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Picking The Best Z87 Motherboard Under $300

Z87 Hits The High End: Four Sub-$300 Motherboards
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Situated barely below the priciest premium boards, which typically exceed $300, high-end Z87 Express-based motherboards offer enthusiasts almost everything they could want except for three-way SLI support. We put four of these platforms to the test.

Our Performance Per Dollar chart is exactly that. It doesn’t include the cost of features, so the cheapest board always leads. Though the chart is only useful when comparing products with identical capabilities, some readers like to see it in motherboard round-ups anyway. We can see how it might come in useful for justifying the purchase of products with fewer add-ons, though it doesn't accurately convey the benefit of high-end wireless networking, for example.

We locked-in pricing for this story a while ago to assure that nobody would try to "game the system" with temporary discounts, which, as you know, does happen.

The round-up was scheduled a while ago, but pricing changes fast in this business. As it happened, the price of Gigabyte's board dropped an extra $10, as did MSI's.

And so, this is where we decide whether the more expensive boards have enough features to qualify their higher prices. For example, the MSI Z87 MPower Max sells for $30 more than Gigabyte’s Z87X-UD5H, but adds only a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth module to the mix. It also gives up the -UD5H’s second wired network controller. It was a tie at best, but only for users who really believe the wireless module is worth a full $30 more than the wired network controller.

Until last week, ASRock’s Z87 OC Formula was $45 more expensive than Gigabyte’s Z87X-UD5H. Its elaborate audio system is probably worth paying an extra $10 or so for, but the board has neither a secondary network controller nor a wireless controller to offset that loss. Those who don’t need to double up on GbE could point to the board’s extra USB 3.0 ports to justify the price premium, or its fourth x16-length slot and the PCIe 2.0 hub that supports it as evidence of value. The Z87 OC Formula is also plumbed for liquid cooling and covered in a waterproof film to prevent damage from leaks. Its verbose status indicator is a friendly touch, but at $265 we really needed to include its five-year warranty (two years longer than Gigabyte) before making the value parity call. A recent $30 price increase breaks that, leaving Gigabyte and MSI as contenders for value consideration.

Asus’ Maximus VI Fomula price premium was previously $35 compared to the similarly-marketed Z87 OC Formula, and that money paid for a 2x2 wireless module supporting 802.11ac at up to 867 Mb/s across two frequency bands. Adding similar functionality aftermarket costs you at least $35. The Maximus VI Formula loses ASRock’s conformal coating, steps up slightly in audio specification, loses ASRock’s warranty extension, and gains a few Asus-exclusive features like USB BIOS Flashback and ROG connect.

ROG Connect will probably be the one thing (other than brand preference) that drives overclocking exhibitionists towards the Maximus VI Formula, though the Z87 OC Formula appears to have nearly as many overclocking features to attract those same customers.

Discounts that helped ASRock throughout the summer have now expired. In a battle for feature supremacy, Asus' on-board extras are worth a little more. Without a big price difference to distract us from the value of those bundled value-adds, the Maximus VI Formula earns our rarest and most prestigious Tom's Hardware Elite award.

Update, 10/3/2013: In the past few round-ups, ASRock relied on instant rebates through select sellers to establish its value-oriented position. This time around, the contest between its Z87 OC Formula and Asus' Maximus VI Formula was for features supremacy rather than value. At the $265 where we originally found the Z87 OC Formula, ASRock might have qualified for a different award. But the price at publication time was $295. It has since dropped back down to $265. We look forward to ASRock's continued effort to promote a strong value story with lower prices.

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Top Comments
  • 13 Hide
    slicedtoad , October 1, 2013 11:01 PM
    Haswell motherboard guide: pick whichever looks best and has the right I/O. Performance-wise, they're all the same.
Other Comments
  • -3 Hide
    nekromobo , October 1, 2013 10:28 PM
    How many do they think they are selling these boards? In the hundreds?
  • -6 Hide
    vipervoid1 , October 1, 2013 10:53 PM
    And also dont have MSI software feature in the review ~
  • 13 Hide
    slicedtoad , October 1, 2013 11:01 PM
    Haswell motherboard guide: pick whichever looks best and has the right I/O. Performance-wise, they're all the same.
  • 8 Hide
    Crashman , October 1, 2013 11:11 PM
    Quote:
    Reviewer seems like not really like MSI ~
    Always favoring Asus, ASRock and Gigabyte ~
    No matter how less differences between each board ~
    MSI Motherboard , the reviewer never have comment ~

    I am a MSI brand fans , I admitted it , but the reviewer seems like ignored MSI's afford.
    In the award contest between MSI and Gigabyte, Gigabyte would have probably won the award. The problem for Gigabyte is that it's new price is too cheap to compete in a $220-300 roundup.

    Quote:
    And also dont have MSI software feature in the review ~
    Let's take a look at the article:
    Quote:
    The Z87 MPower Max comes with the exact software suite and tuning application as its previously-reviewed sibling. Rather than repeat our analysis of those tools and utilities, we'll move on to the board’s firmware specifics.
    Let me see if the department of redundancy department has a better explanation.

    Quote:
    Haswell motherboard guide: pick whichever looks best and has the right I/O. Performance-wise, they're all the same.
    Correct. Pick on features, price, overclocking, warranty, criteria that best match your own preferences. The benchmarks only point out when someone is cheating in reviews or has a flaw. And why point out cheating? Because it's what some of these companies use to get their awards from OTHER sites, and someone has to dispel those myths.

  • 6 Hide
    jimmysmitty , October 1, 2013 11:57 PM
    Quote:
    Reviewer seems like not really like MSI ~
    Always favoring Asus, ASRock and Gigabyte ~
    No matter how less differences between each board ~
    MSI Motherboard , the reviewer never have comment ~

    I am a MSI brand fans , I admitted it , but the reviewer seems like ignored MSI's afford.


    After working in retail for a while you tend to see trends with motherboard manufactures. From what I have seen, Asus tends to have the overall most stable quality with the least amount of issues and very decent support for BIOS updates for newer CPU support beyond most.

    ASRock has upped their game in recent years and has put more quality into their boards but they also have a lot of features much like Asus since they were once a part of ASUSTek and separated although Asus did put in a bid to buy them back but I haven't seen any word from them.

    Gigabyte is a hit or miss. Their high end seems very good but their low end sometimes lacks.

    Then there is MSI. I am not a fan of MSI. The TwinFRZR branded GPUs had a lot of issues, mainly the fans going out very fast. But I think there are two components that kill them for me the most. One was the massive heat issues their X58 boards had with the chipsets on a large number of their boards. We had a X58m from MSI that was idling at 58-60c for the chipset in BIOS doing nothing and we RMAed it. Came back with the same problem. Due to this heat most of the MSI X58 builds we did would lose SATA and come back sometimes on reboot. Had one customers machine that we went from a ATX X58 to a X58M and finally swapped them to an Asus which the chipset idled around 35c which is normal.

    The second for me was the BIOS updates on a lot of their boards. Now I can't say on their high end but recently MSI stopped allowing you to update through the BIOS and instead only offered a Windows based app to update and that is just bad. If you bought a MSI with a CPU and it didn't support it, rather then being able to drop an older CPU in and flash it, you have to do an entire build including Windows installation to do it which is a waste of time. USB via BIOS is the best method and now Asus even has the ability to do it sans CPU so if you bought a CPU that needs a BIOS update, no biggie.

    That's what I see of the brands. I tend to stick to Asus as they have always worked for me but I have experienced a lot and the article is fine. Its looks at the important features, as the majority of the software is not needed anyways and just bloat, and grades it from that.

    What I want to know is why a ROG Asus board has RealTek sound instead of Asus own sound. RealTek is fine for those who don't care but for real sound Asus/Creative offer way better solutions. Then again it is appealing to overclockers mostly.
  • -2 Hide
    vipervoid1 , October 2, 2013 1:54 AM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    Reviewer seems like not really like MSI ~
    Always favoring Asus, ASRock and Gigabyte ~
    No matter how less differences between each board ~
    MSI Motherboard , the reviewer never have comment ~

    I am a MSI brand fans , I admitted it , but the reviewer seems like ignored MSI's afford.


    After working in retail for a while you tend to see trends with motherboard manufactures. From what I have seen, Asus tends to have the overall most stable quality with the least amount of issues and very decent support for BIOS updates for newer CPU support beyond most.

    ASRock has upped their game in recent years and has put more quality into their boards but they also have a lot of features much like Asus since they were once a part of ASUSTek and separated although Asus did put in a bid to buy them back but I haven't seen any word from them.

    Gigabyte is a hit or miss. Their high end seems very good but their low end sometimes lacks.

    Then there is MSI. I am not a fan of MSI. The TwinFRZR branded GPUs had a lot of issues, mainly the fans going out very fast. But I think there are two components that kill them for me the most. One was the massive heat issues their X58 boards had with the chipsets on a large number of their boards. We had a X58m from MSI that was idling at 58-60c for the chipset in BIOS doing nothing and we RMAed it. Came back with the same problem. Due to this heat most of the MSI X58 builds we did would lose SATA and come back sometimes on reboot. Had one customers machine that we went from a ATX X58 to a X58M and finally swapped them to an Asus which the chipset idled around 35c which is normal.

    The second for me was the BIOS updates on a lot of their boards. Now I can't say on their high end but recently MSI stopped allowing you to update through the BIOS and instead only offered a Windows based app to update and that is just bad. If you bought a MSI with a CPU and it didn't support it, rather then being able to drop an older CPU in and flash it, you have to do an entire build including Windows installation to do it which is a waste of time. USB via BIOS is the best method and now Asus even has the ability to do it sans CPU so if you bought a CPU that needs a BIOS update, no biggie.

    That's what I see of the brands. I tend to stick to Asus as they have always worked for me but I have experienced a lot and the article is fine. Its looks at the important features, as the majority of the software is not needed anyways and just bloat, and grades it from that.

    What I want to know is why a ROG Asus board has RealTek sound instead of Asus own sound. RealTek is fine for those who don't care but for real sound Asus/Creative offer way better solutions. Then again it is appealing to overclockers mostly.


    Actually myself currently using MSI P45 Platinum, I dont know their new product quality, but my current motherboard work for me for 5-6 years 24 hours operation still running well ~
    Even without driver on windows 8 still working well after used windows 8 for sometime ~

    I am going to upgrade this to Z87 Mpower in next year ~
    Btw my current build by my brother ~
    I going to build another setup based on MSI Z87 Mpower ~

    My Brother can flash the BIOS well with MSI Live Update ~
    It work well ~
    Now my setup running stable with latest BIOS ~
  • -2 Hide
    vipervoid1 , October 2, 2013 1:56 AM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    Reviewer seems like not really like MSI ~
    Always favoring Asus, ASRock and Gigabyte ~
    No matter how less differences between each board ~
    MSI Motherboard , the reviewer never have comment ~

    I am a MSI brand fans , I admitted it , but the reviewer seems like ignored MSI's afford.
    In the award contest between MSI and Gigabyte, Gigabyte would have probably won the award. The problem for Gigabyte is that it's new price is too cheap to compete in a $220-300 roundup.

    Quote:
    And also dont have MSI software feature in the review ~
    Let's take a look at the article:
    Quote:
    The Z87 MPower Max comes with the exact software suite and tuning application as its previously-reviewed sibling. Rather than repeat our analysis of those tools and utilities, we'll move on to the board’s firmware specifics.
    Let me see if the department of redundancy department has a better explanation.

    Quote:
    Haswell motherboard guide: pick whichever looks best and has the right I/O. Performance-wise, they're all the same.
    Correct. Pick on features, price, overclocking, warranty, criteria that best match your own preferences. The benchmarks only point out when someone is cheating in reviews or has a flaw. And why point out cheating? Because it's what some of these companies use to get their awards from OTHER sites, and someone has to dispel those myths.



    Thanks for correcting me ~
    I also didnt read well the review ~
    Btw I really proud of being a MSI user ~
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , October 2, 2013 2:23 AM
    Quote:

    Btw I really proud of being a MSI user ~
    They make great boards, I have no problem with them.

  • 0 Hide
    victor raj , October 2, 2013 2:34 AM
    Good review. I really like the Asus board.
  • 0 Hide
    _zxzxzx_ , October 2, 2013 4:39 AM
    Great, and in depth, although I wouldn't mind the price tag for everything that Asrock offers and does better than the other boards but I am a ROG fan so I'd probably go with Asus anyway
  • 0 Hide
    bigcyco1 , October 2, 2013 5:06 AM
    Thanks for the review.I perfer Asus motherboards but i have to admit their a bit to high priced imo.It's a comfort thing for me. I never had any issues with any of their products.I write the higher pricing off as quality assurance lol!
  • 5 Hide
    Rob Z , October 2, 2013 5:06 AM
    ASRock has come a long way since its seperation from asustek, I was a full asus hardcore fan as i never had any issues with any of their boards over the years, (i refuse to use gigabyte as i always seen to get a bad board from them) but I just recenly switched over to asrock with my current system and its been rock solid. they always seem to have more technology than the others however at the same time relability was always a question. but for the cost compared to asus i could always over look that. how that they are offering a 5yr warranty makes the board even better.
  • 0 Hide
    vertexx , October 2, 2013 5:22 AM
    What about quality of voltage regulation and power supplied to the CPU. Is there any difference across these boards?
  • 0 Hide
    ssdpro , October 2, 2013 5:40 AM
    If you don't understand why MSI doesn't get recommended: just try and use the MSI EFI/BIOS and you will understand. Gigabyte might be even worse but ASUS and ASRock obviously have the best EFI/BIOS interface.
  • -1 Hide
    vertexx , October 2, 2013 5:43 AM
    I also always look at Newegg & Amazon reviews to get an indication of quality control:

    Following is % of 5 Stars/% of 1 Star / # of Reviews on Newegg for each board:

    ASUS MAXIMUS VI FORMULA: 59%/9%/22 Reviews
    ASRock Z87 OC Formula: 75%/25%/4 Reviews (not enough reviews to make a determination)
    MSI Z87 MPOWER Max: 60%/8%/25 Reviews
    GIGABYTE GA-Z87X-UD5H: 53%/32%/19 Reviews

    Both the Asus and MSI boards have great feedback scores. The 1-Star % rating tends to be in the low-to-mid teens for motherboards, so these two are showing favorably. The jury is still out on the ASRock, as more reviews are needed to draw a conclusion. I'd question a Gigabyte purchase at this point due to what looks to be higher than normal quality issues.
  • 2 Hide
    ojas , October 2, 2013 5:51 AM
    I wish we could have a network I/o or latency test...i'd really like to know if dual NICs are worth it or not. I don't even know how teaming works, or what's it for...wish Tom's could do an article on that...
  • 2 Hide
    bigcyco1 , October 2, 2013 6:11 AM
    Quote:
    I also always look at Newegg & Amazon reviews to get an indication of quality control:

    Following is % of 5 Stars/% of 1 Star / # of Reviews on Newegg for each board:

    ASUS MAXIMUS VI FORMULA: 59%/9%/22 Reviews
    ASRock Z87 OC Formula: 75%/25%/4 Reviews (not enough reviews to make a determination)
    MSI Z87 MPOWER Max: 60%/8%/25 Reviews
    GIGABYTE GA-Z87X-UD5H: 53%/32%/19 Reviews

    Both the Asus and MSI boards have great feedback scores. The 1-Star % rating tends to be in the low-to-mid teens for motherboards, so these two are showing favorably. The jury is still out on the ASRock, as more reviews are needed to draw a conclusion. I'd question a Gigabyte purchase at this point due to what looks to be higher than normal quality issues.

    I would not base my overall decision on newegg & Amazon reviews. I would rather trust professional reviews.
  • 5 Hide
    slomo4sho , October 2, 2013 6:16 AM
    The Asus Z87-WS would have been a great addition to this lineup since it is the only sub-$300 board that is currently available with a a PLX 8747 chip.
  • -6 Hide
    JohnUSA , October 2, 2013 7:18 AM
    As none of these expensive motherboards have what I am looking for I have to wait.
    I want SATA Express AND USB 3.1.
    I will build my new system AFTER above tech is available plus the 20 nm graphic cards plus the new Intel Broadwell cpu.
    I know I have to be patient and wait, but I almost smell them.
    That would be a sweet and fast system.
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