Five Z87 Motherboards Under $220, Reviewed

Asus Z87-Pro

Rather than configure dual Ethernet connections, Asus adds its dual-band 802.11n/Bluetooth module to a single Intel gigabit PHY in its $210 Z87-Pro. The I/O panel-based wireless connection (sporting two transmit and two receive antennas) can also be configured as an access point for other devices when using the wired gigabit connection for Internet access, and Asus even adds a couple of extra USB 3.0 ports next to it.

Starting off with a good I/O section doesn’t make the Pro a Deluxe-class board—Asus sells a Deluxe model for those customers—and some readers will be surprised to see that the Z87-Pro uses a maximum of four of the chipset’s PCIe 2.0 lanes to feed its third "graphics" slot. The top two x16-length slots still run at PCIe 3.0 signaling, switching from x16-x0 to x8-x8 mode when the second card is added. But builders who want to place a slower device in the bottom slot will also be happy that it doesn’t steal lanes from the top two x16 slots.

Using the bottom slot in x4 mode requires that the three PCIe x1 slots above it get disabled, leaving only a single functioning x1 slot at the top of the board. The alternative is to treat the bottom slot as x1, since that’s the default configuration.

Next to its bottom-edge power button and diagnostics panel, the DirectKey button signals the board to boot directly into UEFI. Knowing that this button won’t be easily accessible in a finished build, Asus even adds a set of pins to connect a front-panel switch, and suggests that users who favor this function over the standard reset might connect their reset buttons here. This is particularly useful in Windows 8, where you don't get enough time to hit F2 or Delete before the operating system starts booting.

Moving a bit farther forward, the BIOS_Flash button accesses Asus’ USB BIOS Flashback ASIC to flash the firmware from a thumb drive, even if other components (such as the CPU) are missing. It's too early for us to tell, but this could come in useful down the road if Intel updates its Haswell line-up and you find yourself needing a new firmware with a compatible processor to plug in.

Near the front edge, a TPU switch enables automatic overclocking, an EPU switch enables automatic voltage reduction, and a MemOK button next to the memory sets a custom memory underclocking mode that was formerly needed to make certain poorly-programmed high-voltage RAM bootable at default voltage levels.

Asus improves its Z87-Pro layout in two ways compared to most competitors. First, it moves its front-panel audio connector forward by around 1.5 inches to ease short-cable concerns that affected a couple of contenders in our recent round-up. Second, it flips its EPS12V (CPU) power connector upside-down so that the latch is on the bottom, making it easier to unlatch when its cable is wrapped over the top of the board.

The Z87-Pro targets mid-market builders by including only four SATA cables. Its SLI bridge is flexible, and its 2x2 Wi-Fi antenna is foldable.