ASUS Z170-A Skylake Motherboard Review
Typically we start our reviews of a new processor architecture in a straightforward manner: the flagship CPU gets a good going over and then we take a look at a new high end motherboard. With Skylake we are doing things a bit differently. While showing off the best of the best will always lead to a huge number of pageviews, this time we decided to highlight a motherboard that most people will actually look into buying: the affordable ASUS Z170-A.
Our i7-6700K review covered a few key points of the Z170 chipset, its capabilities and the reason for changing socket type from the LGA1150 of the Z97 generation. The change towards the new 1151 socket type was a necessity due to the rather large changes that Intel has brought about in their Skylake architecture. Thereís DDR4 memory, a new high speed DMI 3.0 interface, a move to PCI-E 3.0 lanes on the PCH and the removal of the fully integrated voltage regulator (or FIVR) that made its debut with Haswell. With LGA1511 these voltage regulators have been placed back onto the motherboard. All in all these changes represent one of the largest evolutions in Intelís chipset architecture within the last 4 years.
Even though ASUS' Z170-A resides near the bottom of their upcoming Z170 motherboard lineup, it is meant to compete in one of the most hotly contested corners of the market: the $165 price point. This price straddles the line between budget minded users and so-called gaming / enthusiast products. As such it has to appeal to both groups and be competitive in many, many areas including features and value.
In order to pull off what seems like an impossible feat, ASUS has aimed high and cut very few corners with this board. The Z170-A has a robust all digital 8+2 phase CPU power design, improved overclocking abilities, a high-speed x4 M.2 slot and SATA Express port, USB 3.1 abilities, CrossFire and SLI, a high-quality Intel i219v NIC, 3x3 802.11AC wireless abilities, and all the new BIOS and software suite found on their higher-priced models. The only obvious area ASUS has made any concessions to price is in the use of the aging Realtek ALC892 8-channel HD audio CODEC but the abilities of this audio controller have been upgraded to support DTS audio, and comes with a new pre-filter for higher audio performance. All of this on a $165 motherboard is nothing short of astonishing.
Mix in a new all black PCB with new color scheme, and on the surface there are a lot of promising features given the rater low asking price. However, with such high expectations riding on the Z170-A only time and testing will tell if it can live up to these promises and our understandably high expectations.
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