Software & Firmware
EVGA says that a pair of graphics cards will run faster on the first and fourth slots (x8/x16) than they would on the second and fourth slots (x16/x16) even though the “lane width” appears larger. Blaming the PEX 8747 for that discrepancy would be disingenuous since the PEX 8747 is connected to the CPU with only eight lanes. No matter how many lanes a device gets from that switch, it’s still limited to the eight lanes received from the CPU.
Beyond allowing single-card users the opportunity to bypass the PEX 8747 controller, EVGA’s design gives buyers a fifth PCIe x16 slot. All five cards can get x8 bandwidth at the same time. On the other hand, buyers who really wanted all sixteen lanes to be repeated to both cards in 2-way SLI might feel a little cheated, as they could have gotten the same x8/x8 connection without the added component and its added latency. The Z170 Classified is really designed for users who want at least 3-way SLI, since those builders would have needed the PEX 8747 regardless of how it’s connected.
EVGA made the unusual decision of putting both USB 3.1 (10 Gbps) ports on a front-panel header, leaving the I/O panel with only six 5 Gbps and two USB 2.0 ports. We also find dual Intel-controlled network ports, a CLR_CMOS button, a pair of integrated graphics outputs and some audio jacks.
EVGA’s provision of USB 3.1 for the front panel puts case manufacturers in an awkward position, since other motherboard manufacturers haven’t standardized. The squabble between various companies comes down to signal quality and cable length concerns, with some competitors insisting that cases advertised to have 10 Gbps capability must have a repeater at the port end to allow accessory cables to be used. Without the repeater, a 10 Gbps device connected to a front-panel lead might only be able to function at full-speed when connected to a non-cabled device such as a Type-C thumb drive. EVGA appears to find this acceptable, and I think many of us would probably agree.
Another oddity is that the Z170 Classified has no USB 2.0 front-panel headers. Cases that lack these ports are rare, though any company willing to replace its USB 2.0 ports with USB 3.1 is likely to find common cause (and common customers) with EVGA.
The Z170 Classified has two M.2 slots, or maybe just one, as the second slot is “Key-E” type. M.2 was supposed to fix the confusion over mSATA and mPCIe, but splitting the M.2 market between Key B and Key M for storage, plus Key A and Key E for regular PCIe devices, seems designed only to replace one form of customer confusion with another. While the naming convention leave much to be desired, EVGA has done its best to describe these interfaces within its manual.
In addition to the one slot fed by 8+8 lanes from the CPU (16 total) and the other four slots fed by that second set of eight lanes through a repeater (whenever a card is installed there), the Z170 Classified includes a PCIe 3.0 x4 slot fed by the Z170 PCH. It shares bandwidth with everything else on the PCH of course, and is closed-ended so that an x8 or x16 card won’t fit as easily.
The Z170 Classified’s layout is fairly good, with the two slots most recommended for two-way SLI spaced four slots apart, which in turn allows better cooling. Four way SLI typically requires a case with eight or more slots, since most four-way-capable graphics cards have dual-slot brackets. The two small issues that will impact some builders are the downward-facing USB 3.0 headers and the mounting depth of 10.5”. The first small issue is solved by the majority of cases that have bottom-mounted power supplies, since the rearward port is 6.8” from the back edge, but customers need to do a little more research to figure out if the motherboard tray of their chosen case has the extra 0.9” of motherboard clearance.
Buttons along the Z170 Classified’s upper front edge allow users to power up, reset, and CLR_CMOS without a case, and a set of switches just above the top slot allows users to disable a graphics card that’s frozen due to excessive overclocking. Between those features, a 3-way switch allows users to choose between three firmware ICs, a dual-digit display shows POST codes, and a set of detection pins ease monitoring of several I/O voltage levels. One of the firmware ICs is replaceable.
We talked a great deal about multi-way SLI, yet the Z170 Classified includes on a single SLI bridge. EVGA wants users to buy lighted bridges as premium accessories, and prior customers are welcome to use the leftovers from their old builds. EVGA also includes only two SLI cables with this board.
An included USB 3.0 breakout bracket is also compatible with the board’s USB 3.1 front-panel header and, thanks to its short and shielded cables, will probably work at full bandwidth with many cable-connected USB 3.1 devices.
Software & Firmware
The Z170 Classified uses Creative’s Core3D audio processor and includes the associated Sound Blaster Pro Studio application. Among its audio enhancements, Scout Mode will likely interest gamers since it can amplify the sound of an approaching enemy.
EVGA E-LEET Tuning Utility X is the only application I found that would show appropriate core voltage readings in the Z170 Classified. Multipliers worked, BCLK didn’t yet (the company periodically updates its software).
Firmware settings are far more detailed and allow far greater overclocks, but there are a couple things that readers should know before going crazy on their next overclock. First, the “CPU Vdroop Disabled” setting actually enables an aggressive form of voltage-sag compensation under load, so that a 1.250V CPU core rises to 1.307V. “Enabling” the “Vdroop” setting allows voltage to fall by a similar amount.
The full-load voltage increase isn’t a bad idea as long as tuners know what to expect. Overclocked CPUs become less stable at higher load, and a lower unloaded voltage allows better efficiency.
Enable your memory’s 1.35V XMP profile, and you’ll be rewarded with a 1.42V output! Keeping the competition with other motherboards fair means keeping voltage consistent, and our voltmeter showed 1.35V at a manually-selected 1.29V. “Reported” DIMM voltage is actually around half-way between actual and set voltage.
Primary, secondary and tertiary timings are each adjustable even while leaving firmware to figure out any timing that hasn’t been configured manually. Better still, users can choose their memory’s “XMP” timings as a baseline and make their own adjustments from that point.