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ASUS Z170-A Skylake Motherboard Review

AkG

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Typically we start our reviews of a new processor architecture in a straightforward manner: the flagship CPU gets a good going over and then we take a look at a new high end motherboard. With Skylake we are doing things a bit differently. While showing off the best of the best will always lead to a huge number of pageviews, this time we decided to highlight a motherboard that most people will actually look into buying: the affordable ASUS Z170-A.

Our i7-6700K review covered a few key points of the Z170 chipset, its capabilities and the reason for changing socket type from the LGA1150 of the Z97 generation. The change towards the new 1151 socket type was a necessity due to the rather large changes that Intel has brought about in their Skylake architecture. There’s DDR4 memory, a new high speed DMI 3.0 interface, a move to PCI-E 3.0 lanes on the PCH and the removal of the fully integrated voltage regulator (or FIVR) that made its debut with Haswell. With LGA1511 these voltage regulators have been placed back onto the motherboard. All in all these changes represent one of the largest evolutions in Intel’s chipset architecture within the last 4 years.

Even though ASUS' Z170-A resides near the bottom of their upcoming Z170 motherboard lineup, it is meant to compete in one of the most hotly contested corners of the market: the $165 price point. This price straddles the line between budget minded users and so-called gaming / enthusiast products. As such it has to appeal to both groups and be competitive in many, many areas including features and value.

In order to pull off what seems like an impossible feat, ASUS has aimed high and cut very few corners with this board. The Z170-A has a robust all digital 8+2 phase CPU power design, improved overclocking abilities, a high-speed x4 M.2 slot and SATA Express port, USB 3.1 abilities, CrossFire and SLI, a high-quality Intel i219v NIC, 3x3 802.11AC wireless abilities, and all the new BIOS and software suite found on their higher-priced models. The only obvious area ASUS has made any concessions to price is in the use of the aging Realtek ALC892 8-channel HD audio CODEC but the abilities of this audio controller have been upgraded to support DTS audio, and comes with a new pre-filter for higher audio performance. All of this on a $165 motherboard is nothing short of astonishing.

Mix in a new all black PCB with new color scheme, and on the surface there are a lot of promising features given the rater low asking price. However, with such high expectations riding on the Z170-A only time and testing will tell if it can live up to these promises and our understandably high expectations.


 
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AkG

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The Z170 Chipset; PCI-E Lanes Aplenty

The Z170 Chipset; PCI-E Lanes Aplenty


Much of the news about Skylake will be focused on the processors themselves but the Z170 chipset is arguably the more interesting aspect of this launch. It will usher in a whole new generation of motherboards, ones which are infinitely more capable of adapting to upcoming connectivity technologies. That's is particularly important since it looks like this chipset in one form or another may be with us for the better part of two years.

With so many devices moving over to the PCI-E bus, the outgoing Z97 chipset’s eight integrated Gen 2.0 lanes were proving to be a major hindrance for future expansion opportunities. Granted, some of the Flex I/O ports could be configured as for additional lanes but motherboard manufacturers were still dealing with a primary layout that dated back to the P67 Express days. With NVMe, M.2, USB 3.1 and even the ill-fated SATA Express interface all eating up significant amounts of bandwidth, those eight lanes proved to be woefully inadequate and some boards actually “stole” lanes from the graphics slots to feed higher end storage devices. The situation needed to change in a big way if Intel had any hope of providing a modicum of future-proofing for their newest processors.


Even though a number of design components haven’t been officially announced or detailed yet, a top-level look at the new Z170 PCH and its interface with Skylake processors still provides some interesting insights. First and foremost, the baseline graphics PCI-E capabilities of Skylake processors haven’t changed from previous generations; there’s still a total of 16 PCI-E 3.0 graphics lanes that can be configured in 1x16, 2x8 or 1x8 + 2x4 formats. There’s also support for three display outputs alongside HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort 1.2 certifications.

Those CPU-bound display and PCI-E lanes seem to be some of the only elements carried over from previous designs. In the place of the old DDR3 controller the Skylake processors boast a new dual-use controller that can switch between standard high speed DDR4 or low voltage DDR3L for SFF and mobile applications. The Direct Media Interface which is charged with communication between the CPU and PCH has also been thoroughly upgraded to a third generation format and boasts drastically increased bandwidth of 8GT/s in order to better handle the chipset’s new capabilities.

Moving down to the Z170 itself, things start to get really interesting. In the place of those aforementioned outdated PCI-E 2.0 lanes there’s now a grand total of 20 PCI-E Gen 3.0 lanes. While Intel hasn’t exactly been forthcoming about how this copious number of lanes is doled out through their Flex I/O interface, some will likely pull duty for Ethernet, SATA and USB connectivity while the remainder can be dedicated towards additional PCI-E slots or PCI-E-based storage devices. This flexibility is why all of the SATA and USB figures are given an “up to” number as motherboard manufacturers are relatively free to spec their own layouts.

The availability of PCI-E 3.0 lanes for high bandwidth storage support is certainly a big step in the right direction but native USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt support are both still missing in action. Those interfaces can be added through third-party controllers and will access the chipset via the PCI-E 3.0 lanes so Intel’s partners can certainly add them if the situation dictates.

Aside from the PCI-E bonanza there are a few other changes to the chipset as well. For example, Intel’s RST service has been brought forward into the PCI-E storage sphere, allowing RAID arrays to be built with today’s fastest drives. Intel’s Smart Cloud Technology is being integrated here too.


To take an example from a higher end motherboard, ASUS’ Z170 Deluxe represents an excellent example of what this new platform is capable of since it utilizes a full array of controllers and the chipset’s native capabilities to deliver a full array of connectivity options in a great looking (albeit expensive) package. Naturally, the Z170-A doesn't have quite these capabilities.

There is quartet of both USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 outputs dedicated towards the board front panel connectors while two additional ports are housed on the board’s rear I/O area for the BIOS Flashback and Keybot features. Meanwhile, the Audio Codec is handled by a Realtek ALC1150, a single PCI-E lane feeds into an Intel 219 LAN network module and there’s a pair of native SATA 6Gbps ports.

High speed internal storage is handled in two different ways. There are two PCI-E lanes and a pair of SATA ports coupled together to provide bandwidth for a single SATA Express port (the two SATA connectors can be used separately as well) while four PCI-E lanes and those same two native SATA interconnects provide communication between the PCH and the onboard NVMe-enabled M.2 slot.


An additional four PCI-E lanes feed into an ASMedia 1480 switch, feeding a pair of additional SATA 6Gbps ports and the single additional PCI-E 3.0 x16 slot (which operates in x2 mode). If a user needs more bandwidth to this slot for higher end storage solutions it can be set to use all four lanes via a simple BIOS input, thereby disabling the attached SATA_5 and SATA_6 ports. Take this little foible into account when installing a x4 PCI-E SSD alongside SATA-based devices.

Things start to get really interesting when looking at how ASUS implemented the Deluxe’s tertiary functions. There’s a single ASMedia 1187e PCI-E switch that takes a single lane and multiplies it into seven individual x1 connections. These are then used to provide bandwidth to the four Gen2 x1 slots as well as an Intel i211 Ethernet controller and a single eSATA port. The final lane provided by this switch is converted to a USB 2.0 interconnect that feeds ASUS’ onboard Bluetooth / WiFi module.


The final part of this somewhat complicated puzzle is the way the Deluxe handles USB 3.1. There are three pairs of PCI-E lanes, each of which funnels its bandwidth towards a dedicated ASMedia 1142-1 PCI-E to USB 3.1 switch. Those three switches each provide sufficient power for this board’s five USB 3.1 Type-A connectors and a single Type-C connector.

While the Deluxe takes an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to device support, ASUS’ other boards like the Z170-A go down a slightly more straightforward route. While we will still see plenty of support for the likes of USB 3.1, SATA Express, M.2 and PCI-E SSDs, the number of third party switches will be drastically reduced, simply providing less ports rather than eliminating any key functions.
 
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AkG

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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories



Much like the Z97-A series before it, ASUS has opted for a more subdued look for their new Z170-A motherboard. However unlike the previous Z97-A, the front of Z170's shipping container grants a full view of the motherboard rather than just its heatsink. The USB 3.1 and 5-Way optimization features are also on display. The back of the box has a nice breakdown of the Z170-A's features and what it has to offer consumers.


Also like its predecessor, once you open the box up, the inner section contains two separate sections with the top half securing the motherboard in an anti-static bag, and the bottom half holds the accessories, software and documentation


The list of included accessories is pretty standard fare with only one real standout: the CPU Installation Tool. This tool has been designed to help novices properly install their new processor. It gives the bracket more area to grip so that bent pins are less likely to occur. This tool consists of plastic gasket that you orientate and place around the socket 1151 CPU before installing said CPU into the Z170 Deluxe.


To use simply install over your CPU, then place the CPU into the socket as you normally would, and then close the lid. The Gadget increases the surface contact area between the lid and the CPU and this in turn reduces the chances of pins being bent while lowering the two lever arms.

In testing it did indeed work as advertised but it does make getting the CPU into the socket slightly harder since it tends to block your vision during those critical seconds between laying the CPU in the socket and letting the CPU go. On the positive side it does make uninstalling the CPU much easier as it gives you a lot more area to grip and lift.


Rounding out the included features is a well written user manual, driver and software DVD, rear I/O shield, three SATA 6Gb/s cables, 2-way SLI bridge connector, and one Q-Connector.
 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the ASUS Z170-A

A Closer Look at the Z170-A



AsSUS makes it a point of pride to offer well thought-out and almost perfectly designed motherboards, even for value orientated consumers. The Z170-A is no exception. However, this time around the board looks more like a Deluxe model rather than a run of the mill A-series. While this is still one of the few boards in ASUS's lineup that use a brown PCB, that is about the only concession ASUS has included to the legacy of the -A series. Gone are the arguably gaudy gold accents, gone are the useless gold medallion heatsinks. In their stead stands a proud all dark brown PCB with white trim and silver accents. It looks awesome.


For eagle eyed readers this white and black design made its debut in the X99 series, and now ASUS has further refined it and allowed it to trickle down to boards costing a lot less than any X99 motherboard. Equally important is this motherboard is not just a pretty face, as ASUS has taken the best parts of previous Z97 designs and blended in new and exciting features to backstop those good looks.


Helping to make this motherboard stand out in the value end of the mainstream marketplace is the white fascia covering the IO ports, and the new silver heatsinks. These two new heatsinks are not connected to each other via a heatpipe (to find such a feature you have to move up the ASUS Z170 food chain) and unfortunately are still attached to the board via pushpins rather than screws. However, they are nevertheless very robust for this price range and should keep the VRM cool during normal overclocking levels.


The star of this new generation of motherboards is of course the Z170 chipset and the LGA1151 socket. Since this is new board is based on the ATX form factor (30.5 cm x 24.4 cm / 12.0-in x 9.6-in) the amount of room around the socket is a touch cramped with a few capacitors closer than we would like to see. However, all components encroaching on the socket mounting area do respect Intel's z-height restrictions and as such should not pose any CPU mounting issues, beyond marring the overall aesthetics and possibly causing problems for LN2 users.


Backstopping the new LGA 1151 socket is a rather robust all-digital DIGI+ VRM ten-phase power design. It should be noted that this is not a true ten phase design but in reality a 4 phase layout with each phase doubled up, and the additional 2 phases are dedicated tertiary functions. However with its 5K caps, and 35A chokes, he Z170-A still has a very robust power sub-system.


Oddly enough, the back of this motherboard is not clean and clear of any additional ICs. Instead of making use of all the extra room on the topside ASUS found it necessary to place three of the power delivery ICs on the back. In addition even though the two VRM heatsinks use pushpins, the white plastic fascia which covers the rear IO ports is attached with screws. That is what we call eclectic design choices.


The four DDR4 memory slots support overclocked memory frequencies up to DDR4-3466. Given the price of DDR4 RAM, this might sound pointless but the new integrated memory controller is extremely capable and as time goes on prices of higher performance DDR4 memory should come down.

Like other more expensive ASUS motherboards, the Z170-A 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.


The MemOK! button makes a comeback here and is in its usual location near the four DIMM slots. This button initiates a memory compatibility tuning process if there are memory-related issues preventing a system from booting up.

Unfortunately, the EZ XMP switch is stuck all the way on the bottom of the motherboard near the front panel headers. This is not a major issue, but usually it is closer the DIMMS slots than this but at least it is included somewhere on the board. As the name suggests this switch allows users to easily auto-enable a memory kit’s XMP profile.

If your modules happen to come with multiple XMP profiles, the first one will be chosen by the system when the EZ XMP switch is used. Thankfully it takes only a moment to modify this setting in the new and improved UEFI BIOS.
 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the ASUS Z170-A pg.3

Closer Look at the ASUS Z170-A pg.2



One of the -pardon the pun - cooler features of the Z97-A was the ability of Fan Expert 3's abilities to control the speed of both PWM and DC fans. The new Z170-A ups the ante with out of the box support for water pumps as well.

This latest tweak means that ASUS has included a dedicated 4-pin header just for water cooling setups. By default, this header -located near the first PCIe x1 slot - is configured to run at full-speed to prevent spin-up issues when the system is first powered on. Of course you have full manual control if you so choose. This makes the dual 4-pin CPU fan headers more useful than ever before - as now both can be used for all in one liquid cooler fans.


Next to the 24-pin power connector is the first of two USB 3.0 front panel headers while the second is located along the bottom edge of the board near the dual USB 2.0 headers. In past generations this number of USB 3.0 front panel ports was reserved for higher end motherboards and it is impressive to see this useful feature on a more budget friendly board. Due to the capabilities of the Z170 PCH, this doesn’t require secondary discrete USB 3.0 controller which contributes to the lower cost of this board.


Next to the USB3_12 front panel header are the six SATA 6Gb/s ports and the one SATA Express port. While these ports are in a much neater layout than the Z97-A's design, it is not an upgrade. Instead this is the same number of SATA and SATA Express ports as the last generation. Of course they are connected to a more powerful PCH, but this does mean the Z170A has the exact same issue as the Z97-A. In order to actually use the lone SATA Express port you have to be willing to give up the use of two of the SATA 6Gb/s ports - SATA_1 and SATA_2 ports. This is unfortunate but given the lack of SE devices is of only minor concern, plus it’s unlikely you will be using both at the same time for system storage.


It is also worth noting that the third PCIe x16 slot (PCIE16_3) shares bandwidth with SATA_5 and SATA_6 ports (located right next to the M.2 port) 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. With that being said, having the option to boost performance of this port to x4 speeds (via a simple BIOS modifier) facilitates compatibility with higher end storage PCI-E storage devices which is something Z97 boards just couldn’t accomplish.


The lone M.2 port not only supports drives from 42mm to 110mm in length but is an honest to god four lane capable M.2 port and it does not share PCIE lanes with the SATA Express port. This means if you purchase the ASUS Hyper Kit - sold separately - you can use U.2 (aka SFF-8639) NVMe devices such as Intel's 750 series. At a more practical level, this M.2 port also supports PCEe x2 M.2 solid state drives, and even older SATA based M.2 drives.

Unfortunately if you do use a SATA-based M.2 SSD you will have to forgo the use of two of the SATA ports. Of course using a four lane PCIE M.2 port for a SATA based M.2 drive is damn near sacrilege and should be avoided at all costs.


As with the Z97-A before it, ASUS has made the wise decision to move the top x16 slot down one level from its usual location. In its place is the first of three PCIe x1 slots. By doing this ASUS has greatly reduced memory installation issues when longer video cards are installed.

Of equally great importance, ASUS has physically separated the two main x16 slots by placing a second x1 slot and the lone PCI slot in between them. This allows even extra thick triple-slot graphics cards to be used.


Since the Z170A PCH does not have PCI capabilities ASUS has included an ASMedia ASM1083 PCI-E-to- PCI bridge chip for legacy support.
 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the ASUS Z170-A pg.3

Closer Look at the ASUS Z170-A pg.3



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

Here you will find the front panel Q-header, TPU switch, two USB 2.0 headers, the second USB 3.0 header, one of the four 4-pin chassis fan headers, TPM header, COM port, front-panel audio header, and a handy onboard power button. The only thing missing from such a bountiful list of features is an onboard Q-Code LED debug panel, which is only available on higher end models.


On the positive side the TPU switch - controlled by the onboard TurboV Processing Unit microprocessor - gives you manual access to the TPU auto-overclocking feature. The switch has an off position and two selectable overclock presets.


Te onboard sound solution ASUS chose is the aging ALC892 8-channel audio CODEC rather than more modern Realtek ALC1150. On the positive side the audio processing area has once again been electronically separated from the rest of the motherboard, and there is an EMI shield covering the ALC892. In addition, this integrated solution uses premium Japanese capacitors, a Texas Instruments RC45801P op-amp, and now comes with a low dropout pre-regulator noise filter to help boost audio fidelity.


The rear I/O panel belies the budget-focused price of this board. The star of the show is the addition of one USB 3.1 Type-A port and one USB 3.1 Type-C port. While the Type-C only supports 3 amps, the use of both a Type A and Type C ensures future proofing as nearly all future USB3.1 devices will work the Z170-A.

Since the Z170 does not natively support USB 3.1, ASUS has included an ASMedia ASM1142 controller. This is ASMedia's first USB 3.1 controller and 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 which is also the same layout as ASUS uses on their upgraded 2011-v3 motherboards.


The Ethernet networking controller has also been thoroughly upgraded. The last generation Z97-A used the very capable Intel i218v Gigabit NIC for wired Ethernet; whereas the Z170-A uses the all new i219v and is fully protected from ESD via the LANguard technogly that was first seen on ASUS' TUF series. Unfortunately ASUS has once again forgone the inclusion of any wireless Ethernet capabilities.

Rounding out the list of features is two USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports (both powered by the Z170 PCH), a PS/2 port, six audio analog ports, a S/PDIF optical out port, a single HDMI port, one full sized DisplayPort, one DVI port, one D-Sub port, and a HDMI port.
 
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AkG

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BIOS Rundown

BIOS Rundown


The Z87 series of motherboards by ASUS introduced a new UEFI BIOS and its dual modes arguably helped change the way consumers' interact with the BIOS. ASUS then tweaked their BIOS design with the Z97 series and the Z170 series further refines and polishes this BIOS to a razor sharp edge that is easy to use, feature packed, and powerful enough to satisfy advanced users.


As with its predecessors, when consumers first enter the Z170-A BIOS they are greeted by the EZ-Mode setup. As the name suggests EZ Mode boasts a simplified layout and features a mouse-friendly GPU that prioritizes ease of use and navigation. 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. However, as with later model Z97 motherboards, this new and improved EZ Mode allows anyone to quickly handle more 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.


The EZ Tuning Wizard is particularly interesting since it brings overclocking to an even simpler level than before. 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. In practice it did exactly what it promised to do and the fact that it never actually mentions "overclocking" should help alleviate some of the fears less knowledgeable users might associate with the word.

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.


Just as with ASUS Z97 motherboards before it, when consumers 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 to feedback and pre-populated it with some of the more commonly used features.

Naturally, you 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.


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 has 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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BIOS Rundown Pg.2

BIOS Rundown Pg.2



Next up is the perennial favorite: the 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.


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.


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 Turbo limits. ASUS have really bolstered this section with an overwhelming array of CPU power tuning settings.

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 platform.


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. Of especial note is this motherboard can now read display S.M.A.R.T information from any connected SMART enabled storage device. This will make troubleshooting much easier.
 
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BIOS Rundown Pg.3

BIOS Rundown Pg.3



The Monitor section contains system temperature/power status, and adjustable fan settings
Fan speeds are customizable based on a number of parameters even though there are profiles included in the BIOS.

As with the Z97 boards, 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, allowing them to be just as customizable as PWM capable fans.

Also included are 'Fan Step Up' options which control how fast the onboard fan controller adjusts speeds. Basically you can set the delay from 0 to 25 seconds, removing the annoying rapid fan speed fluctuations that sometimes occurred with previous ASUS motherboards.


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.


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.

Also included is a Secure Erase option which allows consumers 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.


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 quite useful for those who can't remember all the new function key tasks.
 
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Included Software (AI Suite III)

Included Software



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 rotation.

Although it's 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.


The largest change between the Z97 version and the Z170 version which accompanies the Z170-A is that ASUS has once again improved the automatic overclocking abilities. These abilities are found under the Dual Intelligent Processors 5 application and then simply clicking the 5-Way Optimization automatic overclocking feature. We will go over what this sub-program can do in the software overclocking section but suffice to say it is rather impressive in what it can do even when paired to this rather inexpensive motherboard.


Such overclocking abilities are the real star of the show but this application is far from just a one tick pony. Here you will also see very simplified information relating to the other five tabs, such as the Energy Processing Unit (EPU) power saving or performance profiles, Fan Xpert 3 fan speed optimization status, DIGI+ VRM optimization, Turbo App functionality, and some display-only information regarding TurboV Processing Unit (TPU).


The TurboApp is an often overlooked yet useful program as it allows users to set application specific overclocking / audio / LAN profiles. Basically you can fine tune your overclock based on which program you are using. In order to do this the program will monitor your system and once a configured application is loaded in the “foreground” it will instantly apply your custom overclock. Once the program is minimized your system will go back to its default frequent settings.

This is handy if you are running into thermal or voltage limitations, but with this new generation neither is as big an issue as it once was. Audio and LAN profiles can also be applied alongside the application as preferred.

Going back to the main landing page, 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 and works very well in this regards.


Along the right side of the AI Suite III utility is an arrow that activates a pop-out menu when clicked. Here you find be 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.

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.


The EPU (Energy Processing Unit) tab contains the board’s power saving options and is where you will be able to fine-tune the various power saving or performance profiles. This is a versatile feature for those who truly care about maximizing energy savings.


The TPU (TurboV Processing Unit) tab is for folks who have a basic knowledge of overclocking but don’t want to enter the BIOS. Here you will find the basic requirements for overclocking and tweaking. This includes adjustable settings for BCLK, CPU ratio, CPU cache ratio, as well as modifiable voltages that impact the CPU. Some of these features can be adjusted on the fly, while others will require a reboot; however the program will tell you when you have to reboot before a new setting can be set.


The DIGI+ Power Control tab contains power options for the CPU, System Agent/Memory Controller, and RAM. There are adjustable settings for load-line calibration, current capability, voltage frequency, and phase control. There are different power controls for each memory channel since they are independently powered.


Also included in the new AI Suite III is ASUS's 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 now a series of four fan presets (Silent/Standard/Turbo/Full Speed), you can also manually adjust the full fan speed curve to your preferences, or simply use the fully automated Fan Tuning feature. It can also adjust the 'pump' 4-pin fan header if you wish to use this header to control a fan instead if a pump.
 
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