So! Intel’s new 7th gen Kaby Lake processors are here, they’re out, and we’ve already put up a video on how the new chips, the Core i7 7700K and 7600K perform compared to their 6th gen Skylake predecessors – click the “i” in the corner to watch that one. As we noted in that video, Kaby lake is backward compatible with any given Skylake Z170 motherboard, provided its manufacturer has released a BIOS update that enables that compatibility. But, like hot dogs and hot dog buns, Kaby lake processors are made to work the best with Kaby Lake Z270 motherboards. Sure, you can eat a hot dog in a hamburger bun. But it’s… unnatural. So in this video, we’re going to look at the specific differences between the two chipsets, Z170 and Z270, using ASUS’ new lineup of Z270 boards – and we’ll also talk about some of the upgrades that these new ASUS boards, in particular, bring to the table over their Z170 predecessors. So, the question is – if you’re running Skylake right now, and you’re set to grab a new Kaby Lake CPU, should you also upgrade to Z270 while you’re at it? It’s a pretty specific question, and most people upgrading to Kaby Lake won’t be coming from Skylake, but, it’s an interesting question to look at nonetheless. Like the question of how to eat a hot dog in a hamburger bun. But that’s for another time.
Now, Kaby Lake is built on the same 14nm process as Skylake and Broadwell, and it’s also built on the same basic microarchitecture as Skylake. Intel used to follow a tick-tock release schedule, where a tick was a new fabrication process and a tock was a new microarchitecture, but Kaby Lake represents the “optimization” stage of Intel’s new Process-Architecture-Optimization release schedule. As such, there aren’t many super-revolutionary new features on the new platform – but, it does provide a pretty solid boost in performance, especially for overclockers, as we explain in Jack’s video, and it also adds support for a number of features that weren’t readily available in Z170. So, if you upgrade to a Kaby Lake CPU but keep your Z170 motherboard, you’ll get a performance increase, but you’ll probably be missing out on some features that you could have with a Z270 motherboard.
First off, Z270 supports more PCIe lanes, with a maximum 24 lanes to Z170’s 20, pumping up the bandwidth for GPUs, m.2 SSDs, and so on. It also supports a higher max number of high-speed I/O, or HSIO Lanes, 30 compared to 26 in Z170. So that means more and faster ports available on the newer chipset. Z270 also supports the newest version of Intel Rapid Storage Technology, version 15, while you’re stuck with boring old version 14 on Z170, PSH, lame. Now, Z270 does not have native support for USB 3.1 with 10 gigabits per second by default, but a lot of motherboard manufacturers are adding it in themselves. Some higher end Skylake motherboards already have this feature, but others didn’t, although you could also get an add-in card for that. But chances are with a decent Z270 motherboard, that feature will be there.
Now a Z270 feature that is particularly interesting is support for Intel Optane, the company’s new 3D Nand memory technology. I say interesting, and not crucial, because there aren’t actually any products on the market, as of filming this video, anyway, that use Intel Optane. Optane SSDs are supposed to enter the market at some point this year, and when they do, they’re expected to blow traditional SSDs away in terms of performance and longevity. So Intel is adding Optane support to Z270 boards to prepare for the introduction of those drives.
Now, those are the features inherent to the actual Z270 chipset. But motherboard manufacturers use the release of new chipsets to make their own custom upgrades to their product lines, which is why we’ve got some of ASUS’ new stuff here today. Joining me are 4 boards, representing ASUS’ four main product series: Prime, TUF, STRIX, and ROG. All of them have feature significant upgrades over last gen, like multiple m.2 slots, USB Type C ports, and improved audio capability, but let’s start with Prime.
Now, Prime is sort of the basic best bang for your buck type of line – it’s got a clean look without a ton of unnecessary doohickeys, although it does support ASUS’ Aura Sync feature, which lets you coordinate RGB lighting between all your ASUS products. The Prime Z270A also has Fan Xpert 4, which utilizes the additional temperature sensors in the board to customize individual fan speeds in response to different sources, like the CPU, GPU, or other components.
Next up, the TUF series, led by the Mark 1. Here we have the signature thermal armor – but it’s not just an aesthetic addition, although it does make the board look badass. The armor includes dust defenders to protect from buildup, and even has a mounting point for a fan you can get separately to help cool the VRM. THE TUF Fortifier backplate makes the board super easy to handle, but also prevents flexing from heavy components being added. TUF boards are also designed to be two times more durable than regular boards, offering increased protection from static shocks and power surges.
Now, STRIX is here too : it’s now being integrated into ASUS’ ROG sub-brand as the pro-gamer offering. Here we have the flagship Z270E along with the Z270F, which is just a notch below on the hierarchy. The Strix lineup fully supports ASUS Aura Sync, which lets you synchronise lighting between your motherboard, graphics cards, RAM, LED strips, keyboard and mice. The Z270E has a new dedicated USB 3.1 front panel connector, co-designed with Intel. ASUS says a lot of cases are going to be coming onto the market with the compatible internal connector, so this will let you get full 10 gigabit USB 3.1 through a front I/O port, so that’s pretty cool. Strix boards also have improved audio, with new dual headphone amps, one for the rear and one for the front, as well as the new Sonic Studio, which lets you set per-application sound profiles and also lets you amplify specific audio frequencies, if you REALLY want to get fancy.
Speaking of fancy, we’ve finally gotten to the top-end of the lineup with the ROG Maximus line. The Maximus 9 Hero we’ve got here has pretty much all the features of the previous boards, and then some – Fan Xpert 4, AURA Sync, the new USB 3.1 header, dual headphone amps with even better audio quality thanks to the SupremeFX audio codec. It isn’t the absolute flagship, that honor belongs to the Maximus 9 Extreme we checked out at CES with the integrated water block. But The Hero has some impressive water cooling features itself, with new dedicated headers for water pumps and AIO coolers, and an additional header for water flow monitoring. It also has Auto Tuning, ASUS’ auto overclocking solution, which is CPU specific and factors in your cooling and performance load, adjusting the clock and voltage according to whether your system is pretty much idle or doing something intensive like playing a game.
Alright. Hopefully that gave you a pretty solid idea of the type of new features that you’re looking at when considering the move to a Z270 board. Now, as is pretty much always the case, you’re better off upgrading after you’ve had the same CPU and motherboard for at least a few generations, as the performance and feature benefits are very iterative, they don’t change that much. But at least now you’ve been educated. That’s it for this episode guys, thank you so much for watching. Click over here for previous videos and check us out on twitter over here. But as always, like the video if you liked it, comment below for fans with benefits and subscribe for more videos like this from NCIX