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ASUS Z170-Pro Skylake Motherboard Review

SKYMTL

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Over the past few months we have been testing what seems like an endless number of Z170 motherboards from a wide range of manufactures and a quite a few price points. However, in all those reviews we keep coming back to a few very specific models to use as the benchmarks upon which all others are judged. For budget minded consumers there are two models which stand head and shoulders above the rest thus far: the ASUS Maximus VIII Gene, and the ASUS Z170-A. Neither are perfect, but with their combination of arguably the most polished BIOS and software package available, a good list of features, and good (for their price range) power delivery systems these two models are hard to beat.

While both are very good at what they do and with asking prices of $210 and $160 there is however a rather wide gulf between them. More importantly, the $170-$180 price range is the most hotly contested niche this generation, and neither the less expensive Z170-A nor the over $200 RoG Maximus VIII Gene are necessarily optimal fits for this specific bracket. This is because the buyers who make up this corner of the marketplace may indeed be very budget conscious but they don’t necessarily want the least expensive board they can find. Rather, they don’t mind spending a few extra dollars if it will net them a noticeably “better” motherboard with some extra features.

Recently we took a long hard look at the MSI Gaming M5 and the Gigabyte Z170 Gaming 5 and found them both to be reasonable options for this class of consumer.

Not one to rest on their laurels, or let a noticeably large group of sales go to the competition, ASUS has finally fired back with their answer to the Gaming 5 twins: the Z170-Pro. Coming in at around $180, this model carefully threads the needle between the more expensive RoG Gene, and the rather frugally priced Z170-A.

In order to do this ASUS has started with the inexpensive Z170-A motherboard design and built <i>up</i> instead of using the RoG Gene (or Hero) and cutting down to this price point. With just a quick glance at the specifications consumers could be forgiven for mistaking the Pro for the -A model, as the refinements and improvements are subtle.

To reinforce this “A Plus” impression ASUS has even kept the rather aesthetically pleasing black and white design that caught our eye the first time we saw the Z170-A. However, make no mistake this, the Z170-Pro is the more feature rich model and promises to be the more overclocking friendly board. For a mere twenty dollars’ extra consumers can expect to find an additional PCIe x1 slot (four to the Z170-A’s three), a vastly superior on-board sound solution (ALC1150 based instead of ALC892), an upgraded USB 3.1 controller (Intel-based instead of ASMedia), and best of all vastly superior DDR4 support (DDR4-3866 vs DDR4-3400).

Mix in the same three year warranty, robust all digital 8+2 phase CPU power design of the Z170-A, a high-speed x4 M.2 slot and SATA Express port, USB 3.1 abilities, CrossFire and SLI, a high-quality Intel i219v NIC, as well as the same award winning BIOS and software package and on paper a mere twenty-dollar additional investment looks awfully damn tempting. However, the main competition of the ASUS Z170-Pro are the MSI Gaming M5 and the Gigabyte Gaming 5. As such throughout this review we will be constantly judging its merits based upon these two models – and not just the Z170-A.

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Motherboard/Z170-PRO/mfg.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>
 
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SKYMTL

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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories



The ASUS Z170-Pro motherboard's package obviously shares its design with that of the Z170-A. This should come as no surprise as both are Z170 series motherboards, and both are oriented towards similar – if not exactly the same – customer: the value orientated end of the market.

Just like the previous Z170-A, the front of Z170-Pro's packaging 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; while the back of the box has a nice breakdown of the Z170-Pro's features and what it has to offer consumers.


This trend continues to the inside since once you open the box up the inner area contains two separate sections with the top half securing the motherboard in an anti-static bag, and the bottom half holding the accessories, software and documentation.


As you can see the included accessories list is rather sparse which is par for the course for a sub-$200 motherboard. However, while sparse the included accessory list does cover all the bases nicely. In total the Z170-Pro comes with a user manual, installation guide, driver and software DVD, a nicely upgraded rear I/O shield, four standard SATA 6Gb/s cables, and 2-way SLI bridge connector.


As an added bonus, and something which helps separate the Z170-Pro from its main competition, ASUS has included 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-Pro.


To use the Installation Tool 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 processor in the socket and letting it 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.
 

SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the Z170-Pro

A Closer Look at the Z170-Pro



As you can see above, the layout and design of the ASUS Z170-Pro is not only clean and extremely user-friendly but it is also very, very similar to that of the less expensive Z170-A. This is not an accident and certainly not a coincidence since this ‘Professional’ motherboard is best described as an upgraded A-Series model. Considering this board costs more than the Z170-A this one fact alone will certainly annoy some potential buyers but there are certainly some improvements here that you need to take note of before passing judgment.


The similarity does however leave the door open for the competition who have done something similar but – gasp – actually took the time to bake numerous concrete improvements into their -Pro versions. In addition, they didn’t cynically handicap their entry level models as badly as ASUS has. In either case we are going to show you what ASUS has changed from the -A to create the -Pro and show how it stacks up against other similarly priced models. We do feel it necessary to give all hardcore ASUS fans notice that this is their one and only trigger warning.

When compared to the competition the Z170-Pro does come out the worst for it in many areas… but not in all. Instead ASUS has focused in on a few key areas and have cynically made these improvements the justification for this being a ‘Professional’ model. In many ways they are indeed correct since the Z170-Pro is indeed the better motherboard and does justify its twenty-dollar premium over the Z170-A, but not necessarily for everyone and every scenario.


So where are the stand-outs? First and foremost is unlike the Gigabyte Gaming 5 no one will ever accuse the ASUS Z170-Pro of being ugly, garish, or anything other than the elegant looking motherboard it truly is. The combination of black PCB, with silver heatsinks, and white fascia is a winning one. For the record, this is the exact same color scheme the -A uses… right down to the same abbreviated white plastic IO fascia at the back.

For the most part we have no issues with this decision as the Z170-A is arguably one of the best looking entry level Z170 motherboards available today. However, when compared against the similarly priced boards there a few things missing that keep the Z170-Professional from knocking things out of the park.


ASUS has not kept up with the competition and unlike the MSI Gaming M5, this board lacks metal reinforcements on the PCI-E slots. The actual usefulness of this feature is debatable and the PCI-E slot spacing on the Pro is quite good but something like this may just sway some potential buyers the other way.


Moving on, there are actually some differences in the layout and design of the Z170-Pro when compared to the Z170-A, some of which are good, some not so good, and some downright odd. Let’s start with odd decisions first.
Unlike the Z170-A which comes equipped with four 4-pin chassis fan connectors the more expensive Z170-Pro only has three. We doubt many will actually care about this reduction, but considering this is the more expensive motherboard it is odd to see less features here. Thankfully ASUS did include the dual 4-pin CPU headers and the 4-pin water pump fan header – all of which combine to be best in class even when compared against more expensive motherboards.

Another feature that has been removed is the serial COM port. Though once again this removal is simply odd and not necessarily that big a concern. Few will ever miss it, but those who do will be greatly annoyed considering this is – allegedly – the ‘Professional’ model.


Those are missing features that can be considered mere oddities and while we do not wish to hazard a guess why ASUS felt the need to remove them we do have to wonder why it was done. Sadly, the decision to remove features is not limited to mere oddities and for some the Z170-Pro will feel like anything but a Pro-grade model. To be specific there are three key features of the Z170-A that were removed and had no business being dropped.

Of these three the most egregious is the loss of the EZ-XMP switch. This switch not only allows for the RAM’s ‘XMP’ profile to be enabled but sometimes allows problematic memory to start working and stop hanging the system on POST without having to resort to the memOK! nuclear option. If all that was not enough ASUS also removed the Power On button from the motherboard, further making overclocking just that much more difficult.

The TPU overclocking switch has also been removed. Thankfully, this loss is not all that important as during POST users can still implement it via the HotKey OC feature – i.e. pressing Control and the ‘T’ key. Still these features certainly belong on a Professional model and their absence is noticeable.

Interestingly these features weren’t not dropped to make room on the board for other components like an on-board LED debug panel or similarly basic features. While it is arguable that such a feature is not overly necessary on an entry level model, the lack of a diagnostic panel on the board does put this so called Professional model at a distinct disadvantage when compared to alternatives like the MSI Gaming M5 and Gigabyte Gaming 5.
 

SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the Z170-Pro pg.2

A Closer Look at the Z170-Pro pg.2



While the first Closer Look page held a few questionable omissions from this board, there are plenty of positives here as well, many of which are features you won’t find on the Z170-A. First and foremost, the RAM abilities of the Z170-Pro have been upgraded. Instead of maxing out at official DDR4-3400 support, the Pro goes all the way to DDR4-3866. For most this difference will not mean much, as even DDR4-3400 is still expensive and the actual usefulness of that additional speed bin is minimal in most applications but this increase does help justify the ‘Pro’ moniker.


ASUS has also decided to drop the ALC892 audio codec and is instead using the much, much more capable ALC1500. This codec is arguably the most optimal choice available today for a wide swath of listeners. When combined with the Pro’s premium Japanese capacitors, a Texas Instruments RC45801P op-amp, a low dropout pre-regulator noise filter, and an EMI shield for the ALC1500’s 8-channel audio controller, this onboard sound solution should easily be able to justify the moderate increase over the Z170-A’s asking price all by itself. Of course by the same token for a narrow subset of users this setup may take a back seat to the Gigabyte Gaming 5’s removable OP-AMP design.


ASUS Z170-Pro has dropped the PCI slot too (and its ASMedia ASM1083 controller) and instead has four PCI-E x1 slots instead of just three. It is debatable whether this change is for the better or for the worse. For most consumers the additional x1 slot may actually come in handy, but for others the loss of flexibility towards slightly older but still very good sound cards and the like may not be a good thing. We personally think more options are better, but the days of PCI cards are well in the past.

The rest of the onboard features and layout is basically the same as the Z170-A. This means that in addition to the missing debug LED panel this motherboard lacks some features that the competition has included on their competing solutions. For example, the Pro doesn’t have MSI’s cutting edge ‘Slow Switch’ which can come in handy for overclockers. While ASUS does not implement this feature on any of their standard models, they certainly could have included the ReTry and Safe Boot buttons found on some of their more expensive models. Also lacking in comparison to the MSI Gaming M5 are the voltage read points. These read points are mainly for enthusiasts, but by very definition are not enthusiasts ‘Professionals’ in their domain?


Compared to the Gigabyte Gaming 5, the ASUS Z170-Pro is not only missing OC and ECO buttons for easy mode switching, but a secondary BIOS chip is also MIA. If ASUS had included the retry and safe boot buttons found on a model like the Gene this would not be such a big deal, but since they did not, it is a potentl deal breaker for enthusiasts. Having to rely upon BIOS bounceback is not an optimal solution, especially when ASUS offers better solutions on slightly more expensive models.

ASUS doesn’t even include a Clear CMOS button, and instead just like MSI and Gigabyte expects users to jump pins to clear the CMOS. This is a lost opportunity that would not have cost all that much to implement and would have helped justify the loss of some of the more minor features we went over earlier (less fan headers, no COM port and so on).


When competing against both MSI’s and Gigabyte’s Gaming 5 models, the ASUS-Pro is also missing a secondary x4 M.2 port. However, the one M.2 port they have included is more versatile, more useable, and generally better. Not only can it accommodate extra-long 110mm M.2 SSDs (which will not fit on either MSI or Gigabyte motherboards in this price range) its location is simply more sensible. Its position right next to the six SATA ports on the motherboard’s edge of the motherboard is much more optimal than in-between x16 PCI-E slots. Simply put a M.2 drive on the ASUS Z170-Pro will potentially have access to more air flow and is less likely to be blocked by either GPUs or a large CPU cooling solution.


Continuing on with our comparison of storage options, the ASUS Z170-Pro maintains the A-model’s SATA and SATA Express port count. This means six SATA 6Gb/s ports and a single SATA Express port, all of which are directly connected to the Intel Z170 PCH.

Once again this puts the Z170-Pro at a distinct disadvantage against both MSI and Gigabyte. Their respective Gaming 5 motherboards may indeed only have six SATA ports, but they either double the number of SE ports to two (MSI Gaming M5), or push it all the way to three (Gigabyte Gaming 5). Few users will ever actually use a SATA-Express port, but all things being equal more options are the hallmark of a truly professional motherboard.


The rear I/O options are also decent, bordering on excellent, but the options ASUS has included is either the same as what the competition offer, or is (in some cases) losing out. Just like the Gigabyte Gaming 5, the ASUS Z170-Pro offers HDMI, DVI-D, and DisplayPort, all three offer a similar number of USB 2.0 ports (2), USB 3.0 ports (2), and even the same number of USB 3.1 ports (1 Type-A and 1 Type-C). However, this is where things get tricky.


First and foremost is ASUS has quietly dropped the ASMedia ASM1142 USB3.1 controller from the Pro and Premium models – the A and Deluxe will still rely upon the ASMedia chipset. Instead of using ASMedia, and just like the Gigabyte Gaming 5, the ASUS Z170-A makes use of the recently released Intel "Alpine Ridge" USB3.1 controller. This controller not only promises to be more powerful and efficient than the ASM1142 but it also should be better supported. As an added bonus it can – if the manufacturer so chooses – pull double duty as a ThunderBolt 3 controller.

Unfortunately, ASUS will not be implementing Thunderbolt support on the Z170-Pro and only higher priced models will receive the necessary firmware updated to switch ThunderBolt 3 features on. Disappointingly ASUS has paired this highly potent controller with the ETRON EJ179V USB 3.1 DP 2.0 controller that can only provide a maximum of 15 watts (3amps @ 5 volts) over the Type-C port, which is actually similar to what Gigabyte has but no better. In either case this makes the Z170-Pro superior to MSI’s Gaming M5 which still relies upon ASMedia’s USB 3.1 controller.
 

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A Closer Look at the Z170-Pro pg.3

A Closer Look at the Z170-Pro pg.3



Balancing out the Pro’s substantial USB 3.1 abilities is the fact that a secondary NIC is hasn’t been added but that’s par for the course with the only exception at this price point being the Gigabyte Gaming 5. It is also debatable whether or not the included Intel i219v controller is superior to MSI’s use of a Killer E2400 NPU . What is not debatable is that Gigabyte also uses the i219v but then also includes the Killer E2201 NPU – thus granting users the luxury of choosing which option is more optimal for them. Once again, this does put the Z170-Pro at a disadvantage.


On the positive side, the quantity and layout of the front USB 3.0 headers is superior to both of the competition’s offerings. Unlike the MSI Gaming M5, ASUS has included two USB 3.0 front panel headers instead of just one. Equally important, and unlike Gigabyte’s Gaming 5, the location of the two USB 3.0 headers is almost near perfect. One is located in its usual position at the leading edge of the motherboard next to the 24-pin connector, and the other at the bottom edge near the front panel header.


All three motherboards we have been discussing come equipped with custom base clock controllers. All three are very capable and allow for downright insane base clock settings, but in the case of ASUS and their Pro Clock, the range is better. While it is debatable whether or not anyone other than extreme overclockers will ever take advantage of the slightly increased base clock range ASUS offers, it is another add-on some will appreciate.


The Z170-Pro’s power delivery system and socket area are quite interesting as well but no different from the Z170-A’s. Cynical consumers may consider this lack of further improvement to be a sign of ASUS just phoning it in with the Z170-Pro. In either case 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 heatsink mounting issues, beyond marring the overall aesthetics and possibly causing problems for LN2 users.


More importantly, 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-Pro still has a very robust power sub-system.

More to the point, while the capacitor life is less than what MSI and their ‘military grade V’ system uses, and the chokes are not quite as efficient, the fact that ASUS uses an all-digital setup puts this section light years ahead of MSI and Gigabyte – both of which rely upon older Intersil ‘hybrid’ controllers.


The only minor misstep is that the two heatsinks responsible for cooling the VRMs are held in place with push pins while the plastic fascia and Z170 PCH uses screws.


Also just like the Z170-A, the motherboard’s back isn’t quite 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 two of the power delivery ICs on the back.

On the positive side the four DDR4 memory slots support overclocked memory frequencies up to DDR4-3866, and make use of their own all-digital power delivery system.


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.

Overall the layout and design of this motherboard is not perfect, but what it does do it does very well.
 

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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.


As with the Z170-A, when users first enter the Z170-Pro’s BIOS they are greeted by the EZ-Mode setup. As the name suggests EZ Mode boasts a simplified layout and features a mouse-friendly GUI 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, in this section 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 combo header, this feature is more important than ever as not everyone will use that connection 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.

This EZ Mode is instantly responsive to your input commands and there is a distinct lack of 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.


Also just like the Z170-A, when someone does 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' 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.

It is here is where you will find the largest difference between the Z170-A and the Z170-Pro. Simply put the RAM options are just as good as they are on much more expensive ASUS motherboards. They aren’t hobbled in the least like they are on the less Z170-A and this alone makes the minor differences in price well worth the investment if you are looking into higher spec memory modules.


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 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. This motherboard can now read display S.M.A.R.T information from any connected SMART enabled storage device as well. 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.


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 / DIP 5)

Included Software (AI Suite III / Dual Intelligent Processors 5)


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 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 automatic overclocking abilities of this board are found under the Dual Intelligent Processors 5 application and then by 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 accomplish even when paired up with 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 and 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 frequency 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 regard.


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

Hardware Installation


In order to test how different hardware combinations will fit onto the ASUS Z170-Pro, we installed a Noctua NH-U12S, an 8GB dual channel kit of G.Skill DDR4 RipJaws V memory, and an ASUS GTX 780 video card.


The GTX 780 is a long length, dual slot GPU so it should so it should provide a good reference for other premium video cards and highlight any spacing issues. The NH-U12S is a moderately sized aftermarket CPU cooler so it should provide a good reference for other coolers so we can see if there any clearance issues around the CPU socket. We installed the memory in the two sockets closest to the CPU to insure clearance with 4 DIMMs.


Since this motherboard uses the Z170-A’s layout and design as its foundation it comes as no surprise to see that it has nearly the same list of positive and negative attributes. For example, the space between the four DIMMS and the CPU socket area is somewhat limited but is fairly average for this price range. The amount of room may be less than that of a Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 5 but there should be no clearance issues with all slots populated with standard height RAM.


By that same token, and unlike the Ggigabyte Gaming 5, the moment consumers try and use DDR4 with higher than normal heatsinks, potential installation issues may start to creep in. Since we were using a rather thin air based CPU cooling solution there were no issues but larger CPU cooling solutions - like Noctua’s D14/D15 – will most likely overhang the innermost DIMMs. If you do opt for non-standard height modules, proper heatsink selection will be paramount.


Also like the Z170-A, and for that matter basically every Z170 motherboard tested to date, if your RAM actually requires active cooling, you may want to think long and hard about opting for a water based solution as there isn’t enough room to fit both a large CPU cooling solution and memory cooling devices. Even thin tower coolers like the Noctua U12S are not going to be overly happy with a portion of their fan blocked by the memory cooler.

On the positive side the rather low profile MOSFET heatsinks should pose no problems with most tower based coolers. However, due to the fact they wrap around two sides, and the memory encompasses a third, the amount of room for physically installing larger tower cooler hardware is limited.


Switching from air to water cooling proved much more uneventful as there is more than enough room between the waterblock and its adjacent components.


Once again the gap is rather small and larger water blocks could be a tricky proposition, but installing a typically designed block should prove to be much easier than installing a tower cooler. For novice users an AIO would be a great compromise between performance and ease of installation.


Thanks to the PCI-E slot layout there will be plenty of room between the CPU socket and GPU. By moving the first 16x slot down one space, and using an x1 for the first slot instead, ASUS has neatly sidestepped any potential problems between the two core components. We wish more companies used such a layout as it should be the de-facto standard. The 24-pin ATX power connector and the 8-pin CPU power connector are also well placed, so that makes assembling and disassembling the system just a tad easier.


Also noteworthy, is even though this a relatively inexpensive motherboard the PCI-E layout means it can easily accommodate dual and even triple slot graphics cards. However, as with most Z170 motherboards we have looked at recently there are going to be issues with SATA devices and long video cards.


Basically, if you use a long video card – or cards – with this motherboard expect to have to plug in the SATA and SATA Express cables first. Doing otherwise will result in a lot of frustration. Specifically, if the main PCI-E 3.0 x16 slot is used it will cover the rightmost SATA ports and possibly the rightmost SATA Express port (especially if a triple slot GPU is used). If a video card is installed the secondary PCI-E 3.0 x16 slot the other SATA ports will be at least partially covered, and accessing the M.2 slot will be damn near impossible. As such if you plan on using the M.2 port and the secondary x16 PCI-E slot first install the M.2 SSD, as doing otherwise will result in unnecessary frustration.

Even with the minor issues taken into consideration the Z170-Pro is pretty good for its price range. It may not be perfect, but as long as you are aware of the few minor potential problems - and take them into account when making your other hardware component section - you shouldn’t run into any major problems.

Sadly, this is not the ringing endorsement it appears to be. Simply put, the layout and design of the ASUS Z170-Pro is not noticeably better than the less expensive Z170-A, and is arguably worse than similarly priced models from the competition. This is what happens when companies recycle lower priced designs.
 

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