Howdy everyone! Today we’ll take a look at an ASUS motherboard a little outside of the norm for our front page. We’re used to seeing the “good till the last drop” overclocking based boards and the ones targeted toward gamers. Looking to please the working crowd is the ASUS Z170 WS! This board is loaded with features. Continue on below as we take a deep dive into this workstation level motherboard.
Specifications and Features
I’ll take a quick run through the specifications here. Please see the table below for further details.
Memory capacity on the Z170 WS is 64GB at a speed of up to DDR4-3733. The memory must be Non-ECC, Un-Buffered which is quite a surprise to me on a workstation motherboard. For some reason it also doesn’t support Xeon CPU’s, which seems curious for a workstation. My thoughts of a workstation system are typically with a Xeon CPU running TXT and Buffered ECC.
There are a total of four full length PCIe 3.0 slots. Due to the usage of a PLX chip on the Z170 WS it is able to run these slots at x8/x8/x8/x8. This arrangement allows for 4-Way CrossfireX or 4-Way SLI. There is also a PCIe 3.0 x4 slot between the second and third full length slot. Plenty of available PCIe slots for either consumer (GeForce/Radeon) or professional (Quadro/FirePro) GPU’s!
Looking at storage there are six SATA 6 Gbps ports, two M.2 slots, and a U.2 slot. All these connections are controlled by the Intel Z170 chipset. The Z170 WS also supports RAID 0/1/5/10.
The dual LAN is supported via two Intel Gigabit NIC’s (one I219-LM and the other I210-AT). The audio is handled by a Realtek ALC1150 CODEC with Crystal Sound 3; Japanese caps, shielding, and a 112dB SNR are a few features here.
If you run out of USB ports here, something is wrong… the Z170 WS comes to a grand total of 17 ports! There are nine USB 3.0 ports (four mid-board), six USB 2.0 ports (four mid-board), and two USB 3.1 ports (Type-A and -C); these are controlled by the native Intel chipset and supplemental ASMedia chips.
All specifications in the table below are provided by ASUS.
|ASUS Z170 WS Specs|
|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 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)
** Refer to www.asus.com for the Memory QVL (Qualified Vendors Lists).
* Hyper DIMM support is subject to the physical characteristics of individual CPUs.
|Expansion Slots||4 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (single at x16, dual at x16/x16 mode, triple at x16/x8/x8 mode or dual x8/x8/x8/x8 mode)
1 x PCIe 3.0 x4 (max at x4 mode) *3
|Graphics||Integrated Graphics Processor- Intel® HD Graphics support
Multi-VGA output support : HDMI/DisplayPort ports
– Supports HDMI with max. resolution 4096 x 2160 @ 60 Hz / 4096 x 2160 @ 24 Hz*1
– Supports DisplayPort with max. resolution 4096 x 2304 @ 24 Hz / 4096 x 2304 @ 60 Hz *2
Maximum shared memory of 512 MB
Supports Intel® InTru™ 3D, Quick Sync Video, Clear Video HD Technology, Insider™
Supports up to 2 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 NVIDIA® 4-Way SLI™ Technology
Supports AMD Quad-GPU CrossFireX™ Technology
Supports AMD 4-Way CrossFireX Technology
|Storage||6 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), gray,
2 x M.2 x4 Socket 3, with M Key, type 2242/2260/2280/22110 storage devices support (both SATA & PCIE mode)*4
1 x U.2 connector, *5
Support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10
Intel® Rapid Storage Technology supports
|LAN||Intel® I219-LM , 1 x Gigabit LAN Controller(s)
Intel® I210-AT, 1 x Gigabit LAN
Gigabit Intel® LAN Connection- 802.3az Energy Efficient Ethernet (EEE) appliance
ASUS Turbo LAN Utility
|Audio||Realtek® ALC1150 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC featuring Crystal Sound 3
– Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel MIC Jack-retasking
– High quality 112 dB SNR stereo playback output (Line-out at rear) and 104 dB SNR recording input (Line-in)
Audio Feature :
– DTS Connect
– DTS Studio Sound
– Optical S/PDIF out port(s) at back panel
– BD Audio Layer Content Protection
– Audio Shielding: Ensures precision analog/digital separation and greatly reduced multi-lateral interference
– 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
– Top notch audio sensation delivers according to the audio configuration
– Absolute Pitch 192khz/24bit true BD lossless sound
Separate layer for left and right track, ensuring both sound deliver equal quality
|USB||Intel® Z170 chipset :
5 x USB 3.0/2.0 port(s) (1 vertical Type A Connector, 4 at mid-board)
Intel® Z170 chipset :
6 x USB 2.0/1.1 port(s) (4 at back panel, black, 2 at mid-board)
ASMedia® USB 3.0 Hub :
4 x USB 3.0/2.0 port(s) (4 at back panel, blue)
ASMedia® USB 3.1 controller :
1 x USB 3.1/3.0/2.0 port(s) (1 at back panel, teal blue, Type-A)
ASMedia® USB 3.1 controller :
1 x USB 3.1/3.0/2.0 port(s) (1 at back panel, , Type-C, Reversible)
|Back I/O Ports||1 x DisplayPort
1 x HDMI
2 x LAN (RJ45) port(s)
1 x USB 3.1 (teal blue) Type-A
1 x USB 3.1 Type-C
4 x USB 3.0 (blue)
4 x USB 2.0
1 x Optical S/PDIF out
1 x USB BIOS Flashback Button(s)
1 x Q-Code Logger button
1 x 8-channel Audio I/O
|Internal I/O Ports||1 x AAFP connector
2 x USB 3.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 4 USB 3.0 port(s) (19-pin)
1 x USB 2.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 2 USB 2.0 port(s)
2 x M.2 Socket 3 with M Key design, type 2242/2260/2280/22110 storage devices support (Supports both SATA & PCIE SSD)
6 x SATA 6Gb/s connector(s)
1 x CPU Fan connector(s) (1 x 4 -pin, 4 -pin)
1 x CPU OPT Fan connector(s) (1 x 4 -pin, 4 -pin)
4 x Chassis Fan connector(s) (1 x 4 -pin, 4 -pin)
1 x S/PDIF out header(s)
1 x Thunderbolt header(s)
1 x 24-pin EATX 12 V Power connector
1 x 6-pin EATX 12 V_1 Power connector(s)
2 x 8-pin ATX Power connector
1 x EZ XMP switch
1 x System panel(s) (Q-Connector)
1 x 5-pin EXT_FAN(Extension Fan) connector
1 x DRCT header(s)
1 x MemOK! button(s)
1 x TPU switch(es)
1 x EPU switch(es)
1 x Power-on button(s)
1 x Clear CMOS button(s)
1 x Water Pump header (4-pin)
1 x 14-1 pin TPM connector
1 x vertical type A USB 3.0 connector
1 x U.2 connector
|OS Support||Windows® 10 , 64bit
Windows® 8.1 , 64bit
Windows® 7 86×64
|Form Factor||ATX Form Factor
12 inch x 9.6 inch ( 30.5 cm x 24.4 cm )
|Note||*1: HDMI 2.0 60Hz resolution support requires necessary drivers update
*2: DP 1.2 Multi-Stream Transport compliant, supports DP 1.2 monitor daisy chain up to 3 displays
*3: Max. at x4 mode, compatible with PCIe x1, x2 and x4 devices
*4: The M.2_1 socket shares SATA ports with SATA6G_56 ; the M.2_2 socket shares bandwidth with U.2 connector, and shares SATA ports with SATA6G_12 when using SATA mode
*5: Support NVMe device
*5: Support U.2 NVMe device
The next table lists the high-level feature set of the Z170 WS. All images and descriptions provided by ASUS. Please check their site for a full list of the features, this is simply an overview.
|ASUS Z170 WS Features|
||– 4x PCIe x16 slot(s)
– 12K hours Capacitors
– ProCool Power Connector
– Q-Code Logger
|OC Design – ASUS PRO Clock Technology||– Full BCLK range for extreme overclocking performance|
|5-Way Optimization by Dual Intelligent Processors 5||– 5-Way Optimization tuning key perfectly consolidates TPU, EPU, DIGI+ VRM, Fan Xpert 3, and Turbo App|
|ASUS TPU||– Auto Tuning
– GPU Boost
– TPU switch
|ASUS EPU||– EPU
– EPU switch
|ASUS Digital Power Design||– Industry leading Digital 8 + 4 + 2 Phase Power Design|
|ASUS Exclusive Features||– USB BIOS Flashback
– Ai Charger
– Ai Charger+
– Front Panel USB 3.0 Support
– ASUS UEFI BIOS EZ Mode featuring friendly graphics user interface
– USB 3.1 Boost
– Turbo LAN
– Crystal Sound 3
– EZ XMP ASUS Exclusive Features
|Remote Entertainment||– Media Streamer|
|ASUS Quiet Thermal Solution
||– Stylish Fanless Design Heat-pipe solution
– ASUS Fan Xpert 3
|ASUS EZ DIY
– ASUS USB BIOS Flashback
– ASUS UEFI BIOS EZ Mode
– Multi-language BIOS
– Push Notice
||– ASUS Q-Shield
– ASUS Q-Code
– ASUS Q-LED (CPU, DRAM, VGA, HDD LED)
– ASUS Q-Slot
– ASUS Q-DIMM
– ASUS Q-Connector
|Special Memory O.C. Design
|– ASUS C.P.R.(CPU Parameter Recall)|
|Software||– Fan Xpert 3
– Turbo APP
– Key Express
Now we get to take a look at the retail packaging of the Z170 WS. The front of the package is fairly plain, it contains the model number and some very high-level features. The box is a black background with letters and logos adorning the area around the picture of the motherboard. On the rear is a deeper dive into the features of the Z170 WS, a set of specifications, and a picture of the motherboard with components labeled.
Opening the front of the package reveals another deep dive into some other features of the product and a window showing the antistatic bag/motherboard.
Going from left to right the accessories are as follows; 6x SATA 6Gbps cables, rear serial connector, driver CD, 2-way SLI bridge (4-slot), Q-Connectors, user guide, CPU installation tool, 4-Way SLI bridge, 3-way SLI bridge, and the ASUS Q-Shield. This is plenty to get a system with a lot of storage and many GPU’s (even Quadro/FirePro) going without waiting for purchased accessories!
Here I’ll walk you through how to use the CPU installation tool. First, line up the top of the CPU with the top of the tool. Second, clip the tool over both the right and left sides. Third, place the CPU into the socket. Lastly, latch the socket and remove the socket cover. The installation tool makes the CPU a lot easier to handle, thereby reducing the risk of damaging the socket. You don’t have to remove the installation tool to latch the socket back into place, making this even more convenient.
The ASUS Z170 WS
First thing to take a look at on the Z170 WS are the looks! The board is a black, dark grey, and silver color scheme. This will meld well with almost any build’s theme and wouldn’t stand out in a workplace. There are three heatsinks here (two standalone, one is two pieces connected with a heatpipe) giving the board what appears to be a great cooling potential. Good for those long renders or CAD sessions, for sure. Four full length PCIe 3.0 slots adorn the front with an x4 slot in the middle.
Looking at the back of the board we see two of the full length slots are electrical x16 and two are electrical x8. The x4 length slot is electrical x4. All the heatsinks are screw connections, not pushpins, for optimal contact. One thing which stood out as interesting to me is the socket, the clamp is silver. Doesn’t matter though, the heatsink or waterblock will cover it anyway.
A Closer Look
Going more in depth on the PCIe slots I mentioned earlier, you can run GPU’s in the following configurations: single at x16, dual at x16/x16, triple at x16/x8/x8, quad at x8/x8/x8/x8. These configurations are possible due to the PLX chip hidden under the lower right hand heatsink. Nestled between the upper pair and lower pair of full length PCIe slots are the two M.2 slots. Both of these slots can support M.2 devices to a length of 110mm. There is also a Thunderbolt connection hidden in here beside the BIOS chip as well.
Looking next at the upper section of the motherboard there are some obvious things to see such as the socket, VRM, and VRM heatsinks. One thing we don’t see as much are the dual 8-pin CPU power connections, seems like ASUS wants you to make use of the beefy VRM for sure. Down at the corner of the picture, by the lower VRM heatsink, is a supplementary power connection for use with SLI and a PWM chassis fan header. In the far upper right there are three more fan headers; CPU_FAN, CPU_OPT, and W_PUMP. You read correctly, there is a dedicated connection for a water pump, the BIOS even lets you control it separately from all the other fans! The Z170 WS brings a feature I personally like, all PWM fan headers.
Shifting slightly to the upper right section of the board there are still more features. The 24-pin ATX power connection resides here, along with the four RAM slots and a front USB 3.0 connection. There is also, yet another, chassis fan header. The last component here is the MemOK! button, this is used to boot with problematic memory modules installed. Holding the button until the DRAM LED starts flashing will cause the motherboard to begin automatic memory tuning for a successful boot.
Moving completely across the motherboard, to the lower left corner, we find the audio section right in our face. Looking slightly past this we see the COM1 (serial port) header, Q_CODE display, TPM header, and the power/reset buttons. The TPM header, if you aren’t familiar with it, is used to connect an external device which securely stores keys, digital certificates, passwords, data, and more. It is a great feature to see on a workstation motherboard.
Sliding over to the lower right hand section of the motherboard we are able to see a load of other features. We’ll start with the T Sensor Connector, CPU Over Voltage Jumper, and DirectKey Connector. As one would expect, the T Sensor Connector allows a thermistor to be installed, allowing temperature monitoring of a critical component through the motherboard. The CPU Over Voltage jumper, as expected, gives more CPU voltage. Next in the row are the front USB 2.0 connection, second front USB 3.0 connection, and internal USB 3.0 port. The internal port is very handy for people using a benching stand. Carrying on there is another chassis fan connection, front panel connections, and a few switches (EZ XMP, EPU, TPU). For storage, on this section, are six SATA 6.0 Gbps ports and a U.2 port. In the very edge of the picture is a CMOS clear button and, yet another, chassis fan header.
Coming now to the rear I/O connections of the Z170 WS, just like the rest of the board, there are ports galore! Here we find S/PDIF Optical, HDMI 2.0, DisplayPort, four USB 2.0 (the lowest supports USB Flashback), the USB Flashback button and clear CMOS button, two USB 3.1 (Type-A and Type-C), two Gigabit Ethernet, four USB 3.0, and six audio jacks. Wow it’s full back there. USB Flashback is a great feature to have, allowing a user to flash the BIOS without entering the BIOS or operating system. Simply insert a flash drive with the BIOS you wish to flash into the noted port and hold the Flashback button for three seconds. Done.
Below are the two Gigabit Ethernet controllers, both Intel, the i219 and i210. In the picture above the left port is the i219 and the right port is the i210.
Stripping the WS
After pulling the heatsinks off we can see the digital VRM from ASUS. This is broken out into phases of 8/4/2 for CPU/iGPU/VCCSA. A very solid VRM arrangement here, plenty to keep the voltage steady and temperature low during long render sessions. I’ll elaborate more on the controller below, but the MOSFETs are all International Regulator products.
The VRM is run from a pair of DIGI+ VRM EPU ASP1405I controllers. As suggested by the name, this is a digital component.
Since the thermal pads here are white it is a bit difficult to see the indentations in them. Trust me though, the contact was fantastic. The Z170 chipset, PLX chip, and all the MOSFETs have their heat conducted by the heatsinks.
As covered earlier the audio section is fully isolated from the rest of the motherboard to suppress electrical interference. The ALC1150 is covered by an EMI shield as well, the big silver square. The larger capacitors are all 100μF each, the smaller capacitors are 10μF each, and they are all Nichicon brand. High-quality components here folks. The output line achieves a very nice signal to noise ratio of 112dB. There isn’t a headphone impedance rating, though. The audio amplifier is hidden under the EMI shield so I can’t pull a spec sheet.
Below are some thumbnails, click for a bigger view, of the other miscellaneous integrated circuit chips on the Z170 WS.
UEFI BIOS and Overclocking Software
The two pictures in this first of four slideshows show the EZ Mode BIOS screen and Main BIOS screen. EZ Mode allows the user to set XMP RAM configurations, choose the boot priority, change the CPU fan curve, and it shows some general system information as well. Hitting F7 takes you out of, or back in to, EZ Mode. Landing in Advanced Mode the first screen we see is “Main” which shows sytem info and allows setting date/time.
The second slideshow, below, takes us through the AI Tweaker section which includes, but isn’t limited to, the DRAM Timing Control, External DIGI+ Power Control, and Tweaker’s Paradise BIOS screens. Here is where the magic will happen for overclockers and users chasing the ultimate stability. I’m not sure if there is anything you can’t control from this section of the BIOS. The options are extensive and almost daunting, even for advanced users.
Next up is the Advanced section. Here we find all the general system controls to enable/disable almost any system feature, selectively disable USB ports, and much more. Basically, if you need to find a setting on a motherboard component which isn’t the CPU or RAM, check here.
To wrap up the BIOS tour we’ll go through the Monitor, Boot, Tool, and Exit sections. As expected, the Monitor section allows you to view system temperatures, system voltages, and fan speeds. This section also contains all the Q-Fan controls which dictate the function of each fan/pump header on the motherboard; it conveniently allows you to select voltage or PWM control. The Boot section allows users to set the boot order, enable/disable boot devices, and configure boot methods (UEFI, Legacy, etc). The Tool section has the functionality to flash the BIOS (there is a nice network flash option), secure erase an SSD, and view detailed SPD/graphics information. Lastly, the Exit section. This screen is very self explanatory.
The bundled software with the Z170 is AISuite III, ASUS’ long running software. It has gotten quite the facelift since the last time I used it, but this software will basically control/monitor your whole system and more. I’ve included a few screenshots of the software below, but it is seriously in-depth these days so I didn’t capture everything. As seen, the overclocking controls within AISuite allow changing speed for the BCLK, CPU Multi, CPU Cache Multi. It also allows control over eleven different voltages across the system. A few other notable features are the fan control and BIOS flashing from this software.
Test Setup, Benchmarks, and Overclocking
Listed below is the test system used for benchmarking.
|CPU||Intel 6700K @ Stock (for the motherboard – 4.2 GHz), 4.7 GHz for Overclocking|
|Cooler||CoolerMaster Glacer 240L|
|Motherboard||ASUS Z170 WS|
|RAM||2×4GB DDR4 GSKILL RipJaws4 @ 3000MHz 15-15-15-35 2T 1.35v|
|Graphics Card||EVGA GTX 750Ti FTW|
|Solid State Drive||Samsung 850 Pro 256GB|
|Power Supply||EVGA SuperNova G2 850W|
|Operating System||Windows 7 x64 SP1|
We’ll perform our usual set of benchmarks which tests rendering, memory performance, and single/multi-threaded CPU performance. For 2D benchmarks we’ll use SuperPi 1M and 32M, wPrime, Intel XTU, and PiFast. For rendering it’s Cinebench R11.5 and R15. Memory performance is checked against AIDA64 and MaxxMEM. For encoding, we use x264 and PoV Ray. Stock testing is performed with the BIOS as you get it out of the box, which will vary from motherboard to motherboard. When overclocking, a CPU speed of 4.7 GHz will be used for testing purposes. Memory speed is unchanged.
Memory Bandwidth and Throughput Benchmarks – AIDA64 and MaxxMEM2
CPU Rendering Benchmarks – Cinebench R11.5 and R15
Single Threaded CPU Benchmarks – Super Pi 1M and 32M / Pifast
Multi-Threaded CPU Benchmarks – WPrime 32M and 1024M, x264, PoV Ray R3.73, 7Zip, and Intel XTU
Overall, the results seemed to be in line with the expected performance of a top-tier motherboard.
Pushing the Limits
Like most other boards I’ve reviewed, the Z170 WS hit 4.8GHz on the CPU. It seems to be fairly stable at this level, running Cinebench R15 without issue. Booting 4.9GHz happened, but I couldn’t complete R15 at this speed.
Getting the negatives out of the way first; no ECC support, no Xeon support. In my mind these are musts for a board deemed as a workstation solution. There is also no iGPU overclocking option.
On the positive side; the Z170 WS is absolutely loaded with features. Quad GPU support, dual NIC, NVMe RAID, all PWM fan headers, and plenty more. It was also stable when overclocked to the edge, this is due to the VRM using quality components, being all digital, and having a ton of phases.
ASUS has been churning out a lot of solid boards in their Z170 lineup of which the Z170 WS is one. This motherboard is a refreshing departure on color scheme from the last two generations, removing the black/gold and going to black/grey. Coming in at an MSRP of $350, as seen on Newegg, there aren’t many boards more expensive than the Z170 WS, but even the vastly more expensive Maximus VIII Extreme doesn’t support quad GPU’s. In fact, the only other Z170 boards I see which support quad GPU’s are the Z170 OC Formula and Z170X SOC Force.
Even with the lack of ECC/Xeon support, this board still brings a lot to the table. It gets the Approved stamp!
Click the stamp for an explanation of what this means.