Usage Impressions and Conclusion

I installed Windows 10 on both motherboards, and used the latest drivers available from ECS on their support pages. Right away I encountered something a little odd, as neither of my usual Windows install USB drives would boot either motherboard. After some experimentation I found that a drive created via Microsoft's official media creation tool would boot, but my usual boot utility (Rufus) did not create anything that could be recognized by either board at boot (a limitation of partition scheme or formatting I assume). I resorted to my USB DVD-ROM drive and a Windows DVD before figuring out which USB utility worked. These are the only motherboards I have encountered that have done this, but it was more of a minor annoyance than anything and could be addressed with a BIOS update.

With Windows installed I ran each of the motherboards for a few days as my primary computer, and the results were solid, with zero blue screen incidents or any instability. I had a couple of sleep/resume related issues with the Z270-LIGHTSABER's yellow charging ports being inoperative. A restart fixed this each time. Another oddity was the performance of the ASMedia USB 3.1 ports on this board, which did not sustain over a USB 2.0 speed for more than a few moments when I tried reading/writing with my Samsung T3 external SSD. The latest ASMedia driver did not correct this, and ~40 MB/s was about the best it could do, which is clearly odd for a USB 3.1 port. With these issues I couldn't help but blame BIOS and driver immaturity, though the Z270-LIGHTSABER was stable during all testing.

The only other oddity to report was a reluctance of either motherboard to run bus-powered graphics cards. I typically use an older fanless AMD graphics card on the test bench out of habit from so many cooler noise benchmarks, and this did not work on the Z270-LIGHTSABER (I have switched to processor graphics for cooler noise testing going forward). After trying a GTX 750 Ti (also bus powered) I determined this was some sort of PCIe power delivery issue. An R9 290X and a GTX 1080 Ti had no problems, and I would hope that anyone purchasing a motherbard such as the LIGHSABER would be using a graphics card powerful enough to require PCIe power. Still, it is worth noting.

I have written quite bit about the LIGHTSABER, but my experiences with the mini-ITX Z270H4-I were smooth and painless, and the board was rock-solid the entire time I tested it. At one point I had the system running continuously for six days, and never experienced a single crash or sign of instability. The Z270H4-I accepts M.2 wireless cards, and I connected an Intel NGFF card I have on hand to the board and with the antenna kit was up and running in a few minutes. This is a nice addition, and based on the prices I have seen for this board (under $110) I am quite impressed with it as the basis for a mini-ITX build – even if I couldn't overclock my i7-7700K past 4.5 GHz.

Audio is one last issue I'll touch on, as I am an enthusiast in this area. I found both motherboards to offer good quality from onboard Realtek ALC1150 sound, with very low noise when tested with headphones. I didn't hear any sort of hiss or interference through the headphones with either motherboard, and while the Z270-LIGHTSABER offers a better headphone amp, I honestly didn't hear a difference between the two (though both are using the same DAC so this is not that surprising). In short, while not what I would call "audiophile quality" the ALC1150 on both ECS boards produced very good results for onboard sound.

Conclusion

I was impressed with the looks, build quality, and layout of both ECS Z270 motherboards. The Z270-LIGHSABER provided painless overclocking, with solid results from the auto OC function and granular control for custom overclocking if desired. However there were a couple of minor issues, described above, that seem to be BIOS or driver related. Future updates could make this a compelling choice – depending on price.

Moving to the small form-factor board, the Z270H4-I is a great mini-ITX option that did not present any challenges during the review process, providing a solid foundation for a Core i7 build with expected performance from all installed components. The included antennae are a nice touch, and while this isn't going to be the most impressive overclocking option it still provided some headroom to push extra speed from the CPU.

ECS is a brand that might not be at the top of the list for many builders here in the USA, but I have had now had excellent results with two of their small form-factor motherboards – with this Z270H4-I and previously the H110S-2P from our mini-STX build review.

ECS Z270H4-I: A solid mini-ITX option with excellent performance and reliability

ECS Z270H4-I: $109.99, Newegg.com

Availability is sometimes in question with ECS in the USA, depending on the model, but the Z270H4-I is readily available for $109.99 currently on Newegg, and is a great choice for a small form-factor build and a good value at this price.

I was unable to find the Z270-LIGHTSABER for sale from any of the usual retailers at time of press, so I can't comment on its value proposition compared to other Z270 options (ECS has the MSRP set at $199, but real-world pricing is an unknown). I would hope that by the time it is readily available in the USA a newer BIOS and more mature drivers are also available, and at that point I would be happy to re-test this ATX board.

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