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Five Z87 Motherboards Under $220, Reviewed

ECS Z87H3-A2X Extreme

ECS’s $240 Z87-A2X Extreme “goes large” with features, adding a single-band USB-based 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth controller with its dual-gigabit Ethernet capability. But wait, isn’t this a sub-$220 round-up?

After initially disclosing a $220 MSRP, ECS decided to add a $50 game bundle to this board and increase its price by $20. That could be a bargain, depending on the titles, but would have also excluded this product from today’s round-up. Knowing that, ECS is applying a $20 temporary discount to the board. Thanks to the discount, June buyers get both the original $220 price and the promised game certificate.

Other I/O panel features include a CLR_CMOS button, dual eSATA, DisplayPort, and HDMI. Separate front and rear controllers make all four added-in SATA ports function simultaneously.

The Z87H3-A2X Extreme’s extra internal ports aren’t as noticeable as competing solutions, since one of its connectors is perpendicular to the motherboard and the other connects to an mSATA slot. With mSATA drives now exceeding 256 GB, builders who dislike drive cables can build without them, and expect fairly comparable performance.

Buyers who like on-board buttons will be thrilled with the Z87H3-A2X’s bottom-front corner, finding power, reset, boot-to-UEFI, overclocking profile, and diagnostics display mode switches next to a three-digit panel. The diagnostic ouput can display POST code, CPU TDP, CPU voltage, CPU wattage, or CPU MOS temperature readings.

A five-pin connector next to the DIMM slots is designed to hold volt meter probes for verifying CPU core, DIMM, PCH, and PCH I/O voltage levels. If we’ve learned anything about motherboard monitoring of DIMM voltage, it’s never to trust and always to verify.

ECS configures the Z87H3-A2X Extreme’s slots to support up to three-way graphics arrays, and even spaces its slots to allow a trio of double-space cards to fit within an ATX case’s seven spaces. These slots automatically switch from x16-x0-x0 to x8-x8-x0 and x8-x4-x4 transfer modes as the next long slot is filled. Though the bandwidth boost of PCIe 3.0 makes four-lane transfers acceptable to many builders, those who'd rather put a slower card in the third slot might be upset when the first slot drops to eight and the middle to four lanes. This is always going to be a tradeoff when only 16 third-gen lanes exist.

ECS places its USB 3.0 internal header along the motherboard’s bottom edge, which could have been a problem if its hadn’t moved all of the platform's PCIe slots further up on the board compared to competitors. The slot move is a great idea in my opinion, though I can imagine other reviewers are going to ask for more space around the DIMM latches.

Our only true layout concern is that the front-panel audio connector is tucked a little too far into the bottom rear corner for the reach of some front-panel cables. Our solution is to buy a better case.

Though I haven’t seen anyone get ganked since the second millennium, I was amused to find the term re-emerge in certain gaming and entertainment circles. ECS includes a full set of SATA cables, a flexible SLI bridge, and a Wi-Fi antenna inside the Z87H3-A2X Extreme's colorfully-named box.

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