In the first half of May, Intel carried out a global update of the LGA1150 platform. You may have learned about Intel’s new processors from our Haswell Refresh review. They are actually the same Haswell-based products but have a 100MHz higher clock rate, so their performance and model numbers have got slightly higher. Although there’s nothing fundamentally new about the Haswell Refresh series, they come at the same price as their predecessors, giving us no reason to feel particularly disappointed. It’s always good to have even minor improvements if you are not asked to pay for them.
Besides processors, the selection of chipsets was refreshed as well. Most of Intel’s 8 series chipsets, including the H81, B85, Q85 and Q87, were left as they were but the two senior ones, Z87 and H87, have got enhanced versions that go under the names of Z97 and H97. Comparing the Z87 with the new Z97, we won’t find many differences, the most conspicuous of which is the support for the upcoming fifth-generation Core processors.
Considering the similar chipsets, we might expect new mainboards to be hardly different from older ones. Z97 and H97-based mainboards are already selling and some of them are indeed exactly as their predecessors, yet there are quite a lot of absolutely new models, too. The support for new processors is good but we still have to wait for those processors to come out. Right now, the enhanced storage capabilities of the new chipsets, which are not reflected in the schematics, turn out to be more important. The new mainboards feature faster PCIe-based interfaces for the storage subsystem: M.2 and SATA Express. These were occasionally implemented in the past (for example some of ASUS’s ROG series products had an M.2 connector) but the implementation is much easier with the new chipsets.
To check out the refreshed LGA1150 platform we’ve picked up the ASUS Z97-A mainboard because it is a midrange model. It is not too simple, yet also not too overloaded with extra features and controllers. We’ll cover flagship and, perhaps, entry-level models in the future.
Being the major mainboard manufacturer, ASUS has a reputation to maintain, so they can’t afford to release an unfinished product. We can expect the Z97-A to have a user-friendly PCB design and adequate functionality without any obvious defects. Now let’s get started.
Packaging and Accessories
A new chipset is not a strong enough reason to change anything in product packaging. So, like with other ASUS mainboards, the front of the box shows the model name and logotypes. The product’s specifications and key features are listed on the back.
The mainboard is wrapped into an antistatic pack inside. Below it, under a sheet of cardboard, you will find the following accessories:
- Three SATA 6 Gbit/s cables with metallic locks (two of them with straight connectors and the third one with one straight and one L-shaped connector)
- One flexible bridge to connect two graphics cards in SLI mode
- I/O Shield
- ASUS Q-Connector adapters that help you connect the mainboard to the computer case’s buttons, indicators and USB 2.0 port
- User manual
- Illustrated installation guides
- Electrical and general safety notice
- Brochure with details on special features of ASUS’s Z97-based mainboards
- DVD with software and drivers
- “Powered by ASUS” sticker for your computer case
There’s nothing unusual about the accessories except for the odd number of SATA cables. Such cables are even packed in pairs, so you usually get an even number of them.