Event Coverage

ASUS Intel Z170 Skylake motherboards have arrived

By Marvin R. Velasco & Koh Wanzi - 6 Aug 2015

ASUS Z170 ROG and Pro Gaming series

The Z170 ROG motherboards are available in a variety of form factors.

ASUS Z170 ROG and Pro Gaming series 

For gamers, ASUS has prepared a total of six ROG Maximus VIII boards and two Pro Gaming boards. As usual, the Maximus VIII Extreme and Formula occupy the high-end, while the Hero and Ranger comprise a more affordable performance segment. The micro-ATX Gene and mini-ITX Impact boards round up the small system builder market.

The aesthetics of the ROG series have also been tweaked to a feature a slate gray color with red accents over the predominantly black-and-color scheme of the previous generation.

The ASUS ROG Z170 Maximus VIII Extreme is targeted at gamers who want the absolute best performance and that's what we've gotten most time with in our preview session. Here's a video overview of what this board offers in a nutshell:

The Z170 Maximus VIII Extreme sits at the top of the ROG line-up.

It also features a built-in U.2 connector that allows you to connect an NVMe 2.5-inch SSD without wasting any PCIe slots or using any bulky adapters. The connector runs off a PCIe 3.0 x4 interface, which offers up to 32Gbps of throughput. There is also a Thunderbolt 3.0 connector in the form of a USB Type-C connector on the rear I/O panel.

The U.2 connector sits beside the SATA Express ports.

On the other hand, the Maximus VIII Formula is geared toward gamers and PC modders who place aesthetics over performance. ASUS didn’t have the board on display, but from the pictures we saw, it looks like it sports some variant of the Thermal Armor that’s found on the TUF boards.

The Z170 Maximus VIII Hero board provides a more affordable entry into the ROG series, with a handful of core features like Supreme FX 2015, Sonic Studio II, ASUS' GameFirst network optimization utility, and support for ROG RAMCache.

The Hero is targeted at gamers who want a more affordable ROG board.

The Maximus VIII Gene is a micro-ATX board that offers ROG features to small system builders.

In the Pro Gaming line-up, there is the Z170 Pro Gaming ATX board and the mini-ITX Z170I Pro Gaming, both of which are intended to offer gamers more bang for their buck with a slew of gaming-oriented features.

The Z170 Pro Gaming boasts essential gaming features like Supreme FX and Sonic Radar II, in addition to the GameFirst networking technology and a digital voltage regulation module.

The mini-ITX Z170I Pro Gaming board will do well in a small form factor PC. It shares many of the same gaming-oriented audio and networking with the larger Z170 Pro Gaming ATX board.

The Extreme Engine Digi+ voltage regulation mechanism now features dual PWM controllers for more precise voltage tuning.

The digital Extreme Engine Digi+ voltage regulation module on the ROG boards help provide more stable overclocking. (Image Source: ASUS)

In addition, the capacitors, chokes, and MOSFETs have been selected for greater endurance, efficiency, and performance.

Image Source: ASUS

ASUS is also introducing a new feature called ROG RAMCache that provides a quick way to cache frequently used files, or fragments of files, in RAM to speed up access times. If you have excess RAM, RAMCache will use the extra space to expand your disk cache to minimize any performance slowdowns.

The GameFirst network optimization technology also makes a return on the Z170 ROG and Pro Gaming boards. Gamers will be able to prioritize data packets and bandwidth for online games where low latencies are of paramount importance. In addition, the networking hardware gets a boost with the newer Intel I219-V Ethernet controller, which improves throughput over the older I218-V on previous generation motherboards. 

(Image Source: ASUS)

The latest version of the SupremeFX onboard audio uses an ESS ES9023P DAC, high-quality op-amps, Nichicon capacitors, and other quality components to drive headphones up to 600ohms, which includes most audiophile-grade headphones. The ES9023P DAC is also capable of using its own dedicated clock to eliminate jitter for a cleaner audio signal.

Here's a look at a close-up of the SupremeFX audio circuitry on the Maximus VIII Ranger. The audio hardware is actually shielded under by a plastic shroud on the Hero and Extreme boards so you can't really see the individual components.

You can clearly see the gold-rimmed Nichicon capacitors, the NEC de-pop relay, and the ESS ES9023P DAC beside each other at the bottom.

The new Sonic Studio II also includes a Casting Enhancer feature to improve the clarity of your voice recordings while streaming. With noise gate, volume stabilizing, and noise reduction capabilities, it helps you produce clearer recordings by disengaging the microphone when you’re not speaking, evening out large fluctuations in volume and filtering out unwanted background noise.

The Perfect Voice function in Sonic Studio II helps improve the clarity of your voice recordings and streams. (Image Source: ASUS)

Furthermore, KeyBot gets an upgrade to KeyBot II, which adds the ability to link ASUS’ performance management Turbo App to your keyboard for faster profile switching according to your current usage needs.

The new KeyBot II allows you to link ASUS' Turbo App to your keyboard for faster profile switching. (Image Source: ASUS)

And like the regular Z170 series motherboards, the ROG boards will have onboard LEDs that can be customized with a variety of effects and colors. They can also indicate your CPU temperature and be set to pulse in time with your music.

The ROG boards come with onboard LEDs that can be customized with a variety of lighting effects. (Image Source: ASUS)

Finally, ASUS showed off a new overclocking tool in the form of the OC Panel II. It introduces a handful of new features over its predecessor, such as safe boot and retry buttons to recover from a failed overclock. There are also four additional four-pin fan headers that allow you to hook up system fans directly to the panel for easier control and monitoring of your fans. The LED-illuminated ROG logo on the panel's front also now serves a functional purpose in that it'll turn off if your system crashes so you know immediately if something's not right.

The upgraded OC Panel II now comes with onboard four-pin fan headers and safe boot and re-try buttons. (Image Source: ASUS)