NZXT, a company much better known for products like cases, power supplies, and coolers, is dipping its toes in the motherboard waters with an Intel Z30 based motherboard named N7. The N7 is nearly completely covered with shrouds exposing only the pertinent parts, making for a unique looking motherboard. We'll put it through its paces and see where it stands after our testing.

The NZXT N7 Motherboard Review

A couple of weeks back an email was forwarded to me with the subject line reading along the lines of 'NZXT Review, It's not a case!' I think we all appreciated that humor as clearly, that is one of several product lines we are familiar with NZXT for. When I read it was a motherboard I think we were all surprised to hear about the entry into this market. But nevertheless, they came forward with the Intel Z370 based N7. 

Default performance on this board was tough to compare as we only have datasets with varied Uncore frequencies. However, that seems to be a function of the motherboard and will vary throughout the Z370 testing. It is tough to compare it directly to the i9-7900X because of its difference in core/thread count as well cost. We can almost purchase three i7 8700Ks for one 7900X. When compared with its peers though, it was leading the small pack even with a slight Uncore deficit. As we saw in testing, only a couple of results really showed a significant difference, but certainly worth noting in comparison. Boot times were a bit slower, but that was also due to some curious issues with the monitor and when it turns on with this motherboard. Occasionally the monitor wouldn't detect a signal as the system booted, but when I switched to a different monitor (same cable), there wasn't an issue. It is difficult to pinpoint where the issue is, however, this is the first time I have seen this behavior. 

As far as storage options go, the way the N7 is configured, with a total of four SATA ports, allows for the two M.2 slots to remain at PCIe 3.0 x4 bandwidth regardless if all are used. The chipset can support six, but instead of having all six on there and sharing, they went without. I have to expect for the vast majority of users this will not be a concern. Those who require more than four SATA ports will have to do so via expansion cards. 

The N7 has a total of five PCIe slots with positions 2 and 4 (the full-length slots), connected to the CPU and intended for video cards. Slots 1(x1), 3(x4), and 5(x4) are all connected through the chipset. Back panel connectivity consists of four USB 3.0 ports and five USB 2.0 ports, CMOS Reset button, HDMI/DisplayPort Video outputs, the Intel RJ-45 port and the 6-plug 7.1 channel audio stack. The board does not have any USB 3.1 (10 Gbps) ports. 

The NZXT has placed an MSRP of $299.99. That price point puts in in direct competition with some solid motherboards. The ASRock Z370 Professional Gaming i7 is priced at $300, the ROG Maximus X Hero (Wi-Fi AC) sits at $280 with the Gigabyte Z370 AORUS Gaming 7 prices at $250. At the same or lesser price point, the ASRock and ASUS include Wi-Fi and USB 3.1 (10 Gbps). Pretty stiff competition around the $300 mark.

EDITOR'S NOTE: On 1/19/18, NZXT released a statement acknowledging what many reviews said that the price was too high. The MSRP has been lowered to $249.99 in response. With this came some changes to what is included with the board. In order to offer the lower price, they have removed the bundled RGB LED strips and extensions. Additionally, NZXT has doubled down on their confidence of the N7 and have increased the warranty period from 3 to 4 years. 

Information on Intel's Coffe-Lake CPU Desktop Processors

One important piece of information to note: technically these processors use the LGA1151 socket, also used by 6th and 7th Generation processors using the Z170 and Z270 chipsets. But due to several (albeit minor) difference in the pin-layout of these two sets of processors, the 8th Generation Coffee Lake will only work in Z370 boards and are not cross compatible. Back in October 2017, Ian Cutress reviewed a couple of processors (i7-8700K and i7-8400) in the Coffe Lake lineup - details on the rest of the product stack are listed below.

Intel 8th Generation 'Coffee Lake' Desktop Processors
  i7-8700K i7-8700 i5-8600K i5-8400 i3-8350K i3-8100
Cores 6C / 12T 6C / 6T 4C / 4T
Base Frequency 3.7 GHz 3.2 GHz 3.6 GHz 2.8 GHz 4.0 GHz 3.6 GHz
Turbo Boost 2.0 4.7 GHz 4.6 GHz 4.3 GHz 4.0 GHz - -
L3 Cache 12 MB 9 MB 8 MB 6 MB
DRAM Support DDR4-2666 DDR4-2400
Integrated Graphics GT2: 24 EUs GT2: 23 EUs
IGP Base Freq 350 MHz 350 MHz
IGP Turbo 1.20 GHz 1.15 GHz 1.05 GHz 1.15 GHz 1.10 GHz
PCIe Lanes (CPU) 16 16
PCIe Lanes (Z370) < 24 < 24
TDP 95 W 65 W 95 W 65 W 91 W 65 W
Price (tray) $359 $303 $257 $182 $168 $117
Price (Newegg)
Sale until 10/12
$380 $315 $260 $190 $180 $120
Price (Amazon) $N/A $N/A $N/A $N/A $N/A $N/A

At the top of the stack are two Core i7 Coffee Lake processors. In previous generations ‘Core i7’ meant that we were discussing quad-core parts with hyperthreading, but for this generation, it moves up to a six-core part with hyperthreading. The Core i7-8700K starts at a 3.7 GHz base frequency and is designed to turbo to 4.7 GHz in single-threaded workloads, with a thermal design power (TDP) of 95W. The K designation means this processor is unlocked and can be overclocked by adjusting the frequency multiplier, subject to appropriate cooling, applied voltage, and the quality of the chip (Intel only guarantees 4.7 GHz).  The Core i7-8700 is the non-K variant, with lower clocks (3.2 GHz base, 4.6 GHz turbo) and a lower TDP (65W).  Both of these processors use 256 KB of L2 cache per core and 2 MB of L3 cache per core.

Kaby Lake i7-K vs Coffee Lake i7-K
i7-7700K   i7-8700K
4C / 8T Cores 6C / 12T
4.2 GHz Base Frequency 3.7 GHz
4.5 GHz Turbo Boost 2.0 4.7 GHz
8 MB L3 Cache 12 MB
DDR4-2400 DRAM Support DDR4-2666
GT2: 24 EUs Integrated Graphics GT2: 24 EUs
350 MHz IGP Base Freq 350 MHz
1.15 GHz IGP Turbo 1.20 GHz
16 PCIe Lanes (CPU) 16
< 24 PCIe Lanes (Chipset) < 24
95W TDP 95 W
$339 Price (tray) $359
$340 Price (Newegg) $380
$351 Price (Amazon) $N/A

When compared to the previous generation, the Core i7-8700K starts at a higher price, but for that price comes more cores and a higher turbo frequency. The Core i7-8700K is a good example of how adding cores works: in order to keep the same power consumption, the overall base frequency has to be lowered to match the presence of extra cores. However, in order to keep the responsiveness higher than the previous generation, the single thread performance is often pushed to a higher multiplier. In almost all situations this counts as a win-win, and makes pushing for the 6-core part, on paper at least, a no-brainer.

Visual Inspection
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  • Slash3 - Wednesday, January 10, 2018 - link

    I re-read it twice as I thought someone had accidentally pasted a paragraph from the conclusion page in the introduction page. I stopped asking myself questions when I got to the graphs containing undefined asterisks. Reply
  • Galcobar - Wednesday, January 10, 2018 - link

    The whole article could have used a copy editor, unfortunately. It's replete with both fragmentary and run-on sentences, incomplete lines of thought, and flat-out missing explanations.

    Aside from the grammatical issues, the concerns commenters raised are typical of a piece written by someone who knows the subject matter. The author thus does not see the jumps from point to point which the reader for lack of background information cannot follow.
    Reply
  • ApePriori - Wednesday, January 10, 2018 - link

    Yeah, 'Coffe Lake' shows up twice, paragraph and header. Reply
  • :nudge> - Tuesday, January 09, 2018 - link

    One of the most surprising and appealing things I've seen reviewed here in quite a while. I wasn't evening planning on buying a motherboard but am considering getting one. Considering it's their first MB, the price is to be expected. I don't mind the lack of usb3.1 and like the sacrifice of 2 Sata for better M2 support. I hope this clean (no gamer) look starts a trend. Reply
  • l8gravely - Tuesday, January 09, 2018 - link

    The most annoying things about this board is the lack of colors on the audio block, making it more difficult to figure out what goes where. Especially whe it's in the case and around back. The second thing is the shrouds, I worry that the board will get hotter than expected, since air won't be able to flow around it as easily. Plus, when you do (you know you will!) drop a screw and it goes under a shroud, it's going to be a pain to get back out.

    I do like the lack of bling, but that's cause I'm a grumpy old man. Get off my lawn kids! I *never* look into my cases once they're setup, so not having that part is great.

    Being a new vendor, with new BIOS and other features, I'd probably steer clear of this board unless the price was super good, just because the time I waste chasing down problems isn't worth it.

    Can you do some long term stability tests? Maybe put it all into a case with crappy airflow and then let it crank doing some CPU stress tests for 48, 72 or more hours? With lots of IO and stressing of the PCIe busses?

    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Tuesday, January 09, 2018 - link

    "The most annoying things about this board is the lack of colors on the audio block, making it more difficult to figure out what goes where. Especially whe it's in the case and around back."
    It's clearly labeled and color coded on the IO shield. Though I don't know how colors or labels help inserting stuff when you can't see them (around the back). ;)
    The heat thing is also very likely irrelevant. These kinds of designs have been around a while and I haven't ever heard a lot of fuss about more motherboards dying due to lack of airflow over the general board. Also, many watercooling setups have very little to no airflow over the mainboard and do fine longevity wise. :)
    I totally agree on the screw recovery point. :D
    Reply
  • Threska - Tuesday, January 09, 2018 - link

    I have a case where the "back" is pointed up, so all that's visible. Reply
  • Dug - Monday, January 15, 2018 - link

    You pick what the port does once you plug something in. It's not set in stone so the color doesn't really matter. Reply
  • praktik - Tuesday, January 09, 2018 - link

    They really need to make the CMOS battery accessible whenever these covers/armor are used.

    I had one such from ASUS, my kingdom for a hatch, a hatch!!
    Reply
  • TuffLittleUnit - Sunday, January 21, 2018 - link

    ^^^ THIS! I'm still using an Asus Z77 Sabertooth and when the CMOS battery ran out last year I had to use a Dremel to cut out the plastic armour to get at the battery slot. Reply

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