The new Haswell processors from Intel are already available in stores now, so it’s a good moment to pit them against each other and see what the best option for you is.
The Z87 is Intel’s flagship chipset, and therefore one of the most complete in the market. We’ve picked the best mother boards on the market, from the biggest retailers in the country. In this comparison, we will pit some mother boards against each other, all of them with prices near the 300 Euros.
Asrock Z87 Extreme9/AC.
Asrock’s products tend to be simple, to-the-point and effective, and this mother board is no exception. Thanks to its high-quality integration, nice over clocking possibilities and interesting prices, this is one solid board. However, it is important to note that this is one of the most advanced mother boards on the market, so don’t expect it to be cheap.
All of these boards have a lot in common, since they all include the latest and most powerful chipset from Intel, but they also have some unique features of their own, and ,depending on what you’re looking for, taking a good look at all of them will tell you what’s the one for you. That’s why this review will cover each and every aspect of all of them.
The Extreme9/AC is a high-end normal-sized ATX mother board. Its most interesting feature is, without a doubt, its connectivity and ports, especially the two 10gbps Thunderbolt ports. It also has up to 12 USB 3.0 ports, and 9 USB 2.0 ports. The board also has ports for graphics cards; we believe the integrated graphics card will be of little to no use for most users. It has 10 SATA ports, four of them in the ASMedia ASM1061 controller, and the rest in the bottom part of the chipset. All of them are 6gbps-type, and feature RAID modes.
The board can offer a top-notch graphics performance since it supports up to four cards, SLI and Crossfire. To achieve this, the feature of this processors are used via a PCI Express PLX PEX 8747 bridge, which enables up to 16x modes for all the PCI Express 2.0 ports.
The two network interface cards are there thanks to the Intel chipsets, so the user has many options for linking multiple graphics cards. It also makes possible some other interesting features, like remotely waking up the PC from another device, like a smart phone or a tablet.
The board also offers support for AC Wi-Fi with two antennas capable of reaching speed of up to 1300mbps. During our tests, we got speeds of 30MB/s of bandwidth. The Wi-Fi is integrated in the frontal panel, where we can plug the antennas via the frontal USB 3.0 ports –four in total-. Right next to it is a high-speed multi-format card reader.
Another feature is the Bluetooth Smart connectivity, also known as Bluetooth 4.0, compatible with the latest generation of mobile devices.
This mother board offers total support for the latest components. It supports DDR3 Ram memory of up to 2933MHz. It’s designed to support high frequencies, and its energy system has been designed with this purpose in mind: it has great quality capacitors, digital power supply system and signal filtering. It uses a 12-phase design with double mosfets.
The passive cooling of the board protects the power supply unit, with a bigger heat sink, as well as the chipset and the middle PCI Express Bridge. All of the heat sinks are connected with a flat heat pipe. We think, though, one of its best features is its integrated sound card. These cards have been evolving, something that really shows here. Asrock have used one of the most complete DAC (digital to analog converters) on the market, with up to 115dB SNR. The sound card is, also, isolated from the rest of the components, and a digital amplifies from Texas Instruments ensures we get the best sound quality at all times.
The BIOS has the features you’d expect, with a lot of options for over clocking, detailed and extensive customization options and UEFI system, very easy to use. The BIOS can even be updated automatically from the internet. We can also over clock from Windows, thanks to the well-known set of tools and software from Asrock: their 555 series, with a RAM Disk, a components prioritizer, the Xfast USB to improve the performance with pen drives, et cetera.
Another feature worth mentioning is the USB Key technology, which allows us to log into the system without the use of password, simply with a pen drive. A very well made mother board for exigent users. Its price: 369 Euros.
ASUS Maximus VI Extreme.
The ASUS Maximus VI Extreme is like a dream come true for the lovers of over clocking, or simply those who like the latest technology. The board is designed to support up to four high-end graphics cards, such as AMD Crossfire and Nvidia SLI. Just like the Asrock, this board features a PCX PLX 8747 board and PCI Express modes with a minimum of 8X per slot. All of them are double-spaced to offer the best possible performance.
The connectivity of this board is simpler than you’d expect. It has 10 SATA ports, 6 of them on the chipset, and four more on the ASMedia ASM1601 controller. All of them feature RAID mode. In regards to USB connectivity: There are eight USB 3.0 ports, four on the chipset, plus another eight USB 2.0 ports distributed between the frontal and back connectors. It only has one Intel Ethernet Gigabit port.
The board also features wireless technology with Wi-Fi AC and Bluetooth 4.0 support. Right next to the back connectors, there a 6gbps mSATA module for SSD drives, which you can use for caching or storing your files.
Compared to the previous boards we’ve reviewed so far, this one has less sound-related features and fewer ports, but on the other hand, offers more over clocking options. It supports UP to 32 GB of Ram at up to 3100 MHz, and the UEFI-type bios can save different profiles and shortcuts to our favorite applications. It could be considered the evolution of ASUS’ UEFI system, more powerful and affordable. It also includes some extras like RAMDisk, a “Secure Erase” system for SSD, and many others.
The most interesting feature of this board is the new OC Panel, which can shift between two different modes to meet the needs of every user, from those who want to monitor each and every detail of their computers, to the ones who want the best possible performance. It can be mounted on a 5.25-inch bay.
The mother board features a classic ROG design, and is available in red and black. It has a few passive heat sinks right next to the PCI Express Bridge and the power supply unit and on the chipset as well. It features a total of 5 PEG ports, and an additional 4x one.
The power supply unit of this board is one of the newest available, it features a digital system. Its Blackwing chokes are capable of withstanding discharges of up to 60A in controlled temperatures, reaching speeds of up to 7GHz and a memory frequency of 4GHz. The board has sensors all over it and can even register sub-zero temperatures. It offers great over clocking capabilities, and even lets the user control the VGA voltage directly from the board simply by welding two wires to the graphics card. Of course, only advanced users should attempt this. Once connected to the mother board, we can control the voltage from the BIOS of the OC Panel. Some ASUS graphics cards even include special connectors, so we don’t have to modify a thing.
Gigabyte G1.Sniper 5.
This is possibly the most modest board among the ones reviewed today, but even so, it offers many over clocking possibilities. The board features the same PLX 8747 Bridge system to support up to four graphics cards, both from Nvidia or AMD.
The board was designed for overclockers, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t offer great features for the regular user who wants a high-end component. Just like the other models we’ve reviewed, the G1.Sniper 5 has 10 SATA ports, four of them thanks to the Marvell 88SE9230 controller, which has options for RAID modes.
The USB connectivity is great, with two Renesas hubs connected to the chipset. There are two USB 3.0 ports on the front, connected to the chipset, and up to 8 connectors on the back. There are no USB 3.0 ports on the chipset, but with the hubs connected to it the number of ports is multiplied by 4. This means there’s a total of 10 USB 3.0 plugs, eight of them on the back. There are also two more USB 2.0 ports on the back, and four USB 2.0 ports on the front.
This board features two Ethernet Gigabit connectors, one from Intel, and the Qualcomm Atheros Killer, which means there are no teaming modes between the two, though you can use the components prioritizer from the Killer. It features Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, which are combined thanks to the expansion card –something kind of uncomfortable, to be honest-. Unlike the other models we’ve reviewed, this board features Wi-Fi-N instead of Wi-Fi-AC technology.
The board is designed with the use of high-end cooling systems and processors to achieve the highest possible frequencies. Among the boards in this review, this is the only one that is capable of combining a liquid cooling system with its own heat sinks, which makes it -along with the MSI model we’ll review next- the one with the best cooling and temperature control capabilities. The heat sink is big enough to cover the power supply unit and the PCI Express Bridge, and there’s another one for the chipset. All of it comes in Gigabyte’s black and green motif.
Gigabyte has taken good care of details with the development of this board; it has great quality capacitors with a 10000-hour service life. The power supply unit is digital and the board features the PCB data structure with twice as much copper, which makes Gigabyte mother boards the most stable on the market. The board even features a socket with gold-plated pins for a top-notch conductivity.
As we’ve said before, this board is designed for overclocking. Despite this, Gygabite made sure the sound quality was excellent. It combines the Core 3D, a very powerful DSP from Creative, with a system of OP-AMP modular amplifiers. The amplifiers can be changed according to our needs and preferences. We can also install aditional amplifiers if we want, as long as they’re compatible with this format.
As expected, it features Gigabyte’s Dual Bios system, and UEFI-type BIOS. The board also features the usual Gigabyte funcionalietes, like charging devices of up to 2 ampers, over clocking and monitoring from Windows. It costs 434 Euros, making it the most expensive board in this review.
MSI Z87 XPOWER.
The biggest and most beautiful board in this review, at least in our opinion. Completely black, with some details in radioactive yellow, its uncommon size needs cases big enough to house XL-ATX-type mother boards. MSI’s objective with this board is very clear: offer full support for over clockers who need top-notch cooling systems.
A bigger size doesn’t mean more features; this board doesn’t have something the other models we’ve reviewed do. Naturally, though, that means there’s more room for component, and in this regard it does offer something more. Once again, we have at our disposal ten 6gbps SATA ports. MSI works once again with ASMedia to feature an ASM1601 controller, with four extra connectors for SSD drives, perfect for those who tend to create complex configurations with this kind of storage devices.
MSI has also added some additional controllers to add more USB 3.0 ports to the four the z87 chipset features. In fact, it has four extra frontal USB 3.0 ports, and up to eight of these on the back. There are also two USB 2.0 ports in the back and four more on the front, one of them powered for charging devices like a tablet or smart phone.
MSI hasn’t looked the other way with the sound system of this board. It combines an excellent DSP, the ALC1150, with a 600-ohm amplifier and a shield that protects the board from interference. The system is, in fact, isolated from the rest of the PCB, and a lit zone separates from the other. All of this mother board’s analog connectors have been amplified and protected, and they’re also gold plated. It features Creative’s SoundBlaster X-Fi MB3 codecs.
Not unlike the mother boards we’ve already reviewed, the wireless options are excellent. This model features a small card located near the rear connectors, which supports Wi-Fi-N and Bluetooth 3.0. It also offers WIDI support, since most of its components are from Intel. However, the Wi-Fi N technology is not what one expects from a model of this price and features, at the very least it should offer support for Wi-Fi AC, like other Intel chipsets do.
The mother board is filled with little details and before talking its design and over clocking possibilities, we want to talk about other features, like the mSATA slot with 6gbps SATA connection to connect any kind of storage device.
Its design may very well be the best one among all the boards we reviewed. It has a 32-phase digital power supply for the processor with high-quality components, designed to withstand sub-zero temperatures and save as many space as possible and they are also compatible with high-end cooling systems. To achieve this, they have used military-grade components like ferritic chokes, high-efficiency black metallic capacitors, and digital power supply unit.
It also features a high-capacity PCB with up to eight layers, a technology used in components like graphics cards. The great passive efficiency of its cooling system and massive heat sinks prevent the board from overheating; it’s also worth noting that the cooling system doesn’t generate air turbulences near the power supply unit.
We can also disable GPU slots simply with a switch, so they board immediately ignores them. This is perfect for testing some over clocking configurations without having to tediously remove and ad done of our graphics cards. Some other hardware and quick manipulation functions can be found in the buttons of the board, which allows us to do real-time adjustments, and a POST Display with handy and useful information about your components. It features double BIOS, a quick BIOS access button (inspired on Windows 8’s quick boot), and a button to erase the CMOS. It also has a feature similar to a hard reset that not only erases the CMOS, but also the Z87 PCH data.
Other details allow us, for example, disable slots graphics board level, with switch, electrical and electronically to ignore those slots plate. This is perfect for some extreme overclocking tests that are more efficient with a single card without having to remove anything. Other hardware features and quick handling buttons are found in plaque, which allow real-time adjustments and POST status display with timely information. It also has dual bios, bios button direct access to (thinking fast boot Windows 8, and clear CMOS button. Actually has up to a system similar to a hardreset beyond even erasing the CMOS information of Z87 PCH.
For those who aren’t advanced users but want to enjoy the great features of this board, there’s a quick configuration button to automatically activate over clock and configure the BIOS with just the press of a button. The board features a very attractive UEFI bios, fully customizable and with support for different profiles. Simply by spending a few minutes exploring the many options of this interface we can know even the smallest detail about our computer and its performance. We can also use Windows programs for over clocking, and even a RAMdisk utility. It costs 419 Euros, so it’s the second most expensive out of all these.
In two more days you’ll be able to see the results we got with over clocking, read our BIOS analysis and know everything about our personal experience with these mother boards. As of now, I can say I doubt the Gigabyte G1.Sniper 5’s features justify its price. MSI’s is, in my opinion, unnecessarily big, ASUS’ main feature is an accessory we probably won’t be using two days later, and Asrock’s is too simple and expensive, and although it justifies its price with the revolutionary connector it features, there are not many uses for it.
Now that we know the general aspects of each, the next step is reviewed carefully, and once we know what they are truly capable of, you’ll be the first one to know which one of these deserves the title of the most powerful high-end Z87 mother board.