ASUS Z97 Gryphon Armor Edition (LGA 1150) Motherboard Review

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging


The ASUS TUF line is always one of the more exciting product ranges to come out of the ASUS consumer motherboard platform, albeit a very niche form of excitement (well I find it exciting anyway…). I took a look at my first ASUS TUF series motherboard last year when ASUS kindly sent over their Z87 Sabertooth board. My general thoughts were that the board was a very good piece of kit although the monitoring, reliability and stability aspects of it seemed to be quite niche, aimed at a specific form of power user. I don’t really expect that to change given that the TUF series is still about giving you military grade reliability and stability but I am hoping there will be lots of new features on offer with the new Z97 TUF series. Today we are looking at the ASUS Z97 Gryphon motherboard which is the micro-ATX version of the TUF line. More specifically we have the ARMOR EDITION equipped with the ASUS thermal armor but ASUS do offer a version without for users who find it garish or unnecessary. The full specifications of the motherboard are fairly basic given that there’s no M.2, no SATA express, no WiFi and so on. However, for a micro-ATX motherboard it still has all the key features a desktop user would expect such as Gigabit LAN, dual PCIe 16X lanes, SATA III ports and decent spec audio.

Packaging and Accessories

The flagship feature of the ASUS TUF series is that 5 year warranty, that really is the selling point for all the reliability and stability features.

The back breaks down the key features of the motherboard, most are related to reliability and stability aspects such as reducing dust and heat.

Included is an extensive bunch of documentation including details on how to install all the extra accessories.

The “standard” accessories include a rear I/O shield, four SATA cables, SLI bridge and some Q connectors for the front panel I/O.

The “TUF” accessories include a small fan for the rear I/O (part of the Dust De-Fan feature), thermal sensor probes and a variety of slot covers for things like the unused rear I/O ports and so on. These are to prevent dust build up.

You also get dust covers for the PCIe lanes, the RAM slots and some miscellaenous screws and fittings for attaching things. The included guide explains all if you get overwhelmed by the mass of accessories.

GeIL DRAGON RAM 8GB 1600MHz Memory Kit Review

Introduction


Today we are examining our second memory kit from GeIL after looking at their lovely EVO POTENZA kit. The DRAGON RAM series is where the kit we’re looking at today comes from and from the above picture it is quite easy to see how the DRAGON theme is working. This is the first time I’ve seen RAM without a heatspreader come with a patterned design, as you can see the pattern is sprayed onto the PCB and the memory chips are secured on top. The DRAGON RAM series offers more moderate speeds compared to the EVO POTENZA and is a bit more budget orientated but still comes with some good looks. The other standout feature is the addition of red LEDs on the module which we will show you on the next page. Looks aside this is a fairly basic CL11 1600MHz kit formed of two 4GB DIMMs, the product is backed by a lifetime warranty so you know you’re getting good quality too.

Packaging and Accessories

The packaging flaunts the DRAGON theme which isn’t surprising as I know the DRAGON theme has been popular on a lot of hardware, one of the main reasons MSI have stuck to it so adamantly on their motherboards.

As you might expect the packaging is fairly simple, the RAM comes in a clear plastic container with a caution notice that warns you to correctly configure the SPD and voltage settings of your RAM before you use it. As it supports XMP it is recommended you just enabled your XMP profile from within the motherboard BIOS if your motherboard supports this.

A Closer Look

The modules themselves are a tad strange. We have a full matte-black PCB but all the memory chips and the main pattern is only present on one side of the module. Let’s see how they look in some motherboards next.

Gigabyte Z97X-UD5H-BK (LGA 1150) “Black Edition” Motherboard Review

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging


Gigabyte have given their Ultra Durable series a bit of a revamp for Z97 offering their boards up in Black Edition flavours. Whilst the implications of the Black Edition are fairly obviously, it is an overwhelmingly black-coloured motherboard, it also implies a new standard of durability. Gigabyte test all Black Edition series motherboards for an impressive 168 hours using server grade durability tests to ensure high reliability and stability. As if that wasn’t enough Gigabyte also go to town on offering a hefty 5 year warranty and use some of the highest quality components including their “DuraBlack” solid capacitors and their dual layer copper PCB. However, the Gigabyte Z97X-UD5H-BK isn’t just about reliability, this motherboard has bucket loads of features too. Among them this motherboard has dual Gigabit LAN, one provided by Intel and the other by Killer, it has extra SATA III ports, extra USB 3.0 ports, SATA Express and M.2, support for 3-Way CrossFire, a dual UEFI BIOS, high quality ALC1150 Realtek audio, voltage measurement points, onboard buttons and a hefty 12 phase CPU VRM. On paper the Gigabyte Z97X-UD5H-BK is a fantastic high-end board so let’s get on with our review and see how it shapes up in testing.

Packaging and Accessories

In keeping with the Black Edition naming the motherboard comes in a fully black box. Upon opening it you’re greeted with a pull-down flap with more feature marketing material.


On the back there’s a fully labelled pictured of the motherboard as well as a specifications list and some more details on all the features.

Gigabyte include a certificate of stability and reliability to let you know that your board has been through Gigabyte’s testing procedures that enable them to certify the motherboard as “Ultra Durable” and part of the “Black Edition” series.

Included with the motherboard is an in-depth user manual, multilingual installation guidebook, driver and utility CD and a case badge/sticker for your system if you wish to show off your Gigabyte motherboard.

Accessories include a nice matte black, padded and labelled rear I/O shield. There’s also four braided SATA III cables (braided SATA cables…I know right?!) and an SLI bridge.

GeIL EVO POTENZA 16GB 2400MHz Memory Kit Review

Introduction


GeIL, or Golden Emperor International Limited, are certainly not a new player in the technology industry even if many people in the “West” have not heard of them. GeIL Memory are veterans of the DRAM industry having made memory products since 1993. GeIL as a broader company also make power supplies under the Thortech Power brand and they make peripherals under the EpicGear brand. Today we are looking at GeIL’s EVO POTENZA memory kit described as a product for “hardcore gamers”. More specifically we have the 16GB 2400MHz kit from GeIL which boasts a lifetime warranty, a beautiful white and black design and full native Intel Z77/Z87/Z97 support with XMP profiles. You can of course use the RAM with other platforms but with such a high frequency those platforms are recommended most.

Packaging and Accessories

The packaging is fairly simple and it can afford to be since this is just memory. The rugged design of the product is the main method of targeting this at gamers.

Included is merely the memory kit with a read me notice on how to configure the SPD and Voltage options. Most people should just enable XMP once you enter the BIOS.

A Closer Look

The modules themselves are fantastic looking pieces. They come with matte black PCBs and slightly raised up white heat spreaders. The black and white contrast is a fantastic look. The heat spreader is made from a textured metal finish, the overall height of the product is 48mm/4.8cm.

Cube Raptor Gaming PC Review

Introduction


It is no secret that there are a lot of people who are interested in gaming PCs but do not have the time or the experience to build their own. It is also no secret that PCs made by gimmicky system builders like Alienware are over-priced and are not good value for money, you are mainly paying for the brand name and reputation and get very little hardware for your money. So what other options do you have? Buying from a system integrator is rapidly becoming a popular alternative, with the constant year-on-year growth in the PC gaming industry it is no wonder that there are more system integrators to choose from than ever before.

Today we are taking a look at a gaming system made by the system integrator called Cube. We are checking out their Cube Raptor Gaming PC which offers up a sweet-spot balance of components at a fairly attractive sub-£700 price point. The Raptor boasts the latest Core i5 Haswell Refresh CPU from Intel with the flagship Z97 chipset as well as a 2GB AMD R7 265 overclocked graphics card and 8GB of DDR3. Interestingly, there’s no either/or rubbish going on with the storage – Cube have equipped a hybrid drive so it can bring the benefits of an SSD and large capacity HDD to an attractive price point. All in all this system has an interesting mix of components and is finished off nicely with In Win’s GT1 gaming mid tower case. Check out the full specifications of this system below:

Specifications

  • Name: Cube Raptor Gaming PC
  • Case: In Win GT1 Mid Tower
  • Motherboard: MSI Z97-G43 LGA 1150 socket
  • Processor: Intel Core i5 4590 “Haswell Refresh” Quad Core (3.3GHz Base 3.7GHz Turbo) LGA 1150 socket
  • Processor Cooler: Stock Intel Heatsink
  • System Memory: 1 x 8GB DDR3 Kingston HyperX Fury 1866MHz (Blue)
  • Main Boot Drive: Seagate 1TB Hybrid Solid State Hard Drive with 8GB SSD Cache
  • Additional Storage Drive(s): Not included
  • Graphics card: MSI R7 265 OC 2GB GDDR5
  • Power Supply: Cooler Master Elite 500W
  • Optical DriveSuper WriteMaster DVD RW
  • Wireless: TP-Link TL-WN781ND PCIe 150mbps 2.4GHz WiFi card
  • Monitor: Not included
  • Peripherals: Not included
  • OS: Windows 8.1 64 Bit
  • Warranty: 2 Year Warranty (14 Day Swap Out,1st Year collect and return, 2nd Year Return to Base)
  • Price: £669.99 including VAT (accurate at the time of writing)

Packaging & Accessories

We received the Cube Raptor Gaming PC in the usual format: a large cardboard outer box within which we find the system in the box that the In Win case came in. There’s some additional protective polystyrene to protect the inner box from bumps and on top of it all is the motherboard box which contains all the manuals, documentation, cables and adapters that came with components in the system that you might need.

As we can see the inner box is in perfect condition and has sustained no damage in transit, this means it was packaged well.

Inside the motherboard box we find lots of documentation for the system components, a power cable for the system, various CDs, a VGA to DVI adapter and the wireless antenna for the WiFi PCI express card.

Before we get stuck in to looking at the product let’s just take a minute to familiarise ourselves with the stars of the show; the Intel Core i5 4590 and the AMD R7 265 OC.

CPU-Z

GPU-Z

Gigabyte and ASUSTek To Ship Over 6 Million Motherboards In Q3

2014 looks set to be a successful year for ASUS and Gigabyte according to industry sources. In the second quarter of this year Gigabyte and ASUS are expected to have shipped around 5.1 to 5.2 million of their own motherboards, by the third quarter that is set to rise to staggering six million units. The reason? Well apparently new demand is being driven by the PC DIY market after Intel’s new 9 Series chipset release and Devil’s Canyon Core i7 4790K processor. Devil’s Canyon and Z97 may be popular but the real star of the show is Intel’s Pentium G3258 “Anniversary Edition” unlocked and overclockable dual core processor. This processor is reported to already be driving significant demand for cheaper Intel motherboards based on the H97, H87, B85 and H81 chipsets. Motherboard vendors are optimistic that the G3258 will allow the markets to digest older inventories of H87, B85 and H81 motherboards so they can make way for newer Intel 9 series motherboards. Most motherboard vendors will reportedly achieve a 10-20% sequential growth in shipments in Q3 compared to Q2.

Source: Digitimes

Image #1 courtesy of Modlabs.net, image #2 courtesy of Intel

Plextor Releases M6e M.2 SSD Drive – Perfect For Z97

One of the flagship selling points of Intel’s new 9 Series chipsets has been the ability to utilise faster storage mediums, notably the 10 Gbps M.2 ports most Z97 motherboards come equipped with. Up until recently these have been fairly hard to come by but now Plextor have released their first “standalone” M.2 drive. I say standalone because the Plextor M6e has been out for a while but initially it came attached to a PCI Express riser card whereas now it is available to buy as an M.2 drive only.

Plextor’s M6e M.2 drive uses the 2280 (80 x 22 mm) form factor and offers speeds of up to 770MB/s read and 625MB/s writes. Random 4K reads offer up to 105K IOPS and random 4K writes up to 100K IOPS. The M6e makes use of a Marvell PCIe 9183 controller, DDR3 RAM cache and Toshiba Toggle NAND. The drive runs custom Plextor in-house firmware.

Plextor will be offerring three additional M.2 drives with the M6G 2280 (22mm x 80mm), M6G 2260 (22mm x 60mm) and M6G 2242 (22mm x 42mm). All Plextor M6e series drives come with a 5 year warranty and a MTBF of 2.4 million hours. Pricing is as follows:

Source: Plextor PR

Images courtesy of Plextor

Gigabyte Z97MX-Gaming 5 (LGA 1150) Motherboard Review

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging


While mini-ITX is the “fashionable” small form factor of choice for most compact system builders, the micro-ATX form factor is still popular as it offers a better compromise between size, features and cost. Unlike mini-ITX motherboards micro-ATX motherboards require less R&D, encounter less technical challenges and are much cheaper to execute as a result. Enter Gigabyte’s latest Intel 9 Series based motherboard, the GA-Z97MX-Gaming 5. At just $130 this motherboard offers a great balance between size, performance and features – at least on paper. Today we will be putting this micro-ATX offering from Gigabyte through its paces to see how it shapes up in practice. As a Gaming series motherboard it comes with the usual beefed up audio implementation and Killer networking as well as support for multiple GPUs meaning it has most things a gamer could want in a motherboard. Being an Intel 9 Series motherboard there’s also support for the new storage options like M.2 and SATA Express. Below you can find detailed specifications on exactly what this motherboard offers:

Packaging and Accessories

As we’ve seen with Gigabyte’s latest Intel 9 Series motherboards the Gigabyte “eye” makes an appearance. Typically we only saw this on VGA products in the past.

The back details the features of the motherboard, much of the focus is on the audio implementation.

Once the box is opened up we get a little flap on the inside which details those key Gaming series features more.

Included is a variety of documentation, driver & utility DVD and case sticker.

Four SATA III cables, a black labelled and colour coded rear I/O and a SLI bridge make up the accessories.

Z97 and Z97M Anniversary Motherboards Announced by ASRock

ASRock has announced its Anniversary Edition of motherboards, the Z97 and Z97M, following the Pentium 20th Anniversary Edition G3258. One of the key features of the aforementioned motherboards is the “Pentium Anniversary Edition” technology, making overclocking easier for users.

The manufacturer is said to have specifically designed the motherboard with overclocking and Intel’s Pentium 20th Anniversary Edition G3258 CPU in mind, being able to access the Pentium Anniversary Boost by hitting “P” when turning the PC on. From there, the feature is said to help the user automatically overclock the CPU from 3.2 GHz to a maximum of 4.2 GHz.

In addition to the overall overclocking feature, ASRock’s Z97 and Z97M Anniversary Edition motherboards are said to provide even more kick out of the Pentium Anniversary Edition G3258 CPU. A clock speed of 4.5 GHz can be easily achieved, having a performance boost of 40%. However, users can also go for the 4.8 GHz limit, where an additional 50% performance boost should be noticeable.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5F1MIVXTBgw[/youtube]

Other features present on the motherboards consist of “Super Alloy” technology for the Z97 in order to provide more stability and reliability, along with Intel’s Gigabit LAN and ELNA Audio Caps. The Z97M is said to come with ELNA Audio Caps as well, along with various video outputs, such as D-Sub, DVI-D and HDMI, supporting a Triple Monitor configuration.

Thank you TechPowerUp for providing us with this information
Images and video courtesy of TechPowerUp

Wave Two of Haswell Refresh CPUs Due in Q3

It’s become apparent that Intel is not finished quite yet when it comes to updating their Haswell lineup for desktop systems. Following another update on CPU-World, an additional eight processors have been detailed, all from the low-end of the scale, and interestingly nothing below a Pentium is mentioned at this moment in time.

In the same manner that the first wave of refresh chips brought a slight boost in performance over the existing Haswell lineup, these Core i£ and Pentium G CPUs all see a boost of 100MHz over their older equivalents and whilst this may seem like a good bump, we have to honestly remember that this end of the market is no fought in the same way that the i7 and i5 chips battle it out by getting that slight bit ahead of one another in a bid to be the chip to get.

Whilst other reports suggest that the second wave of chips could be appearing in the flesh somewhere in Q3, there is no word on pricing, but once again, we are almost literally penny-pinching between chips and the difference that this makes may not be as profound as it is on the enthusiast end of the scale.

As we get closer to the full release of DDR4, this could be a last-ditch attempt to get OEM and retail users to buy into Haswell before the mass move over to Haswell-E begins on the top end of the performance ladder.

Source & Image courtesy of The Tech Report

ASUS Z97I-PLUS (LGA 1150) Motherboard Review

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging


Since the popularisation of mini-ITX motherboards a few years ago (if I remember correctly they took off with the Intel 6 series chipset) the price of mini-ITX motherboards has been falling sharply. However, combined with that falling price has also been rising quality, increasing innovation and more features – particularly with ASUS mini-ITX motherboards. Irrespective of which motherboard vendor you prefer it would be fair to say ASUS have driven a lot of the mini-ITX innovation over the past few years. Today we’re looking at the culmination of some of this innovation, but for a respectably low price of just $160. Enter the ASUS Z97I-PLUS which is one of the new ASUS Z97 motherboards that has ingenious ways of taking advantage of all the great features we’ve come to expect from a fully fledged PC. ASUS have managed to cram M.2 on the board by moving it underneath, they’ve added a WiFi AC and Bluetooth 4.0 module, equipped four SATA III ports, included fairly high quality ALC 892 audio and offered up the latest Intel Gigabit LAN. Despite the motherboard’s size you still get a fully fleshed out rear I/O and an impressive 6 phase VRM. On paper the ASUS Z97I-PLUS looks like a very impressive Z97 mini-ITX motherboard so let’s proceed on with our review to see what the product and its performance has in store for us!

Packaging and Accessories

The flagship selling point of the ASUS channel series is the quality of the motherboards: this is clearly denoted in terms of compatibility, reliability and protection mechanisms.

Moving round to the back of the box and we can see the specifics of those claims made on the front. If you’re looking for even more details you can find those on the product page right here

Included with the motherboard is well laid out and presented user guide, a driver and software DVD and an ASUS case badge.

The accessories include the wireless antenna for the AC module with connecting cables, two SATA cables, a labelled black rear I/O and a revised version of the “Q connector” which is essentially an extension cable for the front panel connectors.

Intel Core i7 4790K Reaches 7GHz With 1.79 Volts On ASRock Z97 OC Formula

The Core i7 4790K has already surpassed the 7 GHz barrier reaching an impressive 7003.38 MHz under some exotic LN2 cooling, that’s despite the new chip being out for less than a month. The feat is similar to what we’ve already seen with the Core i7 4770K except lower volts were needed. That said a smoking hot 1.792 volts were required to bump the “Devil’s Canyon” Core i7 4790K up to the 7GHz target. The feat was achieved by ASRock’s Nick Shih and unsurprisingly he was using the new ASRock Z97 OC Formula motherboard to reach the target. The rest of the system was fairly basic with 4GB of RAM and 32 bit Windows 7.

In related news just last week John Lam achieved an impressive 7181.23MHz on the Core i7 4770K using Intel’s Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU). He was also using the ASRock Z97 OC Formula motherboard so it certainly seems as if it is a very strong board for overclocking.

Source: ASRock, Via: TechPowerUp

Image courtesy of HWBot

Biostar Hi-Fi Z97WE (LGA 1150) Motherboard Review

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging


Biostar aren’t a brand of products we review that often as their main presence is within the Asian market, however, every now and then we do get a motherboard from them which they are targeting towards the Western market. Today is one of those rare days as we are looking at Biostar’s primary Z97 offering, the Biostar Hi-Fi Z97WE. This motherboard is Biostar’s attempt at making a well spec’d motherboard for a very affordable price, as they are well-known for doing. The motherboard comes with an impressive 10 phase VRM, dual Gigabit LAN (a massive rarity at this price point), a range of PCI express connectivity, M.2 and high quality audio. The specifications are certainly nothing to scoff at when you consider the MSRP of just $125 – this makes it only a fraction more expensive than cheaper H97 9 series motherboards. The styling of the motherboard may certainly be an “acquired taste”, however, the motherboard on the whole seems like an extremely feature packed and great value for money option. I have seen a lot of people discuss this motherboard as a “workstation” board, presumably because the “Z97WE” bares striking resemblance to the ASUS “Z97WS” which stands for workstation. However, from what I can tell this is not a workstation motherboard – this is an entry level Z97 motherboard aimed at a broad user which no particular preferences towards anything (aka it is not a gaming, overclocking or workstation motherboard but rather an “all-rounder”).

Packaging and Accessories

The packaging shows us Biostar are really pushing the audio side of things. This is of course something we will examine on our audio tests. The dual GbE is another one of the more unique features and certainly this will attract a lot of people especially as both ethernet controllers are physically identical and thus support teaming.

The rear details more of the features about the motherboard including the unique audio features. More details on all the features can be found at the product page here.

Included with the Hi-Fi Z97WE is a user manual, driver and utility DVD and an audio usage guideline brochure.

The accessory pack is fairly basic with a rear I/O and four SATA cables.

Two New World Records Broken With The ASRock Z97 OC Formula

It seems that ASRock’s latest motherboard, the ASRock Z97 OC Formula, was designed to break one world record after another. John Lam, a professional overclocker from HKEPC OC, has apparently used the motherboard and achieved what has been previously dubbed as ‘impossible’.

John has used the ASRock Z97 OC Formula along with the Intel Core i7-4770K CPU and overclocked the processor to an astonishing 7181.23 MHz, thus ranking as the world’s number #1 at HWBOT.org. However, John apparently was not satisfied with the world record. Having the same motherboard and processor combination, he also managed to achieve another world record, scoring 1601 marks in Intel XTU, giving a new definition of CPU overclocking.

People might be wondering how this was possible. The answer seems to lie in the motherboard itself, having it be designed and tuned by legendary overclocker Nick Shih. This is why the ASRock Z97 OC Formula comes with “Super Alloy Technology”, which includes XXL Aluminium Alloy heatsink for fast heat dissipation, Premium Alloy Choke used to largely lower working temperature, Dual-Stack MOSFET contributing to a more efficient CPU Vcore power and NexFET MOSFET, providing DRAM power more efficiently and resistance against electrostatic discharge of up to 15 KV.

Besides the Super Alloy Technology, the ASRock Z97 OC Formula also contains 4 Phase Memory Power design, Multiple FIlter Cap, Hi-Density Power Connectors, 12 Phase CPU Power design, 8 Layer PCB, four 2oz copper, and the list just goes on and on. In addition to the latter, the BIOS also features Jumbo V technology, allowing overclockers to select the most optimal settings for extreme overclocking.


Summing it all up, ASRock has just proved that the company has a beast amongst motherboards, specially designed by overclockers and dedicated to overclockers and overclocking. Therefore, if anyone would like to test his or her overclocking skills to the limit and does not know what motherboard to use, the ASRock Z97 OC Formula could be the answer.

Thank you TechPowerUp for providing us with this information
Images courtesy of TechPowerUp

ASRock Z97 Extreme6 (LGA 1150) Motherboard Review

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging


ASRock’s Extreme series of motherboards offer a nice balanced and more well rounded alternative to their Fatal1ty series, which are geared towards gamers, and their OC Formula series, which are geared towards overclockers. For the past few generations of Intel motherboards the ASRock Extreme series has been renowned for its great balance of performance, features and value for money compared to rival offerings. Today we have a new Z97 board from the Extreme series looking to carry forward this good reputation. More specifically we have ASRock’s Z97 Extreme6 motherboard. This motherboard is quite exciting for the more productivity or prosumer style user. It offers up a ton of storage connectivity including two M.2 ports, a SATA Express port and 10 SATA III ports as well as eSATA. What’s more you get a range of PCI connectivity including mini-PCIe and you get dual gigabit LAN supporting wake-on-WAN functionality so you can use this as a home cloud or server. As if that wasn’t impressive enough there’s also 10 USB 3.0 and 5 USB 2.0 one of which is an internal port wired to the motherboard. You also get a debug LED and onboard buttons as well as high quality Realtek ALC1150 based audio and 12K rated capacitors with a 12 phase VRM for the CPU area. This motherboard literally has it all and it comes in at a staggeringly low price of just $170, about £125-130.

Packaging and Accessories

The flagship feature is ASRock’s Super Alloy power implementation as well as their Ultra M.2 port which uses x4 Gen3 PCI speeds instead of x2 Gen2 PCI speeds found on the normal M.2 port.

The rear of the motherboard has the usual marketing sheet detailing all the features and specifications of the product.

Included in terms of documentation is an ASRock Cloud guide, quick installation guide/user manual and software setup guide as well as the driver and utility DVD.

Accessories include the rear I/O shield which is colour coded, four SATA III cables, the HDD saver SATA power cable, a 2-Way SLI bridge and three screws (2 for the two M.2 ports and one for the mini-PCIe port).

Asus Go Against Intel, Add Devil Canyon Support To Z87 Motherboard

Intel was working hard to encourage motherboard makers to push users into upgrading to Z97, which features the latest Intel Series 9 chipsets. This meant that to use the new Devil Canyon CPU’s from Intel, you had to upgrade your motherboard, until now.

Most of us thought that the new chips would require an upgrade, but ASUS have their own ideas. ASUS has taken Intel down a few pegs by adding support for Devil’s Canyon CPUs on its Z87 motherboards!

“Most, if not all of their Z87 boards have received a BIOS update allowing the use of Intel’s devil canyon processors. This is also backed up on their Cpu support lists”. said a post on the XtremeSystems forums.

This is obviously a very good thing for consumers, and it’s good to see ASUS giving us the option of an update, not a forced upgrade, especially when high-end motherboard that you own in Z87 format and a new Z97 board could end up costing you hundred of dollars.

Thank you TweakTown for providing us with this information.

ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer (LGA 1150) Motherboard Review

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging


We’ve covered an absolute ton of Intel Z97 based motherboards since the chipset launched back on June 11th, a couple of weeks ago, but in that time we’ve yet to see an offering from ASRock. Today, and over the coming weeks, we will be rectifying that by having a look at a lot more motherboards from ASRock’s Z97 series. Up first we have their Fatal1ty Z97X Killer motherboard which is part of their Fatal1ty gaming motherboard product series. Interestingly this motherboard will compete with MSI’s Gaming 7 and Gigabyte’s Gaming 7 in that hugely competitive sub-£140/$190 price point and it actually comes in a fair amount cheaper than the competition at just £125/$160. ASRock are equipping all their usual features with this motherboard such as their Purity Sound audio implementation, their Fatal1ty USB gaming port, their Super Alloy power components and a Killer E2200 gaming NIC. This motherboard has fairly similar specifications and features to other motherboards at this price point although this board does have the advantage of offering SATA Express and M.2 whereas a lot of the gaming motherboards at this price point offer only M.2. Full specifications of this motherboard can be seen directly below:

Packaging and Accessories

The packaging lets the Fatal1ty branding take centre stage while offering an overwhelming number of logos on the front that denote features, brands, software and so on.

On the back we can see these explained in more detail with the usual motherboard marketing page we’ve come to expect from all motherboard brands.

Included in terms of documentation is a a couple of user guides for the board and its software, an explanatory brochure for the ASRock Cloud feature, a driver DVD and case badge and a 3 month premium license to XSplit Broadcaster (note this is not the same as the XSplit Gamecaster Premium license a rival vendor includes with their products).

Other accessories included are four SATA cables, a colour coded rear I/O, 2-way SLI bridge, SATA power cable for the HDD saver feature and a screw for the M.2 SSD port.

ASUS Republic of Gamers Maximus VII Ranger Z97 (LGA 1150) Motherboard Review

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging


During the launch of Z87 motherboards ASUS surprised a lot of people when they announced their “Hero” SKU of the Republic of Gamers line of motherboards. When the Hero was released it was an extremely popular motherboard simply because it brought an ASUS ROG motherboard into the reaches of most peoples’ budgets. A surprising move because ROG motherboards have traditionally been extremely expensive products that target a fairly niche market. It is unlikely that ASUS ROG would have made this move last generation without the price pressure of rival brands such as Gigabyte, with their G1 Sniper Z87, MSI, with their Z87-G45 Gaming and ASRock, with their Z87 Fatal1ty Killer. All of these competing products have driven the price of gaming motherboards down to the point where gaming motherboards are no longer exclusive or expensive products, but accessible to the fairly mainstream PC user and mainstream budget. Now ASUS have added the Ranger to sit just below the Hero for the Z97 platform which is another smart move given that Gigabyte and MSI have become even more aggressive with the pricing of their Gaming Series motherboards which start at just £100/$140. The main benefit of the ASUS Maximus VII Ranger is that it carries a 10-15% lower price premium (depending on the region and retailer) than the ASUS Maximus VII Hero but drops fairly little in terms of features or specifications. From our discussions with ASUS they have clarified that the main differences between the Hero and the Ranger are that the Hero has:

  • Better power componentry (such as 4 more PWM drivers and 60A ferrite chokes) to provide more efficient power delivery and better overclocking potential
  • Two more SATA III ports via an ASMedia controller for additional storage options
  • A heat pipe joining the two CPU VRM heatsinks to provide more effective cooling and longevity
  • Additional onboard lighting to provide more striking aesthetics
  • A dual colour PCB design which includes red PCB accents around the heatsinks, audio codec and across parts of the motherboard
  • A slightly better bundle which includes a few extra SATA III cables

Of course, while those extras on the Maximus VII Hero are nice and will be useful to a lot of people, they are not essential for the more value-minded user so the Ranger offers a way for users to save a bit of money by opting out of those extra features. That said the Maximus VII Hero and the Ranger both still have a place in the market but it is important to distinguish the differences between the two. We anticipate a fair amount of confusion about the differences between the two models, and we expect consumers interested in the Ranger will be interested in the Hero (and vice versa). Hopefully this has cleared up some of the differences so let us now move onto to taking a look at the specifications of the ASUS Maximus VII Ranger:

Packaging and Accessories

The packaging is the usual high quality we’ve come to expect from ASUS ROG. Once you open up the product you are greeted with a couple of glossy “marketing” sheets on an additional internal box. The basic jist of those can be seen on the product page.

The back details the specifics and features of the motherboard, of course you can find those in full on the product page.

The accessories include an ASUS ROG door hangar, user guide and some cable labels.

ASUS ROG also provide four SATA III ready cables, a black labelled rear I/O and front panel Q Connectors.

Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 7 (LGA 1150) Motherboard Review

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging


 

Intel’s first Haswell Refresh CPUs have just been recently released, Intel’s Devil’s Canyon (unlocked K series Haswell Refresh) CPUs are expected in just a month or two and rumours going around suggest that Intel’s Broadwell CPUs could even be released this year too – from an enthusiast perspective there has never been a better time to upgrade your motherboard to the latest chipset on the block – Z97. Today we are taking a closer look at our third Z97 motherboard courtesy of Gigabyte, more specifically it is their Z97X-Gaming 7 motherboard which is their top of the range Gaming Series motherboard, although they will have other more premium boards from their Ultra Durable and OC ranges but those aren’t targeted specifically at gamers. For anyone used to the Gigabyte G1 Gaming series of motherboards you may be surprised by two obvious aesthetic changes. The first is the colour scheme has shifted from green and black to red and black. The second is that that G1 Series Bullets and Skulls have been replaced by the “Gigabyte Eye” typically seen on their VGA series products. For some this may be a great move by Gigabyte, moving towards the more desired and traditional “gaming” red and black colours, but for others it might be a bit frustrating to see ASUS, Gigabyte and MSI all offering red and black as the primary colour scheme on their gaming motherboards. What might be even more worrying is that MSI and Gigabyte both have Z97 gaming motherboard models dubbed “Gaming 7”, which will no doubt serve to confuse consumers.

In terms of the feature set we have the usual emphasis on high quality audio and networking which is pretty much the mainstay of the gaming motherboard scene. Additional features include multi-GPU support and the new storage connectivity supported by Intel’s Z97 chipset. All the detailed specifications can be seen in the table below:

Packaging and Accessories

The packaging features Gigabyte’s Eye as the show piece, the box looks very similar to what we might expect if we were unboxing a high end Gigabyte graphics card.

The back introduces some of the key features in more detail, you can see all the details here at the product page.

Included with the motherboard is some documentation and a driver/utility DVD.

The accessories include a black and labelled rear I/O, a couple of Gigabyte stickers, 3 SATA III cables and an SLI cable.

 

ASRock Reveals Their “Worlds Fastest” Ultra M.2 Socket

Z97 motherboards and Haswell Refresh CPU’s may not have been a huge wave of innovation for the PC component market, but they did bring with the a couple of interesting features that can have a big impact on the world of storage. The first one being the ASRock Ultra M.2 PCIe Gen3 x4 connection which was just announced, which effectively doubles its transfer speed bandwidth, leaving SATA 3 6GB/s looking like a dial-up connection in comparison.

The Ultra M.2 gets its big speed boost thanks to its direct connection to the CPU, older M.2 interfaces have to pass through their own chipset before heading to the CPU, which added latency and slowed things down. Now that latency is much lower and there is more performance on tap from the CPU.

“The theoretical speed of Ultra M.2 is 32Gb/s, which is 6X faster than PCIe x1 M.2, and 3X faster than PCIe x2 M.2. As for Ultra M.2 vs. normal M.2 comparison, we tested the read speed of Samsung XP941 PCIe x4 M.2 SSD on Ultra M.2 socket and reached 1.16GB/s, 46% faster than PCIe x2 M.2 socket. We also tested a PCIe x2 M.2 SSD on Ultra M.2 socket. Benefited from the direct linkage between Ultra M.2 interface and CPU, the PCIe x2 M.2 SSD read speed on Ultra M.2 socket is 8.8% faster than on normal M.2 socket. As shown in Chart 3, the lower latency of Ultra M.2 design does matter,” ASRock said in a release.

This new interface is currently only available on the ASRock Z97 Extreme 6 motherboard, which also comes equipped with Super Alloy technology, a 12 phase power design, Purity Sound 2, Dual LAN, SATA Express and ASRock Cloud. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any information on price at this time, but you can expect it to be a fairly big number.

Thank you TweakTown for providing us with this information.

Image courtesy of TweakTown.

Intel’s Haswell Refresh Processors Are Now Available

The time has finally come, the Intel Core “Haswell” refresh processors are now officially available from retailers. The LGA1150 compatible processors bring with them support for the Intel 8 Series chipset with BIOS updates, as well as the new Intel 9 Series chipsets. The Haswell refresh brings a speed boost over the current Haswell lineup, but the price points will remain the same.

The Core i7-4790 runs at 3.60 GHz, with a Turbo Boost frequency of 4.00 GHz, 8MB of L3 cache and HyperThreading. The new chip will be priced at $319.99, placing it between the i7-4770 and the i7-4770K. The Core i5-4690 features a clock speed of 3.30 GHz and a 3.90 GHz Turbo Boost, 6MB of L3 cache, but lacks the HyperThreading features at a price of $224.

Both of the new CPU’s lack upwards unlocked base-clock multipliers, so overclocking is going to be all but none existent on the new hardware, so those wanting to get into the extreme end will want to wait until mid-June when the K series “Devil’s Canyon” silicon launches.

Other options hitting the market this week include;

  • i5-4590 quad-core, 3.20 GHz / 3.70 GHz, 6 MB L3, $199.99
  • i5-4460 quad-core, 3.20 GHz / 3.70 GHz, 6 MB L3, $189
  • i7-4790S quad-core, 3.20 GHz, 8 MB L3, HTT, $314, low TDP
  • i5-4690S quad-core, 3.20 GHz, 6 MB L3, $224
  • i5-4590S quad-core, 3.00 GHz, 6 MB L3, $199

Thank you TechPowerUp for providing us with this information.

Images courtesy of TechPowerUp.

ASUS Z97-A (LGA 1150) Motherboard Review

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging


After a lot of messy NDA politics between Intel and the main motherboard vendors the launch day of Intel’s Z97 Express chipset is finally upon us. In respect of our relationship with Intel we have been holding off with publishing our reviews until now and today we have a couple of reviews for you. The first is the entry level ASUS Z97 motherboard, the dash A model. This motherboard will be hitting the market at a fairly affordable £115 or $150 price point making it an attractive price point for entering onto Intel’s new enthusiast Z97 platform. Despite the ASUS Z97-A being fairly affordable it still gets most of the features we will see on higher end motherboards such as M.2, SATA Express, Intel Gigabit LAN and all the new ASUS Z97 (Channel) software features we looked at a while back including the new AI Suite III package with the ASUS Turbo App. Let’s start by taking a closer look at the specifications of the ASUS Z97-A:

Packaging and Accessories

A new motherboard chipset brings a new channel style to the ASUS packaging. We can see yet another major colour scheme and style change a shift from the gold/yellow of the last generation to a more subtle silver/gold. We have also risen up from the 4 Way optimisation on the Z87 series to 5 way optimisation provided by the new Turbo App built into AI Suite III.

The back details some of the new ASUS Z97 Channel features which we covered in a lot more detail here, you can also find them explained further on the ASUS Z97-A product page.

Included is a user guide, feature booklet and driver/utility DVD with Intel case badge.

Accessories include three SATA III cables, of which one is right angled, a plain metal rear I/O, ASUS Q connectors for your front panel connectors and a SLI bridge.

MSI Z97 Gaming 7 (LGA 1150) Motherboard Review

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging


This beautiful looking creation from MSI is our second Z97 motherboard review for this launch day, in addition to the ASUS Z97-A we recently checked out. In contrast to the entry level ASUS Z97-A, the MSI Z97 Gaming 7 jumps straight to the other end of the spectrum and this is a really high end creation aimed specifically at meeting the needs of modern gamers. The MSI Z97 Gaming 7 has all the trademark styling of the MSI Gaming Series as well as the trademark features of a gaming motherboard: a dedicated high performance Gigabit NIC, a custom audio implementation and adequate room for plenty of GPUs to maximise those frame rates. The MSI Z97 Gaming 7 motherboard has a boatload of features: a 12 phase VRM, 8 SATA III ports, support for up to 3 way CrossFire, advanced ALC 1150 Realtek audio and a Killer E2205 Gigabit NIC. Those features mean this motherboard is sure to appeal to a large audience in the same way MSI’s Gaming Series graphics cards have done. With all that said you might expect the MSI Z97 Gaming 7 to be a pricey option, but at just $190 or £140 this is probably the cheapest flagship gaming motherboard I’ve ever seen…so let’s see what it has to offer!

 

Packaging and Accessories

As expected the packaging continues to the MSI Gaming Series theme, the two standout features are of course the Killer E2200 NIC and the up-market audio implementation.

The back of the box gives us a closer look at the features of this motherboard but we invite you to check out the product page if you’re interested in reading more.

The bundle is fairly dense with a user manual, software and application guide, overclocking guide, driver and utility DVD, cable labels and a door hanger.

Furthermore, we get some MSI MConnectors for hooking up your front panel connectors, a padded and styled rear I/O shield, an MSI case badge/sticker, four SATA III cables, an SLI bridge, a power adapter (to convert molex into the audio power input) and voltage checkpoint cables.

Gigabyte Announce Extended Z97 Warranties and Corsair HS-30 Headset Offer

On the back of MSI’s recent Z97 bundles Gigabyte has just come out with a few of its own announcements. Gigabyte are stepping up the warranty standards by offering an impressive 4 year warranty on their G1 Gaming Series Z97 motherboards and a hefty 5 year warranty on their new Black Series Z97 motherboards. I am really impressed by this move as it shows that the quality in Gigabyte’s new motherboards must be high.

Additionally their Z97X Gaming 3 motherboard will be bundled with Corsair’s HS-30 gaming headset to allow gamers to take advantage of their updated audio design. This will be a while stocks last offer so you’ll have to buy a motherboard fairly early on to take advantage of this offer. More details will follow soon when Intel’s Z97 officially launches this Sunday.

Images courtesy of Gigabyte UK

MSI UK Offering Z97 Launch Promotions At Selected Retailers

With the launch of the new Intel Z97 platform fast approaching this Sunday motherboard vendors and retailers are gearing up to get selling. As we’ve already discussed in previous articles Z97 may be a hard-sell to Z87 owners, but to just about everyone else the Z97 platform offers immensely more features – even over something as new as Z77 or Z68 for example. MSI is going all out for its UK customers with a couple of impressive offers. Up first MSI are offering 20% cashback on all MSI Z97 Gaming 5 motherboards purchased between launch day, Sunday May 11th, and Sunday May 31st. This offer will be avaiable at Overclockers UK, Scan Computers, eBuyer, CCL, Aria, Box, Novatech and Dabs.

Up next we have MSI UK teaming up with Corsair UK to offer an exciting bundle with their new high end Z97 Gaming 7. Early buyers of MSI’s Z97 Gaming 7 will get a free Corsair H75 all in one liquid CPU cooler and a pair of Corsair AF120 Red LED fans. This Corsair bundle is worth an impressive £80 and is certainly a deal sweetener for UK buyers of MSI’s flagship Z97 Gaming 7 motherboard. This deal will be available at Overclockers UK, Scan Computers, eBuyer and CCL. The offer should launch Sunday but we are hearing it might be offered as early as tomorrow so stay tuned for more details. This offer has no expiration date but is limited to just 100 pieces, and one per customer, (for the whole of the UK) so this will probably sell out very quickly indeed!

Images courtesy of MSI

MSI Launch New Z97 OC Series Motherboards

Intels Haswell refresh is almost here, bringing with it a few new features and now you can purchase the latest range of MSI motherboards which not only support the new range of CPU’s, but also introduces the new Z97 chipset. The new motherboards come in two choices, the MSI Gaming Series and the MSI OC Series.

The Gaming Series ranges from $100 to $220, bringing with it a range of features that are ideal for gaming PC builds, with good memory and CPU overclock capabilities. The OC series takes things further, allowing professional levels of overclocking that will no doubt appeal to the enthusiast market, with prices ranging from $200 to $400.

The Z97 XPower AC will be the flagship of the range, supporting up to 4-way overclocked GPUs, thanks to a PEX8747 bridge chip from PLX which allows four PCIe 3.0 x16 slots, as well as a single PCIe 3.0 x16 slot that is wired directly to the CPU root complex, bypassing the bridge chip completely. Everything else on this board is top of the line, the CPU is powered by an 8-pin EPS and 4-pin CPU connector and a 16-phase VRM with a water cooling compatible VRM cooler. There are 10 x SATA 6 Gb/s ports, an M.2 slot, 12 x USB 3.0 ports, AudioBoost, 802.11 ac WLAN, Bluetooth 4.0, and gigabit Ethernet.

The Z97 MPower MAX AC is just the next model down in the range. It only features a 12-phase VRM for the CPU, doesn’t feature the PCIe bridge chip, but it will still offer up three PCIe 3.0 x16 slots running in x8/x4/x4 when fully populated. Connectitivty is still pretty robust too with 8 x SATA 6 Gb/s, 1 x M.2, 10 x USB 3.0, 802.11 ac WLAN, Bluetooth 4.0, gigabit Ethernet, and the AudioBoost headphone amp built in.

Finally the sub $200 Z97 MPower MAX offers most of the features of the MAX AC, only missing out on the 02.11 ac WLAN, Bluetooth 4.0, liquid-cooled VRM heatsinks, and onboard OC fine-tuning buttons, something I know many gamers and system builders will not have a need for anyway.

Thank you TechPowerUp for providing us with this information.

Images courtesy of TechPowerUp.

ASUS TUF Sabertooth Z97 and Gryphon Z97 Motherboards Revealed

ASUS has revealed the latest editions to their range, the new TUF Z97 Series motherboards. These new boards are designed around the new Z97 chipset which launches alongside the upcoming Haswell refresh. The TUF Sabertooth Z97 Mark 1, Sabertooth Z97 Mark 2, Gryphon Z97 and Gryphon Z97 Armor Edition motherboards all support Intels 5th-generation Core processors and most importantly of all, Sabertooth Z97 Mark 1 has exclusive support of the new 10 Gbit/s SATA Express interface for high-speed external storage. Each is available in both ATX and mATX form factors.

“TUF motherboards are world-renowned for their toughness, long-term stability, durability and bold styling, and the new models continue this proud tradition with a powerful new military-inspired design and the use of premium components throughout.” Said ASUS in a recent press release.

The TUF series of motherboards have thermal management, ICe cooling for precise fan control, Dust Diverter reversible fan technology and VGA fan. TUF Sabertooth Z97 Mark 1 and Gryphon Z97 Armor Edition feature TUF Fortifier, a system turns the entire backplate of the motherboard into a huge heat-sink, helping keep the heat away from components such as the VRM, all of which will help the high-end components of your system stay in tip-top condition while also helping with system stability thanks to the lower temperatures these features can provide.

Packed full of cooling and stability features these boards do sounds great, but their build quality is also some of the best in the business thanks to the military-certified TUF components and strict testing procedures.  No words on price just yet, but you can expect to pay a premium for one of the most popular brands in the business, especially on a range that supports a new chip, chipset and high end features such as 10 Gbit/s SATA Express ports.

Thank you TechPowerUp for providing us with this information.

Images courtesy of TechPowerUp.