CES is always good for a surprise or two, and there have been a few already. However, one that we truly didn't see coming was NZXT's entrance into the motherboard market. Well, it happened—NZXT today unveiled the N7, an LGA 1151 motherboard based in Intel's Z370 chipset.
It's an interesting move on NZXT's part, though perhaps less risky than had the company made an entrance before the motherboard market whittled itself down to a handful of players, at least at the high end (anyone remember DFI or Abit?). Still, there are some major players left standing that NZXT will go up against.
To set itself apart, NZXT designed the N7 with its other products in mind. For one thing, users can alter the color scheme with an assortment of heatsink covers, available in glossy blue, red, or purple to match its cases, like the H440 and H700i. NZXT is also offering two metal motherboard covers, one in black and one in white. The result is a more colorful motherboard than most of what's out there, without the dependence on RGB lighting.
Of course, that's part of the package too. The N7 features customizable RGB lighting with NZXT's HUE+ integration. Same goes for the fans—NZXT integrated its GRID+ V3 digital fan controller, and both it and the HUE+ are compatible with its CAM software.
We actually like NZXT's CAM utility, so we don't view buying into NZXT's cooling (and lighting) ecosystem as a bad thing. If you're not a fan (no pun intended), however, you can still use the N7, you just obviously won't be taking advantage of everything it offers.
"Leveraging our years of experience as professional PC builders, we’ve designed the N7 motherboard with a completely new approach. In the face of increasing complexity in the PC gaming market, we want to make building easier and more enjoyable, with the N7 as a cornerstone for this new experience. Everything you need—from easy layout and obvious connections to digital fan control and RGB lighting—is included. We’ve also designed a completely unique motherboard cover so it’s both beautiful and powerful," NZXT founder and CEO Johnny Hou said in a statement.
The N7 has a 15 phase digital power design to deliver clean and reliable power to the CPU, memory, and PCH chipset, NZXT says. Other features include Intel Optane memory support, two M.2 connectors for high-speed storage drives, four DIMM slots supporting up to 64GB of DDR4-3866 (OC) memory, two PCIe 3.0 x16 slots, two PCIe e.0 x4 slots, and single PCIe 3.0 x1 slots.
The rear I/O includes five USB 2.0 ports, four USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, both DisplayPort and HDMI connectivity, GbE LAN, audio ports, and a clear CMOS button.
We asked NZXT if it would share with us more about the design and manufacturing, since we suspected the latter was being outsourced. We were right—a representative told us the company worked with ECS in customizing the N7 to NZXT's specifications. NZXT also wanted to make clear that the N7 is not an off-the-shelf board, but something the company actually designed. In other words, NZXT didn't take an existing motherboard and slap its name on it.
As for future motherboard plans, NZXT tells PCGamer that its immediate plan is to launch the N7, and beyond that "no other motherboard decisions have been made at the moment." Most likely future plans will depend on the success (or failure) of this first foray into what can be an extremely tough market.