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Z270 vs Z170: What is the Difference?

Written on January 5, 2017 by Matt Bach
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Table of Contents:
  1. Introduction
  2. Z270 vs Z170 Chipset Specifications
  3. Conclusion

Introduction

Alongside the new Kaby Lake CPUs (Core i3/i5/i7 7xxx), Intel has also released a number of new motherboard chipsets. While there are not many exciting changes, we wanted to cover the improvements made to the high-end Z270 chipset compared to the previous Z170 chipset. If you are more interested in how the Z270 chipset compares to the H270, Q270, Q250 or B250 chipset, we suggest viewing our Z270, H270, Q270, Q250, B250 - What is the Difference? article. Similarly, if you want to know how the new Kaby Lake CPUs themselves perform, we have various articles focusing on a number of professional applications that may interest you:

Z270 vs Z170 Chipset Specifications

There are not a large number of differences between Z270 and Z170, but to help make it clear we have marked the few differences with red in the chart below:

   Z270 Z170
Processor Support Kaby Lake/Skylake (LGA 1151) Kaby Lake/Skylake (LGA 1151)
(Kaby Lake requires a BIOS update)
Graphics Support 1x16 or 2x8 or 1x8+2x4 1x16 or 2x8 or 1x8+2x4
DRAM Support DDR4 DDR4
Mem/DIMMs Per Channel 2/2 2/2
DMI Version 3.0 3.0
Intel Rapid Storage Technology Yes Yes
Intel Smart Response Technology Yes Yes
USB Total (USB 3.0) 14(10) 14(10)
Total SATA 6Gb/s 6 6
Additional PCI-E lanes* 24x PCI-E 3.0 20x PCI-E 3.0
Independent Display Support 3 3
CPU Overclocking Yes Yes
Max Intel RST for PCI-E Storage ports
(x4 M.2 or x2 SATA Express)
3 3
Intel Optane Technology Yes No

*In addition to the 16 PCI-E 3.0 lanes from the CPU

From a chipset perspective, there is not a whole lot to get excited about. Both Z270 and Z170 should support the same CPUs, although Z270 does support four more PCI-E 3.0 lanes through the chipset. This may not sound like much, but a number of Z170 boards have issues of "if you use X port, it disables Y port". Four more PCI-E lanes should actually go a long way towards curbing this and also opens the door to multiple native M.2 slots. Until recently M.2 has seen relatively light adoption, but the new Samsung 960 EVO and Pro drives are much faster than standard SATA SSDs and are actually fairly cost competitive. We expect to start selling much higher numbers of M.2 drive in the near future so the possibility of multiple M.2 slots on a Z270 motherboard is very attractive.

The only other listed change of note is support for Intel Optane Technology. While you should be able to use an Optane drive as normal storage in Z170 (or H170, X99, and any other modern chipset for that matter), this is specifically referring to being able to use an Optane drive as a temporary cache that is supposed to improve file access times. This is similar to using a small SATA SSD to improve the read performance of a platter drive via caching with Intel Smart Response Technology - only this uses the much faster Optane drives that connect via PCI-E instead of SATA.

Both chipsets support CPU overclocking and Z270 has not received an increase in the number of native USB or SATA ports. As far as their additional feature sets, both Z270 and Z170 support Rapid Storage Technology and Smart Response Technology (otherwise known as SSD Caching).

Conclusion

Overall, the changes in Z270 are quite minor. The extra PCI-E lanes are nice and while the support for Intel Optane has the potential to be significant for some users we have not yet seen any real-world testing done by 3rd parties to see exactly when it will be useful.

However, one thing to keep in mind is that the launch of a new chipset also gives motherboard manufacturers like Asus, Gigabyte, EVGA, ASRock, and others the chance to make other improvements to their current product line. So while Z270 by itself isn't terribly exciting, we have already noticed some great improvements on actual Z270 motherboards such as increased adoption of Thunderbolt 3 (which hopefully will help resolve the driver and firmware issues Thunderbolt currently has on PC), reinforced PCI-E slots, and multiple M.2 slots. This still is not anything game changing and unlikely to warrant an upgrade from Z170 to Z270 on its own, but Z270 does still provide some small - but welcome - improvements so there is little reason not to use it if you are in the market for a new system.

Tags: Skylake, Kaby Lake, Z170, Z270
GrowingViolet

Thank you for this helpful comparison! I am building a custom rig, and already purchased a Z170 mobo without realizing Z270 was on the way so soon. It sounds like it might not be worth returning it, though, if the changes are so minimal.

Posted on 2017-01-07 17:00:05
Jef Belmans

Well, the new intel optane memory proves to be MUCH faster
So if you play games like bf1 and gta V and want your levels to load quick, the Z270 surely is a step ahead
For the rest, there's not a big difference

Posted on 2017-01-07 23:07:06
GrowingViolet

Oh, really? I may have to take a look to see if a Z270 version of my mobo (the Gigabyte Z170X-Designare) is on the way... that's sort of what I did with my CPU; I was going to get the i7 6700k, but decided to just wait a couple weeks and get the i7 7700k instead when it came out this week. It's a minor upgrade, but with this being a totally new rig, I figure why not? Thank you for the tip.

Posted on 2017-01-08 00:16:53
Jef Belmans

You're welcome! I also think the I7-7700k is more stable with a Z270 mobo then with a Z170

Posted on 2017-01-08 00:20:12
ppapip

seeing that you've already bought a Z170 board, you have to make sure that it is shipped with the latest bios to work with a Kaby Lake processor as you're getting i7 7700k. if it's not the latest bios, you're gonna have to borrow someone's skylake processor just to upgrade the bios.

Posted on 2017-01-08 05:55:14
GrowingViolet

Oh goodness, thank you for saying something, ppapip! Gigabyte just released a huge wave of BIOS updates for its Z170 boards, and I assumed that included my Z170X-Designare. Turns out it did not! Considering this as well as Jef's comments, it looks like a return might be worth it after all... I am still doing some research, but I may exchange it for the Z270X Gaming 7, which looks to be quite comparable (and would actually run my CPU, once it arrives... kind of important). Thank you again! Glad I stumbled across this article.

Posted on 2017-01-08 15:06:27
Far left of right

no you won't need to borrow a cpu. Modern motherboards will be able to update bios with no cpu and/or ram installed. just plug the usb stick with the updated bios into the appropriate usb port and follow the manufacturers directions

Posted on 2017-01-18 16:53:17
gsuburban

Is the K worth the extra cost plus a heatsink/fan etc?

Posted on 2017-01-13 18:52:03
Lex Barringer

Are you sure about that?

https://www.techpowerup.com/re...

I've tested both as well, as both stock and various overclocked settings. I prefer the 6700K if I had to go with either the 6700 or 7700 series CPUs. There is another two chip sets that Intel is working on after this that will make a difference for gaming and communications over the PCI-e bus line. However, those will be designed for PCI-e 4.0 standards.

The only thing I noticed that's different other than some extra PCI-e lanes available on the 7700K, in CAD / CAM applications it's only slightly faster in redrawing, 2 or 3 seconds faster for really big jobs but the same for small ones. Although, I prefer the X99 chip set for that kind of stuff. So, if you want to believe the hype and throw away money, be my guest.

Posted on 2017-01-09 10:58:58
gsuburban

You won't notice anything and you will likely pay extra for the latest model. Based on the article and unless the cost is less for the Z270, Z170 for now.

Posted on 2017-01-13 18:50:06
Harry Allen

'ntel Optane'

Posted on 2017-01-10 14:46:38
gsuburban

No major changes since the P67 Chipset. Still have a Sandy Bridge 2500k on an Asus P8P67 EVO 16GB DDR3 1600 with truly no large gaps in performance/features compared to the Z97 w/ core i5 4690K. All the readings since the Z97 still say no major changes on the Z170 and now with Z270 on its way, reports are no real changes...

Seems fair to say, anything as old as Z77 or newer is just as good a value.

Posted on 2017-01-11 21:05:43
Timothy Allen

Exactly what I needed to know. Im broke and upgraded from a 7870k APU to an i7 6700k and RX480 8GB and I got my 6700k to 4.6ghz on stock volt with a Hyper D92 budget cooler with safe temps... I use a budget board ASRock z170m Pro 4s micro ATX and I keep asking myself could I get to 4.7 or even 5ghz with safe temps if I buy a better motherboard, specifically z270 but it doesnt sound like Id benefit from z270 as much as I would just a higher end board. Thanks for the comparison

Posted on 2017-01-29 17:05:11
Parthibaraj Rajasekar

all I want to know is whether z270 will support coffee lake-S or not? who can answer this?

Posted on 2017-02-05 16:46:27
Hapkiman

Hasn't been announced yet, but based on Intel's previous track record, I would say no. Coffee Lake will likely use a completely new socket/new chipset, so that means a new motherboard.

Posted on 2017-02-06 03:19:11
!cemelting™

are z170 rams compatible with z270's?

Posted on 2017-02-07 18:11:21