Intel’s Tick-Tock Model has aged well. First introduced with their 45nm parts in 2007, a Tick is advancement for manufacturing technology in accordance with Moore’s Law, while a Tock provides a new microarchitecture using the previous ‘tick’ cycle(like Sandy Bridge – Ivy Bridge). That being said, Intel’s last ‘Tick’, Haswell, didn’t prove to be much of an improvement from Ivy Bridge. Performance wise we looked at around 10% increase compared to IVB while the idle power consumption shrunk by 25%. It was hard to convince most IVB users to shift to a newer platform. With the release of Devil’s Canyon, Intel delivered a performance benefit of around 17% clock-per-clock over IVB. The thermals were improved as well. Intel’s Broadwell was the least discussed ‘Tick’, with limited availability and delayed release, and more focused on the mobile platforms rather than desktop. From reviews it was clear that Broadwell was essentially a Haswell underneath with some minor tweaks.
Now we’re back to another Tock. Intel’s Skylake is due to release today. With the embargo lifting off, the first thing that all of us would be looking at is the performance and power aspects. We will also be looking at Intel’s new Z170 chipset and the improvements that it brings. During the course of time we will review motherboards from several manufacturers, but ASUS was kind enough to send us one of the earliest samples from their Z170 range, the Z170-A. The naming should be indication enough that this is a ‘budget’ board, though from the aesthetics and features it is not clear whether use of the word ‘budget’ would be a misnomer.
Without further ado, let’s look at some unboxing pictures of Z170-A and Skylake. The full review will be published soon:
Let’s look at the board in some detail. The aesthetics follows ASUS’ X99 design language with white heatsinks and matte black PCB. The style reminds me of ASUS’ X99-Deluxe. Four DIMM slots supporting up to 64GB of DDR4 memory, three full length PCIe x16 slots (though I think the last slot may share bandwidth with the M.2 slot), upgraded Audio via CrystalSound 3 (based on RealTek ALC892) makes the introduction here as well. Seven fan headers, dedicated START/MemOK! buttons, Easy XMP and TPU switches are onboard.
10-phase all Digital VRM – now that is something new for a budget board.
The updated design for the PCH heatsink:
Storage: Six SATA ports, two occupied as SATA-Express. A dedicated M.2 slot is here as well.
Here we see the CrystalSound 3 audio implementation, with audio capacitors.
I/O wise, there are two USB2.0 ports, a full array of display connectors (HDMI/DisplayPort/VGA/DVI), a PS/2 port in a rather odd location, two USB3.0 ports, Intel GbE port, two USB3.1 ports (one type-A, and the other type-C), and usual 7.1 audio connectors with optical out.
The heart of it all: Intel’s flagship Skylake part, the Core i7-6700K:
The Z170-A has a deceptive naming. The board is aimed at budget conscious users but from prima facie, it comes laden with features. We will explore both the board and Intel’s Skylake as a platform in our full review.