Asus ROG Strix Z270E Gaming ATX Kaby Lake Motherboard Review

Asus Strix brings moderate prices to its ROG product series, and the Z270E Gaming adds user-friendly features like 802.11a/c Wi-Fi. Is this the formula for a mid-budget mid-feature overclocking legend?

Strix is a mid-market branding subseries within Asus’s already gaming-branded ROG series, so it really shouldn’t matter if we call the Asus ROG Strix Z270E Gaming that, Strix Z270E Gaming, or just the Z270E Gaming. And now that everyone knows all the things I might call it throughout the review, let’s take a look at what makes this board special.

The first thing we notice from an oblique view of the ROG Strix Z270E Gaming is the unusual arrangement of its I/O panel ports, followed by the presence of two Wi-Fi antenna ports on the back of Asus’ custom riser. Inside the riser is the venerable Qualcomm Atheros QCFNA364A M.2 Key-E WiFi module, which has been around for a couple years and occasionally gives non-Windows users a little grief until they finally figure out that it uses Qualcomm’s QCA6174A 801.11ac 2x2 (867 mb/s) controller. We also see four USB 3.0 ports (aka USB 3.1 Gen 1), two USB 3.1 (Gen 2) ports, an Intel i219V-fed Gigabit Ethernet port, three graphics outputs, analog and digital-optical audio. More details on these are in the chart above, including the use of ASMedia’s ASM2142 PCIe 3.0 x2 based USB 3.1 controller for the connected Type-C and Type A ports.

Builders also get the new USB 3.1 front-panel cable connector, which is supposed to pass through a signal amplifier on a new generation of cases to provide uncompromised cable length to two 10Gb/s ports. That connector gets its bandwidth from a second ASM2142 controller, and resides opposite the 24-pin power connector from a group of four status mode LEDs.

Zooming out reveals a very traditional layout, with two PCIe x16-length connectors that automatically switch from x16/x0 to x8/x8 modes whenever a card is detected in the second slot. Those 16 lanes come from the CPU’s onboard PCIe controller, and the same two SLI-capable slots are reinforced with four extra heavy-duty pins and two side shields (per slot) to reduce the risk of damage from a heavy graphics card. The slots are also spaced far enough apart to support triple-slot GPU coolers.

Other PCIe slots include four x1 and one four-lane of x16 length, which could theoretically be used for a third graphics card but will more likely be used for a third NVMe drive. The x1 slots directly beneath each of the reinforced x16 slots borrow lanes from the USB 3.1 front-panel controller, preventing the slots and the controller from functioning simultaneously. All of the slots and controller also share a mere four lanes of DMI 3.0 bandwidth to the CPU, due to the limitations of Intel’s Z270 chipset interface.

The Strix Z270E Gaming includes two RGB case fan headers, which are easily identified by their white color above. The front-panel HD Audio header has been moved forward slightly from the traditional bottom-rear corner in order to make more room for audio capacitors, and this also provides a small benefit to builders whose front-panel cables might have otherwise been half an inch too short. I’ve never figured out why it’s so often a mere half-inch difference, but Asus has that much covered on this model.

Most builders won’t have a case designed to use the new front-panel USB 3.1 header, and will instead find their needed USB 3.0 header at the Z270E Gaming’s bottom edge. To the rear of it is Asus ROG_EXT header for use with compatible ROG bay panels, and moving forward we find two USB headers, a fan header, and a revisited dual-pattern front-panel group connector. That last part could be important, because Asus has been the only major holdout over the past decade and a half to not use Intel’s FP-LED, HDD-LED, PWR_SW, and RST_SW layout. If every major company had standardized, we would have had a one-piece connector by now.

The Strix Z270E Gaming includes six PWM fan headers, and all six are switchable to voltage-regulation speed control. A seventh fan header is proprietary with five pins, and compatible with Asus’ four-fan extension hub module.

A look at the ROG Strix Z270E Gaming mini site reveals a page of downloadable 3D models to allow builders to print out a few accessories, such as fan brackets and cable covers. Associated images show the purpose of the various soldered-on nuts that otherwise wouldn’t align to anything.

The Strix Z270E Gaming includes documentation, an applications and drivers disc, four SATA cables, an RGB LED extension, two sticker kits, a CPU holder to help prevent accidental angled drops into the LGA contacts, a magnetic dual Wi-Fi antenna, an HB-style SLI bridge, M.2 drive screws with mini standoffs, mounting hardware for the 3D-printable accessories, and a drink coaster.

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