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Intel Z97 Express: Five Enthusiast Motherboards, $120 To $160

L337 Gaming Z97-Machine

ECS' marketing team is getting pretty good at using terminology familiar to gamers of the past, rebranding its game-centric product line under the L337 Gaming banner. Today’s candidate, the Z97-Machine, represents the value-oriented starting point of that family.

Gone are the stenciled-on Port 80 displays of the past, replaced with actual functioning parts. The firm doesn’t bundle in a bunch of third-party controllers, but instead focuses on the things that Z97 does best: one graphics card in a x16 link or two on a pair of x8 slots, M.2 without the new SATA Express cable interface, and USB 3.0 via four I/O panel ports and a front-panel header.

ECS even fills out the I/O panel with four additional USB 2.0 ports, and backs the GbE port with Intel’s i218V controller.

ECS doesn’t surprise neophytes by killing off two SATA ports when an M.2 module gets installed. Instead, the Z97-Machine dedicates two of the chipset’s six ports to M.2 and leaves only four SATA 6Gb/s cable headers.

The firm also gets rid of the slot beneath the top graphics card, because its designers know that slot become inaccessible anyway once a typical dual-slot graphics card is installed. We’re glad someone finally figured that out, though we’re not sure where three of the chipset’s eight lanes went.

ECS doesn’t offer builders a crippled bottom slot; the Z97-Machine doesn’t even have a bottom slot. A x1 link might have been nice. But designers instead placed voltage detection points and part of the Port 80 display there.

Noticing that, I went in search of other things that might be missing, but only came across the scarcity of USB 2.0 internal headers. Builders get two front-panel USB 3.0 and two front-panel USB 2.0 ports, and any bay panel devices they might have added should probably be scratched from the build sheet.

Assuming you’re going to build a simple performance machine and aren’t afraid of being ganked by the packaging, the Z97-Machine might be a great choice The only thing missing from the box was an SLI bridge, but we’re asking ECS to fix that little oversight.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.