Intel's Kaby Lake seventh-generation processors may not offer a huge leap over the previous-generation Skylake chips, but they're a big release nonetheless. The fine people at Asus have created a number of new motherboards based on the range-topping Z270 desktop chipset. The company's Edge Up blog has a detailed report on what to expect from the new motherboards.
The biggest difference between Z170 and Z270 is an increase in front-side I/O lanes from 26 to 30. This bump doesn't affect SLI or Crossfire configurations in any way. Using an M.2 PCIe x4 device on the Z170 platform often resulted in the disappearance of two SATA ports. The increased number of I/O lanes on Z270 may let mobo makers remove this limitation.
System builders interested in high performance at a low cost will probably be most interested in Asus' Prime Z270-A. The motherboard would have been considered full-featured just a few product cycles ago. The board has a pair of M.2 slots, four DDR4 memory slots, six SATA ports, and support for two-way SLI or CrossfireX. The TUF Z270 Mark 1 adds some little details, but the obvious difference is the addition of plastic plating all over the board. Open-air chassis owners on a budget should probably look at this one.
Asus sprinkles its magic on the ROG Strix Z270I Gaming to deliver a full-featured Mini-ITX-sized motherboard for gamers. The board gives up some PCIe slots and a pair of DDR4 memory slots compared to its larger siblings, but the integrated Intel 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1 solution mitigates dropping those extra expansion options somewhat. The tight circuit design required by the Mini-ITX form factor means the Z270I Gaming can support higher memory speeds than its microATX and ATX siblings. The bigger boards do retain the integrated wireless card, however.
The feature sets get a little crazier in the ROG motherboard series. The ROG Maximus IX Formula adds an EK-designed water block with 1/4" threads. The board also features an integrated I/O shield as an added convenience, or for those who forget to install them as they try to prepare a new system for its first gaming marathon.
The ROG Maximum IX Apex eschews the second pair of DDR4 memory slots in an effort to shorten signal paths and achieve higher memory clocks. Indeed, the Apex is the only Asus model ready for DDR4 RAM at 4266 MT/s. Eagle-eyed readers will spot a third memory slot on the board. This DDR3-esque slot is designed to hold what Asus calls a DIMM.2 card. This riser board can hold a pair of M.2 storage devices, and allows users to strap a memory cooler to their storage devices. The Apex also adds a pair of PS/2 ports for times where disabling USB ports permits that last little bit of overclocking headroom.
The range-topping ROG Maximus IX Extreme's most obvious feature is the integrated water block that cools the CPU and the VRMs. The block was designed in a joint effort between Asus and Bitspower. The water block has integrated RGB lighting and an optional heatsink to tie an M.2 drive into the water cooling party. The front panel connectors are angled for cleaner wiring. The rear I/O shield is integrated like the Formula model, but the icing on the cake is a set of LEDs inside the audio jacks that are color-coded by type to help making connections behind the case, or in the dark (like the older Xonar D2X sound card, for instance). The Extreme has a Thunderbolt 3 port on the back and a front-panel USB 3.1 connector, in addition to the usual bevy of USB 3.0 jacks.
Asus' Z270 boards will hit a variety of price points from $169 and up. The ROG Maximus IX Formula has an MSRP of $390. The price of the ROG Maximus IX Extreme wasn't provided, but we'd expect it to go around or over $400.