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

Powered by the Z170 chipset, the high-end Asus Maximus VIII Gene and mid-range Asus Z170-A both offer SLI/CrossFireX support, M.2 slots on a PCI-E 3.0 x4 bus, SATA Express, USB 3.1 connectivity, and fan control for up to 7 fans.

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.

PHYSICAL DETAILS: Asus Maximus VIII Gene

Though it conforms to the smaller microATX form factor, the Asus Maximus VIII Gene uses every inch of space as it’s pack full of features. Along with all the usual features one would expect from a Z170 model, it sports an all digital 10+2 phase power regulation, a beefy VRM heatsink, physical power/reset buttons and other covenience/diagonostic features.


The Maximus VIII Gene at an angle.


A closer look at the socket and VRM heatsinks.


The heavy duty heatsinks are bolted down securely to metal backplates.


Rear ports. The red USB port is a USB 3.1 Type-A connector while the one below it is the reversible Type-C port.


A bright lava-like trail runs around the audio components, a red LED lights up the PCH heatsink, and both the power and reset buttons glow. All three of these lighting effects can be disabled in the BIOS.

PHYSICAL DETAILS: Asus Z170-A

The larger Asus Z170-A has a simpler 8+2 digital power regulation system as well as a blander design lacking many of the premium features of the ROG model.


The Z170-A from an angle.


A closer look at the socket and VRM heatsinks which are attached with pushpins.


Rear ports. The teal blue port is a USB 3.1 Type-A while the one below it is a Type-C connector.

BIOS/UEFI

Aside from the colors, the BIOS interface of the two boards are practically identical to one another and to the last generation of Asus 9-series chipset boards, so if you’ve used an older Haswell model, everything will look familiar. This is not a complaint as the UI is well refined and the available options are exhaustive. There are also some nice touches like a favorites menu for bookmarking frequently changed settings and a brief review of altered settings to confirm before exiting.


By default, the BIOS launches into EZ Mode, a simplified interface combining all the basic information and options required to get a new build up and running. On the Z170-A, the electric blue color scheme is soothing and pleasing to the eye.


On the Maximus VIII Gene, the grey background is duller with some brush-like texture to give it some character.



For power users, the Advanced Mode is really what you want to access every frequency, voltage, and power setting available, major or minute. If you want to see all the options presented, check the manual, as there are just too many to present here.

The only complaint about the UI is the ample spacing between settings. On most of the screens you can only see 10~12 options on one page and you have to scroll down multiple times to see it all. Old-timers may experience nostalgia for the days when the BIOS was just text and numbers.



The two boards have seven 4-pin fan headers, two designed for the CPU (CPU & CPU_OPT), one for a water pump, and four for case fans. They’re all individually controllable aside from CPU_OPT which just mirrors the behavior of the main CPU fan header. There are three more controls available if you connect Asus’ fan extension card accessory.

They can all be configured to use PWM control as well, which is rare as most boards only provide voltage control on non-CPU fan headers regardless of how many pins are physically provided.
Fan profile presets are provided or you can tweak the fan curve with manual settings. The four chassis fan headers can also respond to any of the three onboard temperature sensors.


Another pleasant sight is the presence of Q-Fan optimization which allows fan calibration directly in the BIOS. This is especially useful for non-Windows users.

TEST METHODOLOGY

Test Setup:

  • Intel Core i7-6700K
    processor – four cores. 4.0~4.2 GHz, 14 nm, 91W, Hyper-threading, integrated Intel HD 530 graphics
  • Scythe Kabuto
    CPU cooler – stock fan at 800 RPM
  • Kingston Fury memory – 2x8GB DDR4-2667, C15
  • ADATA XPG SX910 solid-state drive – 128GB, 2.5-inch, SATA 6 Gbps
  • Kingston HyperX 3K solid-state drive – 120GB, 2.5-inch, SATA 6 Gbps
  • Seasonic
    SS-400ET
    power supply – 400W, ATX
  • Microsoft
    Windows 7
    operating system – Ultimate, 64-bit


Device listing, Maximus VIII Gene on the left, Z170-A on the right. Most of the internals are identical.

Measurement and Analysis Tools

Video Test Clips

H.264/MKV 1080p: A custom 1080p H.264 encoded clip inside an Matroska container with a 22 mbps bitrate.

 

YouTube Flash 1080p: The Dark Knight Rises Official Trailer #3, an HD movie trailer in 1080p.

 

YouTube HTML5 4K: RBG Rainbow, a dead/stuck pixel screen fixer in 4K.

 

Testing Procedures

Before testing, certain services/features
like Indexing, Superfetch, System Restore, and Windows Defender are disabled
to prevent them from causing spikes in CPU/HDD usage. We also make note if energy
saving features like Cool’n’Quiet, SpeedStep or S3 suspend-to-RAM do not function
properly.

Our main test procedure is designed to measure the overall system power consumption
at various states. We also measure the hottest points on the external heatsinks using an infrared thermometer.

TEST RESULTS

Power Consumption

Note: Motherboards sometimes vary in regard to the BLCK and Turbo Boost settings with models. As higher clock speeds typically consuming more power, this makes direct power consumption comparisons unfair. For these tests, boards using the same CPU have been tweaked to use the exact same clock speeds, both CPU and GPU, to ensure a level playing field.

Compared to our Skylake review board, the Gigabyte Z170X-UD5, both Asus boards have noticeably higher power consumption under light load. Sitting idle, the Z170X-UD5 uses a substantial 6W and 9W less than the Z170-A and Maximus VIII Gene respectively. The difference shrinks somewhat during video playback.

During our heavy load tests, the Asus boards continue to draw more power, especially the Z170-A, possibly due to poorer power regulation. In real life tasks, the difference is moderate while a much larger discrepancy is observed with Prime95, the most demanding (though synthetic) stress test.

In terms of CPU and GPU performance, boards of the same chipset perform very closely to one another but these power differences made me wonder whether there was some cheating going on. A quick benchmark check revealed identical results in the video encoding tests, but a ~10% improvement for the Asus boards in Lost Planet 2, with the Maximus VIII Gene having a slight edge over the Z170-A. Believing this was an anomaly I also tried out our Crysis Demo benchmark and discovered a similar framerate increase.

This is puzzling as the CPU/RAM/GPU clocks and settings were identical in the BIOS and observed to be the same with monitoring software during testing. This puts into question the veracity of our original HD 530 GPU though I cannot say whether a typical Skylake board will perform better or worse without more data.

The TDP limit comes into play with all three boards when adding a graphical load (in the form of FurMark) to the Prime95 stress test as only a small increase in system power consumption is observed when doing so. Setting the CPU to 800 MHz (the lowest allowable without changing the BCLK) reveals the potential of the integrated graphics chip when untethered The difference for the three boards is about the same, between 30W and 32W, which contradicts the GPU performance anomaly detected earlier. If the graphics chip were secretly overclocked or receiving some other advantage, one would expect to see a more substantial power difference here.

Cooling

To test the board’s cooling, the CPU is stressed for ~15 minutes with Prime95 and FurMark. Temperatures of the boards’ chipset heatsinks are recorded using a spot thermometer. The highest temperatures are taken for comparison.

The Z170X-UD5 and Maximus VIII Gene, which both happen to utilize VRM heatsinks connected via heatpipe, run noticeably cooler under full load than the Z170-A. That being said, the peak external VRM temperature seems proportional to the system power draw, which varies greatly between the three models. If you assume a linear relationship between power consumption and temperature, the Z170-A does appear to be at a disadvantage, though the plastic shroud covering half of the side heatsink may be equally at fault as the actual heatsink design.

Boot Performance

To test boot time, the BIOS/UEFI is optimized by setting the hard drive recognition and other delays to minimum, taking care not to disable common functionality like full USB support, POST messages, etc. and the time it takes to reach the Windows loading screen (it’s stopped here because this is the point where the O/S and drive become factors) is measured.

Our trio of Skylake boards take an unusually long time to reach the POST screen, resulting in boot delays about double that of Haswell models. Of the three, the Gigabyte board is the quickest but only by 1~2 seconds.

SOFTWARE

Like the BIOS, the included software is mostly the same as Asus’ previous generation of Intel motherboards. The main utility is AI Suite, which has many different modules inside with varying functionality. In the past I found installing AI Suite after updating Windows and installing all the necessary drivers impossible due to a strange error but this seems to have now been corrected. With both boards, the installer off the website didn’t work, but loading it off the support disc did the trick, much to my delight.

The default menu is called “Dual Intelligent Processors 5” and is actually a bundle of the five major modules jammed into one interface with the addition of a a “5-Way Optimization” button at the top that automatically tweaks each module for optimal performance and energy efficiency. It automatically overclocks, alters voltages, tunes fans, optimizes power regulation, and tests for stability.

The modules within offer the same settings as in the BIOS but with sliding controls for better visual feedback. Regardless of what module you’re in, the bottom quarter of the screen is reserved for showing sensor information, e.g. frequency, voltage, temperature, fan speeds. There’s also a graphing option but with so little screen real estate, it’s of limited value.

From a silencing perspective, Fan Xpert 3 is the jewel of AI Suite. Each controllable fan has its own panel on a rotating carousel. Clicking the graph lets you alter the speed behavior while clicking on the graphic next to it brings you to a labeling menu where the fan can be given a name and assigned a position in the case for later reference.


After tuning the fans, Fan Xpert assigns minimum fan speeds so the automated fan control doesn’t accidentally turn them off completely by running it too slowly. Again, you get the same functionality as in the BIOS but with some graphical assistance, as well as a fixed RPM mode for setting fans to a single non-changing speed. Furthermore, non-CPU fans running on DC control can be turned off completely.

Asus also provides software outside of AI Suite, but the only notable thing that works out of the box on the Z170-A is TurboLAN, which enables network traffic prioritization and monitoring. The Maximus VIII Gene has a different utility with similar functionality called GameFirst.

One other major title offered by Asus is Wi-Fi GO!, which offers some wireless connectivity features like turning your PC into a DLNA device to share multimedia across your network, remote desktop capability and sending/receiving files from your phone/tablet. This duplicates some of the capabilities of Gigabyte’s Cloud Station utility which was previously discussed in our Gigabyte X99-UD4P review. There’s one major difference as Gigabyte’s software works if the desktop is only hooked up to the network with a wired connection. Wi-Fi GO! doesn’t function unless the PC has a wireless NIC which is not included in either of these Z170 models.

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.

FINAL THOUGHTS

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

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