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

We all love extras, though not all of us can agree on which ones are the best. Some people still love a New York-style cheese pizza, for example, though they’ll want an extra slice if they’re hungry.

In the PC world, anyone who can afford a few extras first needs to buy a motherboard that supports them. Run out of expansion slots, but need Wi-Fi? You’ll have to sacrifice a USB port for that, unless you can find a motherboard with an on-board controller. Want more than two graphics cards in SLI? That might call for a step up to Intel's high-end X99 platform, unless you're comfortable paying extra for a PCI Express-based bridge chip able to take Haswell's 16 lanes and turn them into 32.

You won’t find such an expensive component on motherboards priced under $220. In fact, right around that range is still fairly price-sensitive. Welcome to Z97’s “High End”, where the enthusiasts who eschew the overpriced top-end stuff can still find just about everything they want. But if your wants include top shelf wireless networking and three-way SLI, well, you’re going to need to make a decision:

Z97 High-End Motherboard Features
 ASRock Z97
Extreme9
Gigabyte
Z97X-Gaming GT
MSI Z97-
MPower Max AC
PCB Revision1.021.01.1
ChipsetIntel Z97 ExpressIntel Z97 ExpressIntel Z97 Express
Voltage Regulator12 Phases12 Phases12 Phases
BIOSP1.14 (08/18/2014)F5 (06/03/2014)V1.5 (07/22/2014)
100.0 MHz BCLK99.94 (-0.06%)99.98 (-0.02%)100.01 (+0.01%)
I/O Panel Connectors
P/S 2111
USB 3.0468
USB 2.0422
Network211
CLR_CMOS Button1None1
Digital Audio OutOpticalOpticalOptical
Digital Audio InNoneNoneNone
Analog Audio566
Video OutDisplayPort, HDMIVGA, DVI-D, HDMI, DisplayPortHDMI, DisplayPort
Other DeviceseSATANoneNone
Internal Interfaces
PCIe 3.0 x164 (by PEX-8747)
x16/x0/x16/x0,
x8/x8/x8/x8
4 (by PEX-8747)
x16/x0/x16/x0,
x8/x8/x8/x8
3 (x16/x0/x0, x8/x8/x0, x8/x4/x4)
PCIe 2.0 x161 (2-pathways)NoneNone
PCIe 2.0 x11x mini PCIe34
USB 3.02 (4-ports)1 (2-ports)2 (4-ports)
USB 2.02 (4-ports)3 (6-ports)2 (4-ports)
SATA 6.0 Gb/s10 (Shares M.2, SATA-E)8 (Shares SATA-E)8 (Shares M.2)
SATA Express2 (Each use 2x SATA)1 (Uses 2x SATA)None
4-Pin Fan275
3-Pin Fan4NoneNone
FP-Audio111
S/PDIF I/ONoneOutput OnlyNone
Internal ButtonsPower, ResetPower, Reset, CLR_CMOSPower, Reset, OC-Genie, BCLK+, BCLK-, Go2Bios, CLR_CMOS
Internal SwitchBIOS IC SelectorDual BIOS Mode, BIOS IC selectorOC-Mode, Slow-Mode, BIOS Selector
Diagnostics PanelNumericNumericNumeric
Other DevicesM.2 (Shares SATA-E), Ultra M.2 (Uses 4x PCIe 3.0), SATA pwr, Serial COM portSerial COM portM.2 (Sub 2x SATA)
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA6x SATA 6Gb/s
(Includes M.2)
6x SATA 6Gb/s
(Includes SATA-E)
6x SATA 6Gb/s
(Includes M.2)
Chipset RAID Modes0, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 10
Add-In SATA2x ASM1061 PCIe
4x SATA 6Gb/s
1x eSATA (Shared)
88SE9172 PCIe
2x SATA 6Gb/s
ASM1061 PCIe
2x SATA 6Gb/s
USB 3.0ASM1042AE PCIe
ASM1074 hub
uPD720210 HubAMS1042 PCIe
ASM1074 Hub
Networking
Primary LANWGI218V PHYKiller E2201 PCIeWGI218V PHY
Secondary LANWGI211AT PCIeNoneNone
WiFiNoneNoneIntel 7260 PCIe 802.11ac Dual-Band (2x2; 867 Mb/s)
BluetoothNoneNoneBy 802.11ac Combo
Audio
HD Audio CodecALC1150ALC1150ALC1150
DDL/DTS ConnectDTS ConnectNoneNone
WarrantyThree YearsThree YearsThree Years
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24 comments
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  • 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
    1279836 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.
  • Lutfij
    Good article and read there Thomas! In person the MSI board does feel solid but you've gotta admit and wonder, do I need a full sized mobo merely for the add on widi card and sacrifice multi GPU loadout? Answer is no.

    Keep up the good work mate!
  • Crashman
    1279836 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.
    5820k is clocked slower than 4790k and doesn't usually O/C to the same max frequency. So this is primarily a gamer's option. And it uses cheaper RAM.
  • polyformist
    I too would be interested in the Difference between these and the ASUS z97.
  • Crashman
    66533 said:
    I too would be interested in the Difference between these and the ASUS z97.
    I thought so too. Asus chose not to participate this time because it didn't believe its cheapest 3-way/4-way SLI board would stay within the price range, and it didn't want to put a board lacking this feature against samples such as Gigabyte's and ASRock's.

    BTW, I have to be VERY CAREFUL about what I reveal of these conversations. So, you're welcome :)

    BTW 2, new forum member and freelance technician Gordon_Foster89 assisted in the testing of these boards. Don't be afraid to hit him up with testing questions :)
  • Nuckles_56
    8708 said:
    66533 said:
    I too would be interested in the Difference between these and the ASUS z97.
    I thought so too. Asus chose not to participate this time because it didn't believe its cheapest 3-way/4-way SLI board would stay within the price range, and it didn't want to put a board lacking this feature against samples such as Gigabyte's and ASRock's. BTW, I have to be VERY CAREFUL about what I reveal of these conversations. So, you're welcome :) BTW 2, new forum member and freelance technician Gordon_Foster89 assisted in the testing of these boards. Don't be afraid to hit him up with testing questions :)


    Thanks for that information and we understand that you can't talk too much about that
  • rush21hit
    I'd say the difference is negligible at best. It all goes back to the feature people want for their money. Depend on what you need, none is better than the other as far as I can see.

    That said, I for one, would choose whichever the cheapest and also has the longest replacement warranty, ignoring their feature altogether. Though they seem to be standardized nowadays, by 1 year 1:1 replace for faulty product and 2 years free service AFAIK. Regardless which you choose.

    I really want to upgrade to one of these and an i7 4930K, I really do. And the money is available also. But my wife would kill me first...
  • Zach_Tom
    I would rather see the Gigabyte GA-Z97X-Gaming-G1 Wifi Black edition or the standard edition
  • TechTanium
    i really want to see the MSI Z97- MPower Max AC performance as it is my dream board ;-) and msi normaly outperforms outher brands in stability and OCing
  • Prplxt
    "Since the hose side of the bridge only operates in x16 or x8 mode, total bandwidth drops to x8. Those eight lanes are still repeated to four slots, but “x16” mode for two or fewer cards only exists on the device side of the bridge whenever Ultra M.2 is utilized in PCIe mode."

    What does this mean? On the Asrock mobo if I run a x4 m.2 ssd in the ultra slot how many lanes will my 2 GPUs run 'at'? 16/16, 16/8, 8/8, or other? And if I only run one gpu will it run at 16 or 8?
  • Danra
    It is too bad that the LAN uses so many CPU cycles, I would prefer they use a Intel, that would make the Gigabyte nearly a perfect motherboard, even if the price were a little higher. I know manufacturers try to give customers the most bang for the buck, however, I think getting those wasted CPU cycles back is worth paying for.

    Awesome, you get your $700+ video card, plug it in and install a single PCIe x1 device and your video card slot drops to PCIe x8... I believe this is the first time that a socket 1150 or 1155 motherboard has 48 PCIe lanes available [thanks to the ExpressLane PLX PEX8747 chip].

    You can actually spend $1400 on two Nvidia GTX 980s and have full PCIe x16 bandwidth on both. I am a single video card user because I cannot afford to pay more than the price of a good computer build for the price of two GTX 980s, however, the PLX PEX8747 chip permits me to plug in some other PCIe x1 device.
  • Crashman
    1837469 said:
    "Since the hose side of the bridge only operates in x16 or x8 mode, total bandwidth drops to x8. Those eight lanes are still repeated to four slots, but “x16” mode for two or fewer cards only exists on the device side of the bridge whenever Ultra M.2 is utilized in PCIe mode." What does this mean? On the Asrock mobo if I run a x4 m.2 ssd in the ultra slot how many lanes will my 2 GPUs run 'at'? 16/16, 16/8, 8/8, or other? And if I only run one gpu will it run at 16 or 8?
    Should be "host" side.

    Anyway, if you install an x4 SSD the slots will get x8 bandwidth, x8/x8 bandwidth, and x8/x8/x8 bandwidth because the bridge is a repeater. That's the short story.

    The long story is that two of your cards will be detected as having x16 connections because that's how they'd connect to the bridge.Its as if you lived on a 2-lane street that opened up to two more turning lanes where it crossed a main road, then the google van drove by and took a snapshot of those four lanes and registered it as a 4-lane road.
  • Lutfij
    Quote:
    then the Google van drove by and took a snapshot of those four lanes and registered it as a 4-lane road.
    :lol:

    I had to correct a few of the locations in my neighborhood on Google Maps and more so on their van footage
  • HKILLER
    so if i have like 2xGTX 970 and a M.2 SSD,in the Asrock board my VGA bandwidth will be reduced to 8x8 plus a 4x lane for the M.2 SSD but in the Gigabyte Board that doesn't happen it will be 16x16 because Gigabyte has a regular M.2 slot right?and what if i added i added a sound card (Creative sound Blaster ZXR)aside form the M.2 in the Gigabyte?will that also decrease my VGA lanes to 8x8?
  • Crashman
    1036116 said:
    so if i have like 2xGTX 970 and a M.2 SSD,in the Asrock board my VGA bandwidth will be reduced to 8x8 plus a 4x lane for the M.2 SSD but in the Gigabyte Board that doesn't happen it will be 16x16 because Gigabyte has a regular M.2 slot right?and what if i added i added a sound card (Creative sound Blaster ZXR)aside form the M.2 in the Gigabyte?will that also decrease my VGA lanes to 8x8?
    The Gigabyte board has no M.2 slot, and you can use the middle PCIe 2.0 x1 slot for a PCIe sound card without worrying about the PCIe 3.0 lanes.