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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  • Gunbuster - Tuesday, January 09, 2018 - link

    Who is ODM'ing from them? I find it doubtful they spun up their own motherboard factory... Reply
  • dave_the_nerd - Tuesday, January 09, 2018 - link

    This.

    Heck. They probably subcontracted the design too.
    Reply
  • Slash3 - Wednesday, January 10, 2018 - link

    The motherboard is manufactured for NZXT by ECS. You can also order extra covers for a few of the areas in colors like red or purple. I tried to find a picture of the board without the shroud in a gallery somewhere, but there doesn't appear to actually be one in this article despite it referencing one. It's sort of all over the place.

    This is a picture of the board sans shroud, courtesy of Guru3D
    http://www.guru3d.com/news-story/index.php?ct=news...
    If that link breaks, they have a preview up on their site. Tom's has a full review up.
    Reply
  • Slash3 - Wednesday, January 10, 2018 - link

    I should also add that the picture I linked to by Guru3D is straight off of the NZXT launch page and is a 3D render. But it gives you an idea of the underlying componentry. Reply
  • Joe Shields - Wednesday, January 10, 2018 - link

    A picture of the board without the shroud was also in the article, in the gallery... Reply
  • Slash3 - Wednesday, January 10, 2018 - link

    Not trying to be that guy, but I honestly don't see a link or review page containing a gallery in the article! Reply
  • artk2219 - Wednesday, January 10, 2018 - link

    Honestly I think it looks much better without the pointless shroud. Reply
  • mariush - Wednesday, January 10, 2018 - link

    The board was made under contract by ECS ... not particularly a great OEM for motherboards... the board is more looks than performance anyway.
    For 300$ they could have made it an aluminum shield instead of steel.
    Reply
  • npz - Wednesday, January 10, 2018 - link

    That makes no sense to sacrifice 2 sata ports for m.2 The chipset's 6 sata ports is independent of pcie bandwidth allocated for nvme.

    What they are doing is taking the easy and dump route out: because m.2 can ALSO use sata if you plug in a sata device, they simply hardwired the 2 sata lines to the m.2 ports and sacrificed
    2 sata ports instead, even when they didn't need to.

    Other mobo makers make the sata port control programmable -- full 6 sata ports when you plug in nvme, otherwise, you sacrifice sata port as that gets routed to the m.2 slot if you plug in a sata m.2 device.
    Reply
  • yannigr2 - Wednesday, January 10, 2018 - link

    THE SPECS ARE WRONG

    USB 3.0 Chipset
    6 x (4 at back panel, 2 onboard headers)
    USB 2.0 Chipset
    8 x (4 at back panel, 4 onboard headers)

    8 USB 3.0( USB 3.1 Gen 1)(4+2+2 - 1 Header = two ports) and 11 USB 2.0(there are only 5 in the I/O panel and only 3 headers).
    Reply

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