Yesterday Intel introduced its new processors which are a refresh of the current Haswell chips. Along with these new processors two new motherboard chipsets are being introduced, the H97 and the Z97. For many of the motherboard manufacturers this is the time to introduce their new motherboards to replace the current H87 and Z87 based models. We compared no less than 19 boards from ASRock, ASUS, Gigabyte and MSI.
The Z97 is the high end chipset for socket 1150 motherboards and is the direct replacement for Z87. To be honest the amount of new features in the chipset itself are very limited, this doesn't make it's introduction any less exciting however as it is the perfect opportunity for motherboard manufacturers to introduce their new boards with all the latest innovations.
The most important feature of the 9-series chipset is the improved support for PCI-Express SSDs. Intel's Rapid Storage technology drivers are now also compatible with PCI-Express SSDs, this means that all sort of Intel-technologies such as Rapid Storage and Rapid Start now also work correctly in combination with PCI-Express SSDs. This will mainly be appreciated by OEM-system builders as they sometimes like to combine a small caching SSD with a conventional hard drive to save on cost. The motherboards discussed on the following pages are mainly aimed at the more enthusiast market in which it's very common to buy a dedicated SSD to install the OS and software on, thus making the Rapid Storage Technology support for PCI-express SSDs a lot less interesting.
While it is possible to use a PCI-express SSD with any older board such as a Z87 based one, you could run into some compatibility issues. The most important new feature on the 9-series based motherboards doesn't come from the chipset but from the motherboard manufacturers themselves. They are now implementing more interfaces for you to connect PCI SSDs such as M.2 and SATA Express. These give you more options to add in PCI-Express SSDs without sacrificing an actual PCI-Express slot.
We can only encourage the fact that you will have more options for placing PCIe-based storage. We all know that the maximum transfer speed of Serial ATA 600 (600 MB/s) is a bottleneck to many modern SSDs. The PCI-Express 2.0 2x connections which are used by M.2 and SATA Express should in theory be able to offer almost double the performance, 1000 MB/s. More on this on page 3.
Apart from the PCI-Express solutions there's several trends visible amongst the motherboards. Just as with the previous generation the manufacturers have gone to great lengths to implement the best possible on-board audio solutions. Another clear trend is affordable gaming motherboards. It is clear that in Taiwan the manufacturers have discovered that especially gamers will build new systems frequently using high end components, but also want to spend more on their graphics cards than their motherboards. With the Z87-series the more affordable gaming motherboards sold very well and this has caused several manufacturers to really focus on this demographic. Lastly we noticed that EFI-BIOSs are now really maturing and are being perfected. After several generations manufacturers have figured out how to use the graphical capabilities to make the EFI more user friendly.
The motherboards included in this roundup are:
- ASRock Z97 Extreme 4
- ASUS Z97-A
- ASUS Z97-Pro (Wi-Fi AC)
- ASUS Z97-Deluxe (NFC&WLC)
- ASUS Z97I-Plus
- ASUS Sabertooth Z97 Mark 1
- ASUS Maximus VII Gene
- ASUS Maximus VII Ranger
- ASUS Maximus VII Hero
- Gigabyte Z97MX-Gaming 5
- Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 3
- Gigabyte G1.Sniper Z97
- Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming G1 WiFi Black Edition
- Gigabyte Z97X-UD5H
- Gigabyte Z97X-UD5H Black Edition
- Gigabyte Z97X-SOC Force
- MSI Z97 Gaming 5
- MSI Z97 Gaming 7
- MSI Z97 MPower Max AC