Introduction & Closer Look
The Sabertooth name has been around for some time now, which has brought the symbol of reliability forward from all generations going all the way back to the days of Nehalem – Intel X58 (LGA 1366) for those who aren’t familiar with the name. Since then, we have seen little variation to the overall design in terms of what the Sabertooth brings to the market, but we have seen the white Sabertooth that ASUS brought out to cater for those on the ‘every PCB must be white’ craze. I’m all for it in all honesty, and more boards need to come to market with the white colour scheme in mind. Black and red is so yesteryear, which ASUS thankfully acknowledged on their ROG (Maximus/Rampage) line of motherboards. Anyhow, that’s a discussion I’d better not begin, so I will not anger the black/red fans, but rather talk about this product that is in front of me on my table today. What does the Sabertooth Z170 Mark 1 bring to the fight other than its thermal armour and increased durability components (more on that later)?
The looks which the Sabertooth brings is a bit of a Marmite situation to the majority of us in the enthusiast world. Some people swear by it and think that it is the best thing to happen to the motherboard industry since ever, others absolutely despise it. I will be the first to admit that I wasn’t a fan of it in the first few iterations where I saw it, but it has grown upon me and taken a place in my heart. Looks aren’t everything to some people, component choice on the board itself is often considered more important. If you’re one of those people then check out the specs of the Sabertooth Mark 1 later in this review and see if that wets your appetite a little. Most of the motherboards are the same in this spectrum of the market. They (mostly) have the same parts compared with their counterparts from both the same and other manufacturers alike in this sort of price bracket. However, what is a little different is the actual component choice that ASUS have gone with in order to make this one pass the ‘TUF’ certification that ASUS drew up many moons ago. It stands for ‘The Ultimate Force‘ which namely brings increased durability and reliability. The way in which they do this is by using superior quality components (not to say that the rest is inferior and should be avoided!) specifically designed for these TUF boards.
Okay, okay … enough jibber jabber, fool! It is time to open up the box and take a look at the TUF board to find out just how ‘TUF’ it really is. No … I will not be doing some crazy acrobatics on top of it or anything like that. Probably because I’m not the most nimble person out there, but hey.
Here is the ASUS Sabertooth Z170 Mark 1 in all of its glory, a frontal view is up first and foremost.
On the back of the motherboard, we find another shield which is aimed at keeping the motherboard from flexing too much. It also serves a dual purpose as it keeps the back MOSFETs cool as it is a giant piece of metal. It’s for more than just aesthetics, which is always a bonus in anyone’s books.
This is the thermal strip which adds cooling to the back of the motherboard, as you can see it covers all of them in their entirety, although one almost missed the strip.
As frequent readers of my motherboard reviews, you most likely have gotten used to the fact that I disassemble the motherboards to show you what is under the covers and to get a little more up close to the product itself. The Sabertooth was a little more annoying to take apart as there was a significantly higher amount of screws to take out, but it is always worth it for you, the readers. This is the front shroud which you can paint to your hearts content, but I’d honestly keep it standard as it just looks so darn fine as it is.
The back shroud on its own is actually a heavy piece of metal which I mentioned earlier. This is what it looks like detached from the motherboard.
As you can see, the VRM heatsink is anything but appealing to look at, but it is covered up by the shroud which means it is optimised for cooling instead of for aesthetics. Motherboards of today often compromise between the two, but this appears to be a design which bodes heavily in the favour of performance over looks.
First initial thoughts may be from you guys wondering if the thermals are affected in a negative way by covering up the motherboard, therefore effectively eliminating the airflow over crucial components. The thermal armour actually has the opposite effect as it allows the motherboard to draw cool air from the bottom and through the laws of physics, allow the warmer air to rise which in turn sucks in more cool air from below. One such example can be seen by the VRM of segment of the motherboard, which is incidentally what we are going to look at right now. If you saw the link which I provided a little further up with regards to the TUF brand, you’ll know that the phases are constructed out of a variety of high-end components such as the TUF 10K Ti-Caps and the TUF New Alloy Chokes which offer 20% better temperature tolerance and are 13.6% cooler for better durability in their own respective right. In further addition to the Ti-Caps and the new chokes, there are also TUF MOSFETs which are supposedly military-grade certified, thus adding to the overall theme of durability and stability that TUF is built upon. Overall, we have a massive twelve power phases to feed the Skylake CPU that would be sat in your socket. This should provide more than enough power and be able to maintain stable voltage regulation, even when you’re pushing some insane clock speeds.
There is a little shutter which you can either open or close yourself, in order to aid the cooling of the motherboard. It is my belief that they should be in certain positions based on the cooling type that you are using, but extra airflow can never be a bad thing, so I’d probably stick with them in the open position just because I can.
There are of course four DIMM slots on the Sabertooth, which come in a funky light brown and dark brown colour (just like the PCI-E lanes below) that give the motherboard more of a military orientated feeling. Just like any other motherboard, they can support masses of RAM and at high frequencies to match. As per the specs, it officially supports up to 2400 MHz RAM, but I can assure you that it can go much, much higher. The maximum amount of RAM which you can install into the Sabertooth is just like any other Z170 board, 64GB to be exactly. Boards with only two instead of four DIMMs are naturally excluded from that list, before you clever folk try to sass me! One thing which I would have typically expected to see in this area of the motherboard is an LED debugger, but there isn’t one around, or on the board at all for that matter. It’s a little bit of a shame, and I am not entirely sure why that’s the case, but it was ASUS’ choice to leave it off of the motherboard, so we must respect their wishes. It’s not too serious, but it is an extremely useful feature on any motherboard. ASUS have included basic debugging tools, though. They are a little further down on the board, by the SATA ports.
SATA expansion is going to be a thing of the past in a couple of years in my mind, but many of us still require at least a few ports, be it for our SSD/HDD storage or even our optical drive(s) for those who still have one (them). Whilst we are over here, I suppose it would be a good time to cover the debugging feature that I mentioned in the previous paragraph. ASUS have gone back to the old school days whereby we can only get a rough pointer as to what is holding the system up from booting. The LED debugger is by far more precise, but there seemingly wasn’t any available real estate to solder one on. No worries, this will do us just fine. Motherboards reset themselves fantastically well these days, so it is my hope that they are rarely needed, if at all. The only time that they should be needed is when installing a new bit of hardware doesn’t go quite as smooth as it should.
Back in the old days of the Sabertooth, the some of the PCI-E lanes used to be covered up with dust covers, as did the DRAM slots for that matter, and that is no different on today’s Sabertooth. They are provided with our sample (as you can see in the accessories picture at the bottom) but they are not installed to show you the PCI-E slots rather than a bunch of covers. Either way, what we have is a full PCI-E layout consisting of three PCI-E x16 (x16, x8 and x4) lanes which you can use for multi-GPU setups consisting of up to four AMD or four NVIDIA GPUs in CrossFireX and SLI respectively. Using up to four GPUs does of course mean that you will need two GPUs on one card, such as a R9 295X2 or the TITAN Z (yeah, as if!) The bottom lane is actually provided by the PCH and shares its bandwidth with some of the SATA 6Gbps ports, namely port numbers five and six. It defaults to x2 which is not enough to meet the minimum level that NVIDIA require for multi-GPU support. It will however power a third AMD card if you wish, but the scaling is often terrible after two cards at the best of times.
The Sabertooth itself is feature rich and provides us with a lot of connectivity within the chassis itself, and the rear I/O is absolutely no different. To start off with, we have a stack of four USB 2.0 ports, the TUF Detective port and the BIOS Flashback button (very useful!) that is followed by a DisplayPort as well as an HDMI port. There are two LAN ports on the Sabertooth, both of which are powered by two separate controllers. One of the ports is driven by the Intel I219V controller and the other by a Realtek RTL8111H controller. I’m not one hundred percent sure on the reasoning behind using two different controllers, but I believe they can be paired up to give you something that is called Turbo LAN, from which I am sure you can gather that it means more throughput and lower latencies to match by using both ports simultaneously. Underneath the Ethernet ports, we have a variety of USB ports, all of which are of USB 3.0 or above specifications. In blue we have the USB 3.0 ports (one of which can be switched to support the USB BIOS Flashback feature) and in teal we have a USB 3.1 Type-A connection with a USB 3.1 Type-C connection beneath it. Last of all, we have the audio connectivity which is driven by the Realtek ALC1150 chipset.
Accessories are in no way a shortfall of the Sabertooth. You get an entire assortment of goodies, which consist of the following bits:
4 x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s)
1 x M.2 Screw Package
1 x CPU installation tool
1 x Supporting DVD
1 x HYPERM.2 X4 with M Key design, type 2230/2242/2260/2280/22110 storage devices support (Support PCIE SSD only)
1 x SLI bridge(s)
1 x Q-connector(s) (1 in 1)
2 x Accessory Fan(s) ( 35 /40 mm )
1 x TUF Certification card(s)
1 x TUF 5 Year Warranty manual(s) (by region)
1 x TUF Inside sticker(s)(white)
1 x STAY COOL BE TUF sticker(s)(white)
1 x Bead Chain for Metalic Cover