ATX MOTHERBOARD Asus Sabertooth Z170
With a price that’s close to £200 inc VAT, there are certainly cheaper options than Asus’ Sabertooth Z170 TUF board if you’re looking to jump on the Skylake bandwagon. However, few boards offer anywhere near its number of features.
Let’s start with Asus’ Thermal Armor, which the company claims improves cooling by directing airflow from a couple of tiny included fans onto the PCB. We’ve always been in two minds about the Thermal Armor – you need to use the fans to keep your system cool and they can sound whiny – if you don’t use the fans, a huge area of the PCB is essentially blocked off from your case’s airflow. Also, it can get in the way. For instance, the top left-hand corner of the CPU socket area is very cramped and installing coolers is tricky as a result. Oddly, there are also vents that can be opened and closed, although it’s unclear why you’d want them closed.
However, the Thermal Armor does have a plus side – it looks fantastic. If you’re into modding, you can easily remove it to spray-paint it to match your case or other hardware. Asus has also included a complete set of blanking covers for the PCI-E slots, DIMM slots and rear I/O ports. These covers are meant to keep out dust but, when combined with the Thermal Armor, they give it a decidedly stealth bomber-like look. The rear of the motherboard sports a large steel plate too, which Asus claims prevents the PCB from bowing under stress and also aids cooling. The accessories list doesn’t stop there, though, as Asus has included a PCI-E-to-M.2 adaptor, which can house up to 110mm SSDs, in addition to the 110mm-long slot on the motherboard itself. The latter, though, is sealed in a small chamber in the Thermal Armor and while we didn’t see any speed drop-offs during testing, our SSD did get a tad warm in that location. As such, it’s good that there’s another way of mounting an M.2 SSD. There are two SATA Express ports and eight SATA 6Gbps ports too, although two of the latter come courtesy of an ASMedia controller, so make sure any SSDs are hooked up to the faster Intelcontrolled ports instead.
Meanwhile, the rear I/O panel is bristling with ports, including a pair of Intel Gigabit Ethernet ports, plus
4 slots: max 64GB DDR3 (up to 3733MHz)
Three 16x PCI-E 3, three 1x PCI-E 3 Realtek ALC1150 Two Intel Gigabit LAN Base clock 40–650MHz, CPU multiplier 8-83x; max voltages, CPU 1.7V, RAM 2V
6 x SATA 6Gbps (Z170), 2 x SATA 6Gbps (ASMedia), 2 x SATA Express, 2 x M.2, 6 x USB 3, 5 x USB 3.1 Type-A, 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C, 5 x USB 2, 2 x LAN, 3 x surround audio out, line in, mic, 1 x HDMI 1.4, 1 x DisplayPort 1.2
305 x 244 both USB 3.1 Type-A and reversible Type-C ports too. There’s a notable lack of overclocking and testing tools here and on the PCB though – there are no buttons or LED displays, and just a jumper for resetting the CMOS. These features have always been missing from TUF motherboards, and it’s a shame.
Layout is otherwise generally good. You get three 16x PCI-E slots and three 1x PCI-E slots, and one of the latter sits above the top 16x slot, so you’ll be able to use a discrete sound card or the included M.2 adaptor no matter how many graphics cards you use. The first two 16x slots are also double-spaced, so air-cooled cards won’t be cramped.
The main feature of TUF motherboards that justifies their price, however, is the software and fan control. There are six 4-pin fan headers on the PCB and all of them can be automatically controlled using the included Thermal Radar 2 software. This suite enables you to tweak each of the fan profile curves and even switch off fans below certain CPU temperatures if you’re just browsing the Web. You can also set each fan to provide post-shutdown cooling. The headers work with 4-pin or 3-pin fans too – the latter’s fan speed can be adjusted and not just fixed. You can also reduce the speed of the small chipset fans to reduce the aforementioned whiny sound.
In addition, the Sabertooth Z170 also has three thermal sensors that you can connect to headers on the motherboard, so you can monitor the temperatures of your other hardware or even coolant using a thermal probe. In short, it’s a tweaker’s dream.
You can easily remove the Thermal Armor to spray-paint it