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ASRock H170 Combo Review

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    Posted: 13 Jan 2016 at 2:09pm
ASRock H170 Combo


With the sheer number of boards available for Skylake it can be tough to choose the best fit for your needs. Today I will be looking at the ASRock's H170 Combo.




ASRock's Combo boards, as the name suggests, combine both DDR3 and DDR4 slots on the same motherboard. I have always loved products like this, especially when they arrive on the heels of a new standard being introduced. DDR4 RAM is still a little pricier than DDR3 and many users will be happy about the prospect of simply moving their DDR3 RAM over from an older system and saving a little that they can put towards other components. While there are DDR3 based Skylake boards out there they do not allow for upgrading to DDR4 in the future. This is where the Combo series come in, at some point DDR3 will become harder to find and DDR4 speeds, prices and capacities will improve to the point where users will be looking to go this route.


The H170 Combo is the most feature rich board in ASRocks combo lineup:




Unique Features:


ASRock Super Alloy

- Premium 45A Power Choke

- I/O Armor

- High Density Glass Fabric PCB

ASRock Ultra M.2 (PCIe Gen3 x4 & SATA3)

ASRock Full Spike Protection

ASRock Live Update & APP Shop


CPU:


- Supports 6th Generation Intel® Core i7/i5/i3/Pentium®/Celeron® Processors (Socket 1151)

- Digi Power design

- 10 Power Phase design

- Supports Intel® Turbo Boost 2.0 Technology


Chipset:


- Intel® H170

- Supports Intel® Small Business Advantage 4.0


Memory:


- Dual Channel DDR4/DDR3/DDR3L Memory Technology

- 2 x DDR4 DIMM Slots

- Supports DDR4 2133 non-ECC, un-buffered memory

- Supports ECC UDIMM memory modules (operate in non-ECC mode)

- Max. capacity of system memory: 32GB*

- Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) 2.0

- 15μ Gold Contact in DDR4 DIMM Slots

- 4 x DDR3/DDR3L DIMM Slots

- Supports DDR3/DDR3L 1866(OC)/1600(OC)/1333/1066 non-ECC, un-buffered memory


*Due to the operating system limitation, the actual memory size may be less than 4GB for the reservation for system usage under Windows® 32-bit OS. For Windows® 64-bit OS with 64-bit CPU, there is no such limitation.


**Supports 2 x DDR3/DDR3L memory modules up to 1866(OC) and 4 x DDR3/DDR3L memory modules up to 1333


Author's note: Through my testing I discovered that slots A1 and B1 are only capable of DDR3 1333 speeds so for DDR3 1866 you will need to install RAM in slots A2 and B2


Please refer to Memory Support List on ASRock's website for more information.


*** DDR4 and DDR3/DDR3L memory can not be used simultaneously.


BIOS:


- 128Mb AMI UEFI Legal BIOS with multilingual GUI support

- ACPI 1.1 Compliant wake up events

- SMBIOS 2.3.1 Support

- CPU, GT_CPU, DRAM, VPPM, PCH 1.0V, VCCIO, VCCPLL, VCCSA Voltage Multi-adjustment


Graphics:


- Supports Intel® HD Graphics Built-in Visuals : Intel® Quick Sync Video with AVC, MVC (S3D) and MPEG-2 Full HW Encode1, Intel® InTru 3D, Intel® Clear Video HD Technology, Intel® Inside Intel® HD Graphics 510/530

- Pixel Shader 5.0, DirectX 12

- Max. shared memory 1792MB

- Dual graphics output: Support DVI-D and HDMI ports by independent display controllers

- Supports HDMI with max. resolution up to 4K x 2K (4096x2160) @ 24Hz / (3840x2160) @ 30Hz

- Supports DVI-D with max. resolution up to 1920x1200 @ 60Hz

- Supports Auto Lip Sync, Deep Color (12bpc), xvYCC and HBR (High Bit Rate Audio) with HDMI Port (Compliant HDMI monitor is required)

- Supports Accelerated Media Codecs: HEVC, VP8, VP9

- Supports HDCP with DVI-D and HDMI Ports

- Supports Full HD 1080p Blu-ray (BD) playback with DVI-D and HDMI Ports


*Intel® HD Graphics Built-in Visuals and the VGA outputs can be supported only with processors which are GPU integrated.


**Due to chipset limitation, the Blu-ray playback of Intel® HD Graphics is only supported under Windows® 8 / 8 64-bit / 7 / 7 64-bit.


***Intel® InTru 3D is only supported under Windows® 8 / 8 64-bit / 7 / 7 64-bit.


Audio:

- 7.1 CH HD Audio with Content Protection (Realtek ALC892 Audio Codec)

- Premium Blu-ray Audio support

- Supports Surge Protection (ASRock Full Spike Protection)

- ELNA Audio Caps


LAN:


- Gigabit LAN 10/100/1000 Mb/s

- Giga PHY Intel® I219V

- Supports Wake-On-LAN

- Supports Lightning/ESD Protection (ASRock Full Spike Protection)

- Supports Energy Efficient Ethernet 802.3az

- Supports PXE


Slots:


- 2 x PCI Express 3.0 x16 Slots (PCIE2: x16 mode; PCIE4: x4 mode)*

- 2 x PCI Express 3.0 x1 Slots (Flexible PCIe)

- 2 x PCI Slots* PCI cards that need subtractive decode are not supported.

- Supports AMD Quad CrossFireXand CrossFireX


*Supports NVMe SSD as boot disks


Storage:


- 6 x SATA3 6.0 Gb/s Connectors, support RAID (RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 10, Intel® Rapid Storage Technology 14 and Intel® Smart Response Technology), NCQ, AHCI and Hot Plug

- 2 x SATA Express 10 Gb/s Connectors*

- 1 x Ultra M.2 Socket, supports type 2230/2242/2260/2280/22110 M.2 SATA3 6.0 Gb/s module and M.2 PCI Express module up to Gen3 x4 (32 Gb/s)**


*If M2_1 is occupied by a SATA-type M.2 device, SATA3_0 will be disabled.

Support to be announced


**Supports ASRock U.2 Kit

Supports NVMe SSD as boot disks


Connectors:


- 1 x COM Port Header

- 1 x TPM Header

- 1 x Power LED and Speaker Header

- 2 x CPU Fan Connectors (4-pin) (Smart Fan Speed Control)

- 3 x Chassis Fan Connectors (4-pin) (Smart Fan Speed Control)

- 1 x 24 pin ATX Power Connector

- 1 x 8 pin 12V Power Connector

- 1 x Front Panel Audio Connector

- 2 x USB 2.0 Headers (Support 4 USB 2.0 ports) (Supports ESD Protection (ASRock Full Spike Protection))

- 1 x USB 3.0 Header (Supports 2 USB 3.0 ports) (Supports ESD Protection (ASRock Full Spike Protection))


Rear Panel I/O:


- 1 x PS/2 Mouse/Keyboard Port

- 1 x DVI-D Port

- 1 x HDMI Port

- 6 x USB 3.0 Ports (Supports ESD Protection (ASRock Full Spike Protection))

- 1 x RJ-45 LAN Port with LED (ACT/LINK LED and SPEED LED)

- HD Audio Jacks: Side Speaker / Rear Speaker / Central / Bass / Line in / Front Speaker / Microphone


Software:


- ASRock A-Tuning

- ASRock Disk Health Report

- ASRock USB Key

- ASRock APP Charger

- ASRock XFast LAN

- ASRock XFast RAM

- ASRock Fast Boot (Fast Boot, Restart to UEFI, Instant Boot)*


UEFI:


- ASRock EZ Mode

- ASRock Full HD UEFI

- ASRock My Favorites in UEFI

- ASRock Instant Flash

- ASRock Internet Flash

- ASRock Crashless BIOS

- ASRock OMG (Online Management Guard)

- ASRock UEFI System Browser

- ASRock UEFI Tech Service

- ASRock Easy RAID Installer

- ASRock Easy Driver Installer


Accessories:


- Quick Installation Guide, Support CD, I/O Shield

- 2 x SATA Data Cables

- 1 x Screw for M.2 Socket


Hardware Monitor:


- CPU/Chassis temperature sensing

- CPU/Chassis Fan Tachometer

- CPU/Chassis Quiet Fan (Auto adjust chassis fan speed by CPU temperature)

- CPU/Chassis Fan multi-speed control

- Voltage monitoring: +12V, +5V, +3.3V, CPU Vcore, DRAM, VPPM, PCH 1.0V, VCCIO, VCCSA


Form Factor:


- ATX Form Factor

- Solid Capacitor design


Overall, a very impressive spec sheet for a product in this market segment. ASRock's 45A Power chokes offer better power delivery as well as extended life span over standard power chokes and the high quality components do not stop there. ELNA audio caps would typically only be found on higher end products but ASRock has utilized them throughout most of their product lines. Add to this a 10 phase power design and we find the H170 Combo well equipped to handle even the mighty i7 6700k although it would be somewhat wasted on this motherboard as it lacks overclocking capabilities, none the less, the board provides ample power to run high end Skylake CPUs reliably.


Another thing that has impressed me with ASRock's socket 1151 boards is the inclusion of IO Armor on many of the lower end boards in their arsenal. I have seen a few reviews complain that they are too plastic looking or not fancy enough but personally I think they are perfect. I have never been a fan of more organic lines and trimming on my boards and the IO Armor provided by ASRock is simple, stylish and elegant, all pros in my book. I have been fabricating my own IO covers for years in my builds because I can't stand the way the IO headers break up the flow of the motherboard, ASRock's IO Armor does exactly what I need it to and maintains a functional and clean look.



Product Walkthrough:




The packaging has a simple yet eye-catching design on the front with the model of the board in large, easy to read letters. This is great to see as I have often seen people go and purchase a new product only to discover they bought the wrong one because the package was labeled poorly, especially when a manufacturer uses the same graphic for numerous products. Not so much a problem when purchasing online but for those of us that like to actually walk into a store and take a look around while we consider our purchase this is ideal.




The back of the box provides all the important information you would want to know when considering your purchase. My only complaint here is that the person depicted in the top left hand corner looks a little quizzical which may not instill confidence in the product. If you are going to depict an actual person on your box art then it should always be a pretty girl, though the ladies may disagree :P




As one may expect in this market segment the box contents are rather spartan containing only the board, an M.2 mounting screw, a pair of black SATA 3 cables, driver CD and user manual. While some may find this a con I personally prefer the "keeping it simple" approach as it usually indicates better value, fancy cover-plates, gimmicks and other unnecessary additions tend to lead to a higher price tag for things you don't really need.




Moving on to the board itself we are greeted with a large, full ATX sized board that looks significantly higher end than it is. The black PCB, IO Armor, M.2 slot and dual x16 PCIe 3.0 slots would only have been available on high end boards just a generation ago. Although the H170 Combo does not support SLI it does support dual and quad Crossfire configurations as indicated by the "AMD Crossfire" label on the PCB. For this shot I chose to focus on the RAM slots as it is after all the highlight of the board. As you can see there are 6 of them in total, 4 DDR3 and 2 DDR4 with the DDR4 slots using different locking clamps to make them easier to recognize. The 6 slot design puts me in mind of old i5/i7 900 series boards with triple channel memory. Unlike other combo boards I have seen and used over the years ASRock chose to pack them all together rather than space them out to differentiate the different slot types. This makes using the right slot a little more tricky but ultimately you will not be able to fit the wrong RAM in the wrong slot without using excessive force so it is worth it for the aesthetics.


To my mind the board looks fantastic with the sole exception of the copper colored heatsinks. I am not a fan of the color or the simplistic design here but again, we are dealing with a mid range product so expecting themed and painted heatsinks is unrealistic. For those that like a copper theme you will find this board very appealing visually. The heatsinks are large and effective. The fact that my only niggle with the appearance is that the heatsinks do not look as high end as the rest of the board speaks volumes for the design here. The headers are all conveniently placed for easy cable management and slot placement is more or less ideal. The M.2 slot does sit under the GPU if you are using a discrete GPU in the correct slot so cooling could be a factor with some M.2 SSDs though this is reaching a little for faults.




The IO Armor is the same found throughout ASRock's Skylake line, at least on the boards that use it. In this instance it is painted to match the copper theme of the board and is visually quite striking with it's angular lines and accents. While I am not a fan of the color the IO Armor actually looks good even to me, perhaps because the copper color is used only as an accent. Black heatsinks with a copper accent would really make this board pop visually but understandably it would also add to production costs so the tradeoff is well worth it.


In addition to the stunning IO Armor we can also see the "Flexible" PCIe x1 slots with their open ended design to facilitate the use of x4, x8 and x16 add in cards. This is a great feature as it allows a bit more versatility when adding devices on the PCIe slots. The inclusion of standard PCI slots baffles me a little given how outdated the standard is now but may hold some appeal for those looking for a bit of legacy support. Just bare in mind that add in cards requiring "subtractive decode" are not supported.




The rear IO panel sports 6 USB 3.0 ports, a DVI and HDMI connector, a PS2 keyboard/mouse port, Gigabit LAN and 7.1 sound connections. It is worth noting that there is no display port output so for those looking to use the integrated graphics from their CPU, keep that in mind. There isn't much to say about the IO panel other than it is nice to see all the rear USB ports are USB 3.0.

Setup and Installation:


Installation was quick and painless with all the board's headers positioned conveniently for easy cable management. The H170 Combo is a large board and takes up almost all the available space in my DeepCool Tesseract so be careful when choosing a case for this product. The benefit of this is a very tidy looking system if done right with all the cables tucked out of the way.


BIOS


ASRock recently released it's EZ mode interface and it really does look nice and tidy.




Clicking on information panes will reveal any additional settings that may be associated with the information displayed like XMP settings for your RAM, boot order etc. This is particularly useful on non-Z motherboards as there really aren't that many settings you would need to change to get the system running as you want it to and most of them are accessible via EZ mode. If you find EZ mode too restrictive then you can switch back to the more familiar Advanced mode by hitting the F6 key or clicking the "Advanced mode" button in the top right corner of the screen.




Advanced mode is basically just the good old familiar standard ASRock UEFI so I won't be breaking it down any further.


Drivers and Software


I said this in my last review and I will say it again here, ASRock have made it exceedingly easy to manage your software and drivers with their APP Shop. In the case of the H170 Combo you will need to download and install the LAN drivers first but then you can download and install APP Shop and use it to download and install all the drivers and software you need. You can also use the driver CD provided with your board if you still use an optical drive.


APP Shop


ASRock provides a very simple and intuitive application that makes this process simple and painless. All one need do is navigate to your motherboard product page, select the download page for your OS then download and install "ASRock App Shop"



Opening the program you will be greeted with a list of applications. Click the settings tab at the top of the window and select the server for your region. Failing to do this will result in painfully slow downloads.


Next simply click on the "BIOS and Drivers" tab and check the appropriate boxes. Feel free to check them all, except for BIOS updates, if you are unsure what you need as it will not harm your system. Be mindful of updating your BIOS, if you experience a power loss during the BIOS flashing process it could permanently damage your system so if you live in an area with unstable power you may want to avoid updating the BIOS unless absolutely needed.


Test Setup and Methodology




Review system:


CPU: Intel Core i5 6600k

Motherboard: ASRock H170 Combo

RAM: 2x 4gb ADATA XPG DDR3 1600 1.5v

2x 4gb Apacer Thunderbird DDR3 2800 1.65v

2x 4gb Corsair Vengeance DDR4 2800 1.2v

GPU: Gigabyte GTX 960 G1 Gaming 2gb

SSD: PNY Optima 240gb

PSU: OCZ Fatal1ty 1000w

Cooling: Deepcool Gammaxx 300

Case: Deepcool Tesseract


Comparison system:


CPU: Intel Pentium G3258 @3.2ghz

Motherboard: ASRock Z97 Extreme3

RAM: 2x 4gb ADATA XPG DDR3 1600 1.5v

2x 4gb Apacer Thunderbird DDR3 2800 1.65v

GPU: Gigabyte GTX 960 G1 Gaming 2gb

SSD: PNY Optima 240gb

PSU: Zalman ZM700-LX

Cooling: Thermaltake Frio OCK

Case: Open testbed



All benchmarks were repeated five times from a cold boot and the median score used for this review to ensure valid results. As this is my first Socket 1151 review, I will be benching the H170 Combo against my Socket 1150 Z97 Extreme3 system which will provide some idea of performance differences between Skylake and Haswell. The G3258 single core performance is in line with even the i7 4790K at the same clocks so should allow some insight into the IPC improvements with Skylake.


The H170 chipset does not support overclocking in any way so we will be sticking to stock speeds across the board on both systems with the exception of a clock for clock single core comparison where the G3258 will be clocked to 3.9ghz to mach the single core turbo speed of the i5 6600K.



Benchmarks:


CPU:


To kick things off I will start with the rather simplistic but illuminating CPUz internal benchmark. CPUz recently added this feature and I am using Benchmark version 15.01.64 Beta for this review. This benchmark is not really pertinent to the review itself as it is focused more on the CPUs being tested but it will provide an interesting comparison for those looking to upgrade from similar systems.




We see an 8% bump in single core performance over the G3258 clocked to 3.9ghz. While the Core i5 6600K boosts to 3.9ghz during the single core tests it is worth noting that it did drop as low as 3.6ghz for brief intervals during testing. The results are in line with what I have been seeing in most Skylake reviews however. This benchmark provides a very simplistic comparison between the two architectures but is more than adequate for the purposes of this review as I am reviewing the ASRock H170 Combo not the i5 6600K.


Memory:


Now this segment is very pertinent to the H170 Combo and I have gone into some depth here testing various RAM configurations. The H170 Combo supports both DDR3 and DDR4 RAM so this section of the review highlights one of the major selling points of the product. Before I get into the benchmarks I want to make note of a few things.


1. While the H170 Combo supports up to 4 DDR3 modules, the frequency will be restricted to 1333mhz when all 4 DDR3 slots are populated.


2. Slots A1 and B1 do not support frequencies higher than DDR3 1333 so if you plan to use 2 modules then you will need to use slots A2 and B2 to enable DDR3 1866.


3. I was able to install and run DDR3 2800 RAM at 1.65v on this board without issue, albeit at DDR3 1866, despite the reported DDR3L support for Skylake. There has been some debate as to whether or not Skylake systems can support standard DDR3 and higher voltage enthusiast kits and with the H170 Combo I can say definitively, yes. The H170 Combo can be used with 1.35v DDR3L, 1.5v DDR3 and 1.65v DDR3 RAM without issue. If you are using a 1.65v kit however it is likely that it operates at a frequency higher than 1866 so it is worth manually setting the voltage to 1.5v and seeing if you are able to retain stability. Why run over spec if it is of no benefit.


4. DDR4 OC feature only works on certain RAM kits, if your kit is not supported then the option is not displayed in the UEFI. Sadly my Corsair Vengeance kit is unsupported so I was unable to test it. At this time only certain Samsung and Kingston kits will unlock this "hidden" feature in the UEFI. The feature requires BIOS version 1.61 beta if you are using compatible RAM.


Benchmark:


For the RAM benchmarks I chose to go with a dedicated RAM benchmark suite called MaxxMEM². It is a very simple benchmark and does not require any special knowledge or skill to use. The DDR3 kit used for these tests was the Apacer Thunderbird DDR3 2800 2x 4gb kit. The ADATA kit was used exclusively to test compatibility and I opted for the faster DDR3 2800 kit for benchmarking. As a point of interest my DDR3 2800 kit ran stable at DDR3 1866 with a manually set voltage of 1.5v rather than it's rated 1.65v.




As you can see in the graph, I have tested multiple configurations on both systems and the results are quite interesting.


Copy: Here we see the G3258 system beating out the i5 6600k in the DDR3 tests but within what I expected given the frequency differences. Interestingly the DDR3 2800 kit in the Z97 Extreme3 comes very close to the DDR4 kit @2133 in the H170 Combo in copy performance.


Read: The H170 Combo puts in a good showing here even with the DDR3 kit clocked significantly lower. At 1866 the H170 Combo's DDR3 performance comes very close to the same kit running at 2800 on the Z97 Extreme3. I suspect it may have something to do with the weaker memory controller on the G3258. Even with the DDR3 kit at it's full 2800mhz frequency it still cannot match the DDR4 kit running at 2133mhz on the H170 Combo.


Write: It seems the G3258's memory controller really struggles here with both frequencies falling way behind even the DDR3 1866 performance on the H170 Combo. It would appear that not only can the H170 Combo run standard DDR3 modules it runs them well.


Overall: Across the board the H170 Combo paired with either DDR3 or DDR4 RAM comes out on top over the G3258 despite significantly higher clocked DDR3 frequencies.


Geekbench


Geekbench is a fairly simple benchmark suite that tests the system CPU and memory. It may not be as popular as Futuremark's benchmark suites but is none the less very informative. I like it because the 32 bit version is available for free and allows readers to download and run it themselves if they should feel the need to test their own systems against those in my reviews.

For this review I tested the H170 Combo with both DDR3 @1866 and DDR4 @2133 as well as the Z97 Extreme3 with DDR3 @2800. 




Geekbench Validation links:

H170 Combo DDR4 2133: Validation

H170 Combo DDR3 1866: Validation

Z97 Extreme3 DDR3 2800: Validation


Looking at the validation links it is fairly clear that you are not loosing out too much if you were to opt for DDR3 @1866. While DDR4 2133 is clearly faster than both DDR3 1866 and DDR3 2800 (on the Extreme3) the difference is negligible and small enough that tightening timings on the DDR3 kit would negate the difference almost completely. Likewise, if you do upgrade to DDR4 later on, tightening timings there will yield a significant boost in performance there too. The options are what matters with the H170 Combo and being able to run either RAM standard is a huge boon to many users out there.


Memory conclusion


If you are wondering if it is worth upgrading from higher end DDR3 to DDR4 then based purely on performance... not really. These numbers are all fairly close to one another and you will not actually notice much of a difference even from the most extreme performance differences listed here. So, from a performance perspective there is not much to be gained, at best during testing I saw a 1fps improvement in games testing and synthetics were within margin of error.


Does that make DDR4 a waste of time and money? Not at all, DDR4 uses lower voltage to achieve these frequencies, will be available in larger capacities and once DDR3 is phased out it will become increasingly difficult to find suitable DDR3 upgrades. For the time being there is little to no need to upgrade to DDR4 unless you plan on using a Z170 system that can take advantage of speeds over 2133. For non overclockable B, H and Q chipset based boards you will be fine with DDR3 for some time yet. The problem with most DDR3 Socket 1151 boards is that this will change and DDR4 will become a necessity eventually. With the H170 Combo we have the best of both worlds, the ability to save some money and use existing, or purchase cheaper DDR3 RAM then later on replace it with DDR4.


Storage:


Unfortunately I was not able to get my hands on an M.2 drive to test with for this review so I only have results from the PNY Optima 240gb to show here.




The results are exactly in line with the performance of the drive tested with no glaring anomalies or deficits. The H170 does yield slightly better results across the board which is nice to see. I have labeled the screenshots for clarification. Boot times are almost identical between the two systems at around 9 seconds from post to OS. Adding a mechanical 1tb storage drive to the mix increases that time to ~15 seconds on both systems as Windows accesses the much slower drive during the boot process. I would have liked to test against an M.2 drive for this review but it proved cost prohibitive.


Synthetics:


PCMark 8


Futuremark's PCMark 8 is a popular complete system benchmark that runs the system through a barrage of daily usage scenarios to determine overall system performance. Both the H170 Combo and the Z97 Extreme3 systems were benchmarked with DDR3 RAM. At the time of testing I did not have DDR4 RAM on hand to test with. I may update with DDR4 performance numbers at a later date.




H170 Combo Validation 

Z97 Extreme3 Validation


I have included the validation links for anyone interested in more in depth results. Naturally the i5 beat out the G3258 across the board with it's 2 extra cores, higher clocks and newer architecture. The results are exactly what I expected and are in line with other similarly specced systems which tells us that the H170 Combo is performing as it should. This benchmark was not run to highlight or compare performance but more to rule out potential performance deficits in the H170 Combo. Additionally both systems were tested without a dedicated GPU so the "light gaming" results provide insight into the performance enhancements of the i5 6600k integrated graphics over that of the G3258. The HD 530 found on the i5 6600k outperforms the HD Graphics on the G3258 by a whopping 17fps. This is in part due to the weaker memory performance on the Z97 Extreme3 system. As we saw in the memory benchmarks the H170 Combo crushes the Z97 system in memory metrics which would have effected the performance of the iGPU on both systems. Despite this, the deficit of 17fps is greater than the memory performance alone would warrant.


Additional note, RAM speeds seem to be misreported on Futuremark's results pages as neither system's RAM frequencies were reported correctly in the validation links I provided. Both systems were running @DDR3 1866 with identical timings for this benchmark, albeit on different memory kits.



3DMark Firestrike


What performance review would be complete without 3DMark. This benchmark has been around for almost as long as dedicated 3d graphics have existed and has become a staple for just about every system performance review out there. Again, both systems were tested with DDR3 memory running at 1866.




H170 Combo Validation

Z97 Extreme3 Validation


Interestingly the G3258 does not bottleneck the GTX 960 at all in this benchmark with both the Z97 Extreme3/G3258 system and H170 Combo/i5 6600k systems scoring almost identically in the graphics metric. That however is where the similarities end as the i5 6600k annihilates the G3258 in every other aspect. The era of dual core/dual thread gaming is sadly coming to an end as more and more current gen titles are released requiring at least 4 threads to run smoothly.



Gaming Benchmarks:


Over the holidays I have added a few more titles to my gaming arsenal. Most of the titles benchmarked are getting a little old now but none the less provide some solid comparisons for review purposes.



Tomb Raider (2013)


The Tomb Raider reboot stunned us all with it's fantastic graphics, intuitive gameplay and massively improved story telling when it hit stores in 2013. It has become a staple benchmark on many review sites. The engine is heavily GPU optimized and does not tax the CPU overly much as a result. When it was released many of us hoped it was a sign of things to come as it almost completely sidestepped CPU bottlenecks.




With everything maxed out both systems perform almost identically. While there is no clear winner here neither system should have problems running this title at max settings with this GPU. The fact that the results are as close as they are given the GPU bound nature of the title tested only indicates that the H170 Combo is operating as it should in this title. Actual gameplay felt identical on both systems with neither system displaying any stutter.



Shadows of Mordor


Shadows of Mordor was a very demanding game at the time of it's release and with it's bundled benchmark became popular with reviewers almost from day one of it's release. For this game I noted that when benchmarking at max settings the results became almost entirely GPU bound so I lowered the settings a few notches to "high" in order to let the CPUs stretch their legs a little more.




With Shadows of Mordor demanding more from the entire system we see the minimum fps drop significantly on the G3258 based system when compared to the i5 6600k setup. During actual gameplay it only got worse with the G3258 showing frequent stuttering in heavy action areas and often dropping as low as 20fps. The H170 Combo and i5 6600k on the other hand offered a significantly smoother experience. Lowering textures to medium resolved what little stuttering remained on the H170 Combo/i5 6600k setup, the same could not be said for the G3258 system.



Thief


I remember loving the original Thief series and only recently discovered the reboot. The game is based on the Unreal Engine and does well to highlight it's immense feature-set. The game was benchmarked at maximum settings.




With the latest patch the game is well optimized and ran well on both systems with neither dropping below 30fps. The H170 Combo/i5 6600k produced higher minimum framerates and did play a little smoother than the G3258 system. Again we see the benchmark is GPU bound at these settings but as the framerates are perfectly playable on both systems I saw no need to lower them as these are the settings most people on similar configurations would use.



Dragon Age: Inquisition


Dragon Age: Inquisition is the highly anticipated sequel to Dragon Age: Origins. I do not count Dragon Age II as I felt it was not even in the same genre as the original let alone a valid sequel to what was quite possibly the best RPG of it's time. Personal irritations aside, Dragon Age: Inquisition righted many of the failings of its predecessor and was built on the far more powerful Frostbite engine rather than the very dated Eclipse engine used for the original and Dragon Age II. While the second incarnation used a heavily upgraded version of the Eclipse engine, dubbed Lycium, it was still subject to many of the same limitations. With the Frostbite engine however the developers were able to get much more creative. So much so in fact that on release the game would not even run on dual core/dual threaded systems as the game required 4 threads to even load. It was for this reason that I did not include the game in my last review as the G3258 was unable to run it. RPG fans on average tend to use lower specification PCs than FPS fans so this was a pretty big blunder on release day. Fortunately it seems EA/Bioware heard the cries of their fans and have patched in proper dual core support, enabling me to include it in my benchmark suite now.




I was very pleasantly surprised at how well the game has been optimized for dual core systems. While you are still far better off with a quad core or i3 than a dual core the game is far from unplayable on the G3258. Here again we see the GPU providing a bottleneck on both systems but the H170 Combo/i5 6600k displays significantly better minimum fps, within a few fps of the average. Despite being well under the 60fps goal of most FPS gamers the gameplay experience was surprisingly smooth with the i5 6600k with no stutter to be seen.




Gaming on the H170 Combo was a vast improvement over the G3258 setup with far less stuttering and bottlenecking from the CPU. If you are still using a dual core CPU and have been contemplating an upgrade I can say with absolute certainty you will not regret making the jump to a quad core or i3 system and with the H170 Combo you will have the added bonus of being able to transplant your DDR3 RAM into your new system. Try as I might I could not trip up the H170 Combo, the only issue I had was with the drivers for the HD 530 iGPU which caused Thief to crash after a few moments of play. It was for this reason I did not include iGPU results as not all the games in my suite would play on the i5 6600k's HD 530 graphics. At the time of writing this there is now a new driver revision that apparently corrects this issue as well as others. Given this issue and that most people opting to use integrated graphics will likely not be playing many games on their system I decided not to bench test the iGPUs. If you are looking for iGPU performance on the i5 6600k you would be better served looking at a review on the CPU itself anyway.


The main takeaway for me with these benchmarks is that I need a more powerful GPU to remove the bottleneck from my test system. I will have to experiment with settings in future in order to load the CPU more while taking the load off the GPU. The problem is that every engine handles different elements differently, while some will use the CPU for a task others hand off that task to the GPU so each engine will require it's own custom settings. That said I encountered no issues with the H170 Combo throughout my testing regiment. The board performed exactly as I expected with no nasty surprises.



Audio Quality:


The H170 Combo uses Realtek's ALC892 Audio Codec. The sound chip used is on par with most motherboard audio in this price range and is capable of full 7.1 HD audio. I like the fact that the IO panel sports 6 audio connections so you will not have to utilize front panel audio connectors to hook up your 7.1 sound system. The sound quality itself is solid and thanks to the ELNA audio Caps does not produce a lot of hiss and noise. While the ALC892 will not satisfy an avid audiophile or musician it is more than adequate for gaming, movies and music to the casual ear. Let's face it, if you are an audiophile or musician you will probably be adding a dedicated sound card to your build anyway as there are no onboard solutions that can match a true high end dedicated sound card.


Conclusion




The ASRock H170 Combo is to my mind an ideal upgrade board. If I were building a new system from scratch I would want to go with DDR4 from the outset and likely choose a different board like a low end Z170. However, if you are just looking to upgrade and spend as little as possible then the H170 Combo really comes into it's own. The ability to use DDR3 RAM will result in savings that can be put towards other components, the inclusion of an M.2 slot on a board in this market segment is fantastic and the robust 10 phase power design will allow the H170 Combo to handle any desktop Skylake CPU out there. Sadly intel have chosen to restrict Skylake Xeon CPUs to dedicated chipsets so there won't be the option to use a Xeon with the H170 Combo which is a pity as top end H series chipsets have in the past made for an ideal pairing with Xeons.


The H170 Combo checks all the right boxes for a non overclocking board offering a broad array of features and stylish looks on top of ASRock's solid build quality. Try as I might I cannot find a fault with this board, my only complaint is that I personally don't like the copper color scheme and that really is reaching. I really don't see any reason not to recommend the ASRock H170 Combo, especially to those looking to upgrade and keep a few more parts from their previous system. Not only is the H170 Combo DDR3 capable but it also performs well, this is likely in part due to the higher end CPU used for the review having a better memory controller but none the less it is good to know there is no major performance loss if you opt for DDR3 over DDR4. The H170 Combo also allows for up to 4 DDR3 modules albeit at 1333, while RAM at that speed may be a little slow for some it does allow for a cheap high capacity solution in a situation where capacity trumps performance. Tightening timings will also go a long way to mitigating performance loss due to the low frequency. 


The H170 chipset like the H97 and H87 before it is ideal for use with locked i5 and i7 CPUs. It offers a cheaper alternative to the Z170 chipset for higher specification systems not designed to overclock. In other words, if you are building a system around a locked i5 or i7 then you should be looking at an H170 based board unless higher RAM frequencies are required in which case a Z170 will still be the best option. The H170 Combo has a rich feature set and is comparable to a Z170 Pro4 except with 2 DDR4 slots and 4 DDR3 slots. The H170 Combo provides all the goodness the new Skylake platform has on offer sans overclocking with it's M.2 slot, DDR3 and DDR4 support as well as multi GPU support via Crossfire all packed into an affordable package. 


The H170 Combo would also make for a fantastic virtual machine build, with the right CPU choice (i7 6700), the option to use more affordable DDR3 RAM and the capability of supporting 2 GPUs you could set up an affordable PC that could be used by 2 users simultaneously, even in a gaming scenario.



Verdict:


I have rated build quality a 10 because the board really looks and feels like it should bare a higher price tag and be fitted with a Z170 chipset. The fact that the color does not appeal to me does not detract from this fact. With all the headers located conveniently and the inclusion of numerous high end features the H170 Combo really shines.


Performance wise the H170 Combo suffers for it's lack of overclocking both on the CPU and RAM and while that is a chipset limitation it does result in the board performing slower than it's Z170 stablemates using the same components. That said the performance deficit is negligible when it comes to gaming and other more intensive tasks and is made up for by the addition of so many high end features. An 8 represents a lower tier high end product which finds the H170 combo in the same company as some budget oriented Z170 boards with fewer features.


Overall the ASRock H170 Combo is a well designed board with a rich featureset and fantastic utility provided via its combined DDR3 and DDR4 support. The option to use cheap DDR3 RAM now and upgrade to higher capacity DDR4 in the future make the H170 Combo an attractive prospect for those looking for an affordable upgrade to the Skylake platform with most of the bells and whistles that come with it. 


Build Quality: 10

Performance: 8

Overall: 9


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sepiashimmer View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote sepiashimmer Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 Feb 2016 at 11:39am
Hi, Xaltar, nice to see you here. Thanks for including G3258 performance against i5 6600K, it'll be helpful to someone who wants to upgrade.
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Xaltar View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Xaltar Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 Feb 2016 at 4:26pm
Thanks for the comment Smile

The G3258 is fairly representative of single core Haswell performance but as you can see in the benchmarks it can't hold a candle to the multi threaded performance of the i5 and falls a little behind on single core performance at the same clocks. Anyone still holding out with a G3258 that is wondering if an upgrade is the way to go has their answer. While it was a great little budget gaming CPU it is still only a dual core dual thread solution and now with so many titles being optimized for 4 threads the poor little beasty just can't cope. At this point an i3 6100 would be a huge upgrade for anyone still using a G3258 or equivalent. 

A board like this one, or any of the other Combo boards in ASRock's lineup would be a great start to a new budget gaming build. Being able to reuse your DDR3 RAM will allow the extra money to go towards a better GPU or CPU while not precluding the possibility of upgrading to DDR4 later Smile I might also add that the H110 Combo-G and B150 Combo-G both come in ASRock's red "Gaming" color scheme and like the H170 Combo reviewed here also look like much higher end parts as well as offer support for crossfire Thumbs Up
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Nichixon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15 Sep 2016 at 3:28am
Wow, a great looking board and something ideal for me, since I have 4 DIMM's of DDR3 from my old board. Granted, they do support XMP, but even at 1333, it would be great as I can start the upgrade to Skylake with 16 GB of RAM and save some cash for DDR4 later.

Great review.Thumbs Up
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