Which Mini-ITX Motherboard Would We Buy For Haswell?
Who has the best mini-ITX-based motherboard? And which board offers the best value? Can those two competing concepts be tied together in a single product?
Gigabyte and MSI present significantly similar platforms, which offer features and faults that largely mirror each other. Naturally, they sell for almost identical prices, too. The Z87N-WiFi had a tough time pushing memory data rates beyond 2400 MT/s, while the Z87I was over 50 MHz down on CPU core overclocking. Recent memory tests indicate that CPU core frequency is the more important variable, though anyone who disagrees will want to see these motherboards achieve a value tie. Our Smart Buy recognition doesn't have to be exclusive in a round-up, so they both receive our recognition.
At the other end of the pricing scale, EVGA’s Z87 Stinger includes fewer features and sells at a higher price. This leaves Asus and ASRock competing for best-of-the-best status.
Both boards are also equipped similarly, with Broadcom’s 867 Mb/s 802.11ac controller topping their feature sets. The Z87I-Deluxe adds an overkill voltage regulator suitable to processors twice this size, but the Z87E-ITX has a hidden mSATA slot that some builders will love (in addition to its adequately-oversized voltage regulator).
The Z87I-Deluxe’s beefier power circuitry costs more than ASRock’s alternative sneakily-placed SATA connector, and probably justifies its $30 price difference. Then again, Asus would tell us that the hardware needed to enable its USB BIOS Flashback feature is also worth a chunk of that difference, even if most of us won't have occasion to use it. The Z87E-ITX comes out on top of a practical features-to-price comparison, while Asus’s more-expensive extras finish first in a cost-versus-price analysis.
When Tom's Hardware looks to crown a product the best in a category, however, price gets limited weighting. Asus' features are probably more valuable than ASRock’s, even though we're asked to pay more for them. Nevertheless, the Asus Z87I-Deluxe receives our coveted Tom's Hardware Elite award.
On the other hand, the flexibility of eSATA and mSATA connectors on ASRock's Z87E-ITX truly does make it difficult to crown another board unquestionably superior. So, competing closely for top-value and top-features, many of us would rightly consider the ASRock platform as a stunning offering as well. The only award we have left to bestow on the Z87E-ITX is Tom's Hardware Approved, which is recognition from our editor of a job well done.