Closer Look: ASUS Sabertooth Z97 Mark 1
The Z97 Mark 1 is a standard ATX form factor motherboard. The military-themed olive/brown and tan coloring is used for all components like DIMM slots and ports. ASUS’ Thermal Armor plastic shield covers most of the top components from view, although all ports and connectors are readily available. ASUS is spreading this PCI-E slot design across many of their boards, and I do like the use of an x1 slot as the first slot next to the CPU, since this lets you use an x1 sound or other card without having to sandwich it between two dual-slot graphics cards.
The back of the board is covered with a thick (0.8mm) SECC steel plate. The indentation visible above the back of the CPU socket in this image is where the plate, via a thermal pad, contacts power supply components on the bottom of the board and acts as a heat sink. The plate also confers a degree of rigidity, so that the board won’t flex even under the strain of a heavy CPU cooler or giant video cards.
ASUS is also concerned about dust. To this end, the Sabertooth Z97 Mark 1 comes with a complete set of dust covers, for everything from unused PCI-E and DIMM slots to tiny plugs for unused analog audio ports. At the lower right of this image are three thermal probes, which plug into dedicated ports on the motherboard.
The Sabertooth Z97 Mark 1 is quite similar to the previous-generation Sabertooth Z87. This is to be expected since the Z97 chipset doesn’t bring much in the way of new features or capabilities. At the rear I/O panel, we can see some significant changes from the Sabertooth Z87 (top) and the Sabertooth Z97 (bottom). The Z97 gains an extra Ethernet port, but loses the two red eSATA ports on the Z87. Other ports– USB 2.0 and 3.0, HDMI and DisplayPort, and optical and analog audio outputs– remain the same.
Things are more interesting in the SATA port area, where SATA Express ports make their first appearance on a consumer motherboard. In the image below, the top SATA port array is from the Z87, while the bottom SATA port array is from the Z97 Mark 1. SATA Express ports will be useful someday when we have SATA Express SSDs, although ASUS sells an external SATA Express module that can connect to these ports and supports two M.2 form factor SSDs.
Aside from subtle changes in coloring, the Sabertooth Z87 (right) and Sabertooth Z97 Mark 1 (left) are almost visually identical.
Let’s take a closer look at the some of the hardware details of this board in the next section.