Fast And Cheap? Five Sub-£140 Z87 Motherboards For Enthusiasts

Intel’s Haswell architecture has mainstream leanings. And yet some of the motherboards out there are really high-end. Today we're looking at five platforms under the $160 mark that hopefully put some value back into being an enthusiast.

PC enthusiasts like myself expect a lot more from our systems than the industry's standard for basic computing. We want performance and an attractive price. Often, our expectations include overclocking as well, since dropping £800 on Intel's fastest desktop processors simply isn't an option for most of us.

To that point, this passion of ours got a little more complicated when Intel decided to lock the ratio multipliers on its CPUs, and fundamentally remove BCLK frequency as a variable, and charge a premium for the handful of processors that can still be overclocked at all.

Fans of AMD's hardware have plenty of reasons to feel as though they've taken the high ground. It's only a shame that the company's best efforts fall so short of where Intel has been sitting for two years. Sadder still is when you take a look at AMD's roadmap and see a distinct lack of FX-series parts beyond Vishera.

Along the way, enthusiast-oriented motherboards crept up in price as we learned to push performance beyond what even those thousand-dollar CPUs can do, at the same time sucking down power and generating more taxing thermal loads. We tend to make up for that fact by expecting the other components to cost less. Graphics cards, SSDs, and memory all just get cheaper over time, right? It's no longer necessary to spend big bucks on a feature-complete motherboard to get the most out of CPUs. Nowadays, it's pretty normal to spend more on your processor than the platform that supports it.

And so we have five motherboards under £140 that support Intel's LGA 1150-based chips built on the Haswell architecture.

  ASRock Z87
Hi-Fi Z87X 3D
MSI Z87-G45
PCB Revision1.
ChipsetIntel Z87 ExpressIntel Z87 ExpressIntel Z87 ExpressIntel Z87 ExpressIntel Z87 Express
Voltage Regulator12 PhasesEight Phases12 PhasesEight PhasesEight Phases
BIOSP1.90 (06/24/2013)1204 (06/21/2013)Z87CF523.BST (5/23/2013)F5 (05/16/2013)V1.3 (06/19/2013)
100.0 MHz BCLK100.60 (+0.60%)99.94 (-0.06%)100.00 (-0.00%)99.77 (-0.23%)100.13 (+0.13%)
I/O Panel Connectors
P/S 211111
USB 3.046264
USB 2.02None4None2
eSATA1 (Shared w/SATA)NoneNone2 (Shared w/SATA)None
CLR_CMOS ButtonNoneNoneNoneNoneYes
Digital Audio OutOpticalOpticalNone (HDMI-only)OpticalOptical + Coaxial
Digital Audio InNoneNoneNoneNoneNone
Analog Audio56666
Video OutVGA, DVI-D, DisplayPort, HDMIMini DisplayPort, HDMI, VGA, DVI-DVGA, DVI-D, HDMIVGA, DVI-D, HDMI, DisplayPortVGA, DVI-D, HDMI
Other DevicesHDMI-In (Pass-through)NoneNoneNoneNone
Internal Interfaces
PCIe 3.0 x163 (x16/x0/x0, x8/x8/x0, x8/x4/x4)2 (x16/x0, x8/x8)2 (x16/x0, x8/x8)2 (x16/x0, x8/x8)3 (x16/x0/x0, x8/x8/x0, x8/x4/x4)
PCIe 2.0 x16None1 (x2 transfers)1 (x4 transfers)1 (x4, shared w/2 x1)None
PCIe 2.0 x12233 (2 shared w/x4)4
USB 3.02 (4-ports) +1 Port1 (2-ports)1 (2-ports)2 (4-ports)1 (2-ports)
USB 2.03 (6-ports)4 (8-ports)2 (4-ports)3 (6-ports)3 (6-ports)
SATA 6Gb/s8 (1-shared w/eSATA)868 (2-shared w/eSATA)6 (1-shared w/mSATA)
4-Pin Fan26155
3-Pin Fan4None41None
S/PDIF I/ONoneOutput OnlyOutput OnlyInput And OutputNone
Internal ButtonsPower, Reset, CLR_CMOSPower, DirectKey, MemOK, BIOS Flashback, TPU, EPUPower, ResetPower, Reset, CLR_CMOS, CMOS IC/Mode selectorsNone
Diagnostics PanelNumericNoneNumericNumericNone
Other DevicesDual PCI, Serial, CIRTPM, SerialSerial, CIRTPM, Serial, PCImSATA, TPM, Serial
Mass Storage Controllers
Chipset SATA6 x SATA 6Gb/s6 x SATA 6Gb/s6 x SATA 6Gb/s6 x SATA 6Gb/s6 x SATA 6Gb/s
Chipset RAID Modes0, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 100, 1, 5, 10
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
1 x eSATA 6Gb/s
ASM1061 PCIe
2 x SATA 6Gb/s
None88SE9172 PCIe
2 x SATA 6Gb/s or
2 x eSATA 6Gb/s
USB 3.0ASM1074 Hub (4-ports)ASM1074 Hub (4-ports)None2 x PD720210 Hub
Primary LANWGI217V PHYWGI217V PHY8111F PCIeWGI217V PHYKiller E2205 PCIe
Secondary LANNoneNoneNoneNoneNone
HD Audio CodecALC1150ALC892ALC898ALC898ALC1150
DDL/DTS ConnectDTS ConnectDTS ConnectNoneNoneNone
WarrantyThree YearsThree YearsThree YearsThree YearsThree Years

Intel might charge a premium for the privilege of owning an overclockable processor, but the company at least deserves credit for exposing enthusiast-class features on mainstream motherboards. With the introduction of its Z87 Express Platform Controller Hub, you get SATA 6Gb/s transfer rates on all six ports, a full battery of six USB 3.0 ports without a bunch of motherboard-down controllers, and an integrated PCI Express controller that supports three links without the need for expensive switches.

All of that saves you, oh, somewhere around £20 in cost, we're estimating. So, this round-up's £140 price cap should be comparable to the £160 boards from the previous generation. So, let's see if mainstream Haswell offers us anything more attractive than the higher-end segment.

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  • csjanne
    How to get rid of that awful 'Tech News TV Show' ? It comes screaming in on every page! Most irritating!
  • Peciura
    I just bought Asrock z87 Extreme4 mainly because it has all connectors i want and XfastRAM utility. But i was very surprised and disappointed with fan regulation.
    Despite of 6 connectors i had trouble to connect only 4 3-pin case fans because only 2 connectors can control fan speed. 3rd connector has 4 constant levels. Another 2 are PWM connectors and there is no option in UEFI to make them control 3-pin fans. Last connector can supply 12V only.
    So i used Y cable to control 2 identical fans, and set constant speed on hdd cage.