Firmware and Windows software
Asus hasn't changed its basic firmware interface much since the arrival of its Z170 motherboards, and that's a good thing. We already considered the company's firmware some of the easiest-to-use in the industry, and Asus hasn't messed with success. We won't be revisiting every one of this board's firmware features here. If you want to get a general idea of the features on offer, check out our Z170-A review.
Invoking the ROG Strix Z270E Gaming's firmware still drops users right into the Ez Mode interface. This basic dashboard gives an overview of key data like fan speeds, CPU temperatures, XMP profile status, and boot order. It also offers a path into the Z270E's various fan control settings. More on that in a second.
More experienced users will want to hop into the Advanced Mode interface with a press of F7. Advanced Mode exposes the Ai Tweaker tab and its wealth of frequency and voltage settings. Each setting generally has a helpful tooltip that explains what it does, so if you're not familiar with messing about in firmware, Asus' will at least get you pointed in the right direction.
I won't dive into every one of these settings, but I do want to call out one disappointing default. As you might expect, the offender is the "Asus MultiCore Enhancement" setting. MultiCore Enhancement applies the highest Turbo multiplier to all cores of a CPU. With our Core i7-7700K, that means the Z270E will try to run all of its cores at 4.5 GHz under load. By default, this mode is set to "Auto," but that name suggests some ambiguity about whether the feature is enabled or not. Make no mistake: "Auto" means on, and on is undesirable.
To be fair, the Turbo tables for the i7-7700K suggest the chip can handle 4.4 GHz on all cores under heavy load, so a 4.5 GHz all-core overclock isn't that much of an offender. Still, those with borderline cooling systems (in small-form-factor systems, say) might find MultiCore Enhancement an annoyance rather than a feature. We've long asked for these kinds of under-the-radar overclocks to be disabled by default, and it's a shame that Asus' otherwise excellent default settings are marred by this bit of clock goosing.
The firmware does give the user the "option" to enable MultiCore Enhancement when XMP is enabled, but that alert isn't really about activating the all-core overclock—it's about maintaining the status quo or not. In fact, even if you choose "no" when the firmware prompts for MultiCore Enhancement with XMP, the setting remains on "Auto"—meaning it's enabled no matter what. If you really don't want MultiCore Enhancement on, the only way to be sure it's off is to set it to "Disabled" in the firmware.
One of the neat new Asus-exclusive features in the company's Z270 firmware is an option called "CPU overclocking temperature control," or CPU OTC for short, formerly known as the Thermal Control Tool. This utility essentially offers an all-core Turbo Boost atop the stable all-core overclock one might reach in traditional tuning. As Asus puts it, this option lets a user set two separate frequency targets: one for light-load applications and the other for heavier workloads. Each of those frequency targets gets its own voltage offset and frequency multiplier.
The glue that makes these two ratios work is an upper and lower bound for CPU temperatures in the OTC settings. Above the upper threshold, the "CPU core ratio under activation" multiplier and "additional Turbo Mode CPU core voltage under activation" settings will kick in to keep CPU temperatures in check. Once the CPU temperature falls below the lower threshold, the firmware will try to engage the lightly-threaded multiplier and voltage again (as set in the Ai Tweaker tab).
Asus claims this feature could unlock anywhere from 100 MHz to 300 Mhz more overclock headroom in loads that aren't pushing the CPU to its limits. For folks that can't quite get their CPUs stable under Prime95 workloads at 5 GHz, say, the CPU OTC feature might let them boost their chips to that speed or something near it for light desktop use. I'm not aware of a similar feature from other manufacturers, so CPU OTC is worth keeping in mind if you're going for the highest single-threaded performance possible from an LGA 1151 CPU.
In Windows, Asus greets users with the same Ai Suite interface it's used since at least the Haswell days. Once again, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Ai Suite provides a quick glance at system clock speeds, temperatures, voltages, and fan speeds, and it also provides in-depth fan control and overclocking tools.
Like Asus' firmware, Ai Suite remains one of the best Windows software interfaces for monitoring and tuning. Not only does it condense all of the motherboard's controls into one spot, there are few features that it would require a builder to dive back into the firmware to control.
The Strix Z270E Gaming continues Asus' tradition of fan-control excellence. The board has six four-pin fan headers, and each one can drive both DC and PWM fans. The board is also compatible with Asus' Fan Extension Card if more headers are needed.
Users can tie fan speeds to CPU, motherboard, or chipset temperatures, and the Strix also has an onboard header for a two-pin remote temperature sensor if those sources aren't precise enough. The Strix can also monitor up to three different temperature sources for each fan header to arrive at a final fan speed.
Like most recent motherboards, the Strix Z270E offers builders two ways to control their system fans: one in the firmware, and one in Windows. The level of control afforded in both interfaces is practically identical, so where one does one's fan tuning on the Z270E is primarily a matter of taste.
The firmware actually has two different levels of fan-speed control through the Q-Fan system. The first and more basic, Q-Fan Control, is accessed from the Ez Mode interface. It offers control over DC or PWM modes and fan curves. Users can select from any of three default fan curves, set a constant speed, or configure a custom curve using three separate fan-speed-and-temperature points.
The second, more-advanced fan control interface is under the Monitor -> Q-Fan Configuration tab. Here, users can additionally configure the fan spin-up and spin-down times, set temperature sources, and set low-speed alarms. I'm especially glad to see fan spin-up and spin-down periods here, since the ability to configure long spin-up times prevents fans from ramping up in response to short temperature tranisents caused by light workloads. Both the Q-Fan Control and Q-Fan Configuration tab offer full automatic profiling of fan RPMs to prevent setting out-of-range speed values.
Asus' Windows fan controls live in the Fan Xpert 4 section of the Ai Suite software. Like the firmware fan control options, Fan Xpert 4 can profile fan speeds and set any of three different pre-baked profiles per fan. It also exposes custom fan curves for each connected fan and lets users pick up to three temperature sources for each header. Instead of simply establishing a range of fan speeds and letting users figure out what combinations of temperatures and duty cycles fall beneath the spin-up speed of a given fan, Ai Suite's fan profiler actually finds and prohibits setting out-of-range values. That's a convenient feature that might prevent a user from stopping a fan when they don't intend to.
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