Asus Skylake Z170 Motherboards: Maximus VIII Gene vs. Z170-A

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Asus Z170 Skylake Motherboards: Maximus VIII Gene vs. Z170-A

September 28, 2015 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Asus Maximus
VIII Gene

LGA1151 mATX
Motherboard
Asus Z170-A
LGA1151 ATX
Motherboard
Manufacturer
Asus
Street Price
US$220 US$160

While Intel's new Skylake architecture is an exciting advancement in CPU technology, the new 100-series chipsets may be of equal or even greater importance. The high-end Z170 variant is especially promising as it provides up to 20 PCI-E 3.0 lanes, allowing manufacturers to outfit their motherboards with the latest interfaces without worrying about sharing bandwidth between devices and limiting SLI/CrossFireX capability to fit everything in. The Gigabyte Z170X-UD5 used in our Skylake review is a perfect example of this, offering SLI/CrossFireX, two M.2 slots, three SATA Express ports, and a USB 3.1 controller, a combination that's effectively impossible with Haswell.


The Z170-A and Maximus VIII Gene boxes.

Today, a pair of Asus Z170 motherboards are up for evaluation. Belonging to the Republic of Gamers series, the Maximus VIII Gene is a high-end model packed into a microATX form factor. The Z170-A is a less expensive but bigger ATX board with more mainstream appeal.


Maximus VIII Gene board layout.

Despite the more compact microATX form factor, the Maximus VIII Gene offers a surprising number of features. It has the obligatory dual PCI-E x16 slots that run at x8/x8 speed with dual GPUs so it's 2-way SLI compatible. There's also a PCI-E x4 slot with an open edge which technically allows a third x16 card to be installed for 3-way CrossFireX, though it's unlikely to be used that way as one of the cards would have to be a single slot model. A sizable heatpipe cooler covers the VRMs around the CPU socket and the board is littered with seven fan headers, six of which are independently controllable.

For storage, there is an M.2 slot (using a PCI-E 3.0 x4 interface with a maximum throughput of 32 Gbps) and six SATA 6 Gbps ports, four of which cohabitate with a pair of SATA Express connectors. USB 2.0 ports are not offered out of the box (they can be added via internal headers) so only USB 3.0 and 3.1 connectors are available on the back panel, powered by the Z170 chipset and an ASMedia controller respectively. The onboard audio is handled by an ROG SupremeFX 8-channel sound chip with special shielding technology, built-in amplifier, and gold-plated audio jacks. There are some additional features for tinkerers including a POST code display, voltage measuring points, physical power and reset switches at the bottom of the board, and clear CMOS and USB BIOS Flashback (for flashing a BIOS without CPU/RAM installed or a working display) buttons on the I/O panel. The Maximus VIII Gene is also outfitted with extra (mostly red) lighting.


Z170-A board layout.

The Z170-A has three full-sized PCI-E x16 slots (the lane arrangement is the same x8/x8/x4 for multi-GPUs) along with three PCI-E x1 and one old fashioned PCI slot. Cooling is taken care of by smaller individual VRM heatsinks but they appear to have a more practical design emphasizing surface area rather than style. The most visually noteworthy feature is a bizarre white plastic shroud covering the rear ports and part of the heatsink next to them. The Z170-A has same seven fan headers as the Maximus VIII Gene but this makes more sense on the ATX form factor.

Much of the core functionality is identical between the two boards with a few significant exceptions. Despite being a larger board, the Z170-A actually sports one fewer SATA Express port. It does have a pair of native USB 2.0 ports though, which is actually an advantage if you choose to stick with Windows 7 (the 3.0 ports don't function during the installation process unless the driver is pre-loaded). The audio chip is a more pedestrian Realtek 8-channel model and there's an onboard Thunderbolt header. Video output is also offered in all four standard forms, VGA, DVI, HDMI, and DisplayPort, while the Maximus only has the latter two. Unlike the ROG model, no lighting or notable convenience/diagnostic features are offered.


Maximus VIII Gene package contents.


Z170-A package contents.

Both boards ship with manuals, a support disc, an I/O shield, a Q-connector block (to more easily plug in front panel cables), M.2 screws, a plastic frame to give new builders a better grip of the CPU during installation, and a single SLI bridge. The Maximus offers an extra SATA data cable (four vs. three), stickers for labeling fans and cables, as well as an all critical door hanger.

Specifications: Asus Maximus VIII Gene vs. Asus Z170-A
(differences in bold)
Model Asus Maximus VIII Gene Asus Z170-A
CPU Intel® Socket 1151 for 6th Generation Core™ i7/Core™ i5/Core™ i3/Pentium®/Celeron® Processors
Supports Intel® 14 nm CPU
Supports Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0
* The Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0 support depends on the CPU types.
* Refer to www.asus.com for CPU support list
Chipset Intel® Z170
Memory 4 x DIMM, Max. 64GB, DDR4 3800~2400(O.C.)/2133 MHz Non-ECC, Un-buffered Memory
Dual Channel Memory Architecture
Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)
* Hyper DIMM support is subject to the physical characteristics of individual CPUs.
* Refer to www.asus.com for the Memory QVL (Qualified Vendors Lists).
Graphic Integrated Graphics Processor- Intel® HD Graphics support
Maximum shared memory of 512 MB
Supports Intel® InTru™ 3D, Quick Sync Video, Clear Video HD Technology, Insider™
Multi-VGA output support : HDMI/DisplayPort 1.2 ports
- Supports HDMI with max. resolution 4096 x 2160 @ 24 Hz
- Supports DisplayPort with max. Resolution 4096 x 2304 @ 60 Hz
Multi-VGA output support : HDMI/DVI-D/RGB/DisplayPort ports
- Supports HDMI with max. Resolution 4096 x 2160 @ 24 Hz / 2560 x 1600 @ 60 Hz
- Supports DVI-D with max. Resolution 1920 x 1200 @ 60 Hz
- Supports RGB with max. Resolution 1920 x 1200 @ 60 Hz

- Supports DisplayPort with max. Resolution 4096 x 2304 @ 24 Hz / 4096 x 2304 @ 60 Hz
Supports up to 3 displays simultaneously
DP 1.2 Multi-Stream Transport compliant, supports DP 1.2 monitor daisy chain up to 3 displays
Multi-GPU Support Supports NVIDIA® Quad-GPU SLI™ Technology*
Supports NVIDIA® 2-Way SLI™ Technology
Supports AMD Quad-GPU CrossFireX™ Technology*
Supports AMD 3-Way CrossFireX™ Technology
Expansion Slots 2 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (x16 or dual x8, gray)
1 x PCIe 3.0 x4 (black)
2 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (x16 or dual x8)
1 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (max at x4 mode)
3 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x1
1 x PCI
Storage Intel® Z170 chipset :
1 x M.2 Socket 3 with M Key, type 2242/2260/2280/22110 storage devices support (both SATA & PCIE mode)
6 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), gray
Support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10
Supports Intel® Smart Response Technology
2 x SATA Express port, Compatible with 4 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports
Supports Intel® Rapid Storage Technology
1 x SATA Express port, Compatible with 2 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports
LAN Intel® I219V, 1 x Gigabit LAN Controller(s), Dual interconnect between the Integrated Media Access Controller (MAC) and Physical Layer (PHY)
Gigabit Intel® LAN Connection- 802.3az Energy Efficient Ethernet (EEE) appliance
ASUS LAN Guard
GameFirst technology ASUS Turbo LAN Utility
Audio ROG SupremeFX 2015 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
- Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel Jack-retasking
- SupremeFX Shielding Technology
- ESS® ES9023P DAC: dB SNR, dB THD+N (Max. kHz/ -bit)
- TI RC4580 2VRMS audio OP AMP(s)
Audio Feature :
- Gold-plated jacks
- DTS Connect
- Optical S/PDIF out port(s) at back panel
- Sonic SenseAmp
- Sonic Studio II
- Sonic Radar II
Realtek® ALC892 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC featuring Crystal Sound 3
- Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel MIC Jack-retasking
Audio Feature :
- DTS Connect
- DTS Studio Sound
- Optical S/PDIF out port(s) at back panel
- LED-lit Audio Shielding
- Dedicated audio PCB layers
- Audio amplifier
- Premium Japanese-made audio capacitors
- Unique de-pop circuit
- Top notch audio sensation delivers according to the audio configuration
- EMI protection cover to prevent electrical noise to affect the amplifier quality
- Absolute Pitch 192khz/24bit true BD lossless sound
- Power pre-regulator
Separate layer for left and right track, ensuring both sound deliver equal quality
USB Ports ASMedia® USB 3.1 controller :
1 x USB 3.1 port(s) (1 at back panel, Type-C)
1 x USB 3.1 port(s) (1 at back panel, Type-A)
Intel® Z170 chipset :
8 x USB 3.0 port(s) (6 at back panel, blue, 2 at mid-board)

Intel® Z170 chipset :
4 x USB 2.0 port(s) (4 at mid-board)

Intel® Z170 chipset :
6 x USB 3.0/2.0 port(s) (2 at back panel, blue, 4 at mid-board)

Intel® Z170 chipset :
6 x USB 2.0/1.1 port(s) (2 at back panel, 4 at mid-board)
ROG Exclusive Features ReTry Button
Safe Boot Button
Start Button
Reset Button
LN2 Mode
Mem TweakIt
ProbeIt
KeyBot II
- One-click Overclocking
- X.M.P.
- DirectKey
- ClrCMOS
- Power On
UEFI BIOS features :
- O.C. Profile
- GPU.DIMM Post
- Tweakers' Paradise
- ROG SSD Secure Erase
- Graphic Card Information Preview
ROG RAMDisk
Extreme Tweaker
N/A
Special Features OC Design - ASUS PRO Clock Technology
- Full BCLK range for extreme overclocking performance
5-Way Optimization by Dual Intelligent Processors 5
- 5-Way Optimization tuning key perfectly consolidates TPU, EPU, DIGI+ Power Control, Fan Xpert 3, and Turbo App
ASUS Exclusive Features :
- MemOK!
- AI Suite 3
- Ai Charger+
- USB 3.1 Boost
- Disk Unlocker
- Mobo Connect
- PC Cleaner
Remote Entertainment
- Media Streamer
- HyStream
ASUS EZ DIY :
- ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3
- ASUS EZ Flash 3
- ASUS USB BIOS Flashback
- Push Notice
ASUS Q-Design :
- ASUS Q-Shield
- ASUS Q-Code
- ASUS Q-LED (CPU, DRAM, VGA, Boot Device LED)
- ASUS Q-Slot
- ASUS Q-DIMM
- ASUS Q-Connector
Overclocking Protection :
- ASUS C.P.R.(CPU Parameter Recall)
RAMCache
ASUS TPU :
- Auto Tuning
- GPU Boost
- TPU switch
ASUS EPU :
- EPU
ASUS Digital Power Design :
- Industry leading Digital 8 Phase Power Design
- CPU Power Utility
ASUS Exclusive Features :
- Remote GO!
- AI Suite 3
- Anti-Surge
- USB 3.1 Boost
- Disk Unlocker
- Turbo LAN
- Crystal Sound 3
- EZ XMP ASUS Exclusive Features
- Mobo Connect
- PC Cleaner
Remote Entertainment
- Media Streamer
- HyStream
ASUS Quiet Thermal Solution :
- Stylish Fanless Design Heat-sink solution

ASUS EZ DIY :
- ASUS O.C. Tuner
- ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3
- ASUS EZ Flash 3
- Push Notice
ASUS Q-Design :
- ASUS Q-LED (CPU, DRAM, VGA, Boot Device LED)
- ASUS Q-Slot
- ASUS Q-DIMM
- ASUS Q-Connector
Special Memory O.C. Design
Overclocking Protection :
- ASUS C.P.R.(CPU Parameter Recall)
Turbo App
Fan Xpert 3
Operating System Support
Windows® 10 , 64bit
Windows® 8.1 , 64bit
Windows® 7 , 32bit/64bit
Back I/O Ports 1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port(s)
1 x DisplayPort
1 x HDMI
1 x LAN (RJ45) port(s)
1 x USB 3.1 Type-C
1 x USB 3.1 Type-A
1 x Optical S/PDIF out
5 x Audio jack(s)
6 x USB 3.0 (blue)
1 x Clear CMOS button(s)
1 x USB BIOS Flashback Button(s)
1 x DVI-D
1 x D-Sub

2 x USB 3.0 (blue)
2 x USB 2.0
Internal I/O Ports 2 x USB 2.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 4 USB 2.0 port(s)
1 x M.2 Socket 3 with M Key design, type 2242/2260/2280/22110 storage devices support (Supports both SATA & PCIE SSD)
1 x CPU Fan connector(s) (1 x 4-pin)
1 x CPU OPT Fan connector(s) (1 x 4-pin)
4 x Chassis Fan connector(s) (4 x 4-pin)
1 x Water Pump header (4-pin)
1 x 5-pin EXT_FAN(Extension Fan) connector
1 x 24-pin EATX Power connector(s)
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power connector(s)
1 x Front panel audio connector(s) (AAFP)
1 x System panel(s) (Q-Connector)
1 x MemOK! button(s)
1 x Thermal sensor connector(s)
1 x Power-on button(s)
1 x USB 3.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 2 USB 3.0 port(s)
2 x SATA Express connector: gray, Compatible with 4 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports
2 x SATA 6Gb/s connector(s)
1 x Power-on button(s)
1 x Reset button(s)
1 x LN2 Mode jumper(s)
1 x ROG extension (ROG_EXT) header(s)
1 x Safe Boot button
1 x ReTry button
2 x USB 3.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 4 USB 3.0 port(s) (19-pin)
1 x SATA Express connector: , Compatible with 2 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports
1 x COM port(s) connector(s)
6 x SATA 6Gb/s connector(s)
1 x S/PDIF out header(s)
1 x Thunderbolt header(s)
1 x EZ XMP switch
1 x DRCT header(s)
1 x TPU switch(es)
1 x Power-on button(s)
1 x Clear CMOS jumper(s)
1 x USB BIOS Flashback Card header
1 x 14-1 pin TPM connector
Accessories User's manual
ASUS Q-Shield
4 x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s)
1 x M.2 Screw Package
1 x CPU installation tool
1 x Supporting DVD
1 x SLI bridge(s)
1 x Q-connector(s) (1 in 1)
1 x 12 in 1 ROG Cable Label(s)
ROG Fan Label
1 x ROG Door Hanger(s)
User's manual
I/O Shield
3 x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s)
1 x M.2 Screw Package
1 x CPU installation tool
1 x Supporting DVD
1 x SLI bridge(s)
1 x Q-connector(s) (1 in 1)
Support Disc Drivers
ROG GameFirst technology
ROG RAMCache
ROG RAMDisk
Overwolf
KeyBot II
ROG CPU-Z
ROG Mem TweakIt

Kaspersky® Anti-Virus
DAEMON Tools Pro Standard
ASUS WebStorage

ASUS Utilities
Drivers
ASUS Utilities
EZ Update
Anti-virus software (OEM version)
Form Factor mATX Form Factor
9.6 inch x 9.6 inch (24.4 cm x 24.4 cm)
ATX Form Factor
12.0 inch x 9.6 inch (30.5 cm x 24.4 cm)
* apparently erroneous specification

Aside from the differences mentioned earlier the only other thing that separates the two is software, with the ROG model offering quite a few extra utilities on the specification list which we'll discuss later on.

Another noteworthy point is an apparent error in the specifications as both boards are listed as being Quad-SLI/CrossFireX compatible which is impossible based on the number/configuration of the given PCI-E slots.



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