ASUS Sabertooth Z170 Mark 1 LGA 1151 Review

In our opinion ASUS’ TUF series motherboards target the sweet spot in regard to features, price, and performance. TUF motherboards give you more features than most mid-range motherboards but lack certain features found on the high end. The Sabertooth Z170 Mark 1 is the flagship part of the current TUF series.

Introduction

ASUS is easily one of the most well-known manufacturers in the computing world today. ASUS has a well-earned reputation for reliability, quality, stability and value. ASUS has a diverse product lineup including tablets, mobile phones, laptops, servers, motherboards, networking equipment, and graphics cards. Despite the massive diversity ASUS remains most consistently known for its motherboard business. ASUS has models across all viable price points and market demographics. If you need something for a budget system for word processing and web surfing, ASUS has you covered. If you need a dual processor monster of a workstation supporting all the latest technologies they’ve got you covered. Virtually every market ASUS has entered they’ve become successful in.

ASUS has three distinct motherboard families. There are the standard retail and OEM channel offerings, ASUS Republic of Gamers or "ROG" series, and the The Ultimate Force or "TUF" series. The latter series is what we will be talking about in this review. The retail channel tends to cover the bulk of customers, both DIY and OEM based. The Republic of Gamers brand tends to cover hardcore enthusiasts and gamers. ASUS as you can imagine does a lot of research on market demographics and they’ve learned some interesting facts which they occasionally pass on to us. There is a significant number of customers who buy Republic of Gamers motherboards and never overclock these. There are people who will buy top end motherboards simply to have the "best" even if they don’t have the desire or knowledge required to push those products to the heights they were designed to reach. There are also people who in the past purchased ROG motherboards because customers believed the ROG motherboards are built better than the retail channel offerings.

For ASUS this presented an opportunity to market a series of motherboards towards enthusiasts who just wanted the stability offered by the ROG series and that overbuilt hardware for extra piece of mind. ASUS seized this opportunity by creating the TUF series. While the TUF series can overclock, it isn’t the focus of the series. Stability, durability, and longevity are what separate the TUF series from all other motherboards. The TUF series is unique amongst all brands of motherboards in the market today. The unique properties of the TUF series isn’t so much a result of capacitor or VRM design. The TUF series has a unique physical appearance due to a unique color scheme and ASUS’ thermal armor design. While the thermal armor has occasionally made appearances in the ROG line, it was the TUF series that first featured the system. It isn’t all just a matter of looks either, the TUF series motherboards feature more onboard sensors than you’ll find on anything else and fan control which is absolutely second to none in the industry. Even the ROG line lacks the sophisticated monitoring and fan controls offered in the TUF series. The feature sets of the TUF series motherboards tend to be roughly middle of the road. In my opinion these motherboards target the sweet spot in regard to features. These motherboards give you more features than most mid-range motherboards but lack certain features found on the high end that largely go unused by most people. The series offerings are often priced aggressively falling into a price point which gives you incredible features at an affordable price.

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The ASUS Sabertooth Z170 Mark 1 is based on Intel’s Z170 Express chipset and supports the current 6th generation Intel Core i5/i7 series processors based on the LGA1151 socket type. We see it selling today according to PC Hound for ~$260. The chipset itself is a small leap ahead of the outgoing Z97 Express chipset in most areas, but it adds DDR4 memory support, more PCI-Express lanes and DMI 3.0 support. The Sabertooth Z170 Mark 1 is based on an 8+4 digital power phase system utilizing TUF series alloy chokes and 10k rated capacitors. The TUF alloy chokes are around 13.6% cooler running than many competitive chokes are. The capacitors are rated for 10,000 hours in a wider range of temperatures than standard 2,000 hour capacitors are. The MOSFETS even conform to milspec standards. In fact, the TUF series matches several military specs for electronics. The Sabertooth Z170 Mark 1 even comes with a certificate outlining which standards it adheres to. The system comes with the TUF Fortifier which is a hard metal back plate that prevents the PCB from flexing. Rigidity is greatly improved. The entire system effectively covers most of the motherboard which makes the likelihood of accidental damage during installation and handling remote at best. ESD guards prevent port damage from occurring due to ESD and in some cases power surges. The TUF series as the name implies is built to be durable and long lasting.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

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The packaging is basic, but effective. Our sample arrived in tact with all accessories accounted for. Inside the box is one of the richest bundles I've seen packaged with a motherboard. In the box you will find the following accessories: User's manual, Accessory Guide, ASUS Q-Shield, 4x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s), 1x M.2 Screw Package, 1x CPU installation tool, 1x Supporting DVD, 1x HYPERM.2 X4 with M Key design, type 2230/2242/2260/2280/22110 storage devices support (Support PCIE SSD only), 1x SLI bridge(s), 1x Q-connector(s) (1 in 1), 2x Accessory Fan(s) ( 35 /40 mm ), 1x TUF Certification card(s), 1x TUF 5 Year Warranty manual(s) (by region), 1x TUF Inside sticker(s)(white), 1x STAY COOL BE TUF sticker(s)(white), 1x Bead Chain for Metalic Cover, 1x Accessory Package(s):, 3x PCIe x16 slot dust cover(s), 2x DRAM slot dust cover(s), 3x PCIe x1 slot dust cover(s), 2x Short fan screw(s), 4x Long fan screw(s), 3x Thermistor cable(s), 1x back I/O dust frame, 1x back I/O dust grid, 1x connector dust cover collection (On board USB 3.0, DVI, HDMI, DP, LAN), 2x On board USB 2.0 connector dust cover(s) , 8x back I/O USB connector dust cover(s), 7x On board SATA connector dust cover(s) , 2x SATA Express conector dust cover(s), 5x Audio connector dust cover(s)

Board Layout

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The layout of the Sabertooth Z170 Mark 1 is excellent. The only real compliant I have is with regard to pulling the CMOS battery. It’s under the thermal armor shroud and as a result you will have to remove part of it to access the battery. We don’t normally talk about aesthetics too much as they are generally subjective. In this case I think everyone would probably agree that the fan is an eyesore. It doesn’t look integrated at all. (Editor's Note: Both of the TUF circulating fans do NOT come installed when you purchase this motherboard. Why you would purchase this motherboard and not install these fans is beyond me, however if you find the fan to be that much of an eyesore, you are not compelled to have it installed. Here are some pictures of the Z170 Mark 1 with all the armor installed.) The thing is just ghetto looking sitting on top of the thermal armor like a total afterthought. Aside from that the thermal armor system looks fantastic in my opinion. The dust defender port covers help add to that armored look. Handling the Sabertooth Z170 Mark 1 is a joy. You don’t really have to be careful where you place your hands as static electric shocks are unlikely to make contact with anything other than the armor. The hardware simply oozes quality aside from the tacked on fan.

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The CPU socket area is clean and free of major obstructions. The MOSFET cooling hardware has two flow controls on it which change the flow of air in the thermal armor which acts as duct work for airflow. A small fan is housed behind the CPU area which directs air flow.

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There are 4x 288-pin DDR4 DIMM slots supporting a total memory size of 64GB. According to the ASUS website the Sabertooth Z170 Mark 1 only supports memory speeds up to 2400MHz which falls well short of most of the other ASUS product offerings supporting DDR4 memory.

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The chipset is cooled by a flat heat sink with some LED’s in front of it. There are several LEDs marked PWR, Boot, VGA, DRAM, and CPU. These actually come on through the POST sequence and look pretty cool. In front of the chipset you’ll find several SATA 6Gb/s and SATA Express ports. There are also five fan headers located in this area as well. There is a clear CMOS jumper in this area and for this motherboard I think a clear CMOS button would have been more appropriate as this motherboard feels like a premium part despite its relatively low cost. The CMOS battery and M.2 slots are hidden under a pop out panel that’s behind the chipset.

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The expansion slot area is well thought out. The 3x PCI-Express slots support the following configurations: 16x0x0, 8x8x0 or 8x8x4. Therefore, the Sabertooth Z170 Mark 1 supports SLI, Quad-SLI, Crossfire, Quad-Crossfire, and 3-Way Crossfire. Additionally, there are 3x PCIe x1 slots. One design oversight with the design is with the top most PCIe x1 slot. The tacked on fan would block some PCIe x1 cards from fitting in this slot.

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Due to the fan duct the I/O panel is relatively sparse. On the back panel you will find the following ports: 5x USB 2.0 ports, RJ-45 ports, 5x mini-stereo jacks, 1x optical output, 2x USB 3.0, 2x USB 3.1 ports, one of which is type A while the other is type C. For video connectivity there is a DisplayPort and an HDMI port. Lastly a BIOS flashback button can be found on the back panel if you need to recover the BIOS.