Skip to main content

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.

  • onover
    The table detailing the motherboard features on page 1 ... Is it just me, or is the text a bit small?
    Reply
  • makishima
    The table detailing the motherboard features on page 1 ... Is it just me, or is the text a bit small?
    I find it small
    Reply
  • Someone Somewhere
    I'd like to see a review on the significance of the 'killer' NICs... I highly doubt they have any difference besides branding.
    Reply
  • SteelCity1981
    so intel it seems doesn't have much faith in their own thunderbolt considering there is no thunderbolt ports on this new chipset!
    Reply
  • H4X3R
    The Asrock one is better. Not everyone will be using XSplit, and as tradesman1 (a moderator on this site) said "I myself won't touch MSI mobos due to the poor QC".
    Reply
  • Crashman
    13285086 said:
    so intel it seems doesn't have much faith in their own thunderbolt considering there is no thunderbolt ports on this new chipset!
    READ PAGE ONE to find out why this chipset has the same features as the previous chipset.

    Reply
  • H4X3R
    Good review :) I am looking forward to the best price:features motherboard review though (extreme6). I have a quick question crashman: Do asrock still use Capxxon caps (or just crappy caps in general). I would like to know the company of the caps if possible, once again, thank you :)
    Reply
  • Crashman
    13285142 said:
    Good review :) I am looking forward to the best price:features motherboard review though (extreme6). I have a quick question crashman: Do asrock still use Capxxon caps (or just crappy caps in general). I would like to know the company of the caps if possible, once again, thank you :)
    I wish I knew. It appears that they get their caps custom-wrapped to get the gold color, and that the custom wrapping only has specifications (no branding).

    Reply
  • tarkhein
    I'd like to see a review on the significance of the 'killer' NICs... I highly doubt they have any difference besides branding.

    Not exactly the most comprehensive review, but here is Asus' take on NICs: http://rog.asus.com/312772014/labels/guides/tried-and-tested-why-intel-ethernet-is-still-better-for-gaming/
    Reply
  • Someone Somewhere
    Of course, they're testing throughput, and latency is what is generally considered to matter.
    Reply