ATX MOTH­ER­BOARD Asus Saber­tooth Z170

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Custom PC - - REVIEWS / NEW KIT -

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

In­tel LGA1151

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

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