Intel Z97 Express: Five Enthusiast Motherboards, $120 To $160

L337 Gaming Z97-Machine

ECS' marketing team is getting pretty good at using terminology familiar to gamers of the past, rebranding its game-centric product line under the L337 Gaming banner. Today’s candidate, the Z97-Machine, represents the value-oriented starting point of that family.

Gone are the stenciled-on Port 80 displays of the past, replaced with actual functioning parts. The firm doesn’t bundle in a bunch of third-party controllers, but instead focuses on the things that Z97 does best: one graphics card in a x16 link or two on a pair of x8 slots, M.2 without the new SATA Express cable interface, and USB 3.0 via four I/O panel ports and a front-panel header.

ECS even fills out the I/O panel with four additional USB 2.0 ports, and backs the GbE port with Intel’s i218V controller.

ECS doesn’t surprise neophytes by killing off two SATA ports when an M.2 module gets installed. Instead, the Z97-Machine dedicates two of the chipset’s six ports to M.2 and leaves only four SATA 6Gb/s cable headers.

The firm also gets rid of the slot beneath the top graphics card, because its designers know that slot become inaccessible anyway once a typical dual-slot graphics card is installed. We’re glad someone finally figured that out, though we’re not sure where three of the chipset’s eight lanes went.

ECS doesn’t offer builders a crippled bottom slot; the Z97-Machine doesn’t even have a bottom slot. A x1 link might have been nice. But designers instead placed voltage detection points and part of the Port 80 display there.

Noticing that, I went in search of other things that might be missing, but only came across the scarcity of USB 2.0 internal headers. Builders get two front-panel USB 3.0 and two front-panel USB 2.0 ports, and any bay panel devices they might have added should probably be scratched from the build sheet.

Assuming you’re going to build a simple performance machine and aren’t afraid of being ganked by the packaging, the Z97-Machine might be a great choice The only thing missing from the box was an SLI bridge, but we’re asking ECS to fix that little oversight.

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  • The table detailing the motherboard features on page 1 ... Is it just me, or is the text a bit small?
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  • Quote:
    The table detailing the motherboard features on page 1 ... Is it just me, or is the text a bit small?

    I find it small
    3
  • I'd like to see a review on the significance of the 'killer' NICs... I highly doubt they have any difference besides branding.
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  • so intel it seems doesn't have much faith in their own thunderbolt considering there is no thunderbolt ports on this new chipset!
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  • The Asrock one is better. Not everyone will be using XSplit, and as tradesman1 (a moderator on this site) said "I myself won't touch MSI mobos due to the poor QC".
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  • SteelCity1981 said:
    so intel it seems doesn't have much faith in their own thunderbolt considering there is no thunderbolt ports on this new chipset!
    READ PAGE ONE to find out why this chipset has the same features as the previous chipset.
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  • Good review :) I am looking forward to the best price:features motherboard review though (extreme6). I have a quick question crashman: Do asrock still use Capxxon caps (or just crappy caps in general). I would like to know the company of the caps if possible, once again, thank you :)
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  • H4X3R said:
    Good review :) I am looking forward to the best price:features motherboard review though (extreme6). I have a quick question crashman: Do asrock still use Capxxon caps (or just crappy caps in general). I would like to know the company of the caps if possible, once again, thank you :)
    I wish I knew. It appears that they get their caps custom-wrapped to get the gold color, and that the custom wrapping only has specifications (no branding).
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  • Quote:
    I'd like to see a review on the significance of the 'killer' NICs... I highly doubt they have any difference besides branding.


    Not exactly the most comprehensive review, but here is Asus' take on NICs: http://rog.asus.com/312772014/labels/guides/tried-and-tested-why-intel-ethernet-is-still-better-for-gaming/
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  • Of course, they're testing throughput, and latency is what is generally considered to matter.
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  • Quote:
    Of course, they're testing throughput, and latency is what is generally considered to matter.

    Latency is down the bottom of the page if you didn't realise.
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  • Hmm, I missed that.

    It looks like they're testing at 10Mb/s though, which sort of invalidates all the latency results.
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  • Z97-Z in the last paragraph on page 5 (should be Z97-A).
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  • I am upgrading my 965BE this week to a 4770k. Looking at the MSI Gaming 3 what does evryone think? i am keeping my SSD HDD and Saphire HD6950 for now. Any suggestions for a Z97 board under $180
    -1
  • dooooooo the itx test :) everyone want small cages now. asrocks have better value better power and better desing!
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  • Usually when games are tested on motherboards the results are virtually identical. Strange that the MSI board came up as far ahead as it did in this case. Any ideas on why this happened Crash?
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  • I wish I knew. It appears that they get their caps custom-wrapped to get the gold color, and that the custom wrapping only has specifications (no branding).


    Well, then i guess i'll have to hunt that info down because i do not like investing in mobos with cheap components, no matter how many features it has.
    -1
  • I had to replace a cap on a cheap ASRock mobo that I knocked off myself with too-aggressive cable management. What appeared to be an exact replacement was a Nichycon, which is a good Japanese brand.
    As to MSI, I wouldn't touch their cheap boards, but their Z77A-GD65 Gaming board really surprised me over how nice it is, and how cool the VRMs stay under load. If my primary were full ATX, I'd be using it there.
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  • After reading about the total mess that is adding SATA Xpress and M2 to a chipset starving for PCIe lanes, my upgraditis will wait for Haswell-E and X99. X97 feels like a notebook chipset.
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  • Great Review! MSI should be better than Asrock but then again Asrock price is pretty damn good!
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