ASRock constantly seeks value awards, but is its Z170 Gaming K4 really worth $15 more than the cheapest Z170 product we've tested? Today we examine the features and overclocking abilities of the Z170 Gaming K4 motherboard.
ASRock is keen on value awards. So keen, in fact that the company was once known for dropping the price of a board at only one seller for only a few weeks until after reviews were published. Motherboards normally drop in price anyway, so when ASRock got called out, it wasn't too difficult for it to stay with that low price until the rest of the industry caught up.
That's not what we're seeing in the Fatal1ty Z170 Gaming K4. Instead, the cheapest of ASRock's Fatal1ty series for Skylake CPU overclocking is just a slightly-improved board with a slightly higher price, compared to bottom-priced products such as Gigabyte's Z170-HD3.
An extra $15 gets buyers a Killer 2400 network controller, four extra CPU voltage regulator phases, one extra SATA-Express connector, and DTS Connect on an improved ALC1150 audio controller. None of those things have anything to do with the elephant on the I/O panel, a Type-C USB connector, and that's because the Type-C connector is connected to nothing more than the chipset's USB 3.0 controller. Still, those other things should be worth at least $15, in theory.
The thing about voltage regulators is that it's really hard to determine worth without O/C testing. Different components have different capabilities, though Nichicon solid capacitors on all of the Fatal1ty Z10 Gaming K4's power circuits should help to assure longevity.
Similarly, the extra SATA-Express connector comes at a time when hardly anyone is asking for one. It doesn't come with any extra SATA ports, but instead uses two of the ports supplied by the chipset. And one of the SATA-Express ports is disabled whenever an M.2 card is installed. Extra value is there, but the amount is indeterminable.
The Killer E2400 network controller costs more than the Realtek 8111 that's most commonly used on low-cost boards, and its actual worth depends on the type of user. Rivet networks recently showed a fairly convincing demo of its packet and bandwidth prioritization capabilities, also discussing its heuristic packet analysis as opposed to the white-list method used in third-party prioritization software.
Realteck rates its ALC1150 slightly better than its old 889 and far better than its low cost 892, and ASRock enables the codec's DTS Connect capability so that users can encode live multi-channel audio (such as games) on-the-fly to the board's digital output. That's important if you have a compliant receiver, but doesn't do much for those using 3.1 sound systems, 5.1 analog connection, or headphones. In total, all these different upgrades have different importance to different buyers, and only the buyer who needs them all can count on a value win based on features alone.
The Fatal1ty Z170 K4 uses perpendicular SATA port connectors, placing two of these above the upper PCIe x16 slot and four three-spaces below the second x16-length slot. This allows a triple-slot upper card and a double-slot lower card to be used with all six perpendicular-connector SATA ports. They also leave the slot space beneath both graphics slots empty, since these are typically covered up by GPU coolers. We'd probably put something a little weaker in the second x16-length slot, since it gets only four PCIe 3.0 lanes from the Z170 PCH and shares that bandwidth with all other PCH-connected devices over a PCIe 3.0 x4 DMI. This also eliminates the possibility of SLI, since the driver's applet requires a minimum of eight lanes in addition to Nvidia certification.
Two PCIe x1 slots are open-ended, just in case you want to add a bunch of x4-or-greater cards and don't care about reduced bandwidth. That might be good for certain GPGPU applications, or perhaps for adding a bunch of cheap graphics cards to drive a wall of displays.
Only a single USB 3.0 front-panel header is present, and it's conveniently placed in front of DIMM slots. The front-panel audio connector isn't as easy to reach, since it's in the lower-rear corner. Whether or not your audio cable reaches is between you and your case manufacturer, as most motherboard manufacturers have used this location since the 1990s.
Since it costs so little (by Z170 standards), the Fatal1ty Z170 Gaming K4 includes only four SATA cables, an I/O shield, an installation disc, and documentation.