Now that Intel’s sixth-generation Core CPUs have made their way to retail outlets, the most obvious question for users should be: which is the right motherboard for me? Given that the Z170 chipset has plenty of flexibility, there’s a huge range of potential boards to choose from – perhaps more so than there has been in previous Core CPU generations. This is great news, because it means you can find precisely the motherboard you need for whatever price you are willing to pay.
At present, nearly all Z170 motherboards will be expensive relative to Z97 motherboards. There are many reasons for this but as always it’s related to the strengthening dollar, which obviously doesn’t translate favourably for hardware purchasers in the rest of the world. Even with that said, the ASRock Fatal1ty Z170 Gaming K6 (henceforth referred to as the K6) offers some of the best (if not the best) value for money you will find across all Z170 motherboards.
The reason for that is twofold. First, it’s simply because of the price. Paying almost R4,000 for a motherboard is not likely to be considered affordable, but again, in the context of what else is out there, this is a great price. Price alone isn’t much of an indicator obviously – it’s what you get for your money that matters. This brings us to the second reason regarding the value proposition of the K6. It has to its credit high-speed M.2 drive support at up to 32Gbps, features dual SATA Express ports and a total of eight SATA 6Gbps ports. SATA Express is of little to no use to anyone, but the full-speed M.2 interface means that drives such as the Samsung SM951 NVMe can reach their full potential when installed on this motherboard. This is not to be taken for granted as there are some motherboards that are limited to just 10Gbps for this interface.
The K6 features an ASMEDIA ASM1061 drive controller. There isn’t anything special about the ASM1061, but it’s important for those who insist on legacy Windows support. Without this controller you may have a difficult time installing Windows 7 and more importantly it would be impossible to use Windows XP, because the native Z170 PCH does not provide an IDE mode for any of the drives connected to it.
Moving to the audio portion, ASRock has again included its Purity Audio solution in its third-generation form. It isn’t radically different from what you may be familiar with, sporting the Realtek ALC1150 Codec, a TI NE5532 headphone output amplifier and some Nichicon audio capacitors. The audio is isolated from the rest of the motherboard via PCB layers and this helps deliver cleaner and clearer audio. The software has largely the same features as previous iterations and it works well enough to not warrant the need for a dedicated audio card for most users. It may not be an audiophile-class solution, but it is more than good enough for most users, especially when gaming, which is after all the intended purpose of this motherboard.
These kinds of audio solutions are often paired with an Atheros Killer NIC and this motherboard is no different. It has a new E2400 controller, which isn’t ideologically different from the previous controllers. The claim is that it reduces latency even further, routes traffic optimally and allows greater online gaming performance. Whether any of this is true is anyone’s guess, but thus far there’s no reason to believe this controller provides a measurably different networked gaming experience than any of the Intel or Realtek NIC solutions. It is the staple network chip for gaming motherboards, however, so its presence is appreciated in some capacity.
Concerning performance, gaming is just as good on this motherboard as any other we have tested, especially when using a dedicated or discrete GPU. The primary PCI Express slot is routed directly to the CPU so you’ll receive the best performance possible with no bridging or multiplexing chips. Support for multi-GPU solutions is limited to two-way SLI and three-way CrossFire. The SLI limit applies only to two discrete, single-GPU cards. Obviously if you use two TITAN-Z GPUs for example you’ll have four-way SLI, but barring those dual-GPU cards, SLI support is limited to two cards. This is sensible given that adding a third card to the standard ATX motherboard would result in poor airflow as the cards would literally be on top of each other.
For those who like to tinker, the BIOS has plenty of options laid out for you in a logical manner. You need not be an expert in overclocking to find your way around unless you start tuning various voltages and the like. The one gripe I do have with this motherboard is that CPU voltage is limited to 1.56V, which means that should you decide to try your luck at extreme overclocking, you’ll be limited fairly quickly as anything less than 1.6V is unlikely to allow frequencies beyond 5.6GHz or thereabout. The UEFI also lacks the crucial standby voltage along with PLL termination voltage. That said, these are not issues for liquid- and air-cooled systems as these limitations make absolutely no difference to the stability or performance of the system.
As you’d expect from ASRock, memory overclocking with the K6 is great. The motherboard is said to support frequencies of up to 3,600MHz and indeed it does. There aren’t many kits that are rated at this frequency, but in my testing I confirmed frequencies of up to 4,000MHz on the K6. Such frequencies don’t make much difference when gaming with a discrete graphics card, but for content creation and encoding/transcoding of video, the memory performance has a measurable impact. The only downside to all this memory tuning is that as of BIOS version 1.20 the K6 is not capable of operating at 1N/1T and you will only receive the POST CODE error “55” when attempting to configure memory in this manner. We do hope that it will be sorted in a future BIOS revision.
Overall this is a good motherboard and certainly better than many for the Z170 platform at the moment. It’s a solid offering with one the best prices for this class of motherboard and is highly recommended.