Z170 Chipset and ASUS Deluxe: Adding 20 Lanes of PCIe 3.0

The Core i7-6700K and its Skylake architecture bring with it a new processor socket, LGA 1151. This is not backwards compatible with any other processors and Haswell/Broadwell will not install into motherboards built for Skylake either. The move to DDR4 memory as well as a faster DMI3 implementation required Intel to move on to another iteration of the LGA design and, this time at least, the advantages of the new chipset are noteworthy.

Intel's Z170 chipset will be including on the motherboards of choice for Skylake. Thus far I have only had hands-on time with the ASUS Z170-Deluxe (and Morry has had the ASUS Z170-A) but both offer some compelling features and options that were previously unavailable on Z97 boards.

The most important feature on the Z170 chipset, and the one that allows the chipset to enable many new features, is the move to the 8.0 GT/s capable DMI3 bus. This is the interface between the processor and the chipset itself, and it was previously limited to speeds that restricted some pretty basic configurations. Allyn knows all about not being able to utilize all six SATA ports in a RAID-0 array without limiting performance because of the slower DMI2 connection on the Haswell generation platforms. With Skylake, this should no longer be an issue and, thanks to other changes on the chipset, allows for a lot more flexibility from motherboard designers.

A close second in importance in my mind is the move to support up to 20x lanes of PCI Express 3.0 on the Z170 chipset! Compared to the Z87 and Z97 chipset that shipped with 8x lanes of PCIe 2.0, this is a dramatic improvement and allows vendors to create a collection of accessories for Z170 motherboard that otherwise would not be possible. Think of multiple USB 3.1 controllers, additional PCIe storage connectivity, support for more (and faster) add-in cards, etc.

The only other change includes a move to 10x USB 3.0 ports and/or 14x USB 2.0 ports. You still have access to 6x SATA III / 6.0 Gbps ports, Intel Rapid Storage Technology, Gigabit Ethernet MAC, etc. On a side note, the Intel RST software will now support RAID configurations of PCIe and NVMe storage devices – so those of you crazy enough to want to run multiples of them in your system will now have that capability. Thanks to the DMI3 connection back to the processor you can fully utilize a pair of x2 PCIe 3.0 SSDs in RAID-0 and get maximum performance.

On the processor side, Skylake still supports the same x16 lanes of PCI Express 3.0 that can be divided into a single slot for maximum performance or into a pair of x8 slots and even a single x8 and 2×4. Interestingly, with the added support for 20 lanes of PCIe 3.0 on the Z170 chipset, it SHOULD be possible for NVIDIA to implement support for 3-Way SLI on Skylake – something it has not done for Haswell. Though as we continue to see the decline in support for 3-Way SLI and for 3-Way CrossFire, I doubt this is a priority.

The ASUS Z170-Deluxe

This is by no means a review of the ASUS Z170-Deluxe, but I thought as the only Z170 motherboard in the office today, it deserved a quick overview.

If you are looking for a board with a ton of features, this is the place to be. Let's get a high level overview of what it offers:

  • 6 x USB 3.1 ports
  • 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C port
  • 4 x front USB 3.0 support
  • Dual Gigabit Intel LAN
  • 3×3 802.11ac Wireless
  • DDR4-3466 memory support
  • Hyper M.2 Mini Adapter card
  • NVMe U.2 device support
  • HDMI 2.0 support (IGP)

Oh, and maybe the coolest feature of all: the LED lights on the chipset cooler are controllable to 256 color choices, can be adjusted to "dance to the beat of your music" or can be set to indicate CPU temperature. It is actually a really cool effect in person.

Of course, ASUS has tweaked the motherboard's UEFI implementation as well to improve fan controls, make overclocking easier and to improve the utility of functions like UEFI updates. Check out Morry's overview of the Z170-A for a bit more info on these areas and check back soon for reviews of these and other Z170 motherboards!

« PreviousNext »