Lacking so much as a heat sink for it four-phase voltage regulator, ASRock hopes to compete against expensive rivals with features like on-board 802.11/ac Wi-Fi, five SATA 6Gb/s ports, an upgraded gigabit Ethernet controller and a low price. These things could all make it useful for building a plethora of content-oriented configurations, including a living room HTPC or home media server.
The Z97M-ITX/ac’s I/O panel appears surprisingly sparse, given the integrated features of Intel’s Z97 PCH. But that’s partly because ASRock leaves room for the Wi-Fi antenna connectors on its I/O shield. Missing is DisplayPort connectivity, for example, and the HDMI output is limited in the resolutions it'll support. In media centers, that means you’ll probably pair this inexpensive motherboard with an inexpensive display or resort to adding a graphics card that you probably thought you’d only need for games.
ASRock saves surface space by using a vertical mini-PCIe slot for its dual-band single-channel wireless controller, and includes a vertical bracket for attaching the card. Shown installed, these parts ship in the motherboard’s installation kit.
The USB 3.0 front-panel header is kept out of harm’s way next to the main ATX power connector, and the five SATA ports are lined up above the board’s PCIe 3.0 x16 slot. ASRock slides the LGA 1150 interface away from the x16 slot to optimize CPU cooler clearance, though this results in large coolers hanging past the top edge.
My only layout complaint isn’t exactly about layout. The Z97M-ITX/ac has only two fan headers including the one for the CPU fan. All of my cases have at least two fans, and half of my small CPU coolers also have two fans. Using fan splitters usually means making a mess of the cable pathways.
The Z97M-ITX/ac includes only two SATA cables in spite of the board’s five cable headers. Also shown are the Wi-Fi card and accessories, prior to card installation.
ASRock XFast LAN “Traffic Shaping” software (by cFOS) helps network gurus and gamers set packet priority and bandwidth restrictions.