Gigabyte X470 Aorus Gaming 7 Wi-Fi Review

Gigabyte X470 Aorus Gaming 7 Wi-Fi Review

Last Updated on by Daniel Lawrence

It was just a few weeks ago that AMD released its second-generation Ryzen CPUs, along with a range of high-end motherboards called the X470. Compared to X370, the X470 chipset offers no new features or updates to connectivity standards. Though the Promontory chip that underpins all AM4 chipsets consumes less power, that’s about the only tangible improvement. AMD’s new X470 chips may have more to do with improving the supporting infrastructure for AMD’s latest chips, although even this justification falls flat. According to AMD, all X370 motherboards on the market can handle the power demands of second-generation Ryzen processors.

The AMD X470 is what AMD calls a “harmonized” release for second-generation Ryzen CPUs. With the X470 name, builders get a new AMD platform, which has been refined for a year, plus purportedly worry-free out-of-the-box operation. In addition, X470 boards come with AMD’s StoreMI software for free.

Since Ryzen CPUs launched over a year ago, Gigabyte has been committed to continuous improvement. High-end system builders have been closely watching what Intel is doing with its motherboards, and we got our first glimpse of the results at CES. In another revamp of its Aorus boards, Gigabyte is putting orange accents and brushed aluminum at the forefront, and the $240 X470 Aorus Gaming 7 Wifi is the highest-end example of that styling so far.

However, the most obvious refinement from Gigabyte is entirely practical. Just take a look at the gigantic heatsink on the Gaming 7. Copper heat pipes of six millimeters in diameter come into direct contact with the thermal pads. Those pipes run through aluminum fin stacks.

Expansion, I/O, and audio

Gigabyte X470 Aorus Gaming 7 Wi-Fi Review

The Gaming 7 Wifi’s I/O panel has a power button that can be used as a reset switch, as well as a Clear CMOS button. For folks like me whose systems are primarily used on test benches, these features are very helpful.

An Intel Wireless-AC 9260 radio module is attached to the two antenna connectors poking out of the Gaming 7 Wifi’s back panel. With its new access points that can support 160-MHz channel widths, this high-end wireless adapter is among the first to support so-called Gigabit Wi-Fi. From compatible hardware, Intel claims a downlink speed of up to 1.73 Gbps. Additionally, the 9260 module supports Bluetooth 5.

According to that version of the short-range wireless protocol, it offers greater range and faster speeds than past Bluetooth versions.

There are four USB 3.0 ports directly on the Ryzen SoC to the right of the wireless antenna connectors. Type-C connector under the red Type-A connector is connected to the X470 chipset through an ASMedia 1143 controller. A Gigabit Ethernet jack powered by Intel i211AT connects to two USB 2.0 ports on the X470 chipset. Gigabyte’s DAC-Up technology is used behind the two yellow USB 3.0 ports found on the chipset. DAC-Up allows users to adjust the amount of power available from USB ports in order to compensate for power-hungry devices and long cable runs.

In case you’re wondering where the much-touted X470 USB 3.1 Gen 2 connectivity goes on the Gaming 7, the answer is that it’s routed to the board’s single USB 3.1 Gen 2 front-panel connector. It is still rare to find a case with front-panel USB 3.1 Gen 2 cabling these days, and I would have preferred it if Gigabyte had connected the connector to the ASMedia 1143 chip that powers the Gaming 7’s back-panel ports.

Lastly, the board’s audio subsystem is connected to the I/O panel. Compared to the ubiquitous ALC1220 before it, the Realtek ALC1220-VB codec on the Gaming 7 Wifi promises to improve front-panel mic quality, presuming this improvement will be noticeable when using the middling mics on many headsets.

Gigabyte uses Realtek’s ESS Sabre 9018Q2C chip for digital-to-analog conversion. There is a claimed 121-dB signal-to-noise ratio and a -115-dB THD+N figure for this DAC. Impressive. Many of Gigabyte’s high-end motherboards utilize Wima film capacitors and Nichicon Gold capacitors in the audio path.

Thanks to that hardware, the Aorus Gaming 7 X470 offers exceptionally crisp, tight, and well-separated sound in games and music with a pleasing frequency response. It didn’t bother me to EQ out any particular weirdness in the resulting audio from the board’s default voicing. Most people don’t need a discrete sound card these days, as analog audio suites like this one suffice.

With the Ryzen SoC providing 16 lanes to the main PCIe 3.0 slot on the Gaming 7 Wifi, it can share eight of those lanes with the second RGB LED-surrounded PCIe slot on the board for a multi-GPU setup. 

Three PCIe x16 slots are electrical x4 slots powered by four lanes from the X470 chipset. The X470 chipset supports PCIe 2.0 lanes in both PCIe x1 slots.

The board’s first M.2 slot utilizes 4 PCIe 3.0 lanes dedicated to the Ryzen SoC, while the second slot shares 4 PCIe 2.0 lanes with the board’s bottom PCIe x16 slot. Each slot has a finned heat sink with pre-applied thermal pads underneath. As the first M.2 slot on the board ends up under the first PCIe x16 slot, that heatsink may be needed. SATA devices are supported on the first M.2 slot, but not on the second. However, if users plan to use NVMe storage devices to its fullest capacity, the second slot’s PCIe 2.0 lanes might be limiting. A PCIe 3.0 x4 slot provides about half the bandwidth of those lanes.

A Gigabyte motherboard utilizes all six of the SATA ports available on the X470 chipset, and all six of those ports are available regardless of whether a SATA device is plugged into the first M.2 slot. For storage-hungry builders, this means they can theoretically fill every M.2 slot and SATA port on the board while losing only one PCIe slot.

Firmware, fan control, and Windows software

Gigabyte has not updated the basic firmware interface it has been using across its entire motherboard lineup since mid-2016, despite AMD’s introduction of new chipsets and processors. Our X99-Designare EX and Z270X-Gaming 5 reviews provide more insight into that firmware. Gigabyte’s firmware is clean and straightforward-looking, but it still takes some poking and prodding to get a handle on the range of options it exposes to builders, and it isn’t always obvious how the different settings in the firmware interact.

Gigabyte’s somewhat balky user-interface design ideas can be overcome by the less-complex AMD Ryzen CPUs, and the text-field-heavy user interface lets you easily navigate the wide menu of memory settings available on Ryzen chips.

The key things builders need to do with Ryzen firmware are enabling XMP, adjusting CPU multipliers, and adjusting voltage settings. The X470 Gaming 7 Wifi’s firmware makes these tasks simple and straightforward, and I found it easy to tweak overclocking settings while in and out of the firmware.

Anyone interested in tweaking their Windows system will want to try Gigabyte’s EasyTune software. Easy Tune provides graphical access to all voltage and frequency settings available from the board’s firmware. As well as monitoring CPU Vcore, Easy Tune also monitors various temperature sensors across the motherboard.

Despite these important duties, the utility didn’t report the right clock speed for our Ryzen 7 2700 test CPU. In place of measuring its roughly 1.55 GHz speed at idle and with stock clocks, the utility reported a flat (and possibly erroneous) 3.186 GHz from the chip. However, all of the other parameters from the motherboard appeared to be correctly displayed. AMD’s own Ryzen Master utility is a good alternative to vendor-specific motherboard software if all you care about is monitoring the Ryzen CPUs parameters in Windows.

As a headline feature of its Aorus motherboards, Gigabyte has made universal fan compatibility a priority. Smart Fan 5 means that the Gaming 7 Wifi’s seven (or eight, if you count CPU_OPT) fan headers can automatically detect and control the type of fan plugged in. In addition, two of the headers on the board can detect liquid-cooling pumps. A builder must only intervene if they want to configure their own fan curves, which requires diving into the Smart Fan 5 interface in the system’s firmware.

With Aorus boards, users can set up custom fan control settings via the firmware or the System Information Viewer utility in Windows. Builders have access to virtually every tweaking parameter available with the Gaming 7 firmware fan control interface. Gigabyte offers three prebaked speed curves per fan header: normal, silent, and full speed. Each of the board’s fans has a five-point speed curve. Although the Gaming 7 Wifi is still unable to calibrate minimum and maximum fan speeds in firmware, Smart Fan 5 will become nearly perfect if Gigabyte ever implements the change.

Owners can also select from several temperature sensors to control fan speed with the firmware. The Gaming 7’s headers can respond to changes in CPU and chipset temperatures, as well as VRM temperatures and the signal from a thermocouple, instead of relying on a single motherboard temperature sensor. I think Gigabyte’s latest firmware fan control interface is excellent, and it almost negates the need for Windows software.

In Windows, System Information Viewer remains the only way to control fans on Gigabyte motherboards, but its Smart Fan 5 Advanced mode does not let users choose the temperature source for each fan. That alone is reason enough for me to forgo SIV and just tweak fans in the Gaming 7 Wifi’s incredibly-capable firmware. Gigabyte’s Windows software has long needed a unified redesign, similar to that of Asus, and the X470 does little to change that view.

RGB LEDs

Asus 470x

Arrays of RGB LEDs have become ubiquitous features on most modern motherboards, regardless of what we think of them. Our protests about the blinkenlights are long past their usefulness. They’re everywhere, and they’re not going anywhere. If you don’t like them, turn them off. It is our main concern as reviewers to ensure motherboard manufacturers make it easy to configure and manage RGB LEDs across a system. Considering the range of color, animation, and synchronization available from modern RGB LEDs, the potential complexity of lighting control is daunting, and motherboard makers face a major challenge in reining in that complexity in software.

The X470 Aorus Gaming 7 Wifi is wrapped in RGB diodes behind diffusers, just like most recent Gigabyte motherboards. An individually-addressable, so-called “digital LED” strip sits under a stylized cover on the I/O shroud. We’ll discuss its capabilities in a moment. On the upper half of the motherboard, three LED diffusers between the DIMM slots and a diffuser on the edge catch the eye. This board’s Technicolor Dreamcoat is further embellished with threads on the audio-path shroud, the primary and secondary PCIe 3.0 x16 slots, and the chipset heatsink.

Gaming 7 Wifi continues to run the RGB Fusion Windows utility. RGB Fusion offers three paths to rave-light bliss for the unfamiliar. Let’s start with Basic Mode. Lighting designers can control every LED on the board using seven different animation effects at once with this setup. A static board allows the user to set one color and brightness level for the entire board. In Pulse, the board is gently illuminated and darkened in one color at a choice of three speeds. With audio playing through the Gaming 7 Wifi’s outputs, a one-color light show will blink out in sync with it. Color Cycle runs the whole board through the rainbow sweep that many associate with RGB LED lighting. The Flash feature blinks every LED on and off at three different speeds. It is unsurprising that Double Flash doubles the blink rate. Random, well, randomly illuminates each of the board’s zones with different colors in unpredictable swirls.

On the Gaming 7 Wifi, the individually-controllable zones are organized as follows. Its own domain is the digital strip atop the I/O shield. Another such zone are the LEDs placed between the DIMM slots. The third region contains the LED light bar and the chipset heatsink.

Four zones control the lighting in the PCIe x16 slot shrouds and the audio shrouds. The Pulse, Static, Flash, Double Flash, or Color Cycle effects can be assigned to any zone, or users can create their own custom animation sequences.

There are up to seven color stops available in the Custom interface. It is possible to specify the transition speed between stops (anywhere from five to 30 seconds) as well as the duration of time spent at each stop (anywhere from one to 60 seconds). It is possible to assign a color to each stop, as well as choose between Pulse, Static, or Flash animation settings. With this version of RGB Fusion, the minimum duration of each stop has been reduced to one second, but transitions remain at a minimum of five seconds. Similarly, the transition between stops on the Gaming 7 Wifi isn’t smooth. As the time set for each stop expires, the board’s RGB LED controller abruptly drops light levels to near-zero before gradually stepping them up to the next stop’s color and brightness over the time period specified for each stop’s transition. To create smooth rainbows of color, set each zone to the Color Cycle animation.

In addition to those custom zones, the Gaming 7 comes with two sets of RGB LED headers: one set of traditional RGBW pins and another set that can be used to power digital LED strips. Standard RGB or RGBW strips can be controlled by the Gaming 7 Wifi using the same array of Custom settings I described for each lighting zone above. These same custom settings can also be used for individually addressable strips, or builders can choose from up to 12 different animation modes baked into RGB Fusion by Gigabyte. On this board’s product page, Gigabyte provides vivid demos of each of these modes.

RGB Fusion isn’t quite as tweakable as Asus’ Aura software, but it’s much better than MSI’s Mystic Light. It was easy for me to set up the lighting I liked. You can always disable the blinkenlights in the firmware if you don’t like them, and that’s it.

Overclocking

Unlike recent Intel platforms and the choices between fixed, adaptive, and offset voltage control, tuning AMD’s recent chips is a relatively straightforward process. Ryzen chips-including second-generation Ryzen chips-enter an “OC mode” as soon as the multiplier or voltage are changed in the firmware, in which the processor is locked into its highest-performance power state, P0. With this mode, AMD’s Precision Boost and XFR schemes are disabled, leaving your selected multiplier as the only operational state of the processor.

In some Ryzen motherboards, P-state overclocking is possible, but it’s not the primary or most refined way to push Ryzen chips to the limit just yet. The norm for mainstream Ryzen overclocking is to use fixed all-core multipliers and voltages.

To make Ryzen overclocking worthwhile, builders must also be able to achieve all-core speeds that are at least as fast as Precision Boost speeds for a given chip. For users whose workloads are primarily multithreaded, sacrificing some single-threaded performance for increased all-core performance might be worth it, but it’s not a great compromise for general PC use.

As our review of the Ryzen 7 2700 is still in progress, I figured it would be an ideal candidate for overclocking on the X470 Gaming 7 Wifi. Overclockers who remove the stock cooler and Precision Boost mojo of Ryzen CPUs to begin with don’t need to spend the extra $30 on the peak performance of the highest-end Ryzen models. Ryzen CPUs all overclock similarly, so it makes more sense to invest the money saved from a lower-end part in a better cooler to make use of the soldered integrated heat spreader that comes with every Ryzen.

There are no CPU-specific overclocking profiles available for the X470 Aorus Gaming 7 Wifi, which may prove to be a rude awakening for those used to Intel’s one-click overclocking routines. Gigabyte’s EasyTune Windows software provides only one pre-baked overclocking profile that is so conservative that it might as well not exist, and the iterative automatic overclocking ability is totally disabled on this board. All-core multipliers can be set in firmware without difficulty, but newcomers hoping for any kind of help will be disappointed.

So I tried manual tuning. Utilizing the publicly-available Classroom benchmark file, I set out to achieve a Blender-stable overclock from the Ryzen 7 2700 in the X470 Gaming 7 Wifi’s CPU socket. Due to prior overclocking experience with second-gen Ryzen chips, I knew that 4.2 GHz to 4.3 GHz would be about the peak for the chip, and that it would probably take anywhere between 1.4 V to 1.425 V to get there.

Our socket AM4 systems can handle the higher voltages close to AMD’s informally stated maximum before their long-term stability is compromised, thanks to our massive EK Predator 240-mm CLC that takes full advantage of AMD’s soldered heat spreaders. The chip can still be kept far from its potential throttling limits, even with those high voltages, as we will soon discover. High voltages alone don’t frighten me as much as a hot chip.

It took our Ryzen 7 2700 no problem to push the X470 Aorus Gaming 7 Wifi to its limits. With a 1.425 V core setting, the chip was Blender-stable at 4.2 GHz on all cores. At the voltages I’d consider reasonable, pushing the CPU above 4.2 GHz proved futile. When I tried ray-tracing the Classroom workload at 4.25 GHz, the chip immediately froze. Our Ryzen 7 2700 didn’t exceed 68° C with our EK Predator 240-mm liquid cooler, so we achieved over 99% of our chip’s potential with our testing setup.

Gigabyte’s updated VRM heatsink performs extremely well under such load as well. Despite the low-airflow environment, the board’s power-delivery thermal sensor never exceeded 72° C. For a VRM with only minimal indirect cooling, that’s an impressively low temperature. Typically, Ryzen overclockers should be able to push their chips without worrying about the Gaming 7 Wifi’s power delivery failing them. In addition to its enthusiast-grade motherboards for Intel and AMD platforms, I hope that Gigabyte will soon introduce similar VRM heatsinks for its other motherboards.

During my overclocking efforts, I noticed one behavior from the Gaming 7. Despite software monitoring, there was a greater variance in processor voltage than I would like (at least according to the board’s load-line calibration profiles). In spite of the 1.425 V fixed value and the third-most aggressive “High” load-line calibration-level I set in the firmware, the motherboard indicated in software that it was delivering anywhere from 1.392 V to 1.440 V to the CPU throughout our stress tests. Although our chip never became unstable in Blender due to these swings, other X470 motherboards in the TR labs haven’t shown similar behavior.

Conclusions

Gigabyte’s X470 Aorus Gaming 7 Wifi is an excellent Socket AM4 motherboard. In addition to its future-ready Wi-Fi adapter, massive (and effective) VRM heatsink, and similarly beefy 10-plus-2-phase VRM underneath, this board is well suited to support AMD’s second-generation Ryzen CPUs. Despite its wide range of RGB LEDs and associated lighting tricks, it is also equipped with all the flash today’s enthusiasts need.