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

Five Z97 Express Motherboards, $160 To $220, Reviewed
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Intel’s “mainstream” socket continues to spawn enthusiast parts with the company’s fastest-ever gaming-oriented CPU. You’ll probably want a feature-packed motherboard for that, and five companies stepped up to show off the best of the sub-$220 segment.

As enthusiasts, when we pay more, we want to get more. That's not too much to ask, right? That principle certainly applies to the high-end motherboards in today’s round-up. For example, we find a second Ethernet controller on four of the five solutions. They all sport add-on storage controllers. And all but one also include expanded USB 3.0 capabilities beyond the Z97’s paltry six ports.

Three of today’s contenders even spread PCIe 3.0 connectivity across three slots for improved triple-card CrossFire performance (even if none of the board's in our story are quite pricey enough to include the extra bridge logic needed to make them three-way SLI-compatible).

Well, that’s something at least.

We also expect the best possible overclocking performance in this price range, so we’ll test that out using Intel’s new “Devil’s Canyon” Core i7-4790K. Which board can take home the prize?

Z97 Mainstream Motherboard Features
 ASRock Z97
Extreme6
Asus
Z97-Pro(Wi-Fi ac)
Gigabyte
Z97X-UD5H
MSI
Z97 MPower
Supermicro
C7Z97-OCE
PCB Revision1.021.011.01.01.01A
ChipsetIntel Z97 ExpressIntel Z97 ExpressIntel Z97 ExpressIntel Z97 ExpressIntel Z97 Express
Voltage Regulator12 Phases10 Phases12 Phases12 PhasesSix Phases
BIOSP1.33 (06/12/2014)1204 (06/17/2014)F8 (06/17/2014)V1.3 (06/18/2014)1.0b (06/27/2014)
100.0 MHz BCLK99.94 (-0.06%)99.98 (-0.02%)99.98 (-0.02%)100.01 (+0.01%)99.84 (-0.16%)
I/O Panel Connectors
P/S 211111
USB 3.064664
USB 2.0None2222
Network21212
CLR_CMOS Button1NoneNone1None
Digital Audio OutOpticalOpticalOpticalOpticalOptical
Digital Audio InNoneNoneNoneNoneNone
Analog Audio56565
Video OutDVI-I, DisplayPort, HDMIHDMI, DisplayPort, VGA, DVI-IVGA, DVI-D, HDMIHDMI, DisplayPortVGA, DVI-D, DisplayPort, HDMI
Other DeviceseSATAWi-Fi antenna connectorsNoneNoneNone
Internal Interfaces
PCIe 3.0 x162 (x16/x0,  x8/x8, x8/x4/M.2)2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)3 (x16/x0/x0, x8/x8/x0, x8/x4/x4)3 (x16/x0/x0, x8/x8/x0, x8/x4/x4)3 (x16/x0/x0, x8/x8/x0, x8/x4/x4)
PCIe 2.0 x161 (2-pathways)1 (4-lanes, shared below)None1 (4-lanes, shared below) 
PCIe 2.0 x12 (sharing 1x mini PCIe)4 (2 shared w/slot above)23 (All shared w/x4 above)3 (x4-length open-ended)
USB 3.02 (4-ports)2 (4-ports, shared PCIe)1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)
USB 2.02 (4-ports)2 (4-ports)2 (4-ports)2 (4-ports)2 (4-ports)
SATA 6.0 Gb/s10 (Shares M.2, SATA-E)8 (Shares M.2/SATA-E)8 (Shares M.2/SATA-E)8 (Shares M.2)6
SATA Express1 (Uses 2x SATA)1 (Uses 2x SATA)1 (Uses 2x SATA)1x M.2 AdapterNone
4-Pin Fan26555
3-Pin Fan4None1NoneNone
FP-Audio11111
S/PDIF I/ONoneOutput OnlyOutput OnlyNoneOutput Only
Internal ButtonsPower, ResetMemOK, Power, BIOS_FLBKPower, Reset, CLR_CMOSPower, Reset, OC-Genie, BCLK+, BCLK-, Go2BiosOC mode (5), CLR_CMOS, BIOS Restore, Power
Internal SwitchBIOS IC SelectorEPU, TPU, EZ XMPDual BIOS Mode, BIOS IC selectorOC-Mode, Slow-Mode, BIOS SelectorBIOS Recovery
Diagnostics PanelNumericNumericNumericNumericNumeric
Other DevicesM.2 (Shares SATA-E), Ultra M.2 (Uses 4x PCIe 3.0), USB Port, Serial COM portM.2 (Shares SATA-E), TB_HeaderM.2 (Shares SATA-E), 2x PCI, Serial COM portM.2 (Sub 2x SATA)Serial COM port
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA6x SATA 6Gb/s
(Includes M.2)
6x SATA 6Gb/s
(Includes M.2/SATA-E)
6x SATA 6Gb/s
(Includes M.2, SATA-E)
6x SATA 6Gb/s
(Includes M.2)
4x SATA 6Gb/s
1x M.2
Chipset RAID Modes0, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 10
Add-In SATA2x ASM1061 PCIe
4x SATA 6Gb/s
1x eSATA (Shared)
ASM1061 PCIe
2x SATA 6Gb/s
88SE9172 PCIe
2x SATA 6Gb/s
ASM1061 PCIe
2x SATA 6Gb/s
ASM1061 PCIe
2x SATA 6Gb/s
USB 3.0ASM1042AE PCIe
ASM1074 hub
ASM1042AE PCIeuPD720210 PCIeASM1074 HubZ97 Integrated Only
Networking
Primary LANWGI218V PHYWGI218V PHYKiller E2201 PCIeWGI218V PHYWGI217V PHY
Secondary LANRTL8111GR PCIeNoneWGI217V PHYNoneWGI210AT PCIe
Wi-FiNoneBCM4352 PCIe BT-combo
802.11ac 2-band 867 Mb/s
NoneNoneNone
BluetoothNoneBCM4352 combo, aboveNoneNoneNone
Audio
HD Audio CodecALC1150ALC1150ALC1150ALC1150ALC1150
DDL/DTS ConnectDTS ConnectDTS ConnectNoneNoneNone
WarrantyThree YearsThree YearsThree YearsThree YearsThree Years
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  • 0 Hide
    Memnarchon , August 14, 2014 12:39 AM
    At this price Asus could send a ROG product (Maximus VII Hero). I wonder why they choose to send the Z97-Pro instead...
  • 1 Hide
    bigshootr8 , August 14, 2014 12:48 AM
    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
  • -1 Hide
    bigshootr8 , August 14, 2014 12:51 AM
    -snip- duplicate post silly tomshardware.
  • 1 Hide
    Drejeck , August 14, 2014 4:40 AM
    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 Hide
    mapesdhs , August 14, 2014 6:22 AM

    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.

  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , August 14, 2014 8:33 AM
    Quote:
    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?

  • 0 Hide
    lp231 , August 14, 2014 9:11 AM
    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 Hide
    g-unit1111 , August 14, 2014 9:16 AM
    I have a Z97 Extreme 6, it's a very nice board and it's definitely worthy of the approval award.
  • 0 Hide
    TechyInAZ , August 14, 2014 12:18 PM
    Nice boards!! I love the gigabyte model but I like asus more because yellow heatsinks just don't fit in my opinion.
  • 0 Hide
    Memnarchon , August 14, 2014 1:57 PM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    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 Hide
    ssdpro , August 14, 2014 4:28 PM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    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.
  • 0 Hide
    ssdpro , August 14, 2014 4:31 PM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    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 Hide
    bigshootr8 , August 14, 2014 4:35 PM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    Quote:
    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 Hide
    Chris Droste , August 14, 2014 5:59 PM
    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 Hide
    Crashman , August 14, 2014 6:20 PM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    Quote:
    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.


    Quote:
    Quote:
    Quote:
    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 Hide
    SoupRice , August 14, 2014 8:14 PM
    i just built this Z97-A with i7 4790k running smoothly
  • 0 Hide
    Memnarchon , August 15, 2014 4:47 AM
    Quote:
    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 Hide
    vertexx , August 15, 2014 6:40 PM
    Crash, really nice article. Obviously a ton of work went into this one. Well done.
  • 0 Hide
    g-unit1111 , August 15, 2014 11:17 PM
    No EVGA boards? I'd like to see how the Z97 Classified, Stinger, and FTW models compare to the competition.
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , August 16, 2014 2:40 AM
    Quote:
    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.
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