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Five Z97 Express Motherboards, $160 To $220, Reviewed

Maximizing The LGA 1150 Mainstream?

As enthusiasts, when we pay more, we want to get more. That's not too much to ask, right? That principle certainly applies to the high-end motherboards in today’s round-up. For example, we find a second Ethernet controller on four of the five solutions. They all sport add-on storage controllers. And all but one also include expanded USB 3.0 capabilities beyond the Z97’s paltry six ports.

Three of today’s contenders even spread PCIe 3.0 connectivity across three slots for improved triple-card CrossFire performance (even if none of the board's in our story are quite pricey enough to include the extra bridge logic needed to make them three-way SLI-compatible).

Well, that’s something at least.

We also expect the best possible overclocking performance in this price range, so we’ll test that out using Intel’s new “Devil’s Canyon” Core i7-4790K. Which board can take home the prize?

Z97 Mainstream Motherboard Features
ASRock Z97 Extreme6Asus Z97-Pro(Wi-Fi ac)Gigabyte Z97X-UD5HMSI Z97 MPowerSupermicro C7Z97-OCE
PCB Revision1.021.011.01.01.01A
ChipsetIntel Z97 ExpressIntel Z97 ExpressIntel Z97 ExpressIntel Z97 ExpressIntel Z97 Express
Voltage Regulator12 Phases10 Phases12 Phases12 PhasesSix Phases
BIOSP1.33 (06/12/2014)1204 (06/17/2014)F8 (06/17/2014)V1.3 (06/18/2014)1.0b (06/27/2014)
100.0 MHz BCLK99.94 (-0.06%)99.98 (-0.02%)99.98 (-0.02%)100.01 (+0.01%)99.84 (-0.16%)
I/O Panel Connectors
P/S 211111
USB 3.064664
USB 2.0None2222
Network21212
CLR_CMOS Button1NoneNone1None
Digital Audio OutOpticalOpticalOpticalOpticalOptical
Digital Audio InNoneNoneNoneNoneNone
Analog Audio56565
Video OutDVI-I, DisplayPort, HDMIHDMI, DisplayPort, VGA, DVI-IVGA, DVI-D, HDMIHDMI, DisplayPortVGA, DVI-D, DisplayPort, HDMI
Other DeviceseSATAWi-Fi antenna connectorsNoneNoneNone
Internal Interfaces
PCIe 3.0 x162 (x16/x0,  x8/x8, x8/x4/M.2)2 (x16/x0 or x8/x8)3 (x16/x0/x0, x8/x8/x0, x8/x4/x4)3 (x16/x0/x0, x8/x8/x0, x8/x4/x4)3 (x16/x0/x0, x8/x8/x0, x8/x4/x4)
PCIe 2.0 x161 (2-pathways)1 (4-lanes, shared below)None1 (4-lanes, shared below)
PCIe 2.0 x12 (sharing 1x mini PCIe)4 (2 shared w/slot above)23 (All shared w/x4 above)3 (x4-length open-ended)
USB 3.02 (4-ports)2 (4-ports, shared PCIe)1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)
USB 2.02 (4-ports)2 (4-ports)2 (4-ports)2 (4-ports)2 (4-ports)
SATA 6.0 Gb/s10 (Shares M.2, SATA-E)8 (Shares M.2/SATA-E)8 (Shares M.2/SATA-E)8 (Shares M.2)6
SATA Express1 (Uses 2x SATA)1 (Uses 2x SATA)1 (Uses 2x SATA)1x M.2 AdapterNone
4-Pin Fan26555
3-Pin Fan4None1NoneNone
FP-Audio11111
S/PDIF I/ONoneOutput OnlyOutput OnlyNoneOutput Only
Internal ButtonsPower, ResetMemOK, Power, BIOS_FLBKPower, Reset, CLR_CMOSPower, Reset, OC-Genie, BCLK+, BCLK-, Go2BiosOC mode (5), CLR_CMOS, BIOS Restore, Power
Internal SwitchBIOS IC SelectorEPU, TPU, EZ XMPDual BIOS Mode, BIOS IC selectorOC-Mode, Slow-Mode, BIOS SelectorBIOS Recovery
Diagnostics PanelNumericNumericNumericNumericNumeric
Other DevicesM.2 (Shares SATA-E), Ultra M.2 (Uses 4x PCIe 3.0), USB Port, Serial COM portM.2 (Shares SATA-E), TB_HeaderM.2 (Shares SATA-E), 2x PCI, Serial COM portM.2 (Sub 2x SATA)Serial COM port
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA6x SATA 6Gb/s (Includes M.2)6x SATA 6Gb/s (Includes M.2/SATA-E)6x SATA 6Gb/s (Includes M.2, SATA-E)6x SATA 6Gb/s (Includes M.2)4x SATA 6Gb/s 1x M.2
Chipset RAID Modes0, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 10
Add-In SATA2x ASM1061 PCIe 4x SATA 6Gb/s 1x eSATA (Shared)ASM1061 PCIe 2x SATA 6Gb/s88SE9172 PCIe 2x SATA 6Gb/sASM1061 PCIe 2x SATA 6Gb/sASM1061 PCIe 2x SATA 6Gb/s
USB 3.0ASM1042AE PCIe ASM1074 hubASM1042AE PCIeuPD720210 PCIeASM1074 HubZ97 Integrated Only
Networking
Primary LANWGI218V PHYWGI218V PHYKiller E2201 PCIeWGI218V PHYWGI217V PHY
Secondary LANRTL8111GR PCIeNoneWGI217V PHYNoneWGI210AT PCIe
Wi-FiNoneBCM4352 PCIe BT-combo 802.11ac 2-band 867 Mb/sNoneNoneNone
BluetoothNoneBCM4352 combo, aboveNoneNoneNone
Audio
HD Audio CodecALC1150ALC1150ALC1150ALC1150ALC1150
DDL/DTS ConnectDTS ConnectDTS ConnectNoneNoneNone
WarrantyThree YearsThree YearsThree YearsThree YearsThree Years
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.