ASUS Z170-A Motherboard Review

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ASUS passed along one of their new Z170 chipset motherboards for us to take a look at today. The ASUS Z170-A is basically an economically priced version of the Z170-Deluxe we reviewed recently. While it may be slimmed down a bit, it still offers a lot of features and full support for the new Skylake processors. If you’re looking to get into the Skylake/Z170 platform and not break the bank while doing so, ASUS thinks they have just what you need in the Z170-A. Let’s go check it out!

Specifications and Features

Looking at the below specifications, we can see full support for all the latest Skylake/Z170 technologies. Other than the USB 3.1 controller and audio solution, just about everything is native to the Z170 chipset. No corners were cut on the LAN controller with the use of Intel’s latest I219V solution. SATA Express and an M.2 x4 storage connectivity complement the six SATA 6 GB/s ports to maximize storage options. Fast memory speeds are supported via XMP, and up to 64 GB of DDR4 can be installed. The motherboard also supports NVIDIA SLI/AMD CrossFireX in a number of different configurations. Specifications provided by the ASUS product page.

ASUS Z170-A Specifications
CPU LGA1151 socket for 6th Generation Intel Core i7/i5/i3/Pentium/Celeron Processors
Supports 14nm CPU
Supports Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2.0
Chipset Intel Z170 Express Chipset
Memory 4 x DIMM max 64GB, DDR4 3466(OC) / 3400(OC) / 3333(OC) / 3300(OC) / 3200(OC) / 3000(OC) / 2800 (OC) / 2666(OC) / 2400(OC) / 2133 MHz, non-ECC, un-buffered
Dual channel memory architecture
Supports Intel Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)
Expansion Slots 2 x PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots (single at x16 / dual at x8/x8 mode)
1 x PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slot (max at x4 mode)
3 x PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots
1 x PCI
Graphic Integrated Graphics Processor- Intel® HD Graphics support
Multi-VGA output support : HDMI/DVI-D/RGB/DisplayPort ports
– Supports HDMI with max. resolution 4096 x 2160 @ 24 Hz / 2560 x 1600 @ 60 Hz
– Supports DVI-D with max. resolution 1920 x 1200 @ 60 Hz
– Supports RGB with max. resolution 1920 x 1200 @ 60 Hz
– Supports DisplayPort with max. resolution 4096 x 2304 @ 60 Hz
Maximum shared memory of 512 MB
Supports Intel® InTru™ 3D, Quick Sync Video, Clear Video HD Technology, Insider™
Supports up to 3 displays simultaneously
DP 1.2 Multi-Stream Transport compliant, supports DP 1.2 monitor daisy chain up to 3 displays
Multi-GPU Support Supports NVIDIA® Quad-GPU SLI™ Technology
Supports AMD Quad-GPU CrossFireX™ Technology
Storage Intel® Z170 chipset :
1 x SATA Express port, compatible with 2 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports
1 x M.2 x4 Socket 3, with M Key, type 2242/2260/2280/22110 storage devices support (both SATA & PCIE mode)
6 x SATA 6Gb/s ports, gray
Support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10
Supports Intel® Smart Response Technology
LAN Intel I219V Gigabit LAN Controller
Audio Realtek® ALC892 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC featuring Crystal Sound 3
USB Intel® Z170 chipset :
6 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports (2 at back panel, blue, 4 at mid-board)
Intel® Z170 chipset :
6 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports (2 at back panel, , 4 at mid-board)
ASMedia® USB 3.1 controller :
1 x USB 3.1/3.0/2.0 port (1 at back panel, , Type-C)
ASMedia® USB 3.1 controller :
1 x USB 3.1/3.0/2.0 port (1 at back panel, teal blue, Type-A)
Back Panel I/O Ports 1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port
1 x DVI-D
1 x D-Sub
1 x DisplayPort
1 x HDMI
1 x LAN (RJ45) port
1 x USB 3.1 Type-C
1 x USB 3.1 (teal blue)Type-A
2 x USB 3.0 (blue) Type-A
2 x USB 2.0
1 x Optical S/PDIF out
5 x Audio jacks
Internal I/O Connectors 2 x USB 3.0 connectors supports additional 4 USB 3.0 ports (19-pin)
2 x USB 2.0 connectors supports additional 4 USB 2.0 ports
1 x SATA Express connector: , compatible with 2 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports
1 x M.2 Socket 3
1 x TPM header
1 x COM port(s) connector
6 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
1 x CPU Fan connector (1 x 4 -pin)
1 x CPU OPT Fan connector (1 x 4 -pin)
4 x Chassis Fan connectors (4 x 4 -pin)
1 x S/PDIF out header
1 x Thunderbolt header
1 x 24-pin EATX Power connector
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power connector
1 x EZ XMP switch
1 x Front panel audio connector (AAFP)
1 x System panel (Q-Connector)
1 x DRCT header
1 x MemOK! button
1 x TPU switch
1 x Power-on button
1 x Clear CMOS jumper
1 x 5-pin EXT_FAN (Extension Fan) connector
1 x USB BIOS Flashback Card header
1 x Water Pump header (4-pin)
1 x 14-1 pin TPM connector
OS Support Windows 10
Windows 8.1
Windows 7
Form Factor ATX Form Factor 12″ x 9.6″ (30.6 cm x 24.4 cm)

The image below gives you a good idea of the layout and aesthetics of the Z170-A. We’ll explore all this later in the review.

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ASUS continues to offer their 5-Way Optimization software within the AI Suite III software package. I know most of our readers prefer to overclock through the UEFI BIOS, but 5-Way optimization works very well and is a lot of fun to play around with.

One click overclock and cooling, done!

Get performance, efficiency, digital power, fan control and even networking and audio tuning tailored for you. With 5-Way Optimization at your disposal it takes just one click to tune complex settings — for instant, highly-controllable performance boosts! Our exclusive technology dynamically optimizes essential aspects of your system based on real-time use, so you get superb CPU performance, everyday energy savings, ultra-stable digital power, cool and quiet fans and even networking and audio settings that are tailored for the apps that you are using. In short, 5-Way Optimization ensures that your PC is perfect for gaming, entertainment, productivity or just about anything else!

  • Games run swiftly and smoothly with high performance, prioritized bandwidth and vivid sound.
  • Fans stay whisper-quiet for everyday computing, and ensure extreme cooling efficiency when gaming.
  • Stutter is eliminated for smooth-running apps, even under heavy loading.
  • Energy waste is reduced so you’ll save money.
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The ASUS TPU feature is an onboard chip that works for automatic overclocking either by the 2-phase switch on the motherboard or through the AI Suite III utility. The EPU feature is geared towards energy efficiency by adjusting the power consumption to match the needs of the PC. The Fan Xpert 3 utility is another module in AI Suite III that now offers control over a dedicated water pump header found on the motherboard. Many of the same options are available from within the UEFI BIOS as well. The DIGI+ power control is again assigned the task of voltage regulation now that the FIVR is no longer built into the Skylake CPUs. It’s said to enhance overclocking potential, increase system stability, and provide improved power efficiency. The Turbo App is yet another utility found in AI Suite III and lets you customize overclocks, audio features, network data, and fan control to a specific software application. Once the application is launched, the customized settings you create are automatically set in motion.

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TPU

Unleash your PC’s full performance with a simple two-phase onboard switch or the ASUS AI Suite 3 utility! The TurboV Processing Unit (TPU) offers precise voltage control and advanced monitoring for the CPU and the graphics card, enabling great freedom to adjust CPU frequencies and ratios for optimized performance and to exploit the potential out of your graphics card.

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EPU

With the Energy Processing Unit (EPU) you’ll enjoy real-time, system-wide power savings. EPU detects and adjusts power consumption according to the PC’s needs — automatically. It can also reduce CPU wattage to a set level and deliver even more savings with Away Mode. This creates an extreme energy-saving scenario by shutting down unused extra I/O controllers and reduces the graphics cards’ power level while you’re away, so the PC consumes only the energy it needs — and not a drop more!

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Fan Xpert 3

With thermal sensors and hardware-level 4-pin/3-pin PWM/DC mode detection, Fan Xpert 3 makes sure every fan achieves the best balance of cooling performance and low noise!-Dedicated water-pump header for best water-cooling efficiency.
-Auto-Tuning Mode: Scans and detects fan characteristics for single-click customization
-Extreme Quiet Mode: Reduces CPU fan speed to below the default minimum, for extra-quiet operation and power savings during light loads.
-RPM Fixed Mode: Lowers noise levels to near-0dB silence, allowing you to fix the fan speed.

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DIGI+ Power Control

Power control is one of the most essential motherboard designs. Intelligent CPU-power-draw detection with ASUS DIGI+ Power Control is an innovative, industry-leading technology that fully complies with Intel® IMVP8 specifications, increasing overclocking potential, enhancing system stability, and improving power efficiency with superior flexibility and accurate control.

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Turbo App

Whether hardcore gamer or business professional, you’ll feel the benefit of the ASUS-exclusive Turbo App every day. Its intuitive tuning panel boosts a range of hardware, overclocking your CPU, tuning your fans, prioritizing network data and optimizing audio settings — all with automated ease!

A new addition to the ASUS Z170 series of motherboards is their Pro Clock integrated IC. Now that the BCLK has been untied from other system clock generators, you have the ability to set the BCLK speed a lot higher than before without the strap limitations. The Pro Clock IC allows for BCLK settings well above the Intel limit of 170 MHz.

OC Design – ASUS PRO Clock Technology

A dedicated base-clock (BCLK) generator designed for 6th-generation Intel processors that allows overclocked base clock frequencies up to or beyone 400MHz. This custom solution works in tandem with the ASUS TurboV Processing Unit (TPU) to enhance voltage and base-clock overclocking control – providing an exciting new way to boost performance to extreme heights.

Advantages of ASUS PRO Clock

-Reduced boot up time
-Lower jitter under extreme conditions for higher overclocks
-Increased stability under heavy overclocking

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DDR4 support on a mainstream platform makes its debut with the Skylake/Z170 platform. ASUS touts support for memory speeds up to 3400 MHz with all four DIMM slots populated.

DDR4 overclocking strength in numbers

Second-generation ASUS T-Topology enables DDR4 memory overclocking to reach new heights: over DDR4-3400MHz with all memory slots populated. Featuring a customized trace layout for reduced crosstalk and coupling noise, our second-generation T-Topology ensures time-aligned signal transfer for improved memory stability and compatibility.

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It’s now possible to combine a pair of PCI-E storage devices and run a RAID array. You can use the onboard M.2 x4 slot and install another x4 capable storage device to one of the PCI-E slots to accomplish this.

Native M.2/NVMe PCIe RAID support for lightning fast storage speeds!

Not satisfied with single storage device read/write speeds? Then join the fast lane and build a RAID 0 array using two PCIe storage drives to enjoy data transfers at lightning speed!

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There is an abundance of fast storage options found on the Z170-A. SATA-Express, M.2 x4, and USB 3.1 offer much improved speeds over their past generation counterparts. We’re finally starting to see a spattering of SATA Express components arrive on the market, so maybe there’s hope yet for that interface.

Fast storage speed with SATA Express

Current SSDs devour up to 550MB/s bandwidth, which is close to saturation point for SATA 6Gbit/s connections. Backwardly compatible with up to two SATA drives, SATA Express is the next-generation connectivity standard — and ensures that you and your system won’t get left behind.

Speed up with onboard M.2 up to 32Gbit/s

With x4 PCI Express 3.0/2.0 bandwidth, M.2 supports up to 32Gbit/s data-transfer speeds. It is the perfect choice for an operating system or application drive, making your whole PC or professional apps work as fast as possible.

Ultimate-speed 10Gbit/s with USB 3.1 onboard

With one USB 3.1 Type-A port and one reversible USB 3.1 Type-C for the very fastest USB connections, you’ll experience data-transfer speeds of up to 10Gbit/s — or twice as fast USB 3.0. USB 3.1 is completely backward-compatible with your existing USB devices, and you’ll be all set for USB 3.1’s breakneck speeds. And ASUS-exclusive USB 3.1 Boost technology automatically accelerates USB 3.1 performance even further!

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The ASUS UEFI BIOS gets a few upgrades with these new motherboards. The My Favorites sections now adds a set of pre-loaded navigation options, and EZ Flash 3 now allows flashing the firmware via the internet just to name a couple. Two levels of UEFI BIOS options are available – EZ Mode for the novice user and Advanced Mode for the more seasoned enthusiast.

Media-acclaimed UEFI BIOS

The smoothest, slickest mouse-controlled graphical BIOS has been improved to make it even more appealing. Whether you’re a PC novice or a seasoned overclocker, the EZ and Advanced Modes help you find your way, quickly and easily.

EZ Flash 3

Update the latest BIOS via the internet, and from within the BIOS.

S.M.A.R.T.

Check up your storages devices’ Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology (S.M.A.R.T) logs to gauge reliability, and even determine if they’re about to fail.

EZ Tuning Wizard– OC and RAID

Select your hardware and apply different scenarios to tune system performance, or streamline your RAID configuration for faster data retrieval and backups!

My Favorites

Quickly find tuning options and add preferred tools to the list.

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One of the areas where a little cost was saved was by using the Realtek ALC892 Audio CODEC instead of the higher end ALC1150. Even so, the rest of the Crystal 3 audio solution stay intact with its host of features.

Power pre-regulator

Reduces power-input noise to ensure consistent performance.

Audio Shielding

Ensures precision analog/digital separation and greatly reduced multi-lateral interference.

Separate layer for left and right tracks

Ensures both channels deliver consistent, equal quality.

EMI Protection

Prevents electrical noise to preserve audio quality.

Premium Japanese-made audio capacitors

Provides warm, natural, and immersive sound with exceptional clarity and fidelity.

De-pop circuit

Reduces start-up popping noise to all audio outputs

Audio amplifier

Produces the highest quality sound for headphones and speakers.

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ASUS uses the latest Intel LAN solution on the Z170 – the I219V controller. Intel LAN controllers have long been the favorite among the gaming crowd, so it’s nice to see it implemented here. Turbo LAN is the accompanying bandwidth prioritization software.

Intel Ethernet

More throughput, less CPU usage and great gaming experiences. Z170-A features the very latest Intel® Ethernet for faster, smoother gaming — always. Intel’s LAN has the serious double advantage of reducing CPU overhead and offering exceptionally high TCP and UDP throughput. This significantly reduces the processor’s workload, so there’s more power for your game and your gameplay!

Turbo LAN

Network optimization software for customizable packet prioritization. Turbo LAN with cFosSpeed traffic-shaping technology adds even more lag-reducing support and intuitive user interface. It allows you to lower lag with no expert knowledge – by up to 1.45X! If you’re a tweaker, use Advanced Mode for hardcore controls.

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The motherboard’s built-in protection features include surge protection for the LAN port (LANGuard), overvoltage protection, overcurrent protection, stable power delivery through the DIGI+ VRM, and a stainless steel back I/O.

5X Protection II

Industry-leading 5X Protection II employs the finest components, excellent circuit design, and exacting standards to guarantee quality and long-term durability of your motherboard with all-round protection. For you, that means exceptional protection and stability for your build — the result of decades of engineering experience from the world’s leading motherboard brand.

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One last set of features worth mentioning is the ASUS Easy PC DIY group of items, which are intended to make building and maintaining your system easier. Included in this set of features are the CPU installation kit and several “Q” features as mentioned below. On the PC maintenance side, ASUS now offers PC Cleaner for easy removal of unwanted/unused files and programs.

You will love DIY!

We understand how you use your PC. From assembly, system setting and monitoring, and to firmware and hardware updates — we’re all about making your life easier. That’s why we never stop developing new and exciting DIY opportunities to make PC DIY easy, fun and free from hassle!

CPU Installation Kit

Three-step simplicity and safety. One mistake during fitting could damage your processor or socket – but not with the ASUS CPU installation kit. Just pop your CPU in the special tool, insert the tool directly into the CPU socket, close the latch position and your’re good to go!

PC Cleaner

Work faster, start quicker and smoother. Your computer is running slow? PC Cleaner cleans up unsued and unwanted files and programs that take up spaces in your storage drives, eliminating the clog it also accelerates PC start-up with a click!

Q-DIMM

Easy memory removal. Even if you work with a smaller case, just push down on the one-sided clip and push or pull RAM modules in or out – Couldn’t be simpler!

Q-Slot

Effortless PCI Express component removal. The large winged clip is easy to reach and easy to operate. Just press the Q-Slot clip lightly, and graphics card just pops out. Installing or removing even the biggest graphics cards is no sweat!

Q-Connector

Easy, quick, and accurate connections. You no longer need to worry about which front panel wire goes where. Just pop the wires into Q-Connector’s one piece plug and your’re good to go!

Q-LED

Easy PC diagnosis. Q-LED indicates problems with the CPU, memory, graphics card or boot devices, so you can quicky diagnose and remedy any issues – and wave goodbye to endless frustrations!

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Packaging/Accessories/First Look

The retail box keeps true to the other Z170 channel series packaging we’ve seen from ASUS to date. Black and white is the main color scheme here with minimal branding on the front and sides. The back of the box goes into much greater detail about the motherboard’s specifications and features.

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Inside the retail box, the motherboard sits on top and is wrapped in an anti-static bag. Sitting below is a very adequate set of accessories for a motherboard in this class. Here is what’s included.

• User’s Manual
• I/O Shield
• 3 x SATA 6Gb/s Cables
• 1 x M.2 Screw Package
• 1 x CPU Installation Tool
• 1 x SLI Bridge
• 1 x Q-Connector (1 in 1)

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The below pictures were taken from a variety of angles and give you a first look at the Z170-A. The white highlights come via the plastic I/O cover and the PCH heatsink. Almost everything else on the motherboard is either black or a dark gray color, except for the PCB. The PCB is a very dark brown color, which is pretty common on price-conscious motherboards.

Meet the ASUS Z170-A

Meet the ASUS Z170-A

Overhead View

Overhead View

Overhead View

Overhead View

Overhead View

Overhead View

Side Angle View #1

Side Angle View #1

Side Angle View #2

Side Angle View #2

Side Angle View #3

Side Angle View #3

Side Angle View #4

Side Angle View #4

Back of PCB

Back of PCB

The ASUS Z170-A Up Close

The bottom of the motherboard contains a lot of I/O connections, so we’ll start at the bottom-left edge. First in line is the front panel audio connector followed by the serial port header, onboard power button, TPM connector, Thunderbolt header, and a pair of USB 2.0 front panel headers. If you look closely just above the bottom PCI-E x16 slot, you see a header marked “FLBK_HEADER”. ASUS is planning to offer an add-on BIOS Flashback card to bring the capability to lower end motherboards that offer the feature by default.

At the bottom-right edge, we find a USB 3.0 front panel header, the Fan Extension header (sold separately), a 4-pin PWM fan connector, the EZ XMP switch, and connectors for a case’s wiring. Just above these is the TPU switch that when activated initiates an automatic overclocking function. The EZ XMP switch can be used to set the system memory to its XMP profile without having to enter the UEFI BIOS.

Bottom-Left Edge

Bottom-Left Edge

Bottom-Right Edge

Bottom-Right Edge

Over on the right side of the motherboard, we come to the six SATA 6 GB/s ports and the single SATA Express port – all of which are native to the chipset. You can see the back-side of the M.2 port just below the SATA ports and the four threaded pegs to support all the different length M.2 SSDs.

Further up the right side, we find the second USB 3.0 front panel header, the 24-pin ATX power connector, and the MemOK! button. The MemOK! button can be used to initiate an automatic compatibility tuning sequence for memory that might otherwise be incompatible and keep the system from booting.

SATA Ports

SATA Ports

Right Side - Upper area

Right Side – Upper area

Along the top of the motherboard are three 4-pin PWM fan headers, the 8-pin CPU AUX 12V power connector, and the CPU overvolt jumper. Two of the fan headers are to be used with CPU fans, and the other is a system fan header. The CPU overvoltage jumper allows for higher CPU voltages, but probably shouldn’t be used unless you’re going with extreme cooling (read LN2).

Top-Right Edge

Top-Right Edge

Top-Left Edge

Top-Left Edge

The left side of the motherboard has all the rear panel I/O connections and all the pieces that make up the Crystal 3 audio solution. The I/O connections offer a pair of USB 2.0 connections and display connectivity that includes a DisplayPort, HDMI, VGA, and DVI-D. The assumption is that an economical board such as this may draw people that intend to use the iGPU for their graphics, and they’ll have plenty of options for hooking up their monitors if that’s the route they take. Next in line is the Keyboard/mouse combo PS/2 port, a pair of USB 3.0 ports, the LAN jack, and two USB 3.1 ports (Type-A and Type-C). Lastly, the audio jacks support up to 7.1 channel speaker configurations and also contain an optical out port if needed.

At the bottom of the left side, we can see the Crystal 3 audio and its PCB separation line, amplifier, Japanese-made audio capacitors, and EMI cover protecting the Realtek ALC892 CODEC.

I/O Area

I/O Area

Crystal 3 Audio Area

Crystal 3 Audio Area

The expansion slots consist of three PCI-E 3.0 x16 slots, three PCI-E 3.0 x1 slots, and one PCI slot. A single graphics card in the top PCI-E x16 slot will run at x16 speed, and a pair of graphics cards in SLI/CrossFireX will run at x8/x8. Looking between the bottom two PCI-E x16 slots, we get another look at the M.2 mounting pegs and a view of the M.2 port itself. M.2 SATA and PCI-E interface SSDs are supported in lengths of 2242/2260/2280/22110.

Expansion Slots

Expansion Slots

M.2 Port

M.2 Port

The CPU socket area is about as wide open an area as we’ve seen. The MOSFET heatsinks, memory slots, and the top PCI-E x16 slot are all a good distance away from the socket. It’s hard to imagine a CPU cooler (air or water) that won’t fit here. The DIMM slots are also viewable from the pictures below and utilize the Q-DIMM feature, which means a single release lever. Officially, memory speeds up to DDR4 3466 MHz (OC) are supported, and a total capacity of 64 GB can be installed. The last picture below shows the three additional 4-pin PWM fan headers located just below the left side MOSFET heatsink. The white fan header is intended for water pumps and AIO coolers and is set to run at 100% speed by default.

CPU Socket Area and DIMM Slots

CPU Socket Area and DIMM Slots

CPU Socket Area

CPU Socket Area

Three More Fan Headers

Three More Fan Headers

If the white plastic cover over the I/O doesn’t fit your fancy, it can easily be removed by taking out three screws. Once off, we can see the stainless steel I/O blocks.

The passive cooling scheme includes a large heatsink over the PCH and two heatsinks covering the MOSFET areas. All of the heatsinks use a thermal pad for their TIM solution. The PCH heatsink is held in place with screws, and the MOSFET heatsinks use spring loaded push-pins to secure them in place. All of the thermal pads were found to be making excellent contact with their target points.

I/O Cover Removed

I/O Cover Removed

PCH Heatsink Removed

PCH Heatsink Removed

Top MOSFET Heatsink Removed

Top MOSFET Heatsink Removed

Left Side MOSFET Heatsink Removed

Left Side MOSFET Heatsink Removed

With the heatsinks removed, we see the 10-phase CPU/iGPU power phases. It’s not the most robust power phase design you’ll ever see, but should be more than adequate for the task at hand. The power phases are controlled by the all digital DIGI+ VRM controller, which now has full control of that function since the FIVR has been removed from Skylake processors.

CPU/iGPU Power Phases

CPU/iGPU Power Phases

CPU/iGPU Power Phases

CPU/iGPU Power Phases

DIGI+ VRM

DIGI+ VRM

The group of pictures below outlines several ICs found on the motherboard, which provide many of functions/features the Z170-A offers.

Replaceable Winbond BIOS Chip

Replaceable Winbond BIOS Chip

ASUS TurboV Processing Unit

ASUS TurboV Processing Unit

nuvoTon NCT6793D Super I/O

nuvoTon NCT6793D Super I/O

ASMedia ASM1480 PCI-E Lane Switching

ASMedia ASM1480 PCI-E Lane Switching

ASMedia ASM1142 USB 3.1 Controller

ASMedia ASM1142 USB 3.1 Controller

ASMedia ASM1083 PCI-E to PCI Bridge

ASMedia ASM1083 PCI-E to PCI Bridge

ASMedia ASM1442K HDMI TMDS level shift

ASMedia ASM1442K HDMI TMDS Level Shift

Intel I219V LAN Controller

Intel I219V LAN Controller

Intel Z170 PCH

Intel Z170 PCH

The ASUS UEFI BIOS

Your initial entry into the UEFI BIOS lands you in the EZ Mode area where you get a basic set of options. From here, you can set the memory’s XMP pofile, set boot priorities, and perform a good deal of fan control. Basic system information and monitoring information can be found at the top of the screen. You can also initiate the EZ Tuning Wizard, which performs system optimization once you select a PC scenario and what kind of cooling you are using. It can also guide you through setting up RAID arrays. Q-Fan Control options are available within EZ Mode, which let you choose between four different presets or choose to manually control the fans.

EZ Mode

EZ Mode

EZ Tuning Wizard - OC

EZ Tuning Wizard – OC

EZ Tuning Wizard - RAID

EZ Tuning Wizard – RAID

Q-Fan Control

Q-Fan Control

By pressing F7, you’ll be taken to the Advanced Mode area of the UEFI BIOS. My Favorites is the first tab within Advanced Mode and comes pre-loaded with shortcuts you’re most likely to visit. The list can be cleared out if you want to start fresh and do your own customization. If you clear the list and decide later you want it back, then it can be restored as well.

The next tab is the Main tab, which gives you BIOS and CPU information at a glance. The language, date, time, and security settings can be adjusted from here also.

My Favorites Tab

My Favorites Tab

Main Tab

Main Tab

The Ai Tweaker tab is where you’ll find everything related to overclocking, memory settings, and power delivery. A full allotment of voltage control, memory timing adjustments, and power phase controls are at your disposal here. ASUS even provides a Tweakers Paradise sub-menu that up until now was reserved for the ROG series of motherboards. ASUS didn’t cut any corners on the UEFI BIOS – it has the same set of overclocking options their more expensive motherboards have.

Ai Tweaker Tab

Ai Tweaker Tab

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The Advanced tab holds everything related to system configuration. The 11 sub-menus hold a plethora of options including a new feature called HDD/SSD SMART Information, which gives you real-time information on the S.M.A.R.T. status of your hard drives. The rest of the options in the Advanced tab are self explanatory as you peruse the thumbnail images below.

Advanced Tab

Advanced Tab

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The Monitor tab provides a detailed look at real-time voltage, fan speed, and temperature monitoring. The Q-Fan Configuration sub-menu is where you want to go for complete control of any fan connected to one of the onboard fan headers. PWM (4-pin) and DC (3-pin) control is configurable on each fan header and can be targeted to any monitored temperature. ASUS is the only manufacturer that offers this level of fan control for both PWM and DC fans. The motherboard comes with seven fan headers and one T-Sensor, but you can add more of each by purchasing the Fan Extension Card and control fans hooked to it in the same manner. Another thing worth mentioning here is the fan step up and step down delay options. The delays can be set anywhere from 2.1 seconds up to 25 seconds. This can eliminate extreme fan speed fluctuations and fan noise associated with it. Thinking of getting a fan controller to go with this motherboard? Forget it – you won’t need it!

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Monitor Tab

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Inside the Boot tab are all the system post behavior options. Most of this is pretty standard stuff, but you do have options for arranging the boot device priorities. If you prefer to land in the Advanced Mode area when entering the UEFI BIOS, that can be configured here also.

Boot Tab

Boot Tab

Boot Tab

Boot Tab

The Tool tab has several useful tools and a couple new additions to the Channel Series motherboards. The EZ Flash 3 utility now comes with the ability to flash the firmware via the internet. Secure Erase is another feature that was reserved for ROG motherboards up until now, and provides the ability to secure erase a SSD right from within the UEFI BIOS. You can save up to eight profiles directly to the UEFI BIOS or an unlimited amount to an external USB device, which is easily done by visiting the ASUS Overclocking Profile utility. The SPD Information utility gives you the JEDEC and XMP SPD tables for the installed memory. The Graphics Card Information utility features GPU Post, which gives you a list of everything installed in a PCI-E slot.

Tool Tab

Tool Tab

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The Exit tab is standard fare with the exception of a nifty pop-up window that displays any changes made during the current session. You’ll see this window come up when you invoke the “Save Changes & Reset” option.

Exit Tab

Exit Tab

Save & Reset Pop-Up Window

Save & Reset Pop-Up Window

Bundled Software – AI Suite III

AI Suite III is a comprehensive set of desktop utilities designed to make the overall ownership as easy as possible. The champion of this suite of utilities is the Dual Intelligent Processors 5 utility and its 5-Way optimization tool. The 5-Way Optimization tool will run your system through an overclock process that you have total control over. You can target your overclock to a specific voltage, frequency, or CPU temperature; and the process will stop once it reaches your target. A stress test is performed at different stages of the overclock; and you can choose how long it runs, add a memory stress test, and enable AVX testing if desired. EPU power efficiency and fan optimization can be added to the process as well. If you prefer to perform all this manually, simply enter the TPU, EPU, DIGI+, and Fan Xpert 3 areas and have at it! DIP5 also holds the TurboApp utility, which allows application specific overclocking, audio, and LAN profiles. TurboApp allows user defined overclocks to any application and will apply them as soon as the application is launched. The audio and LAN profiles can also be applied when the application is launched, if desired.

Fan Xpert 3 is worth a visit on its own right if you don’t use DIP5 for anything else. It offers options similar to the QFan feature in the UEFI BIOS, but in an easy to follow GUI format. Fax Xpert 3 also allows lets you assign a location to any fan installed in your case for quick identification. Another cool feature is that you can use the graphical fan slope option to control fans individually or mirror one fan’s settings to all the others with a single click.

AI Suite III Navigation

AI Suite III Navigation

DIP5 Main Screen

DIP5 Main Screen

5-Way Optimization Options

5-Way Optimization Options

5-Way Optimization Options

5-Way Optimization Options

5-Way Optimization Options

5-Way Optimization Options

Turbo App

Turbo App

Fan Xpert 3 Main Page

Fan Xpert 3 Main Page

Fax Xpert 3 Individual Fan Options

Fax Xpert 3 Individual Fan Options

The rest of AI Suite III Is pretty self explanatory as you look through the thumbnail images below, but there are a couple new additions to the family. PC Cleaner is one of them and will scan your system for unneeded files and offer to remove them after the scan. The other new feature is Mobo Connect, which allows you to share a keyboard and mouse with any physically connected Android device.

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Turbo LAN is the bandwidth priority software that ASUS provides. It provides a full set of options to prioritize games, file sharing, media streaming, or any program that uses network bandwidth.

Turbo LAN

Turbo LAN

Benchmarks and Overclocking

Here are the components used in our Skylake/Z170 test system.

Test System Components
Motherboard ASUS Z170-A
CPU Intel i7 6700K Skylake
Memory G.SKill Ripjaws V DDR4-3600 MHz 2X4 GB kit
SSD ADATA Premier SP610 512 GB SSD
Power Supply Corsair HX1050 Professional Series
Video Card EVGA GTX 780 Ti Classified
Cooling EKWB Supremacy EVO Water Block – 360 mm Radiator – MCP35X Pump
OS Windows 7 Professional x64

We’ll use our normal set of benchmarks to test compression, rendering, video conversion, memory performance, and 2D performance. Because we’re just getting started with the Skylake/Z170 platform, we don’t have a lot of comparison data at this time. So, we’ll simply provide screenshots of the stock and overclocked benchmark results. For the stock testing, the CPU was set to its turbo speed of 4.2 GHz with the memory set to its XMP profile speed of 3600 MHz. I’ll check these results against the ASUS Z170-Deluxe we recently reviewed just to make sure no abnormalities exist as far as performance goes. The two motherboards should exhibit very similar results as all the other components used are identical.

As far as overclocking on the Z170-A, it easily took our CPU to 4.8 GHz with a bump in vCore to 1.43 V, and a few other minor adjustments. That’s the same stable overclock we achieved on the Z170-Deluxe, but that board did it at 1.42 V. Not a huge difference there, but worth mentioning. Even though the “official” memory support shows 3466 MHz as being the highest, the Z170-A had no problems running our G.Skill DDR4-3600 MHz using its XMP profile. In the screenshots below, you’ll see that CPU-Z wasn’t able to correctly read the CPU voltage, so don’t pay any attention to what you see there.

Compression, Rendering, and Video Conversion Benchmarks

Cinebench R10 – R11.5 – R15

CB R10 @ 4.2 GHz CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

CB R10 @ 4.2 GHz CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

CB R10 @4.8 GHZ CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

CB R10 @ 4.8 GHZ CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

CB R11.5 @ 4.2 GHz CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

CB R11.5 @ 4.2 GHz CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

CB R11.5 @ 4.8 GHZ CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

CB R11.5 @ 4.8 GHZ CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

CB R15 @ 4.2 GHz CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

CB R15 @ 4.2 GHz CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

CB R15 @ 4.8 GHZ CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

CB R15 @ 4.8 GHZ CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

x264 Pass 1 and 2

x264 @ 4.2 GHz CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

x264 @ 4.2 GHz CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

x264 @ 4.8 GHZ CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

x264 @ 4.8 GHZ CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

PoV Ray R3.73

PoV Ray @ 4.2 GHz CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

PoV Ray @ 4.2 GHz CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

PoV Ray @ 4.8 GHZ CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

PoV Ray @ 4.8 GHZ CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

7zip Compression Benchmark

7zip @ 4.2 GHz CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

7zip @ 4.2 GHz CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

7zip @ 4.8 GHZ CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

7zip @ 4.8 GHZ CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

2D Benchmarks

Wprime 32M and 1024M

wPrime @ 4.2 GHz CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

wPrime @ 4.2 GHz CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

wPrime @ 4.8 GHZ CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

wPrime @ 4.8 GHZ CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

SuperPi 1M and 32M

SuperPi 1M @ 4.2 GHz CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

SuperPi 1M @ 4.2 GHz CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

SuperPi 1M @ 4.8 GHZ CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

SuperPi 1M @ 4.8 GHZ CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

SuperPi 32M @ 4.2 GHz CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

SuperPi 32M @ 4.2 GHz CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

SuperPi 32M @ 4.8 GHZ CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

SuperPi 32M @ 4.8 GHZ CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

Intel XTU

Intel XTU @ 4.2 GHz CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

Intel XTU @ 4.2 GHz CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

Intel XTU @ 4.8 GHZ CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

Intel XTU @ 4.8 GHZ CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

Memory Benchmarks

Aida64 Cache & Memory

AIDA64 @ 4.2 GHz CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

AIDA64 @ 4.2 GHz CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

AIDA64 @ 4.8 GHZ CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

AIDA64 @ 4.8 GHZ CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

MaxxMEM

MaxxMEM @ 4.2 GHz CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

MaxxMEM @ 4.2 GHz CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

MaxxMEM @ 4.8 GHZ CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

MaxxMEM @ 4.8 GHZ CPU / 3600 MHz Memory

The ASUS Z170-A performed extremely well and was right on par with the much more expensive Z170-Deluxe. Some of the scores above were higher than the ASUS Z170-Deluxe, some a little lower, and a couple were exactly the same. So, certainly nothing to complain about on the performance front.

Pushing the Limits

At 1.475 V vCore, we were able to get to the desktop and get a suicide run of SuperPi 1M accomplished at 5 GHz. That’s about all we could do though as anything more stressful resulted in either a blue screen or system lock-up. This is the exact same result we achieved on the Z170-Deluxe too, so you can see that the overclocking potential is definitely there with the Z170-A.

SuperPi 1M @ 5.0 GHz CPU / 3600 MHz Memory.

SuperPi 1M @ 5.0 GHz CPU / 3600 MHz Memory.

Conclusion

From strictly a performance point of view, the ASUS Z170-A matches up well with motherboards costing twice as much. Sure, you don’t get things like dual LAN ports and Wi-Fi, dual M.2 slots, and extra SATA ports from a third party controller, but you also don’t get the price tag that comes along with all that. Don’t get us wrong though, the Z170-A comes well-appointed with M.2 x4 support, SATA Express, Intel LAN, the Crystal 3 audio solution, and several other enthusiast-level features we discussed along the way. Couple that with the industry’s best accompanying software package in AI Suite III, and you’ve got a great combination going on.

So, just how much is this price conscious ASUS offering going to set you back? It’s currently available at Newegg for $165, which is a great price considering the enthusiast-level performance and overclocking ability the motherboard offers.

ASUS set out to prove it’s not necessary to spend high-end money to get high-end performance, and the Z170-A is an excellent example of this. If you’re looking to build a price conscious system around the Skylake/Z170 platform, you’ll definitely want to give the ASUS Z170-A a good hard look.

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Dino DeCesari (Lvcoyote)

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