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

Test Hardware And Benchmark Configurations

Test System Configuration
CPUIntel Core i7-4790 (Haswell): 3.6 to 4 GHz, 8 MB Shared L3 Cache, LGA 1150
CPU CoolerThermalright MUX-120 w/Zalman ZM-STG1 Paste
RAMPatriot Viper 3 PV316G240C1K (16 GB) at DDR3-1600 C9 Defaults
Corsair CMY32GX3M4A2800C12R  (32 GB) at XMP-2800 C12 Timings
GraphicsPowerColor PCS+ AXR9 290X 4GBD5-PPDHE: 1050 MHz GPU, 4 GB GDDR5-5400
Hard DriveSamsung 840 Pro MZ-7PD256, 256 GB SSD
SoundIntegrated HD Audio
NetworkIntegrated Gigabit Networking
PowerCorsair AX860i: ATX12V v2.3, EPS12V, 80 PLUS Platinum
Software
OSMicrosoft Windows 8 Professional RTM x64
GraphicsAMD Catalyst 14.4
ChipsetIntel INF 10.0.13

After seeing a broad number of memory stability complaints surrounding a motherboard that previously won one of our awards, we decided to up the stress level of our overclocking test to include a four-pack of DDR3-2800 8 GB modules.

Those modules default to DDR3-1333 though, and enabling XMP still causes some boards to stealthily apply a CPU overclock at the same time. To keep things fair in benchmarks, we wanted to run those tests at our minimum-recommended DDR3-1600 CAS 9 default. The only 8 GB DIMMs we had that could do that came from Patriot’s PV332G240C1QK 32 GB DDR3-2400 kit.

That kit magically transforms into Patriot’s 16 GB dual-channel part number PV316G240C1K by simply removing two of its modules.

PowerColor’s overclocked PCS+ AXR9 290X provides all the performance we need to extract maximum performance from the rest of the platform.

Benchmark Settings
3D Games
Battlefield 4Version 1.0.0.1, DirectX 11, 100-sec. Fraps "Tashgar"
Test Set 1: Medium Quality Preset, No AA, 4X AF, SSAO
Test Set 2: Ultra Quality Preset,  4X MSAA, 16X AF, HBAO
Grid 2 Version 1.0.85.8679, Direct X 11, Built-in Benchmark
Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA
Test Set 2: Ultra Quality, 8x MSAA
Arma 3Version 1.08.113494, 30-sec. Fraps "Infantry Showcase"
Test Set 1: Standard Preset, No AA, Standard AF
Test Set 2: Ultra Preset, 8x FSAA, Ultra AF
Far Cry 3 V. 1.04, DirectX 11, 50-sec. Fraps "Amanaki Outpost"
Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA, Standard ATC, SSAO
Test Set 2: Ultra Quality, 4x MSAA, Enhanced ATC, HDAO
Adobe Creative Suite
Adobe After Effects CCVersion 12.0.0.404: Create Video which includes 3 Streams, 210 Frames, Render Multiple Frames Simultaneously
Adobe Photoshop CCVersion 14.0 x64: Filter 15.7 MB TIF Image: Radial Blur, Shape Blur, Median, Polar Coordinates
Adobe Premeire Pro CCVersion 7.0.0 (342), 6.61 GB MXF Project to H.264 to H.264 Blu-ray, Output 1920x1080, Maximum Quality
Audio/Video Encoding
iTunesVersion 11.0.4.4 x64: Audio CD (Terminator II SE), 53 minutes, default AAC format 
LAME MP3Version 3.98.3: Audio CD "Terminator II SE", 53 min, convert WAV to MP3 audio format, Command: -b 160 --nores (160 Kb/s)
HandBrake CLIVersion: 0.99: Video from Canon Eos 7D (1920x1080, 25 FPS) 1 Minutes 22 Seconds
Audio: PCM-S16, 48,000 Hz, Two-channel, to Video: AVC1 Audio: AAC (High Profile)
TotalCode Studio 2.5Version: 2.5.0.10677: MPEG-2 to H.264, MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG-2), Audio: MPEG-2 (44.1 kHz, 2 Channel, 16-Bit, 224 Kb/s), Codec: H.264 Pro, Mode: PAL 50i (25 FPS), Profile: H.264 BD HDMV
Productivity
ABBYY FineReaderVersion 10.0.102.95: Read PDF save to Doc, Source: Political Economy (J. Broadhurst 1842) 111 Pages
Adobe Acrobat 11Version 11.0.0.379: Print PDF from 115 Page PowerPoint, 128-bit RC4 Encryption
Autodesk 3ds Max 2013Version 15.0 x64: Space Flyby Mentalray, 248 Frames, 1440x1080
BlenderVersion: 2.68A, Cycles Engine, Syntax blender -b thg.blend -f 1, 1920x1080, 8x Anti-Aliasing, Render THG.blend frame 1
Visual Studio 2010Version 10.0, Compile Google Chrome, Scripted
File Compression
WinZipVersion 18.0 Pro: THG-Workload (1.3 GB) to ZIP, command line switches "-a -ez -p -r"
WinRARVersion 5.0: THG-Workload (1.3 GB) to RAR, command line switches "winrar a -r -m3"
7-ZipVersion 9.30 alpha (64-bit): THG-Workload (1.3 GB) to .7z, command line switches "a -t7z -r -m0=LZMA2 -mx=5"
Synthetic Benchmarks and Settings
3DMark 11Version: 1.0.5.0, Benchmark Only
3DMark ProfessionalVersion: 1.2.250.0 (64-bit), Fire Strike Benchmark
PCMark 8Version: 1.0.0 x64, Full Test
SiSoftware SandraVersion 2014.02.20.10, CPU Test = CPU Arithmetic / Multimedia / Cryptography, Memory Bandwidth Benchmarks
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67 comments
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  • onover
    The table detailing the motherboard features on page 1 ... Is it just me, or is the text a bit small?
    5
  • makishima
    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
  • Someone Somewhere
    I'd like to see a review on the significance of the 'killer' NICs... I highly doubt they have any difference besides branding.
    3
  • SteelCity1981
    so intel it seems doesn't have much faith in their own thunderbolt considering there is no thunderbolt ports on this new chipset!
    0
  • H4X3R
    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".
    0
  • Crashman
    Anonymous 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.
    0
  • H4X3R
    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 :)
    0
  • Crashman
    Anonymous 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).
    0
  • tarkhein
    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/
    0
  • Someone Somewhere
    Of course, they're testing throughput, and latency is what is generally considered to matter.
    0
  • tarkhein
    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.
    0
  • Someone Somewhere
    Hmm, I missed that.

    It looks like they're testing at 10Mb/s though, which sort of invalidates all the latency results.
    0
  • ubercake
    Z97-Z in the last paragraph on page 5 (should be Z97-A).
    0
  • airborn824
    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
  • Amdlova
    dooooooo the itx test :) everyone want small cages now. asrocks have better value better power and better desing!
    1
  • sincreator
    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?
    0
  • H4X3R
    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
  • Onus
    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.
    1
  • geok1ng
    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.
    0
  • palitusa
    Great Review! MSI should be better than Asrock but then again Asrock price is pretty damn good!
    0