Date: Monday , February 12, 2018
ASUS is one of the largest and most popular motherboard brands in the world for several good reasons. Since the inception of the company, it has provided some of the most stable, feature rich, and highest quality motherboards available in the world at any given time. In my experience, ASUS motherboards are good and often better than its competition in certain segments. Of course, this isn’t universally true as ASUS’ competitors have stepped up their game to match ASUS at nearly every turn. However, ASUS’ ROG line has almost always been best in class at every turn, albeit with a feature set that has been expensive. The only motherboards to ever disappoint me were the Striker Extreme and the Crosshair VI Hero. Everything else has been excellent. In recent years ASUS has diluted the ROG brand by expanding its price points to include lower end and mid-range parts. This is no doubt due to other companies embracing computer gaming and even rebranding much of their products in a way that indicates to everyone that it’s products are for "gaming" builds.
ASUS followed suit by making lower priced and mid-range Republic of Gamers branded motherboards. When the brand started, it was effectively reserved as the top tier offering in any segment, or for a specific chipset. These motherboards weren’t given model numbers. They were named and subsequent models that featured newer chipsets would get Roman numeral suffixes to the names. For instance, the Rampage series has always been for the HEDT market and we are now up to the VI iteration of that brand. Later on, ASUS would create a Formula, and Extreme suffixes which would tell you what the purposes were or what market those were intended for. The Extreme motherboards gave you everything under the kitchen sink. These offered tons of connectivity options and a load of features. Formula motherboards would be somewhat stripped of fluff features and center more on performance. These days, it’s even more complicated with names like Formula, Hero, APEX, Extreme, and STRIX.
Think of the STRIX series as being somewhat of a stop gap between the standard production motherboards with model numbers and the ROG series itself. Indeed, the ROG STRIX Z370-I Gaming we are looking at today is a far different offering than something like the ROG Maximus VIII Impact is. You can still sort out what kind of motherboard your looking at by the name, but it isn’t as easy as it once was.
The ASUS ROG STRIX Z370-I Gaming is based on Intel’s Z370 Express chipset and is therefore designed for Intel’s 8th generation Core i5 and i7 series processors, which use the LGA 1151 socket. Given that the ROG STRIX Z370-I Gaming is based on the mini-ITX form factor, it is intended for use in smaller footprint system builds. Currently, ASUS doesn’t have a higher end mini-ITX offering on their website. According to ASUS’ segmentation documentation, ROG STRIX is below the standard ROG offerings in the pecking order. So, I wouldn’t expect ASUS’ ROG STRIX Z370-I Gaming to be a follow up to the Maximus VIII Impact. The ROG STRIX Z370-I Gaming uses an eight-phase design that are configured in a 6+2 arrangement for CPU+GPU power. ASUS’ Digi+ VRM control IC is present on the ROG STRIX Z370-I Gaming. This means support for it’s EPU and TPU modes is included as well. Being a mini-ITX motherboard you only get dual memory slots and a single PCI-Express x16 slot.
ASUS’ Gamer Guard feature is present, which includes a suite of features designed to make the motherboard more durable and robust. This includes DRAM overcurrent protection, stainless steel I/O, and various highly durable components. Stainless steel reinforcement around the PCI-Express x16 slot allows for 1.6x more retention force and 1.8x stronger shearing resistance.
Main Specifications Overview:
Detailed Specifications Overview:
Even when I examine the motherboard closely I do not find any serious or significant problems with regard to the layout. I find the overall aesthetic. The box for the ROG STRIX Z370-I Gaming is standard issue for the ROG STRIX offerings. Inside, you will find the following items and accessories: User's manual, M.2 2242 mounting kit, I/O Shield, 4x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s), 2x M.2 Screw Package, 1x CPU installation tool, 1x ROG addressable LED strip (30cm), 1x ASUS 2T2R dual band Wi-Fi moving antennas (Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n compliant), 1x SCD, 1x Panel cable and 1x STRIX series sticker.
The layout of any mini-ITX motherboard is always less than ideal given the space constraints. This is especially true as mini-ITX motherboards need to be feature rich solutions which offer as many things as possible given the limited expandability that is inherent to the form factor. Sure, you can throw a ton of USB devices into the mix if you want but that rarely desirable. The point of a small form factor build is to have a more compact machine. If your system is compact, yet has 5 or 6 external things hanging off of it, you’ve built out instead of up. I’m not sure that’s the right way to go. In any case ASUS has provided a lot of integrated options and as a result, the layout of the motherboard isn’t what I’d call spectacular in most respects. The CMOS battery would be difficult to reach in almost any chassis. The SATA ports are placed on both sides of the RAM slots, which isn’t something I like to see at all. Beyond that, ASUS did as good as they possibly could regarding the layout.
The CPU socket area is relatively clear of any major obstructions despite the space constraints of the form factor. The, MOSFETs are cooled via an aluminum heat sink which ASUS’ product page says are designed to resemble a Katana edge or something like that. The coolers are well made and are screwed into place. No spring tensioners and plastic pegs are used here.
There are two 288-pin DDR4 DIMM slots supporting a total of 32GB of RAM. Each slot corresponds with a single channel, meaning two modules enable dual-channel memory mode. Given there are only two, color coding isn’t necessary. These use the single sided locking tabs ASUS uses almost exclusively now on all it’s boards. In this case, it’s necessary. In front of the DIMM slots, you’ll find several ports and plugs ranging from SATA ports to the front panel connections. A USB 3.0 header can also be found here.
The chipset is normally located in the lower left quadrant of a motherboard. Since we are talking about a mini-ITX motherboard, it’s more like left-center of the CPU socket. The ROG STRIX Z370-I Gaming motherboard uses what ASUS calls its double-decker heatsink. This heatsink acts as both the chipset cooler, and a cooler for M.2 devices. The cover is removed revealing a U-shaped channel which can house and M.2 device. Thermal interface pad is provided to conduct heat to the cover which acts as a heat sink for the SSD. In my experience, this is more about making space for dual M.2 slots than SSD cooling. I think the temperature difference is roughly a breakeven point between having the heat sink and not having it. This M.2 slot can only house type 2280 or smaller devices. Directly in front of the chipset heatsink, you will find two SATA ports. Normally, I would give ASUS black for using vertical SATA ports. However, mini-ITX cases almost necessitate the use of the style of SATA port.
There isn’t much to say about the expansion slot area on the ASUS ROG STRIX Z370-I Gaming motherboard. It offers a single PCI-Express x16 slot. This slot is Gen 3.0 compliant. It features a stainless-steel reinforcement bracket which helps resist damage from shearing forces and helps prevent damage from card insertion. On the back of the motherboard, you will find an additional M.2 slot. This slot supports type 2280 or smaller devices. A bracket is included for using 2240 type devices.
The back-panel area features a wealth of connectivity options. These include 4x USB 2.0 ports, 4x USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, 1x DisplayPort, 1x HDMI port, 1x RJ-45 LAN port, 2x antenna connections for the wireless adapter, 1x optical output and 5x mini-stereo headphone jacks.