What is an enthusiast motherboard exactly? It’s a fair question to ask when discussing which ones are the best. Is it a contest of speed and features or more a case of style and stability? Maybe it’s about attitude and intent. How about reputation and price? Don’t worry, this isn’t an existential dilemma. The answer is a short and simple “all of the above.”
The introduction of the Z170 chipset upped the ante further, bringing X99 chipset features to the mainstream and muddying the waters between the mid- and high-end of the marketplace. While this is a win for consumers in terms of features and speed, there’s been a bit of rub-off in price too. Z170 products cost more than their Z97 predecessors, a pinch especially noticeable in the midrange where enthusiast boards tend to pop up.
Presented here are the best of the current crop of Z170 motherboards, along with an alternative for each in case the primary pick doesn’t fit your fancy. We’ll also explain why each of these motherboards are special in some way, representing their manufacturers’ best efforts to go above and beyond the mainstream.
Note that if you're looking for something other than Z170 boards for Skylake, take a gander over at our Best gaming motherboards guide, where we've previously covered some of the other options.
Best Z170 motherboard - Mini-ITX
- Relatively inexpensive
- Packed with features
- Flexible and fast
- Mediocre QC
BALLIN’ ON A BUDGET
ASRock dominates the budget motherboard market, and products like the Fatal1ty Z170 Gaming-ITX/ac are a case-study in why. While the other boards here strive to justify their lofty prices, the Fatal1ty delivers features and performance that feel like a steal with sale prices frequently hitting the $150 low water mark.
This makes the Fatal1ty not only a great pick for Skylake ITX builds, but also the best choice for budget-conscious enthusiasts looking for a little bit of everything Z170.
Rendered in gaming-gear red and black, the Fatality sits atop ASRock’s current Z170 ITX line-up. High speed I/O is this tiny motherboard’s forte, with a 32Gb/s M.2 slot, USB 3.1 C-style port, Intel gigabit LAN, Atheros Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth to compliment the array of normal USB and SATA connectors jammed onboard the micro-sized silicon island.
Best Z170 motherboard - entry level
- Low price
- Dual M.2 slots
- Crude-looking BIOS
- Doesn't OC that high
SPECIAL ORDER SPARTAN
Gigabyte’s new Z170X-Gaming 6 is the most practical enthusiast motherboard here. For a modest price bump over basic Z170 boards, the Gaming 6 provides dual 32Gb/s M.2 slots, dual LAN controllers, customizable ALC1150 audio, and rock solid stability in a sporty red, black, and white-accented design.
While you don’t get much by way of armor cladding, LED lights, or other fashion statements, that’s not a problem for every user. Gigabyte has a long history of products that appeal on the basis of features rather than flash, a no-nonsense tradition the Gaming 6 wears on its sleeve.
The packaging and box contents follow suit. You won’t find too many extras here. A few cables, a thin manual, the I/O connector backplate, and a handful of other items round out a Spartan package, but Gigabyte hasn’t cut any corners where it counts.
Best Z170 motherboard - midrange
- Quicksilver looks
- Sophisticated overclocking tools
- Dual M.2 slots
- No Wi-Fi or extra LAN port
MSI’s Z170A XPower Titanium packs serious CPU support silicon in a slick silver package that’s perfect for overclocking enthusiasts. The least expensive board to reach the sample CPU’s top stable 47x multiplier, the XPower also happily pushed past 4.8GHz with minor voltage and BCLK tuning. Moreover, temperatures stayed low both at idle and under load, keeping cool no matter the processor pressure, giving it the best thermal headroom of the bunch.
Thankfully, this performance doesn’t come with the bleeding edges common in boutique boards. Drivers and BIOS were stable from the start, and the clean design pays off during installs, especially in tighter cases. This is a thoughtful touch since the XPower’s standard ATX form factor opens up plenty of enclosure options denied to its premium EATX competitors. Take care with DRAM installation however: DIMMs can appear seated but not be fully clicked into place, so press firmly.
Speaking of enclosures, you’ll want a window for this one. MSI’s silver paint special looks smashing, with a restrained appearance that still manages to look limited edition. Neutral silver and grey tones make component coordination easy, although you won’t find MSI’s adjustable Mystic Light LED arrangements here, which is a pity since they would reflect nicely on the motherboard’s fancy finish.
Best Z170 motherboard - high-end
- Stylistic perfection
- CrossChill cooling
- Full-speed overclocking
- Single LAN controller
Although the Maximus Formula VIII isn’t the most exclusive product in Asus’s line-up, it’s the definitive wayward child. While the signature series and even the Maximus Extreme get by with subtle colors and restrained styling, the Formula flaunts its LED-enhanced style and gunmetal grey panels like it’s always time to party.
In addition to several lights mounted behind openings in the motherboard’s protective paneling, an RGB lead and bundled 2-foot long lighting strip allow builders to go LED crazy. Asus’s aura light control lets these strobe, flash, fade, or even pulse in time with music or react to system temperature and doesn’t need to stay resident after changes are made.
Careful attention to detail means no wayward colors ruin the effect either – the only distractions are the amber hard disk access light and the motherboard’s surface mounted reset and power buttons, rendered in an unobtrusive pale white.
Best Z170 motherboard - extreme
- Best bundled hardware
- Great overclocking support
- Pentagon price
- Only one M.2 slot
Asus’ mighty Maximus VIII Extreme is an impressive board in its own right, but Skylake speedsters looking for something special have another option available, the limited Extreme Assembly edition.
The Assembly edition makes a series of significant changes to the . Color schemes are dialed back from now-generic gamer black and red to a subtle copper-accented dark grey, a neutral combo that recalls the Z97 signature series, fits better in professional environments, and makes component color coordination easier.
Like the signature series, an adjustable RGB light now lives under the chipset logo heatsink, adding a little cheek to an otherwise serious look.
How we test and benchmarks
The motherboards recommended in this guide all undergo various forms of hands-on evaluation, including multiple enclosure installations, performance benchmarking, stability testing, and a follow up real-world break-in period that focuses on gaming, content creation, entertainment, and media playback. When possible, all tests are performed with identical components installed to remove any variables except the motherboard itself.
Benchmarks include AIDA64 Extreme, Cinebench 15, CrystalDiskMark, Unigine Heaven 4.0, RightMark Audio Analyzer, 7zip’s compression test, LAN Speed and Wi-Fi Test, Dolphin Emulator, 3DMark’s FireStrike and Skydiver tests, and Latency Monitor, while the real-world break-in period encompasses office and creative work, media streaming, and gaming with a variety of demanding titles such as GTAV, Bioshock Infinite, Metro: Last Light, DIRT: Rally, Fallout 4, Witcher 3, and others.
Overclocking benchmarks include a uniform CPU multiplier test at 1.35V as well as auto overclocking software (where applicable) and fully tuned manual overclock results. Stability tests are performed with AIDA64’s stress utility and extended runs of the gaming software suite at varying levels of detail.
Gaming tests are run multiple times at 1080p with medium-to-high graphics options to identify any outliers and remove bottlenecks caused by video card performance. When possible, both single and dual card configurations are tested from multiple vendors to ensure motherboard stability in high bandwidth situations.