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Three Z97 Express Motherboards, $220 To $280, Reviewed

Power, Heat, Efficiency And Overclocking

ASRock’s Z97 Extreme9 has the greatest number of on-board devices, yet its higher power consumption only occurs when it's under load. MSI’s Z97 MPower Max AC demonstrates lower power consumption across the board, though its 2W radio wasn’t active during this test.

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The result is a 4.7% efficiency loss for the Z97 Extreme9 and a 6% gain for the Z97 MPower Max AC, when comparing the average of all three boards.

BIOS Frequency and Voltage settings (for overclocking)
ASRock Z97 Extreme9Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming GTMSI Z97- MPower Max AC
Base Clock90-300MHz (0.1MHz)80-266.66MHz (0.01MHz)90-300MHz (0.05MHz)
CPU Multiplier8x-120x (1x)8-80x (1x)8-80x (1x)
DRAM Data Rates800-4000 (200/266.6MHz)800-2933 (200/266.6MHz)800-3200 (200/266.6MHz)
CPU Vcore0.80-2.00V (1mV)0.50-1.80V (1mV)0.80-2.10V (1mV)
VCCIN1.20-2.30V (10mV)1.00-2.40V (10mV)1.20-3.04V (1mV)
PCH Voltage0.98-1.32V (5mV)0.65-1.30V (5mV)0.70-2.32V (10mV)
DRAM Voltage1.17-1.80V (5mV)1.15-2.10V (5mV)0.24-2.77V (10mV)
CAS Latency4-15 Cycles5-15 Cycles4-15 Cycles
tRCD3-20 Cycles4-31 Cycles4-31 Cycles
tRP4-15 Cycles4-31 Cycles4-31 Cycles
tRAS9-63 Cycles5-63 Cycles9-63 Cycles

None of the motherboards in today’s round-up push this particular Core i7-4790K to 4.6GHz, and higher voltage levels eventually cause thermal throttling. Differences between 1.278 and 1.283V can determine whether a board reaches an extra 1MHz base clock, so we’re treating the CPU O/C race as a tie.

XMP doesn’t specify every single timing adjustment that these boards are capable of setting, and some boards have looser tertiary timings to help achieve better overclocks. We started testing DDR3-2800 bandwidth after discovering poor performance on a different motherboard at this frequency. Though we don’t seen any that level of performance deficiency in these three boards, we’re still surprised to see MSI’s Z97 MPower Max AC fall slightly behind.

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