Today we are reviewing the ASRock Fatal1ty Gaming K6 motherboard. On paper, the K6 looks like a really nice board. Its got a nice design and is packed with the latest technologies and gamer oriented features including dual LAN, eight SATA6Gb/s ports, two M.2 slots, RGB lighting and USB 3.1 Type-A and Type-C. Not bad for a more budget oriented board.
While Kaby Lake didn’t blow us away with spectacular performance improvements over Skylake, it has allowed motherboard manufacturers to release a new range of motherboards. Though they are not fundamentally different from their predecessors, at least we know they should be optimized and have the bugs ironed out since the underlying architecture is the same. It allowed motherboard manufacturers to go back and fix any mistakes in layout that they could not fix with a BIOS update. Our expectations are high.
Here is a look at some of the key specifications. The full specifications can be found here
A quick Z270 & Kaby Lake overview
Firstly, lets take a look at an overview of the Z270 platform. There are really only two improvements found with Z270 over Z170. The first of which is an extra 4 PCIe 3.0 lanes coming from the chipset itself. Z170 motherboards often had quite messy scenarios where if you used x M.2 slot, then y SATA port would become unavailable, or z PCIe slot would not function. The extra 4 lanes go a long way to alleviating these issues, allowing more devices to function without compromise. There are limits however, with some motherboards equipped with up to 3x M.2 slots or U.2 ports all requiring PCIe lanes, so careful attention will need to be paid to the individual motherboards specification and lane allocation to ensure it fits your desired needs, especially with multi GPU setups.
The other significant, though for now largely unknown benefit is support for Intel’s Optane technology. The ultimate market implementations of Optane are pretty much unknown at this point, with unexciting small cache type devices likely to be the first to market, but whispers indicate there are some pretty cool things in the pipeline.
Overall, there really is no need to select a Z170 board over a Z270 board if you are buying new, but on the flipside there is little need to upgrade to Z270 from Z170 unless you require an updated storage feature set. Z270 brings the latest motherboard options right up to date, with M.2, U.2 and some things like updated Realtek ALC 1220 audio.
While were talking platform comparisons, lets talk a little about Skylake vs Kaby Lake. The most notable improvement for Kaby Lake over Skylake lies with the improved 14nm+ FinFET process. This has allowed Intel to obtain higher clock frequencies without increasing power. Compared to the 6700K, the 7700K brings a gain 200MHz on the base clock and an impressive 300MHz max turbo frequency whilst keeping the TDP at the same 91W. It’s clear that the 14nm+ process is a very good thing. For Intel to deliver the clock speed improvements with the 7700K whilst maintaining the 91w TDP is significant given the gradual TDP increases we’ve seen from previous generations. These benefits don’t just apply to the top chip. Like for like Kaby Lake/Skylake chips bring a clock speed bumps across the range whilst keeping the power usage at the same level.
With a clock speed improvement getting most of the attention, there is a significant architectural change found in Kaby Lake; The addition of a new media engine that includes fixed function HEVC 10bit and VP9 decoding. In this era of 4K and the increasing prevalence of H.265 encoded media, this is significant for something like a small form factor HTPC and power efficiency. Notebooks will see battery life benefits from this.
A Closer Look
Lets get to the board itself, starting off with the packaging. The box is quite subtle really, and the red and black theme reflects the Fatal1ty branding that ASRock have been using for several generations on their gaming oriented boards. The rear of the box covers all the major features of the board as well as specs so buyers will know what they are getting before purchase.
Once you remove the outer box we see the inner box which has two sections. All the accessories and documentation etc are found in the top section, while motherboard is securely packed in the bottom section. One of the key things to mention is the way ASRock package their motherboards. After removing the board from the anti static bag, we note how ASRock further secures the motherboard in foam shell secured with zip ties. It is so well packed that we’re sure the motherboard should survive the roughest of handling, and the most careless of couriers. This is a good little peace of mind feature that we’ve seen on many ASRock motherboards in recent years.
As for the accessories themselves, we have a fairly standard bundle mostly, with a driver installation disc, a case badge, user and software guides, four SATA 6Gb/s cables, I/O shield and then there’s the really nice addition: a High Bandwidth SLI bridge. These are sold separately for $20 or more for the blinged up RGB ones, so for ASRock to include this is a real value add.
Now we move onto the motherboard itself. Say hello to the ASRock Fatal1ty Z270 Gaming K6! We like the PCIe layout, with dual slot GPU’s given room to breathe. We also like how there is no M.2 slot beneath the primary GPU slot. M.2 drives can get very hot and begin to throttle and this is only exacerbated when sandwiched under a hot GPU with limited airflow.
We’re pleased to see five fan headers located around the board, and all can be run in PWM mode with 4 pin fans. The large heatsinks are all screwed down with actual screws. Good bye push pins!
There are three RGB lit locations on the board. The first is the clear strip just underneath the Intel logo, the second is the Sound Blaster Cinema logo on the left, and the final spot is a ring around the chipset heatsink. A full range of colors can be applied along with effects such as strobing, blinking, waves etc. Very nice if you wish to bling up your system a bit! The four pin header to the left of the leftmost PCIe slot is for connecting RGB strips which can be controlled via the ASRock BIOS or RGB control app.
ASRock, along with most other manufacturers on their Z270 boards, have adopted a Realtek ALC 1220 codec a the heart of their audio solutions. Some people automatically think ‘oh no… Realtek..’ but actually integrated codecs have advanced a lot in recent generations and the implementation has a significant affect on the overall quality. The ALC 1220 starts with a very nice 120Db signal to noise ration which addresses one of the common criticisms of Realtek controllers in times past. The Gaming K6 brings Nichicon Gold Series electrolytic capacitors, PCB isolation to prevent electromagnetic interference and a dedicated Texas Instruments N5532 headphone amplifier. While not as comprehensive as some competing vendors solutions, our brief subjective tests with Bose QC35 headphones presented a clear and punchy sound with the dynamic range in film soundtracks being particularly noticeable. The Creative Labs software suite is also a nice addition and easy to use, though we tend to like a purer audio signal free of any embellishments.
The entire bottom edge of the board is packed with headers. Moving from right to left, we have the case headers, a chassis fan/water pump header, a COM port (though serial type devices still exist, we don’t think they are the market for this board) trusted platform module for security and cryptography purposes, then three USB 2.0 headers. Further to the left are connectors for a Thunderbolt add in card, then a connector for adding a RGB extension cable. Then we have a switch to select DRAM XMP on or off, a clear CMOS header and finally the front panel audio connector. Phew!
The board has the usual four DIMM slots offering support for up to 64Gb of DDR4 memory in dual-channel with unofficial support up to 3866Mhz. You can go higher than this of course with a good CPU memory controller and if the BIOS has been updated with support for the kit itself. As mentioned, the board supports XMP, so if you have high speed memory, a single bios selection will automatically set it to its maximum clock speed and recommended voltage.
We also see here the power and reset button on the right which are really helpful for us reviewers!
The Gaming K6 features an all-digital 12-phase CPU power design with an Intersil PWM controller. The MOSFETS are cooled by the hefty red heatsinks connected via a heatpipe. In our testing these can get quite warm, so case airflow is important if you intend to push the CPU hard. Four phases power the integrated graphics portion of the processor, and the remaining eight for everything else like the Vcore, VCCSA, and VCCIO.
The Gaming K6 comes with 8 SATA ports, six of which are supported from the chipset with support for RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10, as well as Intel RST and smart response technologies. The other two ports are controlled by a ASMedia ASM1061 chip.Note that SATA-Express appears to be still born. No devices ever appeared outside of tech demonstrations, and its bandwidth has been left behind by PCIe NVMe solutions. We also have two USB 3.0 headers here which is nice to see.
Finally we take a look at the rear I/O panel. from left to right:
- Space for WiFi antennas
- PS/2 keyboard/mouse port, 2x USB 3.0 ports
- DVI and DSUB connectors
- HDMI 1.4 port
- LAN, USB 3.1 Type-A & Type-C ports
- LAN, 2x USB 3.0 ports
- Optical S/PDIF Out connector
- 5 x analogue audio ports
While the I/O is pretty much packed, We have to say that we’d prefer a couple of extra USB ports here and VGA doesn’t really belong on a 2017 Gaming spec motherboard. A Display Port would be more appropriate.
Behind the WiFi antenna cutouts is a E-Key M.2 slot which is suitable for common WiFi/bluetooth controllers and some rarer devices such as cellular cards. We would really like to have seen the WiFi card included, then the board would have had just about every realistic feature ticked off.
The two Gigabit LAN ports are controlled by Intel I219V and I211AT chips. This is very nice to see on a motherboard that is not high end.
The ASRock Z270 Gaming K6 uses the layout that will be familiar to ASRock users over recent generations. The first page we see when entering is the default ‘Ezy Mode’ which displays a host of relevant information and settings options such as the boot priorities and temperatures. Basic things on this page such as fan speed controls and the XMP setting are designed for the set and forget user who has no need for obscure BIOS controls.
Pressing F6 takes you to the familiar layout which we see below, starting with the Main page where some basic information can be seen.
The OC Tweaker page is where the magic happens. ASRock’s traditional method is to split the CPU, DRAM and Voltage configuration options into different sub menus. User profiles can also be seen here along with the auto OC settings. We’ll go into OC a bit later.
The first of the three main sub pages are the CPU configuration options. Here the major parameters such as the CPU and cache multipliers can be found, as well as controls for things like Intel’s Speedstep and Turbo parameters.
The second of the three OC sub menus is the DRAM configuration page. Here, basic things like SPD information and XMP can be applied, but it doesn’t end there. There are page after page of timing options that the tweakers will love. We look forward to what a potential Z270 OC Formula board might have if this is just the ‘gaming’ board.
The third and final OC sub menu is the Voltage control page. Its quite self explanatory. High speed memory users may have to visit this page and tweak System Agent and IO voltages in order to get their RAM running stable at high speeds. The page also has a very good explanation of how the various load line calibration (vdroop) settings work in a simple to read graph.
Moving away from the OC page, we come to the ‘Advanced’ page. There are a ton of system related settings to be found here, mainly to do with the various devices and integrated peripherals and their configurations. Key settings include SATA/M.2 controls, CPU feature options and onboard device options.
The ‘Tools’ page contains the important BIOS flashing function (which we used with no problem) as well as a cool tech support feature and the AURA RGB control page.
We tested the RGB settings and found they worked exactly as advertised across the board itself, but also with a Phanteks RGB strip connected to the header located under the bottom PCIe slot. This also worked perfectly both with the color applied and the various flashing/strobing effects etc.
The next page is the hardware monitoring page. All the key parameters are seen here, with voltages, fan speeds and temperatures monitored as well as the configuration options for the fan speed hysteresis and headers.
Next up is the security page, Not much to say here really.
The boot page is again pretty self explanatory.
Ditto for the exit page, where you can load the system defaults.
We like to get our motherboard software and drivers online at the time of installation rather than rely on often outdated and obsolete software on the driver disk.
For this purpose, ASRock have an all in one software call the App Shop, where all the motherboard drivers and utilities can be downloaded in one place. It functions quite well and we think If ASRock really wanted, they could add some really cool content for user to download, but then that would add cost and brings all sorts of licensing headwinds that may make it easier said than done.
ASRock have chosen Creative’s Sound Blaster Cinema software suite to bring an extra layer of control and customization over and above the default Realtek suite. Like most 3rd party audio control suites, there are an extensive range of configuration options for headphones and speakers with equalization, profiles, virtual surround and all the other goodies you might want. We still prefer to keep the audio signal as unadulterated as possible though, preferring to keep the original source as intact and pure as possible, but that’s just us.
ASRock’s RGB LED app is identical to the control page found in the BIOS. A quick play showed it is working well. We all know RGB lighting makes your PC faster right! 😀 We do think that maybe ASRock could have gone with a more neutral board color scheme, perhaps with black heat sinks and remove the red silk screening on the PCB. This would remove any possible coloring conflict that may occur. In the contrasting darkness of a case vs the light given off by the LEDs, you would hardly see any red anyway though to be fair.
Generally we find the software to be a touch lacking. What is here works well, but some other vendors are going all out with their software packages.
Test Setup & Benchmarks
Our test setup configurations can be seen below. Comparing different CPU’s and platforms can get a bit tricky. Our method is to apply the highest turbo modes, set them to all cores and disable SpeedStep to keep frequencies constant. In this case the 7700K is at a flat 4.5Ghz, the i7 6700K at 4.2Ghz and the i7 5960x at 3.5Ghz.
We expect every benchmark run with a 7700K to be within a fraction of each other and this is what we see across our tests. The 7700K is king in single threaded performance, with the 6700K behind only due to its lower clockspeed. There are no architectural reasons. the 5960x rules multithreaded benchmarks with its eight cores despite its clock disadvantage. Also note that the Z170 OC Formula is pretty much the same performance wise as the Z270 boards. Perhaps a bit of bios tweaking could make up that tiny gap, but the difference is so negligible its not likely to happen on a superseded product.
Note that MSI board clocks itself a few Mhz higher via a tiny bclk increase, which is a little cheeky. Despite this few Mhz clock disadvantage, the ASRock acquits itself well and wins its share of tests anyway.
Lets start with the automatic overclocking feature. ASRock have been fine tuning the options with our test 1.3 BIOS being less aggressive with its automatic voltage and clocking. Our CPU is a bit of a potato. Not the worst around, but far from the best with 5Ghz stability being next to impossible to achieve without uncomfortable levels of Vcore. 5ghz with AVX is simply impossible.
We tried the most aggressive 4.9Ghz option, but could not achieve stability due to the applied Vcore being lower than what we expect from our CPU. 4.7ghz though with a CPUZ reading of 1.296v under load does appear to be a nice sweet spot for this CPU, with temperatures under control.
Manual overclocking is always a hit and miss lottery, with our CPU producing different results to what others might. The truth is, a modern motherboard with a decent PWM will not struggle to OC a K CPU to its limits on air/watercooling as you will run into thermal limitations long before the motherboard breaks a sweat.
Our CPU can reach stability at 4.9, but AVX has to be offset to achieve this. at 4.9Ghz the voltage requirements for our sample increase sharply with 1.345v needed to be stable. This behavior is seen with other motherboards too so this is not any reflection on the motherboard.
Our test RAM is a very sexy set of G.Skill DDR4-3866 C18 2x8Gb. This uses the top shelf Samsung B-Die chips which overclockers are using to run at ridiculous settings of 4000Mhz 12-12-12 and beyond. As we found in our pre release testing, getting XMP to run with very fast RAM was very difficult. The Gaming K6 was not able to post on the 1.10 BIOS, but was able to on the 1.30 BIOS. High speed RAM is difficult to get to work properly at the best of times, especially on four DIMM motherboards. Boards such as the Asus Maximus IX Apex or ITX boards with dual slots are going to have an easier time. Try as we might, we could not get DDR4-4000 to boot on the Gaming K6.
Benchmarking above 5Ghz is certainly possible if your CPU is good enough and thermals allow it. As always, your mileage will vary depending on your CPU core quality, memory controller quality and ambient temperatures. If you have a good sample, we are positive the Gaming K6 will run it to its maximum on air and water cooling.
We’d also like to note that the board recovered extremely well if we pushed too hard with our memory overclocking trials. Some boards will just loop to a 55 post code and not stop, but the Gaming K6 would try a few times, and then boot to default settings allowing you to try again. Overclockers know how frustrating repeated clear CMOS operations can be, so this is a small thing we definitely appreciate.
The ASRock Z270 Gaming K6 is a great value mid range offering with a compelling feature set. Its BIOS is easy to navigate and gave us no apparent bugs in testing. It also appears mature with a great level of performance. It is available for about $170 USD making it quite a steal given its impressive feature set.
Its overclocking performance has improved significantly with newer BIOS, both with auto OC and with memory. DDR4-4000 isn’t quite there, but that’s asking a lot of any motherboard. Some unpolished boards struggle even to boot at 3600 Mhz still.
The layout is great, allowing multiple graphics cards to breathe, plus the ports and connectors are in the right locations. You get dual LAN, eight SATA ports, plenty of USB 3.0 (though not on the back panel) and dual M.2 which we’d expect on more expensive boards, but not necessarily a mid range one.
ASRock are always near the top in any price/performance comparison and this continues with the Z270 Gaming K6. If you want a good performing board with great features and reliability, a refined BIOS and decent OC, you should give it a look!
Mature and easy to navigate BIOS
Great feature set unexpected of a mid range motherboard
Later BIOS brings much improved memory OC.
Super secure packaging
Excellent failed OC BIOS recovery
HB SLI bridge inclusion
Software packages are a bit lacking
Rear I/O needs a couple more USB ports
VGA connector? We’d like DP instead