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.
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.
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.
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. :)
Rather surprised that Biostar had such a good board. Maybe it's time to start considering those boards for future builds.
It is great to see a round-up of the mainstream boards, though, so thanks!
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.