ASUS have compiled a comprehensive Z170 motherboard range which caters to different sections of the consumer market. For example, the GAMING PRO line-up offers superb functionality and impeccable stability at an affordable price point. ROG products evoke a more premium feel and includes a stunning software suite for power users. The Sabertooth brand revolves around a stringent testing procedure to ensure each motherboard exhibits unprecedented reliability. The extreme thermal testing and deployment of TUF components prioritizes long-term durability. As a result, it’s a great option for consumers who demand a very high-end motherboard and have no intentions of upgrading in the near future.
Typically, motherboards opt for a red and black colour scheme because it’s the most popular option among the core gaming audience. Some time ago, ASUS unleashed the limited edition Z97 Sabertooth Mark S which utilizes an innovative white PCB and military camouflage. It’s quite rare to see motherboard sporting a white theme and while there is some competition from the MSI Krait series, ASUS is the only manufacturer to offer a pure white PCB.
The Sabertooth Z170 S is the spiritual successor to the Z97 Sabertooth Mark S and features a very unusual design philosophy. When adopting such a wacky colour scheme, it’s bound to have a polarizing reception and I’m fascinated to hear feedback on ASUS’ aesthetic choices. Looking beyond the visual aspects, I’m expecting to see some very impressive numbers given the premium electronics and DIGI+ Power Control.
Packing and Accessories
The motherboard’s box is characterized by a white finish and contains camouflage highlights. This provides a great insight into the product’s unconventional styling and creates a web of intrigue. On the front, information regarding the 5 year warranty is displayed in a clear manner.
Moving onto the opposite side, there’s a detailed description of the product’s thermal radar monitoring made possible by the TUF ICe processor. On another note, the packaging outlines the rear I/O connectivity and basic motherboard layout.
Included in the package is a user’s guide, M.2 screws, driver’s disk, case badge, certificate of reliability, stickers and a gorgeous white I/O shield. As someone who loves the technical details of motherboards, it’s fantastic to read the reliability assessment document. Here, you can browse information regarding a huge array of tests such as moisture resistance, thermal shock, solder bath, salt spray and more!
There’s also four SATA cables, a Q Connector, CPU installation tool, back I/O dust cover and SLI bridge. The Q Connector is a really handy tool which eliminates the frustration factor when attaching front panel headers. Furthermore, the CPU installation tool is designed to minimize the contact time and pressure between your fingers and the CPU. While it’s not necessary for veteran builders, it could prevent beginners from causing damage during the build process.
A Closer Look
The ASUS Sabertooth Z170 S is one of the most ambitious visual designs I’ve encountered and prioritizes a military theme much more than its predecessor. Instead of covering the entire PCB with thermal armour, ASUS have decided to only employ this plastic section around the rear I/O. Personally, I prefer the Z97 Sabertooth Mark S’ stealthier appearance and subtle camouflage. Of course, this greatly depends on your own personal tastes, and I’m sure the striking theme will appeal to many users. As someone who loves white components, it’s easy to admire the PCB and I have to credit ASUS for trying to release something which is undeniably unique.
On a more positive note, the chokes’ heatsink looks absolutely stunning and I’m in awe of the chrome finish. Additionally, it contrasts superbly with the motherboard’s power design and demonstrates a high level of careful planning. In terms of the overall layout, there’s six 4-pin chassis fan headers, a CPU fan header, and CPU optional header. These are positioned to allow for very tidy cable management and makes it simple to install water cooling hardware. This lends itself to extreme usage scenarios rather well but I’m slightly perplexed by the lack of an LED post readout. This helps during system diagnostics especially when the CPU is being overclocked. Another improvement could be to reinforce the primary PCI-E slot with some stainless steel shielding. This small change should compliment the white theme and prevent GPU droop.
As you might expect, the motherboard utilizes a premium 8+4 power design and TUF alloy chokes which operate 13.6 percent cooler than traditional options. Furthermore, the TUF capacitors are rated to 10K and have a thermal threshold between -70C to 125C. This is a 20 percent improvement compared to standard caps which feature a range of -55C to 50C. ASUS TUF black metallic caps are characterized by a lifespan of 10,000 hours and shouldn’t experience any reliability problems over time. On another note, the TUF MOSFETs feature a lower RDS meaning the switching resistance is reduced.
ASUS’ DIGI+ VRM is able provide reliable constant voltage and maximize the potential of your CPU. The ASUS PRO Clock and TurboV Processing Unit allows for overclocked base frequencies up to 400MHz. This is possible due to the incredible amount of options at your disposal to find the BCLK and core frequency limits.
Here we can see the ASUS Sabertooth Z170 S branding which surrounds the first PCI-E x16 slot. This is implemented in a really clever way and identifies the product without being overbearing.
In terms of memory support, the motherboard can accommodate up to 64GB with speeds reaching a staggering 3800MHz (OC). Of course, most users will dial in an XMP profile and focus on CPU overclocking. Near the DIMM slots, there’s a MEMOK! button to check stability and the 24-pin ATX connector is in its optimal position. Adjacent to that, there’s a USB 3.0 and 4-pin fan header. Ideally, I’d prefer to see a right-handed USB 3.0 header to create a cleaner finish. However, motherboard manufacturers often select the traditional top down approach due to chassis restrictions.
The TUF audio solution is based on Realtek’s ALC1150 codec and opts for shielding to dramatically reduce multi-lateral interference. Furthermore, this maintains a greater precision between analog and digital separation. The audio section utilizes a de-op circuit and individual layers which divide both audio channels. There’s isolation between the audio segment and main PCB as well as an integrated amplifier.
Another interesting addition is the QLED indicator which displays information about key system components during the boot process. LEDs for the CPU, DRAM, VGA, Boot and Power flash to help you source any problems if your PC fails to post. In terms of storage options, the motherboard houses six SATA 6Gb/s ports, two SATA Express 10Gb/s ports, and a 32Gb/s M.2 connector. The PCI-E layout is capable of powering 2-way SLI and 3-way Crossfire configurations.
On the opposite side of the motherboard, there’s a retro inspired 8-bit design which looks fairly spectacular.
The Rear I/O includes four USB 2.0 ports, TUF Detective Port, BIOS flashback button, DisplayPort, HDMI, two USB 3.0, RJ45, USB 3.1 Type-A, USB 3.1 Type-C, S/PDIF and 5 audio jacks.
Testing & Methodology
Before we delve into any testing we would like to take this opportunity to review our test system. All tests are conducted three times and the average taken to use in our charts.
- Motherboard varies by review
- CPU: Intel Core i7 6700k
- GPU: NVIDIA GTX 980Ti
- RAM: Crucial Elite 16GB (2x8GB) 2666MHz
- Cooling: Thermaltake Water 3.0 AIO with Gelid GC-Extreme
- Case: Lian Li T80 Test Bench
- Storage Drives: Main storage: Crucial MX200 250GB, Test Devices: SanDisk Extreme Pro 240GB SSD, Plextor 256GB M6e M.2 SSD and Patriot SuperSonic Magnum 256GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive
- PSU: be quiet! Dark Power Pro 11 850W
- Operating System: Windows 8.1 64-bit
- Networking: ASUS RT-AC68U router
- SiSoft Sandra Engineer – available here
- WPrime – available here
- Cinebench – available here
- 3DMark – available here
- Bioshock Infinite – available here
- Tomb Raider – available here
- AIDA 64 Engineer – available here
- Latencymon – available here
- Rightmark Audio Analyser – available here
- LAN Speed Test Lite – available here
- Passmark – available here
To test the storage performance in our motherboard reviews we use AIDA’s Disk Benchmark utility built into their AIDA64 Engineer Edition software package and run linear read and write tests. We run each of the benchmark tests on a SATA III, USB 3.0 and M.2 device. For SATA III testing we use a SanDisk Extreme Pro 240GB, for USB 3.0 testing we use the Supersonic Magnum 256 GB USB 3.0 flash drive and for M.2 testing we use Plextor’s 256GB M.2 M6e SSD. The drives are always formatted before use.
For our networking tests we connect the test system up to our Intel Gigabit-enabled ASUS Rampage IV Extreme X79 motherboard test system through the ASUS RT-AC68U router and run our tests. We opted for this over a direct point-to-point connection because we wanted to simulate real-world performance. For our WiFi tests we do the same except we connect the test system to the ASUS RT-AC68U router via WiFi at a distance of 2 metres from the router. The testing software we use for these are LAN Speed Test Lite and Passmark, available here and here respectively.
Lan Speed Test
LAN Speed Test was designed from the ground up to be a simple but powerful tool for measuring file transfer, hard drive, USB Drive, and Local Area Network (LAN) speeds (wired & wireless). It does this by building a file in memory, then transfers it both ways (without effects of windows file caching) while keeping track of the time. Download the free Lan Speed Test Lite utility from here.
The PassMark Advanced Network Test (which is part of PerformanceTest) is designed to test the data transfer rate between two computers both of which must be running PerformanceTest. One of the computers must act as the server and will sit waiting for a connection. The other computer acts as a client. It connects to the server machine and sends data to it for the duration of the test. You can download a trial version of PerformanceTest from here.
To measure power consumption we, use a “killawatt” meter and measure the total system power draw at the wall. We run three different use-case scenarios for 5 minutes and take the average reading.
RightMark Audio Analyser (RMAA)
RMAA suite is designed for testing quality of analog and digital paths of any audio device. The results are obtained by playing and recording test signals passed through the tested audio path by means of frequency analysis algorithms. A more common mark is also provided for those unfamiliar with measured technical parameters. Available here. We run the RMAA test using a 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable connecting the line out to the line in to test the quality of the motherboard audio codec not any external audio devices. We run the complete playback and recording test at default settings and then get RMAA to interpret the results giving the below outputs. We sync the playback and recording audio devices to the same setting as the test for accurate results.
DPC is a Windows tool that analyses the capabilities of a computer system to handle real-time data streams properly. It may help to find the cause for interruptions in real-time audio and video streams, also known as drop-outs. This software is available for download free here.
wPrime is a leading multithreaded benchmark for x86 processors that tests your processor performance by calculating square roots with a recursive call of Newton’s method for estimating functions. wPrime is a free utility that is available for download here.
Cinebench is a widely respected benchmark for testing the performance of x86 CPUs. The program allows you to test single and multi-threaded performance as well as GPU performance by rendering with Open GL. Download here.
The new 3DMark includes everything you need to benchmark your hardware. With three all new tests you can bench everything from smartphones and tablets, to notebooks and home PCs, to the latest high-end, multi-GPU gaming desktops. Download here.
In Tomb Raider, the player is confronted with a much younger Lara Croft who is shipwrecked and finds herself stranded on a mysterious island rife with danger, both natural and human. Tomb Raider is a demanding game offering up ultra quality textures, full DirectX 11 support, SSAA, FXAA, MSAA and AMD TressFX technology.
BioShock Infinite is the third and last game in the BioShock series. It is a first-person shooter video game developed by Irrational Games and published by 2K Games. BioShock Infinite supports dynamic shadows, post-processing, light shafts, ambient occlusion, object level of detail, Diffusion Depth of Detail, FOV adjustment controls and other advanced DirectX 11 features.
BIOS and Overclocking
ASUS’ UEFI BIOS is brimming with options to tweak every aspect of your system and presented using a slick user-interface. The BIOS is divided into two modes, the EZ BIOS for beginners, and advanced section which caters to users with a high level of technical expertise. The EZ mode’s main page lists essential system parameters, allows you to adjust the cooling RPM values and set an XMP profile. It’s also really simple to modify the boot order and select from a number of pre-configured system performance settings.
The EZ Tuning Wizard is a wonderful concept and asks you some rudimentary questions about your cooling hardware to accurately gauge the optimal settings for an automated overclock. This is very useful for users who want to leverage extra performance but feel intimated by the overclocking procedure.
Here we can see the advanced mode containing a huge selection of variables which provides everything you need to tweak the system to your specific requirements. The favourites bar is convenient to quickly access commonly used settings such as Vcore, DRAM timings and CPU core ratio.
The main page displays essential system information such as motherboard model, BIOS version, CPU ID and much more.
ASUS’ AI Tweaker is the section you need to navigate to when setting the XMP profile, adjusting BCLK frequency and other overclocking alterations. The hardware monitor and target frequency details really help to keep an eye out on the effect of manual tweaks.
Further down is the voltage area for the CPU, DRAM, VCCIO, PCH and Standby. The majority of users will simply need to adjust the CPU Core voltage to correspond with multiplier changes.
The DRAM Timing Control is absolutely marvellous when trying to reduce latency on stock values or enhance stability with a hefty memory overclock.
Professional overclockers with extremely high demands can use the Tweaker’s Paradise page to eke out every last inch of performance and set better benchmarking scores.
The advanced tab contains a large number of sub-menus to change the chipset settings, USB configuration and even display your storage’s SMART status.
Next up is the monitor tab which allows you to manually configure RPM values for each fan or initiate the Qfan tuning utility. This detects the CPU’s thermal output under load, and finds a suitable balance between temperatures and noise output.
The monitoring page displays information about system temperatures at specific points due to a large number of integrated sensors.
Here we can see the boot tab which houses various options to enable/disable fast boot, change the POST delay time and more. Honestly, you shouldn’t have to alter any of these variables as the default values will be perfectly fine in the majority of usage scenarios.
The boot override section is incredibly useful if you want to boot into another version of Windows on a secondary partition.
On the tool page, you can access the BIOS update utility, securely erase sensitive data and even investigate the current PCI-E configuration. The BIOS provides a visual indication of the current setup and operating speed of your GPU.
ASUS’ EZ Flash 3 Utility makes updating the BIOS an absolute breeze either via a downloaded file or direct network connection.
The final page allows you to load optimized defaults, save any changes you’ve made or disregard manual alterations.
As with any ASUS Z170 motherboard, the overclocking process was incredibly simple due to the BIOS’ clearly labelled sections. Therefore, I managed to set the CPU core ratio to 48 and Vcore to 1.504V. This falls in line with competing products we’ve tested because stability predominately revolves around the silicon lottery.
The ASUS PC Diagnostics program displays information about integral system components including the network device, memory capacity and motherboard model. Although, you can easily find similar readings using ASUS’ AI Suite 3.
ASUS’ Turbo LAN utility allows you to prioritize network traffic in certain applications and monitor bandwidth speeds.
There’s an absolutely staggering amount of options in ASUS’ AI Suite 3 software package to customize almost every aspect of your system. The Thermal Radar 2 program is a great addition and displays various temperatures via the motherboard’s internal sensors. Furthermore, the application can detect your cooling apparatus and make adjustments to find a better noise to performance ratio.
It’s even possible to select from a number of pre-configured fan profiles to find a setting which matches your specific requirements.
The Thermal Status tab monitors key areas which surround a component in real-time then creates a rating based on its findings.
Next up is the Recorder function which allows you to monitor the CPU’s temperature, core voltage and fan RPM values.
Advanced users might choose to adjust the power phase control or select an increased load-line calibration.
The next set of applications are pretty self-explanatory and the captured images include a detailed description of their functionality.
The TUF Detective 2 is a free companion app for smartphones or tablets to monitor key parameters, diagnose errors and adjust system settings over a wireless network. Furthermore, you can even remotely update the BIOS and tweak to your heart’s content while being in another room.
CPU & GPU Performance
At stock values, the motherboard reports one of the best CPU Multi scores on record and fares better than a number of competing models.
Once overclocked, the motherboard continues its strong showing in multi-core benchmark runs and almost attains the top spot.
The Sabertooth Z170 S’s compute time is excellent and within touching distance of earning first position.
Even though the motherboard has a lower ranking when overclocked, it’s not by much and within an acceptable margin of error. Once again, this is a great result and showcases the product’s overclocking prowess.
Rather surprisingly, the motherboard struggles to match a large quantity of rival offerings during Dhrystone testing. However, Whestone Aggregate numbers are much better.
The overclocked performance could be improved and falls behind by a noticeable compared to higher end results.
On a more positive note, the motherboard’s 3DMark scores are impressive and an indicator of its abilities in graphical tasks.
Furthermore, the Sabertooth Z170 S offers astounding gaming performance and set a brand new frames-per-second record.
While the motherboard doesn’t maintain the top position, it’s still able to provide a stellar gaming experience.
In terms of memory bandwidth, the stock performance numbers are fairly good although there is some room for improvement compared to the top results.
After the overclock was applied, the motherboard cemented its position and achieved decent bandwidth scores.
In SiSoft Sandra, the motherboard’s stock memory performance is phenomenal and worthy of praise.
Once overclocked, the memory bandwidth remains very impressive and within a close proximity of the top speeds.
Combined Latency Test
The Sabertooth Z170 S reports exceptionally low memory latency figures and outperforms many of its rivals.
The overclocked results emphasizes the motherboard’s expertise to keep memory latency low in both stock and overclocked usage scenarios.
When it comes to linear read rates, the motherboard achieved staggering numbers and recorded the best USB statistics thus far.
Unfortunately, M.2 linear write performance wasn’t ideal but it’s still within an acceptable margin of error. Thankfully, the SATA and USB drives fare much better.
LAN Speed Test Lite
The Sabertooth Z170 S’ Intel I129V network interface provides a very consistent and reliable connection.
Passmark Performance Test 8 – Ethernet
Here we can see the motherboard scores very highly in UDP testing and attains an impressive TCP result.
Passmark Performance Test 8 – CPU Work Load
The CPU load during TCP testing remains extremely low and impressed me a great deal. Even though the UDP CPU utilization could be better, it’s far from being problematic and could easily reduce with additional benchmark runs.
The Z170 Sabertooth Mark S’ audio solution provides a marvellous listening experience at commonly used bit rates. As you can see from the analysis below, the ALC1150 codec has a good dynamic range and noise output. These two areas could have a better result, but it’s not enough to inhibit the audio quality in a noticeable way.
16 Bit, 44KHz (DVD Quality)
16 Bit, 96KHz (Studio Quality)
24 Bit, 96KHz (Studio Quality)
DPC Audio Latency Analyser
The audio chipset’s latency is higher than other ASUS products we’ve tested in the past but it’s easily within an acceptable range.
Under full load, the motherboard’s power consumption is higher than a lot of alternative options. However, the difference is so small that you’re unlikely to notice any changes to your electricity bill.
The overclocked power consumption surpasses 400 watts and competes against rival offerings better than the stock results.
At the time of writing, the ASUS Sabertooth Z170 S is available from Overclockers UK for £164.99 plus shipping. This teeters towards the higher end market although it’s significantly cheaper than flagship motherboards like the MSI Z170A GAMING M9 ACK. Furthermore, it’s almost impossible to compare the motherboard to other options because of the unique styling. The retail price is cheaper than its predecessor but this is probably down to the removal of the rear heatsink and smaller thermal armour.
Motherboard manufacturers tend to adopt fairly safe aesthetic designs to maximize sales and cater towards the core gaming demographic. This is the reason why you see so many red and black products. As a result, any company which breaks the mould and takes a risk deserves recognition. The ASUS Sabertooth Z170 S is undeniably special and even if you dislike the theme, it’s something which really catches people’s attention. Personally, I absolutely adore the white PCB and camouflage highlights. Saying that, I’m a little disappointed to see the thermal armour being targeted around the rear I/O. Although, it makes sense to find a more enticing price point for enthusiasts. ASUS decided to focus more on the military aspect than the Z97 Saberooth Mark S. I would have preferred a simplistic white colour scheme but the camouflage areas grow on you rather quickly. Overall, ASUS has done a splendid job and I hope this inspires more companies to produce motherboards sporting a white PCB.
As a TUF product, the motherboard incorporates the finest quality of components to prolong its lifespan and last well beyond the five-year warranty. This includes the premium 8+4 power design, TUF alloy chokes, TUF 10K capacitors, low RDS TUF MOSFETs and more! Additionally, ASUS’ DIGI+ VRM, PRO Clock and TurboV Processing Units give you complete control and provides every inconceivable tool to maximize performance. On another note, the motherboard features a good audio solution with an integrated amplifier to drive high impedance headphones. There’s also support for extreme 3-way Crossfire setups or users who want to pair two NVIDIA GPUs in an SLI rig. Another highlight is the excellent fan arrangement which makes it ridiculously easy to route cables in a clean manner.
The BIOS is almost perfect and caters towards users with varying technical abilities. For example, the EZ mode obscures complex functionality which may confuse novice builders and lists key settings in a simple and slick user-interface. Switching the advanced mode opens up a huge array of options to adjust CPU power saving measures and system behaviour. Overclocking on any Z170 motherboard is such a simple process and involves increasing the CPU core ratio and accompanying voltage. The ASUS BIOS makes this so easy because of the excellent layout.
In terms of performance, the motherboard attains superb stock numbers and does really well once overclocked. The CPU scores in Cinebench and WPrime really impressed me and remained near the top position. Granted, the figures in SiSoft Sandra weren’t ideal but the overall picture is very positive. On another note, the average M.2 read speed surpassed many alternatives and the motherboard did really well during USB storage tests. The memory performance wasn’t the greatest on record but it’s still within a very reasonable margin of the best results. Whether you’re overclocking a Skylake CPU or using the base frequency, the motherboard will churn out exceptional performance figures across a number of leading benchmarks. In particular, the 3D scores are sublime and emphasizes the product’s credentials as a gaming-centric product.
- Daring colour scheme
- Excellent performance
- Great audio
- Fantastic BIOS
- Five Year Warranty
- Huge connectivity options
- Impressive temperature monitoring
- Magnificent motherboard layout
- Premium components
- Q-LEDs can easily be obscured by a long graphics card
“The ASUS Sabertooth Z170 S’ gorgeous white PCB and camouflage detailing combines to make a truly unique design which offers something different to every other product on the market. Not only that, the motherboard’s five-year warranty and TUF components ensures your investment will perform beautifully for many years to come.”
ASUS Sabertooth Z170 S (LGA1151) Motherboard Review
Thank you ASUS for providing us with this sample.