ASUS B150 PRO GAMING/AURA Motherboard Review
When it comes to Skylake LGA1151 platform, the overwhelming bulk of our coverage has been focused on the Z170 chipset. The reasons for that are numerous, it is the only chipset on which overclocking is enabled, it supports the highest number of PCI-E lanes and PCI-E slots, it can handle more native USB 2.0/3.0 ports, and it also features RAID capabilities. These are all great selling points in favour of the Z170 PCH, but that single chip can cost motherboard manufacturers up to $47. That is a pretty hefty piece of the pie when you're trying to build a motherboard with a $100 to $130 price tag. This is where Intel's more mass-market chipsets come into play.
While there are numerous other consumer chipset options - Q170, H170, B150, H110 - it is the B150 PCH that has been most widely adopted by the motherboard industry as the lower-priced alternative to the Z170 models. While the end result is motherboards that cost less money, they also have less capabilities. As mentioned above, the biggest drawback is the total lack of overclocking, which is highlighted by the fact that even the memory speed is locked to DDR4-2133.
Another noteworthy restriction is the fact that the CPU's sixteen PCI-E 3.0 lanes cannot be split across multiple PCI-E slots, so they are all directed to the first PCI-E x16 slot that usually houses the graphics card. Not only does this preclude any multiple GPU configurations, but it means that the remaining PCI-E slots and high speed I/O interfaces must derive their PCI-E lanes from the B150 PCH. While the Z170 PCH has 20 of its own PCI-E lanes, the B150 only has 8, so there can be bandwidth constraints as you will see later on in this review.
Having said all of that, when you consider that most users don't overclock, and even fewer are interested in CrossFire or SLI, affordable B150 motherboards might just be what the doctor ordered. Furthermore, if we were to pick a single motherboard to make case for the B150 chipset, the ASUS B150 PRO GAMING/AURA that we are reviewing today would be it. This $130 USD / $170 CAD model is a direct descendant of the very well reviewed Z170 PRO GAMING, while also featuring the brand new AURA RGB LED lighting effects.
These RGB LEDs are integrated into the chipset cooler and top-right edge of the motherboard, and they can be controlled using the new Lighting Control utility. These lights can be adjusted to any number of different colours and customized to create cool lighting effects, like pulsating with the beat of your music, cycling through all the colours, fading in and out, flash on and off, or just statically displaying one colour. There are also solid red LEDs integrated into the audio isolation line, and they can also be set to a number of different effects.
When it comes to actual specs, this model features a 10-phase CPU power design, one physical PCI-E 3.0 x16 slot operating at x16, one physical PCI-E 3.0 x16 slot operating at x4, two PCI-E 3.0 x1 slots, two PCI slots, six SATA 6Gb/s ports, and one M.2 connector that is linked to a PCI-E 3.0 x2 interface. There are also high-speed USB 3.1 Type-A and Type-C ports, four USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, as well as headers for up six additional USB 2.0/3.0 ports.
This model also features a single gigabit LAN port powered by a Intel controller, and both DisplayPort and VGA video outputs for those who plan on making use of the CPU's integrated graphics. Onboard audio is provided by a SupremeFX implementation that is powered by a Realtek ALC1150 ten-channel codec and that is protected by its own EMI cover, Nichicon audio-grade capacitors, a headphone amplifier, and the whole sound subsystem is isolated from the rest of the system by an audio separation line on the PCB. Rounding things out, you will find small extras like four 4-pin PWM fan headers, a dedicated water pump header, a socketed BIOS chip, and a rich software suite that will be examining thoroughly.
The real question that begs answering is whether or not a $130 B150 board with a crazy number of features is a worthwhile investment when there are similarly priced Z170 alternatives that have overclocking and multi-card support.
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