Picking A Value Leader
The easiest way to rate value is comparing performance to price. But that doesn’t inspire anyone to add extras like USB and SATA controllers, which improve the flexibility of a platform, but don't move the needle on speed. We have to think more broadly than just looking at benchmark results.
Only ASRock was willing to add third-party controllers in this price range, but MSI has a value card up its sleeve in the form of a six month license for XSplit Gamecaster. If you use this program, you probably know that it's the equivalent of two $15 three-month memberships. In other words, MSI overcomes the expected difference in value anyway by cutting a deal with a service company that many gamers love.
That leaves ASRock's controller-rich Z97 Extreme4 as the lowest-priced model in our comparison. MSI also includes a lot of "other stuff" at the same $160 price point as Gigabyte, and Asus falls somewhere in the middle. We haven't seen ECS' solution for sale yet, but we're keeping an eye out for that one. Until it shows up, we're calling a tie between the ASRock and MSI solution for Approved recognition.
ASRock sent us a friendly reminder that it also offers bonus software in the form of a one-year professional license for cloud hosting by Orbweb.me.
Update 2: 5-13-2014
Newegg began listing the L337 Gaming Z97-Machine today for the low price of $140, undercutting competitor ASRock by $6. Though that would have placed the product higher on our price-to-performance chart, we believe that ASRock's easier overclocking and added features are probably worth slightly more than its $6 premium. If you personally don't want some of those features and won't overclock, the Z97-Machine offers a lower price for your consideration.