Defining an “enthusiast” motherboard is a fairly nebulous job. For some it might be technical ability, or style, or just the price and brand of the motherboard. Perhaps it could be best described as a combination of all of these aspects.
The Z170 series chipset, when it was introduced, represented an advancement of chipset technology. Whereas there was previously a stark divide between high and mid-end sets, the line between the two was made murkier. This in terms of both performance as well as price. Z170-related products tend to be costlier than their predecessors with the Z97.
Here I will compare and contrast a number of the best Z170 motherboards currently on the market, laying out their unique features and traits.
Best Z170 Motherboard Reviews
ASRock Fatal1ty Z170 Gaming Motherboard
ASRock motherboards like the Fatal1ty Z170 Gaming is a perfect example of a good budget motherboard. Whereas more expensive boards have to try much harder to justify their cost, the ASRock board offers features and performance that feel inappropriate for boards that are as cheap as 150$. The pricepoint makes it a good choice for enthusiasts looking to make the most of the Z170 without breaking the bank.
With a red and black aesthetic, the Fatal1ty is ASRock’s current top of the line in their Z170 lineup. It has excellent speed, with a 32Gb/s M.2 slot, USB 3.1 port, Intel gigabit LAN, Atheros Wi-fi, and Bluetooth capability alongside the typical arrangement of USB and SATA connectors.
As with many other boards, the Fatal1ty makes use of Realtek’s ALC1150 DAC, though in conjunction with ASRock’s Purity Audio 3. This custom audio software implementation is much less significant than its competition, which can be a good thing given that they are often quite hit or miss.
The board has room for two DDR4 RAM sticks, up to 3400MHz in speed, however anything above 3200MHz necessitates the use of a cooperative CPU or adjusted timing.
One feature that isn’t often found elsewhere is onboard support for HDMI 2.0 video output, making it possible to use 60Hz 4K video. With full S/PDIF 5.1 Dolby digital surround sound output, these features make for an excellent multimedia suite.
This board’s performance is about on par with contemporary ATX Z170 boards in spite of a relative compression of slot and connector count. It has decent overclocking capability. However, given the relatively low price, it is advisable to go over the board while the warranty is valid to check for quality-control problems. With its small size, while the board can fit into any number of unusual or small cases, it has a limited upgrade potential.
Gigabyte GA-Z170X-Gaming 6 Z170 Motherboard
The GA-Z170X-Gaming 6 is a practical and not overly expensive board. For just a bit more than basic Z170 boards, the Gaming 6 offers dual 32Gb/s M.2 slots with dual LAN cnotrollers and a customizable ALC1150 audio system. It also has a sporty red/black/white aesthetic.
It doesn’t have quite the same amount of aesthetic customizations available as some other boards, but that doesn’t necessarily detract from this board given Gigabyte’s history of function over form. This is a tradition the Gaming 6 continues. The Gaming 6 stands out as a board with Gigabyte’s spartan approach to gaming boards, with some color options, dual M.2s, and dual NICs with an Intel i218-V.
This simplicity makes the board stable, and quick to set up. With ease of installation, ease of access, and a well-organized layout, the Gaming 6 offers something many more complex boards do not: good design is something that can be appreciated regardless of personal tastes in features and aesthetics.
Its BIOS follows through with this, lacking the aesthetic flair of Asus or ASRock at the higher end of the spectrum, but including every feature to be expected of an enthusiast’s board, such as in-depth CPU, DRAM, and voltage controls. It can also tolerate significant overclocking, with tests reaching nearly the full potential of Skylake’s 4.7GHz.
The M.2 slots have no issue recognizing a wide variety of drives, even more exotic fare like the Samsung SM951 NVMe, and they can also support RAID configurations for even greater speed. The Intel i219-V adaptor unfortunately can’t be teamed with the other LAN port’s Killer E2400 controls, but it is still useful for routing, virtual machine, VPN, and other networking tasks. Redundancy is also a plus, giving it some flexibility in the event of damage to or failure of one of them.
As mentioned, the Gaming 6 is well-built and laid-out, but its aesthetics are lacking. It is somewhat better than other offerings by Gigabyte, though, with a better color mix than the rest. If you’re looking for a better-looking board, it will cost more.
There are alternatives to the Gaming 6 at this price bracket, but most offer either less features or aren’t built to the same standard. The Asus Signature series Z170-pro costs slightly more, and has better overclocking capability, but also comes with just one LAN connector and a single M.2 slot.
MSI Z170A XPower Gaming Titanium Z170 Motherboard
The MSI Z170A XPower Titanium offers robust CPU support with a sleek silver aesthetic which is perfect for overclocking. It is the least-expensive board that can reach the Skylake CPU’s top overclocking multiplier, and can even go beyond that with just minor voltage and BCLK tuning. All this while maintaining a moderate temperature both while idle and while under strain.
This does not, however, come at the expense of feature stability or form over function. Drivers and BIOS with this board are stable from the outset, and its clean design works well for installation. This opens up a number of case options that would not be possible with similar competitors, due to limited space constraints. It should be noted, that DIMMs on this board can seem to be fully seated, but are not completely snapped into place.
The silver finish looks quite nice, meaning it might be worthwhile to invest in a windowed enclosure. Its neutral silver and gray tones make it easy to coordinate its components, though this board lacks the adjustable MSI Mystic Light LED arrangements.
For storage the XPower makes use of dual 32Gb/s M.2 slots, which can support RAID configurations and may be used for booting up. Its SATA drives have six motherboard connections available, which are backed by the normal Intel and ASMedia controllers.
To make overclocking with this board more accessible, MSI has included a number of extra hardware features to squeeze out as much of Skylake’s ability as possible. The first such feature is a rmovable daughterboard with hardware buttons designed to allow tuning without having to open up a software suite or go into BIOS. This is something that isn’t usually seen outside of the highest-end tech.
It also has a knob with some overclocking presets which can be turned up to 11. It should be noted that in order to make the most use of this feature, you will need a stable Skylake setup with an excellent cooling system, given that its full overclock is 4.7GHz. To aid with this, MSI has included a temperature readout through the error code display.
This board, being a flagship, comes with a number of extra features. It comes with a connector backplate, cables and cable labels, testing leads, and some aesthetic extras like an adhesive badge to put on the outside of the case and a novelty door hanger.
Asus ROG Maximus VIII Formula Z170 Motherboard
The Asus Maximus VIII Formula has a distinct visual flair. With its gunmetal grey panels and excellent LED lighting system setup, owners can expand a lot on the board’s aesthetics to their liking. With wide variety of customizations and controls, the Maximus VIII Formula can be tailored to one’s specific style.
What else makes it special? The board comes close to stylistic perfection with the aforementioned LED lighting systems. On top of this, it also makes use of the CrossChill cooling system, and is capable of full-speed overclocking.
It’s not just style where this board shines, however. It comes equipped with Intel’s i219-V LAN with 2×2:2 Wi-Fi. It also has support for both M.2 and U.2 drives. The M.2 slot is hidden, and accessible after removing a screw from its cover panel. For audio it makes use of ALC1150 audio with an ESS ES9023P DAC, alongside other hardware. The custom EK waterblock support comes with tube connectors for liquid cooling and thermal pads to conduct heat from the motherboard, with additional armor panels for increased better of heat.
The sample Skylake CPU was able to reach its maximum overclocking 47x multiplier, even at voltages lower than what is standard for testing. Like the XPower, it can even go beyond that with some tuning, and is soundly at the top of this list in terms of overclocking potential.
The Formula VIII has a focus on style, but this comes at the expense of some features. It has only a single M.2 slot, and thus is not ideal for a RAID setup, making an add-on M.2 card necessary. Additionally, the armor panels, though great for preventing damage and looking good, will limit access to the board’s components and make it a less-intuitive build.
ROG Maximus Extreme Z170 Motherboard
The Maximus VIII Extreme is a higher-end board, and is in its own capacity quite impressive. However, the Extreme Assembly edition of this board is even more impressive in speed terms.
Extreme Assembly edition offers some pretty significant changes to the Extreme VIII. Aesthetically, as opposed to the prototypical red and black style that is common in modern gaming boards, the Extreme Assembly addition comes with a copper-accented grey combo reminiscent of the Z97 signature series. The board is less flashy, fitting a professional style much more easily and making color coordination even easier. As with the signature series, there is an adjustable light under the chipset heatsink.
This board is made special, being Asus’s top of the line ROG motherboard, through excellent performance and hardware.
The board is bundled with a number of add-ins. These include a front panel headphone amp, a 10G Express Ethernet adaptor, additional fan controller, cables, and some other bonuses. The amp is mounted in a 5.25-inch drive bay box, which connects through an internal USB cable, and comes with an ESS ES9018K2M DAC, dual TI LM4562 op-amps, and a TPA6120A2 amp which can support headphones for up to 600Ω.
These additions may lack the flair of the Maximus Extreme, but they are practical and offer a great deal of flexibility for whatever upgrades are needed in the future. The 10G card can also support the 2.5G and 5G speeds that next-gen routers will adopt down the road, whereas the amp system can be useful immediately to provide possibly the best sound out of a motherboard.
As for the board itself, it already comes with a significant suite of good features. This includes such things as 3×3:3 Wi-Fi with Intel i219-V LAN for networking. For audio, it comes with the ALC1150 Realtek audio system. Its connector setup consists of USB 3.1 Type-C, as well as 32Gb/s M.2 and U.2 connectors. As with the previous board, overclocking can stably reach the maximum 47x multiplier, and with fairly low CPU temperatures to boot.
The principal drawbacks of this board is what was not shipped with it. There is only one M.2 slot, where multiple would seem more appropriate at this price-point. Worse still, the CrossChill system shipped with the Formula VIII is totally absent on the Extreme Assembly. Furthermore, with a number of its associated software downloads being on the standard VIII Extreme download page rather than its own, it can be somewhat tedious and complex to set up.
Although DDR4 memory is available on some Haswell systems, Z170 is the first non-enthusiast system to have it. While it does not have much of an impact on gaming performance, it is useful in general.
Some Z170 boards also come with the Alpine Ridge controller, offering support for USB 3.1 and thunderbolt, which can make data transfer much easier. This is great for people who do a lot of video editing or similarly intensive tasks.
Most Z170-chipset boards also come equipped with more USB 3.0 ports as compared to the associated Z97 counterparts.
Furthermore, Skylake boards come with a number of Intel technologies including Intel Rapid Storage Technology, Intel Wireless Display Technology, and Intel Clear Video Technology.
All of the above motherboards are great for enthusiast PC builders looking for top-notch gaming performance. Overclocking has become easier than ever before, with many boards offering new integral settings built right into the board. All mentioned manufacturers are reputable and respected in the field, though their different offerings mean you can choose a motherboard best suited to your needs.
It is also important to consider the upcoming Z270 boards if they are competitively priced. Depending on their price and performance capabilities, it may or may not be worth it to make the jump from Z170 to Z270.