While Coffee Lake has been released you may find a lot of value in purchasing a new or used Kaby Lake CPU. These are still a solid option for gaming work. We'll be reviewing a few compatible motherboards from $150 to $200 that we'd recommend if you're wanting to overclock your "k" series processor.
While there are other Intel Kaby Lake chipsets that work with these processors (B250, Q250, H270, and Q270) only the Z270 allows for overclocking your CPU, GPU, and RAM. Older Skylake motherboards like the Z170 are compatible with these motherboards with a BIOS update.
Still, if you're building a new PC, you'll likely want to go with the newer chipset in order to get the latest technology that both Intel and manufacturers have added on to these boards.
Asus Prime Z270-A
If you're looking for a good quality board that isn't too expensive but still allows you to overclock, I like the Asus Prime Z270-A motherboard. This model is not only Asus' most popular entry into the Z270 market, it's the most popular Z270 motherboard overall.
I've used the previous generation Z170-A extensively with my Haswell processor and this one has that same value feel to it. By value, I simply mean that Asus allows you to save money by not adding the features you don't care about or won't use, such as SATA Express, but keeping new features like M.2 readily available.
The Magical Overclocking Number:
ForThe Asus Prime Z270-A won't take you to the world championships for overclocking; however, you should be able to hit around 5.1GHz. That magical 5GHz number is the one that most are looking for with this new series and it's certainly easy to do here.
Key features here include 2 M.2 drive connectors, 6 SATA ports, and a ton of USB 3.0 and 2.0 headers including both type-A and Type-C connectors so that you'll have what you need going forward.
Overall, it's no surprise that the Asus Prime Z270-A maintains its dominance in the space. It has the polished bios, budget price, quality brand, and allows you to pay for all the features you want while skipping out on those that aren't important. A similar board also exists for the AM4 X370 AMD platform. The Prime Z270-A also finds itself on our gaming PC builds list.
Asus ROG Strix Z270E and Z270F
Before I get into my review of these boards it's important to know the difference between the two. First off all, the Asus ROG Strix Z270E or extreme model is the more expensive model as it has a USB3.1 front panel connector, Wi-Fi, 2T2R, and Bluetooth v4.1 support that you don't get with the F or Formula model. Other than that, they're the same.
Both boards have a sleek black design along with a 10-phase digital power delivery system and some RGB lighting (the board is not fully lit). I think it's smart that Asus decided to add the Strix lineup to its ROG series. Its popularity among graphics cards is definitely something they can build upon.
Additional features for both boards include 6 SATA 3 ports, 2 x M.2 ports, 2 x RGB 12V headers, and the supreme FX 8 channel audio.
So, yes, the Asus ROG STRIX Z270F has most the features you're looking for. It's a bit more expensive than the Prime board listed above; however, that's typical of the ROG lineup. As this is a new line for Asus it has a new BIOS as well. You should be able to reach the 5GHz mark with this board.
Overall, it's a good value and one that I'm sure many will pick because of how easy it is to match with the rest of their components. The BIOS is, as I mentioned, new and not perfect. However, it's something that should improve with time.
Gigabyte Aorus Z270 Gaming 7
There are a lot of new naming schemes with the Z270 lineup, so before we get into this board, it's important you realize that the Aorus line is what the G1 gaming lineup used to be.
Out of that lineup, the Aorus 9 is the big boy with an extended ATX form factor and enough features to make your head spin. However, if you prefer that your head stay facing forward and your pocketbook stay in check, you can get the standard ATX Gaming K7 version of this lineup for just under $200 rather than the $500 of the eATX Gaming 9.
Gigabyte Z270 Gaming 7 vs Gaming K7
There's also the Gigabyte Aorus gaming K7 that comes in at around $180. If you don't need more than 5 fan connectors, the K7 is possibly the better overall deal. That being said, the Gaming 7 includes an integrated Creative Audio solution where the K7 uses a Realtek ALC1220 codec. Some, but not all, additional features that the 7 has include a Thunderbolt Connector, 2 BIOS switches, temperature sensor headers, and voltage mesaurement points.
Still, the K7 features compatibility with Intel's 7th generation Kaby Lake processors, RGB Fusion, Smart Fan 5, up to 3-Way GPU configuration, multiple M.2 connectors and onboard U.2.
For design, Gigabyte's done an amazing job with their Aorus lineup. The LED lighting, if you care, is top notch. The board itself is also somewhat neutral but does have white accents to it. So, having some additional components or cords with white accents here would take the look to the next level.
Overall this is another fantastic board for under $200. I think most will prefer the K7 vs the 7 version of this board as the additional $50 has features that most won't use; however, there is certainly a crowd for the Gaming 7 as well.
ASRock Z270 Gaming K6
If you like a red and black design, look to ASRock's Gaming K6 Fatal1ty edition motherboard. It comes with a lot of great features, support for Intel's Kaby Lake processors, 2 M.2 slots, and up to 3866MHz DDR4 memory.
The LEDs can be configured and set at different patterns. The way that ASRock has set this up is quite impressive.
With ASRock, you always get good quality and a better price for the same features as other boards. ASRock can do this by using things like ASMedia's USB 3.1 controller rather than Intel Thunderbolt. You still get outrageous 10 Gb/s speeds.
Overclocking and Conclusion
Overclocking should be relatively painless with no issues getting to 5.0GHz. Overall, a good motherboard worth consideration for those that would rather spend $160 than $200. Find it on rebate and you might even get it for under $150.
It's easy to get carried away and spend a ton of money on your motherboard. The lights and design compel many PC builders.
However, after you've put your machine together and all of your components, you end up looking at it a lot less than you probably thought you might.
In the under $150 there are fewer LED lights and oversized heatsinks but there are plenty of motherboards that look great and provide optimal value. Here are a few that make the short list.
A Good Budget Asus Z270 Motherboard
With a solid list of features, an LED-illuminated design, and a black design the Asus Prime Z270-P is a good budget option for those who would prefer a less bulky looking design but still want to be able to play around a little with their Kaby Lake CPU.
Asus Prime Z270-P Review
Even though it's less expensive, you still get 2xM.2 socket 3 slots. For memory, the board supports up to 64GB of DDR4 3866 (OC). Overclocking along with something like the Hyper 212 EVO should put you in the 5GHz range.
Overall, in terms of performance, you're sacrificing little here. The quality of this Asus board is still very good with features like Japanese audio capacitors and protective features like Asus SafeSlot Core, LANGuard, and Overvoltage protection. Once behind the walls of a PC case, you'd likely not notice the difference between this under $150 motherboard and a $200 board.
Asus Tuf Z270 Mark 2
Another good Asus Z270 motherboard in the under $150 price range is the Asus Tuf Z270 Mark 2. This is not to be confused with the Mark 1 which would set you back an additional $100.
Asus Tuf Z270 Mark 2 vs Asus Prime Z270-P
Compared to the Z270-P above, this model gets an additional PCIe slot, more SATA III slots (6 vs 4), Intel I219-V vs RealTek 8111H gigabit ethernet, 2 additional 4-pin PWM fan headers, and a few additional safety features. An additional comparison between these motherboards and others for the Z270 lineup for Asus can be found here.
The Tuf, as its name states, is also a bit more sturdy.
Overall, you'll have to decide whether the design and look of the Z270 Mark 2 is worth it when compared to the other motherboards on this list. It's our guess that it will appeal to many.
Gigabyte Options Under $150
If you're looking for a good budget Gigabyte Z270 motherboard, I like the Gigabyte GA-Z270XP-SLI for standard ATX builds and the GA-Z270M-D3H for mATX builds.
Both of these motherboards carry compatibility for M.2, SATA Express, and have 6 SATA 6GB/s connectors. The SLI has a few more USB 3.1 connectors (ASMedia USB 3.1 Type-C controllers) and features like the OC button and an audio gain control switch. However, it's likely that in day to day usage, you won't notice much of a difference between the two.
Both are good options for budget builds. That being said I do wonder if Gigabyte could have taken the price down a little bit more if they'd ignored SATA Express altogether.
While listing all of the manufacturer changes isn't within the scope of this article, here's a look at the major changes coming to the Z270 chipset.
New to the LGA 1151 Z270 Chipset?
There are a few notable changes to the Z270 chipset when compared to the previous Z170 chipset.
Optane Ready Support:
Optane is a fast type of caching storage that Intel's currently working on for use with Kaby Lake CPUs. Long story short, it should allow you to get SSD-type performance for your entire drive simply by having a 16-32GB drive.
We've seen something like this before with Intel's Smart Response technology; however, this technology aims to do what that one couldn't. That is, really give us SSD-like performance.
Whether this will be successful or not is still yet to be seen. However, the potential for massive amounts of quick storage simply by adding this leaves us hoping it will perform as Intel says it should.
4 More PCIe Lanes:
No, this doesn't mean you'll be able to get more than eight lanes for each card in your SLI or Crossfire configuration. Rather, it simply means there are more lanes for M.2, USB3.1 and more.
Kaby Lake Optimization and Power Use
Kaby Lake features faster CPU clock speeds and higher turbo frequencies but is still on the same 14nm manufacturing process. So, it's "optimized" rather than entirely new. The clock speeds come with the price of slightly higher temps and additional power usage. Better integrated graphics can also be found on Kaby Lake processors; however, that's less likely to be important to someone purchasing a Z270 motherboard.
Coffee Lake 8th generation processors require and are designed for use with Z370 or Z390 motherboards and will have increased multi-thread performance. These motherboards are not backward compatible with Kaby Lake processors and Coffee Lake can not be used with previous generation motherboards.
Overall, we're happy with the Z270 Skylake motherboard lineup. Have a board that you use and like? I'd love to hear about it below. Or, if you have a question about compatibility or a PC build, be sure to leave a comment below. I'd also love to hear what you think about the new Ryzen options compared to Skylake when it comes to gaming.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2017 Brandon Hart