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

Gigabyte Z97X-UD5H

Gigabyte packs its Z97X-UD5H with the dual networking controllers and six USB 3.0 ports of ASRock’s competing sample, plus the two USB 2.0 ports and VGA output of Asus’ board. How?

Though it probably has most of the features I'd personally use, the Z97X-UD5H is missing ASRock’s eSATA and I/O panel-based CLR_CMOS buttons, as well as the DiplayPort output both competitors expose. Gigabyte still manages to fill more space compared to Asus, though that company's second network connector is wireless. Keeping the balance of features in mind, Gigabyte also prices its Z97X-UD5H between the aforementioned competition.

The Z97X-UD5H is a completely different kind of product internally though, primarily because of its triple-graphics-optimized PCIe x16 slot configuration. Enthusiasts can switch between one card with 16-lane transfers, two with eight-lane links, or three cards in a x8-x4-x4 mode, all driven by the CPU's 16-lane controller at third-gen signaling rates. Though Nvidia precludes this configuration from three-way SLI compatibility, it works well in three-way CrossFire. AMD on Intel for the win?

Optimizing slots for CrossFire does have one disadvantage, though: any card placed into the third x16 interface kicks the middle slot into x4 mode. That’s something to keep in mind if you want to put something other than a graphics card there, especially since Nvidia dictates that you can't use x4 slots for SLI. Anyone with two GeForce cards will want to pretend that the Z97X-UD5H’s bottom slot isn’t even there. This is the same problem anyone buying ASRock's board faces if they decide to use the exclusive “Ultra M.2” feature, which borrows four PCIe 3.0 lanes. So, the debate between more graphics cards or faster storage begins here.

Keeping CrossFire in mind for the third slot, Gigabyte wisely omits bottom-edge USB 3.0 headers. We instead find a single two-port header near the middle of the front edge—right behind the diagnostics code display—where accessibility remains uncompromised.

SATA Express cables use two of the Z97X-UD5H’s eight SATA 6Gb/s ports. As with the previous competitors in today’s round-up, those two ports are lost whenever an M.2-based drive is installed. Unlike the other two companies, though, Gigabyte saves a PCIe 2.0 pathway by putting two legacy PCI slots on a single-lane PCIe-to-PCI bridge.

A closer look at the controllers shows that Gigabyte saves one more PCIe lane by putting the second gigabit Ethernet port on Intel’s proprietary-interface network controller. Getting some of its resources from the Z97 PCH, this WGI217V PHY would normally be called a primary controller, except that Gigabyte reserves the honor for Qualcomm’s PCIe-based Killer E2201. Enthusiasts who utilize the firm’s packet prioritization technology will hail the move, while those who don’t are left wondering why Gigabyte chose a combination of dissimilar parts that doesn’t support teaming.

The corner in front of the DIMM slots is crowded with a bunch of tuner-friendly features, including a row of component voltage detection points, a power button for use without a case, a reset button for the freeze-ups caused by overzealous overclocking, a CLR_CMOS button to rid firmware of settings that won’t let it POST, a firmware ROM selector switch the helps power users get around corruptions, and a dual-BIOS mode selector that, from my experience, doesn’t. I leave that last capability turned off.

Gigabyte serves up the third motherboard in this round-up that includes only four SATA cables in spite of its large port count. That cost-saving move pushes value towards gaming enthusiasts by taking it away from storage enthusiasts, but perhaps the majority of storage enthusiasts have plenty of spare cables already?

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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