There is a lot of competition in the mid-range sector of the motherboard market. With varying feature sets among boards in this market, it’s sometimes unclear which boards offer what features. So, today, we have a Z170-PRO from ASUS, which we’ll explore to find out what all it has to offer.
Specifications & Features
(Table courtesy of ASUS)
To highlight some of the lengthy table below, we have four DDR4 DIMM slots supporting up to 64 GB of RAM and tested to work up to 3866 MHz. Of course, those high speeds depend on the RAM modules used, how well they can overclock, as well as the strength of the CPU’s IMC. There are three full-length PCIe 3.0 x16 slots and four PCIe 2.0 x1 slots. Storage consists of one SATA Express (or two SATAIII), four SATAIII, and one M.2 slot. On board audio makes use of the Realtek ALC1150 codec along with ASUS Crystal Sound 3 technology. Finally, Intel controllers power both the RJ45 LAN and USB 3.1 ports.
|ASUS Z170-PRO Specifications|
|CPU||Intel® Socket 1151 for 6th Generation Core™ i7/Core™ i5/Core™ i3/Pentium®/Celeron® Processors
Supports Intel® 14 nm CPU
Supports Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0
* The Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0 support depends on the CPU types.
* Refer to www.asus.com for CPU support list
|Memory||4 x DIMM, Max. 64GB, DDR4 3866(O.C.)/3800(O.C.)/3733(O.C.)/3600(O.C.)/3466(O.C.)/3400(O.C.)/3333(O.C.)/3300(O.C.)/3200(O.C.)/3000(O.C.)/2800(O.C.)/2666(O.C.)/2400(O.C.)/2133 MHz Non-ECC, Un-buffered Memory
Dual Channel Memory Architecture
Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)
* Hyper DIMM support is subject to the physical characteristics of individual CPUs.
* Refer to www.asus.com for the Memory QVL (Qualified Vendors Lists).
|Onboard Graphics||Integrated Graphics Processor- Intel® HD Graphics support
Multi-VGA output support : HDMI/DVI-D/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 DisplayPort with max. resolution 4096 x 2160 @ 24 Hz / 3840 x 2160 @ 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
|Expansion Slot||2 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (x16 or dual x8)
1 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (max at x4 mode) *1
4 x PCIe 2.0 x1
|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,*2, with M Key, type 2242/2260/2280/22110 storage devices support (both SATA & PCIE mode) *3
6 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), gray
Support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10
Supports Intel® Smart Response Technology
|LAN||Intel® I219V, 1 x Gigabit LAN Controller(s), Dual interconnect between the Integrated Media Access Controller (MAC) and Physical Layer (PHY)
Gigabit Intel® LAN Connection- 802.3az Energy Efficient Ethernet (EEE) appliance
ASUS Turbo LAN Utility
ASUS LAN Guard
|Audio||Realtek® ALC1150 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC featuring Crystal Sound 3
– Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel MIC Jack-retasking
– Absolute Pitch 192kHz/ 24-bit True BD Lossless Sound
– DTS Connect
– DTS Studio Sound
– Optical S/PDIF out port(s) at back panel
– LED-lit Audio Shielding: Ensures precision analog/digital separation and greatly reduced multi-lateral interference, with a gorgeous illuminated trace path
– Dedicated audio PCB layers: Separate layers for left and right channels to guard the quality of the sensitive audio signals
– Audio amplifier: Provides the highest-quality sound for headphone and speakers
– Premium Japanese-made audio capacitors: Provide warm, natural and immersive sound with exceptional clarity and fidelity
– Unique de-pop circuit: Reduces start-up popping noise to audio outputs
– Top notch audio sensation delivers according to the audio configuration
– EMI protection cover to prevent electrical noise to affect the amplifier quality
– Absolute Pitch 192khz/24bit true BD lossless sound
– Power pre-regulator: Reduces power input noise to ensure consistent performance
Separate layer for left and right track, ensuring both sound deliver equal quality
|USB Ports||Intel® Z170 chipset :
6 x USB 3.0/2.0 port(s) (2 at back panel, blue, 4 at mid-board)
Intel® Z170 chipset :
6 x USB 2.0/1.1 port(s) (2 at back panel, , 4 at mid-board)
Intel® USB 3.1 controller :
1 x USB 3.1/3.0/2.0 port(s) (1 at back panel, , Type-C)
Intel® USB 3.1 controller :
1 x USB 3.1/3.0/2.0 port(s) (1 at back panel, teal blue, Type-A)
|Special Features||OC Design – ASUS PRO Clock Technology
– Full BCLK range for extreme overclocking performance
5-Way Optimization by Dual Intelligent Processors 5
– Whole system optimization with a single click! 5-Way Optimization tuning key perfectly consolidates TPU, EPU, DIGI+ Power Control, Fan Xpert 3, and Turbo App together, providing better CPU performance, efficient power saving, precise digital power control, whole system cooling and even tailor your own app usages.
ASUS 5X Protection II :
– ASUS LANGuard – 2.5X higher surge tolerance
– ASUS Overvoltage Protection – World-class circuit-protecting power design
– ASUS DIGI+ VRM – 8 Phase digital power design
– ASUS DRAM Overcurrent Protection – Prevents damage from short circuits
– ASUS Stainless-Steel Back I/O – 3X corrosion-resistance for greater durability
ASUS TPU :
– Auto Tuning
– GPU Boost
ASUS EPU :
ASUS Digital Power Design :
– Industry leading Digital 8 Phase Power Design
ASUS Exclusive Features :
– Remote GO!
– AI Suite 3
– Ai Charger
– M.2 & SATA Express
– Front Panel USB 3.0 Support
– ASUS UEFI BIOS EZ Mode featuring friendly graphics user interface
– USB 3.1 Boost
– Disk Unlocker
– Turbo LAN
– Crystal Sound 3
– EZ XMP ASUS Exclusive Features
– Mobo Connect
– PC Cleaner
– Media Streamer
ASUS Quiet Thermal Solution :
– Stylish Fanless Design Heat-sink solution
– ASUS Fan Xpert 3
ASUS EZ DIY :
– Precision Tweaker 2
– ASUS O.C. Tuner
– ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3
– ASUS EZ Flash 3
– ASUS UEFI BIOS EZ Mode
– Multi-language BIOS
– Push Notice
ASUS Q-Design :
– ASUS Q-Shield
– ASUS Q-LED (CPU, DRAM, VGA, Boot Device LED)
– ASUS Q-Slot
– ASUS Q-DIMM
– ASUS Q-Connector
Special Memory O.C. Design
Overclocking Protection :
– ASUS C.P.R.(CPU Parameter Recall)
Fan Xpert 3
|Operating System Support||Windows® 10 , 64bit
Windows® 8.1 , 64bit
Windows® 7 , 32bit/64bit
|Back I/O Ports||1 x DVI-D
1 x DisplayPort
1 x HDMI
1 x LAN (RJ45) port(s)
1 x USB 3.1 Type-C
1 x USB 3.1 (teal blue)Type-A
2 x USB 3.0 (blue)
2 x USB 2.0
1 x Optical S/PDIF out
1 x 8-channel Audio I/O
|Internal I/O Ports||2 x USB 3.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 4 USB 3.0 port(s) (19-pin)
2 x USB 2.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 4 USB 2.0 port(s)
1 x SATA Express connector: , Compatible with 2 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports
1 x M.2 Socket 3
6 x SATA 6Gb/s connector(s)
1 x CPU Fan connector(s) (1 x 4 -pin)
1 x CPU OPT Fan connector(s) (1 x 4 -pin)
2 x Chassis Fan connector(s) (4 x 4 -pin)
1 x S/PDIF out header(s)
1 x Thunderbolt header(s)
1 x 24-pin EATX Power connector(s)
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power connector(s)
1 x Front panel audio connector(s) (AAFP)
1 x System panel(s) (Q-Connector)
1 x DRCT header(s)
1 x MemOK! button(s)
1 x Clear CMOS jumper(s)
1 x 5-pin EXT_FAN(Extension Fan) connector
1 x Water Pump header (4-pin)
1 x 14-1 pin TPM connector
4 x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s)
1 x M.2 Screw Package
1 x CPU installation tool
1 x Supporting DVD
1 x SLI bridge(s)
1 x Q-connector(s) (1 in 1)
|BIOS||128 Mb Flash ROM, UEFI AMI BIOS, PnP, DMI3.0, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 3.0, ACPI 5.0, Multi-language BIOS, ASUS EZ Flash 3, CrashFree BIOS 3, F11 EZ Tuning Wizard, F6 Qfan Control, F3 My Favorites, Quick Note, Last Modified log, F12 PrintScreen and ASUS DRAM SPD (Serial Presence Detect) memory information|
|Manageability||WfM2.0, DMI3.0, WOL by PME, PXE|
Anti-virus software (OEM version)
|Form Factor||ATX Form Factor
12.0 inch x 9.6 inch ( 30.5 cm x 24.4 cm )
|Notes||*1: The PCIe x16_3 slot shares bandwidth with SATA6G_56. The PCIe x16_3 is default set at x2 mode. Supports Intel® RST for PCIE RAID storage.
*2: Supports PCIE RAID configurations via onboard M.2 and PCIex16_3.
*3: M.2 shares SATA mode with SATA Express. Change this item before installing M.2 SATA devices.
*4: These functions will work depending on the CPU installed.
With the Z170-PRO being a mid-range board there aren’t as many high-level unique features as ASUS’ Deluxe, Maximus VIII, or WS boards. However, there are some great hardware features for the general consumer. For instance, the Crystal Sound 3 audio design benefits all users with its quality regulator, capacitors, amplifier, and noise isolation features.
The Intel DSL5640 powered USB 3.1 ports help future proof the board with new standards while keeping compatibility with older devices. On that note, the SATA Express port does the same future proofing for the internal storage while also allowing two standard SATA drives to be used in place of a SATA Express device. M.2 based SSDs are becoming more common nowadays and ASUS takes note by including a M.2 port on the Z170-PRO that supports 2242/2260/2280/22110 device types. Also worth noting is that the M.2 slot supports NVMe RAID with the bottom PCIe x16 slot making for some insanely fast storage solutions.
Packaging & Accessories
On the front of the box, we have a large picture of the motherboard along with the model name and a few notable features. The feature list gets much more detailed on the back of the box.
The accessories included with the Z170-PRO are the back panel I/O shield, four SATA cables, an SLI cable, Q-connector, screw package for an M.2 device, User Manual, and driver disk. So, nothing out of the ordinary here.
ASUS has chosen a mostly monochromatic color scheme for their non-ROG motherboards which consists of whites, blacks, grays, silvers, and a small amount of blue on the chipset heatsink. This theme seems like a practical choice since, basically, any colors added to the build will work well with the motherboard and white seems to be a very popular choice nowadays.
A Closer Look
The top left corner is mostly just the power section, back panel I/O, and 8-pin CPU power. There is also a huge, white back panel cover for aesthetics sake which hides the bare metal of the back panel stacks. The power section is a 8+2 (CPU + IGP) design, which should work well for the relatively low power processors we have today. Of course, the LGA 1151 socket can be seen here which supports the Skylake processors.
The four DDR4 DIMM slots take up most of the top right of the motherboard, RAM speeds of up to 3866 MHz have been tested by ASUS as possible. There are three PWM fan headers located along the top of the board; two for the CPU cooler and one Chassis (CHA) header. The MemOK button, 24-pin motherboard power header, and USB3.0 header are along the right side.
In the bottom right corner of the board the most prominent feature is the white Z170 chipset heatsink. We have the four SATA III ports and a SATA Express port along the right edge of the board (the SATA Express port can also be used as two regular SATA III ports). There’s also an M.2 x4 slot in this corner of the board that supports both PCIe and SATA modes (SATA mode shares with SATA Express port). It’s worth noting that native M.2/NVMe PCIe RAID is possible by using the M.2 slot and the bottom PCIe x16 slot as well.
There are a few headers along the bottom edge of the board for four USB2.0 ports, two USB3.0 ports, and the front panel buttons/LEDs.
On to the bottom left area of the Z170-PRO. The board has a total four PCIe x1 slots and three PCIe x16 slots. However, only one of the PCIe x16 slots is x16 electrically with the other two being x8 electrically. The expansion slot layout will work well for multiple configurations with a PCIe x1 in the first slot so not to block potential discrete GPU air intake. Also, having two PCIe x1 slots between the first two PCIe x16 slots allows a slot’s worth of room between a SLI/CFX GPU setup for better airflow (assuming dual slot GPUs).
The onboard audio consists of a Realtek ALC1150 combined with ASUS’ Crystal Sound 3 design. Crystal Sound 3 features 1) a power pre-regulator to reduce input noise 2) three noise isolation measures by separating the audio section from the rest of the board, separating the left and right channels from each other, and using an EMI shield 3) Japanese capacitors, de-pop circuit to reduce startup ticking/popping, and an audio amplifier for speakers/headphones.
The last notable feature in this area of the board is the removable BIOS chip just above the bottom PCIe x16 slot. Anyone can appreciate an easily replaceable BIOS chip in case of corruption, which is much less hassle than replacing an entire motherboard.
Next we have the back panel I/O which sports two USB 2.0 ports, DisplayPort, HDMI, DVI, two USB 3.1 ports (A and C types), Gigabit Ethernet, two USB 3.0 ports, and the audio I/O. The USB 3.1 ports are supplied by an Intel DSL6540 controller, which can actually provide either USB 3.1 or Thunderbolt (USB 3.1 in this case). The Ethernet port is powered by the popular Intel i219V NIC.
When first entering the BIOS, we are greeted with EZ Mode, and it has everything the novice would need to access in the BIOS such as CPU speed/voltage/temp, RAM speed/capacity, XMP switch, fan controls, boot order, and EZ System Tuning. Hitting F7 switches between EZ Mode and Advanced Mode, so off to Advanced Mode where all the details can be found.
Now that we’re in Advanced Mode, let’s start off with Ai Tweaker, the third tab in the BIOS, and where overclockers will spend most of their time. This is where all the expected overclocking settings are located, such as BCLK frequency, CPU Core Ratio, RAM frequency, and all the voltages needed when overclocking.
The next tab over is Advanced, and it’s expansive to say the least, but it’s also less used by the majority of people. CPU Configuration and PCH Storage Configuration are probably the most commonly accessed sub-sections of the Advanced tab. CPU features, such as Hyper-Threading, number of active cores, etc. can be disabled/enabled in the CPU Configuration section. SATA Mode and settings for individual SATA ports can be changed in the PCH Storage Configuration section.
I grouped the remaining tabs together since there isn’t much to them. The first tab is My Favorites, and it’s basically a custom tab you create with whatever settings in the BIOS you want to have easy access to, which is very useful and a great feature for those spending a lot of time in the BIOS. The Monitor tab is kind of self-explanatory, but it’s where the motherboard monitors fan speeds, temperatures, and voltages. The Boot tab is useful when needing to edit the boot order or boot from a specific devices that normally isn’t booted from. The Tool tab has the ASUS EZ Flash 3 utility for upgrading the BIOS, Secure Erase for wiping storage drives, and overclocking profiles.
AISuiteIII is the major piece of software bundled with ASUS motherboards. Once it’s opened you’re greeted with a general window that shows the different sections available: TPU, Fan Xpert, DIGI+, Turbo App, and EPU. The sections most useful to overclockers are TPU and DIGI+ Power Control. TPU is where we’re given the option to set the frequencies and voltages of the CPU, and that section is complemented by the DIGI+ section where we can change how the power delivery functions with settings like load line calibration. Another section that could be useful to quite a few people is Fan Xpert to control how the system fans run based on individual profiles.
A discrete GPU had to be thrown in otherwise the IGP would be using system RAM while benchmarks would also need access to RAM. So, yes, there is a legend in the form of a 8800 GTX running in this test setup.
|CPU||Intel i7 6770K @ 4.2 GHz, 1.3 V|
|CPU Cooler||EK Supreme HF Full Nickel
Scythe Gentle Typhoon AP-15
|RAM||Patriot Viper 4 16 GB DDR4-3000 15-15-15-35, 1.35 V|
|Graphics Card||NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTX|
|Hard Drive||PNY CS1311 120 GB SSD|
|Power Supply||SeaSonic Platinum-1000|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Pro x64 SP1|
x264 HD Benchmark
|Fluke 115 Digital Multimeter|
Load Line Calibration
Load line calibration or LLC controls the fluctuation of Vcore between idle and load states. Typically, there is a drop in Vcore as a CPU is loaded called Vdroop. So, if the CPU is stable at a certain Vcore, but then drops below that Vcore while loaded, the CPU could become unstable. To counter this effect we either have to offset the Vcore to a higher value while idle so it doesn’t drop too far when loaded, or we can use LLC to keep the Vcore from dropping too low when the CPU is loaded.
To check how well the LLC levels performed, I set the Vcore to 1.300 V in the BIOS, then booted and loaded up CPU-Z to check the idle voltage, and finally started a LinX stress test while monitoring voltage changes in CPU-Z. What we’re looking for is the LLC level that keeps the Vcore as closest to 1.3 V during idle and load. Levels 1 and 2 are ruled out just by looking at the idle values, and Levels 3, 4, and 7 are ruled of the rest since they are furthest from 1.3 V of the remaining Levels. That leaves Levels 5 and 6, with 5 being the overall closest to the BIOS set 1.3 V at 1.312 V.
Overclocking the i7-6700K was rather simple by only changing the CPU multiplier and Vcore. This resulted in a 4.8 GHz overclock capable of running LinX and all the benchmarks for testing without a hiccup. Temperatures can get up there when increasing Vcore, but an overkill water cooling setup was used which kept temps 10°C below the TJmax on the hottest core.
Typically, benchmarks don’t show much of a difference between motherboards, just that the motherboards are working as intended and that there are no major flaws. The tests below were done at both 4.2 GHz and 4.8 GHz on the CPU, so a ~14% clock speed difference. All the tests at 4.8 GHz did show increases in performance over 4.2 GHz. When comparing to some of our other motherboard reviews there wasn’t a significant difference between results, which is as expected.
The ASUS Z170-PRO has a nice monochromatic color theme which stands out from most of the motherboards on the market, allowing for a variety of additional colors without clashing.
The ASUS BIOS is definitely one of my favorites because of both the ease of use for beginners and the many detailed settings for the experienced overclocker. The My Favorites tab is worth mentioning again because of it being such a useful time saver for those who frequent the BIOS, like myself. Outside of the BIOS and into the OS, AISuiteIII is a good piece of software for fan control, monitoring, and testing overclock settings before permanently setting them in the BIOS.
Overclocking the i7-6700K to 4.8 GHz was easy with just a multiplier and voltage bump. However, Skylake will require some good cooling when increasing the voltage to 1.35+ V. So, as long as there’s adequate cooling, overclocking would be doable by even the novice.
This board comes in at $195 on Newegg which is slightly more expensive than some of the competition, priced around $180. The feature-set of mid-range boards vary with some manufacturers preferring certain features over others to keep the MSRP reasonable. The Z170-PRO has a little of everything: ASUS’ Crystal Sound 3 audio, SATA Express port, M.2 slot, native NVMe RAID, and Intel USB 3.1. The only knock on the Z170-PRO is that the tinkerer in me wishes there were onboard power/reset buttons and a POST code LED for troubleshooting.
The ASUS Z170-PRO is a good all around board with enough features for just about everyone. It’s definitely one of a handful of boards to consider when looking in the sub $200 market.
– Matt T. Green (MattNo5ss)