It’s been half a year since Intel released its ‘Skylake’ sixth-generation Core i7-6700K and Core i5-6600K processors. To follow-up with Intel, motherboard manufacturers have launched entirely new product lines based on the supporting Intel Z170 chipset.
Skylake CPU’s require new motherboards thanks to a changed socket and an upgrade to DDR4 RAM. This being said, it’s interesting to see how the Sri Lankan consumer market reacts to the new generation of Intel Processors.
Asus – Z170 PRO GAMING
From Asus, we have the High-value, feature-packed, performance-optimized Z170 ATX board, the Z170 Pro Gaming. Clad in its tribal Black and Red color scheme, the ASUS Z170 Pro Gaming motherboard is extremely similar to Republic of Gamer motherboards of a few generations ago, It may not provide all the bells and whistles extras and expensive technology of flagship ROG products, but it still makes a solid foundation for a gaming system. Pro Gaming is inscribed upon the chipset heat sink to set it aside from the ROG series.
Feature wise, USB 3.1 is provided in the form of Type-A and Type-C connections from ASMedia along with four USB 3.0 and a pair of USB 2.0 to round-up the USB connectivity. There’s also native 4K support with integrated Intel® HD Graphics via HDMI. The Intel Gigabit Ethernet port comes with the Asus LAN Guard protection as well as support for the company’s GameFirst III packet prioritization and optimization software.
Signal-coupling technology and premium surface-mounting ensure a more reliable connection and better throughput, plus electrostatically-guarded and surge-protected components (ESD Guards) for 1.9X-greater tolerance to static electricity and 2.5X-greater protection (up to 15KV) against surges. Thanks to the Exclusive GameFirst III software, game-related packets are prioritized and allocated more bandwidth to games, eliminating laggy gameplay, streaming stutters and file-sharing slowdown, giving you an extra edge during frags. The software allows you to choose from Optimization, Game, Media Streaming or File Sharing presets.
The mother board also offers flawless audio thanks to the SupremeFX audio technology. Near-lossless audio quality with a remarkable signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of 115dB. The 300Ω-headphone amplifier will let you drive some of the very best headphones available for exceptional gaming-audio and music-listening experiences. The Premium Nichicon® audio capacitors and Fine-quality Japanese-made components help produce a warmer, natural sound.
Another notable upgrade for the Z170 Pro Gaming versus its Z97-predecessor is the bolstered CPU power solution.
The 8-phase CPU VRM has been buffed up to a 10-phase implementation, something that is welcomed given that Skylake overclocks in a different way to Haswell. Motherboard vendors have a lot more voltage control and granularity giving them scope to differentiate in terms of overclocking capabilities. Thanks to ASUS-exclusive Pro Clock technology, over clocking is more optimized and boot up times are a thing of the past.
The dedicated base-clock (BCLK) generator, specially designed for 6th-generation Intel® processors extends overclocked base clock frequencies up to 400MHz. This custom solution works in sync with the ASUS TurboV Processing Unit (TPU). Thus Enhancing voltage and base-clock overclocking control. There’s also DDR4 overclocking, 5 way optimization, LED control, Fan Xpert 3 and USB 3.1 boost. All tweakable through AI Suite 3, the One-stop performance-optimization panel exclusive to Asus. The motherboard is also optimized for multiple graphics cards. As for the build quality, it’s pretty high level. We get durable, quality components such as capacitors, plenty of protection items such as ESD guards on the IO area, DRAM overcurrent protection, Q-LEDS for diagnostics and more.
It’s worth mentioning that the BIOS design is pretty amazing as well. It’s smooth, slick and a mouse-controlled graphical BIOS which has been improved to make it even more appealing. Whether you’re a PC novice or a seasoned overclocker, the EZ and Advanced Modes help you find your way. In EZ Mode you can get set up very quickly, applying the date and time, fan profiles and Intel Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) memory profiles. Switch to Advanced Mode to set up favorites and shortcuts, record and review recent changes with Last Modified or make notes in Quick Notes.
With the above said, it’s pretty impressive that this mother board is aimed at the entry-level gaming market.
While it’s no ROG replacement, the excellent price-to-performance ratio guarantees that it will be the foundation for a solid gaming system.
Gigabyte – GA-Z170X-Gaming 3
Gigabyte on the other hand offers us the GA-Z170X-Gaming 3, a gamer oriented motherboard series with handpicked features to provide gamers and enthusiast with best performance and great gaming experience. While we can’t expect advanced features for its price point, Gigabyte has managed to include the most important features a gamer needs. Following the Gigabyte gaming series, this motherboard comes in the same superb build quality in the same black and red color scheme.
Feature wise, we’re told the GA-Z170X-Gaming 3 has the world’s 1st USB-IF USB 3.1 certified controller. Since the Intel USB 3.1 controller utilizes 2 PCIe Gen3 lanes, it offers a total of up to 16Gb/s, which means you have extra bandwidth, allowing you to take full control of the 10Gb/s USB 3.1 ports. With twice the bandwidth compared to its previous generation, and backwards compatibility with USB 2.0 and 3.0, the much improved USB 3.1 protocol is available over the new reversible USB Type-C™ and the traditional USB Standard-A connector for better compatibility over a wider range of devices.
Gigabyte motherboards come equipped with a 5x (15μ) gold-plated CPU socket design, which means that enthusiasts can enjoy absolute reliability and longevity for the CPU socket overtime, without having any concerns about corroded pins and bad contacts. The motherboard is reinforced and strengthened with Industry Leading Ultra Durable™ PCIe Metal Shielding. The innovative one piece stainless steel shielding design from GIGABYTE reinforces the PCIe connectors to provide the extra strength required to support heavy graphics cards. Thanks to the Qualcomm Killer E2200, the motherboard offers a high-performance, adaptive gigabit Ethernet controller that offers better online gaming and online media performance compared to standard solutions.
As for the Audio, the Gigabyte AMP-UP Audio is powered by Realtek ALC1150, a high-performance multi-channel High Definition Audio Codec that delivers an exceptional audio listening experience with up to 115dB SNR, ensuring users get the best possible audio quality from their PC. It provides ten DAC channels that simultaneously support 7.1-channel sound playback, plus 2 channels of independent stereo sound output. The two stereo ADCs are integrated and support a microphone array with Acoustic Echo Cancellation, Beam Forming, and Noise Suppression technologies. The ALC1150 incorporates Realtek proprietary converter technology to achieve Front differential output 115dB Signal-to-Noise ratio (SNR) playback (DAC) quality and 104dB SNR recording (ADC) quality.
Not only does the motherboard have High end audio capacitors from Nichicon, but it also offers you the exclusive option of OP-AMP upgrades.
An easy way to improve audio dynamics and overall sound-quality with little cost. The Exclusive onboard ‘Gain Boost’ selector switches give you the option of choosing between the standard 2.5x mode or the high-amplification 6x mode which is ideal for high impedance speakers and headphones. Quite the buy for an Audiophile on a budget.
As for Performance, the Gigabyte – GA-Z170X-Gaming 3 meets the bang for buck ratio. With the Turbo B-Clock Tuning IC. Over clockers can change their BCLK Frequency to a desired value of their choice. Thanks to the new linear range adjustment option of the Tuning IC, it’s now possible to tap into ranges from 90MHz to 500MHz, so that Overclockers are not limited to the 5% ranges of traditional straps. With the inclusion of two PCIe Gen3 x4 M.2 connectors onboard, GIGABYTE brings to the user PCI-Express connectivity for SSD devices. With speeds of up to 32 Gb/s per connector, the dual M.2 provides an ideal storage solution as it also supports RAID modes. The motherboard is also optimized for multiple graphics cards.
As for bundled software, the motherboard comes with GIGABYTE’s EasyTune. A simple and easy-to-use interface that allows users to fine-tune their system settings or adjust system and memory clocks and voltages in a Windows environment. With Smart Quick Boost, one click is all it takes to automatically overclock your system, giving an added performance boost when you need it the most. Quite the motherboard for the budget builder and easy on the wallet.
MSI – Z170A GAMING M3
Last, but not least, is the MSI Z170 GAMING M3 motherboard. Born into the entry-level section of MSI’s all new GAMING series. A well-rounded board at its price range is an indication that MSI is making them a great pick for those looking to save as much money as they can on a new motherboard for their Z170 gaming systems. The motherboard is painted in MSI’s black and red theme and has a sharper design on the heatsinks with angles serving to break the lines for more of an aesthetic look.
Thanks to MSI Gaming LAN, this motherboard helps you dominate games with the lowest latency. Featuring carefully selected components, MSI Gaming LAN ensures the you best online gaming experience without lag. With the new Killer E2400 Intelligent Networking Platform, featuring Advanced Stream Detect 2.0, maximum networking performance for online games and high-quality streaming media are made possible. Killer™ LAN automatically detects and optimizes game traffic in advance for smoother, stutter-free in-game performance and the competitive edge. The include MSI Gaming LAN manager software prioritizes and optimizes system processes so that you have maximum performance for your gaming sessions.
As for connectivity options, the motherboard comes with USB 3.1 Gen1. With performance x2 faster than a regular USB 3.0 connection, you get up to 10Gbp/s of speed on data transfers and boosted transfer rates for peripherals.
There’s also SATA express for high-speed storage through the PCI-Express. Enabling more bandwidth up to 16 Gb/s.
If you’re going to use SSD storage, the motherboard has TURBO M.2. With speeds of up to 32Gb/s using Gen3 x4, Turbo M.2 is more than x5 faster than a regular SATA III connection. Making system boot up instantaneous and loading applications faster than ever.
Audio on the Z170A GAMING M3 is powered by Nahimic Sound Technology with Audio Boost 3. Thanks to the Isolated Audio PCB, the Audio Boost 3 acts as a dedicated soundcard by physically isolating the audio circuitry to give you a more clear audio signal. Fueled by an EMI-shielded high quality HD audio processor and premium quality audio components like Chemi-Con Audio Capacitors, users are able to enjoy the purest sound quality. Breathtaking, crystal clear sound and music through 8-channel HD Audio or high impendence headphones give you an experience that helps you live the game.
As for Performance, the motherboard comes with DDR4 Boost. In the case of traditional memory design, the memory signals are distorted by electromagnetic signals from other components often, reducing the performance or making the system unstable. MSI’s DDR4 Boost technology optimize traces and fully isolate memory circuitry. This design ensures the memory signals stay pure for optimal performance and stability. The active Extreme Memory profile is highlighted by an added XMP LED.
Overclocking is instantaneous with Game Boost! Easily giving you more FPS in games with the one push of a button. The motherboard is also optimized for multiple graphics cards. Enhanced CPU overvoltage protection helps prevent overvoltage and short-circuit damage of the CPU. The Military Class 5 components used make sure the PC runs stable under extreme gaming conditions. There’s also protection for Humidity, High temperature, ESD and EMI.
As for Software, the motherboard comes bundles with the usual MSI freeware like CPU-Z MSI Gaming edition and MSI RAMDISK! It’s worth noting that it’s also Gaming Certified and SteelSeries Certified. Making it quite the choice for gamers.
The MSI Z170A GAMING M3 is a capable motherboard with all the essentials you need for a solid gaming build. Its got all the basics nailed down including what you’d expect from the Z170 chipset.
While we managed to pick the 3 most budget friendly gaming motherboards, it’s only right we crown one of them as the best. With SupremeFX, GameFirst III and the TurboV Processing Unit, the ASUS Z170 PRO GAMING is our pick. It may not be a ROG replacement, but it’s the closest you’ll get on a budget.