Home / Product Round-ups / PC Components / Best Kaby Lake Motherboard: 8 of the best Z270 and B250 boards tested

Best Kaby Lake Motherboard: 8 of the best Z270 and B250 boards tested

by

Best Kaby Lake motherboard: There might not be a huge difference between Skylake and Kaby Lake chipsets but if you want to get the most out of your new seventh-gen chip, a Z270 or B250 motherboard is your best bet

What’s New in Kaby Lake Motherboards?

The eight boards we've tested in this group all use Intel’s new Kaby Lake processors, which mean fresh chipsets with new and expanded features. Seven of the boards here use the high-end Z270 chipset, while the last one uses the more affordable B250 silicon.

The new Z270 chipset doesn’t make any revolutionary changes, but it does improve on its predecessors in several key departments.

Related: Best Skylake motherboards

One of the biggest changes is in PCI lanes, which are used to provide bandwidth for graphics cards and certain SSDs. Last year’s top-tier Z170 chipset had 20 lanes, but Z270 has 24. That’s great for systems that run several graphics cards, and it’s also important for storage – most Z270 motherboards are now coming with two M.2 connectors due to this extra bandwidth.

Elsewhere, Z270 makes minor improvements. The new chipset will support Intel’s Optane memory when it finally arrives later in 2017, and faster memory is now supported – although that’s largely a moot point, as motherboard manufacturers circumvent Intel’s quoted speeds to support even quicker memory.

Related: Intel Core i processors explained

In some areas, Z270 maintains the excellent work done by Z170. The new chipset still supports 14 USB ports, up to three M.2 connectors and three SATA Express ports alongside six SATA sockets. There’s no improvement there, but consumer rigs simply don’t need more than this right now.

The Z270 chipset is the only one in the new stack to support processor overclocking, and it has more options for multi-GPU than most of its stablemates.

There are a couple of features that the consumer-friendly Z270 doesn’t include, like Intel vPro and the firm’s manageability tools, but that’s no surprise – options like that are confined to business chipsets like Q270.

Z270 is the clear winner if you’re building a high-end gaming or consumer rig, but don’t be afraid to look elsewhere. The B250 chipset included on the cheaper board in this group still supports six USB ports, single SATA Express and M.2 connectors and Intel Optane memory, and it still has 12 PCI-Express lanes. That’s plenty for the average gaming or consumer PC, and opting for a lesser chipset means your motherboard options become more affordable.

Video: What is Kaby Lake?

The new range of chipsets mean changes to many of the motherboards on the market. I’m already seeing boards with more M.2 sockets and future-proofed M.2 connectors.

Just like Kaby Lake, though, Z270 is an evolution rather than a revolution, so no-one should be looking for sweeping changes. Instead, Intel has made improvements in a handful of important areas while maintaining its excellent work in other departments.

Related: The best CPUs for gaming, tested

How We Test Motherboards

I’ve run these motherboards through a variety of tests to determine how a choice of motherboard can influence processor and graphics card performance. Geekbench and Cinebench’s single- and multi-core benchmarks show how a board can alter the ability of a processor, and 3D Mark’s Fire Strike test is used to evaluate graphics performance. I've also used Bioshock Infinite and Dirt Rally to test each motherboard using Intel's new HD Graphics 630 chip.

I’ve measured the power levels of the machine in order to see how motherboards influence heat and power consumption, and I've tested the rig's SSD and memory bandwidth performance.

My test machine uses a Core i7-7700K processor, 16GB of 2,400MHz DDR4 memory and a Samsung 850 Pro SSD.

This Week's Best Kaby Lake Motherboard Deals

Asus Prime Z270-A at Amazon.co.uk | Was £171 | Now £140

ASRock Z270 Extreme4 at Amazon.co.uk | Was £155 | Now £142

MSI Z270 SLI PLUS at Amazon.com | Was $149.99 | Now $135

Gigabyte Z270-Gaming K3 at Amazon.com | Was $154.99 | Now $129

AsRock Z270 Killer SLI

8 / 8

ASRock Z270 Killer SLI

Key features:
  • Good AMD and Nvidia multi-GPU support
  • Low power consumption
  • Aura RGB lighting compatible
  • Review Price: £135

The more affordable of the two ASRock boards in this group sells itself on its multi-GPU capabilities, and I've no complaints about its SLI or CrossFireX chops: this board can handle up to four cards from either Nvidia or AMD.

Those four cores would need to be in two dual-GPU graphics cards, as this board has two steel-clad PCI-Express x16 slots that run at half their quoted speed when both are occupied. That's absolutely fine, as PCI-Express 3.0 at 8x speed provides ample bandwidth for all but the meatiest of GPUs.

The rest of the specification is a little inconsistent. There are four PCI-Express x1 slots, plenty of storage connections and five USB 3 ports, but the Realtek ALC892 audio chip is a little worse than rival boards – and the 3,733MHz peak memory speed is a tad slower than other gaming products.

The Killer SLI looks good, although it's not quite as gregarious as some of its rivals. The black PCB is decorated with a white design and topped off with small metallic heatsinks and large white shielding across the backplate and audio circuitry.

There are RGB LEDs, although only in the Southbridge, and this board uses ASRock's Aura system, where a strip of RGB LEDs can be connected to the motherboard to co-ordinate with the on-board lighting.

This board has no major missing features – the only things absent are enthusiast-level additions like on-board buttons and displays.

Sadly, though, the Killer SLI is less impressive in benchmarks. Its gaming results are downright disappointing: its Dirt Rally average of 38.55fps is the worst in this group, and it’s near the bottom of the table in Bioshock and 3D Mark.

The Killer SLI isn’t much better elsewhere. Its Cinebench single- and multi-core scores of 194cb and 979cb are middling, and the ASRock’s storage speeds of 482.7MB/s and 462.1MB/s are among the worst on show.

The ASRock’s power consumption figures are low, at least, but the power-hungry Gigabyte Z270-Gaming K3 is a better performer in virtually every benchmark.

The Z270 Killer SLI is a fine board, but the similarly-priced Gigabyte Z270-Gaming K3 is faster in games. The specification is fine and the comprehensive multi-GPU support is an attractive extra for £135, but most buyers will be better served elsewhere.

Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £131 | Amazon.com from $184

AsRock Z270 Extreme4

7 / 8

ASRock Z270 Extreme4

Key features:
  • Solid multi-GPU support
  • Good storage connectivity
  • Underwhelming gaming benchmarks
  • Review Price: £153

The pricier of this group's two ASRock boards certainly looks the part. The Extreme4's black PCB is decorated with a huge, slashed X design, and its left-hand edge is lined with huge white plastic coverings that give way to dramatic metal heatsinks.

The Extreme4 ticks many of the boxes for one of ASRock's premium boards. It has Aura RGB LEDs around the Southbridge and a connector to use with one of the firm's RGB LED strips, and its Purity Sound system adds nuance to games and music.

This board has good multi-GPU capabilities, too – like the ASRock Z270 Killer SLI, it can handle up to four GPUs from both Nvidia and AMD. Those cores would be installed in the Extreme4’s top two PCI-Express x16 slots, both of which are ringed with metal to help support heavier cards.

Elsewhere, the specification is good. The memory support matches every other top-end board for speed and capacity, and there are two M.2 slots alongside eight SATA connectors – two more than every other board in this group. There are plenty of fan connectors, ample USB ports, and Aura RGB LED compatibility.

The only thing missing are on-board buttons and displays, but I can’t hold that against the ASRock, as no other boards in this group include those high-end features.

This board has good specifications and looks solid, but its gaming performance is disappointing. Its Bioshock Infinite average of 22.15fps is the poorest in the group, and its 3D Mark Fire Strike and Cloud Gate scores of 1,118 and 10,033 also both prop up the results table.

In other benchmarks the ASRock is inconsistent. Its Cinebench single-core score of 195cb matches the best boards here, and its Geekbench single-core result of 4,697 is the best here – but it fell into mediocrity in multi-core benchmarks.

The Extreme4 served up underwhelming storage and memory benchmarks, and then also proved middling in power consumption figures.

This £153 board squares up against the £154 Asus Prime Z270-A, but there’s no competition in benchmarks – the Asus board is the leader in applications, it’s better in games, and it’s a little quicker in storage tests.

The ASRock has better multi-GPU abilities then the Asus, an extra PCI-Express x16 slot and those extra storage connectors, but the Asus is a well-specified board in its own right and a better performer. If the ASRock’s wealth of connectors is important then it’s a acceptable option, but the Asus Prime is a better-balanced board for similar money.

Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £143 | Amazon.com from $154.99
Gigabyte Aorus Z270-Gaming K5

6 / 8

Gigabyte Aorus Z270-Gaming K5

Key features:
  • Loads of customisable RGB LEDs
  • Killer Ethernet and Sound Blaster audio
  • Reasonable benchmarks, but beaten by rivals
  • Review Price: £173

One of the most expensive boards in this group is undoubtedly the one with the most on-board lighting: it has RGB LEDs around the PCI slots and the processor socket, alongside the memory slots and in the audio circuits, and even in an eye-catching pattern down the K5’s right-hand edge.

The lights are customisable within Windows, and they can be used to display patterns, or even the PC’s temperature or load levels.

The Aorus-branded board pairs its extravagant lighting with huge heatsinks and ample logos. It’s certainly the most ostentatious-looking board in this group.

Thankfully, Gigabyte has paired the bold looks with loads of features. Like the K3 board, this board has Killer-branded Ethernet, but this board also has Sound Blaster X-FI audio – something that no other board on show here can offer.

It has full support for quad-GPU from both Nvidia and AMD, and the storage array includes two M.2 sockets, three SATA Express connectors and a future-proofed U.2 port. That’s the best selection of any board in the Kaby Lake test.

The rest of the specification is fine, too. It matches top-end rivals for memory support, it has trios of PCI-Express x16 and x1 sockets, and it has a well-stocked backplate and two USB 3 headers on the board itself.

It’s all very impressive so far, but the K5 couldn’t quite keep up in benchmarks. Its Bioshock Infinite and Dirt Rally results of 22.71fps and 39.03fps are good, but the Asus ROG Strix Z270F Gaming is faster. The Gigabyte’s reasonable 3D Mark scores were also outpaced by the Asus.

The K5 delivered middling application results that also fell behind the Asus board. Its storage results were among the best here, but that’s cold comfort. The final power consumption tests saw the K5 require 136W from the mains during a stress-test – the most of any board here.

It’s packed with features, but its decent gaming benchmark results are still outpaced elsewhere. The Gigabyte is a busy and good-looking board, but the Asus Strix costs the same amount and is faster – while still having a good set of features. Unless anything on the Gigabyte is particularly important to your build, I’d opt for the Asus instead.

Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £156.99 | Amazon.com from $174.99
MSI Z270 SLI PLUS

5 / 8

MSI Z270 SLI PLUS

Key features:
  • Good-looking, metallic design
  • Solid multi-core application performance
  • Great storage connectivity
  • Review Price: £143
This mid-range MSI motherboard is a heavy-metal piece of kit: it has heatsinks plated with metal, steel around the memory sockets to isolate DDR4 circuitry, and more metal around the two main PCI-Express slots to help support heavy graphics cards.

The lavish, metallic design makes this look like a board that means business, although it does mean that this is one of the only boards in the group that doesn’t have RGB LEDs. Of course, that could be a boon depending on the kind of rig you’re building.

The solid looks are complemented by a good set of core features. Memory can run at a maximum of 3,800MHz, which is barely behind the top boards in the group, and the MSI supports AMD and Nvidia multi-GPU. It has trios of PCI-Express x16 and x1 slots, two M.2 connectors, and six fan headers – more than any other board here.

The only things missing are the most extravagant and game-friendly features. Other boards support more multi-GPU options, for instance, or have Ethernet and audio options that are designed for gaming. Instead, MSI has loaded this board with Audio Boost, which is designed for professional applications.

The MSI’s workmanlike specification is borne out in benchmarks. Its Geekbench multi-core result of 18,787 is the best in the group, and it was reasonable in the rest of the application benchmarks. And, impressively, its SSD read and write results of 513.9MB/s and 500.2MB/s are the best in this test.

Its memory results were reasonable, power consumption was fine, and gaming was the only area where the MSI slipped. Even then, its Bioshock Infinite and Dirt Rally averages of 22.4fps and 38.82fps aren’t the worst here.

MSI’s £143 board is a heavy-duty bit of kit with a good set of features and performance that lends itself to getting work done – but it is beaten by the Asus Prime Z270-A in application benchmarks. This is a good board for productivity, but the Asus is a little better.

Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £140 | Amazon.com from $132.99
Gigabyte Z270-Gaming K3

4 / 8

Gigabyte Z270-Gaming K3

Key features:
  • Solid gaming performance considering the price
  • Killer Ethernet and good audio
  • Loads of ambient LEDs
  • Review Price: £131
This affordable gaming board is one of the more vibrant Kaby Lake slabs in this group: it has LEDs in its trio of slatted heatsinks and along its audio circuitry, beneath its main PCI-Express slot and in a broad line along its right-hand edge.

They’re not RGB LEDs, so they always glow red, but they can be programmed to display different patterns – in time with music, for instance. It’s a good look, contrasting well with the black heatsinks, slots and PCB.

It has some good features on board, too. Killer-branded Ethernet is deployed to prioritise gaming traffic for better ping, and Realtek’s ALC1220 audio chipset is one of the best around. The K3 has SATA Express, a Thunderbolt connector and two on-board USB 3 header connectors.

It’s decent in more conventional categories, with solid memory support, three PCI-Express x16 and x1 slots and plenty of ports on its backplate.

In other areas, though, this more affordable gaming board misses out. It doesn’t support any form of multi-GPU from Nvidia, and its PCI-Express x16 slots don’t run in dual-8x mode – so AMD-based multi-GPU isn’t practical either. There’s only one M.2 connector, and no DisplayPort output on the backplate.

It’s a little inconsistent in benchmarks, too. Its Bioshock Infinite and Dirt Rally results of 22.62fps and 38.99fps are firmly in the mid-table, and its Fire Strike score of 1,168 is poorer than most other boards in this group.

There’s nothing to shout about in application benchmarks, either, with middling performance in both Cinebench and Geekbench.

The K3 was good in storage tests, poor in memory bandwidth benchmarks, and then drew 31W and 135W in the power consumption benchmarks – among the worst figures in this group.

This board, then, is an odd proposition. Its basic features are fine, but it’s missing a handful of gaming options that could prove crucial depending on what kind of machine you’re building. And, while its gaming benchmarks are acceptable, it’s poor in several other departments.

The MSI Z270 SLI PLUS has a better set of features if they’re important, but the K3’s slightly better gaming performance means it’s a better option when it comes to affordable gaming motherboards – but only just.

Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £127 | Amazon.com from $139.99
MSI B250M Mortar

3 / 8

MSI B250M Mortar

Key features:
  • Intel B250 chipset has fewer features than Z270
  • Smaller micro-ATX form factor
  • Affordable, but slower than rivals
  • Review Price: £84
The seven other products in this group deploy the top-end Intel Z270 chipset, but MSI's affordable Mortar-branded board uses the lower-end B250 chipset.

There are only a handful of important differences between the two.

The biggest is the lesser number of PCI Express lanes: B250 has twelve, while Z270 has twice that number. That won't matter to most rigs, but it does prevent dual-GPU systems, or systems with lots of NVMe storage – as those components have to share those PCI lanes.

Elsewhere, B250 can only support single M.2 and SATA Express ports, and up to six USB 3 ports. Those are limitations on paper, but won't prove problematic for most people – in fact, many Z270 boards don't even push these maximums.

The chipset isn't the only area where this board is different – it's the only one in this group that uses the microATX form factor. That means fewer slots and connectors, but it does mean that the MSI can be used to build smaller machines.

The snug design means that the MSI has just pairs of PCI-Express x16 and x1 slots – fewer than most ATX boards – and the two PCI-Express x16 slots run at x16 and x4 speeds, which means they're not suitable for dual-graphics setups.

In some areas, though, there are no practical differences between microATX and ATX. There are still six SATA ports and still one M.2 connector, and there's still Intel gaming Ethernet on-board. There are still LEDs in the heatsinks around the board, but they’re not RGB and so they’ll always glow red.

The lesser chipset and form factor brings the price down, but it also has an impact on benchmarks. The Mortar’s Cinebench results of 189cb and 949cb are the worst in the group by a small margin, and the MSI propped up the benchmark table in Geekbench too.

The B250M was only a little quicker in gaming. Its Bioshock Infinite result of 22.23fps only beat the ASRock boards, and its Dirt Rally average of 38.8fps was still in the bottom half of the results table.

The MSI fought back with good storage results, and its power consumption figures of 21W and 104W are the best in the group – no surprise considering the lesser chipset and microATX design.

This, then, is not a motherboard for high-end gaming – but that’s not necessarily a problem. The Mortar will still handle the requirements of the vast majority of machines, and its smaller form factor opens up compact case designs. Performance is poorer than most Z270 boards, sure, but this is a fine choice if price and size is more important than raw speed.

Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £82 | Amazon.com from $86.99
Asus Prime Z270-A

2 / 8

Asus Prime Z270-A

Key features:
  • Class-leading application performance
  • Solid and unfussy features
  • 3D-printing compatibility
  • Review Price: £154
Well-balanced features and excellent performance make the Prime a winner

This isn’t the most outlandish-looking board in the group, but the Asus Prime Z270-A has a few flashy touches of its own – and impresses in many practical areas.

The black PCB is decorated with metallic heatsinks and a chunky white shroud over its well-stocked backplate, and its modest RGB LEDs tie into the Asus Aura Sync system, which can be used to co-ordinate lighting across other Asus components and peripherals.

It supports top-tier memory speeds and has two PCI-Express x16 slots alongside four PCI-Express x1 sockets – the former is fine for dual-graphics, while the latter is ideal for smaller component expansions. There are six SATA ports and two M.2 sockets, which is now standard thanks to the Z270 chipset, and CrystalSound 3, which delivers improved audio in games and applications.

This board also has a handful of high-end features. It’s one of the only boards in this group with a power button, and it supports Asus’ patented 3D printing designs – so those with 3D printers can produce nameplates, cable covers or M.2 cooling fan holders to attach to this motherboard. It’s a niche, sure, but it was also found on the Asus ROG Strix board.

For the most part, though, the Prime is an unfussy board that packs a good set of features into an unassuming exterior. Instead, this PCB does its talking in benchmarks.

The Prime’s Cinebench single- and multi-core scores of 195cb and 986cb are the best in the group, and its Geekbench results of 4,689 and 18,763 are similarly impressive – some boards are faster in those tests, but none are consistent like the Prime.

The Prime’s Bioshock and Dirt Rally averages of 22.73fps and 39.05fps are among the best on show here, too, and these results were delivered with a decent peak power draw of 110W.

The Asus was a little more middling in storage and memory bandwidth benchmarks, but it was still better than several other boards in these categories.

This £154 board squares up against the ASRock Z270 Extreme4, which costs one pound less, but there’s no competition – the Asus has great features and it’s better in benchmarks.

The Prime isn’t the best gaming board here – that honour goes to the Asus Strix model – but the Prime Z270-A does offer the best balance between applications, games and features. If you’re after a mid-range board for a Kaby Lake build, this is an excellent option.

Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £142 | Amazon.com from $159.99
Asus ROG Strix Z270F Gaming

1 / 8

Asus ROG Strix Z270F Gaming

Key features:
  • Top-notch gaming performance
  • Loads of extras in the box
  • Smart 3D printing features
  • Review Price: £170

Asus has labelled this board with both its Republic of Gamers and Strix brands, so I'm expecting plenty of high-end features to be on display.

The Z270F Gaming starts well: it has Intel's gaming Ethernet and SupremeFX audio on board, and it has RGB LEDs in its angular heatsinks and compatibility with strips of lighting that can be attached to special fan connectors. The lighting stands out, as this board is dark, with a black PCB and moody-looking heatsinks.

It’s even got support for 3D printing. Asus supplies a handful of patented designs that can attach to this board, including logos, cable covers, an M.2 fan holder and SLI bridge covers. It’s the nichest of features, but I expect this sort of thing from high-end gaming products.

Asus has crammed the box with extras, too, including stickers, coasters, an SLI bridge and cable labels. Again, not crucial, but they’re welcome.

The board also has solid core specifications. There are three PCI-Express x16 slots and four PCI-Express x1 sockets – the most of any board in this group – and there are two M.2 connectors, including one that supports unusually long drives. There are plenty of fan headers, four USB 3 ports, and SupremeFX audio.

The Strix ticks plenty of gaming boxes on the spec sheet, and it delivered in benchmarks too. Its Bioshock Infinite and Dirt Rally averages of 22.89fps and 39.28fps are the best in the Kaby Lake group, and it was similarly dominant in 3D Mark.

The Asus performed well in application tests. Its Cinebench single-core result of 195cb is the best here, and it performed well in Geekbench.

The Strix delivered poorer results in storage and memory benchmarks, but the fine margins involved in those tests mean that sluggish scores aren’t going to prove terminal for most gaming machines.

This Asus board squares up to the Gigabyte Z270-Gaming K5, with the same price and a similar range of features. The Gigabyte has more multi-GPU and storage options, but it’s noticeably slower in benchmarks – and that’s why the Asus is my favourite gaming board in this bunch.

Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £161.99 | Amazon.com from $188

comments powered by Disqus