ASUS ROG STRIX Z270I GAMING Motherboard Review
A little over a month ago, we reviewed the ASRock Fatal1ty Z270 Gaming-ITX/ac, which proved to be a spectacular little mini-ITX motherboard. With a beefy VRM, an M.2 slot, onboard Wi-Fi, Thunderbolt 3, HDMI 2.0 video output, and excellent overclocking capabilities, it had just about every feature that we could hope for in a little motherboard. Nevertheless, we are always on the look out for competition and we think that we found some: the ASUS ROG Strix Z270I Gaming.
Since it is the only mini-ITX model in the Z270 Republic of Gamers (ROG) lineup, the Strix Z270I is the spiritual successor to the Maximus VIII Impact Z170 model that we reviewed back in December 2015. While the Impact was a standout product in many respects, it slightly disappointed us due to its inclusion of a U.2 port instead of an M.2 slot. Thankfully, ASUS is a company that learns from their mistakes, and this new Strix Z270i actually features two full-speed M.2 slots. That is hugely impressive given the significant space constraints that engineers have to deal with on a tiny 7" x 7" piece of PCB. While M.2 SSDs are indeed the ideal storage devices for a compact system, this model still wisely includes a respectable four SATA 6Gb/s ports. The aforementioned ASRock model has six SATA ports, but one less M.2 slot. Which configuration is superior is ultimately going to be a matter of personal preference.
At $170 USD / $240 CAD, this motherboard is not cheap, but it is certainly not expensive for an ROG model with strong specs. Starting with the basics, the Strix Z270I has been outfitted with a robust 10-phase digital power design, 10K Japanese capacitors, two DDR4 memory slots that can handle speeds of up to DDR4-4266, and one strengthened PCI-E x16 slot. The USB connectivity is decent with four USB 2.0 ports, four USB 3.0 ports, one USB 3.0 header, and one USB 3.1 Gen2 header. While this motherboard does have a USB Type-C port on the rear I/O panel, it is limited to USB 3.0 speeds. When it comes to networking, there is one Intel-powered gigabit LAN port and onboard Wi-Fi in the form of a dual-band Qualcomm 802.11ac solution with MU-MIMO, Bluetooth 4.1, and a 2x2 external antenna. Those who plan on utilizing their processor's integrated GPU will have the option of connecting their display to an HDMI 1.4 or DisplayPort 1.2 video output, only the latter of which supports 4K at 60Hz.
As you would expect from an ROG model, the onboard audio duties on this model are handled by a SupremeFX solution. This implementation is obviously based on the Realtek ALC1220A HD audio codec, but also features two dedicated Texas Instruments headphone amplifiers and audio-grade Nichicon capacitors. The codec has its own electromagnetic interference (EMI) cover and it is also protected by a PCB-level isolation line, which helps keep noise out of the audio signal. Another benefit of SupremeFX is compatibility with the ASUS audio software suite that consists of Sonic Studio III and Sonic Radar III. Unlike most gaming-oriented motherboards, the audio section on this model doesn't have any illumination, but there are a row of LEDs on the top-right corner and as you will see they put on a heck of a show. If that's not enough lighting, there is also an RGB header which will allow you to install any LED light strip and control it with the AURA utility.
Overall, the specs look promising, but it's the implementation that matters. We will be checking out the UEFI BIOS, playing with the numerous utilities, testing the historically excellent ASUS automatic overclocking features, and just generally giving the Strix Z270I a proper shakedown. Let's see if we come away impressed.
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