The ASUS Z97-PRO socket 1150 ATX board features M.2 and SATA Express support, as well as an expansive UEFI BIOS, and a top-notch fan control system.
November 11, 2014 by Lawrence Lee
LGA1150 ATX Motherboard
US$210 (Wi-Fi AC model)
As Intel continues its dominance in the mid/high-end PC market, its mainstream LGA1150 socket remains the platform of choice for most DIYers with a relaxed budget and a penchant for performance. Since Haswell’s debut in summer of 2013, we’ve already seen one new set of refreshed chips from Intel (codename Devil’s Canyon) which required a BIOS update to work in 8-series motherboards. The new 9-series boards however did not and they will be compatible with Broadwell as well, the next CPU microarchitecture for LGA1150 due sometime in 2015. Suffice to say if you’re in the market for a Haswell board right now, a H97/Z97 model is highly recommended if a CPU upgrade is a possibility in the future.
Aside from new CPU compatibility, the main difference between the 8-series and 9-series is support for M.2 and SATA Express, storage interfaces that can use two PCI-E 2.0 lanes to surpass the throughput limit of traditional SATA which is capped at 6 Gbps, a figure which is now bottlenecking the capabilities of high-end SSDs. M.2 is essentially the mSATA equivalent of SATA Express and such drives are currently available while full sized SATA Express devices have yet to hit the market. Like their 8-series counterparts, the H97 and Z97 chipsets are basically differentiated by two things. The Z97 can split its available PCI-E lanes for more varied graphic card support, and it is capable of CPU overclocking, making it the better choice for gamers and enthusiasts.
Our first Z97 motherboard comes courtesy of ASUS which of course has a whole series Z97 models available at various price-points with differing feature-sets. The Z97-PRO is an ATX variant near the US$200 level that also comes in a second version the Z97-PRO(WiFi-ac), which is completely identical except for the inclusion of a wireless 802.11ac/BlueTooth 4.0 module. Interestingly, this second pricier model is more widely available, at least in North America.
The chipset provides a pair of PCI-E 3.0 16x slots which run at 8x/8x in dual configuration (there’s a third PCI-E slot but it’s 2.0 4x slot), along with SATA 6 Gbps and USB 3.0 support with the latter two complemented by additional ports via add-on ASMedia controllers. Not all Z97 boards implement SATA Express but it’s available here, along with its smaller-sized M.2 counterpart, sharing an interface so only one or the either can be used at a single time.
Complementing these core features are a hefty pair of VRM heatsinks around the socket, a physical power button directly on the board, and a POST code display. The board is also equipped with Crystal Sound 2 which means the onboard Realtek audio controller and associated circuitry is EMI-shielded and there’s an amplifier chip as well. It’s similar to the Audio Boost feature on the last motherboard we examined, the MSI A88XM GAMING.
The Z97-PRO ships with the usual accompaniments including manuals, a driver disc, I/O shield, and four SATA data cables. The only things that can be considered "extras" are the Q-connectors which makes it easier to connect the front panel features and an SLI bridge.
ASUS Z97-PRO: Specifications
(from the product
|CPU|| 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
|Main Memory||4 x DIMM, Max. 32GB, DDR3 3200~(O.C) 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).
|Graphic||Integrated Graphics Processor- Intel® HD Graphics support |
Multi-VGA output support : HDMI/DVI-D/RGB/DisplayPort 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
– Supports DisplayPort with max. Resolution 4960 x 2160 @ 24 Hz / 3840 x 2160 @ 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
DP 1.2 Multi-Stream Transport compliant, supports DP 1.2 monitor daisy chain up to 3 displays
|Multi-GPU Support||Supports NVIDIA® Quad-GPU SLI™ Technology |
Supports AMD 3-Way 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 (x4 mode) *1
4 x PCIe 2.0 x1 *2
|Storage||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)*3
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 *4
ASMedia® PCIe SATA controller : *5
2 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), black
|LAN||Intel® I218V, Dual interconnect between the Integrated Media Access Controller (MAC) and Physical Layer (PHY)|
Gigabit Intel® LAN Connection- 802.3az Energy Efficient Ethernet (EEE) appliance
|Audio||Realtek® ALC1150 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC featuring Crystal Sound 2|
– Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel MIC Jack-retasking
– High quality 112 dB SNR stereo playback output and 104 dB SNR recording input
Audio Feature :
– Absolute Pitch 192kHz/ 24-bit True BD Lossless Sound
– DTS Ultra PC II
– DTS Connect
– Optical S/PDIF out port(s) at back panel
– BD Audio Layer Content Protection
– Audio Shielding: Ensures precision analog/digital separation and greatly reduced multi-lateral interference
– Dedicated audio PCB layers: Separate layers for left and right channels to guard the quality of the sensitive audio signals
– Audio amplifier: Provides the highest-quality sound for headphone and speakers
– Premium Japanese-made audio capacitors: Provide warm, natural and immersive sound with exceptional clarity and fidelity
– Unique de-pop circuit: Reduces start-up popping noise to audio outputs
– Top notch audio sensation delivers according to the audio configuration
– EMI protection cover to prevent electrical noise to affect the amplifier quality
|USB Ports||Intel® Z97 chipset : |
6 x USB 3.0/2.0 port(s) (2 at back panel, blue, 4 at mid-board)
Intel® Z97 chipset :
6 x USB 2.0/1.1 port(s) (2 at back panel, , 4 at mid-board)
ASMedia® USB 3.0 controller :
2 x USB port(s) (2 at back panel, blue)
|Special Features||5-Way Optimization by Dual Intelligent Processors 5|
– Whole system optimization with a single click! 5-Way Optimization tuning key perfectly consolidates TPU, EPU, DIGI+ Power Control, Fan Xpert 3, and Turbo App together, providing better CPU performance, efficient power saving, precise digital power control, whole system cooling and even tailor your own app usages.
ASUS 5X Protection :
– ASUS DIGI+ VRM – 12 Phase digital power design
– ASUS Enhanced DRAM Overcurrent Protection – Short circuit damage prevention
– ASUS ESD Guards – Enhanced ESD protection
– ASUS High-Quality 5K-Hour Solid Capacitors – 2.5x long lifespan with excellent durability
– ASUS Stainless Steel Back I/O – 3x more durable corrosion-resistant coating
ASUS TPU :
– Auto Tuning
– GPU Boost
– TPU switch
ASUS EPU :
– EPU switch
ASUS Digital Power Design :
– Industry leading Digital 12 Phase Power Design
– Industry leading Digital 2 Phase DRAM Power Design
– CPU Power Utility
– DRAM Power Utility
ASUS Exclusive Features :
– Remote GO!
– AI Suite 3
– Ai Charger+
– USB Charger+
– ASUS UEFI BIOS EZ Mode featuring friendly graphics user interface
– USB 3.0 Boost
– Disk Unlocker
– Turbo LAN
– Crystal Sound 2
ASUS Quiet Thermal Solution :
– Stylish Fanless Design Heat-sink solution
ASUS EZ DIY :
– Precision Tweaker 2
– ASUS O.C. Tuner
– ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3
– ASUS EZ Flash 2
– ASUS USB BIOS Flashback
– ASUS UEFI BIOS EZ Mode
– Push Notice
ASUS Q-Design :
– ASUS Q-Shield
– ASUS Q-Code
– ASUS Q-LED (CPU, DRAM, VGA, Boot Device LED)
– ASUS Q-Slot
– ASUS Q-DIMM
– ASUS Q-Connector
Special Memory O.C. Design
Overclocking Protection :
– ASUS C.P.R.(CPU Parameter Recall)
Fan Xpert 3
|Operating System Support||Windows® 8.1 86×64|
Windows® 8 86×64
Windows® 7 86×64
|Back I/O Ports||1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port(s)|
1 x DVI-D
1 x D-Sub
1 x DisplayPort
1 x HDMI
1 x LAN (RJ45) port(s)
4 x USB 3.0 (blue)
2 x USB 2.0
1 x Optical S/PDIF out
6 x Audio jack(s)
|Internal I/O Port||2 x USB 3.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 4 USB 3.0 port(s) (19-pin)|
2 x USB 2.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 4 USB 2.0 port(s)
1 x SATA Express connector: black, compatible with 2 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports
1 x M.2 Socket 3 for M Key, type 2260/2280 devices
1 x TPM header
6 x SATA 6Gb/s connector(s)
1 x CPU Fan connector(s) (1 x 4 -pin)
1 x CPU OPT Fan connector(s) (1 x 4 -pin)
4 x Chassis Fan connector(s) (4 x 4 -pin)
1 x S/PDIF out header(s)
1 x Thunderbolt header(s)
1 x 24-pin EATX Power connector(s)
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power connector(s)
1 x EZ XMP switch
1 x Front panel audio connector(s) (AAFP)
1 x System panel(s) (Q-Connector)
1 x DRCT header(s)
1 x MemOK! button(s)
1 x TPU switch(es)
1 x EPU switch(es)
1 x Power-on button(s)
1 x Clear CMOS jumper(s)
1 x USB BIOS Flashback button(s)
4 x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s)
1 x SLI bridge(s)
1 x Q-connector(s) (2 in 1)
|BIOS||64 Mb Flash ROM, UEFI AMI BIOS, PnP, DMI2.7, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 2.8, ACPI 5.0, Multi-language BIOS, |
ASUS EZ Flash 2, CrashFree BIOS 3, F11 EZ Tuning Wizard, F6 Qfan Control, F3 My Favorites, Quick Note, Last Modified log,
F12 PrintScreen, F3 Shortcut functions, and ASUS DRAM SPD (Serial Presence Detect) memory information
|Manageability||WfM 2.0, DMI 2.7, WOL by PME, PXE|
Anti-virus software (OEM version)
|Form Factor||ATX Form Factor |
12.0 inch x 9.6 inch ( 30.5 cm x 24.4 cm )
|Note||*1 : The PCIe x16_3 slot shares bandwidth with USB3_E12 and PCIe x1_4. The PCIe x16_3 is default at x1 mode. |
*2 : The PCIe x1_2 slot shares bandwidth with PCIe x1_3. The PCIe x1_2 is default disabled.
*3 : M.2 Socket 3 shares bandwidth with SATAExpress_1
*4 : These functions will work depending on the CPU installed.
*5 : These SATA ports are for data hard drivers only. ATAPI devices are not supported.
The ASUS Z97-PRO has a relatively traditional layout for an ATX motherboard, with the CPU socket near the top and most of the onboard headers conveniently located along edges of the board. The most difficult spot to connect is the 8-pin EPS12V connector located between the corners of the VRM heatsinks, which most manufacturers have unfortunately concluded is the most pragmatic location. In tighter cases, you may want to connect this port before the board is installed.
Since its debut, ASUS’ UEFI BIOS has been improving incrementally with each new iteration. The latest version is powerful with a wide array of frequency, voltage, and settings that allow overclockers to hit high clock speeds while also supplying consistent power to vital components to ensure stability. There are also a series of little flourishes that make life a bit easier for the typical enthusiast such as brief explanations of each setting, the ability to bookmark specific settings for quicker access, and a summary of all the changes made being presented before exiting.
Measurement and Analysis Tools
Video Test Clips
H.264/MKV 1080p: A custom 1080p H.264 encoded clip inside an Matroska container.
Flash 1080p: The Dark Knight Rises Official Trailer #3, a YouTube HD trailer in 1080p.
Estimating DC Power
The following power efficiency figures were obtained for the
Seasonic SS-400ET used in our test system:
Seasonic SS-400ET Test Results
DC Output (W)
AC Input (W)
This data is enough to give us a very good estimate of DC demand in our test
system. We extrapolate the DC power output from the measured AC power input
based on this data. We won’t go through the math; it’s easy enough to figure
out for yourself if you really want to.
If available, the latest motherboard BIOS is installed prior to testing. Certain services/features
like Indexing, Superfetch, System Restore, and Windows Defender are disabled
to prevent them from causing spikes in CPU/HDD usage. We also make note if energy
saving features like Cool’n’Quiet, SpeedStep or S3 suspend-to-RAM do not function
Our main test procedure is designed to measure the overall system power consumption
at various states. To stress the CPU, we use Prime95 (large FFTs setting). After 10~15 minutes of load (when temperatures stabilize), We also measure the hottest points on the external heatsinks using an infrared thermometer.
Finally, storage subsystems are tested briefly using CrystalDiskMark (1000 MB of 0x00 fill test data) and a Kingston HyperX 3K 120GB solid state drive.
Note: Motherboards vary in regard to stock Turbo Boost settings so more aggressive models consume more power which is a detriment when using energy efficiency as a metric. So for these tests, all the boards compared have been tweaked to use the exact same clock speeds (a multiplier of 39x/38x/37x/36x for 1/2/3/4 core operation on our Core i7-4770K test chip) to ensure a level playing field.
Compared to previously reviewed Z87 models, the Z97-PRO consumed slightly more power than average on light loads but it should be noted that it, along with the Gigabyte Z87X-UD5, have more advanced feature-sets than the rest of the field. However, it was the most frugal board overall on heavily load suggesting superior high power voltage regulation.
To test the board’s cooling, the CPU was stressed for ~15 minutes with Prime95. Temperatures of the boards’ chipset heatsinks were recorded using a spot thermometer. The highest temperatures were taken for comparison.
The Z97-PRO can boast the lowest average heatsink temperatures with both the PCH and VRM heatsinks staying relatively cool during load. Take these numbers with a grain of salt though, as we assume the thermal contact between the chips and the heatsinks is equal.
SATA 6 Gbps Performance
We’re not aware of any differences between the native SATA controller in the Z97 and Z87 chipsets, but the Z97-PRO produced a superior result in CrystalDiskMark compared to the Gigabyte Z87X-UD5, particularly in 512K sequential reads and 4K random writes. Like most third party controllers, the ASMedia 1061 couldn’t keep up with the native solution but with significantly faster 512K write speeds, it did outperform the Z87X-UD5’s Marvell controller.
To test boot time, the BIOS/UEFI was optimized by setting the hard drive recognition and other delays set to minimum, taking care not to disable common functionality like full USB support, POST messages, etc. and measured the time it takes to reach the Windows loading screen (we stop here because this is the point where the O/S and drive become factors).
Despite having a complex UEFI BIOS and quite a few extra features, the Z97-PRO completes the boot sequence swiftly, entering the Windows 7 loading in under 10 seconds, a good 2~3 seconds faster than Z87 models from Intel and Gigabyte, and almost twice as quick as the ASUS Maximus VI Impact.
The Z97-PRO ships with their all-encompassing AI Suite, as well as few other useful utilities to round out their software experience. The only real hiccup we encountered during our time with the board was getting AI Suite installed. After setting up Windows 7 and all the drivers, AI Suite simply refused to install, neither from the CD or the downloadable executables on the website. After spending a good chunk of time researching possible fixes, we had to reinstall Windows from scratch, making sure to install AI Suite first before everything else.
In the BIOS section we pointed out the DirectKey feature that allows the reset button to be used to enter the BIOS directly on a cold boot. The Boot Setting utility provides similar functionality, restarting into the BIOS from convenience of the desktop.
Turbo LAN is another interesting applet that gives users the ability to conduct local traffic-shaping. Network priority levels can be set for a variety of applications and file protocols. This is particularly useful if you have a limited speed internet connection or use specific applications that demand better ping times for optimal performance (such as online games). If data caps are an issue, you can budget bandwidth and there’s also a charting function to help visualize your usage.
ASUS’ main utility, AI Suite, has undergone a bit of a revamp with all the major aspects like Fan Xpert bundled together in what they call "Dual Intelligent Processors 5." At the top is a "5-Way Optimization" button that tweaks the settings in each main module (TPU, Fan Xpert, DIGI+Power Control, EPU) for optimal performance and energy efficiency. It automatically overclocks, changes voltages, tunes fans, selects appropriate power regulation settings, and tests for stability all simultaneously so you don’t have to deal with all the minutia. Each module can be tweaked individually of course, and at the bottom is a monitoring section which can display frequencies, voltages, temperatures, fan speeds, CPU utilization, etc. Turbo App is the only completely new section, a utility that lets users apply different performance settings to specific applications.
The TPU section is where a typical overclocker will spend most of their time. The same options as in UEFI BIOS are present but everything’s depicted in a more pleasing manner.
There are three different performance/power profiles that can be selected manually. If you decide not to overclock, the power saving profile is a quick way to save a bit of electricity with very little work. Essentially it works by undervolting the CPU, either with user defined values or automatically, though the automatic route obscures exactly what is being undervolted and by how much.
In automatic power saving mode we saw a power consumption reduction of between 2W and 5W with zero impact on GPU/CPU clock speeds, so these are essentially free efficiency gains. Any board with undervolting options is capable of saving a few watts here and there but ASUS makes it less of a hassle.
Fan Xpert 3 is of most interest to us, but it’s really not that different from the second iteration, though nevertheless impressive. It is more powerful but only because ASUS added new fan features to the board, not just the software, like enabling PWM control across the board, and allowing other temperature sensors to serve as the basis for fan control. Each fan can be labeled and assigned a case position (it’s easy to mix them up in multi-fan systems) and assigned their own individual profile.
After tuning the fans, Fan Xpert displays the controllable range and allows you to adjust the fan speed curve accordingly. You can also control how quickly the fans react at both ends, when speeding up and slowing down.
The Chassis fans have slightly different options than the CPU fan. The available spin up times are much longer so they react slower to temperature increases, and you can select a source, that is the sensor to which it responds.
AI Suite is almost a full screen application but it still doesn’t display as much as we want. The fan location schematics take up a lot of space so there isn’t enough room to show all five fans on the same screen, and system monitoring has been squished into the lower quarter of the screen. There’s a nice fan speed graphing option but it can only display three fans at a time and the scale is tiny.
From a feature perspective, the ASUS Z97-PRO’s primary focus seems to be storage. M.2 and SATA Express provides some future-proofing and an extra ASMedia controller supplements the standard SATA ports offered natively by the chipset. There are a total of eight SATA 6 Gbps ports available (six if you utilize M.2 or SATA Express), which is more than sufficient for the here and now. USB 3.0 is well-represented as well with four connectors at the back and four more available mid-board, again thanks to a supplementary ASMedia controller. The Z97-PRO’s 12 phase power is more efficient during heavy usage but this is somewhat balanced out by above average power consumption on light loads. The provided VRM heatsinks do their job well and both remained fairly cool even during load tests.
The UEFI BIOS has a great look and feel and is filled not only with good functionality, but little conveniences that makes life easier. If there’s one complaint, it’s that there are too many options to scroll through. The included software is of a similar vein, powerful, customizable, and perhaps overwhelming for the uninitiated. That being said, the less technically savvy user shouldn’t shy away, as all this tinkering is optional. You can always use ASUS’ various tuning features to do the heavy lifting for you. The only real issue we ran into during our entire time with the Z97-PRO was getting AI Suite up and running, which necessitated a full reinstall of Windows. We recommend installing AI Suite immediately, even before the drivers.
CPUs and GPUs are increasingly being cooled by AIO liquid coolers, which requires regulation of both a pump and one or two fans, making fan control more important than ever. The last generation of ASUS motherboards had excellent controls and this has only improved with the Z97 series. The Pro model has six fan headers, five of which are individually controllable with your choice of PWM or DC control. Furthermore, you can tie the fan speed curve of each fan to a different temperature, giving it a whole new dynamic. Front fans can be made to respond to the chipset temperature, top fans to the VRM temperature, or any other variation. If they had managed to tie in off-board temperature sensors such as hard drives and graphics cards, it would be close to perfect.
Overall the board is rock solid with a good feature-set, though it doesn’t really standout in this regard as there are numerous comparable boards in the same price-range. What really sets ASUS part are the extras and the Z97-PRO has this in spades. You don’t necessarily need to spend US$190 to get this experience either, as lower-tier models in ASUS’ Z97 line have similar functionality to varying degrees.
Our thanks to ASUS for the Z97-PRO motherboard sample.
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The ASUS Z97-PRO receives the SPCR Editor’s Choice Award
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