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Fast And Cheap? Five Sub-$160 Z87 Motherboards For Enthusiasts

Fast And Cheap? Five Sub-$160 Z87 Motherboards For Enthusiasts
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Intel’s Haswell architecture has mainstream leanings. And yet some of the motherboards out there are really high-end. Today we're looking at five platforms under the $160 mark that hopefully put some value back into being an enthusiast.

PC enthusiasts like myself expect a lot more from our systems than the industry's standard for basic computing. We want performance and an attractive price. Often, our expectations include overclocking as well, since dropping $1000 on Intel's fastest desktop processors simply isn't an option for most of us.

To that point, this passion of ours got a little more complicated when Intel decided to lock the ratio multipliers on its CPUs, and fundamentally remove BCLK frequency as a variable, and charge a premium for the handful of processors that can still be overclocked at all. The starting price on those is $220, by the way.

Fans of AMD's hardware have plenty of reasons to feel as though they've taken the high ground. It's only a shame that the company's best efforts fall so short of where Intel has been sitting for two years. Sadder still is when you take a look at AMD's roadmap and see a distinct lack of FX-series parts beyond Vishera.

Along the way, enthusiast-oriented motherboards crept up in price as we learned to push performance beyond what even those thousand-dollar CPUs can do, at the same time sucking down power and generating more taxing thermal loads. We tend to make up for that fact by expecting the other components to cost less. Graphics cards, SSDs, and memory all just get cheaper over time, right? It's no longer necessary to spend big bucks on a feature-complete motherboard to get the most out of CPUs. Nowadays, it's pretty normal to spend more on your processor than the platform that supports it.

And so we have five motherboards under $160 that support Intel's LGA 1150-based chips built on the Haswell architecture.

  ASRock Z87
Extreme4
Asus
Z87-Plus
Biostar
Hi-Fi Z87X 3D
Gigabyte
Z87X-UD3H
MSI Z87-G45
Gaming
PCB Revision1.061.025.01.01.2
ChipsetIntel Z87 ExpressIntel Z87 ExpressIntel Z87 ExpressIntel Z87 ExpressIntel Z87 Express
Voltage Regulator12 PhasesEight Phases12 PhasesEight PhasesEight Phases
BIOSP1.90 (06/24/2013)1204 (06/21/2013)Z87CF523.BST (5/23/2013)F5 (05/16/2013)V1.3 (06/19/2013)
100.0 MHz BCLK100.60 (+0.60%)99.94 (-0.06%)100.00 (-0.00%)99.77 (-0.23%)100.13 (+0.13%)
I/O Panel Connectors
P/S 211111
USB 3.046264
USB 2.02None4None2
Network11111
eSATA1 (Shared w/SATA)NoneNone2 (Shared w/SATA)None
CLR_CMOS ButtonNoneNoneNoneNoneYes
Digital Audio OutOpticalOpticalNone (HDMI-only)OpticalOptical + Coaxial
Digital Audio InNoneNoneNoneNoneNone
Analog Audio56666
Video OutVGA, DVI-D, DisplayPort, HDMIMini DisplayPort, HDMI, VGA, DVI-DVGA, DVI-D, HDMIVGA, DVI-D, HDMI, DisplayPortVGA, DVI-D, HDMI
Other DevicesHDMI-In (Pass-through)NoneNoneNoneNone
Internal Interfaces
PCIe 3.0 x163 (x16/x0/x0, x8/x8/x0, x8/x4/x4)2 (x16/x0, x8/x8)2 (x16/x0, x8/x8)2 (x16/x0, x8/x8)3 (x16/x0/x0, x8/x8/x0, x8/x4/x4)
PCIe 2.0 x16None1 (x2 transfers)1 (x4 transfers)1 (x4, shared w/2 x1)None
PCIe 2.0 x12233 (2 shared w/x4)4
USB 3.02 (4-ports) +1 Port1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)2 (4-ports)1 (2-ports)
USB 2.03 (6-ports)4 (8-ports)2 (4-ports)3 (6-ports)3 (6-ports)
SATA 6Gb/s8 (1-shared w/eSATA)868 (2-shared w/eSATA)6 (1-shared w/mSATA)
4-Pin Fan26155
3-Pin Fan4None41None
FP-Audio11111
S/PDIF I/ONoneOutput OnlyOutput OnlyInput And OutputNone
Internal ButtonsPower, Reset, CLR_CMOSPower, DirectKey, MemOK, BIOS Flashback, TPU, EPUPower, ResetPower, Reset, CLR_CMOS, CMOS IC/Mode selectorsNone
Diagnostics PanelNumericNoneNumericNumericNone
Other DevicesDual PCI, Serial, CIRTPM, SerialSerial, CIRTPM, Serial, PCImSATA, TPM, Serial
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA6 x SATA 6Gb/s6 x SATA 6Gb/s6 x SATA 6Gb/s6 x SATA 6Gb/s6 x SATA 6Gb/s
Chipset RAID Modes0, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 10
Add-In SATAASM1061 PCIe
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
1 x eSATA 6Gb/s
ASM1061 PCIe
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
None88SE9172 PCIe
2 x SATA 6Gb/s or
2 x eSATA 6Gb/s
None
USB 3.0ASM1074 Hub (4-ports)ASM1074 Hub (4-ports)None2 x PD720210 Hub
(8-ports)
None
Networking
Primary LANWGI217V PHYWGI217V PHY8111F PCIeWGI217V PHYKiller E2205 PCIe
Secondary LANNoneNoneNoneNoneNone
Wi-FiNoneNoneNoneNoneNone
BluetoothNoneNoneNoneNoneNone
Audio
HD Audio CodecALC1150ALC892ALC898ALC898ALC1150
DDL/DTS ConnectDTS ConnectDTS ConnectNoneNoneNone
WarrantyThree YearsThree YearsThree YearsThree YearsThree Years

Intel might charge a premium for the privilege of owning an overclockable processor, but the company at least deserves credit for exposing enthusiast-class features on mainstream motherboards. With the introduction of its Z87 Express Platform Controller Hub, you get SATA 6Gb/s transfer rates on all six ports, a full battery of six USB 3.0 ports without a bunch of motherboard-down controllers, and an integrated PCI Express controller that supports three links without the need for expensive switches.

All of that saves you, oh, somewhere around $20 in cost, we're estimating. So, this round-up's $160 price cap should be comparable to the $180 boards from the previous generation. So, let's see if mainstream Haswell offers us anything more attractive than the higher-end segment.

Display 53 Comments.
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Top Comments
  • 14 Hide
    InvalidError , August 13, 2013 9:53 PM
    The sad things about "exposing enthusiast features" on z87:
    1- the x8x4x4 PCIe controller is a CPU feature in all i5 and i7. All the z*7 chipset does is unlock the CPU feature
    2- same goes for multipliers on K-chips: CPU feature locked out by non-z*7 chipsets
    3- SATA-6G ports do not really cost Intel any thing extra to put on-chip (little more than a PLL tweak to lock on faster signals), which makes it somewhat of a shame they aren't fully standard
    4- USB3 ports do not cost Intel all that much extra either - maybe an extra square millimeter on silicon to upgrade all remaining USB2 ports to USB3
    5- the DMI bus can only manage ~20Gbps so it will bottleneck if you attempt to use even 1/5th the total the connectivity available on z87

    More connectivity, yes. But DMI lacks the muscle to actually stress that extra IO. As such, it is little more than a glorified SATA port replicator and USB hub.

    I almost exclusively use Intel CPUs but it still annoys me how Intel charges extra for trivial things or unlock stuff they arbitrarily locked out just because they can.
Other Comments
  • 14 Hide
    InvalidError , August 13, 2013 9:53 PM
    The sad things about "exposing enthusiast features" on z87:
    1- the x8x4x4 PCIe controller is a CPU feature in all i5 and i7. All the z*7 chipset does is unlock the CPU feature
    2- same goes for multipliers on K-chips: CPU feature locked out by non-z*7 chipsets
    3- SATA-6G ports do not really cost Intel any thing extra to put on-chip (little more than a PLL tweak to lock on faster signals), which makes it somewhat of a shame they aren't fully standard
    4- USB3 ports do not cost Intel all that much extra either - maybe an extra square millimeter on silicon to upgrade all remaining USB2 ports to USB3
    5- the DMI bus can only manage ~20Gbps so it will bottleneck if you attempt to use even 1/5th the total the connectivity available on z87

    More connectivity, yes. But DMI lacks the muscle to actually stress that extra IO. As such, it is little more than a glorified SATA port replicator and USB hub.

    I almost exclusively use Intel CPUs but it still annoys me how Intel charges extra for trivial things or unlock stuff they arbitrarily locked out just because they can.
  • 2 Hide
    Crashman , August 13, 2013 10:24 PM
    Quote:
    The sad things about "exposing enthusiast features" on z87:
    1- the x8x4x4 PCIe controller is a CPU feature in all i5 and i7. All the z*7 chipset does is unlock the CPU feature
    2- same goes for multipliers on K-chips: CPU feature locked out by non-z*7 chipsets
    3- SATA-6G ports do not really cost Intel any thing extra to put on-chip (little more than a PLL tweak to lock on faster signals), which makes it somewhat of a shame they aren't fully standard
    4- USB3 ports do not cost Intel all that much extra either - maybe an extra square millimeter on silicon to upgrade all remaining USB2 ports to USB3
    5- the DMI bus can only manage ~20Gbps so it will bottleneck if you attempt to use even 1/5th the total the connectivity available on z87

    More connectivity, yes. But DMI lacks the muscle to actually stress that extra IO. As such, it is little more than a glorified SATA port replicator and USB hub.

    I almost exclusively use Intel CPUs but it still annoys me how Intel charges extra for trivial things or unlock stuff they arbitrarily locked out just because they can.
    It still saves motherboard makers a lot of money when they don't need to add all those controllers. And it frees up some of those x1 slots. Remember that most users don't use "everything at once" to fill up the DMI, so having the x1 slots available rather than consumed by onboard devices adds flexibility to a build.

    In other words, they might be charging for stuff that should be free or should have been included all the way back in the Z68, but past omission doesn't negate current usefullness.

  • 1 Hide
    DookieDraws , August 13, 2013 10:54 PM
    I am planning a new Haswell build, soon, and I really appreciate the the effort put into this review. Very helpful!

    The market is flooded with tons of these Z87 motherboards and it can be very overwhelming researching them. So, hopefully we'll see a few more Z87 reviews from you guys, soon.

    Would also like to see some powerful i7 builds built around more energy efficient components. That would be very interesting. Hint. :) 
  • 0 Hide
    Novuake , August 13, 2013 11:06 PM
    Well FINALLY! A round-up! Now to reading...
  • 0 Hide
    Novuake , August 13, 2013 11:12 PM
    Yeah, I would not be caught dead with a Biostar board. Booo... Interesting that the G45 did not overclock to well, they are usually not the best OCers due to low cost VRMs, thought this would change with Haswell. Hmmm...
  • 8 Hide
    axehead15 , August 14, 2013 4:43 AM
    I really think that ASRock has taken a lot of steps to put the naysayers to rest. The amount of features that is on these boards for the cost is incredible.

    Rather surprised that Biostar had such a good board. Maybe it's time to start considering those boards for future builds.
  • 0 Hide
    JPNpower , August 14, 2013 5:50 AM
    Can anybody tell me the true difference between the Asus Z87-A and Z-87 plus, without all the marketing hogwash? I'm confused what the difference is. (woth say $15 extra for the plus?)
  • 0 Hide
    ruisdb , August 14, 2013 6:14 AM
    Can any one comment on the quality of the onboard RAID?
  • 3 Hide
    vertexx , August 14, 2013 6:27 AM
    Trying to pick a winner based strictly on the numbers - tough when the measured numbers have been commoditized to the extent they have. Funny to give in on ASRock based on a temporary price break. I think the feature-set vs. value helps ASRock stand on it's own. I really think there is a good target audience for each of these boards. Pulling that out would be a great analysis.

    It is great to see a round-up of the mainstream boards, though, so thanks!
  • 5 Hide
    InvalidError , August 14, 2013 7:03 AM
    Quote:
    It still saves motherboard makers a lot of money when they don't need to add all those controllers. And it frees up some of those x1 slots. Remember that most users don't use "everything at once" to fill up the DMI, so having the x1 slots available rather than consumed by onboard devices adds flexibility to a build.

    Most users don't have enough such devices to fill every port in the first place (how many people need more than two upper-tier SSDs?) but those who might actually "need" and use 6xSATA-6G would be people wanting to do things like RAID0/1/5 with 3-6x SSDs. At 6x SSDs, we would be looking at ~25Gbps peak not counting GbE, USB3 or PCIe devices on the 8x 2.0 lanes.

    Still does not change the fact that the only reason why Intel gets away with charging $10-15 extra for less than $1 worth of features while the DMI bus lacks the bandwidth to properly support them for people who may actually intend to use them is because they have a practical monopoly which allows them to arbitrarily fragment the market so they can artificially inflate prices.

    The main reason most people go with z?7 is the overclock unlock for K-chips. That itself is the biggest joke since it is a completely artificial limitation Intel engineered into their products to enforce co-upselling. As shown with the h87 slip-up, the h87 is perfectly capable of managing multipliers on Haswell K-chips when the K-chip lacks the microcode to enforce the z87 unlock "requirement."

    I don't bother with overclocking so this does not affect me... but it still annoys me on the basis of principles and general dislike for hair-splitting for profit.
  • 1 Hide
    NinjaNerd56 , August 14, 2013 7:54 AM
    Very well done. I've typically used GigaByte and MSI for my builds, and had excellent results.

    I'm about to build a new gaming box, and I'll consider the 'winners' in the article when I'm shopping. While price is not a big driver for me, I'll see if ASRock stays true.
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , August 14, 2013 8:55 AM
    I run RAID1 for my data drives, so I'd like to have more than the two Intel-based SATA 6Gb/s ports that Z77 offers so I can have them and my boot drive on Intel controllers. It isn't enough to justify a $450 upgrade though (CPU+Mobo+Windows).
  • 1 Hide
    g-unit1111 , August 14, 2013 11:34 AM
    Wow, lots of good boards here. I'm amazed that the Biostar put out a product that's got lots of bang for the buck.
  • 0 Hide
    Novuake , August 14, 2013 11:42 AM
    Quote:
    Wow, lots of good boards here. I'm amazed that the Biostar put out a product that's got lots of bang for the buck.


    Instead of just cheap, you mean? :D 
  • 1 Hide
    JPNpower , August 14, 2013 2:01 PM
    Onus, I'd doubt you need more SATA 3 ports. SATA2 is more than adequate for mechanical drives.
  • 0 Hide
    vertexx , August 14, 2013 2:17 PM
    Just find this interesting... Number of LGA 1150 ATX Motherboard Models on Newegg:

    ASUS - 16
    ASRock - 10
    Gigabyte - 11
    MSI - 8
    ECS - 3
    Biostar - 2

    How in the heck does marketing sort out product definition for 16 models, all for the same form factor?
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , August 14, 2013 2:19 PM
    That is true, but since they're paired, I want them on the same-speed port. I also have a backup drive and an optical drive; just need to move a few things around a little.
  • 1 Hide
    Ian Mahaney , August 14, 2013 2:57 PM
    I would like to see a Micro ATX version of this article for those of us with smaller enthusiast builds.
  • 0 Hide
    JPNpower , August 14, 2013 3:29 PM
    I'd just invest in PCI based SATA ports. SATA controller?

    ANYWAY, your choice

    Spend a lot for a single issue fix

    Spend a lot more for a new layout with superior everything and future proof for next gen CPUs.

    Spend nothing, stop whining and deal with it.
  • 0 Hide
    POgli , August 14, 2013 9:12 PM
    I am planning to buy the extreme 4 for my next build. I was wondering how ASRock managed to create an appealing board cheaper than the competitors. Are the components used by them of inferior quality if compared to MSI, ASUS and Gigabyte or are the later charging a premium for their names? Or is it ASRock strategy to get market share?
    Thanks
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