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Review: NZXT N7 Z370 Motherboard

NZXT’s distinctive ATX-sized N7 Z370 motherboards made a great impression at CES 2018. Now that these beautiful black and white boards have arrived in our studio, and we can finally see if the performance matches the good looks.

If you want to pick up your own N7 Z370 board, you can get one for about $240.

Let's get into some of the the nitty-gritty aspects that builders and enthusiasts are getting excited about.

Minimalist Motherboards

The N7 is available in two functionally identical colors: black and white. The only difference is the color of the various plates and shields installed on the PCB. We used the white version, but you can safely assume that anything we mention about the white board will also be present on the black one.

If you’re already familiar with NZXT’s modern aesthetic, you’ll probably recognize that the N7 fits right in with the rest of their lineup. Feature-wise, the N7 is more or less what you’d expect from a gamer-grade Intel Z370 chipset motherboard. What sets it apart are the colored panels that cover the board’s black PCB, giving the N7 that sharp, hyper-minimalistic look that NZXT is known for.

If you’re looking for a board that puts form and function on the same level, the NZXT N7 is it, no questions asked.

While a few manufacturers have designed motherboards that have appealing heat-sinks and a focus on aesthetics, NZXT are the only ones who have managed to completely cover up the chaos of hundreds of capacitors, resistors, and traces present on any board. If you want to almost completely eliminate any kind of visual clutter in your build, there’s really no other comparable solution on the market.

The panels are metal (with a plastic backing on the underside of some), and color is applied by way of powder-coating. The board is covered by one large panel (which from here on out I’ll call the main panel) onto which most of the others are attached. These smaller panels can be removed fairly easily, but the main panel is considerably harder to remove, and uses a number of retainer pins that go through holes in the PCB. Taking it off is doable, but you’ll need some kind of punch and a fair amount of patience.

There are two heatsinks on the board: one over the chipset, and another L-shaped one up near the CPU socket. Both of these can be covered by perforated plates to allow for airflow, and of course, those plates are removable.

There are three more covers in the same area as the board’s PCIe slots. Each one is removed the same way, by pulling the left side of the plate away from the board, and then pulling the retainer tab out from a hole on the right. Two of the plates hide M.2 slots, keyed for SSDs. The first is just below the CPU socket area, and this one actually two joined plates. It’s a clever little piece of engineering that allows for a PCIe x1 slot to poke through.

The second M.2 is located under the lowest plate, which pops off for easy installation. Nearby there’s also a double-digit diagnostic LED readout. If you’ve been keeping track, that’s five of the six panels. Under the sixth there’s nothing but blank space. There isn’t even a hole where something could be. I’m not sure why there’s a faux cover panel there, but my theory is that it’s there for looks, and to maintain the “balance” of the board.

Ladies, I think I finally understand how you feel about all those fake pockets in women’s fashion.

If you’re dead set on having some color other than black or white, NZXT also makes sets of colored heatsink covers. Right now they’re available in red, blue, purple, white, and black, which match the color options available for many of their cases.

With all this attention given to the look of the N7, it would be reasonable to assume that it might suffer from a technical perspective. Let’s see how it holds up outside of the looks department.

N7 Tech Specs

It’s clear that NZXT put as much work into the performance of the board as they did the styling. Even if you ignore the N7’s form (which is the key selling point), other manufacturers could stand to take some notes from its function.

Rear I/O connections include:

  •  5x USB 2.0 ports
  • 4x USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports
  • 1x DisplayPort 1.2
  • 1x HDMI 1.4b
  • 1x Clear CMOS button
  • 1x LAN (RJ45) port
  • 1x Optical S/PDIF Out port
  • 1x 7.1-Channel Audio jacks

Internal expansion slots include:

  • 2x PCIe 3.0 x16 (x16 or dual x8)
  • 2x PCIe 3.0 x4
  • 1x PCIe 3.0 x1
  • 1x M.2 Socket 3 with M Key, (PCIe 3.0 x4 & SATA mode)
  • 1x M.2 Socket 3 with M Key, (PCIe 3.0 x4 mode only)
  • 1x LGA 1151 CPU Socket

The N7 Z370 is built around an Intel Z370 chipset. That means support for 8th Generation Intel Core series CPUs, and up to 64GB of RAM (3866 and below). If you’re planning on going dual GPU, you’ll be glad to know the N7 supports Nvidia SLI and AMD Crossfire.

NZXT also created a custom BIOS for the N7. The design is simple, and stylistically, it fits the board’s physical design. It’s all shades of grey, white, and black. Most information is plainly presented in scheme-appropriate rectangles, backed up by some very obvious pictograms. There’s nothing flashy or ostentatious about the setup, and it works. Far too many BIOS designers go overboard with design, and create graphics-heavy BIOS UIs that look grainy and stretched-out in the resolutions that a BIOS typically supports. NZXT has taken the path of least resistance, and made a minimalistic UI the puts useful information front and center.

Functionally, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about the BIOS. It includes the standard suite of security features, boot option management, fan control, etc. If you want to overclock, you’ll have to do it by manually punching in voltages. No automatic OC-tuning packages here.

Of course, none of that is revolutionary for a modern ATX gaming mainboard, but it does check just about every box you’d expect for a board in its price range.

The N7 really stands out in some areas that I think casual builders take for granted. If you’re into the idea of having some bells and whistles along with immaculate cable management, this board is pretty exciting.

Headers and connections

Let’s talk fan headers. Most motherboards aimed at the gamer demographic are, on average, going to have five to seven connections. The N7 has nine -count ‘em, NINE- four-pin PWM headers for fans, closed-loop pumps, or AIO cooling systems. Better yet, all headers are situated on either the very upper or very lower edges of the PCB, which in a high-end chassis means they’ll be right next to cable passthroughs. This also means that the rear chassis fan header, the obnoxious one that sits somewhere between the rear I/O housing and the top PCIe socket, has been moved.

There are also five internal USB headers, three nine-pin, (located on the bottom edge) and two 20-pin. (One of these is located on the bottom edge, and the other next to the ATX12V connection.) All in all, this means that you’ll be able to easily connect any front-panel USB ports on your chassis, and have headers left over to connect internal sensors or other monitoring hardware.

If going the RGB lighting route appeals to you, you’ll find two four-pin headers, one on the front side of the board, and one on the top side, near the four USB headers up there. Although they’re four-pin, they aren’t the standard exposed layout. Instead they’re surrounded by a plastic shroud, and the N7’s package comes with two cables that clip in to the shroud (presumably for extra retention force) which serve as both extensions and adapters to the standard four-pin RGB layout. In addition, the package includes two magnetic and adhesive-backed 12” lighting strips, which work with NZXT’s CAM software.

All these headers and plugs might seem like a minor, niche detail. In reality, providing ample connectors and giving this level of thought to positioning makes building with the N7 a joy.

Great for building, without compromise

If you’re looking for a board that puts form and function on the same level, the NZXT N7 is it, no questions asked. Yes there are other cool-looking boards out there, but as far as I know, the N7 is the only motherboard built from the ground up to incorporate the clean, minimalistic styling you see here.

There’s also no sacrifice in terms of functionality. While there are no cutting edge technological gimmicks going on, it doesn’t need any. The N7 Z370 easily delivers everything a gamer truly needs in a motherboard. You’re still getting an Intel Z370 chipset, top-level DDR4 support, M.2 slots, multi-GPU functionality and much more.

This board really shines when it comes to  actually building a system with it. NZXT has clearly given a lot of thought to the placement of all the PWM, RGB, and USB headers, and provided plenty of each type to boot.

You can pick up your own NZXT N7 Z370 motherboard today, and check back soon to get a look at a killer build we’re putting together, where we marry the N7 with an H700i chassis to create a super minimalist rig.