Single page Print

A Bridge too far: migrating from Sandy to Kaby Lake

A Core i7-7700K and Asus Z270-A upgrade story

After nearly six years and countless posts about how my i7-2600K was still good enough, I decided that I'd had enough of good enough when we published our Core i7-7700K review. It was time to upgrade my PC, and I recently completed my new build. I can hear the palms contacting faces already. "Fish, you idiot, Ryzen is almost here! You should have waited." That could be, but I won't be buffaloed into second-guessing my decision. As it happens, I'm quite pleased with the results and I'm pretty confident that Ryzen couldn't do any better.

Now, I don't have any insider info about AMD's upcoming chips. Pulling the trigger on my upgrade was influenced by the same speculation and rumors that anyone reading TR would consider. What I did know was that that the games I want to play need every last bit of single-threaded CPU power they can get. Simply put, my guess is that when it comes to clock speed and IPC, Kaby Lake is going to beat Ryzen handily.

To succeed in DayZ you need the right gear: a lot of apples and a lot of single-threaded CPU performance.

First off, it's good to know where I'm coming from. My old rig (now paired with a Radeon RX 470 for dedicated The Sims 4 duty on the TV) was an i7-2600K mildly overclocked to 4.2 GHz and sporting 16GB of DDR3-2133 RAM. That Sandy Bridge build served as my main PC for probably twice as long as any of my previous rigs. It's still pretty respectable, but seeing these results in our i7-7700K review pushed me over the edge. The only thing I kept from my old PC was my EVGA GTX 980 Ti Hybrid which, if I behave myself, still has over a year of service ahead of it to reach my personal every-three-year GPU upgrade threshold.

Here's the complete list of everything that went into my upgrade:

Asus Prime Z270-A
Much of my parts list should be self-explanatory. Many of the items therein are TR favorites, while others are at least generally recognized as quality stuff. Of course, there's some personal preference involved in my choices, but I doubt many gerbils would complain if their own PCs suddenly contained identical hardware to the stuff I bought. One unknown for me was the Asus Prime Z270-A. I purchased it the day it went up for sale with nary a review to be found online. I usually buy motherboards in the $150 range, so it fit the bill there. It also seemed to have a solid combination of features for the price, so I took a chance and ordered one up.

That was over a month ago, and so far I have no major complaints with the Z270-A. I mean, it would be nice if it had a few more USB ports on the rear panel, but I knew what I was getting into when I bought it, so it's hard to judge it for that. It does have RGB LEDs, but they behave themselves. By default, the LEDs light up white for a while when you power on the PC, then they respectfully turn off after the boot process is complete. The only time you'll otherwise see them is if you futz with them in Asus' software. Maybe I'll mess with the colors on some rainy day in the future, but the lighting doesn't matter to me in the slightest. My computer is behind my monitor on a corner desk, so I'll never see inside it anyway despite the fact that the Corsair Obsidian 450D case I chose does have a window.

One minor bummer about this board is that I can't run my fancy G.Skill Trident Z 3866 MT/s memory at full speed in it yet. G.Skill doesn't list the board on its official compatibility list, but I was hopeful the pairing would work out anyway. I am able to run the memory at 3733 MT/s with the same XMP-dictated timings as the slightly-faster speed would have, so I'm not exactly starved for memory bandwidth. Of course, there's more than one factor that could be to blame for this issue, and it might not be the board's fault. Regardless, I'm hoping for a BIOS update that will let me run the RAM at full speed.

The only other nitpick I have with the Z270-A is that the teeny-tiny standoffs for the pair of M.2 slots aren't pre-installed. I haven't built a lot of systems with M.2 drives in them yet, but I know the NUCs I've dabbled with had standoffs built-in. When I first plugged in and tightened down my 960 EVO, I realized that something didn't look quite right, and then I found the bag with the nearly invisible standoffs in it. Thankfully, nothing was damaged, but it's something to watch for.

The small stuff aside, the Z270-A is a great board: simple but comprehensive, in the vein of the Z97-A and Z170-A. It's got an Intel NIC, SLI support, USB 3.1, and great fan controls, all at a reasonable price. In fact, we recently recommended this board in our February system guide for those very reasons. If you've used or read a recent review of other Asus boards, you more or less already know what to expect from the UEFI. It's standard Asus goodness all around. The AVX offset feature that arrived with Kaby Lake, which automatically reduces the CPU multiplier for AVX workloads so you can run a swift overclock most of the time and still maintain stability when AVX comes into play, is especially handy to have.