ASUS Z170 Deluxe LGA 1151 Motherboard Review
Today we review ASUS’ new Z170-Deluxe which is based on the new Intel Z170 Chipset supporting Skylake processors. We overclock Skylake and push the Z170-Deluxe to its limits. We find out about this solid new motherboard platform and we have to say we come away impressed.
ASUS is one of the world’s largest PC vendors and motherboard manufacturers. ASUS is known the world over for quality, innovative motherboard designs which appeal to multiple market segments. As is the case with ASUS’ most successful competitors, ASUS has diversified its product portfolio over the last several years. Currently ASUS produces several products in addition to motherboards including but not limited to: Laptops, monitors, networking equipment, servers, workstations, thin clients, projectors, tablets, and even cell phones. Despite the vast array of products, ASUS remains known primarily for its motherboards.
ASUS’ core feature set remains intact. Several items have undergone considerable design changes which we’ll go over as it applies to each section of the article. Largely features such as MemOK!, EZ-XMP, 5-Way optimization, TPU, and more all remain intact and unchanged this generation. Largely most of the changes are transparent to the user or help them in a significant way. The UEFI BIOS for example looks largely as it did last generation although the feature set has been greatly extended in some areas.
The Z170 Deluxe is based on Intel’s brand new Z170 Express chipset and supports Intel’s 6th generation Skylake based LGA 1151 socket CPUs. The Z170-DELUXE is currently selling for around $320 according to PC Hound. Z170 Express brings DDR4 support to the mainstream desktop segment. Up to 64GB of DDR4 RAM at speeds up to DDR4 3466MHz are supported. While that is what’s printed on the box, the Z170 Deluxe is actually capable of even greater memory speeds which we will talk about later on in the article.
ASUS has strangely chosen to go with only 5k rated solid-state electrolytic capacitors on the Z170 Deluxe. Typically higher end offerings from ASUS offer 10k rated capacitors so this move seems a bit out of character. In truth 5K rated capacitors are still used on a wide range of motherboards and up until a few years ago 5K rated caps were the high end ones. Still it seems like a bullet point type of feature you would implement just because others are doing it.
ASUS has also chosen a 16 phase power design for the Z170 Deluxe. As I mentioned in the chipset coverage, some manufacturers have gone for a crazy amount of power phases instead. ASUS’ provided a great deal of power related data for this article. To be blunt, I am not an electrical engineer so I do not fully understand all of the information. What I do know is this: Skylake ultimately draws slightly less power than Haswell. According to data provided by ASUS, CPU power draw is around 10% lower than Haswell. I’ve thought about how to word what they’ve told me so I’ll just quote them for all you electrical engineering types who may be reading this:
At 4.7GHz, worst case current draw is approximately 150 Watts. The current ramp takes approx15ms with worst case ramping coming in around 5A/ms. Together, these figures imply that one does not need a highly over-engineered VRM to overclock this platform. The current ramp time, even when running a static voltage level is a relatively easy load. A VRM capable of handling 150 Amperes should be more than enough to overclock this platform to its limits under water-cooling. If one has a tendency to spend a majority of time running stress tests, then opting for a VRM solution with a good heatsink and providing some airflow is all that is required.
Do note, when using power saving modes with offset/adaptive mode, the current ramp time is longer. This makes idle to load transitions easier on the VRM. The hold time before the processor goes into full load state allows voltage to ramp to the target value before appreciable current is drawn.
What I’m getting from this is that ASUS could have opted for a ridiculous amount of power phases but deemed it simply wasn’t necessary. Not only would this potentially increase costs and design complexity, but it wouldn’t benefit the consumer. Assuming the quality of components is equal between brands, which is almost never the case, additional power phases will have little to no effect on overclocking with air or water. You will however see 20+ power phases on some motherboards from some brands this generation. With LN2 and absolute bleeding edge overclocks things might change. We will have to wait and see as the LN2 crowd gets ahold of motherboard models from different brands. In the past more phases hasn’t always equaled higher overclocks or even increased longevity.
Main Specifications Overview:
Detailed Specifications Overview:
The packaging for the Z170 Deluxe is very reminiscent of the ASUS X99 Deluxe ($387) and ASUS X99-A ($240) we reviewed awhile back. The simple but elegant box art is done in the same style along with the fonts and logos being more of the same. The box has the usual product information on it, and there is a box flap that highlights additional information while revealing a window that shows the motherboard itself clad in an anti-static bag obscuring detailed views of it somewhat. The included accessory bundle is quite rich with a few items making a first appearance here. There is a new CPU installation tool which you load your CPU into, and when it clicks into place you then place the CPU into the socket. The tool can actually remain in the socket with the CPU. This is to hopefully prevent people from dropping CPUs into the land grid array of pins on the motherboard. I've used this now on two Z170 Express motherboards and I like it a lot. (Editor's Note: You can easily overlook this CPU insertion tool in the box. We have discussed this with ASUS and hopefully it will get packaged a bit better as to get the users' attention. LGA sockets are notorious for bending pins, so surely give the CPU insertion tool a try. Hopefully it will save some of you an RMA.) A U.2 to M.2 adapter card is included as well as an M.2 to PCIe expansion card. You will also find the following accessories in the box: User guide, driver disc, SLI bridge, screws, SATA cables, Q-Connectors, and a wireless antenna.
The motherboard layout is excellent as one might expect from ASUS. ASUS has implemented a few design changes this generation which will help system builders and enthusiasts alike. The first of these is a simple sign on the drive ports denoting which SATA ports are best suited for the OS drive. On motherboards with multiple drive controllers, say one from Intel and one from ASMedia this is helpful as you can ascertain which to use at a glance rather than having to read the markings on the motherboard itself or the manual. All of the system fan headers are grouped more closely to make cable management easier. All fan headers are essentially confined to two areas so that you don’t have to go hunting for them all over the motherboard.
All the onboard fan headers are actually true PWM 4-Pin fan headers. Additionally ASUS now includes support for the Fan Extension module across all ASUS motherboards in the product stack and allows these to be managed within the UEFI BIOS. This provides you with five fan headers on the motherboard itself and one dedicated water pump header which defaults to full speed operation, but also offers PWM and DC control modes. This allows for pump speed to be controlled within the BIOS the way you would any fan. Additionally a Fan Extension Card header is found in the bottom left hand corner near the chipset to facilitate an additional four fan headers.
When we speak of motherboard aesthetics at HardOCP there is something generally worth mentioning. Most of the time it is because some motherboard manufacturer has chosen some appearance theme like fake bullets, fake guns, or camo patterns. Most of the time when we mention aesthetics it is either in passing when a motherboard either looks especially good or when it is more of the same. In this case it’s worth mentioning that ASUS has completely done away with the black and gold as well as the red and black color scheme in the ROG line. We’ll talk more about ROG when we review a motherboard in that line, but for now I think it’s worth noting that ASUS has abandoned red and black now that so many motherboard manufacturers are using it in lower end motherboards. Since it is no longer special, aka copied to death, ASUS has chosen a new direction.
We praised the look of the X99 Deluxe and X99-A for the white and black themes. The black PCB theme with white cooling hardware and plastic cladding has a very classy appearance to it. ASUS has adopted this color scheme for all standard channel motherboards. Silver is sometimes used as an accent where bare metal on the heatsinks is shown. ASUS has tried several color schemes over the years and last generation transitioned from the oatmeal, black and gold coloring to a black theme which had some gold anodized coloring on the metal parts. While this looked good this wasn’t very special as several manufacturers had similar themes. Most notably, ASRock who always handled black and gold better than ASUS.
The CPU socket area looks fairly crowded. This is due to the large MOSFET cooling solutions found on the voltage hardware. Still the Z170 Deluxe should be compatible with most cooling solutions. The biggest problem with larger air cooling hardware is memory clearance. Lower profile DIMMs such as Corsair’s LPX modules can often mitigate this problem with most cooling solutions.
The Z170 Deluxe features 4x 288-pin DDR4 DIMM slots capable of dual-channel memory mode operation at speeds in excess of DDR4 3466MHz. As is standard for ASUS, once again single locking tab slots were once again used. These are arranged in an alternating black / gray color format to denote proper dual channel mode operation. Two dedicated power phases are provided for the memory subsystem to ensure stable operation. ASUS once again implements its "T-Topology" design philosophy using equilateral trace paths to the memory controller reducing cross talk and data signaling issues in order to achieve not only the best possible stability, but the highest frequency memory clocks. The MemOK button is located here to facilitate memory compatibility troubleshooting and near the DIMM slots you will also see four PWM controlled fan headers with one of them being dedicated to water pump control.
The Z170 Express chipset is located directly in front of the PCI-Express expansion slot area and uses a conservative, yet aesthetically pleasing aluminum heatsink for cooling. This low profile cooler keeps the chipset cooled during stock and overclocked system operations. To the left of the chipset cooler you will find the motherboard’s single onboard M.2 slot. This slot has 4x dedicated PCIe 3.0 lanes which are served by the Z170 PCH. 22110 type devices and smaller M.2 drives are supported via this slot. Screws for securing M.2 drives are provided with the included accessories. Several configuration switches are found in this general area as well.
You may have noticed that a sticker denoting which SATA ports are desirable for connecting the OS drive. This is a nice addition which shows superb attention to detail. This isn’t actually necessary due to the SATA ports being marked on the board and in the user manual. However this simple sticker takes the guess work and research out of the equation as the proper ports can be determined at a simple glance. You may also have taken notice of the white header on the PCB in this section which is used for ASUS’ Fan Extension card. This allows for additional PWM fan headers to be connected to the motherboard and controlled by the system’s UEFI BIOS.
The expansion slot area is free of legacy slots and features three PCIe 3.0 x16 slots. The first two are spaced ideally for multi-GPU systems. The third slot isn’t, but this is due to the physical limitations of the PCB space that arise from conforming to the ATX form factor. Additionally the lane configuration for the expansion slot area is x16/x0/x4 or x8/x8/x4. This allows for SLI, Quad-SLI, 3-Way Crossfire, and Quad-Crossfire multi-GPU configurations. The PCIe x1 slots all conform to the PCIe 3.0 standard as well. Some motherboard controls are present along the outer edge of the expansion slot area. While this isn’t necessarily my preferred location for these, thought went into the placement meaning that a dual-GPU setup will not interfere with reaching these. So depending on your system chassis this layout may be ideal for you.
Generally, there is little to talk about when refereeing the I/O panel and the onboard connectors besides the raw figures for what’s there. In this case there is a couple of things worth going over. The first of which is a complete lack of PS/2 keyboard or mouse ports. This may bother some people although I won’t ding ASUS for this specifically. There are models out there which do have PS/2 ports if this is a deal breaker for you. Additionally the teal colored USB ports are all 3.1 compliant thanks to an ASMedia ASM1142 controller onboard the Z170 Deluxe. You will also find the USB Type-C connector I mentioned earlier. This connector is reversible so you no longer need to worry about how the plug is oriented. A single USB 3.0 port and one USB 2.0 port are provided as well. Dual RJ-45 LAN ports provided by Intel are here, as well as six-mini-stereo jacks with plastic color coded ports are present. There are three WiFi antenna connectors for those interested in that option. Lastly you’ll find an optical port, 1x DisplayPort and one HDMI 2.0 port here as well.