Looking to build a decent Kaby Lake rig on a tight budget? Antony Leather rounds up five sub motherboards to find the best PCBs for the job. Read our z270 motherboard review.
Contents of z270 motherboard review
Choosing an… Intel motherboard
It’s essential that you buy the right type of motherboard for your processor. Intel’s older Haswell processors require a motherboard with an LGA1150 socket, but newer, fourth-generation Skylake chips need an LGA1151 socket. A board for a Haswell processor must also have an H97 or a Z97 chipset, while Skylake processors use the new Z170 chipset. Skylake CPUs also use newer, faster DDR4 memory.
All current Intel processors have built-in graphics chipsets, so if you want to use your chip’s built-in graphics, make sure the motherboard has the video outputs you need, such as VGA, DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort. If you want to play the latest games, you’ll need to fit a dedicated graphics card in the motherboard’s PCI Express x16 slot, although this may block one of your other slots.
Normal tower cases can accommodate ATX motherboards, which provide the most expansion slots. A microATX motherboard will let you build your PC in a smaller case, but if you opt for a microATX board, make sure it has all the features you need built in as there won’t be much room for expansion cards.
If you want to install lots of expansion cards, look for a motherboard that offers plenty of PCI and PCI-E xl slots. Some motherboards also have PCI Express x4 slots and extra PCI Express x16 slots. PCI Express x1 and x4 cards also work in PCI Express x16 slots. If you need a lot of storage, a motherboard with plenty of SATA2 and SATA3 ports is essential. SATA2 is fine for optical drives and hard disks, but to make the most of an SSD you need SATA3.
All motherboards have built-in audio chipsets, but some support only 5.1 surround sound rather than 7.1. If you’re connecting to older surround-sound amplifiers that don’t have HDMI, look for an optical or coaxial S/PDIF output. All motherboards have Ethernet ports and most have the faster Gigabit version. You may also find it useful to buy a board with built-in Wi-Fi so you don’t have to use up a USB port or PCI slot with an adaptor.
How we test
We test each motherboard with a Core I7-7700K CPU, 16GB of Corsair Vengeance LED 3200MHz DDR4 RAM and an XFX Radeon R9 390X graphics card. We use a 512GB 960 Evo M.2 SSD and a Samsung 850 Pro SSD, along with CrystalDiskMark’s 32-queue-depth storage test to record sequential speeds. To measure on-board audio performance, we run RightMark’s Audio Analyzer software using 24-bit/192KHz settings, with the line-out connected to the line in-jack to obtain noise and dynamic range levels.
We load optimized default settings and set the XMP profile in the EFI for stock-speed tests, but touch no other settings, which sets the correct memory speed and timings, and ensures the board is set up for the best stock-speed performance. When overclocking, we find the maximum stable CPU frequency across all CPU cores and identify the lowest stable voltage to reach it Our CPU usually maxes out at 5GHz using a vcore of around 1.38V Above these settings, temperatures usually reach unsafe limits, but we always try for higher frequencies and lower voltages.
We use the latest version of CPC RealBench 2015 (which includes the Gimp image editing suite, multithreaded performance using the Handbrake open source video transcoder and heavy multi-tasking performance playing back full-screen HD video at the same time as conducting a video transcode. Each test produces an individual point score based on completion time and also outputs a weighted system score.
We also run Ashes of the Singularity’s built-in DX12 CPU benchmark at 1.920 x 1,080. using High settings to limit any GPU bottlenecking, and running Fraps for 30 seconds to record the minimum and maximum frame rate.
Finally, we take both idle and load power consumption readings from the waII for the system as a whole using a power meter. The idle reading is taken at the desktop with no programs open, while the load result is taken using Prime95’s smallift test.
We use a weighted calculation to work out the performance score using the results from the benchmarks, and mark the features and prices in the same spreadsheet to work out the features and value scores.
All the scores are added together to provide a final score.
Don’t need a big monolith PC with masses of expansion slots?
Then why not downsize to mini-ITX? Antony Leather puts the latest mini Z270 boards through their paces to find the cream of the crop
z270 motherboard asus
ASRock Z270 Extreme 4 motherboard
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Let’s just cut to the chase: the ASRock Z270 Extreme 4 has a bit of an identity problem. For any enthusiasts with their eye on the market, the Extreme 4 will look familiar to say the least. General wisdom states that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but in a marketplace with effectively only four manufacturers to choose from, for a quality tier-one motherboard product, the last thing we want to be seeing are copies of copies of copies.
To find a motherboard such as the Extreme 4 that so evidently takes cues from the previous generation MSI Xpower and ASUS Signature Series is disheartening.
Look and feel aside, the X270 Extreme 4 creates differentiation through unique specification, much like its stable mate the Gaming K6. As the only boards in the roundup to feature eight SATA3 6Gbps ports, the ASRock solutions utilize a combination of native PCH-based connections and an ASMedia ASM1061 hub to supply the additional two SATA ports. Aside from playing the quantity game in the SATA port department, the Extreme 4 delivered strong NVMe performance during testing, taking out the first place ribbon for the majority of NVMe-orientated storages tests.
Pairing the storage performance with good results in other areas, such as the Cinebench and Far Cry Primal tests, this budget-priced option appears attractive and perhaps a suitable pairing with the newly introduced Core i3-7350K.
Aesthetically, it chants ‘me too’, but it can stand on its own merits in certain scenarios.
ASRock Z270 Gaming K6 motherboard
Tired, but perhaps not exhausted.
Gaming is the buzzword within the enthusiast segmentation of the PC industry, apparent in the abundance of ‘gaming’ products. This trend continues into the Z270 offerings with the majority of mobos in this roundup referencing gaming in one manner or another. The ASRock Gaming K6 follows all the tropes, but is it necessarily bad news to follow an established trend?
ASRock has delivered a competent product at a competitive price. However, it’s not without feeling a little late to the party. With most other gaming offerings departing from the tired and worn-out aesthetic of red and black, the ASRock Gaming K6 clings to it and subsequently feels aesthetically worn out before even starting the race for your attention. Adding RGB elements to the mix merely further blurs the intentions for change versus regression as the potential lighting colors clash with the strong red forms.
Feature-wise, there are some elements of intrigue; for example, the additional two SATA3 6Gb/s ports to total eight, providing the two ports via an ASMedia hub chip combined with the six native ports provided by the Z270 PCH. Another intriguing inclusion is the third M.2 slot aimed at providing expansion for a wireless NIC.
Paired with strong NVMe storage performance and real-world gaming chops, it is the mix of usual with the unusual that make the ASRock Gaming K6 stand out and may potentially capture attention missed by eyes exhausted by the visual tropes.
A budget-conscious offering, but don’t expect to use all features at once due to resource allocation.
ASUS RoG Maximus IX Formula motherboard
So close to the mark, yet so far.
The Maximus Formula series is a stalwart of the Intel performance motherboard segment. Orientated towards gamers and overclockers alike, the series — now in its ninth iteration — has garnered a following based on a consistently deep feature set, technical expertise dashed with polish and aesthetic value. With these attributes has typically accompanied a premium price tag, which in the past has been able to be justified across the range of judging criteria.
1 used from $ 319.37
Unfortunately, in this generation, it has become difficult to justify the price position of this unit. Part of the contributing factor for this difficulty is the strength of the competition within the marketplace and a glaring fault within the NVMe M.2 implementation incurred by the aesthetic intention of the design.
The Thermal Armour, supposedly designed to aid cooling efficiency, has hampered the NVMe performance, specifically sequential write performance, by inducing thermal throttling in the NVMe drive. NVMe sequential write with a Samsung 950 Pro should be approximately 1,500MB/s. Tests returned 1,260MB/s. Additional consecutive runs returned diminishing returns before bottoming out at 711MB/s — a poor showing from a performance product. Removing the shield covering the M.2 drive returned performance to the 1,500MB/s range.
It’s an unfortunate misgiving, especially one with such a strong supporting software suite and beautiful hi-fi quality audio.
A well featured board that’s let down by form taking priority over function.
ASUS TUF Z270 Mark 1 motherboard
If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.
Backed by a five-year warranty, the TUF series offers good value for money for PC enthusiasts operating on a longer upgrade cycle. With a focus on durability, quality componentry and rugged designs in both practical and aesthetic application, the TUF Z270 Markl is built to endure and persevere.
1 used from $ 184.56
Dropping the Sabertooth moniker previously held by the ATX form factor offering from the ASUS TUF range, this iteration can’t help but feel like it has lost a little character. That’s something this series of the ASUS offerings had in spades. With no mention of replacements of previous TUF entries such as the Gryphon and Vanguard, and perhaps a nod to a shrinking TUF range, the Z270 Mark 1 still delivers familiar ability with aplomb.
Producing strong performance results in CPU intensive benchmarks, such as 4K X26S, Cinebench and the 3DMark physics sub-test, the TUF Z270 Mark 1 could be a fine choice for a Z-platform build destined to be a workhorse tasked with years of hard computational labor.
Featuring established longevity-focused TUF attributes such as Fortifier, ICe and Thermal Armour (not suffocating the NVMe M.2 this time), the TUF series, specifically this ATX implementation, has employed these and other longevity focused tricks for numerous generations to solid effect. It’s, therefore, no surprise to see further iteration and exploration of these highlights.
Another commendable effort in the ASUS TUF range, this time in Z270 form.
A well featured Z270 board that i boasts the longest warranty on i offer.
Gigabyte Aorus Z270X-Gaming 5 motherboard
The eagle has landed.
Introducing the Aorus brand to Gigabyte’s gaming-orientated motherboard lineup, the Aorus Z270X-Gaming 5 puts a confident foot forward. Boasting an effectively muted, but not dull, visual appearance with well implemented RGB lighting highlights, the Aorus Z270X-Gaming 5 demonstrates maturity and sophistication mixed with lively intent and purpose.
Ensuring the new Aorus branding doesn’t introduce all show with no go, the benchmark figures show the second highest total podium finishes across the scorecard. Excelling very well in the broad testing PCMark08 and highly intensive computational loads of Cinebench and the HWBot X26S benchmark, while consistently placing high across the rest of the benchmarking suite, it’s hard to ignore the performance delivered by this well priced and featured motherboard.
GIGABYTE AORUS GA-Z270X-Gaming 5 Gaming Motherboard LGA1151 Intel Z270 2-Way SLI ATX DDR4 Motherboard51 new from $ 179.99
2 used from $ 152.62
As previously mentioned, the muted aesthetic palette brings to life the potential for individual flare through RGB lighting. The Gaming 5 is also the only motherboard in the roundup to feature an onboard RGBW header for external LED lighting that includes a white (W) channel. This is a positive specifically for those wanting to achieve bright colors or white light that can otherwise be washed out with hues of blue, purple and pink sneaking into what should be white light.
Packed with expansive storage solutions, including U.2 and SATA-Express along with the expected SATA and M.2, strong performance and convincing looks, the Aorus Z270X-Gaming 5 is not just a good foot forward but also one that lands with confidence.
Swooping in on the competition with skill and grace. Pair with a 7700K for broadest usage.
Gigabyte Aorus ZZ70X-Gaming 7 motherboard
Show and go to match.
The Aorus Z270X-Gaming 7 picks up where the Gaming S left off. With many of the same strong performance traits as its sibling, the Aorus Z270X-Gaming 7 provides additional features such as an improved audio solution and thunderbolt 3.0 connectivity for the price of a decent case of beer.
The feature sets deliver striking performance capability paired with enjoyable aesthetic appeal. The Gaming 7 adds a RGB LED element to the rear I/O shield which is otherwise absent on the Gaming 5, as well as additional onboard buttons for system tuning control, complete with audio switches to get the sound just right.
With the modders in mind, not just with the inclusion of the RGBW LED header, another interesting inclusion is the two-part rear I/O shield, allowing the I/O cover to be separated from the audio shield. This is good news for enthusiasts who prefer a more traditional visual with fully exposed VRM heatsinks. This look can be achieved without sacrificing the shield of the audio circuitry and delivering the full audio experience as planned from the engineer’s blueprints to your ears.
The Aorus Z270X-Gaming 7 demonstrates robust performance across the PCMark08 test suite. Edged out by its sibling the Aorus Z270X-Gaming 5 within a small, almost insignificant margin, paired with adept performance at multithreaded workloads as demonstrated in X26S and Cinebench, the Z270X-Gaming 7 could be a self up-sell option — but only if you really want.
Hard to choose between the Aorus Gaming 5 and 7, but for a case of beer, this could decide for some.
MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon motherboard
It has a McLaren on the box. It must go fast!
Entering the Z270 market with a thermally conductive M.2 shield, MSI’s Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon proved to be a high performer in storage I/O tests. The platform, with the Gaming Pro Carbon at its heart, punched out some of the top I/O scores across the CrystalDiskMark 5 tests.
In fact, of the 11 first-place results recorded on this mobo, 10 were directly related to the storage I/O — either SATA or NVMe M.2.
It’s important to note that M.2 testing was done in the primary M.2 slot placed above the primary PCI-Express slot. This is the slot that does not utilise the M.2 shield; inferring that MSI have actually configured quite a fast storage solution on this motherboard. High performance carried over to the Far Cry Primal benchmark, securing second overall for the results achieved.
The visual treatment of the motherboard consists of a muted black, grey and silver theme, creating a great backdrop for the visual dynamics generated by the integrated RGB LED lighting across the board. Though some might find the attempt at replicating the pattern of carbon on the heatsinks potentially trying a little too hard, the general visual identity of this unit provides an appropriate background for RGB lighting expression and experimentation.
The only unit on test in this roundup with a single LAN port, some would argue that this is all that is needed. However, it is a matter of personal choice and potentially frees up motherboard resources to be allocated elsewhere more fitting to your need.
A competent entry geared for storage I/O and gaming usage. Consider pairing with a 7600K.
Z270 motherboard benchmarks
ASRock Z270 Killer SLI motherboard
We’ve seen some fantastic budget boards from ASRock over the years, and the company sent us two sub-£140 motherboards to do battle this month. The more expensive of the two boards is the Z270 Killer SLI; as its name suggests, it supports Nvidia SLI as well as the usual AMD CrossFire – a feature that’s quite rare at this price. However, it has cut a few comers to get there, and they’re comers that many enthusiasts would be unhappy to cut.
For starters, despite costing a little more money than the Gigabyte Z270-Gamlng K3, you only get ALC892 audio as opposed to the superior ALC1220 audio codec on the Gigabyte board. Also, part of what made ASRock’s Z170 Extreme4 such a great board, sitting on our Elite List fora good chunk of time, was its full complement of overclocking and testing tools and buttons, which sadly aren’t found on the Z270 Killer SLI. The board only has four fan headers too, and for some reason, the pump header sits at the bottom of the PCB, as on the Gigabyte board
Thankfully, you get a fair few features in addition to comprehensive multi-GPU support. For example, it’s the only board on test to offer RGB lighting in the form of a backlit PCH heatsink, plus there’s a 4-pin RGB header on the PCB. While there’s no dear-CMOS button, the clear-CMOS jumper is well placed at the base of the PCB, unlike many of the other boards on test. You also get heatsinks in both CPU power circuitry zones, an Intel-controlled LAN port plus the two 16x PCI-E slots are reinforced with steel. In addition, ASRock has included a large white shroud covering the I/O ports and audio circuitry, which makes it look a little more grown-up than. Its cheaper sibling.
You still get two M 2 ports and the full complement of six SATA 6Gbps ports as well, along with a generous count of four 1x PCI-E slots, so there’s plenty of scope for expansion.
Meanwhile, the I/O panel offers both USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A and Type-C ports, but there are only five USB ports on the back in total, which will be problematic if you have much in the way of printers, external storage or monitors to hook up. along with peripherals.
ASRock’s EFI is a little dated compared with MSI and Asus’ efforts, but it’s easy to find your way around the settings. However. ASRock’s Windows software for overclocking and fan tuning is excellent – it doesn’t quite offer the detail of some of the other software suites on test, but it’s clear and easy to use. plus you’re able to switch off fans below certain temperatures – a task that isn’t possible on MSI’s board.
Sadly, however, both the ASRock boards on tested needed hefty vcores to get our Core ¡7-7700K to 5GHz, with the Z270 Killer SLI requiring 1.4V. which is a fair bit more than the cheaper Asus Prime Z270-Ps132 V. It was also slower at both stock speed and overclocked frequencies, with system scores of 145.548 and 157.085 respectively compared to 145,964 and 158,994 for the Asus board, although these differences are obviously small. The power consumption was a little high too. and it coutdn’t match the Gigabyte Z270-Gaming K3’saudio performance either.
Sadly, while it’s a solid effort, the ASRock Z270 Killer SLI falls short in a number of areas. It has a generally decent design and software, and it’s good to see RGB lighting on a sub – £140 board, but at this price, we’d rather see decent audio and a wider set of features than dual-GPU support and RGB lighting. The Asus Prime Z270-P is cheaper and a better overclocker, while the MSI Z270 Tomahawk Arctic and Gigabyte Z270-Gaming K3 offer better value for money.
A good-looking board, but at this price, we’d rather ditch SLI support in favour of a wider feature set.
ASRock Z270 Pr04 motherboard
The ASRock Z270 Pro4 goes head to head with the Asus Prime Z270-P (see opposite), and the stakes seem fairly evenly matched, as does the price tag. That said, the ASRock board does sport a snazzy logo on the PCB and has more CPU power phases than the Asus, in addition to two additional SATA 6Gbps ports and an extra fan header.
It also has a third M2 port, which is specifically intended for Wi-Fi modules, along with the necessary mounting point for the antennae What’s more, the Z270 Pro4 has both USB 3.1 Type-A and Type-C ports, which are both absent on the Asus board, and it features Intel Gigabit Ethernet rather than the Asus’ Realtek LAN port. There’s a nod to legacy hardware too. with the inclusion of an old-school PCI slot, so you can transplant your old sound card or TV capture card to a new Kaby Lake machine.
The Asus board hits back by sporting more USB ports overall, along with an extra 1x PCI-E slot and a better layout with well-placed fan headers. The biggest differences, though, are found in the overclocking feature, software and the EFI, where the Asus board has a clear lead. ASRock has lagged behind Asus in the EFI stakes since EFI took over from the older BIOS interface. MSI and Asus continue to lead the pack here, although that isn’t to say the ASRoc k EFI is terrible – it just feels dated and not as responsive.
The software isa slightly different story. ASRock’s overclocking and fan tuning software is excellent, although fairly simplistic, but it’s very clearly laid out and easy to use. Asus’ Windows software, on the other hand, is extremely detailed, but can feel a little complicated and overbearing at times.
That said, it’s a simple task to get used to it. Elsewhere, the boards’ specifications are quite similar. The audio is from a similar class of audio codec In the form of Realtek’s ALC892 – again, it isn’t as good as the ALC1220 codec on the Gigabyte Z270-Gaming K3. but then neither is the ALC887 codec on the Asus board.
When it came to actually overclocking these boards, though, the Asus Phme Z270-P had a clear lead. Both ASRock boards suffered from vdroop. where the voltage droops. This issue was alleviated by using loadline calibration, but both the ASRock boards still required hefty voltages to get our Core ¡7-7700K overclocked to 5GHz. The Z270 Pro4 needed 1.41V to
There’s a nod to legacy hardware too, with the inclusion of an old-school PCI slot
stably achieve this frequency, which was the highest result on test.
In terms of performance, the Z270 Pro4’s system score of 140.822 at stock speed with the XMP profile enabled was quite low – the Asus board managed 145,964. but the differences evened out once we’d applied the overclock, with fewer than 1,000 points separating the boards.
It was the same in the other tests, with both boards managing at least a 3,300MB/sec read speed using a Samsung 960 Evo M 2 SSD, and the audio performance was very similar too. with dynamic range levels reported around 92dB(A). The Z270 Pro4 had the highest load overclocked power draw on test though, at 188W. thanks to the high voltage needed.
Overclocking aside, the ASRock Z270 Pro4 offers good value for money and has a few extra features compared with the Asus Prime Z270-P, such as Intel-powered LAN. more fan headers and USB 3.1 Gen 2 support.
However, if you’re pairing the board with a K-series Intel CPU. then the Asus board is a much better bet. at least with the current EFI versions.
Impressive features for such a low price, but the competition is much better at overclocking and surpasses this board in other areas too.
Asus Prime Z270-P motherboard
With a seemingly bargain price of just £114. the Asus Prime Z270-P is the cheapest motherboard on test, costing considerably less money than most of the Z270 motherboards we’ve seen so far. However, the low price tag does mean numerous features have been cut from the specifications.
There are only three fan headers, for example, although they’re at least well positioned for powering a rear case fan. CPU cooler fan and either a pump or front/roof fan. There’s also only one power circuitry heatsink, just four SATA 6Gbps ports (you usually get six) and there are no USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports either.
Like most of the other boards on test this month. Asus has also opted for the older Realtek ALC887 audio codec, which isn’t as good as the newer ALC1220 used in more expensive Z270 motherboards, including Gigabyte’s Z270-Gaming K3 (see p44). The LAN port is also connected to a Realtek controller rather than an Intel one and the PCB also looks remarkably basic compared with the likes of MSI’s Z270 Tomahawk Arctic, although the latter costs £35 more.
The Asus’ PCB has some white detailing, but if s otherwise a dark shade of brown and there’s very little in terms of lighting, with no fancy RGB LED effects on show. However, if you’re keen to keep costs to a minimum, but not let up on core performance, the Prime Z270-P covers your bases very well
You get a pair of M 2 sockets, which support Intel’s forthcoming Optane technology, there’s a reasonable count of six USB ports on the back, with four being of the USB 3 flavor, plus two on-board USB 3 headers and two USB 2 headers.
Perhaps even more importantly. Asus still bundles the excellent software and EFI systems from its expensive boards with its cheaper motherboards. While the Asus Prime Z270- P lacks many of the software and EFI features found on its Republic of Gamers boards, you’re still able to tap into its Al Suite for Windows-based overclocking and fan control. You also get a superb EFI that makes overclocking and tuning your system very easy.
That’s good, because the Prime Z270-P is an exceptional overclocker. which surprised us when you consider its price, but it required the lowest vcore on test, stably overclocking our Core I7-7700K to 5GHz with just 1.32 V. That’s
You get a superb EFI, which makes overclocking and tuning your system very easy
a fantastic result for anyone looking for a cheap, overclockable motherboard. It was fairly potent in benchmarks too. posting some of the higher RealBench scores and claiming the top system score 158.994 once it was overclocked. Thanks to the low vcore. it also had the most power-frugal result under load, with the whole system drawing just 160W from the mains when overclocked.
The performance differences are generally small, of course, although Gigabyte’s use of the ALC1220 audio codec saw it perform much better than the Prime Z270-P in terms of audio quality.
There’s a lot missing from the Prime Z270-P. such as USB 3.1 Gen 2 support – if you need that then look at Asus’ Prime Z270-K, which costs £10 more.
However, while support for USB 3.1 ticks a feature box, it’s fair to say that most PC users won’t miss most of this board’s omissions and probably won’t be able to tell the difference In audio quality either. We’ve still yet to see any desirable USB 2.1 Gen 2 devices, plus four SATA ports are more than enough for most people and you’U need to spend a lot more money to get better audio too. If you can live with the basic aesthetics, the Prime Z270-P Is the best budget Z270 motherboard we’ve seen, and it’s an ideal partner for Intel’s Core I3-7350K.
An overclocking bargain thaf s ideal for building a cheap overclocked system.
Gigabyte Z270-Gaming K3 motherboard
Gigabyte does have some cheaper Z270 offerings than the Z270-Caming K3. but this is the board it chose to compete in our budget Kaby Lake motherboard Labs this month. At £132, it’s a little cheaper than the MSI Z270 Tomahawk Arctic and ASRock Z270 Killer SLI and is definitely not as good-looking as the former.
It lacks the I/O panel shroud that jazzes up both the other boards, although it sports extensive red lighting, so It claws back some pizzazz points when it’s powered on.
The Z270-Caming K3 Is more about features and performance than looks though. It’s the only board on test to use the new Realtek ALC1220 audio codec, which provides noticeably better results In RightMark’s Audio Analyzer software than older Z170 motherboards, so if audio quality is important, it’s worth paying the extra £15 or so for the Gigabyte compared with the cheaper boards on test.
We d also feel comfortable applying a heavy 24/7 overclock to a quad-core CPU with this motherboard, thanks to dual heatsinks for the CPU power circuitry, and it has the joint highest number of on- board fan power headers too. You also get the full complement of six SATA 6Gbps ports, some of which make up a pair of SATA Express connectors. Interestingly. Gigabyte has opted for a single M 2 port that’s compatible with up to 110mm SSDs. Using two or more is probably very unlikely if you’re spending under £150 on a motherboard, of course, although we’ve yet to see just what Intel’s Optane technology is going to offer.
Meanwhile, the layout is excellent, except perhaps for the fan header that moonlights as a pump power header, which is located at the bottom of the PCB for some reason. However, it’s absolutely fine to use another header to power your all-in-one liquid cooler. Despite the price, there are no on-board overdocking or testing tools either, although there’s a dual BIOS feature. You also get a steel-reinforced 16x PCI-E slot, plus both Type-A and Type-C USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports
Not surprisingly, audio performance was excellent, with a clear lead over all the other boards on test. For example, the dynamic range was measured at 106.9dB(A) compared to around 92dB(A) for the other boards on test. The Gigabyte was fairly quick in our performance benchmarks too. at both stock and overclocked frequencies.
Audio performance was excellent with a clear lead over all the other boards on test
Overclocking was also one of the Z270-Gaming K3’s fortes, as it needed just 1.33V to get to 5GHz with our Core i7-7700K. which is second only to the Asus Prime Z270-P This overclock saw its system score rise from 147,317 to 158.176 too Gigabyte has some excellent Windows-based overclocking and tuning software as well, although overall, its EFI system wasn’t as responsive and user-friendly as the ones we’ve seen from Asus and MSI.
It’s a very close-run competition between the MSI Z270 Tomahawk Arctic and Gigabyte Z270-Gaming K3, and the choice really comes down to your priorities, as they’re both fine boards.
The former is undeniably beautiful, has a better EFI. costs just £8 more and performs similarly except for audio performance.
The Z270-Gaming K3. on the other hand, offers top- notch audio, is slightly better at overclocking and offers competitive software while also being a little cheaper. The MSI just wins out as the most desirable motherboard for most enthusiasts’ needs, but the Gigabyte Z270-Gaming K3 still comes highly recommended If audio performance is a priority.
A fantastic motherboard for overclocking and audio performance, although its EFI and aesthetics could be better.
MSI Z270 Tomahawk Arctic motherboard
While Asus undeniably has some swanky looking motherboards in its current line-up, MSI has come out with unique and great-looking examples as well. The Z270 Tomahawk Arctic is one of them, and it’s amazing that MSI has managed to get such a striking-looking board onto the retail shelves for under 050 inc VAT. There’s a black version too. if white isn’t to your tastes, but the icy design of the Arctic model looks fantastic to our eyes.
The PCB is coated in white and gray, and there are large heatsinks on the CPU power circuitry and chipset, with the latter being illuminated with clean, white LEDs. You also get a silver I/O panel shroud to hide those ugly ports, and the Isolated audio circuitry Is illuminated too. Even the DIMM slots are colored white instead of black, and they’re fully enclosed in a chrome surround, while the white primary 16x PCI-E sports a steel-reinforced plate.
The Z270 Tomahawk Arctic sits in the middle of the road when it comes to costsaving. You get the full complement of six SATA 6Gbps ports, two M 2 ports, and both Type-A and Type-C USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports as well. There’s a generous helping of fan headers as well – more than any other board on test in fact. However, the LAN port is controlled by a cheaper Realtek controller, rather than an Intel one. while the on-board audio comes from an ALC892 codec, as opposed to the ALC1220 used on the similarly priced Gigabyte Z270-Gaming K3.
There’s a similar 10-phase power design to the Gigabyte, though, and unlike the Z270-Gaming K3, the Z270 Tomahawk Arctic has its dedicated pump power header in the nght place next to the CPU socket. You also get a pair of USB 3 headers, with ample ports on the rear I/O panel too, and if the aforementioned on-board lighting isn’t enough for you. then there’s a 4-pin RGB LED header as well.
MSI’s EFIs are consistently excellent, although Gigabyte is catching up in terms of fan control and Windows software. MSI s boards still don’t enable you to manually turn off fans below certain temperatures in the fan speed profile in the EFI or software – a feature that’s available in ASRock. Gigabyte and Asus’ software now. However, this MSI board is impressively easy to overclock in either the EFI or the Windows software, and the former is supremely clean and responsive compared with Gigabyte and ASRock s.
Even the DIMM slots are colored, and they’re fully enclosed in a chrome surround
Overclocking was fairty fruitful too. with just a 1.35V vcore needed to get our CPU to 5GHz – the third lowest voltage on test and much less than either of the ASRock boards The MSI’s system scores were a little low at both stock speed and when overclocked, though, with the Asus Prime-P netting 158.994 at 5GHz with our Core i7-7700K. compared to 155,081 for the MSI board. The rest of the results are very similar, except the audio performance where the Gigabyte Z270-Gaming K3 was much better. Sadly, in this price bracket, the Z270 Tomahawk Arctic also lacks MSI’s M 2 Shield heatsink, but it still managed some respectable numbers with a Samsung 960 Evo SSD.
If you can stretch your motherboard budget to £140, you have two choices – the MSI Z270 Tomahawk Arctic or the Gigabyte Z270-Gaming K3. The former looks spectacular for a £140 board, and apart from average audio performance and a slightly higher vcore needed to reach our maximum overclock, it’s a brilliant choice, especially if you’ll be spending time in the EFI. The MSI Z270 Tomahawk Arctic mixes decent overclocking with great looks and a solid feature set for a fair price.
A great balance of features and aesthetics, plus some great software and a slick EFI.
Asus Maximus IX Formula
A fully featured motherboard with great water-cooling support and a superb EFI and software suite, but it comes at a cost.
ASRock Fatality Z270 Gaming
The Fatality Z270 Gaming is ASRock’s premium mini-ITX board, and the second most expensive board on test, vying for the top spot with the MSI Z270 Gaming Pro Carbon and Asus ROG Strix Z270i Gaming. It looks stunning, with deep red heatsinks that are connected to the only heatpipe seen in this month’s roundup. The Asus board has larger heatsinks, but they’re separate entities.
The Fatality Z270 Gaming also offers six SATA 6 Gbps ports – more than Asus or MSI managed with their boards, although the demand for six SATA drives in a mini-ITX PC is probably small. However, unlike the Asus. the ASRock Fatality has only one M.2 port and there’s no fancy heatsink for it either.
The PCB is minimalist with no on-board lighting or even any RGB headers. However, lighting isn’t important to everybody, and the ASRock trumps the more expensive Asus board in a couple of areas too. it includes a clear-CMOS clear button, which is only found on this board and MSI’s Z270I Gaming Pro Carbon this month, and even sports Thunderbolt 3, with an Intel-powered USB 3.1 Type-C port. It has a handy count of three 4-pin fan headers as well – more than the ASRock Z270M-ITX/ac and Gigabyte Z270N-WiFi – and more USB ports on the rear panel than the Gigabyte or MSI boards too
You also get 80211ac Wi-Fi, along with a magnetic desktop antenna, and the ASRock Fatality’s single LAN port is Intel-controlled. The layout is good too – the USB 3 header is ideally placed at the edge of the PCB, unlike some of the other boards this month, although four of the six SATA ports sit on the wrong side of the DIMM slots, potentially requiring some awkward cable routing. Meanwhile, the single M.2 port is located on the rear of the PCB, and while audio comes from the standard Realtek ALC1220 codec, the board is bundled with Creative’s Sound Blaster Cinema 3 software, which offers various surround-sound effects, as well as its popular Crystalizer feature.
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There weren’t any stand-out performance results this month, and the ASRock Fatality Z270 Gaming was right on the money across the board. It was a little slower in some RealBench tests than the fastest results, but its overall score of 144,037 was only slightly off the pace of the top-scoring Asus ROG Strix Z270i Gaming, It had no problem pushing our Samsung 960 Evo SSD to its
It even sports Thunderbolt 3 support, with an Intel-powered USB 3.1 Type-C port
limits either, with a read and write speed of 3.340MB/sec and 1.774MB/sec respectively. Audio performance was good too and far better than its sibling.
However, while we could overclock our Core i7-7700K to SGHz with the Fatality, the process was tricky compared with the Asus. requiring an offset voltage and tweaking in the excellent F-Stream software. By allowing the vcore to rise to 1.36V, our system was stable, but toasty. The software is excellent, though, including fan control and temperature readings The EFI’s fan control system is equally good, but overall, it looks dated compared with Asus and MSI’s efforts.
The ASRock Fatality Z270 Gaming offers useful alternative features to the MSI Gaming Pro Carbon, and it looks better too. There are pros and cons to both boards, and Asus’ ROG Strix Z270i Gaming is our top-choice premium board, but If a clear-CMOS switch and Thunderbolt 3 support are must-have features for you. the Fatality Z270 Gaming remains a good choice.
A good-looking, traditional board with no RGB LEO matarkey and lots of useful features.
SRock is currently the only motherboard manufacturer offering two Z270 mini-ITX motherboards, and the company has sensibly placed them at either end of the budget spectrum. While the Fatality Z270 Gaming takes on Asus and MSI at the top end, the ASRock Z270M -ITX/ac goes head to head with the similarty pnced Gigabyte Z270N-WiFi.
The two boards are very similar, although the ASRock has a slightly more attractive appearance, and it also has a small heatsink for the CPU power circuitry. Both boards focus on features rather than aesthetics, though, and the ASRock Z270M-ITX/ac offers a sizeable count of six SATA 6Gbps ports. What’s more, unlike many other boards on test, its M.2 port is located on the top side of the PCB, making it easier to access.
Both boards offer a pair of Intel LAN ports, which are perhaps useful for home server duties, but realistically, most people would prefer one LAN port and a slightly smaller price tag. You also get 802.11ac Wi-Fi, with a bundled magnetic desktop antenna, which is definitely a useful feature given the often mobile nature of smaller systems, and that most homes don’t have LAN access in every room. The ASRock’s layout Is a little better than that of the Gigabyte board too. with a more accessible USB 3 header, plus a full 8-pin EPS12V connector and extra power phase too.
The Gigabyte board trumps the ASRock Z270M-ITX/ac in the audio stakes, though, as ASRock has cut costs and opted for the older ALC892 audio codec, rather than the newer ALC1220, plus there are onty three analogue audio jacks, while the Gigabyte board sports five in addition to an optical port.
The tables are turned when it comes to another important and useful feature though – USB ports The ASRock Z270M-ITX/ac has a generous count of eight ports on the rear I /0 panel – double the number on the Gigabyte Z270N-W1F), and the total includes six USB 3 ports – two more than the Gigabyte. However, the Gigabyte board does offer a USB 3.1 Type-C port, which is absent on the ASRock, and neither board offers DisplayPort – only HDMI 1.4 and DVI-D ports for anyone who isn’t using a discrete GPU
The M.2 port is located on the top side of the PCB, making it easier to access
Both the Z270M-ITX/ac and Gigabyte Z270N-WiFi score similarly in terms of EFI and software as well, and both have upped their game with these Z270 boards, with much improved fan control suites and Windows-based overclocking software. ASRock s effort at the latter is a little clunky – it generally works well, but you still often need to head into the EFI to set a few options correctly first. For example, the Windows software can’t switch between offset or fixed voltage, so you have to use the EFI instead.
Like its more expensive sibling, the Z270M-ITX/ac responded better to offset voltage, topping out at 1.36V under load to get our CPU to 5GHz stably, although the VRMs quickly throttled above this setting, reducing the CPU frequency. It was a little slow at stock speed In our RealBench suite, but recovered when overclocked with a decent score of 157,658 -an 11 per cent improvement. Sadly, the audio was predictably poor, though, with much better results from the Gigabyte board.
If you specifically want an affordable Z270 mini-ITX board with lots of USB ports, the ASRock Z270M-ITX/ac is worth considering.
Plenty of USB ports and a good layout but the competition is better balanced in terms of features.
Asus ROG Strix Z270i Gaming
The Asus ROC Strix Z270i Gaming is the priciest Z270 mini-ITX board available. It’s also the only mini-ITX Z270 board with two M.2 ports, opening up RAID with ultra-fast NVMe SSDs in RAID, or the ability to use one NVMe drive as your boot drive and a larger, cheaper SATA M,2 SSD for data, negating the need for additional drive mounts. What’s more. Asus has included a nifty-looking heatsink for the top-side M 2 port, complete with a thermal pad. The other M.2 port is located on the underside of the PCB.
As the cheapest board on test, the Gigabyte Z270N-WiFi doesn’t have many immediate competitors, with just ASRock offering the Z270M-ITX/ac. Both boards lack the visual pizzazz of other boards on test, instead focusing on features, and In some areas, they’re better equipped than their more expensive peers.
MSI Z270I Gaming Pro Carbon Review
The MSI Z270I Gaming Pro Carbon is on its own in this month’s group test, being cheaper than the premium offerings, but taking a very different route from ASRock’s similarly priced Fatality Z270 Gaming The Z270I Gaming Pro Carbon sports both Type-A and Type-C USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports, while the ASRock board lacks the former. In total, though, the ASRock board has one more USB port and double the number of USB ports that are faster than USB 2.
ASRock has also bolstered the Fatality Z270 Gaming with two more SATA 6Gbps ports than the Z270I Gaming Pro Carbon, and offers full Thunderbolt 3 support too. Aesthetics are always subjective, but for our tastes, the ASRock board has an edge here. It also sports heatpipe-equipped cooling, while the Z270I Gaming Pro Carbon returns fire with a black design and steel-encased DIMM slots.