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Intel Z97 Express: Five Enthusiast Motherboards, $120 To $160

Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 5

The effect of the booming global PC gaming market has been so profound on Gigabyte that some of its motherboards now sport names similar to one of its competitors. Gigabyte shoots for a lower target price of $135, though a quick check on Newegg indicates that the board is actually going for $160 at press time.

Gigabyte doesn’t toss in a bunch of added drive controllers at that price, but it does fill out the I/O panel by supplementing the four native USB 3.0 ports with four native USB 2.0 ports.

Keeping with the gaming theme, the firm also puts a little extra money behind its GbE port with a Killer E2201 controller by Qualcomm.

Understanding that most gamers won't want to cut the middle x16 slot to x4 mode, Gigabyte wires the CPU’s sixteen lanes only to x16 slots 1 and 2. Like its competitors, that still makes x16-x0 and x8-x8 modes possible for one or two cards. But the third slot is a different animal: it’s PCIe 2.0-capable.

Only four of the chipset’s eight PCIe 2.0 lanes go to slots, and running a x4 (or greater) card in the bottom x16-length slot disables the three x1 slots. If you'd rather put a x1 card there, you can without sacrificing connectivity. That explains why the Z97X-Gaming 5 has an extra pair of PCIe pathway switches in the middle.

Two of the remaining PCIe pathways feed either the M.2 slot or an SATA Express cable, another lane hosts the network controller, and the final lane serves a PCIe to PCI bridge.

This is where I normally delve into layout features and problems, but, like the previously-described ASRock and Asus boards, Gigabyte's Z97X-Gaming 5 doesn’t advance layout in any significant way or present any issues. The front-panel audio connector is a little too close to the bottom-rear corner for the cables of some poorly-designed cases, but that potential snag is common to most of its competitors.

The Z97X-Gaming 5 installation kit includes a flexible SLI bridge, four SATA cables, an I/O shield and a case badge.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.