Three Z97 Express Motherboards, $220 To $280, Reviewed

Power, Heat, Efficiency And Overclocking

ASRock’s Z97 Extreme9 has the greatest number of on-board devices, yet its higher power consumption only occurs when it's under load. MSI’s Z97 MPower Max AC demonstrates lower power consumption across the board, though its 2W radio wasn’t active during this test.

The result is a 4.7% efficiency loss for the Z97 Extreme9 and a 6% gain for the Z97 MPower Max AC, when comparing the average of all three boards.

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BIOS Frequency and Voltage settings (for overclocking)
Row 0 - Cell 0 ASRock Z97 Extreme9Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming GTMSI Z97- MPower Max AC
Base Clock90-300MHz (0.1MHz)80-266.66MHz (0.01MHz)90-300MHz (0.05MHz)
CPU Multiplier8x-120x (1x)8-80x (1x)8-80x (1x)
DRAM Data Rates800-4000 (200/266.6MHz)800-2933 (200/266.6MHz)800-3200 (200/266.6MHz)
CPU Vcore0.80-2.00V (1mV)0.50-1.80V (1mV)0.80-2.10V (1mV)
VCCIN1.20-2.30V (10mV)1.00-2.40V (10mV)1.20-3.04V (1mV)
PCH Voltage0.98-1.32V (5mV)0.65-1.30V (5mV)0.70-2.32V (10mV)
DRAM Voltage1.17-1.80V (5mV)1.15-2.10V (5mV)0.24-2.77V (10mV)
CAS Latency4-15 Cycles5-15 Cycles4-15 Cycles
tRCD3-20 Cycles4-31 Cycles4-31 Cycles
tRP4-15 Cycles4-31 Cycles4-31 Cycles
tRAS9-63 Cycles5-63 Cycles9-63 Cycles

None of the motherboards in today’s round-up push this particular Core i7-4790K to 4.6GHz, and higher voltage levels eventually cause thermal throttling. Differences between 1.278 and 1.283V can determine whether a board reaches an extra 1MHz base clock, so we’re treating the CPU O/C race as a tie.

XMP doesn’t specify every single timing adjustment that these boards are capable of setting, and some boards have looser tertiary timings to help achieve better overclocks. We started testing DDR3-2800 bandwidth after discovering poor performance on a different motherboard at this frequency. Though we don’t seen any that level of performance deficiency in these three boards, we’re still surprised to see MSI’s Z97 MPower Max AC fall slightly behind.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • Nuckles_56
    Damn, nice boards but really expensive. A pity about the i7 4790k not performing well, as I really wanted to see which board was best at OC'ing
  • InvalidError
    Seems like somewhat of a shame to test boards with a PCIE switch using only a single GPU. How many enthusiasts who spend in the neighborhood of $300 on a motherboard would settle for a single-GPU setup?

    This needs a follow-up with x16x16 PEX vs x8x8 native vs x16x16 LGA2011 and, hopefully, x8x8x8x8 PEX vs x16x8x8x8 native on LGA2011.
  • jtd871
    On-board wifi is simply a waste of space and power (and probably available pcie bandwidth) - even for mITX mobos. Wireless specifications change too frequently to get locked in to whatever is on your mobo. USB dongles are easier to upgrade/replace and allow more flexibility with respect to antenna placement.

    If you really can afford 3 GPUs, you should really be starting with X99. For Z97, full-size ATX boards are kind of a waste due to the limit on available PCIe lanes, unless you want just 1 GPU and a bunch of other 1-2-lane expansion boards. I would have preferred seeing what you can get in a uATX (or possibly mITX) solution for the same budget in a package that's arguably a better fit to cater to the SLI/CF crowd and easier to fit in a case.
  • envy14tpe
    Love to see things at their full potential, but can we include a i5-4690k for comparison? Many people don't need what the i7 offers and would love to see how the i5 overclocks and performs on these motherboards.
  • SessouXFX
    How do they measure up to the Asus Z97 Deluxe?
  • rolli59
    Really when it comes down to that class of boards and money is no issue, the question is; is your color theme, red, yellow or blue?
  • SessouXFX
    Anodized Gold. :P

    That one MSI board...I hope that price isn't accurate, that they're currently out of stock or something else is going on, as in, it's being shipped from S. Korea...
  • fl-gators-fan
    Very nice to see the Gigabyte Gaming GT coming out ahead, as that's the board I'm using. I've had it for about 2 months with the I7-4790K and haven't even tried overclocking yet. The 4.0 GHz is plenty fast for all I do :)
  • Gurg
    So this indicates that for what it costs to try to dress a 4790k up, you will spend at least as much as a higher performing 5820k.
  • InvalidError
    14541735 said:
    So this indicates that for what it costs to try to dress a 4790k up, you will spend at least as much as a higher performing 5820k.
    While the motherboard and CPU may cost about the same, you also need to throw in an extra $100 for DDR4.