ASRock Z97M Pro4 Motherboard Review

We've been working hard to fill the gaps in our motherboard coverage, and today we continue the trend with a mainstream microATX Z97 board from ASRock.

Introduction

Today's particular model is the Z97M Pro4. ASRock's Pro line is usually the high-end model for non-Z chipset boards in terms of features. However it's below the Extreme line when it comes to Z boards. Does this mean the Pro4 is stripped down past the point enthusiasts might want it? Let's dig in and find out.

At $100, the Pro4 is a very wallet-friendly Z board. As such, you won't find a few features you might find on pricier boards. There's no M.2 slot, SATA Express port, secondary network jack, DTS-Connect or SLI support. The VRM, at 4+2-phases, is smaller than other boards as well. This may be off-putting to some consumers who remember the limitations experienced on the last boards that came through here with diminished VRMs. However, like the MSI Z97I AC, the Pro4 packs a VRM heatsink which makes a big difference on its overclockability, as you'll see. Other basic amenities include five fan headers (two 4-pin,) and a socketed BIOS chip.

Z97M Pro4 Overview

Now let's look at the layout in more detail.

While larger than the low-budget boards I reviewed, the Z97M Pro4 is still not quite a "full-size" mATX. At approximately 8.5 inches wide, it's about 1 inch shy of the full width allotted in the mATX specification. That means the board's right edge doesn't quite meet the standard stand-offs and hangs free instead. While this doesn't impair case mounting, the board doesn't have any support under the 24-pin power plug or the RAM slots. Take care to support the board from underneath if you connect these things after mounting the board in your case.

Across the top is the usual 8-pin EPS plug and three fan headers. Directly below the VRM heat sink, in ASRock's usual odd corner, is the HD audio header. I don't dislike this placement; I just prefer the cleaner cable management that's possible with the audio jack on the board edge. Just to the right of the audio header is a chassis fan header and the CLR_CMOS jumper. Unlike the H81 boards, this jumper is located to the left of the CPU socket, meaning it's much more accessible. Down the front edge is the 24-pin ATX plug, USB 3.0 header just above the PCIe slots and six forward-facing SATA ports.

The top PCIe slot is 3.0 x16. As is often the case on mATX boards, this slot is almost level, height-wise, to the lower RAM slot release tabs. The backplate on the R9 290X I use for testing was actually abutting the tabs, so swapping out RAM modules sometimes meant removing the GPU entirely. The only other PCIe slot is at the bottom of the board, with two regular PCI slots in between. This second PCIe is wired for four lanes from the chipset, so it runs at slower 2.0 signaling.

This means no SLI support on the Pro4, though CrossFireX is technically supported (even though few people would use it). The 2.0 x4 bandwidth limits performance, and the cooler would block every header on the bottom edge. While most people won't use the serial, parallel or even USB 2.0 headers, the front panel connectors and 4-pin fan header are more than a little important. Other headers along the bottom include a TPM, chassis intrusion, case speaker and Thunderbolt connector. To use the Thunderbolt, you'll need to purchase a separate add-in card.

The rear I/O panel is somewhat meager for a Z board. The Pro4 covers the basics with two USB 2.0 ports and single PS/2 ports for your keyboard, mice and peripherals. Four USB 3.0 ports cover your high-speed external storage needs. Audio is provided by a Realtek ALC892 chipset with ELNA caps and can support up to 7.1 channels while Intel handles the network side with a gigabit I218-V controller. I would've liked to see two more USB 2.0 ports, or maybe an eSATA. Since all six USB 3.0 ports on the chipset are exposed, wishing for any more would require an add-on controller — but that's probably too much to ask for at this price point. In those unlikely cases you use the onboard video on this board, you get a VGA, DVI-D and HDMI connector.

I don't understand why VGA connectors still take up space on so many Z boards. Onboard video has its uses, not least of which is troubleshooting. But how many people regularly use onboard video on an enthusiast board? Of those, how many have VGA-only monitors? VGA ports make great sense on lower-end boards. Those will often be used in offices or homes with older monitors and no discrete GPU. But how many enthusiasts want a VGA connector on a Z board? As usual, I'm sure some naysayers will let me know otherwise in the comments.

Packed with the board are a manual, an installation CD, two 18-inch SATA cables (one angled connector) and an I/O shield. I think four SATA cables is more appropriate on a Z board, since the end user is more likely to have at least three drives (SSD, spindle HDD and optical drive). An M.2 slot would explain only two cables, but the Pro4 doesn't have one. Those omitting the optical drive will fare just fine.

Firmware And Overclocking

The Pro4 uses ASRock's usual UEFI that's immediately familiar to anyone who's recently used the company's boards. Category tabs across the top of the screen group related settings into the same page. It's nearly identical to other recently reviewed ASRock boards, so I'll only provide a quick recap and note a few other features.

The first thing you'll notice is support for FHD resolution in the UEFI. I'm not usually one to complain about the grainy picture when messing with the BIOS, but 1920 x 1080 certainly looks nicer than 1024 x 768 on a modern display. Not only is it a crisper picture, but you can view more settings at once.

Once again you're treated with a My Favorites page. This is becoming almost standard on boards now, and I'm a big fan. Simply hit F5 on any setting and it's copied into a custom page — very handy for gathering your most commonly used settings in a single place. Other typical ASRock features include BIOS update over network, quick select configuration slots, and the ability to import and export BIOS settings to a disk, including hard drives.

Being a Z board, the Pro4 gives the expected controls over CPU multipliers (including core-specific multipliers), BCLK frequency, BCLK ratio straps and cache multiplier. The Pro4 comes with three default overclock settings: 4.5GHz at 1.23V, 4.6GHz at 1.28V, and 4.7GHz at 1.4V VCore. These are also mirrored in A-Tune, ASRock's tuning application within Windows. The last setting seems a little overaggressive, but the other two are perfectly reasonable. Manual voltage control is what you'd expect for CPU, CPU cache and RAM.

BIOS Frequency & Voltage Settings (For Overclocking)

Base Clock90-300 MHz (0.1 MHz)
CPU Multiplier8x-120x (1x)
DRAM Data Rates800-4000 (200/266.6 MHz)
CPU Vcore0.80-2.00V (1 mV)
VCCIN1.20-2.30V (10 mV)
PCH Voltage0.80-2.00V (1 mV)
DRAM Voltage1.165-1.800V (5 mV)
CAS Latency4-15 Cycles
tRCD3-20 Cycles
tRP4-15 Cycles
tRAS9-63 Cycles

Despite its low price and 4+2 VRM, the Pro4 can push our Test i7-4790K close to its limit. Knowing our i7 sample isn't the best overclocker, and seeing the limits of a smaller VRM on the last boards I visited, I wasn't sure what to expect. But the VRM heatsink does its job well. Even at the chip's 4.4GHz turbo frequency I saw no throttling or stability problems. Our sample tops out between 4.5GHz and 4.6GHz, so hitting that maximum looked promising. Using a 45 multiplier at 101.1 MHz BCLK yielded a perfectly stable 4.550GHz at 1.274V. I ran into problems when bumping it any higher. For those with locked multiplier CPUs looking for some extra performance, the Pro4's BCLK is fairly flexible. Cold booting at 104MHz is no problem, but pushing it to 104.5 causes instability.

I measured a small RAM voltage cheat on the Pro4 of 0.004V. Not big, but if you're a stickler in controlling your voltage, bumping the BIOS setting down by one tick keeps it honest. RAM timings can be set for primary, secondary and tertiary settings, and XMP profiles are properly recognized. However, the XMP profile bus ratio will not automatically correct itself when changing the BCLK strap. So if you use the 1.25 or 1.67 strap, make sure you slow down the RAM frequency accordingly.

The Pro4 also has decent chops with RAM overclocking. Stock 2800 XMP settings proved no problem with two modules. It remained stable after increasing the BCLK to 103MHz through A-Tune. However the board could neither cold boot nor hold up to heavy stress testing when these same settings were applied in the UEFI. I could run benchmarks without problem, but Prime95 in Blend mode using half of the RAM capacity resulted in rounding errors. Some people may be a little lax in their RAM overclocking, but I demand unquestionable stability. A 101.5MHz BCLK for DDR3-2842 at XMP timings was the best the Pro4 could stably hit with two modules.

Four modules would not boot at 2800. Dropping to DDR3-2666 settings engaged the 4:3 ratio with a 10x multiplier, though I kept the 2800 XMP timings. A BCLK of 104MHz successfully booted, but again I encountered rounding errors in Prime 95. The best I could do was a 100.5MHz BCLK for a max speed of DDR3-2680. That's respectable for four modules, but it could be better.

The application suite is exactly the same as previous ASRock boards we've reviewed. The App Shop is a quick place to download all the utilities and firmware updates for the board. XFast LAN and RAM give you network prioritization control and RAM Disk support, respectively. The Restart to UEFI is a simple app that does exactly what it says on the tin, but it's undeniably useful when meticulously tuning the board. A-Tune provides overclocking and tuning settings and system monitoring info from within Windows. The Tools section of A-Tune also has links to the other utilities.

How We Tested

Test Bench Components









The PSU is different on this bench compared to what Thomas used on other Z97 reviews. While he was able to send me the rest of the usual hardware, the PSU wasn't available. I'm using the be quiet! Straight Power 10 I used on the $60 roundup. At 500W it's a lower-capacity unit, but it's still plenty powerful to drive a 4C/8T i7 and 290X. The power readings may be a few watts lower from what they'd be with one of Thomas' larger PSUs, but it won't be enough to affect an award or recommendation.

Software And Drivers

GraphicsAMD Catalyst 14.4

Benchmark Suite

Gaming
Battlefield 4Version 1.0.0.1, DirectX 11, 100-sec. Fraps "Tashgar"
Test Set 1: Medium Quality Preset, No AA, 4X AF, SSAO
Test Set 2: Ultra Quality Preset,  4X MSAA, 16X AF, HBAO
Grid 2 Version 1.0.85.8679, Direct X 11, Built-in Benchmark
Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA
Test Set 2: Ultra Quality, 8x MSAA
Arma 3Version 1.08.113494, 30-Sec. Fraps "Infantry Showcase"
Test Set 1: Standard Preset, No AA, Standard AF
Test Set 2: Ultra Preset, 8x FSAA, Ultra AF
Far Cry 3 V. 1.04, DirectX 11, 50-sec. Fraps "Amanaki Outpost"
Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA, Standard ATC, SSAO
Test Set 2: Ultra Quality, 4x MSAA, Enhanced ATC, HDAO
Adobe CC
Adobe After Effects CCVersion 12.0.0.404: Create Video which includes 3 Streams, 210 Frames, Render Multiple Frames Simultaneosly
Adobe Photoshop CCVersion 14.0 x64: Filter 15.7MB TIF Image: Radial Blur, Shape Blur, Median, Polar Coordinates
Adobe Premeire Pro CCVersion 7.0.0 (342), 6.61 GB MXF Project to H.264 to H.264 Blu-ray, Output 1920x1080, Maximum Quality
Media
iTunesVersion 11.0.4.4 x64: Audio CD (Terminator II SE), 53 minutes, default AAC format 
Lame MP3Version 3.98.3: Audio CD "Terminator II SE", 53 min, convert WAV to MP3 audio format, Command: -b 160 --nores (160 kb/s)
Handbrake CLIVersion: 0.99: Video from Canon Eos 7D (1920x1080, 25 FPS) 1 Minutes 22 Seconds
Audio: PCM-S16, 48000 Hz, 2-Channel, to Video: AVC1 Audio: AAC (High Profile)
TotalCodeStudio 2.5Version: 2.5.0.10677: MPEG-2 to H.264, MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG-2), Audio: MPEG-2 (44.1 kHz, 2 Channel, 16-Bit, 224 kb/s), Codec: H.264 Pro, Mode: PAL 50i (25 FPS), Profile: H.264 BD HDMV
Productivity
ABBYY FineReaderVersion 10.0.102.95: Read PDF save to Doc, Source: Political Economy (J. Broadhurst 1842) 111 Pages
Adobe Acrobat 11Version 11.0.0.379: Print PDF from 115 Page PowerPoint, 128-bit RC4 Encryption
Autodesk 3ds Max 2013Version 15.0 x64: Space Flyby Mentalray, 248 Frames, 1440x1080
BlenderVersion: 2.68A, Cycles Engine, Syntax blender -b thg.blend -f 1, 1920x1080, 8x Anti-Aliasing, Render THG.blend frame 1
Visual Studio 2010Version 10.0, Compile Google Chrome, Scripted
Compression
WinZipVersion 18.0 Pro: THG-Workload (1.3 GB) to ZIP, command line switches "-a -ez -p -r"
WinRARVersion 5.0: THG-Workload (1.3 GB) to RAR, command line switches "winrar a -r -m3"
7-ZipVersion 9.30 alpha (64-bit): THG-Workload (1.3 GB) to .7z, command line switches "a -t7z -r -m0=LZMA2 -mx=5"
Synthetics
3DMark 11Version: 1.0.5.0, Benchmark Only
3DMark ProfessionalVersion: 1.2.250.0 (64-bit), Fire Strike Benchmark
PCMark 8Version: 1.0.0 x64, Full Test
SiSoftware SandraVersion 2014.02.20.10, CPU Test = CPU Arithmetic / Multimedia / Cryptography, Memory Bandwidth Benchmarks

Each board is set to stock clocks, Speed Step and energy-saving features are enabled, and the CPU fan is set to maximum. I use Windows' default "Balanced" power option preset for idle power consumption and "Performance" during the bench runs.

We're looking for oddities in the bench scores. Boring benchmarks are good benchmarks for motherboards. Dramatic score leads are due to motherboard cheats and hidden clock boosts while a board lagging behind is usually a configuration conflict.

In this particular case, the most current and pertinent comparison data I have is with the ASRock Z97M-ITX/AC and MSI Z97I-AC. Those ITX boards sometimes suffered CPU throttling due to limited VRMs. The MSI board even had internal power limits, degrading performance. This will correct itself as we get more mATX reviews up.

Synthetics

And we start with some boring stuff. The Pro4 is right in line with the others. It takes a very small lead in the PCMark Work score, but again, the Z97M-ITX had throttling even at stock clocks. The lead over the better-fairing MSI is hardly significant.

Again with the flat scores. Nothing to see here; let's move along.

Gaming

Deviation is minimal, especially considering the limitations of the ITX boards, which is just what we like to see. I did see some fluctuation while benching Grid 2 with some initially low framerates. A few reboots solved the problem and I wasn't able to replicate it. This shows how sensitive Grid 2 is to RAM rather than any fault of the Pro4.

Application And Productivity Benchmarks

Benches like this make my job easy and the writing quick. A second more or less is nothing more than rounding to the nearest second by the bench script.

Power And Temperature

I finally get something to talk about, though maybe not so much. The Pro4 is neither the highest nor the lowest when it comes to power consumption. The temperature charts don't tell us much, considering the vast differences between the Pro4 and the ITX boards. However, remember the H81M-HDS, the last 4-phase VRM ASRock board I tested, had a VRM at 28.6 degrees Celsius over ambient while drawing 55.5W doing its Prime95 run. The Pro4's VRM is 30 percent cooler than the HDS, even though it's running four times as many threads and using 258 percent more power! The HDS also had a down-draft cooler so it had better airflow over the VRM. Take note, motherboard manufacturers: If you want to market a board as an overclocking candidate, even an inexpensive sleeper board, a VRM heatsink goes a long way.

Overall Performance And Efficiency

Everything calculated together shows a little more deviation than normal. Again, we're not using perfectly "clean" data. But even with the ITX oddities, no single board has pulled ahead of any other by more than a fraction of a percentage point.

The Pro4 acts similar to the MSI Z97I in the last roundup. It wasn't always the absolute fastest, but it used less power than its competitors to do the same work, so it wins the efficiency race.

Overclocking Performance

Now it's time to take all that "boring benchmark" talk and toss it out. Boards aren't expected to be made equal once they get in our tweaking hands. However this is hardly a fair fight. Neither ITX board can take four RAM modules, nor can they overclock the CPU as far as the Pro4.

The Pro4 of course takes a commanding lead in most overclocking categories, as expected. The MSI Z97I does nab a nice victory in RAM overclocking, however.

Value

Once again, this graph is fairly misleading. Neither ITX board competes directly with the Pro4. The mATX board enjoys a large price benefit since you're not asked to pay the ITX premium tax. It could have performed notably slower than the other boards and still won the value award. Again, these graphs will correct themselves once more mATX boards are added to the charts.

Conclusion

So let's consider ASRock's Z97M Pro4 on its own merits. At $100, it's the most affordable Z97 board we've reviewed to date. And you actually get a lot of board for the money. It doesn't have all the toys, but most of the limitations are pretty obvious going in. You know it doesn't have M.2 or SLI. The CrossFireX support is a little misleading, but overall the Pro4 doesn't pretend to be something it's not. It's a single-GPU Z board that gives you respectable overclocking capability. It's not the fastest in any respect, but it was able to push our i7 almost to its limits.

So what does that mean for an award? Well, like with the ASRock X99E-ITX/ac, it's a somewhat tricky matter. Unlike its X99 brother, I can't give the Z97M Pro4 the "Choice" award since it certainly is not top in its class. I can't award a "Recommended" award (at least not now) since it does have competition in the microATX Z97 field and we haven't reviewed them yet. That leaves the Approved award. The Pro4 certainly met my expectations; the question is whether it exceeded them. That depends on how it stacks up against the other four mATX boards I've got in queue right now. Each of them costs more than the Pro4, but they also have more features. It's very possible the Pro4 will get an official recommendation, but for now it's in a holding pattern.

I will say I have no reservation about using this board in a machine I'd build for friends or family. As long as you're aware of what it can and can't do, and don't care about the limitations, I don't think you'd be disappointed.

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Eric Vander Linden is an Associate Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware. Follow him on Twitter.

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This thread is closed for comments
29 comments
    Your comment
  • ubercake
    "I don't understand why VGA connectors still take up space on so many Z boards. Onboard video has its uses, not least of which is troubleshooting. But how many people regularly use onboard video on an enthusiast board?"

    I can see the use for those old VGA ports on laptops by which people are still plugging them into old projectors when moving between meetings, but you wouldn't likely be moving a desktop around or having to hook it up to a monitor with only a port many places. Also, most "enthusiats" will have discreet video solutions with absolutely no need for the on-board video connections whatsoever (although they can come in handy for t-shooting).

    The other things I find to be less and less useful is the PS/2 port and the old-school PCI slots. I would have to think very few people even need these. I can't see "enthusiasts" using these at all.
  • SteelCity1981
    I mean what can you expect for 85 dollars it's not going to have everything that 185 dollar board will have and that's to be expect. I mean when I saw that there was no m.2 ports that didn't really phase me. you'll be hard pressed to find a motherboard with M.2, DTS-Connect or SLI support on something under 100 bucks. I mean when your in that price range your dipping into the budget category range of motherboards. even with that said it has a surprising amount of overclocking settings for something in that price range that you would normally find on mid to highend motherboard setups.
  • junkeymonkey
    ''I don't understand why VGA connectors still take up space on so many Z boards''

    lots of folks still use and need that - my old crt is a better preforming monitor then any flatscreeen I ever had . you don't get that ''input lag'' on it . far better for fast paced fps its dead nuts on.. just like a vid card that has no dvi-I = no sale - just because you don't need it don't mean the rest of us do as well - like amd's top cards atleast NVidia get my money there cause they still put analog dvi-I on there cards out of the box .. amd don't and then you need to buy for extra money for a adaptor that ''may'' give you analog support ..

    some folks take good care of the solid old working hardware and still use it cause some of this ''new'' stuff may not be compatible.. I live in a poor rural area and we just get all we can out of everything or may not afford to keep buying new stuff just for the sake of having new stuff ..

    but as far as mp fps games my old crt is the go to monitor for ass kicking -the more you lag the less you frag


    for 96 bucks after rebate I think this is the better board

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813157520
  • SamiSC
    i think its great the lower end mobos are getting reviewed. The pro4 looks solid for the price for those who want to go intel and on a small budget.
  • ubercake
    1476908 said:
    ''I don't understand why VGA connectors still take up space on so many Z boards'' lots of folks still use and need that - my old crt is a better preforming monitor then any flatscreeen I ever had . you don't get that ''input lag'' on it . far better for fast paced fps its dead nuts on.. just like a vid card that has no dvi-I = no sale - just because you don't need it don't mean the rest of us do as well - like amd's top cards atleast NVidia get my money there cause they still put analog dvi-I on there cards out of the box .. amd don't and then you need to buy for extra money for a adaptor that ''may'' give you analog support .. some folks take good care of the solid old working hardware and still use it cause some of this ''new'' stuff may not be compatible.. I live in a poor rural area and we just get all we can out of everything or may not afford to keep buying new stuff just for the sake of having new stuff .. but as far as mp fps games my old crt is the go to monitor for ass kicking -the more you lag the less you frag for 96 bucks after rebate I think this is the better board http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813157520


    If you're gaming on your CRT, why would you connect it to the on-board video?
  • Onus
    I'd buy one if I thought I might want to overclock. To me, that means it probably deserves an "Approved" award.
  • RedJaron
    1476908 said:
    my old crt is a better preforming monitor then any flatscreeen I ever had . you don't get that ''input lag'' on it . far better for fast paced fps its dead nuts on ... but as far as mp fps games my old crt is the go to monitor for ass kicking -the more you lag the less you frag
    As Uber already pointed out, the onboard video connectors don't figure into your example at all since you're gaming on a dGPU.

    1476908 said:
    some folks take good care of the solid old working hardware and still use it cause some of this ''new'' stuff may not be compatible.. I live in a poor rural area and we just get all we can out of everything or may not afford to keep buying new stuff just for the sake of having new stuff ..
    Yeah, I do the same. I was using a CRT up until 2011. Two of my current monitors are old Dell 17" 1280x1024 displays. They're over 10 years old and are great for portrait mode. As old as they are, even they have both VGA and DVI. Yes, some of the very old stuff is incompatible. However you're putting up a few strawmen. First, I never recommended "buying new stuff just for the sake of having new stuff." Second, who buys a Z97 mboard primarily for the onboard video outs? If you're limited to onboard video, that means you're not doing anything where a high performance monitor makes a difference. That means a basic display will fit the bill. And if you're spending $100+ on the mboard and $250+ on the CPU, why do you not have money for a basic $80 display with DVI?

    1476908 said:
    just because you don't need it don't mean the rest of us do as well
    Now apply that to yourself: just because you choose to still use an analog only monitor doesn't mean everyone else does.

    1476908 said:
    for 96 bucks after rebate I think this is the better board http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813157520
    The mATX OCF is another board also in my review queue. So far I've been quite pleased with it. However, we can't count rebates in the actual price or value consideration.


    299576 said:
    I can see the use for those old VGA ports on laptops by which people are still plugging them into old projectors when moving between meetings, but you wouldn't likely be moving a desktop around or having to hook it up to a monitor with only a port many places. Also, most "enthusiats" will have discreet video solutions with absolutely no need for the on-board video connections whatsoever (although they can come in handy for t-shooting). The other things I find to be less and less useful is the PS/2 port and the old-school PCI slots. I would have to think very few people even need these. I can't see "enthusiasts" using these at all.
    Soooo, are you agreeing or disagreeing with me? I'm not talking about VGA on laptops, I'm talking about VGA on a Z97 board. I already wrote here that VGA on lower-end boards make sense because those are the types of machines that are more likely to actually be connected to older VGA only displays. Many offices keep older displays and projectors that are still VGA only, and in most of my meetings, we use a VGA on the laptop to hook up the projector.

    As you said, the vast majority of people buying a Z97 board will have a dGPU with it, meaning the onboard video will not be used 99% of the time. The only time the onboard is used in such a machine ( that I can think of, ) is when you're troubleshooting and have pulled the dGPU out of the system. Even if you're using the onboard video, you're still going to connect your monitor with the same cable you normally connect to your dGPU, right? So, how many people, who have a modern dGPU, connect their monitor over a VGA cable? Anyone using a Z97 board for an HTPC or console replacement will be using the HDMI, not the VGA. So again, VGA makes sense on H97 and lower boards, but not on Z97 boards.

    I'm a little more understanding of legacy PCI and PS/2. Soundcards and wireless network adapters come in both legacy PCI and PCIe flavors, even today. In the Pro4's case, assuming typical use of a dual-slot GPU, you'll still have one of each card slot still available. The older PCI, the one less likely to be used, is closer to the GPU, meaning you can use the PCIe for whatever type of AIC and still have good breathing room for the GPU. So the slot layout makes sense.

    Enough "serious" gamers still swear by PS/2 keyboards and refuse to use a USB model. And they are the ones that are likely to buy Z97 boards. Combine that with the fact PS/2 gaming keyboards are still being made today, putting a single connection on the backplate is understandable.


    409959 said:
    I mean what can you expect for 85 dollars it's not going to have everything that 185 dollar board will have and that's to be expect.
    I know the Newegg API thingy might be reporting $85, but follow the link and it's actually $100. And I preface it saying that since it's $100, you're not going to get some features. I didn't knock the board for that.


    47340 said:
    I'd buy one if I thought I might want to overclock. To me, that means it probably deserves an "Approved" award.
    If this was the only mATX Z97 board I reviewed, I'd agree. But I'm still getting through the rest of them, so it's a little premature yet. That's why I left my own personal recommendation on it that it's a fine board in its own right.
  • ubercake
    570460 said:
    ...
    299576 said:
    I can see the use for those old VGA ports on laptops by which people are still plugging them into old projectors when moving between meetings, but you wouldn't likely be moving a desktop around or having to hook it up to a monitor with only a port many places. Also, most "enthusiats" will have discreet video solutions with absolutely no need for the on-board video connections whatsoever (although they can come in handy for t-shooting). The other things I find to be less and less useful is the PS/2 port and the old-school PCI slots. I would have to think very few people even need these. I can't see "enthusiasts" using these at all.
    Soooo, are you agreeing or disagreeing with me? I'm not talking about VGA on laptops, I'm talking about VGA on a Z97 board. I already wrote here that VGA on lower-end boards make sense because those are the types of machines that are more likely to actually be connected to older VGA only displays. Many offices keep older displays and projectors that are still VGA only, and in most of my meetings, we use a VGA on the laptop to hook up the projector. As you said, the vast majority of people buying a Z97 board will have a dGPU with it, meaning the onboard video will not be used 99% of the time. The only time the onboard is used in such a machine ( that I can think of, ) is when you're troubleshooting and have pulled the dGPU out of the system. Even if you're using the onboard video, you're still going to connect your monitor with the same cable you normally connect to your dGPU, right? So, how many people, who have a modern dGPU, connect their monitor over a VGA cable? Anyone using a Z97 board for an HTPC or console replacement will be using the HDMI, not the VGA. So again, VGA makes sense on H97 and lower boards, but not on Z97 boards. I'm a little more understanding of legacy PCI and PS/2. Soundcards and wireless network adapters come in both legacy PCI and PCIe flavors, even today. In the Pro4's case, assuming typical use of a dual-slot GPU, you'll still have one of each card slot still available. The older PCI, the one less likely to be used, is closer to the GPU, meaning you can use the PCIe for whatever type of AIC and still have good breathing room for the GPU. So the slot layout makes sense. Enough "serious" gamers still swear by PS/2 keyboards and refuse to use a USB model. And they are the ones that are likely to buy Z97 boards. Combine that with the fact PS/2 gaming keyboards are still being made today, putting a single connection on the backplate is understandable.


    I was agreeing with your take on the VGA port. I was saying while it's still useful on a laptop, it's no longer useful on a desktop.

    With regard to PS/2 ports still being useful... I think most people, if they do the research, will find little to no advantage to using the old PS/2 keyboard on a newer PC other than it's their favorite tool they've brought along from gen to gen of PCs.

    Also, they've come so far with on-board sound, it's hard to find any discreet sound cards with an SNR that matches that of on-board sound these days. I would also argue that most USB sound solutions (e.g. Bose Companion 5 system) are well beyond anything even a modern-day PCIe solution can do for sound. Also, if I'm into audio recording and production, I know there's an investment there, but I still want the latest and greatest in my toolbox. Those things will find a home in a PCIe slot or USB port.
  • RedJaron
    299576 said:
    I was agreeing with your take on the VGA port. I was saying while it's still useful on a laptop, it's no longer useful on a desktop.
    Ah, gotcha. thanks.

    299576 said:
    With regard to PS/2 ports still being useful... I think most people, if they do the research, will find little to no advantage to using the old PS/2 keyboard on a newer PC other than it's there favorite tool they've brought along from gen to gen of PCs.
    Now, now, stop trying to be reasonable. Don't you people know I absolutely need the direct interrupt of PS/2 for my CS pwnage? And don't even get me started on how necessary NKRO is, since I'm regularly hitting three keys simultaneously with each of my fingers.

    299576 said:
    Also, they've come so far with on-board sound, it's hard to find any discreet sound cards with an SNR that matches that of on-board sound these days. I would also argue that most USB sound solutions (e.g. Bose Companion 5 system) are well beyond anything even a modern-day PCIe solution can do for sound.
    I'm with you on most soundcards. I've been tempted every now and then to get something with Dolby Digital Live so I can get 5.1 over fiber optic. But yes, when most people aren't using really high grade headphones or speakers for their games, the benefits of add-in soundcards are few.

    I actually should have an article pretty soon that talks about some of this.
  • ubercake
    570460 said:
    ... I actually should have an article pretty soon that talks about some of this.


    Cool. In the meantime, thanks for this article.
  • Joseph DeGarmo
    As an owner of one of these boards, it is a nice board for the money and was needed in my previous HP case, but now since I have a much bigger ATX case, I feel that I'm missing out on the ability to SLI my GTX 970 for whenever I upgrade to a 144hz G-sync monitor. With that being said, I regret sticking with the old case longer as I could have upgraded the case and bought a full ATX board sooner. But the board was only $100, so it's not much of a letdown. Now I want to upgrade to one of those fancy ASUS Sabertooth Z97 Mark S boards and have the SLI capability I will need for a 144hz monitor. But don't get me wrong, though; it's a nice mid-range motherboard for smaller builds. I'm just going bigger now.
  • Baumy15
    I wish I had VGA on my motherboard (it cost $250 au) because I bought a cheap monitor and have my good 1080p one on the dGPU and the other on my iGPU so I can use quick sync for video rendering and recording.
    My 1080p monitor I bought about 4 months ago came with VGA.
    I think VGA is still relevant on cheaper boards as cheaper monitors use it because it's cheaper. My friends MSI Z97 gaming 5 came with VGA and he uses it all the time he does the same as me has a cheap monitor on in the iGPU you have to agree with me here Intel make you pay for an iGPU whether you want it or not so it makes sense to use it for other tasks.
  • joz
    I had to build my dad a new rig, picked up one of these boards from Microcenter with an i3 4360 for like $180 total after taxes and rebates and a bundle deal. (microcenter is awesome, some times.). So far, works great for the last couple months. The only issue I had with it, was the mb power, maybe it was the cosair connector, maybe it was the motherboard connector - but it was a very difficult fit - had to take the motherboard out of the case after installing because I was worried about snapping the board trying to get the connector in. But I'm reasonably certain its a problem with Cosair's psu's. Otherwise, easy board to work with.

    Terribly though, it's paired with an 8800GS.....
  • ubercake
    1606664 said:
    As an owner of one of these boards, it is a nice board for the money and was needed in my previous HP case, but now since I have a much bigger ATX case, I feel that I'm missing out on the ability to SLI my GTX 970 for whenever I upgrade to a 144hz G-sync monitor. With that being said, I regret sticking with the old case longer as I could have upgraded the case and bought a full ATX board sooner. But the board was only $100, so it's not much of a letdown. Now I want to upgrade to one of those fancy ASUS Sabertooth Z97 Mark S boards and have the SLI capability I will need for a 144hz monitor. But don't get me wrong, though; it's a nice mid-range motherboard for smaller builds. I'm just going bigger now.


    My advice: Upgrade to a G-sync monitor prior to deciding whether or not you need SLI.

    Before G-sync, we use to push for high-frame rate GPU/high-refresh monitors to minimize noticeable tearing and to not rely on v-sync because of the associated input lag/flickering/stuttering.

    With G-sync, all of those things we once tried to avoid go away. It turned me from a two-flagship-card SLI guy into a single-flagship guy. Whether your framerates are high or low (high 20 fps and above) with a g-sync monitor, the performance is smooth, tear-free, and seamless. While the framerates are all over the map while gaming based on resource demands, the g-sync monitor gives you smooth output. I'd shoot for a 1080p G-sync monitor with a 960 or 970; 980 and higher you're on Ultra with almost any title at 1440p.

    G-sync really changes the way you look at things. Now my goal is to keep minimum frame rates at 30 and above without being so concerned about maximum frame rates any longer.

    Also, because of G-sync, my next high-end gamer will be with a mini-itx board (I only need one 16x PCIe 3.0 slot now!), a high-end mainstream i5 or i7 and whatever the Nvidia flagship card is at the time (GTX 1080? or 1180?). Because of these reasons, I really feel like a monitor with G-sync is one of a few things you can buy for your PC that can be considered somewhat of an investment. Even though its value doesn't go up, I save money where other equipment is concerned over generations of builds.
  • Onus
    That's an interesting commentary on the G-sync monitor, and makes a lot of sense long term. I think I'll leave any more thoughts on it to another thread though, so this one doesn't wander off.
    Eliminating the need for multiple graphics cards means that there's even less reason why a mATX or even mITX board can't have all the features even an enthusiast is likely to need. That makes a board like this review model look even better.
  • ubercake
    47340 said:
    That's an interesting commentary on the G-sync monitor, and makes a lot of sense long term. I think I'll leave any more thoughts on it to another thread though, so this one doesn't wander off. Eliminating the need for multiple graphics cards means that there's even less reason why a mATX or even mITX board can't have all the features even an enthusiast is likely to need. That makes a board like this review model look even better.


    Thanks Onus... I did start to stray there a bit, but my - indirect - point was, you don't need a big board with 2 or 3 graphics cards to get incredible high-end gaming performance any longer. I'm now all about the micro-ATX and mini-ITX form factors.
  • Joseph DeGarmo
    299576 said:
    1606664 said:
    As an owner of one of these boards, it is a nice board for the money and was needed in my previous HP case, but now since I have a much bigger ATX case, I feel that I'm missing out on the ability to SLI my GTX 970 for whenever I upgrade to a 144hz G-sync monitor. With that being said, I regret sticking with the old case longer as I could have upgraded the case and bought a full ATX board sooner. But the board was only $100, so it's not much of a letdown. Now I want to upgrade to one of those fancy ASUS Sabertooth Z97 Mark S boards and have the SLI capability I will need for a 144hz monitor. But don't get me wrong, though; it's a nice mid-range motherboard for smaller builds. I'm just going bigger now.
    My advice: Upgrade to a G-sync monitor prior to deciding whether or not you need SLI. Before G-sync, we use to push for high-frame rate GPU/high-refresh monitors to minimize noticeable tearing and to not rely on v-sync because of the associated input lag/flickering/stuttering. With G-sync, all of those things we once tried to avoid go away. It turned me from a two-flagship-card SLI guy into a single-flagship guy. Whether your framerates are high or low (high 20 fps and above) with a g-sync monitor, the performance is smooth, tear-free, and seamless. While the framerates are all over the map while gaming based on resource demands, the g-sync monitor gives you smooth output. I'd shoot for a 1080p G-sync monitor with a 960 or 970; 980 and higher you're on Ultra with almost any title at 1440p. G-sync really changes the way you look at things. Now my goal is to keep minimum frame rates at 30 and above without being so concerned about maximum frame rates any longer. Also, because of G-sync, my next high-end gamer will be with a mini-itx board (I only need one 16x PCIe 3.0 slot now!), a high-end mainstream i5 or i7 and whatever the Nvidia flagship card is at the time (GTX 1080? or 1180?). Because of these reasons, I really feel like a monitor with G-sync is one of a few things you can buy for your PC that can be considered somewhat of an investment. Even though its value doesn't go up, I save money where other equipment is concerned over generations of builds.


    So I could put the money into a G-sync monitor instead? It sounds like a good plan. So perhaps I could keep the ASRock motherboard now and just upgrade the GPU every 3 years or so. I've been wondering about the G-sync technology. So will it make 50 fps look just like 60 fps? That can enable me to run Crysis 3 maxed without stuttering.
  • logainofhades
    Interesting board, for those wanting to overclock on a budget, and are not concerned with dual GPU's.
  • ubercake
    Overclocking on a budgeted budget.
  • john-boy
    I just got this motherboard last week through NEWEGG. $84.00 LESS $10.00 Rebate for $74.99. Rebate is good through 07/31/2015. Got this to build a budget gaming system for my Twelve year old son's first gaming system. Pairing it up with a Intel Pentium G3258, and an EVGA 02G_P4-3757-KR GeForce GTX 750 Ti 2GB 128Bit PCI Exp. 3.0 FTW w/ACX cooling, and Gigabyte F3-12800CL8D-8GBXM DDR3 1600, Corsair CXM 500 Watt PS, and Windows 8.1 Full Version.

    I already had some other components that I was no longer using when I upgraded my other system boxed up, an Antec 300 Case with Seven Prolimatech 120 mm Fans @ 72.67 CFM's for Cooling, A new Zalman CNP-S9600ALED that I picked up on a NEWEGG ShellShocker deal, Logitech G105 Gaming Keyboard, and a Logitech G500 Gaming mouse, and a Acer 24" Wide Screen Monitor.

    Given that I had the other components already on hand and boxed up, I got the Motherboard, CPU, Video Card, Power Supply, Memory, and Windows 8.1 through Rebates to upgrade this system for $ 440.00

    Even it's a low budget gaming system, I think it will be a good first starter for him to learn on. I'm more curious to see how this system will overclock with the Intel G3258, and running with the EVGA GTX 750 Ti.

    Maybe you folks at Tom's will test this board also with a Pentium G3258 along with the other Z97M Boards you have yet to be tested and compared. Thanks.
  • RedJaron
    764820 said:
    Maybe you folks at Tom's will test this board also with a Pentium G3258 along with the other Z97M Boards you have yet to be tested and compared. Thanks.

    We have done testing with the G3258 in a Z97 board, as have others. The conclusion is usually the same: it's rarely worth it. Even overclocked, the G3258 doesn't draw nearly as much power as an i7 at stock clocks ( possibly even an i5 ). The G3258's lower power draw means you don't need as big a VRM. You can hit a very respectable 4.2GHz using only stock cooling and a $60 mboard. A more expensive Z97 board can smooth out the power delivery to hit higher speeds, but it's not dramatic. My particular G3258 will hit 4.4GHz on Z97 with aftermarket cooling. I've seen 4.6GHz on occasion too, but that's a lot of silicon lottery winners. Considering the extra cost of the more expensive mboard and cooling, is it worth spending 50% more money for 9.5% faster clocks?

    If your goal is a budget tweaker system, you have other, more affordable options that can meet your needs. Most people don't want to pay more for their mboard than for their CPU. The few features you lose from Z97 to H81 don't matter on a G3258-based system. A Pentium isn't strong enough to drive meaningful SLI/CFX. Having only two SATA 6Gbps ports doesn't matter if you only have a single SSD. PCIe 2.0 x16 is plenty fast for a single GPU. You might miss a few extra USB ports, but that's about it.
  • logainofhades
    At only $86.98, on newegg, this isn't exactly an expensive model. Many H97 board cost around that price.
  • Onus
    I've got one H97 review in, and another one to test (plus four other boards). I've decided I really like H97 for all but the "K" overclockers; there's nothing missing.
    Even many H81 boards that add a couple of SATA 3GB/s ports (4xSATA total) are better equipped than some of the mainstream grabbage out there.
    What Don once said about graphics cards: "There are no longer any bad cards, just bad prices," is really spreading to all parts of a build. You have to look hard to find non-solid caps and iron core chokes on boards now, although of course you will still find them in cheap consumer machines. Vendors now gimp their systems with minimal and/or slow RAM, cheesy PSU-shaped objects, slow hard drives, and video cards that might be good for five year old games.
  • RedJaron
    59887 said:
    At only $86.98, on newegg, this isn't exactly an expensive model. Many H97 board cost around that price.
    The price drop on Newegg is recent ( as of right now, it's $84.99, and there's a $10 MIR as well. ) When I reviewed this, it was firmly at $100, so that's how I grade the value. It's the same thing everywhere, a decent product at a good price becomes an excellent value when it's on sale or clearance. But in terms of matching a G3258, I can save $30 more over the Pro4 on sale with a B85 or H81 board. The only meaningful thing you give up there are two RAM slots.

    I too am a fan of the H97 boards, especially since many offer non-official overclocking. I don't OC a whole lot on my personal systems, but an H board is enough to get a mild boost for those times under load when it helps.