Which Z97 Motherboard Is Best?
At $160, ASRock’s recently-reduced Z97 Extreme6 clearly leads the performance-per-dollar chart. And, with a full load of dual GbE networking, twin third-party SATA controllers, and four added-in USB 3.0 ports, the Z97 Extreme6 makes few concessions in features.
Gigabyte’s Z97X-UD5H takes second place in the chart, and would have even secured second place if we tossed out the 2% performance advantage it got from forcing an overclock (we like to control our equipment, rather than the other way around). That factory-imposed overclock came with a huge penalty in energy use and efficiency. Still, at $170, this looks like a great value to anyone who places performance above all else. I say that because even if you apply the same clock rates to the other boards, you still wouldn't get the kind of DDR3-2800 bandwidth from them that we saw from the Z97X-UD5H. And then there’s the slot arrangement that gives you a solid basis for three-way CrossFire at PCIe 3.0 x8-x4-x4 mode. But if you’re not interested in spending-up on DDR3-2800 or three-way CrosssFire, ASRock’s Z97 Extreme6 still looks like a bargain.
Third in the value charts, MSI’s Z97 MPower needed a big feature or two to justify its mid-sized $175 price. I like the design, the layout, and the M.2-to-SATA Express adapter card that MSI says is now shipping with this board. Unfortunately, it simply doesn’t have that extra feature to justify a higher price, and it even comes one network controller short of the first- and second-place contenders.
Fourth place in the above chart, Supermicro’s $195 C7Z97-OCE stands out as the board that can support up to six graphics cards (three at ultra-low bandwidth) and fit three double-slot graphics cards in CrossFire at PCIe 3.0 mode x8-x4-x4 using a standard seven-slot case. It also posts the lowest CPU temperature when overclocking, which must mean something important. It’s arduous to overclock, but the results are great for anyone willing to take the time. Unfortunately, we don’t think enthusiasts will be inclined to jump at its few advantages in light of overclocking difficulties and a higher price.
The most expensive board in today’s round-up, Asus’ $210 Z97-Pro(Wi-Fi ac) leans on the company's reputation for quality and reliability, in addition to a great wireless controller and software package, to justify its higher price. And, if you need a high-end wireless controller, Asus will probably win you over. The problem is that we can’t quantify a reputation, and if we did, we’d need to put Gigabyte in the same league. Paying $40 for a Wi-Fi controller while giving up a $10 on-board network chip doesn’t work out mathematically in Asus’ favor, especially when the board we’re comparing was already running for second-place.
ASRock’s Z97-Extreme6 wins the value award, but Gigabyte’s Z97X-UD5H is still a strong contender for a mere $5 more. There are many things to like about the Z97X-UD5H, including its ability to support three-way CrossFire with PCIe 3.0 transfers. And if that’s still a contender, Asus’ high-end Wi-Fi card and lack of forced overclocking keep it in the running too!
With the realization that $5 isn’t going to change many peoples' minds, and that $40 isn’t a bad price for a high-end Wi-Fi card, Gigabyte’s Z97X-UD5H and Asus’s Z97-Pro(Wi-Fi ac) both earn our stamp of approval, too.