ASUS Z97-Deluxe & Z97-A Reviewccokeman - August 14, 2014
Price: Z97-A $126, Z97-Deluxe NFC & WLC $393
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ASUS Z97-Deluxe & Z97-A Introduction:
Over the years, ASUS has refined its product stack to include the ROG line for the gamer and hardcore enthusiast, the TUF series for those that want the utmost in reliability over the long term, the WS series for the professional, and last but not least, the mainstream builds for the masses. The mainstream segment is where I will be working today with a look at both the upper and lower end of the Z97 mainstream line from ASUS. What I have at the lower end is the Z97-A while the top of this food chain is occupied by the Z97-Deluxe (NFC & WLC), a step up from the standard Deluxe model.
With the Z97 line-up, ASUS has brought along a wealth of additional and updated features. The software suite sees a huge overhaul with the introduction of ASUS 5-Way optimization tool, which takes system tuning to a new level for the novice using an easy to use process. ASUS is quoting clock speed improvements of up to 20%, noise reductions through fan speed reductions of up to 1000RPM, and energy savings of up to 40% over their competitors' energy saving algorithms. In addition, we get an updated UEFI BIOS featuring an all new look and substantial updates that improve the ease of use for the novice, allowing all of the system setup in the EZ section of the BIOS. It's about providing a broad feature set at each price point while delivering the same experience top to bottom.
While you get the same experience, you do see stratification in the line that usually boils down to the hardware used on each of the boards in terms of the codec used with ASUS Crystal Sound 2 audio solution, the amount of phases used on the digital VRM, the amount of SATA Express connections, included accessories and so much more. From an accessory standpoint, you go from bare bones on the Z97-A to everything including the kitchen sink on the Z97-Deluxe NFC & WLC. Priced at $126 and $393, respectively, these two boards pretty much bookend the segment. Let's dig into each of them and see how performance scales from one to the other, and see what they have to offer the end user in terms of functionality and usability.
ASUS Z97-Deluxe & Z97-A Closer Look:
When you look at the outer packaging, both boards use the same gold and black layout to effect. Each box's front cover has the board name in a bold font with the supported technologies along the bottom of the package. The rear panel details the specifications table and additional supported technologies and software features, such as ASUS Turbo APP, Wi-Fi Go, and ASUS 5-Way optimization using ASUS Dual Intelligent Processors 5. It's not a bad look and mirrors the gold and black theme used on ASUS' mainstream line dating back to the Z87 line-up. Additionally, the Z97-Deluxe NFC & WLC has a flip up front cover that expands on the feature set and details the wireless charging, NFC, and Thunderbolt 2. The additional $265 in the price of the Z97-Deluxe NFC & WLC does indeed buy you a serious feature set upgrade when you get down to it.
Opening the package up, you quickly see the differences in features and feel the difference in the weight associated with each board and its accessory bundle. Pulling the Z97-A out shows just a single layer of your basic accessories, while the Z97-Deluxe NFC & WLC is loaded with three separate levels worth of parts to work through; hence the "everything including the kitchen sink comment" earlier.
Let's start out with the bundled accessories included with the Z97-A. The documentation included with the Z97-A includes a user guide, feature guide, and the driver software disk to install the drivers, ASUS specific tools, and added value software packages. On the hardware side, there is a standard I/O panel without the EMI and ESD protection afforded by ASUS Q-Shield, a trio of SATA 6Gbps cables, SLI Bridge connection, and Q-Connections to make installing front panel connections a piece of cake. Included with this board was a SATA Express drive housing, which will be used to illustrate this feature set and how it performs on the Z97-A and Deluxe.
The accessory bundle included with the Z97-Deluxe NFC & WLC includes a ton of added items that push the price point up, but also add increased functionality to the package. The documentation includes a detailed user guide that is complemented with a pair of feature specific manuals and driver disks for the NFC and Thunderbolt EXII dual devices. The hardware side of the bundle includes: ASUS' own Q-Shield and Q-Connectors, a dual-GPU SLI bridge, the NFC EXPRESS 2 module with added USB 3.0 ports, an NFC EXPRESS tag, a wireless charging module, Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac compliant 2T2R dual-band Wi-Fi moving antennas, a ThunderboltEX II/DUAL add-in card, six SATA 6GB/s data cables, a power adapter for the wireless charging system, and a plethora of cables to support the use of each of the devices.
ASUS ThunderboltEX II/Dual is first Intel-certified Thunderbolt 2 add-in card available for use to deliver up to 20GB/s of bi-directional bandwidth per channel. Built using Intel's DSL5520 Thunderbolt 2 controller, the device can support 4K resolutions of 4096x2160 at 24Hz and 3840x2160 at 60Hz. DisplayPort 1.2 and MST support is used to support up to six Thunderbolt devices plus up to three DisplayPort 1.2 equipped displays per channel. ASUS ThunderboltEX II/Dual connects to the motherboard through a PCIe 2.0 4x interface. External connectivity includes a pair of full size DisplayPort 1.2 ports and two Thunderbolt ports to support all the device connectivity.
Since Intel has pretty much gotten out of the motherboard business, it has left all the innovation and build-outs to its board partners. The Z97 chipset launch is the first since this occurred. Intel's Z97 PCH brings support for upcoming and current socket 1150 processors. The chipset includes PCI Express M.2 storage options, which allows transfer speeds of up to 1 GB/s (as fast as SATA Express), are supported with Intel® Smart Response Technology, and can be used as a primary boot device. Intel Device Protection with Boot Guard is a new technology that "prevents repurposing of the platform to run unauthorized software, protects against execution of boot block level malware, and is rooted in a protected hardware infrastructure." Three specific types of Boot Guard are available: Measured Boot, which measures the boot block into the system storage device or TPM module; Verified Boot, which "cryptographically verifies the platform Initial Boot Block (IBB) using the boot policy key"; and Combined Boot, which uses both options. Also new for the Z97 chipset is support for Intel's Rapid Storage Technology 13, which allows "support for a single 16GB SSD to enable dynamic cache sharing." Basically, this allows the system memory image to be dynamically written to a caching SSD during deep sleep conditions. With a "resume" command, the image is written back into the memory and the caching SSD resumes full functionality as the cache SSD.