Most of us know ASUS more through their ROG series of motherboards, the Maximum and Rampage, than perhaps we know their more regular boards. However, these are the most popular by a long a way, finding their way into a large majority of system builders specifications due to their blend of performance and price.
As, in a similar manner to the Formula/Extreme Republic of Gamers versions you're more familiar with, the Z97's from ASUS are variations on a theme we'll be tackling them all together.
Again we have to remind you that we're only allowed to bring you a preview so think of this as a taster before the main event, and keep a close eye on OC3D for our full review as soon.
We'll show you the specifications for the Deluxe, as it's the model that will find its way into most systems. It also shows how even the non-ROG ASUS models have a raft of technology on board.
The overclocked RAM support has exploded in recent times. The days, that to us seem recent, of anything over 2000MHz being darn speedy have been clearly swept into the past with the ASUS Z97 motherboards supporting 3300MHz DDR3. Which is mind boggling. Nearly as impressive is the volume of connection options with 10 USB ports on the rear and 10 internal SATA ports. Running out of sockets certainly wont be an issue. With the Deluxe in particular the plain specifications don't begin to cover what is available from the newest range of ASUS motherboards, so let's crack on.
|CPU||LGA1150 Supporting 4th and 5th Generation Intel CPUs|
|Chipset||Intel Z97 Express|
|Memory||4 DIMM, 32GB Max @ up to 3300MHz OC|
|Expansion Slots||2 PCI Express 3.0 x16 or x8/x8|
1 PCI Express 2.0 x16
4 PCI Express 2.0 x1
|VGA||DisplayPort 1.2 supporting 4K displays|
Quad GPU CrossFire and Quad GPU SLI Support
|Storage||10 SATA 6Gb/s Ports inc 4 SATA Express|
1 m.2 Socket 3
|LAN||Intel I218V and I211-AT Gigabit LAN|
|Wireless and Bluetooth||Support Dual band WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac |
Bluetooth 4.0 support
|Audio||Realtek ALC1150 and Crystal Sound 2|
|USB||10 USB 3.0 (6 rear, 4 internal)|
8 USB 2.0 (4 rear, 4 internal)
The Z97A is the entry level board, but don't let that fool you into thinking that it hasn't got a raft of cool features. It's so easy for people to assume that they need loads of elements that they'll never actually utilise and thus overlook something which is more modest but will still get the job done.
It's unlikely that the Z97A will win any beauty contests with the its brown aesthetic. However, we can't be the only people who recall when the lowest cost offering came with a bright blue PCB, three or four colours of plastics, a heatsink that seemed to mainly be designed to remove the skin off your knuckles, and vertical storage ports. So with that in mind we think that the Z97A is inoffensive. No we wouldn't choose this colour scheme, but equally if you're building on a budget then looks aren't a factor and performance is. That's where the combination of the outstanding Intel Chipset and ASUS' build quality comes into its own.
There is plenty of room between the PCI slots, and SLI/Crossfire is a very realistic prospect. The inclusion of both PCI Express slots and legacy PCI ones allow you to run the hardware you might have on hand without being forced to upgrade. The importance of that can't be underestimated at this level. Sure we all wish we could refresh our whole system every six months, but we don't.
The gold heatsinks are the element of the new ASUS Z97 range that has divided opinion in the office the most. It's much nicer than the previous gold offerings, being a lot lighter and looking more like actual gold.
There is no lack of modern storage options on the Z97A, with the board supporting SATA 6Gb/s, SATA Express, and just below the CPU socket is a M.2 port for your little SSD. The DRAM OK button is hugely useful if you've been struggling with system stability as it will ensure that the board boots up without a hitch.
The Workstation (WS) version is one of those motherboards that a lot of people tend to overlook because they want a gaming system, without taking into account that any board designed for a workstation has to have some serious performance. Gaming might be fun, but time is money and productivity is king.
If the gold on the Z97A piqued your interest then the heatsink on the WS will certainly grab your attention. It looks a lot like the early heatsinks on motherboards, and is clearly designed for performance rather than any aesthetic considerations. Like the Z97A the WS supports up to 3300MHz OC RAM.
There are 4 PCI Express 3.0 slots if you want to cram the WS full of cards for rendering, gaming or even just utilising GPU encoding. Well positioned next to the 24pin ATX power input are two USB 3.0 front connectors. Connectivity is everything in our modern world and the Universal Serial Bus has nearly become a victim of its own success with everything being USB these days, so to have the chance to break a lot out to the front of the case really enhances usability.
With dual-LAN the WS certainly has your networking needs covered. It has four SATA 6Gb/s ports and 2 SATA Express (the 10Gb/s) ports. Tucked in just behind them beneath the heatsink is the M.2 Socket 3 which supports 10Gb/s and would make a perfect OS drive.
Finally the IO area has all of your needs covered with an HDMI, DisplayPort, mini DisplayPort; Optical and 8 channel audio outputs, 2 Intel GigaLAN, 6 USB 3.0 and 2 USB 2.0 ports. That's as well as the USB BIOS Flashback button, which is important for recovering from any problems you might encounter.
Finally the ASUS Z97 Deluxe, which we think will be the one that most intrigues you all. It certainly comes with plenty of features and addons that we expect to spread across the whole motherboard market.
The gold has been toned down on the Deluxe when compared to the Z97A and Z97 WS models. With the contrasting black and a black PCB we think it looks very cool, especially with these rounded heatsinks. Gold is rapidly becoming the next big thing in colour schemes, so whatever your thoughts it's probably best to get used to it.
As the majority of the Z97 Deluxe follows the trends we've seen in the first two here, let's focus upon the extra elements included in the Deluxe. Certainly there are plenty of them. This isn't one of those motherboard boxes you open up and realise that you just get an IO shield and a manual.
There is a staggering amount of connection options on the ASUS Z97 Deluxe. Six SATA 6Gb/s ports stop you having to stare at your motherboard trying to make sure you don't plug your shiny new SSD into a SATA II port. Next to them are the four SATA Express ports which, if they perform in the real world as well as they do on paper will quickly lead to us all upgrading our storage devices. Who doesn't want a 10Gb/s transfer rate. Especially without the fiddling about of a RAID setup. Round the back it's like a dream come true with plenty of display outputs, 10 (count em) USB ports, twin LAN and the usual audio jacks. This certainly lives up to the Deluxe name.
Two of the adaptors supplied with the ASUS Z97 Deluxe neatly encapsulate how some technologies have captured the imagination and others haven't. Firstly there is the WiFi Go!. WiFi is now absolutely everywhere in our lives, to the point that when you're somewhere and can't get a wireless signal it comes as a surprise. Anything that can remove the spaghetti from behind our towers has to be a good thing, and equally saving us having to buy an adaptor is good news for all.
The second one is the ThunderboltEX II technology card, which is one of the recent developments from Intel that has all the potential to be amazing, without grabbing the attention in the same way that USB did. It has enormous bandwidth, plenty of chaining potential and can provide a good amount of power for your devices. We still can't think of anything we've come across that utilises it though. Hopefully as the 4K displays become more common then the need for Thunderbolt will mean that ASUS are ahead of the game.
Two other things that take wireless technologies to the next level are the Wireless Charger, which does exactly what it says on the tin, and hte NFC Express 2. With more and more devices (televisions, smartphones etc) supporting Near Field Communication (NFC) then it makes perfect sense to include something that allows us to connect our devices in the easiest possible manner. We definitely take our hat off to ASUS with this one. It's fun to get something you didn't realise you needed until it was in front of you.
So there we have it. The triumvirate of ASUS Z97 motherboards that support both the 4th Generation Haswell CPUs and the soon to be released 14nm Broadwell ones too. Let us know your thoughts in the OC3D Forums.