ASRock Fatal1ty Z170 GAMING K4 Motherboard Review
So we come to our second look at one of the new Z170 Skylake motherboards, this time around we will be looking at one of the latest boards from ASRock, this then is the ASRock Fatal1ty Z170 GAMING K4. This particular board is a more budget conscious board and in fact is the cheapest of the Z170 based Fatal1ty Gaming boards at approximately £108. So what does a £108 motherboard bring to the party? Well other than the obvious support for Intel’s latest Skylake processors, via the new LGA1151 Socket and DDR4 memory support (up to 3200MHz+ (OC)). The Fatal1ty Z170 GAMING K4 also has support for AMD’s Crossfire technology, but unfortunately not Nvidia’s SLI technology. In addition to this there’s Killer LAN for Gamers, a Fatal1ty mouse port, USB 3.0 (Type-C) and Purity Sound 3. In addition to this the Fatal1ty Z170 GAMING K4 also sports Aluminium Alloy heatsinks, Nichicon capacitors and I/O Armor shielding the rear I/O ports. Finally there’s also a single Ultra M.2 port supporting both SATA and PCIe with speeds up to 32GB/s. But there’s also something a little more unusual about this ATX motherboard, in the fact that it’s not a full ATX size as the last 25mm of the board seem to be missing!?
NOTE (1): The Intel H170 Express Chipset supports 6th Gen Intel Core i3/i5/i7 processors, and Intel Pentium and Celeron processors for Socket LGA1151. The new Socket 1151 is not backward compatible with previous Intel Core CPUs and, at the time of writing only Skylake processors are compatible with these motherboards. Also another big change for Skylake is the fact that there’s no support for DDR3. DDR4 is now king, although there’s only support for Dual Channel memory and not Quad Channel; for that you’ll need to look at Intel’s X99 platform. The bottom line here is that a new Skylake based Gaming Rig’s going to comprise of a new Motherboard, CPU and RAM.
NOTE (2): Due to the XHCI Driver not being incorporated into Windows 7, USB devices will not function on 100 Series motherboards when trying to install Windows 7. Windows 8.1 and above will work just fine. Further information can be found here.
The ASRock Fatal1ty Z170 GAMING K4 arrived at pcG in a small predominately black box with what appears to be a new logo on the left, not too sure what it is but it’s Gothic looking and I rather like it (thanks ASRock: It’s a praying Mantis!). The front of the box also has the Fatal1ty logo over on the right below the brand names and above the product name. The front of the box also features a handful of logos highlighting the following: Intel Z170 Chipset, support for Intel Core processors, AMD CrossFire support, Killer Ethernet (E2400), HDMI output, DTS Connect and support for Windows 10.
Looking at the back of the box we find a lot more information, here we have a nice large view of the motherboard highlighting various features of the board; 10 Power Phase Design, XXL – Aluminum Alloy Heatsink, Nichicon 12K Platinum Caps, I/O Armor, Digi Power, Supports DDR4 3200+ (OC) and Ultra M.2 (32Gb/s). In addition to this over on the left hand side ASRock further highlights the Fatal1ty Mouse Port, Killer LAN, USB Type-C on the rear I/O, Purity Sound 3 and Key Master. In the far right hand corner we also find a specification table (see Specifications/Features below).
On opening the box we can see that at the top there’s a handful of accessories (see below), beneath this we find the motherboard simply nestling within the box, there’s no soft foam tray this time around though, just a basic foam mat!
There’s not too much in the box but we have the essentials; meaning a user guide, an I/O shield and some SATA cables…
At the time of writing this review, the ASRock Fatal1ty Z170 GAMING K4 is retailing on Amazon for approximately £108 and comes with a 3 year warranty.
courtesy of ASRock
- ASRock Super Alloy
- Gaming Armor – Memory / VGA Card / Cooling / Internet / Audio
- Supports 6th Generation Intel® Core™ Processors (Socket 1151)
- Digi Power, 10 Power Phase Design
- Supports DDR4 3866+(OC) memory modules
- 2 PCIe 3.0 x16, 3 PCIe 3.0 x1
- AMD Quad CrossFireX™ and CrossFireX™
- Graphics Output Options: DVI-D, HDMI
- 7.1 CH HD Audio (Realtek ALC1150 Audio Codec), Supports Purity Sound™ 3 & DTS Connect
- Killer™ E2400 Gigabit LAN
- 2 SATA Express, 6 SATA3, 1 Ultra M.2 (PCIe Gen3 x4 & SATA3)
- 8 USB 3.0 (5 Type-A + 1 Type-C, 2 Front)
- Supports Full Spike Protection, ASRock Live Update & APP Shop, F-Stream, Key Master, XSplit
First impressions of the ASRock Fatal1ty Z170 GAMING K4 is that it feels light and therefore it feels a little cheap. But it’s actually light for a reason and that is the fact that it’s missing the last 25mm of the right edge of the board!? I have to confess I have no idea what sort of size this is, even though it’s sold as a ATX board. Thankfully it looks pretty good, but it’s not as good a looker as our own ASRock test motherboard the Fatal1ty Z97X Killer. Although I do like the shield/armour covering the rear I/O ports, something that seems new on a lot of Z170 boards.
Looking at what I would call the right side of the board and working left to right; it becomes immediately obvious that not only does the Fatal1ty Z170 GAMING K4 have a narrow PCB but the layout seems to have been compromised also. In the far left corner we have six vertical SATA ports (x4 SATA 6B/s x 2 eSATA). To the right of this we have what is effectively the South Bridge with its nice red aluminium heatsink and silver ASRock Fatal1ty logo, to the right of this we have a further two vertical SATA 6GB/s ports. Why you would split the SATA ports up in this way I have no idea!? Next we have the vertical mounted USB 3.0 port followed by the first of four chassis fan headers (CHA_FAN4), thankfully all headers are 4-pin and PWM controlled. Next we have the main 24-pin power socket and then not much else (save for a few components) until we get to the far corner where we have one of two CPU fan headers (CPU_FAN2). Dominating the right side of the board we also have the four DDR4 DIMM sockets supports up to 3200MHz+ (OC) Memory (RAM).
Looking at the opposite side of the board (the left) and again working left to right, we first find the main motherboard IO panel (more on this later), but note the inclusion of a I/O shroud that just helps to tidy up the lines of this edge of the board. The rest of this edge of the board is dominated by the on-board soundcard this 7.1 CH HD Audio setup is powered by a Realtek ALC1150 Audio Codec and supports Purity Sound™ 3 & DTS Connect. This setup (visually) looks ok, but it looks a little to plasticky (bad word I know!) and also there’s no illumination to give it a lift!
Looking at the PCIe 3.0 lanes we see that there’s only five (instead of the usual seven) and these are wired up in the following way; the first slot is a x1 slot this is then followed (left to right) by a x16 slot (red), a gap, another x1 slot, a second x16 slot (red) and then another gap and finally a x1 slot. If one Graphics Card is used then the first x16 slot runs at x16, if x2 Graphics Cards are used then the first slot runs at x8 while the other will run at x4 speed. The fact that the second slot’s maximum speed is x4 is the reason that there’s no SLI support, as it requires a x8 minimum speed.
Looking at what is effectively the top of the board we can see that it’s dominated by the CPU Power phase heatsinks and the LGA1151 Socket. We find the CPU 8-pin socket in its normal position, buy hey where’s the other CPU fan header? Normally you would find it here on this edge of the board… Oh there it is hiding in the top left corner of the image (above right) just behind the DIMM slots!?
Looking at the bottom of the board and again working from left to right, we have an HD Audio header in the left corner, followed by a Serial port and then a TPM header (still never used one of these!). This is then followed by the second of four chassis fan headers (CHA_FAN3). Next to this we have the BIOS selection switch that allows you to switch between the two BIOS’s a board the Fatal1ty Z170 GAMING K4. This is then followed by x2 USB 2.0 headers and then we come to the main Front Panel header and finally the last two of the four 4-pin PWM chassis fan headers (CHA_FAN2 & CHA_FAN1).
Flipping the board over allows us to further appreciate the matte black PCB. Note also that the main heatsinks are screwed on and not just stuck on, always handy that when you pick up the motherboard by one of those heatsinks, that just seem to look like little handles to me! 😉
Taking a more detailed look at some of the more interesting features of the ASRock Fatal1ty Z170 GAMING K4, first up is the Purity Sound 3 on-board soundcard. This 7.1 channel soundcard is based around a Realtek ALC1150 codec, features Nichicon Fine Gold Series Audio capacitors and comes equipped with a TI NE5532 Premium Headset Amplifier with support for headphones up to 600Ohms. The plastic black surround looks ok too, but it just suffers from that too much plastic effect…
Then we have the unusual position of four of the SATA 6GB/s ports, in the right corner of the board, I’m not too sure why these vertical ports are here and not on the right-hand edge (like normal), but I’m guessing that the narrowing of the board has something to do with it! Luckily there’s still two on the right-hand edge, but even they’re vertical which makes plugging them in all the more difficult.
Also being an ASRock board the Fatal1ty Z170 GAMING K4 comes with two BIOS chips, not only does this mean that you can switch between BIOS but it’s also especially useful if one gets corrupted. But as the chips are not soldered to the board you can also replace them should it all go terribly wrong! The P.140 etching on the top signifies which BIOS version the board is shipped with.
In the middle of the board just below the second x16 PCIe slot we have an Ultra M.2 socket. I’m a huge fan of these discrete devices and I’m glad to see that one has been included on this budget board. The M.2 socket also supports both SATA and PCIe devices with speeds up to 32GB/s.
Finally over near the left corner of the CPU socket and just above the first x1 PCIe slot there’s a vertically mounted Molex socket! This is to provide extra power to the PCIe lanes should you wish to install more than three Graphics Cards… Hold on a minute there’s only two slots!? To be honest I don’t think that this is needed here, or on any other Gaming motherboard to be honest…
A new build was put together to house the ASRock Fatal1ty GAMING K4 motherboard with a new Intel Core i5-6600K Skylake CPU and new DDR4 memory in the form of G.Skill RipJaws 2400MHz. The following components were also used:
|Case||Cooler Master HAF XB||Power Supply||Corsair Professional Series AX 760i|
|Motherboard||ASRock Fatal1ty Z170 GAMING K4||CPU||Intel Core I5-6600K Processor|
|CPU Cooler||Noctua NH-U12S||RAM||G Skill Ripjaws 4 16GB|
|Graphics Card||XFX AMD Radeon R9 290X DD Black Edition||SSD||HyperX FURY 120GB|
Installation of the Fatal1ty Z170 GAMING K4 was easy enough, but was effectively made all the more easier by the fact that the motherboard is around 25mm narrower than normal, yet it’s still an ATX motherboard. Why did it make install easier, because of the width? Well yes sort of yes, but also due to the fact that I didn’t have to use all of the screws! 😉 The motherboard assembly was simple enough consisting of the board itself, our test Intel Core i5-6600K Skylake CPU, a Noctua NH-U12S CPU Cooler and 16GB of G.Skill RipJaws 4 2400MHz memory. With the motherboard assembly complete I installed it by way of the required (and rather unusual) 7 screws.
All necessary SATA cables were connected to the motherboard, I used the ports nearer the 24-pin power socket (SATA3_0 & SATA3_1), as the others are just too awkwardly placed IMHO. The Seagate 2TB SSHD and HyperX Fury SSD test drives were then attached to the other ends of the cables. All of the relevant power cables from the Corsair Professional Series AX760i were then plugged into the ASRock Fatal1ty Z170 GAMING K4 along with all of the case fans. Final cables included USB 3.0 and HD Audio along with the always rather fiddly Front Panel wires. That just left the installation of our toasty test GPU the XFX Radeon R9 290X DD Black Edition! Now it’s time for some testing…
For all of our Z170 testing we will be using Windows 10 (DirectX 12), therefore a new installation of Windows 10 64Bit was performed and the following Drivers were installed. The latest ASRock Drivers were used and can been obtained (here). Although the ASRock Fatal1ty Z170 GAMING K4 has its Drivers and Utilities available on the supplied DVD, we here at pcG try to keep up with the latest Drivers and software where possible.
|* The latest BIOS version (1.7) was downloaded and installed via ASRock’s UEFI based Flash utility and this version was used throughout testing. NOTE: when using the supplied 1.4 BIOS the Internet Flash function would not work! *|
- Intel Chipset Driver (Intel Chipset Driver ver: 10.1.1.8)
- Audio Driver (Realtek High Definition Audio Driver ver: 126.96.36.19943)
- Killer LAN (Killer Network Driver ver: 188.8.131.520)
- AMD Catalyst Software Suite (15.20.1062.1004)
During testing the following tools/benchmarks & games were used/played:
The ASRock Fatal1ty Z170 GAMING K4 booted first time and, as initially as I was using the 1.4 BIOS I was greeted with the Main screen (see below right). As of BIOS version 1.7 the board now boots into an EZ Mode UEFI, this can be seen below left. During initial testing at stock speeds 3.5GHZ (3.9GHz Turbo) I ran into no issues or anomalies and the board performed flawlessly.
Now I must confess my familiarity with the ASRock UEFI, as it’s the same as our very own test board the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer, but I still think it’s simple and easy to use both in the new EZ Mode and in my favourite Advanced Mode. Thanks to ASRock’s Load Optimized CPU OC Setting feature the board can be overclocked from 4.2 to 4.8 in 200MHz increments, nice and simple. Therefore to dial-in our test overclock of 4.5GHz I simply selected the 4.4GHz profile (below left), changed the All Core multiplier (below centre) and enabled XMP (below right).
For our testing of Z170 motherboards using our Intel Skylake Core i5-6600K test CPU we will be testing at both Stock (3.5GHz) and at an overclocked 4.5GHz. The CPU-Z screenshots below show the various states (Idle, Stock & Overclocked) of the CPU and its associated voltage.
- Benchmark Results (CPU @ STOCK: 3.5GHz (1.008v) : RAM @ 2400MHz) with XFX AMD Radeon R9 290X DD Black Edition
|Metro Last Light||1920×1080||78.00|
|Unigine Heaven 4.0||1920×1080||1420|
- Benchmark Results (CPU @ OC: 4.5GHz (1.248v) : RAM @ 2400MHz) with XFX AMD Radeon R9 290X DD Black Edition
|Metro Last Light||1920×1080||79.00|
|Unigine Heaven 4.0||1920×1080||1426|
Looking at the results above there two clear points of note, the first of which is that while the price of the ASRock Fatal1ty Z170 GAMING K4 may be low the performance certainly is far from it! The performance scores here in our Gaming benchmarks are as good as any Z170 board we seen so far Ok I have to confess we’ve only seen one previous Z170 board, bit performance wise it’s every bit at good, and the other board was more expensive! Now to be honest this doesn’t surprise me and it’s something we mentioned numerous times in the past, when the chips are down the discernible performance difference between motherboards is so small, in-game you’re just never going to notice…
The other point is that as you can see from the results above there’s also very little difference between the stock results and the overclocked results. Especially when you look at the pure Gaming tests (Metro & Unigine Heaven). The only tests the show some form of a real world performance improvement is the 3DMark Firestrike tests and this is simply down to the fact that this test has specific CPU ONLY tests and that’s what brings the scores up.
Sound wise (pretty important on a Gaming motherboard, especially if it’s a budget board) the ASRock Sound Purity 3 on-board soundcard performed well in testing. When paired up with a decent headset (our headset of choice is the HyperX Cloud (NOT Cloud II)) the quality of the sound was surprisingly good, with a good deal of power and a decent amount of bass. All of the other frequencies were also well represented with a good amount of definition, detail and good stereo separation. Nothing to complain about hear that’s for sure… 😉
There are so many features and so much software that comes with (or is downloadable) the ASRock Fatal1ty Z170 GAMING K4, that to try and cover it would be a review in itself! I’m also not a big fan of software so for me the only software that I’m likely to install is ASRock’s F-Stream utility and that in itself is a portal to a handful of other options. So let’s just take a look at this F-Stream utility…
Having used an ASRock motherboard as part of our test gear for almost the last year, I obviously rather familiar with ASRock’s F-Stream utility. It’s actually a nice one stop shop for pretty much all of your overclocking/monitoring needs.
On load you’re by default taken to the Main tab, here you can choose to run your system using any of the following profiles: Performance Mode, Standard Mode and Power Saving Mode (well, we wont be using that one!). Performance Mode allows access to the built-in overclock profiles as seen in the UEFI, while Standard Mode is self explanatory and Power Saving Mode, well as I said, sorry… 😉
Clicking on the OC Tweaker option at the top allows access to a overclocking tab, with similar options to the ones found in the OC Tweaker section of the UEFI. Here you can change your Base Clock, CPU Ratio and various voltages etc.
The System Info tab pretty much does what it says on the tin and provides a wealth of information on the status of your system. In the image above right you can see our 4.5GHz overclock and its associated voltages, as well as the various fans (and their associated speeds) that we have in our HAF XB test case; which leads me nicely onto…
FAN-Tastic Tuning is a clever utility that analyses your attached CPU fans and System fans and plots an easy to use graph for you to manipulate. Here you can see the minimum and maximum speed of the selected fan and setup your own performance profile for this fan. In the screenshot above left you can see the default profile created for one of our system fans (CHAFAN_1). The final tab is simply an electronic form that can be filled out should you need to get some technical assistance.
At first I was somewhat thrown by the ASRock Fatal1ty Z170 GAMING K4 due to its odd size (smaller than ATX) and its somewhat compromised layout. But once installed the board proved its Fatal1ty heritage, as this is a damn good Gaming board with great performance to match, and the price is good too!
The ASRock Fatal1ty Z170 GAMING K4 arrived at pcG in a smart predominately black box adorned with what appears to be a new logo. The motherboard within was suitably packaged and presented but was not up to ASRock’s usual standard, but we should remember that this is a budget conscious board. There’s not much in the box either (in more ways than one!) but the essentials are here (Manual, I/O Shield, SATA cables etc). I say in more ways than one as the Fatal1ty Z170 GAMING K4 seems to be missing the last 25mm from the right-hand edge of the board!? Now I know that this is a budget board but slicing away a portion of the board, wow…
Luckily when ASRock performed this surgery the components were not on the board, but unfortunately this has compromised the basic layout of the board a little. Now while none of the changes are bad per se, I was a little frustrated during install especially by the position and orientation of those SATA ports. Other than this there’s not much to whinge about, other than the lack of SLI support which is a shame. But what we do have is one of my favourite features and that’s an M.2 socket, which is impressive at this price point to be fair.
From a pure performance point of view the ASRock Fatal1ty Z170 GAMING K4 never put a foot wrong during all of my time Gaming, Overclocking and testing. In fact its performance figures are as good or better than any Z170 based board tested before it. Overclocking our Intel Core i5-6600K Skylake CPU was straightforward and easy too, with just a couple of settings (see above) being Tweaked in the UEFI enabling us to easily reach our 4.5GHz overclock. The board also manged to keep the voltage low while doing this, which is nice to see as it’s all to easy to use a sledge hammer to crack a nut!
Audio wise the Sound Purity 3 on-board sound card performed well, in testing I found there to be adequate power with a good deal of bass. Overall the sound signature was clear with good definition and good stereo separation. But obviously it’s now replacement for a dedicated soundcard.
Overall I found myself warming to this little board (pun intended!) over the week or so that I spent with it. Yes the size is a little weird as is the layout, but it looks good and you just can’t argue with the performance or the price.
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Many thanks to ASRock for providing this sample for review