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Asus Z97M-Plus Motherboard Review

Another day, another mATX Z97 motherboard review. Today's candidate is the Asus Z97M-Plus, which we're comparing to ASRock's Z97M OC Formula and Z97M Pro4.

Test Results

Test Bench Hardware

Benchmark Settings

3D Gaming
Battlefield 4Version 1.0.0.1, DirectX 11, 100-sec. Fraps "Tashgar"Test Set 1: Medium Quality Preset, No AA, 4X AF, SSAOTest Set 2: Ultra Quality Preset,  4X MSAA, 16X AF, HBAO
Grid 2Version 1.0.85.8679, Direct X 11, Built-in BenchmarkTest Set 1: High Quality, No AATest Set 2: Ultra Quality, 8x MSAA
Arma 3Version 1.08.113494, 30-Sec. Fraps "Infantry Showcase"Test Set 1: Standard Preset, No AA, Standard AFTest Set 2: Ultra Preset, 8x FSAA, Ultra AF
Far Cry 3V. 1.04, DirectX 11, 50-sec. Fraps "Amanaki Outpost"Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA, Standard ATC, SSAOTest Set 2: Ultra Quality, 4x MSAA, Enhanced ATC, HDAO
Adobe Creative Suite
Adobe After Effects CCVersion 12.0.0.404: Create Video which includes 3 Streams, 210 Frames, Render Multiple Frames Simultaneosly
Adobe Photoshop CCVersion 14.0 x64: Filter 15.7MB TIF Image: Radial Blur, Shape Blur, Median, Polar Coordinates
Adobe Premiere Pro CCVersion 7.0.0 (342), 6.61 GB MXF Project to H.264 to H.264 Blu-ray, Output 1920x1080, Maximum Quality
Audio/Video Encoding
iTunesVersion 11.0.4.4 x64: Audio CD (Terminator II SE), 53 minutes, default AAC format
Lame MP3Version 3.98.3: Audio CD "Terminator II SE", 53 min, convert WAV to MP3 audio format, Command: -b 160 --nores (160 kb/s)
Handbrake CLIVersion: 0.99: Video from Canon Eos 7D (1920x1080, 25 FPS) 1 Minutes 22 SecondsAudio: PCM-S16, 48000 Hz, 2-Channel, to Video: AVC1 Audio: AAC (High Profile)
TotalCodeStudio 2.5Version: 2.5.0.10677: MPEG-2 to H.264, MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG-2), Audio: MPEG-2 (44.1 kHz, 2 Channel, 16-Bit, 224 kb/s), Codec: H.264 Pro, Mode: PAL 50i (25 FPS), Profile: H.264 BD HDMV
Productivity
ABBYY FineReaderVersion 10.0.102.95: Read PDF save to Doc, Source: Political Economy (J. Broadhurst 1842) 111 Pages
Adobe Acrobat 11Version 11.0.0.379: Print PDF from 115 Page PowerPoint, 128-bit RC4 Encryption
Autodesk 3ds Max 2013Version 15.0 x64: Space Flyby Mentalray, 248 Frames, 1440x1080
BlenderVersion: 2.68A, Cycles Engine, Syntax blender -b thg.blend -f 1, 1920x1080, 8x Anti-Aliasing, Render THG.blend frame 1
Visual Studio 2010Version 10.0, Compile Google Chrome, Scripted
File Compression
WinZipVersion 18.0 Pro: THG-Workload (1.3 GB) to ZIP, command line switches "-a -ez -p -r"
WinRARVersion 5.0: THG-Workload (1.3 GB) to RAR, command line switches "winrar a -r -m3"
7-ZipVersion 9.30 alpha (64-bit): THG-Workload (1.3 GB) to .7z, command line switches "a -t7z -r -m0=LZMA2 -mx=5"
Synthetic Benchmarks and Settings
3DMark 11Version: 1.0.5.0, Benchmark Only
3DMark ProfessionalVersion: 1.2.250.0 (64-bit), Fire Strike Benchmark
PCMark 8Version: 1.0.0 x64, Full Test
SiSoftware SandraVersion 2014.02.20.10, CPU Test = CPU Arithmetic / Multimedia / Cryptography, Memory Bandwidth Benchmarks

Each board is set to stock clocks, Speed Step and energy saving features are enabled, and the CPU fan is set to maximum. I use Windows default "Performance" power option preset for everything except idle power consumption where it gets set to "Balanced."

We're looking for oddities in the bench scores. Boring benchmarks are good benchmarks for motherboards. Dramatic score leads are due to motherboards cheating with hidden clock boosts while a board lagging behind is usually a configuration conflict.

With the Z97M-Plus numbers now in the scoring charts, the last of the ITX boards have dropped off the comparison table. It's just microATX Z97 from here on out.

Synthetic Benchmarks

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The Plus shows a small bump in 3DMark 11 physics, but everything else is pretty flat. I'll chalk this up to the odd way the Plus handles Turbo Boost.

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We see another anomaly in Sandra Multimedia where the Plus scores a little lower than the rest. Everything else is completely flat. Doing a little math, all the errant scores are almost exactly 5 percent lower. This again suggests the aforementioned Turbo Boost glitch since 4.0 GHz is 5 percent lower than the 4.2 GHz turbo clock the 4790K normally reaches. I think we have our culprit.

Gaming Benchmarks

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The Plus falls in line with past gaming results. This is exactly the behavior we love to see in motherboards.

Application and Productivity Benchmarks

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Variances of one second are almost always due to rounding. The Plus shows excellent consistency here.

Power and Temperature

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Asus has a history of lower power consumption in their motherboards. Finer electrical control in the BIOS allows the CPU to run on less electricity and thus at a lower temperature. A smaller VRM hea tsink means higher temperatures on the power regulation circuitry.

Overall Performance And Efficiency

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We always like doing the same amount of work on less electricity. Asus notches a solid efficiency win over the ASRock competitors.

Overclocking Performance

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The Plus overclocks the BCLK better than the ASRock boards and can reach basically the same CPU overclocks. Unfortunately, RAM overclocking is hit-and-miss. Both ASRock competitors can push RAM to faster frequencies in both two- and four-module configurations and reach higher bandwidth at the 2666 and 2800 straps. The Plus does score a significant bandwidth victory at DDR3-2400, though, demonstrating much tighter auto timings at the lower frequency.

Eric Vander Linden is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews motherboards, specializing in high-end Intel chipsets.