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ASUS Sabertooth Z170 Mark 1 Motherboard Review

AkG

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Since the release of the Z170 series of motherboards we have looked at numerous ASUS offerings. Everything from entry level -A, to the impressive Deluxe and even multiple Republic of Gamers motherboards. However, we have not taken a close look at one of ASUS’ more popular lines: The Ultimate Force (TUF) series. As a perennial favorite amongst users who want durability above all else this oversight is rather glaringly obvious in hindsight. Today we fix this issue by reviewing the Z170 Sabertooth, what may be one of the best looking and arguably most advanced ASUS boards on the market today.

The idea behind TUF series motherboards is relatively straightforward: combine features usually only reserved for ASUS’ high end mainstream consumer line, with a design that takes a page from the server side of the marketplace. These boards are tested to extreme levels and carry an extended warranty of 5 years (versus the 3 years of other boards), highlighting the confidence ASUS has in these products and we’ve experienced exactly that. One of our X58 Sabertooth boards was overclocked to extremely high levels and still lives on within a system we donated to a local charity all these years later.

In recent years the Sabertooth series has proven so popular that ASUS has felt the need to make two models intended for slightly different rice brackets: the Mark 1 and the Mark 2. The largest difference between these two models is the Mark I is intended for more enthusiast-grade users who can justify its asking price, whereas the Mark II is the more value-oriented model. At this time ASUS has not released a Z170 based Mark 2 (that may change soon) and as such we will only be putting the Mark 1 under the microscope today.

As befitting a $260 priced motherboard the Z170 Sabertooth Mark 1 is extremely feature rich and has too many add-ons to list in a single page introduction. Instead let’s just say that this TUF board boasts all the highlights that have quickly made ASUS' other lines sought after (Pro Clock, ASUS’ award winning BIOS, AI SUITE III, USB 3.1, ESD protection, etc.) but comes with TUF features that should make even the most demanding of enthusiast pause before opting for a RoG or Deluxe.

These special features run the gamut; from QLEDs that can be seen at a glance (and are not hidden by the 24-pin power connector), to improved TUF armor that boasts two 'flow valves' to control air flow to the heatsinks, to a robust back plate. There’s also Thermal Radar 2, TUF Detective 2 and best of all this generation receives additional factory testing for peace of mind. On paper this adds up to a lot of reasons to like the new Z170 Sabertooth Mark 1 with so many competitive models above and below its price, will the additional features and extended warranty help it truly stand out?

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AkG

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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories


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As with previous TUF Sabertooth boards, ASUS has gone with simple, elegant and rugged overall aesthetics for its box. This combination not only stands out amongst a sea of sameness found in most store shelves but also highlights the major points of this Z170 board.

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The board itself resides in a top cardboard inner tray with a clear plastic topper, while all the accessories reside in a secondary inner box that sits underneath the motherboard tray.

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The included accessory list is so vast that all of them wouldn’t fit into one picture. Instead we have broken them into two categories: the typical accessories usually found with any high end Z170 motherboard, and TUF-specific accessories.

The list of 'typical' accessories which comes with the TUF Sabertooth Z170 is impressive in both quantity and their quality. There’s a 2-way SLI bridge connector, four SATA 6Gb/s cables, Q-Connector front-panel connectors, a TUF branded rear I/O Shield, a I/O fan dust shield, a certificate of reliability, an accessory installation pamphlet, a warranty pamphlet, the user manual, and an installation DVD with software and drivers.

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On top of these accessories you also get three Thermistor cables for site-specific temperature monitoring, Dust Defender plugs, and TUF branded 40mm and 20m fans for active cooling of the large motherboard heatsinks. ASUS also includes an PCIE 3.0 x4 M.2 adapter card that can be used with the (not included) HyperKit or any M.2 drive.

The hard plastic plugs -or what ASUS calls 'Dust Defenders' - keep dust from accumulating in unused ports and slots by the simple expedient of capping them. This is noteworthy as over the lifetime of the motherboard dust can accumulate and cause short circuits in ports that are not often used or at least that is what ASUS claims. In either case they are extremely easy to install and help give the TUF Sabertooth Z170 a striking and clean look.

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On top of all this ASUS also includes their CPU Installation Tool. This tool has been designed to help novices properly install their new Intel Skylake processor. It was first seen with the ASUS TUF X99 Sabertooth, and while it is slightly different than the one that accompanies the TUF X99, the underlying idea is the same: give users more area to grip so that bent pins are less likely to occur. This tool consists of a hard black plastic gasket that you orientate and place around the socket 1151 CPU before installing said CPU into the Sabertooth.
 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the Sabertooth Z170 Mark 1

A Closer Look at the Sabertooth Z170 Mark 1


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Sabertooth motherboards have always been known for their phenomenal layout and design and the all new Z170 version is no exception. Each of the three primary x16 PCI-E slots are placed far enough apart that there is more than enough space for double slot graphics cards to populate all three. In fact, thanks to a rather unique PCI-E x16 layout, populating the two main x16 slots with triple slot designs is also possible, though doing so will block nearly all the other slots.

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Unlike ASUS' other Z170 lines, anyone who owned previous TUF boards will see a lot of familiar elements on the new Sabertooth Z170. On first blush the Z170 Sabertooth looks a lot like the X99 TUF Sabertooth we reviewed not all that long ago. This is because ASUS has gone with a familiar yet neutral black and grey color combination that, with the exception of the white Z97 Mark S, is perfectly understated

As with its Z97 and X99 predecessors the overall aesthetics are largely defined by the TUF Armor which covers the majority of both the front and the back of this board. The primary goal of this TUF Armor is to protect components from dust, but it is also very good at turning an errant screwdriver disaster into nothing more than a gouge in the plastic top plate or metal bottom plate. As an added bonus the TUF Armor has all the main ports and headers individually labeled, making finding each port a snap.

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Even better than just labeling the various ports, as ASUS did on previous models, they now also include a nifty new feature they call Q-LEDS. This new feature debuted with ASUS’ mainstream Z170 ASUS series, however unlike the RoG or Deluxe boards which just had these LEDs next to the 24-pin power input, ASUS has taken this feature to a more logical destination.

Instead of having them just on the PCB where they can be difficult to see, the LEDs have been placed just behind the SATA ports so that they can shine up though clear portions of the TUF Armor. Since these LED windows are also labeled, it makes judging which LED is indicating the issue as simple as glancing at the board. Brilliant stuff.

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Also new to the Z170 Sabertooth is its support for two fans and not just one like previous designs. Basically by having one fan near the rear I/O ports acting as an intake and the second smaller fan near the area where the "North Bridge" would have resided acting as a second intake ASUS can get much more efficient cooling without letting either fan hit buzz-saw like speeds.

Due to this new push-push setup, in testing this motherboard was much improved in the noise department compared to its predecessors; albeit the smaller of the two fans was a bit louder than we liked under heavy testing.

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Of special note to water cooling enthusiasts, ASUS also included two 'flow valves' which can adjust the amount of air that comes into contact with the VRM. Basically, instead of blowing over the VRM and then onto the rest of the board, the valve shunts even more air to the VRM heatsinks so that when the CPU is liquid cooled the power delivery subsystem does not overheat.

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While the top Armor may indeed be made from nothing more than injected molded plastic used mainly for anti-dust duties and aesthetics, the bottom 'TUF Fortifier' has a much more important role. This bottom metal plate adds a substantial amount of structural reinforcement to the board. Having a more rigid motherboard is indeed a highly laudable goal.

When you consider that most enthusiasts will probably be using two or more heavy video cards as well as a large CPU cooling solution, motherboard flex is indeed a serious possibility. In this regard we still prefer the old school method of simply using more PCB layers to create the motherboard, but there is no denying the TUF Armor does make for a very robust feeling board with almost no flex.

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The metal back plate “armor” makes for a very good secondary heatsink as well and that is exactly what ASUS has used it for. They have turned it into a large heatsink for the various VRM components that needed to be located on the board’s back.

For the most part this TUF this Armor is well thought out with most of the buttons, connectors, and ports easily accessible and free from possible obstruction. However not all are easy to access. Basically the PCIe x16 locking latches and the M.2 port may include angled cutouts for the locking latches, but the amount of available room is extremely limited and getting a finger underneath your GPU to insure the latch is fully released may require bending and stretching worthy of a contortionist.

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As for the M.2 port, you may not even see it on just a cursory glance. This is because the it is covered with a removable access panel and only by first removing the screw securing the panel can you use the port (or remove the motherboard’s button battery). On the positive side the M.2 slot can accommodate drives of up to 110mm in length - aka M.2 22110 drives. More importantly this is a full 'ultra' x4 M.2 slot and has access to four PCI-E 3.0 lanes instead of the usual two.

It should be mentioned that the M.2 slot shares its SATA channels with the SATA Express_1 port. This means you cannot use both of these with AHCI based devices, which is why ASUS includes a second SATA Express port. Of course, the chances of anyone needing two Express port for slower AHCI devices, and an M.2 port for a third AHCI based drive is very, very slim.

Luckily, the SATA Express and M.2 port do not share PCI-E lanes so you can use an M.2 PCI-E SSD, and two PCI-E based SE drives at the same time.

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Unfortunately, this M.2 port also pulls double duty as the Hyper Kit adapter port. When you try and actually use the (sold separately!) Hyper Kit with the Small Form Factor version of Intel’s 750 SSD drive you will instantly notice a major weakness to its layout and design. Essentially, you won’y be able to use a video card in the second PCIe x16 slot if you also use the Hyper Kit.

This was an issue with previous TUF motherboards, but unlike the X99 version, ASUS has learned from past mistakes and have also included a handy PCI-E 3.0 x4 adapter card. This card allows any M.2 SSD from 30mm to 110mm to reside on it instead of in the actual M.2 slot. More importantly you can use it and the Hyper Kit together in the included x4 slot while SLI'ing or CrossFire’ing two video cards in the first and tertiary x16 slots.
 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the Sabertooth Z170 Mark 1 pg.2

A Closer Look at the Sabertooth Z170 Mark 1 pg.2


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Removing the TUF Armor - which requires removing more screws than we wish to count- and actually taking a closer look at this ATX form-factor motherboard we can see that the covering hides not only a great looking design but also some extremely advanced components. With that being, said there is one issue that does jump out at us. Basically, as with many ASUS Z170 motherboards we have recently looked at the CPU socket area is downright claustrophobic. Not only is it surrounded on three sides by large heatsinks and the four DDR4 slots, but also on the fourth by the plastic fascia ‘TUF Armor’.

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This issue is further compounded by the fact that ASUS has gone for an extremely robust 12 phase power delivery subsystem (8 phases +4 for the iGPU) and there is a number of solid capacitors encroaching into the socketed area and around the edge of the PCB for that matter. Luckily, all these components respect Intel's z-height restrictions in the socket area and should prove to be of little real world concern for most users. The only ones who may be less than impressed are LN2 users who may find their pot hitting one of these caps…but the TUF Armor will probably cause problems long before then.

The VRM heatsink is only a two-piece affair which is quite impressive in its size and the amount of surface area ASUS has carved into these heatsinks is rather astonishing. ASUS claims that the combination of active cooling and increased surface area makes a third heatsink unnecessary. since this new generation does run cool and consumes less power than previous generations, this design should be more than capable of handling all but the most extreme overclocking needs.

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Hidden underneath this new heatsink design is a high-performance all-digital power subsystem. The DIGI+ VRM boasts a 12 phase power design consisting of military grade TUF MOSFETs, TUF chokes and 10K Ti-capacitors. Four of these 12-phases are dedicated to the iGPU, so while this is not a 'true' twelve phase design, having the load spread over more components does reduce stresses placed upon them and helps keep temperatures lower than a typical design.

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The four DDR4 memory slots are also fed by a digital 2-phase power design and support overclocked memory frequencies of DDR4-3600+. Given the price of DDR4 RAM, this might sound pointless, but the new integrated CPU memory controller is extremely capable and as time goes by prices of higher performance DDR4 memory should come down.

ASUS have implemented enhanced DRAM overcurrent protection (OCP) and short circuit damage prevention as well, so you will be able to push those pricey new DDR4 modules as hard as you want without worrying that the memory slots will let you down.

Like other ASUS motherboards, the Sabertooth features the handy Q-DIMM memory slots (a clip on one side and a recessed lock on the other), which prevent any clearance issues that can arise between conventional memory clips and the back of a nearby expansion card.

Meanwhile, the MemOK! button is in the usual location near the four DIMM slots (it is just hidden underneath the TUF Armor). The EZ-XMP switch isn’t here since the function hasn’t been included on this board and instead users will have to first enter the BIOS to implement their RAM's XMP profile. Of the two features, MemOK! is arguably more important as it initiates a memory compatibility tuning process that allows for a safe boot-up if there are memory problems preventing a system from starting.

Also missing was a TPU switch, but this is par for the course for ASUS TUF motherboards. Basically a TPU switch - controlled by the TPU microprocessor that is included - gives manual access to the TPU auto-overclock features on most ASUS motherboards. Since this motherboard is a TUF product automatic overclocking is not high on the priority list for ASUS.

Two more items you will not find on the TUF Sabertooth are ASUS' Retry and Safe Boot buttons. Obviously if you take overclocking seriously ASUS' RoG series is still the much more optimal solution.

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The built-in fan controller abilities of this motherboard have also been upgraded and they now support not only PWM and DC current but also AIO water pumps. This latest tweak means that ASUS has included a dedicated 4-pin header just for water pumps. By default, this header is configured to run at full speed to prevent spin-up issues at first power on. Of course you have full manual control if you so choose.

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As expected both the 24-pin ATX and 8-pin CPU power connectors are in their usual spots. Directly to the left of the 24-pin connector is the first of two USB 3.0 front panel headers, with the second being located along the bottom edge of the board near the dual USB 2.0 headers.

As with all Z170's which have dual front USB 3.0 headers, both of these two ports are powered via the Intel Z170 PCH and not via a discrete (and lower powered) USB 3.0 controller. Next to the 8-pin connector is the small header for the rear IO port’s fan.

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Next to the USB3 front panel header are the eight SATA 6Gb/s ports and the two SATA Express ports. Jus note that not all of the SATA ports are powered directly by the Z170 PCH. Instead four ports next to the SE ports are actually are routed through the SATA Express portion of the PCH and will be disabled if moth Express ports are utilized.

This still leaves four SATA 6Gb/s ports which, in conjunction with the M.2 and two SE ports, should prove to be more than adequate for all but the most extreme storage enthusiast. The only issue we have with this layout is that we would have preferred to have seen a U.2 port here. This would have negated the need for the Hyper Kit and half-height PCIe M.2 adapter card and honestly would have been much more forward thinking.
 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the Sabertooth Z170 Mark 1 pg.3

A Closer Look at the Sabertooth Z170 Mark 1 pg.3


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It is also worth noting that the third PCIe x16 slot (PCIE16_3) shares bandwidth with SATA_5 and SATA_6 ports when used in x4 mode. This is why the PCIE16_3 port defaults to x2 mode. As long as you use this x4 slot in x2 mode you will not lose two more SATA ports but be careful to not forget about this limitation. This has come about because of the continuingly limited number of PCI-E lanes available to Skylake boards along with the number of allocated Flex ports within the PCH.

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As with all TUF Sabertooths released in recent memory, ASUS has made the wise decision of moving the top x16 slot down one from its usual location. In its place is the first of three PCI-E x1 slots. By doing this ASUS has greatly reduced memory installation issues when longer video cards are used. ASUS has physically separated the two main x16 slots as well by placing a second x1 slot between them. This allows even extra thick triple-slot graphics cards to be used.

As mentioned previously ASUS does include a third x16 slot for triple video card configurations (8+8+4) but doing so will block the bottom of the board and a lot of the connectors found here. This should be avoided if at all possible as this area is covered with a rather impressive list of headers, switches, and connectors.

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Along that edge you will find the front-panel headers, the second USB 3.0 front header, two USB 2.0 headers, the TPM header and a COM port. What you will not find here is either Q-Code LED debug panel (not included), nor a power or even reset button. These models are meant more for extreme duty in environments which do not include open benches. If you do want to use this model as an open bench, you can pick up a power switch with 2-pin header connector online for a few dollars and plug it into the front panel header.

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The included TUF ICe - located in between the two bottom X16 slots - monitors and controls the included onboard temperature sensors and insures that all fan speeds are ultra-accurate. This small microchip in conjunction with TUF Detective application also allows you to remotely monitor these settings via a special multipurpose USB 2.0 port on the rear IO panel.

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In a very controversial move ASUS has not opted for a dual BIOS solution, and instead this Z170 Sabertooth only has one BIOS. You can however use the BIOS Flashback USB port to restore a corrupted BIOS. This is a less than optimal solution and a second BIOS should have been included given the price and durability segment this board is targeting.

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The included onboard audio solution is very similar to that of the ASUS Z170 Deluxe. As with that board, the audio controller consists of a Realtek ALC1150 codec (which supports 7.1+2 audio) that has been upgraded to Crystal Sound 3 and now supports DTS Studio post processing.

At the physical level the audio circuitry has been thoroughly isolated to reduce EMI, and high quality Nichicon capacitors are added for enhanced quality. ASUS also has once again utilized a dedicated Texas Instruments RC4580 op amp for the headphone output. Unfortunately, unlike the RoG series ASUS has not include an EMI shield for the ALC1150 controller, nor even included the ubiquitous NEC de-pop relay.

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The rear IO panel has been thoroughly upgraded when compared to previous generations. The star of the show is the addition of one USB 3.1 Type-A port and one USB 3.1 Type-C port. Since the Z170 does not natively support USB 3.1, ASUS has included an ASMedia ASM1142 controller which is compliant with Intel's eXtensible Hot Controller Interface specification revision 1.1. This cutting edge controller is connected to the motherboard via two PCIe 2.0 lanes.

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Also noteworthy is ASUS has included not one but two Gigabit Ethernet ports. One is controlled via a Realtek RTL8111H NIC, and the other via the newly minted Intel i219V. We are unsure why ASUS opted for the same Realtek solution that powered the X99 Sabertooth instead of a second Intel NIC as they did on the Z170 Deluxe, but both feature ESD and surge protection abilities that are part of what ASUS calls their TUF ESD Guards 2.

TUF ESD Guards 2 features twice the industry standard ESD protection and 30% more pin testing than found on previous TUF EDS Guard 1 boards. Also protected by TUF ESD Guards 2 are the audio connectors and the USB ports, so basically the entire rear I/O panel.

The ESD protection is provided via small on-circuit transient voltage suppression (TVS) diodes and capacitors, with each block of ports getting their own dedicated TVS. This allows for multilevel protection and in the event that an ESD or surge takes out the ESD Guards 2 protection on one block of ports the rest are still protected.

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Rounding out the included features of the rear IO are six audio analog ports, an S/PDIF optical out port, a single HDMI, and one full sized DisplayPort. Also included are a BIOS bounceback button and its associated USB 2.0 port (which can also be used with TUF Detective app and compatible tablet). Finllay, there are four more USB 2.0 ports.

What is not included here is ASUS' WiFi + Bluetooth module. This is unfortunate but understandable as we are unaware of any TUF Sabertooth which has ever come equipped with wireless Ethernet abilities.
 
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AkG

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BIOS Rundown

BIOS Rundown


The colors may be different, but the BIOS which accompanies the Z170 Sabertooth is fundamentally the same as what comes with other ASUS motherboards; albeit with a few TUF tweaks. This is not all that surprising as ASUS' TUF series has always build upon the foundation laid down by their RoG and Deluxe counterparts.

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As with its predecessors, when first entering the Z170 Sabertooth’s BIOS you are greeted by the EZ-Mode. As the name suggest EZ Mode is simplified and features a mouse-friendly graphical user interface that prioritizes ease of use and ease of navigation over features. It obviously does not have all the functionality of the Advanced Mode, but it is not meant to. It simply gives novice users an easy way to visualize and alter some of the most common settings, as well as some complex tasks without having to first navigate to the advanced mode.

For example, the Q-Fan Tuning feature gives you full manual or preset-based control over the systems fans. Thanks to the built in water pump fan, this feature is more important than ever as not everyone will use this for a water pump, and fewer still want their chassis fan running at full speed all the time.


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The EZ Tuning Wizard is particularly interesting since it brings overclocking to an even simpler level. Basically, the wizard asks you how the system is generally used, what kind of CPU cooler you have installed, and based on your answer it comes up with an appropriate tuning level for your respective system.

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This EZ Mode is instantly responsive to your input commands and there is almost no noticeable lag. ASUS did include a few transition delays when switching from one section to another, but this is an intentional design feature that makes the new UEFI more aesthetically pleasing.

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Just as with ASUS Z97 TUF motherboards before it, when users do decide to enter the Advanced mode they will be greeted by the My Favorites tab. Unlike previous generations which came with a blank My Favorites section and expected you to populate it yourself ASUS has listened and pre-populated it with some of the more commonly used feature. You of course can still add or remove features from this list, but this new model does give you a head start. This is one of those little things that really make the difference between a good and a great BIOS.

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The next tab in the BIOS is the Main section, which displays the standard storage devices and some basic system information. This System Information section lists rudimentary specification info including the BIOS date & version, the type of processor and the amount of memory installed. You can also set the system language, and an administrator and/or individual user password.
 
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AkG

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BIOS Rundown pg.2

BIOS Rundown pg.2


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Next up is the perennial favorite Ai Tweaker area. If you plan on overclocking your system at all, this section is where the majority of your time will be spent. Once the manual option is selected in the Ai Overclock Tuner setting, the BIOS's Tweakers Paradise section opens up to reveal all of the essential system clock control options: CPU multiplier with an all-core and per-core option, BLCK frequency, CPU strap, memory frequency, memory timing options, and all the voltage options.

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The DIGI+ Power Control section has a whole slew of advanced power regulation settings for the CPU cores, CPU VTT and VCCSA (system agent/memory controller), and DRAM channels.

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The Internal CPU Power Management section is where you can enable or disable all the CPU-specific features like SpeedStep and Turbo Mode, as well as setting the long and short power limits. Occupying the middle to bottom section of the Ai Tweaker is a long list of voltage options. Thanks to the removal of FIVR these voltage options are much more prodigious than anything seen on the LGA 1150 days.

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In the Advanced tab there are a number of configuration sub screens for CPU, PCH, SATA, System Agent, USB, Onboard Devices, APM and Network Stack. The Advanced Tab is also where you can enable/disable or just find all the various settings and options for all the onboard devices like the onboard USB 3.1 controller. This motherboard can now read display S.M.A.R.T information from any connected SMART enabled storage device. This will make trouble shooting much easier.

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The Monitor section contains system temperature/power status, and adjustable fan settings
Fan speeds are customizable based on a number of parameters and there are profiles included in the BIOS. As with the Z97 generation all fan headers can make use of the 'DC Mode' option. With this option fans which are only 3-pin (and thus not PWM capable) the motherboard can adjust RPM levels and allowing them to be just as customizable as PWM capable fans.

You can now customize the chassis fans and which onboard -and external- sensors control how and when they are spin up to speed. In other words if you have a fan dedicated to say cooling your hard drive cage you no longer need an external fan controller as the motherboard can do it for you.

As this is a TUF motherboard also included in the Monitor section is the Thermal Radar Temperature subsection. This subsection harnesses the full abilities of the onboard sensor suite and the TUF ICe controller. The end result is fine grain monitoring and control of the board that is sure to satisfy even the most obsessive/compulsive consumer.
 
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AkG

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BIOS Rundown pg.3

BIOS Rundown pg.3


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The Boot tab is essentially where you set storage device priority, select the boot drive, enable/disable the full screen logo, and ton of other boot settings that can help with the installation or troubleshooting of various OS installations.

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The tool tab gives you access to numerous built-in tools that allow for everything from selecting which BIOS profile to use to flashing your BIOS. Also included is a feature that was first seen on Republic of Gamer motherboards: GPU post. GPU post shows which PCIe slots are populated and in what mode they are operating. This will make troubleshooting GPU and RAID card issues much easier.

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Also included is a Secure Erase option which allows users to securely erase their SSD via the BIOS. This is a very good feature, but also a very dangerous one that needs more security beyond a simple confirmation pop-up as once a SSD is securely erased all data is gone and never coming back. ASUS also allows you to save up to 8 custom profiles here in the Tool section. While eight is certainly overkill, sometimes you really can never have too many custom profiles on tap.

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As with previous ASUS motherboards, before you save your settings and exit the BIOS, there is a handy window that lists the changes you made during this session. It is a well thought out and implemented idea. The new General Help pop-up that you can find in the top-right corner is very handy for those who can't remember all the new function key tasks.
 
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AkG

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Included Software (Thermal Radar 2)

Included Software (Thermal Radar 2 / AI Suite III)


Regardless of your intended use for this motherboard, the most utilized ASUS program will be AI Suite III. Put simply it is a system management utility and is the hub from which you can monitor system clock speeds, voltages, temperatures, and fan speeds.

Although its basic UI has been established for a while, ASUS regularly adds to, and even modifies, its capabilities depending on the motherboard series. For example, this suite's third iteration was launched along with the Z87 motherboards, was refreshed in time for the Z97 series, and is now has been further refined and polished for the Z170 series.

Since this is a TUF motherboard it comes as no surprise that the main focus is not on overclocking but on stability and harnessing the power of the built in sensors and TUF ICe controller. As such anyone who is used to the 'standard' AI Suite III that accompanies other ASUS Z170 motherboards may be in for a bit of culture shock.


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When you open up the AI Suite III application you will be greeted with what is called the Thermal Radar 2 application. This software suite replaces the normal program and is unique to the TUF lineup. While it shares many features in common with typical AI Suite III there are some key differences.

Unlike AI Suite III this program allows you to harness the power of the onboard sensors and controllers including the all-new TUF ICe microchip. Because of these advanced hardware features, not only can you monitor in real time all the various temperature sensors, you can also record the sensor readings, and even have the suite create a report for you. This feature allows for the ability to quickly pinpoint exactly what, when, where, and even why your system encountered a given thermal issue. For simplicity’s sake ASUS has broken it down into two main sections: CPU Zone and VGA Zone.

At the bottom is a static strip that displays information about CPU and DRAM frequency, real-time voltage and temperature measurements, as well as CPU and case fans speeds. You can also set safe thresholds for voltages, temperatures and fan speeds as well as setting alerts to warn you of any serious fluctuations. It is essentially a replacement for the Probe II utility.

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Along the left side of the Thermal Radar 2 utility is an arrow that activates a pop-out screen when clicked. Here you will see features like Ai Charger+ and USB 3.0 / 3.1 Boost. When enabled, Ai Charger+ allows up to three times faster charging of devices connected to USB ports, while enabling USB 3.0 or USB 3.1 implements the UAS Protocol (UASP) USB protocol that greatly enhances speeds while also lowering CPU utilization.

The EZ Update tool allows users to update their motherboard's BIOS either directly from the internet or from a downloaded file. Ai Charger+ supercharges the USB ports, and enables up to 3 times faster charging of mobile devices. Meanwhile, System Information just contains a bunch of basic system information regarding your CPU, motherboard or RAM. You can also find you can find your serial number, BIOS version, etc.

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Beyond just monitoring you can also control and optimize every connected system fan with just one click via the Thermal Tuning section. However, you can still individually control the fans if you wish to override this one click optimization. Doing so opens up a TUF version of Fan Xpert 3.

As you might expect, this is the successor to the wildly popular Fan Xpert 2 application which allows you to fully manage and optimize your CPU and system fans. While there are multiple fan presets, you can also manually adjust the full fan speed curve to your preferences, or simply use the fully automated Fan Tuning feature.

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The DIGI+ Power Control tab is very similar to the DIGI+ tab in the normal AI Suite III program since it is still where you will find the power options for the CPU, System Agent/Memory Controller, and RAM.

The CPU tab is also very similar but it does have a few extra features. As with AI Suite this is where you can control the VRM switching level, CPU Phase control, CPU Load-line calibration, CPU current capability, and CPU power Thermal Control. Unlike AI Suite it also allows to choose between T. Probe Thermal and Extreme to control CPU Power Duty control. T.Probe balances the load on the power phases based on the phase bank temperature probe, whereas Extreme uses current voltage load.

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The DRAM tab grants full control over the DDR4 ram phase control, frequency switching and other fine grain RAM related control. What it does not offer however is any ability to adjust the actual memory timings.
 
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AkG

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Other Software & Utilities

Other Software & Utilities


Even though the AI Suite III is the centerpiece of the ASUS software suite included with this motherboard there are other applications that are arguably just as important and noteworthy for consumers interested in a TUF branded motherboard.


Boot Setting

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ASUS Boot Setting utility allows users to boot directly into the BIOS without having to mash delete on the POST screen. It also includes an advanced section allowing you to customize fastboot settings including what happens after a power outage.


Turbo LAN

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Turbo LAN is a utility designed to help reduce latency courtesy of cFosSpeed traffic-shaping technology. This utility provides users with a lot of control and monitoring capabilities over every application that is accessing the network. It displays CPU usage, NPU usage, ICMP and UDP average ping, and the network utilization of every system process and program.

This tool also allows you give priority to certain applications, and throttle or block others to free network resources for other applications. It is your one-stop tool for monitoring and controlling all network traffic, and it even comes with a little widget for real-time bandwidth information.


WebStorage

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The WebStorage utility is basically the ASUS equivalent of DropBox. It is cloud computing application that gives users web storage and access to data across many devices. All ASUS motherboard owners get a free 5.5GB of storage, you can buy more or be gifted some by ASUS if you referrer your friends. The web interface is pretty standard and utilitarian. Overall, there is not much to complain about, it's a nice freebie if you choose to use it.


TUF Detective

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The TUF Detective is an Android software suite that grants the ability to monitor, control, and even troubleshoot the Sabertooth Z170. If you do not own an Android device this application won't make up for the lack of an onboard LED Debug panel, nor power and reset buttons. However, if you do have such a device this software solution is arguably much more powerful than what those missing features could ever offer. To use it all you need do is connect your Android tablet or phone to the motherboard using a standard USB cable via the standalone USB 2.0 port on the rear IO.

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Opening the application shows a number of different options that can be selected from a main menu. When you activate one of these sub-programs the full screen will be dedicated to that sub-application. For example, if you wish to view the POST codes you will see a large screen that mirrors what the missing LED Debug screen would show. More importantly it also includes a description of the post code so if your system does hang and displays a code you need not dig out your manual to decode it.

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The Monitor section is broken up into three main subsections and allows you to monitor the system’s various voltages, fan speeds of any connected fan, and even the temperature readings from all the various onboard sensors. Since all these readings are taken directly from the Nuvoton and TUF ICe controllers they are the same as what you would see in the BIOS or the Thermal Radar 2 program. Unfortunately, you cannot adjust any of these settings at this time.

The Control section allows you to restart, turn off, clear the CMOS, patch any errors in a corrupted BIOS, and even force a shutdown on a hung system. Taken as a whole this is a very powerful program that can indeed be an overclocker's dream, but also has a place for mainstream folks.
 
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