When it comes to motherboard shopping anyone in their right mind would like to go for a newer DDR4 platform rather than an older DDR3 platform just to stay future proof and also reap the extra benefits of more connectivity options including the USB 3.1 Type-C ports. But the biggest hindrance in this path to your ultimate gaming salvation is, money! Yes that's true since the top of the crop Z170 or Skylake motherboards can set you back easily by Rs 15000, let alone the behemoth X99 platform, which is a hefty piece of the pie when you are on a tight budget. Other options like the H170 PCH are somewhat diminished since they are not too cheap either but all is not lost and this is when the B150 PCH comes in to save the day!
Asus was kind enough to send us over their latest offering in this division and today we have with us the Asus B150 Pro Gaming/Aura motherboard for review. Not only it carries a mouthful name but going by its feature sets it just might be that perfect board we've been looking for in the budget category.
Since its the B150 PCH some features have been shaved off in comparison to the Z170 PCH to make it affordable and also to make it an 'office' friendly product, the biggest of which is the no CPU overclocking support! Also the board comes with 12 USB ports including Type A and Type C USB 3.1 connectors. The sixteen PCI-E lanes from the CPU cannot be split and are directed to the first PCI-E slot itself making SLI or CrossFireX impossible. Also the B150 PCH has only 8 PCI-e lanes for fast storage technologies and not 20 like the Z170 has.
But its not about what we lost but rather what we gained and in this case it is an affordable product with almost all the features that a normal day to day user or even a gamer for that matter of fact will find useful.
Packing and Closer Look
Asus brings to us the product in an entirely new visual design. The company logo and product name are neatly placed and the word Aura is embossed and printed with a metallic sheen. I really like how the actual product image is printed with special highlights to its RGB LEDs. A 15-day premium account for the World of Warships massively multiplayer online game, as well as am exclusive camouflaged Diana cruiser warship is also included.
At the back, there’s a basic overview of the board layout, a technical synopsis and details about the AURA RGB lighting system. Furthermore, ASUS also provides information on the Digi+ VRM, USB 3.1 connectivity, premium audio hardware and gaming software.
Open the box and the motherboard sits in an anti-static bag kept over a bottom compartment that houses a fair number of accessories, which consists of a user guide, driver and software DVD, ASUS sticker, rear I/O shield, four SATA 6Gb/s cables, a set of M.2 screws, a pack of cable ties, as well as some stickers that you can wrap around SATA cables to label individual connections.
The moment you look at the board you realize the splendid work Asus has done in designing this full ATX offering. The B150 Pro Gaming Aura is per-dominately black and red with the heatsinks beautifully coated in red and accentuated with strokes of black which not only imparts a premium finish but also makes the motherboard stand out of the crowd.
CPU area is clean with four DIMM slots with maximum frequency support of 2133Mhz on one side and two low profile heatsinks on the other. These heatsinks have build in LEDs that can be programmed to any color of one's choose and has multiple illumination effects, including color strobing and cycling, pulsating in time with music, and a breathing effect.
The LGA 1151 CPU socket branches out red lines in all directions, though these are only for visual appeal and have no technical reason. The CPU is fed by 10 phase all digital power delivery system and this is more than necessary for a board that doesn't support over-clocking but a good move for sure by Asus.
Come down to the bottom of the motherboard and you'll find a handful of features. Starting with the PCI-e slots we have two PCIe x16 slots, two PCIe x1 and two PCI slots to support hardware from a bygone era.
The 16 PCI-E lanes from the CPU are directed to the first PCI-Ex16 slot and only 4 from the B150 PCH are available for the second one making SLI?CrossFireX impossible as mentioned above. Any connection to the second slot will disable the remaining PCI-E slot.
Since the Skylake platform does not natively support legacy PCI slots, ASUS have added an ASMedia ASM1083 PCI-E to PCI bridge chip to handle that duty.
For CPU power management two TPU chips have been placed just next to the CMOS batter.
I personally like the positioning of the M.2 SSD slot which is below the PCIex16 slots saving the M.2 drive from the unnecessary heat generated by graphics cards. A full 80mm M.2 drive is supported but since its a B150 PCH and has only 8 PCIe lanes to spare so this slot works at PCI-E 3.0x2 instead of the PCI-E 3.0x4 that we get in Z170 so the bandwidth comes down to 2GB/s
The board is equipped with six SATA 3 6GB/s connectors for SATA storage but doesn't support RAID, fortunately Intel Rapid Storage Technology is supported. One limitation arises when you use a SATA M.2 connector since that will disable the SATA 1 port so be aware if you plan to use one.
From the audio point of view a superior SupremeFX audio technology has been employed. Though a shielding is covering the chip underneath we know that its the Realtek ALC1150 10-channel audio codec. For assistance Nichicon audio-grade capacitors are provided along with a Texas Instruments R4580 headphone amplifier, which allegedly can power 600 ohm headphones!
An illuminated noise isolation strip is also there to insure optimum audio signal transfer but sadly it glows in red color only with no other color option available unlike the rest of the board's RGB theme.
The Asus B150 Pro Gaming/Aura comes with a decent connectivity and on the rear I/O, there is a PS/2 connector, two USB 2.0 ports, D-SUB, HDMI, four USB 3.0, USB 3.1 Type-A, USB 3.1 Type-C, RJ45, 5 audio jacks and an optical S/PDIF out.
Nuvoton NCT6793D Super I/O monitoring controller rests just near the CMOS battery and is responsible for controlling all the I?O panel operations.
LAN operations are controlled by the Intel I219V ethernet controller chip covered by a surge protection shielding labeled as LAN Guard.
BIOS and Bundled Software
BIOSJust like every other Asus motherboard the B150 Pro Gaming/Aura even comes with a UEFI BIOS which is by far one of the best BIOS I've come across from any other manufacturer. Its theme is red and black which goes well with that of the motherboard and supports mouse cursor for easy navigation. Advance Mode and EZ Mode are the two modes in which you can view and use the BIOS and both can be switched in between via the F7 key.
The opening screen is the EZ Mode and gives you all the information at one single place. From something as simple as the CPU temperature and Storage devices name to EZ System Tuning and even XMP profile selection all are clearly labeled.
Q Fan utility is nift and useful and can be used to control the various fan's speed according to temperature or let be controlled and set by the BIOS themselves.
Switch to the Advanced Mode and you'll be greeted by a plethora of features all laid out in an organized fashion with detailed tabs. The Main section gives you all the basic system information like date & time, total memory, frequency etc
Ai Tweaker is the section where I'd love to be if this board supported overclocking but it isn't the case and hence its a waste of a section. The advanced section is somewhat useful in terms of in-depth component information like the CPU, RAM etc but doesn't really work too much due to the non-overclocking nature of the board.
While all other sections are basic the Tool section does contain a very important function of flashing your BIOS to a newer version and also of monitoring your PCI-E device configuration.
Asus bundles the B150 Pro Gaming/Aura motherboard with their all in one utility the Ai Suite III which is a one stop solution for most of the monitoring and tweaking activities. This system management utility is the hub from which you can monitor system clock speeds, voltages, temperatures, and fan rotation all from within Windows.
Also the various sections provide real-time voltage measurements, fan controls and even setting power utilization profiles for various work loads.
The Fan Xpert 3 is the section where you can obviously control your CPU and cased fans to the desired RPMs using an informative graphical representation or select from a set of presets (Silent/Standard/Turbo/Full Speed)
The Push Notice feature can used to send alerts when system voltage, temperatures, or fan speeds deviate from your normal levels. It can also be used to notify when the system is restarted, shutdown, or put to sleep.
Coming over to the main utility, the Lighting Control Utility of the board which can be used to customize the LEDs that are integrated into the chipset cooler and top right corner of the board. Any color can be chosen or made from the interactive color wheel and shade bar on the left. Modes range from still, breathing color cycle etc and even a color variation can be chose as per the current CPU temperature.
Upon updating the utility I got the Audio controls aswell for the audio isolation strip but since the LED s only red in color for the strip not all lighting modes were available. On the cooler side you can choose different modes for the board and the audio strip!
Test Setup and BenchmarksInstalling all the hardware onto the B150 Pro Gaming/Aura was easy and no difficulty came in and one powered on we booted into Windows without any hiccups. We did come across one problem that took me more than an hour to solve, what was that I'll tell you once we go through our test bench configuration.
CPU: Intel Core i5 6600K 3.5Ghz
Motherboard: Asus B150 Pro Gaming/Aura
RAM: Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB DDR4 (2x8) 3000Mhz Memory Kit
Cooler: Corsair H100i GTX 240mm Liquid Cooler
Graphics Card: Gainward Phantom GLH GeForce GTX 960 2GB DDR5
Storage: Corsair Neutron GTX 480GB SSD
Power Supply: Corsair AX860i 860W 80+ Platinum
OS: Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit
Note: The B150 Pro Gaming/Aura has a click to its DIMM slots which unlike other dual-channel or even quad-channel boards doesn't support multiple RAM sticks in alternate DIMM slots but in two adjacent slots! Where other motherboards follow the A1-B1-A2-B2 DIMM configuration the Pro Gaming Aura goes for a A1-A2-B1-B2 configuration this can be seen even in the BIOS opening page!
I couldn't get my system to boot with two memory sticks arranged in conventional fashion & it was only possible once we put the sticks back to back. After that the motherboard worked like charm!
AIDA64 Cache & Memory Benchmark
AIDA64 implements a set of 64-bit benchmarks to measure how fast the computer performs various data processing tasks and mathematical calculations. Memory and cache benchmarks are available to analyze system RAM bandwidth and latency
AES-256 and SHA-1 Hash Benchmark
AES-256 and SHA-1 Hash benchmark emulates real life data processing scenarios through a set of pre-defined algorithms scoring both the CPU and GPU respectively. It is a very useful test to determine how efficient the processor and graphics card will be on a particular motherboard when it comes to real life working.
Cinebench R15 & Cinebench R11.5
Cinebench uses Maxon's Cinema 4D engine to render a photo-realistic scene of some shiny balls and weird things (we miss the motorbike). The scene is highly complex, with reflections, ambient occlusion and procedural shaders so it gives a CPU a tough workout.
As Cinema 4D is a real-world application - used on films such as Spider-Man and Star Wars - Cinebench can be viewed as a real-world benchmark.
Intel XTU is a utility mainly used to overclock the processor and memory to benchmark the system for its stability and performance. The score obtained is a projection of the computer's true potential signifying its performance in real-life tasks.
This suite allows you to measure the performance of your computer. The benchmark shows a rating in MIPS (million instructions per second). There are two tests, compression with LZMA method and decompression with LZMA method. Once the total passes reaches 100, the score is taken. Higher the score better is the computer's overall performance.
wPrime v2.10 32M and 1024M
wPrime is a leading multithreaded benchmark for x86 processors that tests your processor performance by calculating square roots with a recursive call of Newton’s method for estimating functions. It is influenced by memory timings and frequency.
SuperPi Mod v1.5 1M and 32M
SuperPi is a simple program that utilizes the processing power and memory speed of the system to calculate the value of Pi upto 1 Million or 32 Million decimal point depending upon what you choose. The time is calculated in minutes and seconds so lower the score faster is your computer.
I can't start gaming benchmarks without running my all time favorites Crysis 3 but its a game that no system loves! The CryEngine 3 behind this scenic beauty can bring down any system to its knees and I mean any system. I set everything to Very High at 1920x1080 resolution with SMAA 2X and motion blur medium.
Batman Arkham Knight
Since the game is powered by Epic's Unreal Engine 3 and supports DX11 tessellation so playing this game on 1920x1080 resolution with all settings maxed out can be any modern system's 'worst nightmare'! While benchmarking all setting were set to normal with nVidia exclusive features disabled.
Based on the DICE's Frostbite Engine 3 this game not only taxes a CPU and GPU both by reproducing lush details on the screen but also utilizes the DX11 and DX11.1 features coupled with 64-bit binaries! Settings were at Ultra with antialiasing deferred at 2x MSAA and ambient occlusion enabled.
My VerdictThe Asus B150 Pro Gaming/Aura motherboard is currently priced at $128.99 or around Rs. 11000 in Indian market, this is not a high price tag at all for what all the product has to offer especially the SupremeFX audio and ESD guards on LAN makes it a formidable force in the budget division.
Even though it is supposed to be a budget offering Asus has left no stone upturned to make the motherboard look as beautiful as one can be, the RGB LEDs are just marvelous adding a distinct edge to the bundle and are not just foisted upon like many others, it compliments the theme and build quality of the PCB and heatsinks aptly. Wish the audio isolation path was also RGB and not strictly red.
So the B150 Pro Gaming/Aura motherboard is highly recommended to those who are on a budget but want a board that doesn't look like one rather adds a whole new dimension to their home/office or studio build. Also if you are not into overclocking or multi-GPU configurations coupled with high speed drives then also this is the best motherboard for you.
I give it 8/10