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

Getting High-End Extras From Z97 Express Motherboards

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:

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Z97 High-End Motherboard Features
Row 0 - Cell 0 ASRock Z97 Extreme9Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming GTMSI 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
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/x84 (by PEX-8747) x16/x0/x16/x0, x8/x8/x8/x83 (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
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/sASM1061 PCIe 2x SATA 6Gb/s
USB 3.0ASM1042AE PCIe ASM1074 hubuPD720210 HubAMS1042 PCIe ASM1074 Hub
Primary LANWGI218V PHYKiller E2201 PCIeWGI218V PHY
Secondary LANWGI211AT PCIeNoneNone
WiFiNoneNoneIntel 7260 PCIe 802.11ac Dual-Band (2x2; 867 Mb/s)
BluetoothNoneNoneBy 802.11ac Combo
HD Audio CodecALC1150ALC1150ALC1150
DDL/DTS ConnectDTS ConnectNoneNone
WarrantyThree YearsThree YearsThree Years
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.