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Five Z87 Motherboards For Your Mini-ITX Build, Reviewed

The Mini-ITX Market Is Small, But Growing...

Every time we hear about the death of the desktop PC, that conclusion seems to be based on slowing sales from big tier-ones like Dell and HP. But we know from talking to boutique builders that the demand for high-end gaming PCs and workstations continues to increase. It's a good time to be an enthusiast, and games like Battlefield 4 help illustrate why. 

At least some of the excitement comes from high-performance, high efficiency hardware, which is allowing the community to construct faster machines in smaller enclosures. It's no longer necessary to drop a big case next to your desk with two or three 250 W graphics cards for playable frame rates in the latest titles. Now we can get plenty of speed in small machines that look more like living room appliances, but are every bit PCs. 

Up until recently, the mini-ITX form factor was all about compromise. You'd give up most of your motherboard's slots and room for integrated extras to fit into tighter spaces. But as this segment grows, more and more companies are recognizing a desire for premium-class platforms with all of the on-board features expected from a larger ATX board. Drop in a high-end, overclockable processor, one dual-slot graphics card with multiple display outputs, and some solid-state storage. Sounds about as sexy as any monolithic gaming box we've ever seen.

So, which motherboard would we choose to serve as the foundation for a build like that? There are certainly many options on the market, and five of the industry’s top performance-oriented brands sent us a sample to compare.

LGA 1150-Based Mini-ITX Motherboard Features
ASRock Z87E-ITXAsus Z87I-DeluxeEVGA Z87 StingerGigabyte Z87N-WiFiMSI Z87I
PCB Revision1.051.031.11.01.0
ChipsetIntel Z87 ExpressIntel Z87 ExpressIntel Z87 ExpressIntel Z87 ExpressIntel Z87 Express
Voltage RegulatorSix Phases12 PhasesFour PhasesFour PhasesFour Phases
BIOSP2.10 (10/04/2013)0702 (08/30/2013)102 (08/07/2013)F4 (08/03/2013)V1.4 (09/30/2013)
100.0 MHz BCLK100.10 (+0.10%)99.94 (-0.06%)100.12 (+0.12%)99.77 (-0.23%)100.01 (+0.01%)
I/O Panel Connectors
P/S 21NoneNone11
USB 3.046444
USB 2.024422
Network11122
CLR_CMOS Button111None1
Digital Audio OutOpticalOpticalOpticalOpticalOptical
Digital Audio InNoneNoneNoneNoneNone
Analog Audio53556
Video OutDVI-I, DisplayPort, HDMIDVI-I, HDMI, DisplayPortDisplayPort, HDMIDual HDMI, DVI-IHDMI, DisplayPort, DVI-I
Other DeviceseSATA, Wi-Fi/Bluetooth ModuleUSB BIOS Flashback, Wi-Fi/Bluetooth ModuleBluetooth TransceiverWi-Fi/Bluetooth ModuleWi-Fi/Bluetooth Module GO2BIOS button
Internal Interfaces
PCIe 3.0 x1611111
PCIe 2.0 x16NoneNoneNoneNoneNone
PCIe 2.0 x1Mini-PCIe (filled)NoneMini-PCIeMini-PCIe (filled)Mini-PCIe (filled)
USB 3.01 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)
USB 2.02 (4-ports)1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)
SATA 6.0 Gb/s6 x (shared with eSATA, mSATA)6444
4-Pin Fan24322
3-Pin FanNoneNoneNoneNoneNone
FP-Audio11111
S/PDIF I/ONoneOutput OnlyNoneOutput OnlyNone
Internal ButtonsNoneMemOKPower, ResetNoneNone
Internal SwitchNoneNoneNoneNoneNone
Diagnostics PanelNoneNoneNumericNoneNone
Other DevicesNoneNoneNoneSerial COM portSerial COM port
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA6 x SATA 6Gb/s (Total) Shared w/eSATA, mSATA6 x SATA 6Gb/s4 x SATA 6Gb/s4 x SATA 6Gb/s4 x SATA 6Gb/s
Chipset RAID Modes0, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 10
Add-In SATANoneNoneNoneNoneNone
USB 3.0Integrated-onlyIntegrated-onlyIntegrated-onlyIntegrated-onlyIntegrated-only
Networking
Primary LANWGI217V PHYWGI217V PHYWGI217V PHYWGI217V PHY8111G PCIe
Secondary LANNoneNoneNoneAR8161 PCIe8111G PCIe
Wi-FiBCM4352 PCIe 802.11ac Dual-BandBCM4352 PCIe 802.11ac Dual-BandNoneIntel 2230 PCIe 802.11n Single-BandIntel 2230 PCIe 802.11n Single-Band
BluetoothBy 802.11ac ComboBy 802.11ac ComboAR3011 USBBy 802.11n ComboBy 802.11n Combo
Audio
HD Audio CodecALC1150ALC1150CA0132 (Core3D) PCIeALC892ALC892
DDL/DTS ConnectDTS ConnectDTS ConnectNoneNoneNone
WarrantyThree YearsThree YearsThree YearsThree YearsThree Years
  • lp231
    Here is another MSI ITX board
    Reply
  • PEJUman
    Why would one pay extra for ASUS's power delivery if it didn't yield any additional OC/DRAM stability? In the end, ASRock features & cheaper price should be a better option here.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    12025866 said:
    Here is another MSI ITX board
    Yes, they've sent one for another article. If the site did multiple items per manufacturer the article would take weeks to finish. That wouldn't be a problem if all Tom's Hardware did was motherboards :p
    12025873 said:
    Why would one pay extra for ASUS's power delivery if it didn't yield any additional OC/DRAM stability? In the end, ASRock features & cheaper price should be a better option here.
    ASRock's cheaper features also made it a competitor with the cheaper boards for the value award. Since it competed well for both awards, it had to get a different award.

    Reply
  • nukemaster
    While some may not like the layout, the Gigabyte and MSI layout should work well in some cases like the SG05 from SilverStone. The top mounted power and sata ports help keep wires out of the air flow path.

    More room between the PCI-E and CPU LGA is nice on the Asus as are all the features.

    I am still running an older H55n usb3 24/7 and it has been quite stable and cool and low on power consumption. Shame that this new gigabyte board has higher power and temperature levels.
    Reply
  • xkm1948
    Since most of them has built in Wi-Fi. Will it be better to include a Wi-Fi test column?
    Reply
  • Crashman
    12025986 said:
    Since most of them has built in Wi-Fi. Will it be better to include a Wi-Fi test column?
    We formerly had a controller reviewer, and I'd like to see someone take on this task again. A separate article on the controllers (with everything else identical) wouldn't tell you anything about the antennas included with different products, but antennas are cheaply replaceable.

    Reply
  • KrazyKap
    Is the Asus Z87 Pro the same as the Deluxe? Seems to be region specific but I can't find the difference. Help? I've just bought the Pro for myself as it is only slightly more than the MSI or Gigabyte options.
    Reply
  • unipablo
    I think that the Pro version comes with wifi-N instead of wifi-AC.
    Reply
  • vertexx
    Let's just roll some dice and toss out some awards, eh? Couldn't help but laugh through the conclusion.

    Overall it's good to see the roundup. Would have liked to see post times. With SSD storage, motherboard post times are now becoming the longer wait in a system boot up.

    Also interested in thoughts on reasons for Z87 mobos for a standard non-overclocking build. For a non-overclocked gaming ITX PC, say with an I3 or low-end I5, are there any compelling reasons to pay the Z87 premium over, say an H81, which can run $100 cheaper?
    Reply
  • rolli59
    Nice review and boards, conclusion is all good buy's depending on what features you want except the EVGA.
    Reply