Skip to main content

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

Which Offers The Most Value?

Rating value becomes more difficult as parts are added, especially when those parts are vastly different between two products. ASRock, for example, offers dual networking controllers, while MSI serves up a high-end Wi-Fi solution as its second network interface. Meanwhile, Gigabyte and ASRock add four-way SLI support through a pricey PCIe 3.0 bridge, while MSI doesn't. And although Gigabyte is the only company in this round-up not to include any kind of secondary networking, the Killer controller it does include is worth a little more to some buyers. Gigabyte also focuses a little harder on integrated audio with a replaceable/reconfigurable high-end op-amp.

If we maintain the assumption that all three boards are equally valuable, top-of-the-chart value placement favoring Gigabyte’s Z97X-Gaming GT should carry through to a real-world award. But that’s not necessarily the situation.

Other than arguing between Gigabyte’s Killer controller and enhanced TI headphone amp versus ASRock’s dual GbE chips from Intel, ASRock also adds a couple more SATA ports and some extra slots. And its Ultra M.2 interface does add cost to the board, even if using the feature forces total graphics bandwidth down to x8 mode. ASRock needs to justify a price difference of around $15 though, and both of these companies are expert at adding valuable features cheaply.

Image 1 of 2

Image 2 of 2

To be completely fair, ASRock’s Z97 Extreme9 probably has exactly enough added features to offset its higher price compared to Gigabyte’s Z97X-Gaming GT. That presents a recognition problem, however. Without an obvious value leader, both products get our stamp of approval.

When we add “better value” to the reasons for granting an Approved award in today’s contest, we take that award away from any other products that would have otherwise earned our approval. That’s a problem for MSI, because we really like the 802.11ac solution on its Z97 MPower Max AC. It’s difficult for use to say that Wi-Fi is worth more than the three-/four-way SLI-enabling switch on the competing platforms though, and its feature set otherwise falls between its competition.

The favorite board of my newly-minted lab technician, MSI’s Z97 MPower Max AC doesn’t fall between its competitors in price. The highest-priced product in today’s round-up, it takes a third-place value finish in spite of its high-end wireless solution.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.