ASRock’s Z170 Pro4: A Review

Copper, copper, copper…

In this article, we’ll be looking at ASRock’s Z170 Pro4 motherboard which we’ve paired with Intel’s venerable i7-6700K. This motherboard is easily one of the most aesthetically pleasing motherboards that ASRock’s ever made. If there is one thing that I love its bare metal and this motherboard is absolutely defined by its bare copper heatsinks.

Bringing Back Bare Copper

The combination of brushed copper with a tactful semi-gloss PCB is both understated and extremely appealing due to its simplicity. Unlike a lot of other motherboards on the market the Pro4, neither appears neither boyish nor utilitarian and has a design that will age with grace.

Admittedly the heatsinks have a certain kind of retro styling to them. But it’s not nearly as aggressive in that respect as some of Biostar’s offerings. There’s also the plastic bracket that encapsulates the I/O block and then runs down to the base of the board in front of the PCI-E slots. It’s a feature reminiscent of the Sabertooth line of motherboards from ASUS. I’m indifferent to this feature. On one hand, I don’t really want plastic near the heat-sinks on my motherboard. On the other hand, it has yet to cause any problems.

Basically, any modern port you could want is present on this motherboard. Alas, the system we built used one of Intel’s NVMe PCI-E SSDs so we haven’t had a chance to put the M.2 or SATA Express ports to use.

Over the last two years motherboard makers have been spending a lot of time trying to bring prestige to their audio solutions. ASRock’s integration of ELNA Audio low noise capacitors is their take on this trend. Luckily its system, that outside of the branding, is basically invisible to the user. In this respect the Pro4 is neither ahead of or behind competing motherboard audio solutions but rather it just is. The audio quality is so competent that it’s unremarkable.

The Pro4 does have a rather unusual expansion slot layout. There are gaps where slots would normally be in two places both of which are directly below PCI-E X16 slots. There’s also a three slot gap between each PCI-E X16 slot so conceivably you could run a pair of three slot wide graphics cards on this motherboard. Three slot wide graphics cards are a silly proposition but it’s clear that ASRock designed the Pro4 with GPU cooling as a priority when they were deciding on the slot layout.

The CMOS battery and replaceable BIOS ROM sit right next to each other down by the USB, Audio, and front panel headers. Perhaps the strangest thing about this motherboard is the 4-pin Molex connector near the center of the motherboard that can supply extra power the PCI-E slots if needed. It’s a feature that was present on a lot of older ASRock motherboards but has generally fallen out of favor over the past few years.

Back panel I/O options are plentiful with a PS/2 port, six USB 3 ports, HDMI, DVI, Gigabit Ethernet, and a conventional audio block. The only items that you might miss here are a USB Type C option and an optical audio port.

The Pro4 is a full ATX motherboard. This is a form factor that’s fallen out of favor lately in lieu of mATX and ITX designs. There is an mATX variant of this design dubbed the H170M Pro4 which on the outside appears quite nice.

The Z170 Pro4 has ten phase power delivery which is more than adequate to support the needs of our i7-6700K. I could see the volume of space surrounding the CPU socket being a concern for people interested in mounting very large rifle or tower-style CPU coolers. Our Corsair H220 closed water cooling unit mounted without any clearance issues.

In closing ASRock’s Z170 Pro4 offers the best parts of Intel’s Z170 chipset in an attractive looking package at a very reasonable $99 price point. If you’re putting together a Skylake-based PC it’s certainly worth considering.S|A

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Thomas Ryan is a freelance technology writer and photographer from Seattle, living in Austin. You can also find his work on SemiAccurate and PCWorld. He has a BA in Geography from the University of Washington with a minor in Urban Design and Planning and specializes in geospatial data science. If you have a hardware performance question or an interesting data set Thomas has you covered.