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ASUS Z170 Deluxe Motherboard Review

AkG

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Every generation ASUS goes all out on their Deluxe series in an effort to make them genre-defining motherboards that bring new meaning to the term 'Deluxe'. Essentially, these are the products that ASUS packs full with every conceivable current and potentially next generation feature regardless of price and they do so while still maintaining a holistic design approach. For example the last generation Z97 Deluxe was a phenomenal product which was not only feature-packed but also one of the best examples of what that generation of boards could accomplish in the overclocking space. The same was true of the Z87 before it. Now ASUS is launching the Z170 Deluxe and it’s one heck of an impressive board.

On the surface of things, any Deluxe board geared towards the Skylake generation does have a lot of potential concerns that could easily keep it from living up to expectations. After all, Intel chose to not bake USB 3.1 support into the PCH, PCI-E 4.0 is still waiting in the wings, and the number of PCI-E 3.0 lanes originating from the CPU hasn’t undergone a shift in what seems like forever. However, digging below the surface, there’s a massively capable PCH which has been equipped with a very adaptable set of 20 PCI-E lanes so connectivity will never be an issue.

As with the Z97 Deluxe before it, the Z170 Deluxe represents the pinnacle of ASUS engineering and they took those available lanes and have accomplished some amazing things. Even with just a quick glance at the features this board boasts it is obvious that ASUS' engineers have taken upon themselves the task of fitting in as many features as possible on to a single ATX-sized motherboard. Usually when engineers make things personal, upper management gets worried, but this time ASUS wisely let them have free reign.

To be honest there are so many stars of this show, it would be impossible to list them all in a single page introduction. Suffice to say that ASUS has included damn near every advanced feature under the sun in an effort to appeal to as many different consumer groups as possible.

This however is only the beginning as ASUS has also gone in a new direction with their Z170 Deluxe's aesthetics. So much so that we doubt anyone will ever call this board 'gaudy' or "Ghetto Fabulous" like some accused the previous generation of being. There are also advanced overclocking features which will allow anyone to get the absolute most out of their new LGA1151 CPU and expensive DDR4 memory. These features run the gamut from a dedicated base-clock generator (PRO Clock), to a highly refined UEFI BIOS, to even a new and improved 'one click' overclocking solution. Most of these features we have seen before on other Asus Z170 motherboards, but when combined with a truly Deluxe power delivery system they bring new meaning to the phrase "overclocking friendly".

Of course with an asking price of $320, the Z170 Deluxe will hold little interest to budget orientated consumers, but considering the cost of upgrading, some may be willing to sacrifice some coin to insure they are covered for some time to come.

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AkG

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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories



Much like the Z170-A, ASUS has opted for a more subdued look for their Z170-Deluxe motherboard. Also like the more entry level -A motherboard, this 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 boards features and what it has to offer consumers.


Inside, the Z170-Deluxe has a smaller box that includes a clear cover containing the motherboard and beneath the board the accessories sit in a divided black cardboard compartment.


In grand Deluxe tradition the accessory list which accompanies this model is rather impressive in both its breadth and scope. In addition to the usual list of items like a user manual, features guide, driver and software DVDs, ASUS sticker, rear I/O shield, six SATA 6Gb/s cables, 2-way SLI bridge connector, I/O shield, and two Q-Connectors there are also a few extra features worth noting. The first is the included external 802.11AC wireless Ethernet antenna bracket. This external antenna WiFi bracket now contains not two but three antennas for true 3x3 802.11AC connectivity. This is a major upgrade over the Z97's 2x2 wireless abilities and goes a long way towards justifying the cost of this unit.

Another accessory not included in lower priced models is a PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 adapter card that allows consumers the luxury of installing a second M.2 device into this board; however in conjunction with the included U.2 "HyperKit" this means consumers can use both dual video cards in SLI/CrossFire configuration and a U.2 SSD like the Intel 750.


As with the Z170-A, Hero, and Gene before it, the real standout feature in the list of accessories is the all new CPU Installation Tool. This tool has been designed to help novice enthusiasts properly install their new Intel Skylake processor.

This tool was first seen with the ASUS TUF X99 Sabertooth, and it is slightly different than the one that accompanies the TUF X99, the underlying idea is the same: give consumers more area to grip so that bent pins are less likely to occur. This tool consists of a hard white plastic gasket that you orientate and place around the socket 1151 CPU before installing said CPU into the
 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the ASUS Z170 Deluxe

A Closer Look at the ASUS Z170 Deluxe




For those of you who want to understand how ASUS has laid out the Z170 Deluxe’s PCI-E lanes alongside its storage options and how they interact with one another, look no further than this overview we conducted back when Skylake first launched.

As you can see ASUS has taken the white futuristic look that first debuted with their X99 Deluxe and applied it to this newer board. For those who have never seen the X99-Deluxe in person, what this means is that ASUS has listened to consumers' concerns over their liberal application of gold and gold medallions to the previous Z97 series, and have implemented a more monochromatic look this time around.

The board itself uses ASUS' usual custom black PCB, the shroud covering the rear I/O and integrated sound solution is white, the MOSFETs and PCH heatsinks have white coverings over their silver metal heatsinks and generally the Z170 Deluxe looks like the refined next generation motherboard it is.

As for the layout which we will get into in a few seconds, it is nothing short of spectacular with perfect placement of all slots and more than enough breathing room for add-in cards. There is also easy access to every single connector and the onboard controls.


With that being said, some compromises had to be made in order to fit everything in. For example the CPU socket area is downright claustrophobic as it is surrounded on three sides by large heatsinks, and on the fourth side by the four DDR4 slots. The tightness here is compounded by the fact that ASUS has gone for a large 20 phase power delivery subsystem 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 do respect Intel's z-height restrictions and should prove to be of little real world concern for the average user. The only folks who may be less than impressed are LN2 users who could find their pot hitting one of these caps.


ASUS has also placed some of the power delivery subsystem components on the back of the motherboard. We dislike seeing critical parts on this side but given the sheer size of the VRM subsystem it is understandable why this was done. On the positive side these parts protected and cooled with backplates - just like ASUS does on their Z170 Republic of Gamer motherboards.


ASUS had to make such compromises as there is simply no free space on the PCB to comfortably space things out. No matter where you look, there are various components, ports, slots, and LEDs packed in tight. This almost- overcrowding of key elements was required since there was no way features would be offered up at a sacrificial altar, nor could there be a change of form-factor. Basically, the Z170 Deluxe uses an ATX form factor with enough add-ons to crowd an E-ATX motherboard.


The main PWM heatsink may be slightly changed from its predecessor in the aesthetics department, but it is still robust and very capable. Consisting of three metal blocks and a large heatpipe to connect two of the three components together this large 'U' shaped heatsink should keep the critical power delivery components cool even during heavy overclocking.


Hidden underneath the VRM heatsinks is a high-performance all-digital power subsystem that utilizes a DIGI+ VRM 20-phase (16+4) design consisting of Lower RDS(on) MOSFETs, 'BlackWing' chokes and 10K-hour black metallic solid electrolytic capacitors. Four of these 20-phases are dedicated to the iGPU, and another eight are virtual phases. Thus, while this is not a 'true' twenty phase design, having the load spread over more components does reduce the relative stresses placed upon them and helps keep temperatures low.


ASUS also uses two DIGI+ controller ICs to handle the load instead of the classical single controller. This too should keep power clean and stable even at higher loads.
 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the Z170 Deluxe pg.2

A Closer Look at the Z170 Deluxe pg.2



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 controller is extremely capable and as time goes by prices of higher performance DDR4 memory should come down even more.

Like other ASUS motherboards, the Deluxe 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 is in the usual location near the four DIMM slots but the EZ-XMP switch is not. Instead this switch is located near the TPU and EPU switches along the bottom edge of the PCB. This makes the switch a little less accessible but is still nice to see that it was included.

As with all ASUS motherboards, the MemOK! button initiates a compatibility tuning process if there are memory-related issues preventing a system from booting up.

Meanwhile, the EZ XMP switch - as its name suggests - allow users to easily auto-enable a memory kit’s XMP profile. If your memory comes with more than one XMP profile you will not be able to choose which to use via this switch. Instead the first profile is the one the system uses when the EZ XMP switch is used. Thankfully it takes only a moment to modify this setting in the new and improved UEFI BIOS. More on that later.

The TPU switch - controlled by the TPU microprocessor - gives you manual access to the TPU auto-overclock feature. The switch has an off position and two selectable overclock presets. Users can still use HotKey OC to manually trigger TPU 1 overclocking during post, but having a physical switch really is a nice bonus feature. The EPU switch can enable or disable the EPU energy-saving feature.

These two switches are basically for those who don't want to toy around the BIOS or use the included Dual Intelligent Processors 5 software utility. Obviously blocking these ports with a lower-placed video card isn’t recommended, though considering the fact that triple video card configurations will result in a 8+4+4 mode anyone interested in tri-SLI setups may want to look at PLX enabled alternatives…or opt for X99 based systems.

Unfortunately two features you will not find on the Deluxe are ASUS' Retry and their Safe Boot button. These two are conspicuous by their absence, but are primarily targeted towards overclockers rather than folks looking for a boatload of home-use features. Obviously if you take your overclocking seriously the RoG series is still the much more optimal solution.


Even though this motherboard is filled with features ASUS has taken the time to not only include an excellent amount of spacing between the Z170 Deluxe’s two main mechanical PCI-E 3.0 x16 slots, but have also moved the top x16 slot down one position from its usual location.

The former means there won’t be any issues fitting two dual or triple-slot graphics cards on it (like the MSI 980Ti Lightning) while the latter will reduce memory installation issues when longer video cards are used.

Installing a third video card into the bottom PCIe "x16" slot is possible but it will overhang the various connectors along the bottom. Also, this third x16 slot will only run in x4 mode if you first change it in the BIOS. It also shares bandwidth with the two extra SATA 6Gb/s ports (labeled SATA5 and SATA6) and using it in x4 mode will disable these two ports.


Speaking of those connectors, the Deluxe’s lower edge is bedecked in them. In addition to the front header connectors, fan port, dual USB 2.0 headers, second USB 3.0 header, this is also where ASUS has placed the Power and Reset buttons, and the clear CMOS and BIOS flashback switches. Further making this an important area to keep free of obstructions it is also where the large 2 digit Q-Code LED display is.


One of the major areas ASUS improved upon in the Z97 series was the onboard audio solution but this time the improvements are more minor, but still noteworthy. As with its predecessor, Crystal Sound 3 is based on the Realtek ALC1150 codec (which supports 7.1+2 audio) and now also supports DTS Studio sound 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 has also 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 the NEC de-pop relay.
 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the Z170 Deluxe pg.3

A Closer Look at the Z170 Deluxe pg.3



The rear IO panel has also been upgraded and refined from the Deluxe’s Z97 counterpart. As expected there are the usual six audio analog ports, an S/PDIF optical out port, a single HDMI port, and one full sized DisplayPort. In addition to this there is also three antenna headers for the preinstalled wireless 802.11AC / Bluetooth module. This is because for the first time ASUS has given consumers a true 3x3 802.11AC capable wireless adapter! This will help improve overall wireless abilities compared to its predecessor.


Rounding out the features are two Intel NICs - one of which is Intel’s latest generation i219V and the other being the venerable i211.

On top of all this is one USB 2.0 port, and one USB 3.0 port. This is a major reduction from the previous generations 6/6 ports. This been done to make room for five backwards compatible Type-A USB 3.1 ports and the one USB 3.1 Type-C port.

Unfortunately this particular Type-C connector only supports up to 3 amps of power and not 20 amps that USB 3.1 Type C specifications allow for. On the positive side all ports are protected by advanced ESD protection - including the two NICs.


Since the Z170 PCH does not natively support USB 3.1, ASUS has included multiple ASMedia ASM1142 controllers. This is ASMedia's first USB 3.1 controller and is compliant with Intel's eXtensible Hot Controller Interface specification revision 1.1. They are connected to the motherboard via two PCIe 2.0 lanes which is the same layout as ASUS uses on their upgraded 2011-v3 motherboards.


The built-in fan controller abilities of this motherboard have also been upgraded and it now supports, PWM and DC current alongside 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 too.

Unlike some other ASUS Z170 motherboards, the location of these critical fan headers has been carefully chosen so they are easily reachable, yet fully protected. This is somewhat ironic since the Deluxe is the most feature-packed of their stable which would lead one to believe some sacrifices would be made….somewhere.


As expected both the 24-pin ATX and 8-pin CPU power connectors are in their usual spot and directly to their left is the other USB 3.0 front header. Unfortunately ASUS does not included the debug LEDs next to the 24-pin header where they would be easily viewable.

Next to the 24-pin connector is the first of two USB 3.0 front headers. In past generations including multiple USB 3.0 headers would have meant using a discrete controller, however by reducing the number of USB 3.0 ports on the rear IO panel both front header ports are directly connected to the Z170 PCH.


To the left of that USB header are the eight SATA 6Gb/s ports and the one SATA Express port. With Intel signaling their intent for U.2 form-factor (aka 'SFF-8639') to be the enthusiasts’ choice, the loss of a second SATA Express port is not all that surprising nor concerning. SATA Express has not really taken off and including more than one port would have required another discrete onboard controller since the Z170 only supports one SATA Express port. Since room is at such a premium we can understand ASUS’ reasoning behind this move.

By not including the ASMedia ASM106SE controller like they did on the Z97 Deluxe, ASUS also had to cut down the number of SATA 6Gb/s ports back to eight from ten. This is because ASUS only has four of these eight ports powered via the PCH, with the other two being powered by an ASMedia ASM1061 controller, and the last two via the included PCH's SATA Express controller.



The included M.2 port is now equipped with a quartet of PCI-E lanes which allows for some massive bandwidth possibilities. Since ASUS has included their Hyper Kit U.2 adapter kit, this allows U.2 based storage solutions like the Intel 750 series to be fully compatible with this motherboard, and without using a PCI-E x16 slot. However if you do use it be prepared to not be able to use long video cards in the secondary PCIe x16 slot - as this U.2 adapter is tall enough to block video cards from sitting properly there.

To help alleviate this issue and make the U.2 adapter much more useable ASUS has also included a 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 lower x4 slot while utilizing the two primary slots for SLI or Crossfire.


Even excluding the Hyper Kit from the equation, the M.2 port is still impressive all on its own. It supports 2242/2260/2280/22110 type devices, which is to say SSDs that are 22mm wide and either 42mm, 60mm, 80mm, or even 110mm long. It also boasts support for both SATA and PCI-E based M.2 cards so nearly any M.2 drive will work here.

It should be mentioned that the M.2 slot shares its SATA channels with the SATA Express port. The situation described above is caused due to the limited number of PCI-E lanes available to these Z170 boards along with the number of allocated Flex ports within the PCH.

Luckily, the SATA Express and M.2 port do not share PCI-E lanes. This means you can use both a SATA-Express PCI-E based drive and a PCI-E based M.2 drive at the same time, but cannot use SE and M.2 SATA/AHCI based devices at the same time. This layout will only complicate matters when using either of these cutting edge ports in backwards compatible SATA mode and trying to use the second in SATA mode.

This sharing of bandwidth however does have the unfortunate side effect of that in worst case scenarios only four SATA ports will be useable - with two being disabled if the third PCIe x16 slot is used in x4 mode, and another two if the lone SATA Express port is used or a M.2 SATA SSD is used. None of these represents a particularly limiting situation since very few, if any, users will require all these ports operating at the same time.
 
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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 their approach to a razor sharp edge that is easy to use, feature packed, and powerful enough to satisfy advanced users.

Unlike the RoG motherboards we recently reviewed, when users first enter the BIOS they will not be greeted by the Advanced Mode, and instead will be taken to the training wheel 'EZ-Mode'. Most folks who spend nearly $400 on a board will want to skip over this simplified BIOS and enter the real BIOS via hitting F7.


In either case, as the name suggests EZ Mode boasts a simplified layout and features a mouse-friendly UI 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 system’s fans. Thanks to the built-in water pump fan control, this feature is more important than ever as not everyone will use that header 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 but more on that later.

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 all other ASUS Z170 motherboards we have taken a close look at, 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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AkG

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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 Fully Integrated Voltage Regulator from the CPU package 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.


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.
 
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BIOS Rundown pg.3

Bios Rundown pg.3



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 PCI-E 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 (Dual Intelligent Processors 5)

Included Software (Dual Intelligent Processors 5)



Regardless of your intended use for this motherboard, the most utilized ASUS program will be AI Suite III/ Dual Intelligent Processors 5. 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.


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


Such overclocking abilities are the real star of the show but this application is far from just a one trick 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 the TurboV Processing Unit (TPU).


The Turbo App 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 processor 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 fan 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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Closer look at USB 3.1

Closer Look at USB 3.1



The easiest way to start to describe what has changed with USB 3.1 standard is to start with what has been carried over from previous generations. First and foremost Type A and Type B connectors are still around and a USB 3.1 Type A port is identical to a USB 3.0 Type A port. The same holds true for Type B ports. That is to say both are physically the same as their USB 3.0 predecessor.

This in turn means that USB 3.1 is based upon a 4 data lane configuration - just as USB 3.0 was. More importantly, USB 3.1 Type A and Type B ports are fully backwards compatible with USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 devices - they just will not work at USB 3.1 speeds.


This backwards compatibility was done on purpose. USB 3.1 does indeed represent a new direction and approach for the USB standard but USB-IF wanted consumers of existing devices to not worry about compatibility. Unlike Apple who threw their existing user-base under the bus numerous times, if your device works with USB 3.0 Type A or Type B ports it will fully connect and work via USB 3.1 Type A or B. More importantly consumers should notice almost no differences between connecting them via USB 3.0 and USB 3.1 controllers and ports.

For this reason, USB Type A and Type B ports will still be a part of the computing landscape and in all likelihood Type A's will still be the de-facto standard ports found on motherboards for the foreseeable future. We will see some of the new 'Type C' ports on motherboards but Type A will be the most common - just as when USB 3.0 was released and motherboards came with 2.0 and 3.0 ports, expect both A and C type USB 3.1 ports to co-exist.


This backwards compatibility and physical layout is nearly the grand total of what has been carried over to the next generation 'SuperSpeed Plus' USB standard. In fact, if it was not for backwards compatibility USB 3.1 in all likelihood would not have even exhibited this amount in common with its predecessors. We will get to the new Type C connector later but even excluding this new connector type USB 3.1 is an entirely new breed of USB built on a completely new foundation.


In some ways USB 3.1 is actually a return the original USB founders’ goal of replacing as many different and competing standards as possible. In the 1990s this meant simply being 'plug and play' via one all-encompassing USB driver set. Now the landscape is very different and in order to replace everything from HDMI to ThunderBolt and even power ports requires a new way of doing things.

With this in mind, the USB-IF started by changing the very encoding scheme USB uses. In the past USB generations, 8-bit data chunks would be encoded into 10-bit symbols and then passed over the USB interface, then at the other end of the connection this 10-bit encoding would then be decoded into the original 8-bits. The extra 2-bits of data was the sum total of the Error-Correcting Code (ECC) and this amounted to a twenty percent overhead packet loss, thus reducing speeds even further.

With USB 3.1, the USB-IF has moved to a new and highly sophisticated encoding scheme they have dubbed Gen X. The Gen X scheme does things differently and is best compared to how Ethernet transmits data. Much like your wireless Ethernet connection, USB 3.1 packets are much, much larger. Instead of USB 3.0's 10-bit packet that has only 8-bits of data, USB 3.1 sends data packets that contain 128 bits of data. Also like Ethernet, USB 3.1 uses a 'header' that contains the ECC for each packet as well as the instructions for what is inside the packet. This 4 bits of data also has an Error Correction Code built into itself and can be reassembled as long as at least 3 bits are intact.

Obviously this 4+1 ECC is much more advanced than the original 2-bit ECC used in USB 3.0, but also allows USB 3.1 to boast an theoretical overhead of only 3%. This increase in packet size, in-conjunction with better ECC, is precisely how the USB-IF was able to push theoretical maximum speed from 5Gbit/s to 10GBits/s, even though USB 3.1 uses the same 4 data lanes that was first introduced in USB 3.0 specification.


Bulk Only Transport (BoT) Protocol has also been updated and improved. The Bulk Transport protocol is a specific mode meant solely for transporting large amounts of data over USB. Nearly every motherboard gives their take on BoT implementation a different name, but ASUS uses the apt description of 'Turbo Mode'. When enabled, different software drivers are used for USB file transfer. These drivers allow a USB connection to consume as much bandwidth as it can, with little regards for other devices attached, and use greatly increased packet sized. For best results BoT should be used on a clear USB channel with no other devices attached to it.

In previous generations BoT did improve performance somewhat but the end result was extremely variable. In order to improve upon USB 3.0 BoT performance, USB 3.1 not only adds in SCSI command support - to reduce delays between command phases - but also adds in a caching element in which the controller uses a portion of its onboard cache for BoT I/O's. Unfortunately, Command Queuing is still absent and the I/O requests are processed in the order they are received, just as with USB 3.0. As such it is best to only transfer one file at a time using Turbo Mode, otherwise overall performance will suffer.

Interestingly, ASUS' next generation Turbo Mode also supports standard SCSI commands over USB and not just for USB attached SCSI devices (UASP). This is an important feature as next generation Solid State controllers are starting to include SCSI command capabilities, and as such ASUS motherboards may in fact provide improved performance over competitors' models in the future.


A doubling in the performance department is certainly impressive, but sheer speed is only one of the improvements the USB-IF is counting on to eliminate the competition. Up until USB 3.1, a USB port and USB cable could really only be used to transmit USB encoded data. For example, if a consumer wanted to add an external monitor to their system they either had to use a built-in controller and port, or they would have had to purchase USB based external display adapter and controller and use it between the monitor and the computer. USB 3.1 eliminates the need for specialized ports and external 'adapters' - be they displaybased, Ethernet, or other. Instead, monitor outputs, Ethernet cables, and nearly every other connector found on the typical desktop, laptop, and hand held computer can be used via the USB 3.1 port.

USB 3.1 is able to boast such impressive abilities due to a new addition to the actual USB standard. Since USB 3.1 already uses a header for their data packets it was relatively simple to encode in an additional code to tell the 'other end' of the connection that a given packet was not encoded via the USB standard but instead was encoded via some other standard. For example if the header states a given packet is encoded using the DisplayPort standard, the client side of the connection will treat it as an audio/visual package - just as if it was sent via a DisplayPort connector and cable. This new mode is aptly called 'alternate mode' and it can be used on any - or all - of the four data lanes at any given time.


If we use the same display output analogy as above, a compatible monitor both receive audio and video via a single USB 3.1 cable while it is also being used as a USB 3.1/3.0/2.0 hub with a keyboard, mouse, printer, etc also connected to this one cable. Alternately if you use a HDMI to USB adapter cable monitors with 'just' an HDMI port can still use a single cable to connect to the computer - as long as the monitor supports the Mobile High-Definition Link standard.

At this time the DisplayPort and Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) Consortium have already agreed to their perspective standard being used via USB. Meanwhile Ethernet and even PCIe governing bodies are in talks with the USB-IF. For laptop and tablet users, once the "Media Agnostic USB specification and protocol" is finalized, future portable devices may look a great deal sleeker with drastically fewer port types.


Being able to provide audio and visual data via USB is in and of itself very, very interesting, but on its own would have proven to be of limited use for laptops, tablets and other portable devices. To this end, the USB-IF also increased the USB Power Delivery standard.

In previous generations, USB Power Delivery Protocol was limited to a maximum of 5 amps at 5 volts, or 25 watts total. With USB 3.1 this has been increased to a maximum 5amps at 20 volts - or a whopping 100 watts. In theory this means one USB 3.1 port could be used as a power-in port on UltraBook while another is used to power external devices such as monitors, external storage arrays, or even printers.

There has been some confusion regards this new Power Delivery standard and it is not directly tied to the new Type-C port, rather it is tied to the controllers connected to the port and the cables themselves. What this means is that while we could in theory see Type A ports sporting 100 watt capabilities this is unlikely due to their backwards compatibility; using a standard Type A cable would result in a fire hazard with such a massive increase in power flow. Instead 100 watt connections will most likely be reserved for Type-C ports, and Type-C cables. Even then -thanks the auto negotiation chips in the client controller and host controller, not every Type-C cable will be 'allowed' to handle 100 watts of power.
 

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