Three Z97 Express Motherboards, $220 To $280, Reviewed

Which Offers The Most Value?

Rating value becomes more difficult as parts are added, especially when those parts are vastly different between two products. ASRock, for example, offers dual networking controllers, while MSI serves up a high-end Wi-Fi solution as its second network interface. Meanwhile, Gigabyte and ASRock add four-way SLI support through a pricey PCIe 3.0 bridge, while MSI doesn't. And although Gigabyte is the only company in this round-up not to include any kind of secondary networking, the Killer controller it does include is worth a little more to some buyers. Gigabyte also focuses a little harder on integrated audio with a replaceable/reconfigurable high-end op-amp.

If we maintain the assumption that all three boards are equally valuable, top-of-the-chart value placement favoring Gigabyte’s Z97X-Gaming GT should carry through to a real-world award. But that’s not necessarily the situation.

Other than arguing between Gigabyte’s Killer controller and enhanced TI headphone amp versus ASRock’s dual GbE chips from Intel, ASRock also adds a couple more SATA ports and some extra slots. And its Ultra M.2 interface does add cost to the board, even if using the feature forces total graphics bandwidth down to x8 mode. ASRock needs to justify a price difference of around $15 though, and both of these companies are expert at adding valuable features cheaply.

To be completely fair, ASRock’s Z97 Extreme9 probably has exactly enough added features to offset its higher price compared to Gigabyte’s Z97X-Gaming GT. That presents a recognition problem, however. Without an obvious value leader, both products get our stamp of approval.

When we add “better value” to the reasons for granting an Approved award in today’s contest, we take that award away from any other products that would have otherwise earned our approval. That’s a problem for MSI, because we really like the 802.11ac solution on its Z97 MPower Max AC. It’s difficult for use to say that Wi-Fi is worth more than the three-/four-way SLI-enabling switch on the competing platforms though, and its feature set otherwise falls between its competition.

The favorite board of my newly-minted lab technician, MSI’s Z97 MPower Max AC doesn’t fall between its competitors in price. The highest-priced product in today’s round-up, it takes a third-place value finish in spite of its high-end wireless solution.

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24 comments
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  • Nuckles_56
    Damn, nice boards but really expensive. A pity about the i7 4790k not performing well, as I really wanted to see which board was best at OC'ing
    3
  • InvalidError
    Seems like somewhat of a shame to test boards with a PCIE switch using only a single GPU. How many enthusiasts who spend in the neighborhood of $300 on a motherboard would settle for a single-GPU setup?

    This needs a follow-up with x16x16 PEX vs x8x8 native vs x16x16 LGA2011 and, hopefully, x8x8x8x8 PEX vs x16x8x8x8 native on LGA2011.
    1
  • jtd871
    On-board wifi is simply a waste of space and power (and probably available pcie bandwidth) - even for mITX mobos. Wireless specifications change too frequently to get locked in to whatever is on your mobo. USB dongles are easier to upgrade/replace and allow more flexibility with respect to antenna placement.

    If you really can afford 3 GPUs, you should really be starting with X99. For Z97, full-size ATX boards are kind of a waste due to the limit on available PCIe lanes, unless you want just 1 GPU and a bunch of other 1-2-lane expansion boards. I would have preferred seeing what you can get in a uATX (or possibly mITX) solution for the same budget in a package that's arguably a better fit to cater to the SLI/CF crowd and easier to fit in a case.
    -1
  • envy14tpe
    Love to see things at their full potential, but can we include a i5-4690k for comparison? Many people don't need what the i7 offers and would love to see how the i5 overclocks and performs on these motherboards.
    0
  • SessouXFX
    How do they measure up to the Asus Z97 Deluxe?
    1
  • rolli59
    Really when it comes down to that class of boards and money is no issue, the question is; is your color theme, red, yellow or blue?
    -1
  • SessouXFX
    Anodized Gold. :P

    That one MSI board...I hope that price isn't accurate, that they're currently out of stock or something else is going on, as in, it's being shipped from S. Korea...
    0
  • fl-gators-fan
    Very nice to see the Gigabyte Gaming GT coming out ahead, as that's the board I'm using. I've had it for about 2 months with the I7-4790K and haven't even tried overclocking yet. The 4.0 GHz is plenty fast for all I do :)
    0
  • Gurg
    So this indicates that for what it costs to try to dress a 4790k up, you will spend at least as much as a higher performing 5820k.
    -2
  • InvalidError
    Anonymous said:
    So this indicates that for what it costs to try to dress a 4790k up, you will spend at least as much as a higher performing 5820k.

    While the motherboard and CPU may cost about the same, you also need to throw in an extra $100 for DDR4.
    1
  • Lutfij
    Good article and read there Thomas! In person the MSI board does feel solid but you've gotta admit and wonder, do I need a full sized mobo merely for the add on widi card and sacrifice multi GPU loadout? Answer is no.

    Keep up the good work mate!
    0
  • Crashman
    Anonymous said:
    So this indicates that for what it costs to try to dress a 4790k up, you will spend at least as much as a higher performing 5820k.
    5820k is clocked slower than 4790k and doesn't usually O/C to the same max frequency. So this is primarily a gamer's option. And it uses cheaper RAM.
    1
  • polyformist
    I too would be interested in the Difference between these and the ASUS z97.
    0
  • Crashman
    Anonymous said:
    I too would be interested in the Difference between these and the ASUS z97.
    I thought so too. Asus chose not to participate this time because it didn't believe its cheapest 3-way/4-way SLI board would stay within the price range, and it didn't want to put a board lacking this feature against samples such as Gigabyte's and ASRock's.

    BTW, I have to be VERY CAREFUL about what I reveal of these conversations. So, you're welcome :)

    BTW 2, new forum member and freelance technician Gordon_Foster89 assisted in the testing of these boards. Don't be afraid to hit him up with testing questions :)
    1
  • Nuckles_56
    Anonymous said:
    Anonymous said:
    I too would be interested in the Difference between these and the ASUS z97.
    I thought so too. Asus chose not to participate this time because it didn't believe its cheapest 3-way/4-way SLI board would stay within the price range, and it didn't want to put a board lacking this feature against samples such as Gigabyte's and ASRock's.

    BTW, I have to be VERY CAREFUL about what I reveal of these conversations. So, you're welcome :)

    BTW 2, new forum member and freelance technician Gordon_Foster89 assisted in the testing of these boards. Don't be afraid to hit him up with testing questions :)



    Thanks for that information and we understand that you can't talk too much about that
    0
  • rush21hit
    I'd say the difference is negligible at best. It all goes back to the feature people want for their money. Depend on what you need, none is better than the other as far as I can see.

    That said, I for one, would choose whichever the cheapest and also has the longest replacement warranty, ignoring their feature altogether. Though they seem to be standardized nowadays, by 1 year 1:1 replace for faulty product and 2 years free service AFAIK. Regardless which you choose.

    I really want to upgrade to one of these and an i7 4930K, I really do. And the money is available also. But my wife would kill me first...
    0
  • Zach_Tom
    I would rather see the Gigabyte GA-Z97X-Gaming-G1 Wifi Black edition or the standard edition
    0
  • TechTanium
    i really want to see the MSI Z97- MPower Max AC performance as it is my dream board ;-) and msi normaly outperforms outher brands in stability and OCing
    0
  • Prplxt
    "Since the hose side of the bridge only operates in x16 or x8 mode, total bandwidth drops to x8. Those eight lanes are still repeated to four slots, but “x16” mode for two or fewer cards only exists on the device side of the bridge whenever Ultra M.2 is utilized in PCIe mode."

    What does this mean? On the Asrock mobo if I run a x4 m.2 ssd in the ultra slot how many lanes will my 2 GPUs run 'at'? 16/16, 16/8, 8/8, or other? And if I only run one gpu will it run at 16 or 8?
    0
  • Danra
    It is too bad that the LAN uses so many CPU cycles, I would prefer they use a Intel, that would make the Gigabyte nearly a perfect motherboard, even if the price were a little higher. I know manufacturers try to give customers the most bang for the buck, however, I think getting those wasted CPU cycles back is worth paying for.

    Awesome, you get your $700+ video card, plug it in and install a single PCIe x1 device and your video card slot drops to PCIe x8... I believe this is the first time that a socket 1150 or 1155 motherboard has 48 PCIe lanes available [thanks to the ExpressLane PLX PEX8747 chip].

    You can actually spend $1400 on two Nvidia GTX 980s and have full PCIe x16 bandwidth on both. I am a single video card user because I cannot afford to pay more than the price of a good computer build for the price of two GTX 980s, however, the PLX PEX8747 chip permits me to plug in some other PCIe x1 device.
    0