The ASUS Z97-PRO is a mid-range socket LGA1150 motherboard based on the new Intel Z97 chipset, supporting the fourth and the forthcoming fifth generation Core i processors. It brings a high-end audio codec, eight SATA-600 ports (allowing one SATA Express connection), and eight USB 3.0 ports. Let’s take a good look at it.
The “new” Intel Z97 Express chipset is a Z87 chipset rebranded for marketing reasons. They are identical and, therefore, have the exact same specifications. Most motherboards based on this chipset support the new SATA Express and M.2 (successor to the mSATA) connectors, but these are mechanical features provided by the motherboard, not by the chipset.
Like the Z87, the Z97 supports six USB 3.0 ports, six SATA-600 ports, Smart Response (installing an SSD as a cache for the main hard drive), Smart Connect (allowing the computer to receive emails and refresh webpages while in sleep mode), and Rapid Start (faster boot times) technologies.
You can see the ASUS Z97-PRO motherboard in Figure 1. It uses the ATX form factor, measuring 12” x 9.6” (305 x 244 mm).
The ASUS Z97-PRO comes with two PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots, one PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot (working at x4 or x1 speed), and four PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots.
The first two PCI Express x16 slots are controlled by the CPU, so it is based on the 3.0 specification. They share bandwidth, so if the second one (PCIEX16_2) is empty, the first one (PCIEX16_1) works at x16 speed, but if it is populated, both work at x8 speed. On the other hand, the third PCI Express x16 slot (PCIEX16_3) is controlled by the chipset (so it is based on the 2.0 specification) and shares bandwidth with the extra USB 3.0 ports and with the fourth PCI Express 2.0 x1 slot: if one of them is used, the third PCI Express x16 slot works only at x1 speed, not x4.
The motherboard supports CrossFireX and SLI arrays.
There is also an M.2 slot, supporting one SATA-600 or PCI Express SSD module.
[nextpage title=”Memory Support”]
Intel socket LGA1150 CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor, not the chipset, that defines what memory technologies you can have and the maximum amount of memory that is possible. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.
The integrated memory controller from socket LGA1150 processors supports DDR3 memories up to 1,600 MHz. According to ASUS, the Z97-PRO supports memories up to 3,200 MHz.
The ASUS Z97-PRO has four memory sockets. You can install up to 32 GiB with this motherboard if you use four 8 GiB modules.
In order to enable the dual-channel mode, you must install two or four memory modules. On this motherboard, the first and third memory sockets are black, while the second and fourth are dark gray. When installing two memory modules, use two sockets with the same color.
[nextpage title=”On Board Peripherals”]
The Intel Z97 chipset is a single-chip solution, which is also known as a PCH (Platform Controller Hub). This chip has six SATA-600 ports, supporting RAID (0, 1, 10, and 5). The ASUS Z97-PRO offers those six ports, plus two additional SATA-600 ports controlled by one ASMedia ASM1061 chip (no RAID support). The SATA ports are installed on the motherboard edge and rotated 90°, so the installation of video cards will not block them.
Notice that two SATA-600 ports at the bottom right can be used as two standard SATA ports or as one SATA Express port.
The Intel Z97 chipset supports 14 USB 2.0 ports and six USB 3.0 ports. The ASUS Z97-PRO offers six USB 2.0 ports, two at the rear panel and four available through two headers located on the motherboard. There are eight USB 3.0 ports (four at the rear panel and four available through two headers), six of them controlled by the chipset, and two controlled by an ASMedia ASM1042 chip.
The portrayed motherboard does not support FireWire or Thunderbolt ports.
This motherboard supports 7.1 audio format, i.e., eight channels. On this motherboard, the audio is generated by the chipset using the Realtek ALC1150 codec, which is an excellent audio codec, providing 115 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog outputs, 104 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs, and up to 192 kHz sampling rate for both inputs and outputs, with 24-bit resolution. These specifications are good even for the user who wants to work professionally by capturing and editing analog audio (e.g., converting LPs to CDs or MP3, converting VHS to DVDs or any other digital format, etc.) The codec chip is shielded against electromagnetic interference.
The analog audio outputs are independent even if you use a 7.1 analog speaker set.
The portrayed motherboard has one Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by an Intel I218V chip.
In Figure 6, you can see the motherboard rear panel with a shared PS/2 keyboard/mouse connector, two USB 2.0 ports, four USB 3.0 ports, optical SPDIF output, DisplayPort output, HDMI output, DVI-D output, VGA output, Gigabit Ethernet port, and the analog audio jacks.
[nextpage title=”Other Features”]
The ASUS Z97-PRO has a two-digit POST diagnostic display that shows, through a numeric code, which component is preventing the computer from turning on. In Figure 6, you can see a power button, and a “BIOS flashback” button, which allows you to easily update the BIOS. There is also a “TPU switch,” which improves system performance.
The “MemOK!” button, shown in Figure 7, allows you to test the compatibility of the memory modules that are installed. There is also a switch called “EZ_XMP,” which overclocks the memory modules, and a “CPU_OV” jumper, which allows higher voltage settings.
In Figure 8, you can see the accessories that come with the ASUS Z97-PRO.
[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the ASUS Z97-PRO has 12 phases for the CPU. The voltage regulator uses a Digi+ ASP1257 controller chip (digital design), and each phase uses one PSMN1R6-30BL (“6030DLB”) and one PSMN2R4-30YLD (“4030DLA”) MOSFETs.
The motherboard uses high-end “5K” solid capacitors and all coils on this motherboard are ferrite ones.
If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on the subject.
[nextpage title=”Overclocking options”]
The portrayed motherboard has several overclocking options. Below, we list the most important ones (0603 BIOS):
- CPU Base Clock: From 80.00 MHz to 300.00 MHz in 0.1 MHz increments
- CPU Voltage: From 0.001 V to 1.920 V in 0.001 V increments
- CPU Cache Voltage: From 0.001 V to 1.920 V in 0.001 V increments
- CPU Graphics Voltage: From 0.001 V to 1.920 V in 0.001 V increments
- System Agent Voltage: From 0.001 V to 0.999 V in 0.001 V increments
- CPU Analog IO Voltage: From 0.001 V to 0.999 V in 0.001 V increments
- CPU Digital IO Voltage: From 0.001 V to 0.999 V in 0.001 V increments
- CPU Input Voltage: From 0.800 V to 2.700 V in 0.010 V increments
- Memory Voltage: From 1.200 V to 1.920 V in 0.005 V increments
- Chipset (PCH) Core Voltage: From 0.700 V to Memory Voltage in 0.0125 V increments
- Chipset (PCH) VLX Voltage: From 1.200 V to 2.000 V in 0.0125 V increments
- VTTDDR Voltage: From 0.600 V to 1.000 V in 0.0125 V increments
- Memory CTRL REF Voltage: From 0.395x to 0.630x in 0.005x increments
- Memory DATA REF Voltage: From 0.395x to 0.630x in 0.005x increments
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
The main specifications for the ASUS Z97-PRO include:
- Socket: LGA1150
- Chipset: Intel Z97
- Super I/O: Nuvoton NCT6791D
- Parallel ATA: none
- Serial ATA: eight SATA-600 ports, six controlled by the chipset (RAID 0, 1, 10, and 5) supporting one SATA Express connector, and two controlled by an ASMedia ASM1061 chip
- External SATA: none
- USB 2.0: eight USB 2.0 ports, four at the rear panel and four available through two headers on the motherboard
- USB 3.0: eight USB 3.0 ports, four on the motherboard rear panel and four available through two headers, six ports controlled by the chipset and two ports controlled by an ASMedia ASM1042 chip
- FireWire (IEEE 1394): none
- Thunderbolt: none
- On-board video: controlled by the CPU; one VGA (D-Sub), one DVI-D, one DisplayPort, and one HDMI connectors
- On-board audio: produced by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC1150 codec (7.1+2 channels, 24-bit resolution, 192 kHz sampling rate, 115 dB SNR for the outputs, and 104 dB SNR for the inputs), on-board optical SPDIF output
- On-board LAN: one Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by an Intel I218V chip
- Buzzer: no
- Infrared interface: no
- Power supply required: EPS12V
- Slots: two PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots (working at x16/x0 or x8/x8), one PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot (working at x4 or x1), four PCI Express 2.0 x1 slots, and one M.2 slot
- Memory: four DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to DDR3-3200, 32 GiB maximum)
- Fan connectors: two four-pin connectors for the CPU cooler, and four four-pin connectors for auxiliary fans
- Extra features: POST status display
- Number of CDs/DVDs provided: one
- Programs included: motherboard utilities and drivers
- More Information: https://www.asus.com/
- Average Price in the U.S.*: USD 188.00
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.
The ASUS Z97-PRO is a good mid-range motherboard, targeted to the user who is building a computer using a “Haswell” CPU (fourth-generation Core i3, Core i5, or Core i7 processors) and wants it to be compatible with the “Devil’s Canyon” (enhanced fourth-generation) and “Broadwell” (fifth-generation) “Core i” processors, and wants a little more than simple motherboards offer.
The highlights of this motherboard include two extra SATA-600 ports, two extra USB 3.0 ports, a high-end audio interface, support for two video cards in SLI or CrossFireX, and the support for M.2 modules and SATA Express devices.
On one hand, this motherboard cannot be called a “high-end” board because it does not support a high-end slot configuration; this needs a switching chip to support up to four video cards with no performance drop. High-end motherboards also offer a higher number of SATA and USB 3.0 ports. On the other hand, the ASUS Z97-PRO offers more than average motherboards have to offer, bringing more features than most users will need, and costing about half the price of the “real high-end” motherboards.