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Z87 Hits The High End: Four Sub-$300 Motherboards

Picking The Best Z87 Motherboard Under $300

Our Performance Per Dollar chart is exactly that. It doesn’t include the cost of features, so the cheapest board always leads. Though the chart is only useful when comparing products with identical capabilities, some readers like to see it in motherboard round-ups anyway. We can see how it might come in useful for justifying the purchase of products with fewer add-ons, though it doesn't accurately convey the benefit of high-end wireless networking, for example.

We locked-in pricing for this story a while ago to assure that nobody would try to "game the system" with temporary discounts, which, as you know, does happen.

The round-up was scheduled a while ago, but pricing changes fast in this business. As it happened, the price of Gigabyte's board dropped an extra $10, as did MSI's.

And so, this is where we decide whether the more expensive boards have enough features to qualify their higher prices. For example, the MSI Z87 MPower Max sells for $30 more than Gigabyte’s Z87X-UD5H, but adds only a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth module to the mix. It also gives up the -UD5H’s second wired network controller. It was a tie at best, but only for users who really believe the wireless module is worth a full $30 more than the wired network controller.

Until last week, ASRock’s Z87 OC Formula was $45 more expensive than Gigabyte’s Z87X-UD5H. Its elaborate audio system is probably worth paying an extra $10 or so for, but the board has neither a secondary network controller nor a wireless controller to offset that loss. Those who don’t need to double up on GbE could point to the board’s extra USB 3.0 ports to justify the price premium, or its fourth x16-length slot and the PCIe 2.0 hub that supports it as evidence of value. The Z87 OC Formula is also plumbed for liquid cooling and covered in a waterproof film to prevent damage from leaks. Its verbose status indicator is a friendly touch, but at $265 we really needed to include its five-year warranty (two years longer than Gigabyte) before making the value parity call. A recent $30 price increase breaks that, leaving Gigabyte and MSI as contenders for value consideration.

Asus’ Maximus VI Fomula price premium was previously $35 compared to the similarly-marketed Z87 OC Formula, and that money paid for a 2x2 wireless module supporting 802.11ac at up to 867 Mb/s across two frequency bands. Adding similar functionality aftermarket costs you at least $35. The Maximus VI Formula loses ASRock’s conformal coating, steps up slightly in audio specification, loses ASRock’s warranty extension, and gains a few Asus-exclusive features like USB BIOS Flashback and ROG connect.

ROG Connect will probably be the one thing (other than brand preference) that drives overclocking exhibitionists towards the Maximus VI Formula, though the Z87 OC Formula appears to have nearly as many overclocking features to attract those same customers.

Discounts that helped ASRock throughout the summer have now expired. In a battle for feature supremacy, Asus' on-board extras are worth a little more. Without a big price difference to distract us from the value of those bundled value-adds, the Maximus VI Formula earns our rarest and most prestigious Tom's Hardware Elite award.

Update, 10/3/2013: In the past few round-ups, ASRock relied on instant rebates through select sellers to establish its value-oriented position. This time around, the contest between its Z87 OC Formula and Asus' Maximus VI Formula was for features supremacy rather than value. At the $265 where we originally found the Z87 OC Formula, ASRock might have qualified for a different award. But the price at publication time was $295. It has since dropped back down to $265. We look forward to ASRock's continued effort to promote a strong value story with lower prices.

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