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Shootouts

Intel Z270 flagship motherboard shootout: Keeping things fresh

By Koh Wanzi - 20 May 2017

Conclusion

Conclusion

Intel's Z270 platform is the latest chipset out the door from the chipmaker, but the lack of major differences from Z170 means that board makers have had to come up with more ways to keep things fresh.

As it turns out, they've refreshed the slate with fancier designs, more LED customization options, and interesting additions like MSI's M.2 Shield. Is this enough to entice Intel Z170 and Skylake owners to upgrade? Probably not. But it does go a way toward encouraging consumers on even older systems to consider making the jump. 

Ratings Breakdown
Model Features Performance Value Overall Price (S$)
ASRock Z270 SuperCarrier 8.5 8.0 8.5 8.0 $629
ASUS ROG Maximus IX Formula 8.5 9.0 8.0 8.5 $679
Gigabyte Aorus Z270X Gaming 9 9.0 8.5 7.5 8.5 $855
MSI Z270 XPower Gaming Titanium 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 $639

 

ASUS ROG Maximus IX Formula

ASUS’s newest Formula series board may not have the most features or the widest array of connectors, but its judicious selection of features means it is a winner without even being the most expensive board here. Sure, it has just six SATA 6Gbps ports and no PEX 8747 chip, and both the ASRock and Gigabyte board beat it here, but we’d argue that few people require that particular selection of features (or SATA Express ports for that matter). That said, the ROG Maximus IX Formula is anything but spartan. It is still bristling with a ton of useful features, and the good news is that they all aim to maximize utility and ease the installation process. From the built-in liquid-cooling fittings to the dedicated water pump and temperature/flow rate monitoring headers to the various Safe Boot and ReTry buttons (to help with higher and more unstable overclocks), there are few things that feel gratuitous and unnecessary. The onboard audio solution is impressive as well, and ASUS has clearly paid attention to the areas which users care about the most. Finally, it is also helped along by its strong gaming and overclocking performance, so you know it more than delivers on what you’d expect from a board in this price bracket. To cap things off, it wields considerable aesthetic prowess with a stylized plastic shroud protecting the PCB and customizable Aura Sync RGB lighting.

ASRock has always offered excellent bang for your buck, and the Z270 SuperCarrier is no different. You'd be hard-pressed to find another board at its S$629 price that offers a similar mix of features, and the ASRock board will appeal to those looking to get the most from their money. It comes with a PLX PEX 8747 PCIe lane splitter and supports up to 4-way SLI/CrossFire, which is especially impressive as this feature is usually found only on far pricer boards. Its selection of storage connectivity options is also virtually unrivaled at the price, and it boasts no fewer than three LAN ports, one of which is powered by an Aquantia ACQ108 5Gbps controller. However, while all this sounds great on paper, it's also what ends up dragging the board down. Ultimately, it feels like ASRock has tried too hard to look good on the specifications sheet while spending little time to consider how many users will actually be able to take advantage of its features. And after you consider its comparatively weak benchmark performance (albeit not by much) and compromises in areas such as the 1x1 Wi-Fi solution, it becomes difficult to recommend the board for reasons other than price.  That said, niche users who want to take advantage of its particular feature set like 4-way graphics setups and 5Gbps LAN support will still find good reason to consider it.

The Gigabyte Aorus Z270X Gaming 9 is one of Gigabyte's first motherboards to debut under the company's premium Aorus gaming brand, and this flagship model is looking to live up to expectations in every way possible. Name a feature, and the Aorus board is likely to have it. It includes a PLX PEX 8747 chip like on the ASRock board and spans the gamut of storage connectivity options, coming with no less than two M.2 sockets, two U.2 connectors, and plenty of SATA 6Gbps and SATA Express ports. Its 22-phase power design is intimidating as well, and this is a monster board that wants to leave no stone unturned. Things look similarly impressive on the networking and audio front, with support for Killer DoubleShot-X3 Pro via two Killer LAN controllers and one wireless module, and a Creative-backed onboard audio solution. It doesn't hurt that the board looks great as well, with luminous lighting and support for Corsair's Vengeance RGB RAM modules via Gigabyte's RGB Fusion app. However, all this comes at a small size and gaming performance penalty, and it is slightly wider than regular ATX boards, while doing worse than its competitors in our gaming benchmarks. Its S$855 price tag does it no favors as well, and it'll likely only attract the most serious of enthusiasts for whom price is no issue. 

On MSI's end, the Z270 XPower Gaming Titanium is a strong contender with a reasonable S$639 price tag, good looks, and plenty of overclocking-oriented features, such as an extra CPU 4-pin header. Its titanium gray PCB continues to help it stand out on the market, and it comes with nifty tools like an OC Dashboard panel with hardware-based overclocking controls. There's even a useful discharge button for when you need to discharge power from the board.  In order to make things easier for overclockers, there's also a Game Boost knob for quick and relatively hassle-free overclocks. MSI has introduced its new M.2 Shield feature as well, which insulates your M.2 SSD against heat and attempts to prevent thermal throttling. Another nice touch is the metal reinforcement found on all the PCIe slots, M.2 sockets, and RAM slots, and its strong overclocking performance stands it in good stead as well. However, there are small flaws that ultimately prevent it from clinching first place, such as the lack of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, PCIe 3.0 x16 slot placement that can interfere with the installation of large air coolers, and no customizable onboard LEDs.

Having said all this, there is no absolute right or wrong choice and it's all a matter of what rocks your boat more since each board has its own strong suit. So here's our ultra quick summation on how to choose one of these boards:-

  • A board brimming with every feature you could ask for:- Gigabyte Aorus Z270X Gaming 9
     
  • Excellent value for for a high-end Z270 motherboard:- ASRock Z270 SuperCarrier
     
  • Top on-board audio performance to suit your needs:- Gigabyte Aorus Z270X Gaming 9
     
  • A storage monster motherboard:- ASRock Z270 SuperCarrier, Gigabyte Aorus Z270X Gaming 9
     
  • Best overall performance:- ASUS ROG Maximus IX Formula
     
  • Top in overclocking:- ASUS ROG Maximus IX Formula, MSI Z270 XPower Gaming Titanium
    ​​​​​​​
  • Best looking flagship Z270 motherboard:- MSI Z270 XPower Gaming Titanium

As we wrap up this shootout, there can only be one winner and the board that balances the best performance, features, price and usability is the ASUS ROG Maximus IX Formula. So if you had to pick the best all-rounder board, this would be it. We also gave the ASUS and MSI boards an Overclockable award for cranking out top overclocking performance and the ease in which you can overclock them.

Our Final Ratings

ASUS ROG Maximus IX Formula.

Click here for rundown of pros/cons

ASRock Z270 Supercarrier.

 

Click here for rundown of pros/cons

Gigabyte Aorus Z270X Gaming 9.

Click here for rundown of pros/cons

MSI Z270 XPower Gaming Titanium.

 

Click here for rundown of pros/cons

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