Conclusion - GIGABYTE GA-Z87X-UD5H
The GIGABYTE GA-Z97X-UD5H is a very solid board, performs respectably well, still offers decent audio, and sets up relatively easily. The stability is top notch and overclocks very well (4.85GHz) as long as your CPU is kept cool, and is willing. Don't get the UD5H gold version confused with the UD5H Black Edition, which isn't quite as aggressive, but does offer their stability guarantee, for workstation loads.
While the BIOS and App Center software suite work well and aren't difficult to navigate, they still need a little work in terms of accessibility and design as we users like to find things easily. The BIOS is very extensive but could use some more information. It's still a bit too basic and quick function keys are jumbled at the bottom.
The App Center is separate and doesn't auto install with each individual app, nor do you get an auto message alerting you to do so first. Users don't read manuals, and it would be great if the software was designed in this fashion, to minimize a poor user experience. Users would also appreciate an updated all in one bundle available from the software page.
The GIGABYTE GA-Z97X-UD5H is currently at an MSRP of $230 US, and earns a strong recommendation.
- Stable and reliable both stock and overclocked
- Great integrated audio
- Good basic and advanced tweaker's BIOS
- App Center has everything including fan control
- User friendly platform
- Optional M.2 (mSATA Express) slot
- BIOS can use some more descriptions
- App Center could be more user friendly
Overall Rating: 8.5/10
Conclusion - ASUS Z97 Sabertooth Mark I
The ASUS Z97 Sabertooth Mark I continues to offer that special TUF theme which still identifies with users looking for something a bit more exotic. The board is very solid, performs just a bit beyond spec due to its BIOS tuning, offers decent integrated audio, and sets up quite easily, despite its extra bells and whistles. Plus, the detail of the user manual is excellent.
Stability is also top notch and overclocks quite well (4.85GHz), along with the GIGABYTE in this round up, as long as good CPU is provided. With even better cooling, the CPU could be pushed just a bit further. Although most users will stick with ASUS' basic BIOS mode, advanced mode isn't really meant for the faint of heart. The descriptions are there in support of features, but a handful could use a little updating.
Their AI Suite III software is one of the better polished bundles well suited for the end user. An up to date all in one bundle is always available for download.
It would be nice if the two included 60mm fans came pre-installed, as they are finicky to setup. The hat trick would be providing on/off switches for them as well, so that noise could be limited, or eliminated.
The ASUS Z97 Sabertooth Mark I is the most expensive board in our round up, but it also performed the best overall. At $250 MSRP, it's also a board well worth the price, and earns our Editors' Choice Award with a 9.0 / 10.0 rating.
- Stable and reliable stock and overclocked
- Very good integrated audio
- Great basic and advanced tweaker's BIOS
- AI Suite III intuitive and very user friendly
- Very user friendly platform
- TUF theme and accessories always unique
- Included TUF fans aren't pre-installed
Overall Rating: 9.0 / 10.0
Conclusion - MSI Z97 Gaming 7
The MSI Z97 Gaming 7 went back to a pretty conservative theme this series. I find myself missing the Z87's awesome red dragon theme, but the cleaner, yet plainer, less busy implementation is also OK. Nonetheless, the Gaming 7 is also a solid board, performs well, offers relatively decent audio, and sets up very easily. The board is stable and overclocks with a push of the OC Genie button, but overclocks better manually (4.75GHz) through the BIOS.
The MSI BIOS was the easiest to navigate of the bunch, and user friendly because of its basic layout. Unfortunately, it needs more descriptions as well as some updating. As for their MSI Command Center software, it includes only the things users will typically need, making it very simple to operate which is great for the users. The integrated "Audio Boost" actually performs well perhaps due to more capacitors and amps. It's interesting that the board supports the Steam OS as of right now which is still beta for these platforms.
Otherwise, the MSI Z97 Gaming 7 has an MSRP of $190 US, and represents a very good price for a board with its capabilities and cosmetics. It certainly gets our recommendation, but is slightly edged out by the GIGABYTE GA-Z97X-UD5H.
- Stable and reliable both overclocked and stock
- Very good integrated audio
- BIOS is very easy to navigate and use
- Command Center very user friendly
- OC Genie IV easy overclocking button
- Optional M.2 (mSATA) slot
- BIOS needs some description support
Overall Rating: 8.0 / 10.0
Conclusion - ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer
Finally, the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer sports its dashing red muscle car heatsinks well. The board was a fairly standard performer, handling the tasks casual gamers and desktop users expect including acceptable audio. It maintained stability throughout testing. However, given its $140 MSRP, gamers give up NVIDIA SLI connectivity, but do get AMD CrossfireX support. Additionally, enthusiasts will find the automated overclocking a bit buggy topping out at 4.3GHz versus a slightly higher manual overclock of 4.53GHz. Hopefully this can be rectified with software/BIOS updates.
Speaking of BIOS, the setup is quite basic not to mention easy to figure out, but could use some more descriptions to help the more novice user. While these quirks fit the board given its lowest cost in this round up, a single active USB port during OS installation and loose gray SATA ports does not make any sense, if one is simply trading features for a lower price point. The parts quality should not have to suffer. Users should also consider using low profile RAM especially if using a big high performance CPU cooler, due to the narrow PCB. It would also have been nice to have the BIOS jumpers in an accessible location, not stuck underneath your GPUs.
The ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer's $140 US price tag is affordable, but can it still be classed as a gaming board for its AMD CrossfireX only capability? And was the shorter PCB (and seemingly cheaper SATA ports to name a few things) worth cheapening to get to the low price tag? As it stands, it scores 7.5 /10.0 in our round up, but is substantially cheaper than anything else in this round. And if left alone to run without any tweaking, and if you're an AMD GPU fan anyway, it certainly represents a very good value at its price point. So we have to throw it that bone.
- Overall stable and reliable (at stock settings)
- Good integrated audio
- Relatively easy installation and setup
- M.2 (mSATA) slot
- Supports only AMD CrossfireX
- Very large CPU coolers need lower profile RAM
- Gray SATA ports wiggle too much
- BIOS jumpers and M.2 slot tough to reach under first PCIE slot
- Only one single active USB port during OS installation
- Limited overclocking capability
Overall Rating: 7.5 / 10.0
This round up isn't about which board outscores the other. But to the companies that supplied them (GIGABYTE, ASUS, MSI and ASRock), they do indeed affect their bottom lines.
Different boards offer more or better features depending on pricing. For example, lower priced boards tend to offer limited overclocking or less stellar audio than their more expensive counterparts. However, no board should be unstable, or be unable to deliver the proper level of performance for each feature. Thankfully, we didn't find that behaviour in any of the boards in our round ups. But what we did find were things that could be improved, to take each platform just a little further, a little better, and give users a more enjoyable experience.
With that in mind, evaluating this round up is about the cost, the feature, and the performance as well as the overall user experience. Although all the boards fought against one another, and scores were tallied, you should feel free to purchase any of these boards, to fit your budget and build.
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