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

Viewing page 7 of 7 pages. Previous 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

ROG Exclusives

Being an ROG model, the Maximus VIII Gene also ships with additional software exclusives outside of AI Suite catering to enthusiasts and gamers. While extra functionality is always appreciated, it's easy to forget this software is on your system. Like TurboLAN, they are separate apps while the AI Suite modules are all consolidated in one interface.

For users with an excess amount of RAM, Asus has provided both RAMCache and RAMDisk utilities that can use a designated amount of system memory to boast performance. The former seems to be an automated cache system that stores frequently used files quietly under the hood similar to the way that a hybrid solid-state hard drive works. The latter creates a virtual drive that the user can manually store files/applications on like a real disk. As RAM is a volatile storage medium, when the system is shut down, the RAMDisk is saved locally and reloaded when the operating system is started up again.

RAM settings can be altered in AI Suite but if you want to tweak the more obscure and probably inconsequential memory timings, Mem TweakIt is the tool for you.

If you're picky about audio, Sonic Studio II offers a fine selection of audio tuning capabilities. It's not just a collection of effects either as there are tweaks provided for microphones as well. This can be useful for gaming in particular, whether it be for enhanced multiplayer communication or the increasingly popular trend of streaming/broadcasting gameplay.

Gaming keyboards allow their owners to initiate multiple keystrokes by pressing dedicated macro buttons, giving them a significant advantage in multiplayer competition. If you don't want to shell out for such an accessory, KeyBot II gives similar capabilities to users with non-gaming keyboards.


Given all the extra PCI-E lanes provided by the Z170 chipset, feature-rich models like the Asus Maximus VIII Gene and Z170-A look like they will be the norm rather than the exception for most custom built Skylake PCs. Powered by the same chipset and built by the same manufacturer, the two boards are very similar at their core, despite the ROG model having a more specific target demographic. Both offer PCI-E 3.0 x8/x8 graphics configurations sufficient for dual SLI/CrossFireX, a single M.2 slot running off PCI-E 3.0 x4 bus, SATA Express support, USB 3.1 connectivity, and seven controllable fan headers.

Considering that the Maximus uses the smaller microATX form factor, it seems overloaded having so many fan headers and one extra SATA Express connector (or two additional SATA 6 Gbps ports) compared to the larger Z170-A. For most users, the additional convenience and diagnostic features of the ROG model will be better appreciated. The POST code display is invaluable if the system ever fails to boot up. Being able to clear the CMOS from the back panel and flash a new BIOS if the PC is headless and even brainless can also come in handy. The hardware power and reset buttons are nice touches as well.

The energy efficiency of the two boards is mixed, with the Maximus VIII Gene having a moderate disadvantage on light loads while the Z170-A is inferior on heavy loads. I wish this were reversed as the higher power draw on heavy load puts a greater stress on the Z170-A's more basic VRM heatsink design. Both pale in comparison to the power consumption levels exhibited by our original Skylake test board, the Gigabyte Z170X-UD5. If you plan on utilizing the integrated graphics to its fullest, this discrepancy may be acceptable as the Asus boards inexplicably delivers a modest improvement in gaming performance despite running at the same frequency/memory settings.

In terms of software, I prefer Asus' approach to Gigabyte's as AI Suite feels more refined and cohesive compared to the App Center model. The fan control utility is also more comprehensive and even responds quicker to changes. The one advantage Gigabyte holds is its cloud/mobile software as most of its functionality doesn't require a wireless connection on the desktop. Between the two Asus boards, the ROG exclusive apps are the only real difference, and unless you're a heavy gamer, it's mostly window dressing for the marketing department to promote. The vast majority of users won't lose anything of value in this regard by opting for the Z170-A.

It's difficult to gauge whether the Maximus VIII Gene is worth is US$220 price-tag, as it seems to be the only truly premium microATX Skylake motherboard currently on the market. A better question may be whether such a board is necessary, as high-end builds most often use ATX. Selling for US$160, the Z170-A has some competition as there are a variety of comparably priced ATX models, some sporting additional features. I can't comment personally on these competitors but if fan control is important, the Z170-A looks like it has a clear advantage, at least on paper.

Our thanks to Asus for the Maximus VIII Gene and Z170-A motherboard samples.

The Asus Maximus VIII Gene and Asus Z170-A are recommended by SPCR

* * *

Articles of Related Interest
Skylake: Intel Core i7-6700K
Gigabyte X99-UD4P Haswell-E Motherboard
Asus Maximus VII Gene vs. Gigabyte Z97MX-Gaming 5
Asus Z97-PRO LGA1150 Motherboard
MSI A88XM GAMING: Premium FM2+ Motherboard
Gigabyte Z87X-UD5 TH LGA1150 Motherboard

* * *

Discuss this article in the SPCR forums.

Previous 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

CPUs|Motherboards - Article Index
Help support this site, buy from one of our affiliate retailers!