ASUS is a big name in the PC component game for good reason. They cater to a wide range of needs and budgets, with a high standard of quality (most of the time) across the board. Whether you’re digging deep for a fancy Republic of Gamers board or simply one that let’s you get the best out of your hardware with the least effort, there’s a product for you. And The Z170 Pro Gaming falls squarely into the latter bracket.
Shedding the coating of the ROG brand, the Z170 Pro Gaming bears the gaming feel without the premium look. It’s a fairly standard board, with a nice black finish accompanied by slight hints of red across the CPU heat-sink and other areas. It’s subtle enough to work with whatever setup you probably already have, but still shows off it’s gaming prowess with a rather tacky sticker on the lower right of the board. Not deal breaking, but not great either.
Thankfully the mid-range board comes with enough support where it counts. The Z170 is perfect for a new Skylake chip, with the board supporting both DDR3 and DDR4 memory via four RAM slots just right of the CPU socket. This is supplemented by three PCI-e slots that allow for SLI and CrossFire, along with a decent but standard on-board sound solution featuring a high-quality Realtek ALC1150 codec. A far cry from the one featured on the top of the line ROG motherboard.
On the back there’s support for a single USB Type-c or Type-A connection, three USB 3.0 ports and a pair of USB 2.0 ports. The motherboard also features single HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI and VGA outputs, as well as an Intel Gigabyte Ethernet port with ASUS’ LAN Guard protection. On the board itself are four SATA connections that lack some of the more modern speed upgrades, which will come under the microscope in testing.
But with the Z170 Pro Gaming being more suited to a more conservative build, it’s what it gets out of your component that really matters. Before testing, I dove into the BIOS to suss things out and left rather surprised. It would be hard for anyone to spot major differences between this and the BIOS featured on ROG boards, with the same level of control over components shared between them. That’s great news for overclocking, even if the board itself might not be able to replicate some of the top-tier results.
That means the same five-step optimisation software is present too, allowing me to easily overclock the included Intel Core i7-6700K chip and 34GB of DDR4 2000 RAM with the click of a button. That boosted performance by around 10% according to the BIOS, and effectively put the motherboard in Gaming Optimised mode. But as the results below show, even running things at stock were supremely impressive.
Cinebench R15 CPU Test
Comparing the Z170 Pro Gaming to the stock settings of the beefier Maximus VIII Extreme ROG board, these result are a little startling. For one, the Z170 not only outperforms the Maximus at stock, but widens that gap when overclocked. This is partly due to the Maximus doing some odd things with CPU multipliers of not fiddled with, but shows that the Z170 is better without really touching it.
AIDA64 Memory Test
The same can’t be said for memory speeds though, with the Maximus VIII clearly using its more modern implementations to completely blow the Z170 out of the water. It’s a stark difference that might play a big role in gaming down the line, but the Z170 falls into fairly standard company with those speeds.
wPrime 1024MB CPU Test
Again with wPrime’s CPU test we see the Z170 making better use of stock configurations to leave the more expensive Maximus in its dust, and it’s another truly confusing notch against the ROG board, which doesn’t seem to play nicely when left to its own devices. The Z170, however, does an admirable job.
Futuremark FireStrike Benchmark
And this is maintained when looking that the benchmark Physics scores in Futuremark’s FireStrike test, which again show how the CPU is being utilised more efficiently when used on stock settings with the Z170. The overclocked settings give it a decent boost too, but it’s fairly standard regarding graphics. All three tests used the same GTX 760, so it’s a little curious to see the Z170 also scoring higher in this sector too.
What the testing shows create a compelling argument for whether a ROG brand is truly necessary to get the best gaming performance. At stock settings, the clear answer would be no –with the more budget-orientated Z170 clearly showing that it’s the better board out the box with little hassle. The ROG Maximus definitely features more future-proof memory and better, more stable overclocking tools, but for the more moderate, regular PC gamer out there it isn’t’ the better choice.
That’s even more true when taking price into consideration. The Maximus VIII Extreme costs in excess of R6000, while the Z170 Pro Gaming only clocks in at around R3200. That’s a massive price gap for a motherboard that is, on most fronts, matching performance with its more expensive brother, making a good argument for getting the cheaper board. This is especially true if you’re new to PC gaming, and intent on building your first Skylake build with an ATX chassis in mind. Right now, there’s little else to recommend.
Last Updated: December 18, 2015