Five Z97 Express Motherboards, $160 To $220, Reviewed

Supermicro C7Z97-OCE

After a couple of attempts to break into the enthusiast space with Intel's previous chipsets, a more seasoned Supermicro is back with its well-developed C7Z97-OCE. Will the sever/workstation company finally be able to translate its legendary durability into a language overclockers can understand?

The C7Z97-OCE’s I/O panel includes the two network controllers expected on a high-end board, but comes up a little short in USB connectivity (you get four USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports). Perhaps that was due to a shortage of space, caused in part by the VGA connector that could have either been left out altogether or wired through DVI-I.

Intel supplies both GbE controllers, with one using the chipset’s proprietary interface to save a PCIe lane. Supermicro still adds a PEX8605 four-lane PCIe 2.0 bridge, but that’s to maintain PCIe x1 slot availability concurrent to other devices, such as the WGI210AT secondary network controller, an AMS1061 SATA controller, and a two-lane M.2 slot.

The C7Z97-OCE’s slot configuration appears a little extreme by mainstream chipset standards. Those x4 slots are wired as x1, though. And all three x4 connectors are open-ended to support PCIe x8 and x16 cards at reduced PCIe 2.0 x1 bandwidth. That’s in addition to the PCIe 3.0 slots designed for PCIe x16 graphics cards.

Like competing boards from MSI and Gigabyte, the C7Z97-OCE’s three x16-length slots share the CPU’s 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes at 16-0-0, 8-8-0, or 8-4-4 pathways. Unlike MSI, Gigabyte, and the two other rivals in today’s comparison, the C7Z97-OCE does not have a third space between the top two PCIe x16 slots to enable the use of triple-slot graphics coolers. Supermicro instead moves the second and third slot up by one space, making it possible to build a CrossFire configuration using three double-slot cards in a standard (seven-slot) ATX case. I'm a little surprised nobody else thought about that.

Moving the bottom slot up by one space also allows Supermicro to put the front-panel USB 3.0 header along the C7Z97-OCE’s bottom edge, without worrying about it getting in the way of graphics card coolers. That might not be our preferred placement, but at least Supermicro works out an issue that I've criticized on a number of previous products.

Also along the bottom edge is a row of overclocking buttons that support booting with five different profiles labeled for DRAM overclocking; CPU profiles 3, 2, and 1; and “Home”. That last button would ideally be suited to getting your system back up and running after an unstable O/C, but we were still able to get a few settings (such as XMP profiles) saved under the “Home” profile.

Levels 1-3 include factory-programmed overclocks, though all of these appear written for a slower CPU. OC1, for example, dropped our CPU multiplier to a fixed 4.0 GHz, which might have been a nice entry point for the Core i7-4770K (rather than the tested Core i7-4790K).

Getting an overclock started requires a reboot, and you won’t see your tuned settings in the firmware’s GUI until you restart. Fortunately, you can press the button while in that GUI to initiate the reboot and re-enter the GUI to see your settings.

The C7Z97-OCE has six SATA ports. The C7Z97-OCE includes six SATA cables. Bravo. Users need not worry about having left-over cables and useless ports after installing an M.2 drive either, since this is the only board in today’s round-up to have dedicated ports for that connector.

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  • At this price Asus could send a ROG product (Maximus VII Hero). I wonder why they choose to send the Z97-Pro instead...
    1
  • Quote:
    At this price Asus could send a ROG product (Maximus VII Hero). I wonder why they choose to send the Z97-Pro instead...


    My thoughts you can find the hero board within that price range quite easy. http://pcpartpicker.com/part/asus-motherboard-maximusviihero
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  • -snip- duplicate post silly tomshardware.
    -2
  • I'd like some ITX Z97 and H97 with M.2 reviewed.
    I'm buying the Asus Z97i-plus because it just mount a 2x M.2 2280 and 2260, and all other connectivity goodness, uninterested in overclocking unless the broadwell i5 K consume less than 90W :D
    1
  • I recently bought a Z97I-Plus. Being so used to EATX boards as of late, I was a tad
    stunned at how tiny even the packing box is. :D Just pairing it up with a G3258
    initially to see how it behaves. Pondering a GTX 750 Ti, but kinda hoping NVIDIA
    will release a newer version in Sept.

    Ian.
    1
  • 578881 said:
    At this price Asus could send a ROG product (Maximus VII Hero). I wonder why they choose to send the Z97-Pro instead...
    They probably wanted to win based on features for the money? We know that the Wi-Fi ac has A $50 WI-FI CONTROLLER, what does the Hero add that's worth $50?
    1
  • The Asus ROG boards have a red line that lights up showing the audio path through it's build in LEDs, but the mainstream Z97 don't. I had a chance to take a look at one of the Asus Z97 board and took my phone's flash to shine in on it. The color was somewhat yellowish green and it looks really nice.
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  • I have a Z97 Extreme 6, it's a very nice board and it's definitely worthy of the approval award.
    0
  • Nice boards!! I love the gigabyte model but I like asus more because yellow heatsinks just don't fit in my opinion.
    0
  • 8708 said:
    578881 said:
    At this price Asus could send a ROG product (Maximus VII Hero). I wonder why they choose to send the Z97-Pro instead...
    They probably wanted to win based on features for the money? We know that the Wi-Fi ac has A $50 WI-FI CONTROLLER, what does the Hero add that's worth $50?

    Hello. I think there are more reasons to buy a ROG product, instead of a Wi-Fi controller...
    Better audio quality.
    Better MOF-SETs.
    Better inductors.
    ROG BIOS.
    Generally ROG boards have better quality parts.
    But in the end we need the reviewers (like you) to review as many products as they can, so we can see the performance difference between them.
    0
  • Quote:
    578881 said:
    At this price Asus could send a ROG product (Maximus VII Hero). I wonder why they choose to send the Z97-Pro instead...
    They probably wanted to win based on features for the money? We know that the Wi-Fi ac has A $50 WI-FI CONTROLLER, what does the Hero add that's worth $50?


    Nothing. No one would use wifi on a ROG board that is geared for gaming. I can't see many buyers of the Z97 Pro using wifi either for that matter. Unless of course you like to pack up your tower and walk around with it in one hand and your monitor in the other.
    -1
  • Quote:
    578881 said:
    At this price Asus could send a ROG product (Maximus VII Hero). I wonder why they choose to send the Z97-Pro instead...
    They probably wanted to win based on features for the money? We know that the Wi-Fi ac has A $50 WI-FI CONTROLLER, what does the Hero add that's worth $50?


    Nothing would be added, just better board quality. No one would use wifi on a ROG board that is geared for gaming. I can't see many buyers of the Z97 Pro using wifi either for that matter. Unless of course you like to pick up your tower and walk around with it in one hand and your monitor in the other tonguing the mouse for movement. But yes that would use that wifi controller.
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  • 1299045 said:
    Quote:
    578881 said:
    At this price Asus could send a ROG product (Maximus VII Hero). I wonder why they choose to send the Z97-Pro instead...
    They probably wanted to win based on features for the money? We know that the Wi-Fi ac has A $50 WI-FI CONTROLLER, what does the Hero add that's worth $50?
    Nothing would be added, just better board quality. No one would use wifi on a ROG board that is geared for gaming. I can't see many buyers of the Z97 Pro using wifi either for that matter. Unless of course you like to pick up your tower and walk around with it in one hand and your monitor in the other tonguing the mouse for movement. But yes that would use that wifi controller.


    Whole heartily agree! With any worth while gaming setup you wouldn't be playing games over wifi anyway. The slap in the face bandwidth wise is enough to keep people away. Lets check Intel Lan/Killer Nic yea I'll stick with one of those two thank you.
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  • the nice things about the Asus board imo is i already have a PCIe 1x Soundblaster X-Fi and I really don't want it butting up to a lava-hot Volcanic Islands card. the port placement lets me keep that card way down, and keeps me from having to worry about how good on-board audio is for at least another generation. Yeah, it's a $220, but Microcenter has a deal (on top of best CPU prices) to nab the 4790k + this board for $160 as a combo deal. makes for a smokin' offer imo
    0
  • 578881 said:
    8708 said:
    578881 said:
    At this price Asus could send a ROG product (Maximus VII Hero). I wonder why they choose to send the Z97-Pro instead...
    They probably wanted to win based on features for the money? We know that the Wi-Fi ac has A $50 WI-FI CONTROLLER, what does the Hero add that's worth $50?
    Hello. I think there are more reasons to buy a ROG product, instead of a Wi-Fi controller... Better audio quality. Better MOF-SETs. Better inductors. ROG BIOS. Generally ROG boards have better quality parts. But in the end we need the reviewers (like you) to review as many products as they can, so we can see the performance difference between them.


    1299045 said:
    Quote:
    578881 said:
    At this price Asus could send a ROG product (Maximus VII Hero). I wonder why they choose to send the Z97-Pro instead...
    They probably wanted to win based on features for the money? We know that the Wi-Fi ac has A $50 WI-FI CONTROLLER, what does the Hero add that's worth $50?
    Nothing would be added, just better board quality. No one would use wifi on a ROG board that is geared for gaming. I can't see many buyers of the Z97 Pro using wifi either for that matter. Unless of course you like to pick up your tower and walk around with it in one hand and your monitor in the other tonguing the mouse for movement. But yes that would use that wifi controller.

    The problem for Asus is that they like to win awards. Costlier components don't boost a review rating when they don't boost performance or overclocking. In case you missed it, MOST of Asus' deluxe boards have out-overclocked MOST of its ROG boards in Tom's Hardware's tests.

    As for Wi-Fi, I've occasionally set up mine as an access point.
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  • i just built this Z97-A with i7 4790k running smoothly
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  • 8708 said:
    The problem for Asus is that they like to win awards. Costlier components don't boost a review rating when they don't boost performance or overclocking. In case you missed it, MOST of Asus' deluxe boards have out-overclocked MOST of its ROG boards in Tom's Hardware's tests. As for Wi-Fi, I've occasionally set up mine as an access point.

    My apologies for the delay of responding. Due to a surgery after medial meniscus injury, I can't [removed] sit too much on my PC desk for some weeks.
    Indeed, every company wants awards in their product page to show how good their product is.
    Well, "Deluxe" products could be able to compete in o/c since they have similar PWM phases used. They also have same quality inductors. On the other hand "Pro" products aren't the same as "Deluxe" (they have a good difference in their price as well) and they are missing the things I just wrote (apart from other fearures...).
    Also from the time Asus first release a cheap (~$200) ROG motherboard (Hero and Ranger joined a year later...), Tom's Hardware didn't made a review on them yet. And the only Z97/Z87/Z77 Asus ROG product in the reviews is the Z87 Maximus VI Formula, which won an elite award. Asus seems to send Deluxe and Pro products all the time, but they rarely send an ROG motherboard. So I think there is a large margin of error in comparing just one product to a lot of others, the results will be heavily affected by the result of one product (Maximus Formula).
    For Wi-Fi, I just use my router's controller which was provided by my ISP, free of charge...
    ps: I couldn't miss it since I read Tom's Hardware daily (mostly waiting for each day's article, apart from weekends which you almost never do) with a cup of coffee, like most people read a newspaper, the last five years :).
    ps2: I would love to hear also raja@asus opinion on this.

    Watch the language. - G
    edit: Sorry G, I didn't noticed it. I mistyped...
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  • Crash, really nice article. Obviously a ton of work went into this one. Well done.
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  • No EVGA boards? I'd like to see how the Z97 Classified, Stinger, and FTW models compare to the competition.
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  • 537231 said:
    No EVGA boards? I'd like to see how the Z97 Classified, Stinger, and FTW models compare to the competition.
    EVGA only wanted to show a more-expensive model and asked that they be informed when that roundup is planned.
    0