Our overall impression about the ASUS Z97-A is positive. It even looks better than the company’s earlier products. With less gold-plating, it has a more restrained appearance. And, besides its looks, it just works well. It offers good functionality and has no problems working at its default settings. It let us overclock our CPU and memory easily, too. The cut-down implementation of the M.2 connector is, of course, a downside as it makes the mainboard incompatible with the majority of currently available SSDs, yet it is hardly a critical defect.
The BIOS interface has been revised. We like the extended functionality of EZ Mode which is enabled by default. It can now be successfully used for initial setting-up. We like the extended fan management options. We like how the new interface looks but its layout seems questionable. Its viewport has become smaller vertically, so even rather small BIOS sections do not fit into a single screen and you have to scroll down to see them. And the small viewport makes it too easy to scroll past the option you need. The new EZ Tuning Wizard turned out to be useless for overclocking but the old OC Tuner feature has got better and is now able to overclock both the CPU and system memory. Well, manual overclocking is still better than automatic, anyway.
Although the UEFI BIOS from ASUS now has a new interface, it doesn’t bring about significant changes. There are new setup options but the overall menu structure has remained the same. My Favorites or any other section cannot be used as the start screen, so there’s no point in selecting favorite options. Important power-saving technologies are still hidden deep in the BIOS structure. The ASUS SPD Information subsection is useless because it is separate from where you change memory frequencies and timings. Your turning-off of the startup picture is still not saved in BIOS profiles. Typical of any ASUS mainboard, there are no hotkey hints in the startup picture. And if you turn it off, the mainboard will reports wrong CPU-related information. The boot-up process is accelerated by default, making it hard to enter the BIOS. At high loads the mainboard drops its CPU clock rate. These are all rather minor downsides, some of which you can even correct yourself. It is just annoying that the manufacturer hasn’t done anything for years to get rid of them.
As for the comparison of Z97- and Z87-based mainboards, we could see no difference between them. They are comparable in terms of functionality, performance and power consumption (we’ll need to carry out more tests to make sure that the newer mainboards need less power when idle). There are now a lot of Z97-based products with M.2 and SATA Express connectors but you can hardly expect anything extraordinary from compatible SSDs. The new chipset’s support for the upcoming Intel processors seems to be insignificant. We guess there will be newer mainboards with newer chipsets when those processors come out, so there’s no point in replacing a good LGA1150 mainboard with a Z97-based one. But you should certainly consider such mainboards if you’re building a new computer.