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

ASRock Z97 Extreme6

ASRock exposes a bunch of traditional high-end features to the I/O panel of its Z97 Extreme6, yet doesn’t skimp on the modern stuff either. Getting rid of the VGA connector, for example, gives the board room for eSATA and a CLR_CMOS button. If you really need VGA output from the integrated GPU, it's accessible through a DVI-I adapter block (not included).

Packing the I/O panel with six USB 3.0 ports doesn't leave much space for legacy USB 2.0, though two of the newer ports are connected directly to the chipset’s controller for the best possible legacy compatibility. We also find a pair of gigabit Ethernet ports, and we certainly wouldn’t give away any of those in exchange for slower USB.

The Z97 Extreme6 has a nice bundle of internal features as well, beginning with its ten SATA 6Gb/s ports, two M.2 slots, SATA Express, and mini-PCIe. Yet, there is a little bit of visual cunning here, as the super-fast PCIe x4-based Ultra M.2 doesn’t interface with any of the chipset's SATA connections. Moreover, the mini-PCIe slot merely resembles mSATA, and the one extra connector that does have SATA ports—the second M.2 connector—uses the same ports as SATA Express. Even eSATA on the I/O panel functions only to the exclusion of one of the internal ports.

A total of ten SATA ports is still fairly generous for an LGA 1150-based platform though, and ASRock gets to that number by adding two PCIe-based controllers. Other PCIe-attached subsystems, such as the secondary USB 3.0 and gigabit Ethernet controllers, along with PCIe x1 slots and one of the two M.2 slots, all share the limited wealth of the Z97’s eight PCIe 2.0 lanes. ASMedia’s ASM1184e PCIe 2.0 four-lane switch keeps most of the Z97 Extreme6’s pathways active, excluding just one of the PCIe x1 slots when the mini-PCIe slot is used.

The primary “Ultra M.2” slot might not have SATA, but its four PCIe lanes are all third-gen-capable. That means they come from the CPU’s 16-lane controller. And that, in turn, means that builders must choose between having one graphics card fed by sixteen lanes, two cards fed by eight lanes, or two graphics cards and an M.2 SSD in a x8/x4/x4 configuration. Should you install a graphics card and drop a drive in the Ultra M.2 slot, you'll simply waste the four lanes that feed the second graphics slot, unless another add-in is used there.

All of those factors help explain why this isn’t a three-way SLI-capable board. In fact, we're hesitant to call it a platform you'd drop three cards into at all. The Z97 Extreme6’s third x16-length slot is fed by only two PCIe lanes, and both are stuck sharing bandwidth on the PCH’s bandwidth-constrained second-gen controller.

A pair of internal USB 3.0 front-panel headers serves up to four front-panel ports, which appear perfect for certain high-end cases like the custom-configured Merlin SM08 we tested. You might say that the Z97 Extreme6’s second header is useless whenever it’s concealed by a third graphics card, but let’s be frank: again, that bottom slot isn’t suitable for the type of high-performance card you'd want to put there.

The Z97 Extreme6 likewise has dual firmware ROMs with a selector switch that lets you flip from one to the other if you completely mess the first up. And ASRock even socket-mounts both ROMs, just in case you need to perform a replacement.

Four SATA cables seem a little scant on a board that has ten ports, but it’s still enough to finish most of our high-end builds.

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31 comments
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  • Memnarchon
    At this price Asus could send a ROG product (Maximus VII Hero). I wonder why they choose to send the Z97-Pro instead...
    1
  • bigshootr8
    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
    3
  • bigshootr8
    -snip- duplicate post silly tomshardware.
    -2
  • Drejeck
    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
  • mapesdhs
    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
  • Crashman
    Anonymous 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
  • lp231
    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.
    0
  • g-unit1111
    I have a Z97 Extreme 6, it's a very nice board and it's definitely worthy of the approval award.
    0
  • TechyInAZ
    Nice boards!! I love the gigabyte model but I like asus more because yellow heatsinks just don't fit in my opinion.
    0
  • Memnarchon
    Anonymous said:
    Anonymous 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
  • ssdpro
    Quote:
    Anonymous 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
  • ssdpro
    Quote:
    Anonymous 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.
    0
  • bigshootr8
    Anonymous said:
    Quote:
    Anonymous 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.
    0
  • Chris Droste
    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
  • Crashman
    Anonymous said:
    Anonymous said:
    Anonymous 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.


    Anonymous said:
    Quote:
    Anonymous 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.
    0
  • SoupRice
    i just built this Z97-A with i7 4790k running smoothly
    0
  • Memnarchon
    Anonymous 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...
    0
  • vertexx
    Crash, really nice article. Obviously a ton of work went into this one. Well done.
    0
  • g-unit1111
    No EVGA boards? I'd like to see how the Z97 Classified, Stinger, and FTW models compare to the competition.
    0
  • Crashman
    Anonymous 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