Which Premium Z87 Motherboard Takes Top Honors?
What can be said of price-to-performance that hasn’t already been stated? It certainly doesn’t account for added features, and the board that has the fewest features also has the lowest price. I might like that Asus’ Z87-WS isn’t packed with stuff I don’t need, personally, but you might need those things.
What does ARock’s Z87 Extreme9/ac give you for an extra $45? How about Thunderbolt, complete with the added four-lane PCIe switch needed to make the on-board devices and slots work after four of the PCH's lanes are devoted to the technology. The 802.11ac module is worth nearly as much as the price difference, though Asus would probably point out workstation-oriented features like the mid-range 88SE9230 add-on SATA 6Gb/s controller, the lack of sharing between those ports and eSATA, and the USB BIOS Flashback feature that I finally saw required and implemented in a real-world scenario.
Rather than try choosing between two compelling platforms, both receive our Approved recognition. It's up to you to decide which feature set best fits your needs.
Gigabyte’s Z87X-UD7 TH sets the top of this comparison scale for price at $430, but also has the most features. Typically, coming to the table with the most features without any noteworthy flaws, price aside, qualifies a product for our most prestigious Elite award. As it turns out, though, this platform is competing in a comparison of motherboards with three- and four-way SLI support. When you utilize its full feature set, dropping in a trio or quartet of graphics cards, its last PCI Express x1 slot is covered, preventing the use of Gigabyte's bundled 802.11ac/Bluetooth combo card. Great overclocking, a pair of quiet fans for voltage regulation and chipset components, a liquid cooling channel on the voltage regulator, and even the lauded Thunderbolt 2 controller can't distract me from that flaw. It's not minor, either. The high-end Wi-Fi card that three-way SLI builds lose is worth at least $50.
The Z87 XPower is runner-up for Tom's Hardware Elite. At $400, it’s the most elaborate board in this round-up that supports all of its features and three- or four-way SLI simultaneously. Its 300 Mb/s 802.11n Wi-Fi solution is decidedly low-cost, but at least it doesn’t get in the way. It also has a more premium Killer E2205 GbE controller, though most of its competitors have two gigabit-capable interfaces. And it’s hard for us to prove the value of a 32-phase voltage regulator on a CPU that really needs to be de-lidded and cooled with liquid nitrogen before the super-beefy power circuitry really becomes a factor.
Cool stuff abounds in MSI's Z87 XPower, yet the lack of two Ethernet controllers is at best offset by the higher-priced single gigabit chip, and its integrated overclocking features are perhaps offset by the use of a lower-cost wireless solution. That means its larger voltage regulator bears the entire burden of its $70 price premium over the Z87 Extreme9/ac, without consideration for the cheaper board’s Thunderbolt capability. Given the board’s focus, we think it'd fare best in a competition of overclocking platforms designed with extreme cooling in mind.