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

Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 5

The effect of the booming global PC gaming market has been so profound on Gigabyte that some of its motherboards now sport names similar to one of its competitors. Gigabyte shoots for a lower target price of $135, though a quick check on Newegg indicates that the board is actually going for $160 at press time.

Gigabyte doesn’t toss in a bunch of added drive controllers at that price, but it does fill out the I/O panel by supplementing the four native USB 3.0 ports with four native USB 2.0 ports.

Keeping with the gaming theme, the firm also puts a little extra money behind its GbE port with a Killer E2201 controller by Qualcomm.

Understanding that most gamers won't want to cut the middle x16 slot to x4 mode, Gigabyte wires the CPU’s sixteen lanes only to x16 slots 1 and 2. Like its competitors, that still makes x16-x0 and x8-x8 modes possible for one or two cards. But the third slot is a different animal: it’s PCIe 2.0-capable.

Only four of the chipset’s eight PCIe 2.0 lanes go to slots, and running a x4 (or greater) card in the bottom x16-length slot disables the three x1 slots. If you'd rather put a x1 card there, you can without sacrificing connectivity. That explains why the Z97X-Gaming 5 has an extra pair of PCIe pathway switches in the middle.

Two of the remaining PCIe pathways feed either the M.2 slot or an SATA Express cable, another lane hosts the network controller, and the final lane serves a PCIe to PCI bridge.

This is where I normally delve into layout features and problems, but, like the previously-described ASRock and Asus boards, Gigabyte's Z97X-Gaming 5 doesn’t advance layout in any significant way or present any issues. The front-panel audio connector is a little too close to the bottom-rear corner for the cables of some poorly-designed cases, but that potential snag is common to most of its competitors.

The Z97X-Gaming 5 installation kit includes a flexible SLI bridge, four SATA cables, an I/O shield and a case badge.

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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