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Asus Z97-A USB3.1 review – speed testing USB 3.1

Tom Morgan Andrew Unsworth
2 Apr 2015
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
135
inc VAT

A good value Z97-based board with a great automatic overclocking feature, and the addition of USB 3.1 is brilliant for the money

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Specifications

LGA1150, ATX, Intel Z97 chipset, supports: Core i3, Core i5, Core i7

The Z97-A USB3.1 is a refresh of the Best Buy-winning Z97-A board we reviewed last year. The only real difference between the two boards is the addition of two USB3.1 ports on the motherboard's backplate. USB3 has a theoretical maximum 5Gbit/s of bi-directional bandwidth, whereas USB3.1 doubles this to 10Gbit/s – which should translate into significantly faster data transfer speeds.

This was certainly the case in our tests. Asus supplied a USB3.1 external SSD (actually a pair of SSDs in a RAID 0 array) for testing. Our file transfer benchmarks transfer files to and from a RAM disk – making sure the test PC's storage wasn’t the limiting factor when it comes to data throughput. Large files were written at a rapid 552.1MB/s and read back at a blistering 902.1MB/s. Over USB3, the same files were written at 350.4MB/s and read at 407.8MB/s, clearly showing the improvement the new technology brings.

Our small files test is notoriously challenging, bringing even the fastest SSDs to their knees, but we still saw performance gains over USB3.1. Over USB3 we saw 73.2MB/s writes and 86.2MB/s reads, while USB3.1 improved this to 112.1MB/s writes and 93.8MB/s reads.

We're still waiting for USB3.1 devices to go on sale, and when they do you're unlikely to see speeds like this if you're transferring to or from a mechanical hard disk. SSDs continue to fall in price and are gradually becoming more common as external drives, however, so speeds this quick will soon be commonplace.

Faster USB ports aside, the Z97-A USB3.1 is more or less identical to the Z97-A. The remainder of this review applies to both motherboards. Unless you're determined to save £15, you're much better off buying the Z97-A USB3.1, as this will let you use super-fast storage devices in the future.

Both Z97 boards are based around the Intel Z97 chipset, which supports Intel's upcoming Broadwell processors as well as existing Haswell CPUs. Other highlights of the Z97 chipset include support for fast storage in the form of M.2 storage and SATA Express. The Z97-A USB 3.1 has one M.2 port and one SATA Express port that allows a theoretical maximum throughput of 10GB/s. The M.2 port is located in between the processor socket and the PCI Express expansion slots, and is compatible with 2260- and 2280-type storage devices. There are also six SATA3 ports and one SATA Express port.

As SSDs such as Samsung's EVO 850 M2 and EVO 850 MSATA have shown, the faster your storage the snappier and more responsive your system will feel, so it’s good to see support for new storage technologies. Even if you don’t have an M.2 or SATA Express device right now, the Z97-A gives you the option of adding one later.

There’s good scope for expansion, too, thanks to three PCI-E x16 slots, two PCI-E slots and two legacy PCI slots. The first PCI-E x16 slot will run at x16 when you're using a single graphics card - with two cards installed, both slots will run at x8 speeds.

As for performance, the Z97-A scored 111 overall in our PC benchmarks with our Intel Core i5-4670K running at stock speeds. This alone is a healthy improvement on the Intel Motherboard in our reference system, which scores 100 with otherwise identical components.

You can, however, overclock your system automatically in one of two ways. The first is to change the EZ System Tuning parameter in the Z97-A’s BIOS to Asus Optimal, but this only makes small changes that didn't provide a significant performance boost in our testing.

The second method is to use the EZ Tuning Wizard, also located in the Z97-A’s BIOS. This wizard asks you if you use your PC for gaming and media work or just general-purpose computing, as well as the type of processor cooler installed. Once you’ve answered these questions, the wizard overclocks your system to a higher degree than the Asus optimal setting. Indeed, it increased the frequency of our processor to 4.4GHz and helped our test PC score 121 overall in our benchmarks. This is an excellent performance increase, and it takes no effort to set up.

Of course, you can get your hands dirty and overclock manually, with full control over BLK frequency, core clock ratio, voltages and memory timings. We managed to run our Intel Core i5-4670k at a stable 4.6GHz without any voltage adjustment, so heavy overclockers should be able to squeeze out every ounce of performance from their components. The speed increase resulted in a healthy 131 overall in our multimedia benchmarks.

Both boards will also let you overclock compatible RAM to 3,200MHz rather than the 3,000MHz of last year's Z87-A. The board has four DIMM slots that support a maximum memory capacity of 32GB, which is plenty of memory for a desktop system.

The Asus UEFI is sensibly laid out and easy to navigate with either mouse or keyboard, with convenient fan control and temperature readings on the homepage for quick feedback when overclocking.

We loved the Z97-A when we first reviewed it last year, and our opinion has only got stronger now that Asus has updated the board with USB 3.1 support. It makes the motherboard ready for when faster external storage arrives, and doesn't cost significantly more than the existing board. If you want a Z97 motherboard with lots of features, great overclocking potential and an attractive price, this is the one to buy.

Basic Specifications

Rating*****
Processor socketLGA1150
Form factorATX
Size305x224mm
Processor supportCore i3, Core i5, Core i7
Processor external bus100MHz
Chipset north bridgeIntel Z97
Chipset south bridgeIntel Z97
Passively-cooled north bridgeyes
Integrated graphicsNo
Supported memory typeDDR3
Maximum memory speedPC3-25600
Memory slots4
Maximum memory32GB
Dual-channel supportyes

Buying Information

Price£120
Supplierhttp://www.overclockers.co.uk
Detailswww.asus.com

Internal Ports

Power connectors1x 24-pin ATX, 1x8-pin ATX
PCI-E x16 slots3
Dual graphics architectureQuad-GPU SLI, quad-GPU CrossFire X
PCI-E x4 slots0
PCI-E x1 slots2
PCI slots1
Fan headers4
Floppy ports0
IDE ports0
Serial ATA ports0
RAID chipset (max disks)Intel Z97 (RAID 0, 1, 5, 10)

Features

Wired network ports1x 10/100/1000Mbit/s
Sound (ports)Realtek ALC892 (5x analogue out, optical S/PDIF)
USB2 ports / headers6/4
Firewire ports / headers0/0
Legacy portsserial header
Other ports1x M.2 socket, 1x SATA Express
Cables included2x SATA, 1x SLI bridge
Brackets includednone
Software includednone

Setup and Overclocking

Voltage adjustmentCPU/RAM/Chipset
CPU clock max adjustment300MHz

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