Affordable Z87 Express Motherboards: Not Quite "Back To Basics"
PC enthusiasts like myself expect a lot more from our systems than the industry's standard for basic computing. We want performance and an attractive price. Often, our expectations include overclocking as well, since dropping $1000 on Intel's fastest desktop processors simply isn't an option for most of us.
To that point, this passion of ours got a little more complicated when Intel decided to lock the ratio multipliers on its CPUs, and fundamentally remove BCLK frequency as a variable, and charge a premium for the handful of processors that can still be overclocked at all. The starting price on those is $220, by the way.
Fans of AMD's hardware have plenty of reasons to feel as though they've taken the high ground. It's only a shame that the company's best efforts fall so short of where Intel has been sitting for two years. Sadder still is when you take a look at AMD's roadmap and see a distinct lack of FX-series parts beyond Vishera.
Along the way, enthusiast-oriented motherboards crept up in price as we learned to push performance beyond what even those thousand-dollar CPUs can do, at the same time sucking down power and generating more taxing thermal loads. We tend to make up for that fact by expecting the other components to cost less. Graphics cards, SSDs, and memory all just get cheaper over time, right? It's no longer necessary to spend big bucks on a feature-complete motherboard to get the most out of CPUs. Nowadays, it's pretty normal to spend more on your processor than the platform that supports it.
And so we have five motherboards under $160 that support Intel's LGA 1150-based chips built on the Haswell architecture.
|Header Cell - Column 0||ASRock Z87 Extreme4||Asus Z87-Plus||Biostar Hi-Fi Z87X 3D||Gigabyte Z87X-UD3H||MSI Z87-G45 Gaming|
|Chipset||Intel Z87 Express||Intel Z87 Express||Intel Z87 Express||Intel Z87 Express||Intel Z87 Express|
|Voltage Regulator||12 Phases||Eight Phases||12 Phases||Eight Phases||Eight Phases|
|BIOS||P1.90 (06/24/2013)||1204 (06/21/2013)||Z87CF523.BST (5/23/2013)||F5 (05/16/2013)||V1.3 (06/19/2013)|
|100.0 MHz BCLK||100.60 (+0.60%)||99.94 (-0.06%)||100.00 (-0.00%)||99.77 (-0.23%)||100.13 (+0.13%)|
|I/O Panel Connectors|
|eSATA||1 (Shared w/SATA)||None||None||2 (Shared w/SATA)||None|
|Digital Audio Out||Optical||Optical||None (HDMI-only)||Optical||Optical + Coaxial|
|Digital Audio In||None||None||None||None||None|
|Video Out||VGA, DVI-D, DisplayPort, HDMI||Mini DisplayPort, HDMI, VGA, DVI-D||VGA, DVI-D, HDMI||VGA, DVI-D, HDMI, DisplayPort||VGA, DVI-D, HDMI|
|Other Devices||HDMI-In (Pass-through)||None||None||None||None|
|PCIe 3.0 x16||3 (x16/x0/x0, x8/x8/x0, x8/x4/x4)||2 (x16/x0, x8/x8)||2 (x16/x0, x8/x8)||2 (x16/x0, x8/x8)||3 (x16/x0/x0, x8/x8/x0, x8/x4/x4)|
|PCIe 2.0 x16||None||1 (x2 transfers)||1 (x4 transfers)||1 (x4, shared w/2 x1)||None|
|PCIe 2.0 x1||2||2||3||3 (2 shared w/x4)||4|
|USB 3.0||2 (4-ports) +1 Port||1 (2-ports)||1 (2-ports)||2 (4-ports)||1 (2-ports)|
|USB 2.0||3 (6-ports)||4 (8-ports)||2 (4-ports)||3 (6-ports)||3 (6-ports)|
|SATA 6Gb/s||8 (1-shared w/eSATA)||8||6||8 (2-shared w/eSATA)||6 (1-shared w/mSATA)|
|S/PDIF I/O||None||Output Only||Output Only||Input And Output||None|
|Internal Buttons||Power, Reset, CLR_CMOS||Power, DirectKey, MemOK, BIOS Flashback, TPU, EPU||Power, Reset||Power, Reset, CLR_CMOS, CMOS IC/Mode selectors||None|
|Other Devices||Dual PCI, Serial, CIR||TPM, Serial||Serial, CIR||TPM, Serial, PCI||mSATA, TPM, Serial|
|Mass Storage Controllers|
|Chipset SATA||6 x SATA 6Gb/s||6 x SATA 6Gb/s||6 x SATA 6Gb/s||6 x SATA 6Gb/s||6 x SATA 6Gb/s|
|Chipset RAID Modes||0, 1, 5, 10||0, 1, 5, 10||0, 1, 5, 10||0, 1, 5, 10||0, 1, 5, 10|
|Add-In SATA||ASM1061 PCIe 2 x SATA 6Gb/s 1 x eSATA 6Gb/s||ASM1061 PCIe 2 x SATA 6Gb/s||None||88SE9172 PCIe 2 x SATA 6Gb/s or 2 x eSATA 6Gb/s||None|
|USB 3.0||ASM1074 Hub (4-ports)||ASM1074 Hub (4-ports)||None||2 x PD720210 Hub(8-ports)||None|
|Primary LAN||WGI217V PHY||WGI217V PHY||8111F PCIe||WGI217V PHY||Killer E2205 PCIe|
|HD Audio Codec||ALC1150||ALC892||ALC898||ALC898||ALC1150|
|DDL/DTS Connect||DTS Connect||DTS Connect||None||None||None|
|Warranty||Three Years||Three Years||Three Years||Three Years||Three Years|
Intel might charge a premium for the privilege of owning an overclockable processor, but the company at least deserves credit for exposing enthusiast-class features on mainstream motherboards. With the introduction of its Z87 Express Platform Controller Hub, you get SATA 6Gb/s transfer rates on all six ports, a full battery of six USB 3.0 ports without a bunch of motherboard-down controllers, and an integrated PCI Express controller that supports three links without the need for expensive switches.
All of that saves you, oh, somewhere around $20 in cost, we're estimating. So, this round-up's $160 price cap should be comparable to the $180 boards from the previous generation. So, let's see if mainstream Haswell offers us anything more attractive than the higher-end segment.