ASUS TUF Motherboard Final Thoughts
ASUS has responded with innovation and verve as Intel has moved more and more capabilities into its chipsets, making it more difficult for vendors to distinguish their products. Broadly speaking, ASUS’ motherboard lineup comprises value boards, where price is important; mainstream boards that trade on features; boards for enthusiasts and overclockers, typically under the Republic of Gamers branding, and the mil-spec TUF boards like the Sabertooth Z97 Mark 1.
As I noted in the overview, there’s not a lot of difference between last year’s Sabertooth Z87 and this year’s Sabertooth Z97. ASUS has removed the eSATA ports, added an Ethernet port, taken advantage of the Z97’s support for more USB 3.0 and SATA 6G ports (although they added extras via third-party chips on the Z87), and most interestingly added SATA Express support.
So if your system’s already running a Z87 motherboard, there’s really no reason to upgrade to the Z97 at this point. However, if you’re building a new system and place a higher premium on stability and a 5-year warranty than on overclocking prowess or integrated WiFi, this board might be for you.
I do actually miss the eSATA ports since I have an eSATA dock that I use every now and then, but that’s about the only hardware complaint I can come up with. The BIOS bug that renders the overclock applied by the EZ Tuning Wizard non-functional is annoying, but I’m sure ASUS will address it in due course. I have been working with ASUS’ automatic overclocking features for many years now and this is the first time I’ve seen one that wouldn’t work as proposed.
This is the first time I’ve tested what happens when you remove a TUF motherboard’s thermal armor, and I admit I was surprised at the results. I was at an ASUS technical event a couple of years ago, where the the TUF Z77 was introduced as the first TUF motherboard with this feature. Most of us assumed it was purely cosmetic; a bit of marketing fluff to distinguish the board. A writer for another publication asked if the thermal armor really had any effect, and ASUS’ reply was to test it and see. Well, now I have, and I have to say it really works.
Sabertooth Z97 Mark 1 Conclusion
You could argue that nobody really needs a motherboard stuffed with mil-spec components, extra ESD protection, and dust covers for every port and connector on the board. You could also argue that most people don’t need diving watches, but they remain a very popular segment of the watch market. There’s also ASUS’ 5-year warranty to consider; it’s something that certainly has value if you’re not one of those people who rotate out their systems with every new Intel chipset.
The performance of this motherboard at stock speeds is pretty much the same as any other Z97 motherboard– although I’d love test the SATA Express feature some day– and its overclocking ability is marginally less than the other ASUS Z97 motherboard I’ve tested. But the difference is tiny enough so that you’ll never see it in day-to-day life. Compensating for this minor drawback is the wonderful Thermal Radar 2 feature, which makes every other discrete fan controller you’ve ever seen look like a relic of the 20th century. With a dedicated TUF processor linking onboard thermometers to your choice of fans, it’s easy to create customized profiles that will optimize noise, performance, or anything in between, all automatically. ASUS may not provide much in the way of automatic overclocking for this board, but the automated thermal tuning is, I think, worth more in most cases.
All the normal ASUS advantages are present here: excellent quality of construction, visual appeal, innovative features, a solid set of Windows utility programs, and what I think is the best UEFI BIOS in the business. There’s really not much I don’t like about this board.
Available online for $249.99 (Amazon | Newegg), the Sabertooth Z97 splits the price difference between ASUS’ fancier motherboards and their mainstream line. If you like the TUF concept but are willing to give up the Thermal Armor, SATA Express, one Ethernet port, and dust covers, you can get the otherwise identical Sabertooth Z97 Mark 2, with the same mil-spec components and five-year warranty, for $179.99 (Amazon | Newegg).
+ Thermal Armor actually works
+ Thermal Radar 2 feature links board sensors to fans for ultimate control
+ SATA Express support will be useful Real Soon Now.
+ Truly wonderful UEFI BIOS
– No onboard wireless
– EZ Tuning Wizard creates non-functional overclock
– My Favorites BIOS feature less convenient than previous iterations
Final Score: 9.1 out of 10.
Excellence Achievement: Benchmark Reviews Golden Tachometer Award.
COMMENT QUESTION: Who makes the best motherboards, in your opinion?