[section_title title=Introduction & Closer Look]
Introduction & Closer Look
Model: Z170I PRO GAMING
Price: £133.76 @ Amazon UK (At time of review)
At this moment in time, mini ITX motherboards on the Skylake platform are few and far between. Those whom are want to build a miniature power house based on the latest generation of Intel CPUs seem to have a bit of bad luck in the sense that they may have to wait a little while longer. What I have in front of me is one of ASUS’ offerings, the Z170I PRO GAMING. The ‘I’ in the naming is what differentiates the mITX from the ATX motherboard range. It is the first mITX Z170 motherboard that has been tested at Play3r, so it will be very interesting to see how it performs and just how well it stacks up against its far larger brother, the Z170 PRO GAMING. The ITX market has really taken off in a big way, and with more people making the switch every day, there’s a call for a decent ITX motherboard. Will the ASUS Z170I PRO GAMING be the one for your basket? Let’s take a look and find out!
Carrying forth the ‘PRO GAMING’ colour scheme from its ATX counterpart, the miniature motherboard is no exception. A subtle red, black and grey colour combination is exactly what defines an ASUS product in the present market. If you read our review of the Maximus VIII Hero, you’ll quickly notice that I am actually very fond of the change and I am glad to see it incorporated elsewhere in the brand. Like all manufacturers, ASUS has managed to cram a lot of stuff on to this ITX motherboard, and it never fails to impress me just how much stuff can go into such a tiny space. It has everything that an ATX motherboard does, including an M.2 PCI-E slot (which you’ll see later on), on-board audio, a fully-fletched VRM design and four SATA 6 Gbps ports to boot. As it is a Z170 board, it natively supports multiplier overclocking as well. To top it off, there’s also a wireless solution built on to the board, which is 802.11AC capable, and there’s also a Bluetooth adapter too.
In order to overclock, you need a reliable voltage delivery to the CPU and you also need to ensure that it doesn’t draw so much power that your new motherboard will end up as a hot pile of silicone after a prolonged and heavy load is placed on the CPU. Even though the Z170I PRO GAMING does not deploy a daughter board like we’ve seen in previous ‘Impact’ motherboards in the past, it still features a nine phase power design, which would handle some of the most hefty overclocks you could throw at it, even when you’re doing some extreme overclocking with more than just air or water cooling. Furthermore, within this shot you can also see the two fan headers for your CPU cooling and/or your chassis fan(s). They are both PWM (4 pin) and are both controllable via the BIOS or the ASUS software suite.
With this being an ITX board, there is of course little room for anything more than two DIMM slots. This however should bode well in the motherboard’s efficiency as the DIMMs are so close to the CPU, which means that the traces are smaller and therefore the latency is reduced. However, that is not the only strong point of them being closer to the CPU socket as it usually allows for faster memory clocks as well as lower latency, which brings us further increases to the performance level. Also within the shot are the four SATA 6 Gbps ports and a SATAe (SATA Express) port. The front panel connectors are between the SATA and 24 pin power connections, and below the SATAe port is a USB 3.0 header.
Being an ITX motherboard, there is of course only room for one expansion slot, and that is naturally going to be a fully fletched x16 PCI-E 3.0 slot. There’s something else that this motherboard has to offer, but we will get to that in a minute. For now, let’s also focus on the soundcard region of the motherboard, which is in the bottom left of the board that is conveniently right next to the port for absolutely minimal delay (although, let’s be honest, can you ever notice a delay?). The sound processor is of course a part of the ASUS-exclusive SupremeFX series that promises to delivery near perfect audio, no matter what. Being in its own isolated part of the motherboard, like nearly all and if not all motherboards that are coming to market in today’s age, it helps to reduce EMI (Electromagnetic Interference) which can affect the sound purity and clarity. The sound processor that makes up this SupremeFX configuration is the Realtek ALC1150.
This is usually the part where we’d be taking a look at the IO, but we have to flip over the motherboard to show off the M.2 PCI-E slot which supports both a SATA and a PCI-E based drive. As there is only one x16 lane on this motherboard, it would make sense for the M.2 slot to use some of the PCI-E lanes as they are much faster than the PCH lanes. However, it is with some regret that I have to inform you that it does indeed come from the slower PCH lanes. Performance shouldn’t be impacted too much, though, so fear not!
With the motherboard turned the right way up once more, we can take a proper look at the IO to find out what the board has to offer. Even though it is extremely dated and a lot of you may not use it, there’s a legacy PS/2 combination port for either a mouse or a keyboard. The display outputs consist of a single DisplayPort and a HDMI port which are capable of delivering up to 4096×2160 @ 24 Hz and 4096×2304 @ 60 Hz respectively. The essential LAN port is driven by the Intel I219V that has the GameFirst technology as well as anti-surge protection. USB 3.1 is a big thing that everyone is adopting quickly, so it is rather fitting that there are two (red ports) Type-A ports available. Four USB 3.0 ports are also present along with two USB 2.0 ports which are very useful for those whom do not have an XHCI version of Windows 7 (if you’re installing 7) available. There are five audio jacks and an optical S/PDIF out that is powered by the SupremeFX sound circuitry that was discussed a little earlier. Finally, there are also two Wi-Fi antenna ports that are up to 802.11AC compatible. Gaming via Wi-Fi is something a lot of people don’t want to do, but in some cases it cannot be avoided. Having a top notch Wi-Fi solution is the only way to combat the little bit of added lag that you get from the Wi-Fi.
Accessories, accessories everywhere! So, what is it that you get in the box aside from the motherboard? Let’s have a gander!
M.2 2242 mounting kit
4 x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s)
1 x M.2 Screw Package
1 x CPU installation tool
1 x Supporting DVD
1 x 12 in 1 Cable Label (s)