Five Z87 Motherboards Under $220, Reviewed

ECS Z87H3-A2X Extreme

ECS’s $240 Z87-A2X Extreme “goes large” with features, adding a single-band USB-based 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth controller with its dual-gigabit Ethernet capability. But wait, isn’t this a sub-$220 round-up?

After initially disclosing a $220 MSRP, ECS decided to add a $50 game bundle to this board and increase its price by $20. That could be a bargain, depending on the titles, but would have also excluded this product from today’s round-up. Knowing that, ECS is applying a $20 temporary discount to the board. Thanks to the discount, June buyers get both the original $220 price and the promised game certificate.

Other I/O panel features include a CLR_CMOS button, dual eSATA, DisplayPort, and HDMI. Separate front and rear controllers make all four added-in SATA ports function simultaneously.

The Z87H3-A2X Extreme’s extra internal ports aren’t as noticeable as competing solutions, since one of its connectors is perpendicular to the motherboard and the other connects to an mSATA slot. With mSATA drives now exceeding 256 GB, builders who dislike drive cables can build without them, and expect fairly comparable performance.

Buyers who like on-board buttons will be thrilled with the Z87H3-A2X’s bottom-front corner, finding power, reset, boot-to-UEFI, overclocking profile, and diagnostics display mode switches next to a three-digit panel. The diagnostic ouput can display POST code, CPU TDP, CPU voltage, CPU wattage, or CPU MOS temperature readings.

A five-pin connector next to the DIMM slots is designed to hold volt meter probes for verifying CPU core, DIMM, PCH, and PCH I/O voltage levels. If we’ve learned anything about motherboard monitoring of DIMM voltage, it’s never to trust and always to verify.

ECS configures the Z87H3-A2X Extreme’s slots to support up to three-way graphics arrays, and even spaces its slots to allow a trio of double-space cards to fit within an ATX case’s seven spaces. These slots automatically switch from x16-x0-x0 to x8-x8-x0 and x8-x4-x4 transfer modes as the next long slot is filled. Though the bandwidth boost of PCIe 3.0 makes four-lane transfers acceptable to many builders, those who'd rather put a slower card in the third slot might be upset when the first slot drops to eight and the middle to four lanes. This is always going to be a tradeoff when only 16 third-gen lanes exist.

ECS places its USB 3.0 internal header along the motherboard’s bottom edge, which could have been a problem if its hadn’t moved all of the platform's PCIe slots further up on the board compared to competitors. The slot move is a great idea in my opinion, though I can imagine other reviewers are going to ask for more space around the DIMM latches.

Our only true layout concern is that the front-panel audio connector is tucked a little too far into the bottom rear corner for the reach of some front-panel cables. Our solution is to buy a better case.

Though I haven’t seen anyone get ganked since the second millennium, I was amused to find the term re-emerge in certain gaming and entertainment circles. ECS includes a full set of SATA cables, a flexible SLI bridge, and a Wi-Fi antenna inside the Z87H3-A2X Extreme's colorfully-named box.

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92 comments
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  • Someone Somewhere
    Who did you get the CPU from? Given the Haswell launch article said they were unlikely to be able to hit 4.5GHz+, is this a cherry-picked chip from Intel?
    Could we see some MBs around the $130-$140 mark? They're the interesting ones IMO, and would toast most of these in terms of value.
    0
  • Crashman
    Anonymous said:
    Who did you get the CPU from? Given the Haswell launch article said they were unlikely to be able to hit 4.5GHz+, is this a cherry-picked chip from Intel?
    Intel says it doesn't cherry-pick chips for reviewers...
    0
  • Memnarchon
    Thank you. I was looking forward for a review like this. I read some reviews and the o/c was varying from mobo to mobo lot. So if the same cpu was used, 4,3Ghz to 4,7Ghz is a lot of difference. Because if your cpu would o/c to 4,3Ghz most we would tell its a crap sample Haswell sucks on o/c etc etc, but if it was be able to clock to 4,7Ghz we would say its a nice sample.
    0
  • cangelini
    Anonymous said:
    Who did you get the CPU from? Given the Haswell launch article said they were unlikely to be able to hit 4.5GHz+, is this a cherry-picked chip from Intel?
    Could we see some MBs around the $130-$140 mark? They're the interesting ones IMO, and would toast most of these in terms of value.

    Yes, the CPU comes from Intel. Almost certainly it was cherry-picked. But this is why we didn't rely on these CPUs for our launch coverage--it makes a lot more sense to go to a source with hundreds of boxed processors on the bench to get a real sense for what Haswell will do in the wild. At least for this round-up, the variable changing is the motherboard. So, we derive as much meaning as possible with a review sample that hits 4.7 GHz on one board and 4.5 GHz on another.
    6
  • Someone Somewhere
    Yeah - but if people think that their chip is going to hit 4.7 on a good board, then find they can't get 4.5, they can be upset.

    OTOH, the launch coverage said that was at 1.2V, while this is 1.3V, so I guess a few hundred MHz extra is reasonable.

    Lot more variation than on IB's review: http://media.bestofmicro.com/X/O/335580/original/image019.png
    0
  • JOSHSKORN
    Isn't there a flaw in the Z87 technology regarding sleep mode? Was it mentioned in the article? I didn't see it.
    0
  • Jason Louie
    do these board suffer from the rumoured usb3 sleep issue? or are they the fixed B3 steppings ?
    -1
  • Crashman
    Anonymous said:
    Isn't there a flaw in the Z87 technology regarding sleep mode? Was it mentioned in the article? I didn't see it.
    Did you read the Haswell review? All current boards are affected, no future boards will be, there's nothing to update here, and the flaw is virtually meaningless.
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/core-i7-4770k-haswell-review,3521-9.html

    If you have one of the affected drives and can't be bothered to reconnect it when it goes offline, wait a couple weeks and buy a board from the new batch.

    The differences between boards in today's review are overclocking, power consumption, and onboard features. None of those things will change with the new PCH batch, and firmware updates should improve both batches equally.
    2
  • Jason Louie
    do these board suffer from the rumoured usb3 sleep issue? or are they the fixed B3 steppings ?
    -3
  • sna
    Hello,
    Can you guys please test 6 SSD in Raid 0 on these mobos ? this is the only Advantage of upgrading to a Haswell over ivy/sandy bridge.
    -3
  • Someone Somewhere
    Anonymous said:
    Hello,
    Can you guys please test 6 SSD in Raid 0 on these mobos ? this is the only Advantage of upgrading to a Haswell over ivy/sandy bridge.


    Haswell does have another pair of USB3.0 ports... I agree though, it's kind of disappointing.
    0
  • Tedders
    I bought the MSI board. The features looked good to me for what I wanted. I was really looking at the ASRock boards until I found that they only have a 1 year warranty.

    Edit: ASRock has a 3 year warranty as I see now. Still happy with my choice when looking around the interwebz and seeing how people seem to really like the MSI board.
    0
  • vmem
    ahh, the perfect review that I was looking for :)
    now only 2 things left to do:
    1. wait a few months to wait for the C2-revision to proliforate so that I don't have weird USB3.0 annoyance
    2. wait for a review on the high-end: z87 delux, sniper, M-power max, ROG extreme etc. just to see whether it's worth the price difference (at least to me )

    UPDATE:
    well, was hoping for slightly more out of MSI's gaming board, but it seems it can't fully satisfy the overclocker in me. still a damn nice board though. all in all it looks like once again ASUS and ASrock come out as the top players for this range. looking forward to seeing if a ROG Extreme is what I ultimately need/want :D
    0
  • slomo4sho
    Richland APUs were released and not a single article about it... Can you at least attempt to conceal the Intel bias on this site?
    -8
  • InvalidError
    Anonymous said:
    Can you guys please test 6 SSD in Raid 0 on these mobos ? this is the only Advantage of upgrading to a Haswell over ivy/sandy bridge.

    Since Haswell uses the same DMI2.0 bus between the CPU and chipset, total IO performance is capped to ~2GB/s... the equivalent of 4x USB3 ports or 3x SATA3 or one x4 PCIe 2.0 device.

    From what I read, the z77 and z87 chipsets are interchangeable - a motherboard manufacturer could pair z77 with Haswell or z87 with SB/IB if they wanted to. The main thing that prevented Intel from reusing LGA1155 is FIVR.
    2
  • cangelini
    Anonymous said:
    Richland APUs were released and not a single article about it... Can you at least attempt to conceal the Intel bias on this site?

    This is simply not true. Desktop Richland has not yet launched. Desktop Richland drops into FM2, just like Trinity. So, when it does launch, we can revisit the FM2 market to see if there's a reason for another round-up. In the meantime here's a round-up of motherboards that'll support Richland: http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/socket-fm2-motherboard-review,3337.html. Hope you enjoy!
    Chris
    1
  • Crashman
    Anonymous said:
    Hello,
    Can you guys please test 6 SSD in Raid 0 on these mobos ? this is the only Advantage of upgrading to a Haswell over ivy/sandy bridge.
    Check InvalidError's valid answer, this is also mentioned in the article. 6-way RAID 0 might be useful for HDD's (I'd go RAID 10), but SSD's will simply overwhelm the DMI.

    But most users (even in the enthusiast market) don't do that anyway. There are very few "storage enthusiasts" in the general "performance enthusiast" market. And for most of us, having more than two SATA 6Gb/s ports simply means our storage drives won't use up the SATA 6Gb/s port needed for our system drive.

    I'd still like to see our storage guy add this controller to his next big article :)
    0
  • Onus
    I agree with BigMack70; the new CPUs offer meaningless differences in actual use, but the motherboards certainly do, especially with their additional SATA 6Gb/s ports.
    It seems to me Asus teased something about a driver that would visually identify the location of sound sources on screen with [one of] their Z87 boards. Can you shed any light on this?
    0
  • slomo4sho
    Anonymous said:

    This is simply not true. Desktop Richland has not yet launched. Desktop Richland drops into FM2, just like Trinity. So, when it does launch, we can revisit the FM2 market to see if there's a reason for another round-up. In the meantime here's a round-up of motherboards that'll support Richland: http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/socket-fm2-motherboard-review,3337.html. Hope you enjoy!
    Chris


    I don't know who dropped the ball but the launch of Richland was today. It is available for sale on multiple retail sites including Newegg, Aria, and Microcenter.
    0
  • Crashman
    Anonymous said:
    Richland APUs were released and not a single article about it... Can you at least attempt to conceal the Intel bias on this site?

    I didn't answer this earlier because I'm not a CPU editor. But since you're going on about bias, listen up: This was a motherboard review. Your comment has nothing to do with the topic, unless you can show me a new chipset upon which I can justify a roundup. Otherwise, the motherboard roundup you're requesting was published 8 months ago...http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/socket-fm2-motherboard-review,3337.html

    Now, if we can find a group of guys with a high interest in an FM2 update, that would create a market for the new motherboard article. Does anyone else want to chime in with their opinions on an FM2 update?
    0