Biostar Hi-Fi Z97Z7 Motherboard Review
It’s been a very long time since I last checked out a product from Biostar in the UK. In fact I don’t recall seeing anything since way back when I first purchased a Pentium 4 (Socket 775). Here we have the Biostar Hi-Fi Z97Z7. The first motherboard in what could very well be the launch of a new Gaming range from Biostar. Which is a big step from a company always associated with budget motherboards, although with an approximate retail price of just over £70.00 you’ll certainly not be breaking your budget! 😉
|‘Biostar Puro Hi-Fi technology hearlds a new age in audio experience to make your PC as a profesional media and entertainment center. The Puro Hi-Fi technology includes several unique features: “Isolated ground circuit”, “Independent audio power”, “Built-in amplifier” and “in-house software”. All the Hi-Fi series motherboards are equipped with high standard components to ensure the best possible audio quality consistency. Through these approaches, audio enthusiasts can experience a variety of digital content, while you on the other hand can enjoy your favourite music in a professional and affordable way.’|
The Biostar Hi-Fi Z97Z7 box is predominately a rather nice satin black with golden mesh effect in the background. The front of which features the large golden Hi-Fi name, the specific model name and Biostar branding. It also goes on to tell us that the motherboard supports Intel Core and the Z97 Chipset.
The back has a brief on the motherboard with an angled picture of the motherboard itself with numerous highlighted features. To the left of this Biostar are keen to draw our attention to their new ‘Puro Hi-Fi’ audio technology and how it is suitable for Music, Movies and Gaming (the important one 😉 ). The bottom of the box has the Biostar branding and company web address as well as several pictograms for the following highlighted features:
- Super Durable Ferrite Choke – Super Durable Ferrite Choke brings the benefits of higher current capacity, lower energy loss and better power stability.
- SATA Express Connector – The SATA Express supports both SATA and PCIe storage solutions and maximum data transfer speed up to 10Gb/s.
- Super durable box header – Super durable box header provides solid, secure and durable connections between motherboard and peripheral cables.
- Super Hi-Fi Audio Connectors – 30uF “Golden” plated audio connectors provide superb signal conductivity, less oxidation, and best possible studio-grade headgears.
- Super Durable solid Caps – The best quality solid state capacitors with ultra low ESR design, the Super Durable Solid Caps doubles the lifespan.
- Super Conductive Heatsink Design – Massive heatsink design provides super fast heat dissipation, high stability and reliability for extreme performance.
Unboxing the Biostar Hi-Fi Z97Z7 is a rather lovely experience. As with many motherboards the inner case is composed of two trays. The top tray is sectioned and contains the user manual, Hi-Fi audio usage guide, Drivers and utilities disk, I/O shield and SATA leads which are bagged and tied with a Biostar Velcro strap.
The lower tray contains the motherboard itself which is well protected with a sheet of soft pink foam within an anti static bag.
I can’t explain why the unboxing is a lovely experience, perhaps it’s because everything is clean and simple. I don’t really know, but I liked it. 🙂
There isn’t a huge amount of items within the box, just everything you need and no gimmicky bits.
At the time of writing the Biostar Hi-Fi Z97Z7 has limited availability, but is retailing for £72.99 on eBuyer whilst offering a 12 month warranty.
courtesy of Biostar
|CPU SUPPORT||Intel® Core™ i7 LGA 1150 Processor
Intel® Core™ i5 LGA 1150 Processor
Intel® Core™ i3 LGA 1150 Processor
Intel® Pentium® LGA 1150 Processor
Ready for Intel 4th Gen. unclocked CPU (codename Devil’s Canyon)
Ready for Intel next enthusiast-class CPU(codename Broadwell)
Support CPU Bclk overclock
|MEMORY||Support Dual Channel DDR3 2800(OC)/ 2600(OC)/ 2400(OC)/ 2200(OC)/ 2133(OC)/ 1866(OC)/ 1800(OC)/ 1600/ 1333/ 1066 MHz
Support non-ECC memory modules
Support Extreme Memory Profile(XMP) memory modules
4 x DDR3 DIMM Memory Slot
Max. Supports up to 32GB Memory
|EXPANSION SLOT||1 x PCI-E x16 3.0 Slot (support CrosfireX)
1 x PCI-E x16 2.0 Slot (x4)
2 x PCI-E x1 2.0 Slot
2 x PCI Slot
|STORAGE||4 x SATA3 Connector
1 x SATA Express Connector(Support 1 x SATA Express 10Gb/s Devices or 2 x SATA3 6Gb/s Devices)
Support SATA RAID: 0,1,5,10
Support both Legacy and AHCI Mode
Support Hot-Plug in AHCI mode
Support Intel Smart Response Technology
1 x M.2(N.G.F.F.) Connector up to 1000MB/s
Support both PCIE NAND for PCIE SSD and SATA NAND for SATA SSD
|USB||4 x USB 3.0 Port
1 x USB 3.0 Header
2 x USB 2.0 Port
2 x USB 2.0 Header
|LAN||Realtek RTL8111GR – 10/100/1000 Controller
|MULTI GRAPHICS||AMD CrossFireX|
|INTEGRATED VIDEO||By CPU model
Supports DXDX11.1/ 11/ 10.1/ 10/ 9
Support DirectX Video Acceleration(DXVA) for accelerating video processing
—Full AVC/VC1/MPEG2 HW Decode
Support Advanced Scheduler 2.0, 1.0, XPDM
Support OpenGL 4.0
Support HDMI, 1.4a specification compliant with 3D
Support 3 Displays(HDMI + DVI + VGA)
|CODEC||Realtek ALC892 8-Channel Blu-ray Audio
Support Blu-ray Audio
Support HD Audio
Support Biostar Hi-Fi
|REAR I/O||1 x PS/2 Keyboard
4 x USB 3.0 Port
2 x USB 2.0 Port
1 x HDMI Connector, resolution up to 4096×2160@24Hz, 24bpp / 2560×1600@60Hz, 24bpp / 1920×1080@60Hz, 36bpp
1 x DVI Connector, resolution up to 1920×2000@60Hz @24bpp
1 x VGA Port, resolution up to 1920×2000@60Hz @24bpp
1 x RJ-45 Port
6 x Audio Connector
|INTERNAL I/O||1 x USB 3.0 Header
2 x USB 2.0 Header
4 x SATA3 6Gb/s Connector
1 x SATA Express Connector(Support 1 x SATA Express 10Gb/s Devices or 2 x SATA3 6Gb/s Devices)
1 x M.2(N.G.F.F.) Connector
1 x Front Audio Header
1 x Front Panel Header
1 x S/PDIF-OUT Header
2 x CPU FAN Header
3 x System FAN Header
1 x Serial Header
1 x CIR Header
1 x TPM Header(TPM V1.2)
|H/W Monitoring||CPU / System Temperature Monitoring
CPU / System Fan Monitoring
Smart / Manual CPU / System Fan Control
System Voltage Monitoring
|Overvoltage||CPU VCC_IN/ Vcore/ Vring/ VGT/ VSA/ VIOA/ VIOD/ DRAM/ PCH/ PCH PLL|
|DIMENSION||ATX Form Factor Dimension: 30.5cm x 24.4cm ( W x L )|
|OS SUPPORT||Support Windows 7 / 8 / 8.1|
Smart Ear headphone Utility
Biostar MAGIX Multimedia Software Suite
Smart Speed LAN
Intel Rapid Start Technology
Intel Smart Connect Technology
Intel Rapid Storage Technology(include Intel Smart Response Techmology)
|ACCESSORIES||4 x SATA Cable
1 x I/O Shield
1 x DVD Driver
1 x User Manual
|FEATURES||Supports PURO Hi-Fi
Supports 100% Solid capacitor
Supports Rapid Switch2
Supports Rapid Debug3
Supports Charger Booster
Supports BIOS Online Update
First impressions of the Biostar Hi-Fi Z97Z7 are surprisingly good. I say surprisingly because I’m not a huge fan of the colours brown or gold and wasn’t keen on the Asus recent Z97 offerings either. However I rather like the look of the Z97Z7. At first glance it even seems to offer plenty of headers which are even located in the right places too.
The Z97Z7 features a two tone brown PCB much like the motherboards of old. Both the north and southbridge heatsinks are gold and black and all of the headers are also black. It may seem an odd combination but it actually works rather well.
The back of the Z97Z7 is pretty sparse as you can imagine, with just the Socket 1150 brace plate and the audio circuit shield worthy of note. Like many other motherboards today, the audio EMI shield illuminates, but in the case of the Z97Z7 it should light up a golden yellow colour.
In the upper right we have CPU_FAN 1 and 2 both of which are rather nicely 4 pin PWM Headers, four DIMM slots for DDR3, power and reset buttons and rather unusually a JLN2 switch (more on this later).
Over in the top left there’s the 1150 Socket which is a rather unusual, but likeable light blue anodized colour, northbridge heatsinks and 8 pin CPU ATX socket.
In the lower left of the Z97Z7 is where the motherboard starts to get very busy and where most of the headers are situated. On the far left we have the much vaunted Puro Hi-Fi which uses the Realtek ALC892 Codec and housed in a gunmetal grey coloured EMI shield (illuminates red when on), rather nicely the left area of lower left also features white LED illumination and the PCB EMI split is illuminated a golden yellow colour. Beneath this we have Front Panel Audio Header, Digital Audio-Out Connector, Trusted Platform Module Header and the first of two USB 2.0 Headers. Above these are the expansion card slots (see below) and slightly above those are SYS_FAN Header 1 and 3.
PEX1_1 (PCIe 2.0 x1 slots) is used for PCI Express x1 lane width graphics cards.
PEX16_1 (PCIe 3.0 x16 slots) is used for PCI Express x16 lane width cards.
PCX1_2 (PCIe 2.0 x1 slots) is used for PCI Express x1 lane width graphics cards.
PCX16_2 (PCIe 2.0 x16 slots) is used for PCI Express x4 lane width cards.
PC/1 (PCI) is used for PCI standard cards such as: LAN, modem, TV tuner or sound cards.
PC/2 (PCI) is used for PCI standard cards such as: LAN, modem, TV tuner or sound cards.
In the lower right corner we have the second USB 2.0 Header, Front Panel Header, Consumer IR Header (I’ve not seen one of these in years!) and finally SYS_FAN 3 Header. Two specific items of interest in this corner are the BIOS chip which is just like the recently reviewed ASRock motherboards and removable (great idea) and the debug LED which not only illuminates red, but just like the recent MSI GAMING motherboards shows the CPU temperature (another great idea).
Moving up the lower right side of the Z97Z7 shows us the CMOS jumpers, a bank of 4x SATA3 ports which all use the Intel chipset, then a bank featuring a SATA Express port and a further 2x SATA3 also provided for by the same chipset. On the second bank you have a choice of using either the SATA3 or SATA Express ports, alternatively if you choose to go for an M.2 SSD you’ll lose the use of this bank altogether.
Then to finish off on the upper right side we have the USB 3.0 Header and the main 24 pin ATX power socket.
Here’s a closer look at the top right corner again. The power button illuminates red when on and reset button illuminates green, but rather cleverly doubles as an indicator for drive activity. The rather unusual JLN2 switch allows the system to ignore the usual low temperature warning and boot at extremely cold temperatures usually experienced by liquid nitrogen cooling.
Just below the CPU socket lives one of the newer technologies introduced to us by the Z97 chipset. This is of course the M.2 socket. As mentioned before, if you choose to occupy this the second bank of SATA3 and SATA Express ports will be rendered disabled.
Looking more closely at the northbridge heatsinks shows that whilst they don’t have quite the same design flair as many of the Gaming orientated Z97 motherboards we’ve reviewed, they still look pretty good (they also kinda remind me of the Fatal1ty logo).
The southbridge seems to have taken a leaf from the Asus styling book. In that it is a circular heatsink in black with gold highlights and Biostar branding. That’s not to say it doesn’t look good as I rather quite like it.
So that’s the run down on Biostar’s latest motherboard, the Hi-Fi Z97Z7. Despite it borrowing certain aesthetic qualities from its competition and some of their great ideas for BIOS chips and debug LEDs, I rather like it. I guess you could say ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’, but more importantly how does the Z97Z7 perform?
|Although the Haswell refresh (Devils Canyon) has been available for some time now and will shortly be seen in the pcG Test Rigs for 2015. I’ve used my older Intel Core i5-4670K. I suppose you could say a final swansong of sorts. 🙁|
A new build was put together to house the Biostar Hi-Fi Z97Z7 motherboard and the Haswell 4670K CPU. The following components were used:
|Case||Cooler Master HAF XB||Power Supply||Corsair AX760i|
|Motherboard||Biostar Hi-Fi Z97Z7||CPU||Intel Core i5-4670K|
|CPU Cooler||Raijintek Themis||RAM||HyperX Savage 2400MHz 8GB Kit|
|Graphics Card||MSI GTX 980 GAMING 4G||SSD||HyperX Fury 120GB|
A new installation of Windows Home Premium 64bit (Service Pack 1) was performed and the following drivers were then installed. The latest Biostar Drivers (available here) were used and can been obtained . Although the Biostar Hi-Fi Z97Z7 has a drivers and utilities disk in box, we at pcG try to keep up with the latest drivers and software where possible.
* The latest AMI BIOS version (Z97BF912.BST) was downloaded and installed via the BIOS Update Utility within the UEFI and was used throughout testing *
- Intel Chipset Driver (Ver: 10.0.0.13)
- On-Board Audio (18.104.22.16864)
- On-Board LAN Driver (7.065.1025.2012)
- USB 3.0 Controller (22.214.171.124)
- Nvidia Graphics (344.75)
During testing the following tools/benchmarks & games were used/played:
Installation of the Hi-Fi Z97Z7 was as easy as any other motherboard. It features 3x SYSFAN headers, but two of these are situated beside the HAF XB exhaust fan, so an additional fan splitter was used to plug all three HAF XB fans into the SYS_FAN3 header in the bottom right hand corner of the board. The board booted first time without a hitch, so it was straight into the UEFI for some basic BIOS checks and to update to the latest BIOS. I then checked the UEFI to confirm the i5-4670K stock speed was set at the native 3.4GHz (3.8GHz Boost). The next step was to simply set the XMP1 profile of our HyperX Savage Test RAM, save the UEFI settings and install Windows 7 on to the HyperX Fury 120GB Test SSD.
With stability then proven at stock/default settings (see below) it was time for some overclocking…
The Biostar Hi-Fi Z97Z7 Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) is a brand new framework that provides a revolutionary interface. It is a modern clear and easy-to-use graphical user interface. The UEFI comes with a colourful easy-understand icons leads users into the setup layer directly. Aesthetically it reminds me of the older ASRock Fatal1ty UEFI, but under the hood it is very different. On the left side (and ever present throughout all headers) the UEFI tells us the time, CPU MHz and voltage, RAM MHz and voltage, CPU FAN 1 & 2 RPM and the CPU average core temperature. The ‘Main’ header gives us the basic system specs, ‘Advanced’ breaks down all of the Z97 chipset options into 12 sub headers, within ‘Chipset’ we get the PCH-IO configuration (primary display, iGPU and PCI lanes) and SA (System Agent) configuration (LAN, PEX1_1 & 2 and front panel audio), ‘Boot’ is pretty self explanatory as is ‘Security’.
Clicking on the ‘O.N.E’ (Overclocking Navigator Engine) header gives us all the tools we need for overclocking. Within here we have ‘CPU configuration’ which gives you access to everything for your CPU overclocking needs, ‘DRAM configuration’ allows us to select any available XMP profile for the installed RAM and to manually adjust every other RAM option under the sun, ‘Voltages configuration’ which allows you to step up any and all voltages to help stabilize your new overclocks, and finally ‘BIOSTAR memory insight’ which just gives us the installed RAM specifications and timings.
All fairly nice and simple, by comparison to many other Gaming motherboards and their respective UEFI available it doesn’t look quite as flash, but it’s certainly enough to get the job done.
- Benchmark Results (CPU @ STOCK: 3.4GHz / 3.8GHz Boost (1.012v) : RAM @ 2400MHz) with MSI GTX 980 GAMING 4G
|Metro Last Light||1920×1080||86.67|
|Unigine Heaven 4.0||1920×1080||1641|
Checking out the table above shows some pretty respectable results. It does slip ever so slightly behind the competition, but the difference is only marginal. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the at just £72.99 the Biostar Hi-Fi Z97Z7 is currently one of the cheapest Z97 motherboard available.
- Benchmark Results (CPU @ OC: 4.0GHz (1.0381v) : RAM @ 2400MHz) with MSI GTX 980 GAMING 4G
|Metro Last Light||1920×1080||86.67|
|Unigine Heaven 4.0||1920×1080||1709|
As shown in the tables above, there is a small performance gain in both Firestrike benchmarks, yet no gain in Metro Last Light. Unigine Heaven 4.0 even had a small performance boost of 68, rising to a score of 1709.
One of the biggest features within the Biostar Hi-Fi Z97Z7 is the new PURO Hi-Fi audio sub-sytem. This is controlled by the Realtek ALC892 codec and isolated from the rest of the motherboard by yellow LED isolation line whilst the ALC892 EMI shielding illuminates red. Another rather nice touch are the white LEDs beneath the motherboard which light up the lower left edges of the Z97Z7 with an underlight effect. Of course the sound is of more importance, with a desicated headphone Amp allowing for over 100dB loads, the PURO Hi-Fi sounds good. Perhaps not quite as good as those motherboards featuring the Creative Sound Core 3D audio codec, but certainly no worse than any featuring the ever popular Realtek ALC1150.
It’s also still no replacement for a dedicated sound card like the Creative Sound Blaster Zx, that you’ll want to use if your going to be using a high end headset such as the QPAD QH-1339 or the beyerdynamic MMX 300.
|With the Qualcomm Atheros and Killer E2200 networking technology being prominent on almost every other Gaming motherboard currently available, it makes quite a nice change to see Biostar go in a different direction and use the Realtek RTL8111GR and their own SmartSpeedLAN technology. Just like those before it, the software allows for control over Ethernet connectivity and for you to prioritize your bandwidth for all your Gaming needs. It seems to work well in my opinion and I certainly had no problems with it at all.|
|Charger booster is the best and efficient charger solution for apple devices such as iPad, iPhone. Basically, Charger booster Technology is able to boost the charging time to be more efficiency and faster once any apple goods connecting to our Motherboard. With charger booster technology, you are able to charge your apple devices up to 42 % faster.|
|The extremely data transfer rate can be up to 1000MB/s (PCIe x2) and also compatible with SATA interface M.2, up to 6Gb/s. It is specifically designed for higher performance SSD.|
|T-overclocker presents a simple Windows-based system performance enhancement and utility management. It features several powerful yet easy to use tools such as overclocking for system performance enhancement, CPU and memory special enhancement, a smart-fan control for managing fan speed control of both CPU cooling fan, north-bridge chipset cooling fan, PC health for monitoring system status, and pre-set OC modes for easy OC.|
|Smart EAR is a windows-based audio utility which allows you to easily adjust system volume. With its user-friendly GUI, you can also increase or decrease impedance setting (Low/High Gain) to optimize your headphone performance. You can easily enjoy high-quality and awesome sound.|
|BIO-Remote2 Technology is featuring users a better Home Theater environment. Users who own either Android mobile or Apple goods are able to access and control your PC remotely; At this moment, you’re smart device became a intelligent and functional remote controller; more than that, BIO-Remote2 also includes both function of mouse pad and power point presentation mode|
|BullGuard Internet Security comes with the broadest line-up of internet security features on the market, including: a cutting-edge dual Antivirus engine, Online Backup for your precious files, PC Tune Up to speed up your system, a Game Mode for a seamless gaming experience, Parental Control, Firewall, Safe Browsing and many more. Make the most of your digital life with Bullguard!|
So yep, Biostar have thrown in a fair amount of software into the mix, making the overall Hi-Fi Z97Z9 pretty comprehensive…
The Biostar Hi-Fi Z97Z7 is the first product we’ve seen here at pcG from Biostar and the first I’ve seen myself since the days of Intel Pentium 4 and Hyper Threading were first introduced. It also marks the first for the company in being an introduction to what could be their Gaming brand, but how do they get on?
The Hi-Fi Z97Z7 arrived well packaged in a rather smart satin black box with golden highlights across its entirety. Inside which and rather smartly presented, we received the necessary components, while the Hi-Fi Z97Z7 itself was safely protected on a sheet of soft foam inside an antistatic bag.
Once out of the packaging I got to admire a colour scheme which I’ve previously not been too fond of. The Hi-Fi Z97Z7 with its chocolate brown PCB, black headers and heatsinks in gold and black actually look rather nice, while also sharing a similar appearance to some of the Asus line-up. The Hi-Fi Z97Z7 layout was good with all the predominate headers lined up on the bottom edge of the motherboard. Then when installed and powered on, the additional lighting produced by the yellow LED isolating circuit, red LED PURO Hi-Fi shielding, red LED debug and the white LED expansion slot lighting really gives the motherboard an edge..
It isn’t just the colour scheme that Biostar seem to have borrowed inspiration from either, the Hi-Fi Z97Z7 features a removable BIOS chip (ASRock) and once the rig is booted into windows the debug LED becomes a temperature sensor for the CPU (MSI). All ideas we here at pcG have praised in the past and still do now, besides ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’. 😉
The new Biostar UEFI while not looking as flashy as the competition, doesn’t look bad by any means. It is easy to navigate and despite not having an auto-overclock facility (all manual through the O.N.E header I’m afraid), it’s also easy to use.
There really is a lot to like about the Z97Z7 and it would suit any basic Gaming rig. It performs well enough even with a manual overclock, features the M.2 slot, the PURO Hi-Fi is pretty good and the motherboard is suitable for anyone wishing to use Crossfire, but sadly not SLI. You even get a shed load of additional software (although admittedly you’re not likely to use it all). However the real talking point is the price, at approximately £70.00, the Biostar Hi-Fi Z97Z7 is one of the cheapest Z97 motherboards available and you certainly get a lot for your money. Despite all this, it does feel more like Biostar are dipping their toes in the water before taking on the mainstream Gaming motherboard manufacturers. I’m personally rather looking forward to seeing what they can do in a higher price bracket.
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Many thanks to Biostar for providing this sample for review