top slot has sixteen available lanes. It gives up eight of those lanes to the third slot when a card is detected there, via four two-lane switches, resulting in an x8/x8 configuration at four-slot spacing. ECS never got the Z170-Claymore certified for SLI operation, but CrossFire is supported with two cards up to 3-slots thick.
The second and fifth slots are wired to the Z170 PCH as PCIe 3.0 x4, allowing four double-slot cards to fit at proper spacing within an eight-slot case. CrossFireX is still a good option in theory, but is limited in practice by the 32Gbps link that connects Intel's LGA 1151 CPU to its Z170 PCH.
SATA and M.2 drives, USB ports, and the network controller also vie for that limited bandwidth. Even the fourth slot, which has only one lane, waits patiently for data to arrive through the DMI. More elaborate solutions, such as a 48-lane PLX bridge on the CPU’s PCIe controller, push the price of competing solutions far beyond the Z170-Claymore’s mainstream-gaming market.
ECS doesn’t list slot configuration in the Z170-Claymore’s manual or web page, but an internal document disclosed by the firm is much more revealing. As well as the above slot details, we find an M.2 connector with two dedicated SATA ports and two dedicated PCIe 3.0 pathways. Anyone disappointed by the M.2’s PCIe 3.0 x2 option should keep in mind that ECS loaded up its slots with most of the chipset’s lanes. You can, after all, add a native PCIe x4 SSD to an x16-length slot, or even use a slot adapter.
Connecting M.2 SATA comes straight from the chipset’s controller leaving only four ports for traditional SATA drives. Two of those ports are available through the SATA-E combination connector, and the other two are stacked up just above it. ECS builds the Claymore back up to six forward-facing ports by adding an ASMedia 2-port controller, though its PCIe 2.0 interface leaves the final two traditional connectors sharing a single 5Gbps pathway.
Getting back to the Z170-Claymore’s basic layout, we find power and reset buttons near the bottom-front corner, which ease testing outside the case, along with a 2-digit status code display. The front-panel USB 3.0 header is found above the uppermost expansion card along the board’s front edge to ease cable use.
ECS moved its front-panel audio header three slots up the motherboard’s back edge, as if the company was trying to get a jump on the layout of a similar Micro ATX board. This is good news for builders whose cases have shorter-than-normal front-panel cables, but bad news for builders who hate running a cable across the top of a motherboard.
The Z170-Claymore includes four SATA cables and not much else. Given its low price, most builders will probably be pleased with the installation kit.
ECS wasn’t able to deliver the latest version of its software suite, but the motherboard web page shows that it will include eBLU (BIOS update), eDLU (driver update), eOC (basic overclocking), and eSF (fan control) software as described in our Z79-Machine review.
Z170-Claymore firmware opens to a friendly page for visually-impaired non-overclockers, with a few power profiles and a row of storage device icons that can be re-arranged to alter boot order.
Switching to advanced mode, we find the Motherboard Intelligent BIOS X menu with a group of sub-menus for CPU, DRAM, Voltage and overclocking profile storage. The latter of which helps users save settings they know work, while pursuing those that might not work.
Below these, a single “Quick OC” menu item enables an Intel Turbo Boost replicating factory-programmed overclock of 4.00 to 4.90 GHz at the board’s 1.50V CPU Core setting. Under Prime95 stress testing, this mode causes nearly-instantaneous power throttling (wattage-based clock throttling).
There aren’t many overclocks that don’t cause power-based clock throttling, as the higher voltage required to push high CPU clocks doesn’t pair nicely with an eight-thread AVX-optimized workload. Our CPU was able to reach 4.4 GHz without throttling, but only after reducing its core voltage.
The Z170-Claymore only allows manual manipulation of timings after selecting “Manual” mode, but it does retain the settings from the previous chosen mode. In other words, switching from Auto with CAS 15 to Manual allows the user to start with the original CAS 15 settings, and switching from XMP CAS 17 to Manual allows the user to start with those CAS 17 settings. Yet we were still unable to do either of these, as the board would continuously put “zeros” in several fields whenever we made the switch. Changing the “zero” values didn’t solve the problem, as hidden (inaccessible) timings were also zeroed out. It appears that this particular memory confuses this particular firmware revision, and that builders will either need to change their memory or wait for a new firmware before any of these settings work.
After nearly two days of unsuccessful attempts to make any changes to memory frequency or timings, it was time to move on.
A core voltage setting of 1.265V was the tripping point for core voltage and current overload protection, at least at clock rates beyond 4.40 GHz. Lower clocks allowed higher voltage to be used, but the point of overclocking is to reach higher clocks. Tuners who would like to try a higher clock rate in 1-2 core loads and a lower clock rate at 3-4 core loads can do so by setting the appropriate multipliers, which could help the board reach higher frequencies at lower levels of CPU stress.
How We Test
Test System Components
We’re using our standardized test system, minus its LGA 2011 motherboard, CPU, and DDR4-2400, to measure the performance of every LGA 1151 test board. Replacements for those parts include today’s Z170-Claymore motherboard, Intel’s Core i7-6700K, and G.Skill’s more-overclockable Ripjaws V DDR4-3600.
|Chipset||Intel INF 10.0.27|
|3DMark 11||Version: 220.127.116.11, Benchmark Only|
|3DMark Professional||Version: 18.104.22.168 (64-bit), Fire Strike Benchmark|
|PCMark 8||Version: 1.0.0 x64, Full Test|
|SiSoftware Sandra||Version 2014.02.20.10, CPU Test = CPU Arithmetic / Multimedia / Cryptography, Memory Bandwidth Benchmarks|
|Battlefield 4||Version 22.214.171.124, DirectX 11, 100-sec. Fraps "Tashgar"|
Test Set 1: Medium Quality Preset, No AA, 4X AF, SSAO
Test Set 2: Ultra Quality Preset, 4X MSAA, 16X AF, HBAO
|Grid 2|| Version 126.96.36.19979, Direct X 11, Built-in Benchmark|
Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA
Test Set 2: Ultra Quality, 8x MSAA
|Arma 3||Version 1.08.113494, 30-Sec. Fraps "Infantry Showcase"|
Test Set 1: Standard Preset, No AA, Standard AF
Test Set 2: Ultra Preset, 8x FSAA, Ultra AF
|Far Cry 3|| V. 1.04, DirectX 11, 50-sec. Fraps "Amanaki Outpost"|
Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA, Standard ATC, SSAO
Test Set 2: Ultra Quality, 4x MSAA, Enhanced ATC, HDAO
|Adobe After Effects CC||Version 188.8.131.524: Create Video which includes 3 Streams, 210 Frames, Render Multiple Frames Simultaneosly|
|Adobe Photoshop CC||Version 14.0 x64: Filter 15.7MB TIF Image: Radial Blur, Shape Blur, Median, Polar Coordinates|
|Adobe Premeire Pro CC||Version 7.0.0 (342), 6.61 GB MXF Project to H.264 to H.264 Blu-ray, Output 1920x1080, Maximum Quality|
|iTunes||Version 184.108.40.206 x64: Audio CD (Terminator II SE), 53 minutes, default AAC format|
|Lame MP3||Version 3.98.3: Audio CD "Terminator II SE", 53 min, convert WAV to MP3 audio format, Command: -b 160 --nores (160 kb/s)|
|Handbrake CLI||Version: 0.99: Video from Canon Eos 7D (1920x1080, 25 FPS) 1 Minutes 22 Seconds|
Audio: PCM-S16, 48000 Hz, 2-Channel, to Video: AVC1 Audio: AAC (High Profile)
|TotalCodeStudio 2.5||Version: 220.127.116.1177: MPEG-2 to H.264, MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG-2), Audio: MPEG-2 (44.1 kHz, 2 Channel, 16-Bit, 224 kb/s), Codec: H.264 Pro, Mode: PAL 50i (25 FPS), Profile: H.264 BD HDMV|
|ABBYY FineReader||Version 10.0.102.95: Read PDF save to Doc, Source: Political Economy (J. Broadhurst 1842) 111 Pages|
|Adobe Acrobat 11||Version 18.104.22.1689: Print PDF from 115 Page PowerPoint, 128-bit RC4 Encryption|
|Autodesk 3ds Max 2013||Version 15.0 x64: Space Flyby Mentalray, 248 Frames, 1440x1080|
|Blender||Version: 2.68A, Cycles Engine, Syntax blender -b thg.blend -f 1, 1920x1080, 8x Anti-Aliasing, Render THG.blend frame 1|
|Visual Studio 2010||Version 10.0, Compile Google Chrome, Scripted|
|WinZip||Version 18.0 Pro: THG-Workload (1.3 GB) to ZIP, command line switches "-a -ez -p -r"|
|WinRAR||Version 5.0: THG-Workload (1.3 GB) to RAR, command line switches "winrar a -r -m3"|
|7-Zip||Version 9.30 alpha (64-bit): THG-Workload (1.3 GB) to .7z, command line switches "a -t7z -r -m0=LZMA2 -mx=5"|
The Z170-Claymore finished slightly down in 3DMark, but not by an amount that was noticeable in action scenes. A secondary examination with GPU-Z and CPU-Z showed that the top slot was continuously stuck in x8 mode, even though it has the required hardware to switch between x16-x0 and x8-x8 modes. The enhanced bandwidth of PCIe 3.0 should have been great enough to prevent even this small a difference, in theory.
The Z170-Claymore is in a dead heat with the top two competitors in memory bandwidth. All boards were tested using automatic settings, and the timing issues previously mentioned only occurred with “Manual” mode enabled.
Perhaps it’s time for us to re-evaluate our performance expectations with PCIe 3.0 x8 mode? The Z170-Claymore falls slightly behind the pack in both Battlefield 4 and Far Cry 3, though not by a great enough margin to impact actual play.
None of the tested boards really stand out in non-gaming applications, proving mostly that they’re all pushing the same CPU speed. Had there been a large difference, we’d expect something was wrong with the winner (or loser).
Power, Heat And Efficiency
The Z170-Claymore consumes less power than its rivals at idle, which is good for efficiency and expected in a board that doesn’t have many third-party controllers tacked-on. On the other hand, it consumes far more power under load. We opened CPU-Z to see why and were startled by the report (which turned out to be wrong). ECS informed us of the problem with CPU-Z, suggested we use a different program, and said that the board was operating as intended.
That still left me scratching my head over the power reading. I got out the voltmeter and found that even though CPU-Z was up to 0.50V off at maximum (reports too high) and minimum (reports too low) loads, the actual voltage topped out around 1.50V at stock settings. That’s around 250 mV higher than other boards.
The higher voltage also affected peak CPU temperature, allowing it to reach 80 °Celsius during extended load tests. At least the motherboard’s voltage regulator stayed cool.
A performance deficit of nearly 3% in games lead to an overall 0.7% drop in the average of all tests, which combines with a 16.6% higher-than-average power requirement to force a 14.8% loss of efficiency.
Overclocking, Value And Conclusion
Just when some users thought ECS was going to pull out of the enthusiast motherboard market, the firm drops a Claymore in the mix. Those fortunately don’t explode when dropped, but could potentially blow away the competition in value.
Unfortunately, the Z170-Claymore’s power protection scheme prevented it from reaching the expected 4.6 GHz, as the voltage required to keep the CPU stable forced the frequency to go down. The chart might say 1.30V (MAX), but the board throttled the CPU when asked to provide more than 1.26V to its core (at high clocks and full load).
A firmware issue prevented memory overclocking, but that appears specific to “unfamiliar” modules. We anticipate a patch for that.
Without the ability to manually configure our memory using this version of Z170-Claymore firmware, the overclocked bandwidth chart shows a hole. Similar firmware issues kept Supermicro’s CZ170-SQ operating at the memory’s default CAS 15 in this test, and fans looking for a horn to blow should probably consider one of the two properly functioning samples as their instrument.
ECS might not have gotten its firmware right yet, but fairly solid hardware puts its Z170-Claymore in a value race against the second board in the above chart, ASRock’s Z170 Extreme6. The above chart doesn’t, however, show how much more a product with more features is actually worth.
The Z170-Claymore is certainly cheaper than the Z170 Extreme6, but is the price low enough to offset its lesser feature set? The Extreme6 does have a four-lane M.2 slot for example, but the Z170-Claymore offsets that advantage by having a second four-lane PCIe slot. And the Extreme6 has a couple extra SATA ports, but those are shared with M.2 where the Claymore’s SATA to M.2 interface is dedicated to its purpose. Both motherboards have exactly one added ASM1061 SATA controller and one added ASM1142 PCIe controller onboard.
The Extreme6 has a slightly more-popular network controller (Intel vs Realtek), an onboard optical S/PDIF output, and a DTS Connect to make that output truly useful. It also includes a dual-port USB 3.1 drive bay adapter with its own ASM1142 controller, and the latter part is probably worth the $20 price difference to those who need it. In the best case for ECS, this is probably a value tie. Buyers who can’t afford or justify the extra expense will probably want to consider the Z170-Claymore anyway.