Computer

Asus Z97-E

We loved the Asus Z97-A when we reviewed it last year, and the Z97-E we have on test here is largely the same in terms of design and features, although there are a few differences that allow for a slightly lower price.

This is an ATX board, meaning there’s plenty of room for expansion both in terms of SATA storage and PCI-E hardware. With the Z97 chipset comes support for extremely high performance storage including SATA Express (SATA 3.2) and M.2 flash storage. While the former is very much a form of future proofing, you can buy M.2 flash storage today, although it’s expensive. There are six SATA3 connector in total, including two that can also be used for SATA Express pointing slightly awkwardly to the side, and four more facing forward at the bottom of the board.

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There are two PCI-E x16 slots 55mm apart. Individually they run at x16 speeds but if you connect a second graphics card for an AMD CrossFireX or Nvidia SLI setup, they will both run at x8 speeds. The two PCI x1 slots between the two x16 slots will be blocked by any graphics cards that are inserted, but there is a third x1 slot above both of the x16 slots for any extra expansion hardware you may want to add. There are also two legacy PCI slots below the second PCI-E x16 slot, but if you run a dual-graphics setup both of these will likely be obstructed, too.

In addition to the four USB3 and two USB2 ports at the rear of the board, there are also headers on the board itself, providing two more USB3 ports if you have ports available on the front of your case. If you choose not to use a discrete graphics card in your PC build or you need to remove a graphics card for troubleshooting purposes, the motherboard has DVI, VGA and HDMI outputs, with the latter able to output at a maximum resolution of 4,096×2,160 pixels at 24Hz.

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There’s a full complement of six 3.5mm audio jacks on the back, meaning you can set up surround sound while using the remaining connectors as 3.5mm inputs. The board proudly shows off the shielding between the main board and its analogue audio hardware, with an LED-backlit yellow “trace path” leaving you with no doubt as to where this shielding is.

Base performance was as we expected. With a quad-core Intel Core i5-4670K clocked at 3.4GHz and 8GB of DDR3 RAM it managed a score of 103 in our new, much tougher 4K benchmarks. However, using Asus’ EZ Tuning Wizard, you can get some great overclocking results with very little effort. The UEFI BIOS is easy to use, and a simple yet effective overclock is just three or four clicks away. Simply tell the motherboard you’re going to be doing media work or gaming, tell it what kind of heatsink you have and, based on that and the components you’re using, it will apply an overclock it thinks will be stable. In our case, it overclocked our processor to 4.4GHz, making a marked difference to performance with no effort on our part and with no additional cooling required. In our benchmarking tests we saw a 16% boost in overall performance with a final score of 120 compared to 106 at stock settings and 108 at “Asus Optimal” settings, also in the BIOS.

Aside from a slightly different range of video and audio output ports, the Z97-E is largely the same as its slightly more expensive sibling, the Z97-A. Whether the £10-£20 saving is worth losing optical audio and a few advanced BIOS and overclocking features will be down to your own system building desires and skill level. The price difference is so small it seems a bit tight-pocketed to lose potentially useful features for the sake of a tenner. Either way, the Asus Z97-E is a spacious and easy-to-use motherboard with excellent overclocking features. If you’re building a modest PC with LGA1150 hardware, it’s a great choice.

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