Asus Z97-Pro Gamer Motherboard Review
It’s been a while since I took a look at a motherboard and even longer since I looked at Asus motherboard, but today all of that is about to change as I take a look at the Asus Z97-Pro Gamer motherboard. Obviously based on the Intel Z97 Express chipset this Gaming based, ATX motherboard features an LGA 1150 Socket with support for Intel’s 4th, New 4th and 5th generation processors and also supports both Nvidia SLI and AMD CrossFire. In addition to this there’s four DIMM slots with support for up to 32GB of RAM, with speeds up to 3200MHz (OC). There’s an M.2 Socket supporting data transfer speeds up to 10Gb/s, x1 SATA Express port and x4 SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports. In addition to this the board also features Asus’ SupremeFX 8-channel high definition audio CODEC.
What’s interesting about this board though is the fact that it’s not an Republic of Gamers (ROG) board, this board comes from Asus’ Gamer range (you would think!), but there only seems to be one board in the range, for now…
The Asus Z97-Pro Gamer arrived at pcG in a smart black ‘n red box that was heavier than I expected, hopefully there’s more in the box than just the motherboard!? The front of the box highlights not only the Asus name and product, but also Intel Core, Intel Z97 Chipset, LGA 1150 Socket, SLI, Crossfire, Ultra HD (4K) and Windows 8.1 Ready.
The back of the box features a small image of the Z97-Pro Gamer in the top left highlighting various features of the board, below this we find the motherboard’s main specifications. The rest of the back of the box is dedicated to highlighting M.2, SATA Express, SupremeFX, Networking (that just got faster) and Gamer’s Guardian (see image above right or Specification/Features below for more detail).
On opening the box we find the Z97-Pro Gamer motherboard sat in a cardboard tray at the top, enclosed in an anti-static bag. Below this tray we find the rest of the supplied accessories.
At the time of writing the Asus Z97-Pro Gamer is retailing for approximately £107 on ebuyer and comes with an impressive 3 year warranty.
courtesy of Asus
Intel® Socket 1150 for the 5th/New 4th/4th Generation Core™ i7/Core™ i5/Core™ i3/Pentium®/Celeron® Processors
Supports Intel® 22 nm CPU
Supports Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0
* The Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0 support depends on the CPU types.
* Refer to www.asus.com for CPU support list
4 x DIMM, Max. 32GB, DDR3 3200(O.C.)/3100(O.C.)/3000(O.C.)/2933(O.C.)/2800(O.C.)/2666(O.C.)/2500(O.C.)/2400(O.C.)/2200(O.C.)/2133(O.C.)/2000(O.C.)/1866(O.C.)/1600/1333 MHz Non-ECC, Un-buffered Memory *
Dual Channel Memory Architecture
Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)
* Hyper DIMM support is subject to the physical characteristics of individual CPUs.
* Refer to www.asus.com for the Memory QVL (Qualified Vendors Lists).
Integrated Graphics Processor- Intel® HD Graphics support
Multi-VGA output support : HDMI/DVI-D/RGB ports
– Supports HDMI with max. resolution 4096 x 2160 @ 24 Hz / 2560 x 1600 @ 60 Hz
– Supports DVI-D with max. resolution 1920 x 1200 @ 60 Hz
– Supports RGB with max. resolution 1920 x 1200 @ 60 Hz
Maximum shared memory of 512 MB
Supports Intel® InTru™ 3D, Quick Sync Video, Clear Video HD Technology, Insider™
Supports up to 3 displays simultaneously
- Multi-GPU Support
Supports NVIDIA® Quad-GPU SLI™ Technology
Supports AMD Quad-GPU CrossFireX™ Technology
- Expansion Slots
2 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (Single at x16, dual at x8/x8, )
1 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (max at x4 mode, black)
2 x PCIe x1
2 x PCI
Intel® Z97 chipset :
1 x SATA Express port, compatible with 2 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports
1 x M.2 Socket 3, , with M Key, type 2260/2280 storage devices support (both SATA & PCIE mode)*1
4 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), gray
Support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10
Supports Intel® Smart Response Technology, Intel® Rapid Start Technology, Intel® Smart Connect Technology *2
Intel® I218V, 1 x Gigabit LAN Controller(s), featuring GAMEFIRST II
SupremeFX 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
– Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel MIC Jack-retasking
– High quality 115 dB SNR stereo playback output
– High-fidelity audio OP AMP(s)
Audio Feature :
– SupremeFX Shielding™ Technology
– ELNA premium audio capacitors
– Optical S/PDIF out port(s) at back panel
– Sonic Radar II
- USB Ports
Intel® Z97 chipset :
6 x USB 3.0/2.0 port(s) (4 at back panel, blue, 2 at mid-board)
Intel® Z97 chipset :
8 x USB 2.0/1.1 port(s) (2 at back panel, black, 6 at mid-board)
- Special Features
ASUS Dual Intelligent Processors 5-Way Optimization by Dual Intelligent Processors 5 :
– 5-Way Optimization tuning key perfectly consolidates TPU, EPU, DIGI+ Power Control, Fan Xpert 3, and Turbo App
– ESD Guards on LAN, Audio, KBMS and USB3.0/2.0 ports
– DRAM Overcurrent Protection
– 10K Black Metallic Capacitors
– Stainless Steel Back I/O
– DIGI+ VRM
First impressions of the Asus Z97-Pro Gamer are very good, but I’d have to say it’s not a great looking board, it lacks the desirability of say the ROG boards or even our own test motherboard the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer. It’s still a smart looking board and the general layout looks good too, it just lacks that little bit of bling!
Looking at the bottom of the board we can see the SupremeFX sound chip and its associated capacitors in the lower left corner, this is actually based upon Realtek’s 1150 chipset. Next we have the HD Audio header (AAFP), then we have a Digital Audio connector (SPDIF_OUT), Clear CMOS jumper (CLRTC), TPM header (TPM), Serial Port (COM), Chassis Fan header (CHA_FAN2), x3 USB 2.0 headers and in the far corner we have the Front Panel header (F_PANEL). Just above the Front Panel connector there’s also a large Power LED that illuminates red when power is applied to the board. To the right of this there’s the removable BIOS chip, very useful if things go horribly wrong! On this side of the board we also see the main Southbridge area with Asus heatsink, the central battery and of course the PCIE slots. These comprise of the following:
PCIEX1_1 – PCIE Mode x1
PCIEX16_1 – (Grey) PCIE Mode x16
PCI1 – PCI (add in cards such as LAN CARD, SCSI card, USB etc)
PCIEX1_2 – PCIE Mode x1
PCIEX16_2 – PCIE Mode x8
PCI2 – PCI (add in cards such as LAn CARD, SCSI card, USB etc)
PCIEX16_3 – PCIE Mode x4
Looking at the left side of the board we see the rear panel connectors on the far left (see below for full breakdown) followed by a couple of chips the Nuvoton (control rear I/O) and the ASMedia (provides eSATA support). If you look closely you can also see how the on-board sound has been isolated (by way of a track) from the rest of the board in an attempt to keep unwanted noise/interference to a minimum. The track also illuminates red when the motherboard is powered up. Just behind the Audio sockets we see the second of three chassis fan headers (CHA_FAN1).
The top of the board is dominated by the LGA 1150 Socket and its related power phases and heatsinks. In from the left edge of the board we find two well placed CPU Fan headers CPU_FAN and CPU_OPT, working our way past the 1150 Socket we find the main 8-pin CPU power socket.
Looking at the Asus Z97-Pro from the right we see the main SATA ports on the right comprising of x1 ESATA port and x6 SATA 6.0Gb/s ports (SATA6G_1 – SATA6G_6). To the right of this we find a single USB 3.0 connector, followed by the main 24-pin 12v power connector. And finally to the right of this there’s the last of three chassis fan headers (CHA_FAN3). Right in the centre of the board we have a single M.2 connector that can either share bandwidth with PCIEx1_1 & PCIEx1_2 in PCIE Mode or SATA6G_4 in SATA Mode (see UEFI for options).
Above are some images showing off some of the more interesting areas of the Asus Z97-Pro Gamer. First off we have the main Southbridge heatsink adding that much needed bit of bling to the board! Also the image (above left) allows us to understand the breakdown of the SATA ports. Note that the SATA6G_4 port will be disabled if using the M.2 socket in SATA Mode (see UEFI).
Then there’s Asus’ Supreme AudioFX that’s not only isolated from the main motherboard helping to eliminate interference, but there’s also a dedicated headphone amplifier. In addition to this SupremeFX also supports Asus’ Sonic Radar, specifically designed for First Person Shooters (FPS) showing you a graphical overlay allowing you to see (not just hear) where the enemy are! Hold on a minute isn’t that cheating!? 😉
- PS/2 Keyboard/Mouse Combo Port
- USB 2.0 port x2
- Optical S/PDIF-Out
- VGA port (Analogue)
- DVI-D port
- USB 3.0 Port x2
- LAN Port
- USB 3.0 Port x2
- 8 Channel (7.1) HD Audio x6
The I/O panel seems a little light to me as there’s really not much here, the panel seems to almost be dominated by Video outputs with support for VGA, HDMI and DVI-D. There’s also only six USB ports, x2 USB 2.0 and x3 USB 3.0. But it’s enough I guess…
A new build was put together to house the Asus Z97-Pro Gamer motherboard and the Intel i5-4690K CPU. The following components were used:
- Test Rig Setup
- Intel Chipset Driver V10.0.16.0
- Intel USB 3.0 Driver V126.96.36.199
- Intel(R) Gigabit Ethernet Driver V188.8.131.52
- Realtek Audio Driver V184.108.40.20673
- AMD Catalyst Software Suite (Omega 14.12)
- Benchmark Results (CPU @ STOCK: 3.5GHz (1.057v) : RAM @ 1600MHz) with XFX AMD Radeon R9 290X DD Black Edition
- Benchmark Results (CPU @ OC GENIE: 4.0GHz (1.076v) : RAM @ 2400MHz) with XFX AMD Radeon R9 290X DD Black Edition
- Benchmark Results (CPU @ OC: 4.5GHz (1.200v) : RAM @ 2400MHz) with XFX AMD Radeon R9 290X DD Black Edition
|Case||Cooler Master HAF XB||Power Supply||Corsair Professional Series AX 760i|
|Motherboard||Asus Z97-Pro Gamer||CPU||Intel Core i5-4690K|
|CPU Cooler||Rajintek Themis||RAM||HyperX Savage 2400MHz 8GB Kit|
|Graphics Card||XFX AMD Radeon R9 290X DD Black Edition||SSD||HyperX FURY 120GB|
To be fair installing a motherboard is normally a pretty straightforward affair and with the Asus Z97-Pro Gaming it was just that. First the Intel Core i5-4690K CPU was added along with our test CPU Cooler the Raijintek Themis, with its PWM controlled fan plugged into CPU_FAN header. The 8GB of HyperX Savage memory was installed and the motherboard was inserted into the case, not forgetting the I/O shield first! The Z97-Pro Gamer was secured to our test case (Cooler Master HAF XB) using the regular nine screws. With the board in place cabling could begin and thanks to a good layout (and well placed fan headers) further installation of the GPU and Storage Drives was easy.
If you look carefully at the image above left you can also see the glowing SupremeFX sound chip and its associated isolation track, looks cool too! 🙂
A new installation of Windows Home Premium 64bit (Service Pack 1) was performed and the following Drivers were installed. The latest Asus Drivers were used and can been obtained (here). Although the Asus Z97-Pro Gamer has a Drivers and Utilities disc in the box, we here at pcG try to keep up with the latest Drivers and software where possible.
* The latest BIOS version (2102) was downloaded and installed via the EZ Flash facility within the UEFI and was used throughout testing *
During testing the following tools/benchmarks & games were used/played:
With everything installed and wired up it was time to Power On Self Test (POST). The Asus Z97-Pro Gamer booted first time, and I was straight into the UEFI to make sure everything was as I was expecting, and it was. The UEFI looks pretty slick in the screenshot below left; this is EZ Mode. Here you can see basic system information from CPU speed through to RAM speed and from Fan Speeds and to connected drives.
But we’ll need to switch to Advanced Mode if we want to do some overclocking right? No, that’s not entirely true! As one would expect you can overclock your system though the Advanced Mode in the UEFI, but you could also use the EZ System tuning option also! To dial in our specific 4.0GHz and 4.5GHz overclocks I used the Advanced section of the UEFI (see image above centre).
In addition to this we also by default set all fan speeds (that’s CPU and x3 chassis fans) in our case to 100%, this is actually done on the Asus Z97-Pro Gamer by setting all fan control to Disabled. The net result is that all fans run at their full speed, unusual but it worked well enough, once I got my head around the idea! 😉
If you opt to use the EZ Tuning Wizard (which is pretty darn simple), it will lead you through three simple steps/questions (shown above) at the end of which it will let you know by how much it will increase the performance of both the CPU and your system RAM. In our case that saw a 28% increase on CPU and 36% on the RAM, not bad for 30 seconds work! 😉 The end result was a CPU running at 4.4GHz and Memory running at 2400MHz (courtesy of its XMP Profile), with a Base Clock of 102MHz.
One thing that did strike me as odd was that regardless of the overclock dialled in and regardless of how is was dialled in the front screen of the UEFI (EZ Mode) always seemed to show the stock settings and not the OC settings, weird!
|Metro Last Light||1920×1080||76.33|
|Unigine Heaven 4.0||1920×1080||1412|
|Metro Last Light||1920×1080||81.33|
|Unigine Heaven 4.0||1920×1080||1420|
|Metro Last Light||1920×1080||81.33|
|Unigine Heaven 4.0||1920×1080||1422|
Now here at pcG we don’t chart motherboard results as we have seen over the years that there’s so little in it between boards, there’s really very little point. As you can see from the benchmarks; the Metro Last Light benchmarks see a healthy increase when moving from the Stock test to 4.0GHz with XMP, but sees no further improvement at 4.5GHz! The Unigine Heaven tests show no real improvement at all across the range, although you can see it’s just about there (the improvement that is!). The steady, constant increase in the 3D Mark test is down to the fact that this benchmark contains pure CPU tests, so it will always benefit from increased CPU speed.
One thing that I did note though (despite what I’ve said) is that all of the number produced by the Asus Z97-Pro Gamer are very healthy and all of them are as good, or better than any results that we have seen in the past, nice! 😉
Performance wise the board never put a foot wrong while Gaming, no stuttering, glitches or crashes even when at 4.8GHz!
I also spent a little time evaluating the SupremeFX audio and its associated headphone amplifier. Being based on Realteks’s 1150 chipset, I was expecting similar results to what I have seen (sorry heard) in the past, and I was right. The sound produced is good and has good clarity and definition, but I couldn’t really detect any headphone amplification as I could Game all day at full volume and still wanted a little more at times. It’s certainly good enough and in keeping with other boards in this price range, but a dedicated sound card (such as the Creative Sound Blaster Zx) would provide better results.
To be honest this section could be a whole review in itself as there’s so much additional Asus software that you could install should you wish, although I suggest you do not. Why? Well because none of it (apart from the Drivers) is required for full (high performance) operation of your Gaming Rig. That’s not to say it’s a waste of time, because it isn’t, all I would say is that don’t install it, unless you think you need it! Also I have to confess I just don’t have the time to delve into all of the software available…
But I would like to take a look at one piece of software as I thought it was brilliant. That piece of software is Asus’ AI Suite 3, as not only is it a beautifully polished piece of software, but for the first time it was where I preferred to do all of my Overclocking. But what’s even more exciting is the fact that using this software I was able to overclock our Intel Core i5-4690K to an impressive 4.8GHz! To be fair I may have been able to push beyond this, but I was beginning to stretch our £20 CPU Cooler a little at this point! 😉
Above are a couple of screenshots that show off AI Suite 3 and Asus’ Dual Intelligent Processors 5 overclocking/monitoring software. The second image shows exactly how I got the 4.8GHz overclock that I dialled in through the software while running Prime 95 so I could keep and eye on stability. I took a look at various other software features and all looked as good as this and all software that I looked at was slick and easy to use. In fact I’m not normally one to rave on about software, but I have to say I was impressed…
The Asus Z97-Pro Gamer is one of the best Z97 boards on the market as it features pretty much all of the features a Gamer needs, it’s damn good overclocker and it’s paired with some brilliant software. All of this also comes to you (rather surprisingly) at a reasonable price…
The Asus Z97-Pro Gamer came to pcG in a smart box that was also heavier than expected, the contents were well packaged, and there was a decent amount of accessories. Once out of the box the motherboard was confirmed to be a smart looking board, well made and seemed to feature a good layout. The only thing I would say is that due to the somewhat drab colour scheme the board does look a little, well… dull! But that might just be Asus’ way of differentiating it from the higher end ROG boards. And to be fair they need too, as this board is as good as any ROG board I’ve seen. Ok it might lack some of the features of its peers, but who needs ten SATA ports, amour and WiFi anyway!? The most important feature really is the support for both SLI and Crossfire and that’s here.
Installation of the Z97-Pro Gamer was as easy as one would expect thanks to a really good board layout. The board powered up first time and I was greeted (after pressing Delete during POST) with a smart looking UEFI. This is Asus’ EZ Mode, a basic UEFI screen that gives you stock system information. I say stock as the values on the screen didn’t seem to change even when the system was heavily overclocked, which I thought was a little odd!?
During Gaming at stock speeds the Z97-Pro Gamer performed well with no sign of instability. In fact this stability remained throughout all of my testing all the way to 4.8GHz! Even when I pushed too hard the board would play nicely and simply recover after a re-boot.
Overclocking the Asus Z97-Pro Gamer was a dream thanks to the simple UEFI settings (in Advanced Mode), the ability to use the EZ Tuning Wizard (that automatically clocked our Test Rig to 4.4GHz, 2400MHz RAM with a 102MHz base clock) and the smart and easy to use AI Suite 5 software, that allowed me to push on to 4.8GHz. The fact that I’m praising software for me is a very rare thing indeed, my hat’s off to Asus.
There’s really nothing I can criticize about the Asus Z97-Pro Gamer to be honest, especially when you consider its low price (£107 at the time of review). If anything Asus could of just given the board a little more bling, but now I’m nitpicking…
Bottom line is this Gaming motherboard gives our own Platinum award wining test motherboard (the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer) a run for its money and the Asus board has a slightly better layout! You decide… 😉
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Many thanks to Asus for providing this sample for review