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

ASRock Z97 Extreme4

ASRock gives users interested in the latest drive interface their choice between M.2 or SATA-E though traditional chipset connections, and if you don't have a storage device compatible with either technology, you can get similar performance through a couple of SATA ports via RAID.

An ASM1042AE controller adds two USB 3.0 ports to the rear panel, bringing the total to six without sacrificing the chipset-driven USB 3.0 front-panel connector. Two USB 2.0 ports are also seen here, along with VGA, DVI-D, HDMI, and DisplayPort display outputs for the CPU’s integrated graphics engine.

Fed by Intel’s i218V PHY, the single GbE port provides connectivity without consuming a PCIe lane, thanks to the chipset’s dedicated networking link.

The Z97 Extreme4 also provides two additional SATA ports via a single-lane PCIe-based controller. Unfortunately, that one lane limits those two attached drives to 5 Gb/s combined throughput. And you’ll not likely use the third PCIe x16 slot for a storage device because it steals four of the CPU’s sixteen total lanes from the second slot when it's active.

If you were building a three-way CrossFire rig or simply adding three cards to support a wall of displays, you’d probably prefer that PCIe 3.0 x4 link to the PCIe 2.0 x4 interface that would have otherwise been available from the chipset. On the other hand, SLI users will find that they need the middle slot to keep all eight of its available pathways.

One of the Z97 Extreme4’s smarter features is a switch allows you to manually select one of two firmware ROMs, rather than relying on the often-unreliable “smart” switching certain competitors use. Better still, the use of socketed ROMs provides cheap insurance against dead ICs.

ASRock is particularly proud of the Z97 Extreme4’s “Purity Sound” audio solution with enhanced headphone amplification and DTS Connect support as well.

The Z97 Extreme4 includes only four SATA cables to serve its eight internal headers, but one potentially-nice added feature is its HDD-Saver cable. Using a bundled application, users can switch power on and off to their storage drives to increase drive longevity, save energy, or reduce noise when the devices aren’t being used.

A rigid SLI bridge is also provided.

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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