Fast And Cheap? Five Sub-$160 Z87 Motherboards For Enthusiasts

ASRock Z87 Extreme4

ASRock hopes to demolish its competition in the enthusiast-value segment by providing a full set of features for less than $160 (sometimes even less than $150, depending on the deal of the day; ASRock's prices tend to move a lot more than we're used to). That full set includes three-way CrossFire using PCI Express 3.0 slots, four front-panel USB 3.0 ports, an extra eSATA 6Gb/s controller, HDMI monitor pass-through for external devices like game consoles, Intel's own network controller hardware, and DTS Connect-enabled ALC1150 audio.

The combination of five analog outputs and DTS Connect over optical S/PDIF gives users a wide range of options to connect multi-channel speaker systems, though the four nearby USB 3.0 ports seem sparse on a board that hosts an extra four-port hub.

Those missing USB 3.0 ports are instead found on a second front-panel header, yielding a total of four USB 3.0 and six USB 2.0 front-panel connections. The USB 3.0 hub consumes one of the Z87 Express PCH's native ports, so ASRock exposes the left-over interface as an external connector mounted internally, where it can be used to attach USB-based Wi-Fi, flash, or Bluetooth.

Three PCIe x16 slots connect the CPU’s 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes in x16/x0/x0, x8/x8/x0, or x8/x4/x4 modes. We’re typically not fans of four-lane connections for graphics, but the use of PCI Express 3.0 should alleviate any bottleneck that would have earned our ire in the past. Unfortunately, three-way SLI is officially unsupported, though Nvidia fans can still use the three slots for two-way SLI plus a third card.

ASRock moves the front-panel audio connector three slots up from the traditional bottom-rear corner to shorten the distance to its audio solution, which itself is moved closer to the I/O panel. This design, along with a TI NE5532 600 Ω-compatible headphone amplifier and enhanced EMI shielding, make up its Purity Sound solution.

The relocated front-panel connector benefits builders using cases with audio cables that can't quite reach the bottom-rear corner. On the other hand, if you prefer wrapping that cable around the bottom of your motherboard tray, you might now have to go over the board's top, which looks a little messier. These board vendors can't please everyone, it seems.

Less controversial are the power, reset, and CLR_CMOS buttons next to a two-digit diagnostics display. While most mainstream folks rarely need those features, they often come in handy when we're testing hardware outside the confines of a case. ASRock even sockets its two firmware ICs in case you somehow manage to corrupt them both.

The Z87 Extreme4 supports up to eight SATA drives, but includes only four cables (that’s a total of eight drives, since the eSATA connector is shared with one of the added internal ports).

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  • InvalidError
    The sad things about "exposing enthusiast features" on z87:
    1- the x8x4x4 PCIe controller is a CPU feature in all i5 and i7. All the z*7 chipset does is unlock the CPU feature
    2- same goes for multipliers on K-chips: CPU feature locked out by non-z*7 chipsets
    3- SATA-6G ports do not really cost Intel any thing extra to put on-chip (little more than a PLL tweak to lock on faster signals), which makes it somewhat of a shame they aren't fully standard
    4- USB3 ports do not cost Intel all that much extra either - maybe an extra square millimeter on silicon to upgrade all remaining USB2 ports to USB3
    5- the DMI bus can only manage ~20Gbps so it will bottleneck if you attempt to use even 1/5th the total the connectivity available on z87

    More connectivity, yes. But DMI lacks the muscle to actually stress that extra IO. As such, it is little more than a glorified SATA port replicator and USB hub.

    I almost exclusively use Intel CPUs but it still annoys me how Intel charges extra for trivial things or unlock stuff they arbitrarily locked out just because they can.
  • Crashman
    125865 said:
    The sad things about "exposing enthusiast features" on z87: 1- the x8x4x4 PCIe controller is a CPU feature in all i5 and i7. All the z*7 chipset does is unlock the CPU feature 2- same goes for multipliers on K-chips: CPU feature locked out by non-z*7 chipsets 3- SATA-6G ports do not really cost Intel any thing extra to put on-chip (little more than a PLL tweak to lock on faster signals), which makes it somewhat of a shame they aren't fully standard 4- USB3 ports do not cost Intel all that much extra either - maybe an extra square millimeter on silicon to upgrade all remaining USB2 ports to USB3 5- the DMI bus can only manage ~20Gbps so it will bottleneck if you attempt to use even 1/5th the total the connectivity available on z87 More connectivity, yes. But DMI lacks the muscle to actually stress that extra IO. As such, it is little more than a glorified SATA port replicator and USB hub. I almost exclusively use Intel CPUs but it still annoys me how Intel charges extra for trivial things or unlock stuff they arbitrarily locked out just because they can.
    It still saves motherboard makers a lot of money when they don't need to add all those controllers. And it frees up some of those x1 slots. Remember that most users don't use "everything at once" to fill up the DMI, so having the x1 slots available rather than consumed by onboard devices adds flexibility to a build.

    In other words, they might be charging for stuff that should be free or should have been included all the way back in the Z68, but past omission doesn't negate current usefullness.
  • DookieDraws
    I am planning a new Haswell build, soon, and I really appreciate the the effort put into this review. Very helpful!

    The market is flooded with tons of these Z87 motherboards and it can be very overwhelming researching them. So, hopefully we'll see a few more Z87 reviews from you guys, soon.

    Would also like to see some powerful i7 builds built around more energy efficient components. That would be very interesting. Hint. :)
  • Novuake
    Well FINALLY! A round-up! Now to reading...
  • Novuake
    Yeah, I would not be caught dead with a Biostar board. Booo... Interesting that the G45 did not overclock to well, they are usually not the best OCers due to low cost VRMs, thought this would change with Haswell. Hmmm...
  • axehead15
    I really think that ASRock has taken a lot of steps to put the naysayers to rest. The amount of features that is on these boards for the cost is incredible.

    Rather surprised that Biostar had such a good board. Maybe it's time to start considering those boards for future builds.
  • JPNpower
    Can anybody tell me the true difference between the Asus Z87-A and Z-87 plus, without all the marketing hogwash? I'm confused what the difference is. (woth say $15 extra for the plus?)
  • ruisdb
    Can any one comment on the quality of the onboard RAID?
  • vertexx
    Trying to pick a winner based strictly on the numbers - tough when the measured numbers have been commoditized to the extent they have. Funny to give in on ASRock based on a temporary price break. I think the feature-set vs. value helps ASRock stand on it's own. I really think there is a good target audience for each of these boards. Pulling that out would be a great analysis.

    It is great to see a round-up of the mainstream boards, though, so thanks!
  • InvalidError
    8708 said:
    It still saves motherboard makers a lot of money when they don't need to add all those controllers. And it frees up some of those x1 slots. Remember that most users don't use "everything at once" to fill up the DMI, so having the x1 slots available rather than consumed by onboard devices adds flexibility to a build.

    Most users don't have enough such devices to fill every port in the first place (how many people need more than two upper-tier SSDs?) but those who might actually "need" and use 6xSATA-6G would be people wanting to do things like RAID0/1/5 with 3-6x SSDs. At 6x SSDs, we would be looking at ~25Gbps peak not counting GbE, USB3 or PCIe devices on the 8x 2.0 lanes.

    Still does not change the fact that the only reason why Intel gets away with charging $10-15 extra for less than $1 worth of features while the DMI bus lacks the bandwidth to properly support them for people who may actually intend to use them is because they have a practical monopoly which allows them to arbitrarily fragment the market so they can artificially inflate prices.

    The main reason most people go with z?7 is the overclock unlock for K-chips. That itself is the biggest joke since it is a completely artificial limitation Intel engineered into their products to enforce co-upselling. As shown with the h87 slip-up, the h87 is perfectly capable of managing multipliers on Haswell K-chips when the K-chip lacks the microcode to enforce the z87 unlock "requirement."

    I don't bother with overclocking so this does not affect me... but it still annoys me on the basis of principles and general dislike for hair-splitting for profit.
  • NinjaNerd56
    Very well done. I've typically used GigaByte and MSI for my builds, and had excellent results.

    I'm about to build a new gaming box, and I'll consider the 'winners' in the article when I'm shopping. While price is not a big driver for me, I'll see if ASRock stays true.
  • Onus
    I run RAID1 for my data drives, so I'd like to have more than the two Intel-based SATA 6Gb/s ports that Z77 offers so I can have them and my boot drive on Intel controllers. It isn't enough to justify a $450 upgrade though (CPU+Mobo+Windows).
  • g-unit1111
    Wow, lots of good boards here. I'm amazed that the Biostar put out a product that's got lots of bang for the buck.
  • Novuake
    537231 said:
    Wow, lots of good boards here. I'm amazed that the Biostar put out a product that's got lots of bang for the buck.


    Instead of just cheap, you mean? :D
  • JPNpower
    Onus, I'd doubt you need more SATA 3 ports. SATA2 is more than adequate for mechanical drives.
  • vertexx
    Just find this interesting... Number of LGA 1150 ATX Motherboard Models on Newegg:

    ASUS - 16
    ASRock - 10
    Gigabyte - 11
    MSI - 8
    ECS - 3
    Biostar - 2

    How in the heck does marketing sort out product definition for 16 models, all for the same form factor?
  • Onus
    That is true, but since they're paired, I want them on the same-speed port. I also have a backup drive and an optical drive; just need to move a few things around a little.
  • Ian Mahaney
    I would like to see a Micro ATX version of this article for those of us with smaller enthusiast builds.
  • JPNpower
    I'd just invest in PCI based SATA ports. SATA controller?

    ANYWAY, your choice

    Spend a lot for a single issue fix

    Spend a lot more for a new layout with superior everything and future proof for next gen CPUs.

    Spend nothing, stop whining and deal with it.
  • POgli
    I am planning to buy the extreme 4 for my next build. I was wondering how ASRock managed to create an appealing board cheaper than the competitors. Are the components used by them of inferior quality if compared to MSI, ASUS and Gigabyte or are the later charging a premium for their names? Or is it ASRock strategy to get market share?
    Thanks
  • Novuake
    @POgli

    For one Asrock uses a thinner PCB.
    They mostly use the same components as Asus, which are VERY good.
  • Crashman
    1389795 said:
    I am planning to buy the extreme 4 for my next build. I was wondering how ASRock managed to create an appealing board cheaper than the competitors. Are the components used by them of inferior quality if compared to MSI, ASUS and Gigabyte or are the later charging a premium for their names? Or is it ASRock strategy to get market share? Thanks
    Cheaper? Well, the regular price is $160, and they keep adding temporary discounts at Newegg to win awards. They probably make it up by not having the discounts anywhere else and using the award logo everywhere else.
  • POgli
    8708 said:
    1389795 said:
    I am planning to buy the extreme 4 for my next build. I was wondering how ASRock managed to create an appealing board cheaper than the competitors. Are the components used by them of inferior quality if compared to MSI, ASUS and Gigabyte or are the later charging a premium for their names? Or is it ASRock strategy to get market share? Thanks
    Cheaper? Well, the regular price is $160, and they keep adding temporary discounts at Newegg to win awards. They probably make it up by not having the discounts anywhere else and using the award logo everywhere else.


    Hey thanks for the answers...

    Just to clarify... I should have said that I am looking at the Australian market. The table below shows the difference comparing the average price in the 5 top stores in QLD/AU: (yes they are THAT much more expensive... ;) )
    ASRock Z87 Extreme4: $192.75 / Extreme6: $221.67
    ASUS Z87-Plus: $235.67 / A: $210.33 / Pro: $277.67
    Gigabyte Z87X-UD3H: $226.50 / OC: $260.67 / D3H: $194.17 / UD4H: $269.40
    MSI Z87-GD45: $195.00 / GD65: $258.40

    and yes I have being very busy lately trying decide where to spend my money... :P
    Thank you for all the knowledge that comes from your reviews...
  • RedJaron
    Dear ASRock,

    I love your boards. I use one myself and I often recommend your products to others. I think you pack nice value onto them. So could you PLEASE start adding more 4-pin fan headers to your boards? If my CPU fan speed can scale with temperature, I see no reason why my case fans can't do the same. Really, I'll pay an extra $5 if my PWM case fans can be fully used.

    Tom's you guys have some weight to throw around. Can you please start requesting board manufacturers make all their fan headers PWM? Or at least four of them? Thanks.

    However, I have to disagree with you a bit on SATA ports and cables in this price segment. No, you weren't heavily critical on the drive ports, but it sounded almost as if you thought it was stingy. I think six internal SATA III ports is more than enough for the mid-range enthusiast crowd. That's enough for dual optical burners and two RAIDS of paired SSDs and HDDs. At this price point, I can't imagine many builders using more than that ( really, any six-drive setup at the mid-range level sounds really odd. ) The vast majority don't need more than three drives ( optical, SSD, HDD, ) so the fourth cable is kind of a bonus ( though MSI should be ashamed for only bundling two cables. )

    Anyone who wants/needs more than six drives is either building a high-end luxury rig or some type of NAS machine. If the former, they're much more likely to buy a deluxe board, something in the $180+ range. If the latter, that means they're either looking for a specialized mboard, or something cheaper and simpler they can throw in some add-on storage cards.