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