ASUS TUF Sabertooth Z97 Mark I Motherboard Review

ASUS has enjoyed a loyal following for their TUF Sabertooth line of motherboards over the years, whether that be an Intel or AMD based platform. Given that group of loyal followers, it makes perfect sense to carry the TUF Sabertooth motherboards into the Z97 platform as well. ASUS rolled out a Mark I and Mark II version of the TUF Sabertooth Z97; and today, we’ll be looking at the Mark I iteration. While there may not be an enormous amount of change between the Z97 and Z87 chipsets, that didn’t stop ASUS from adding lots of new features to the TUF Sabertooth Z97 motherboards that accompany the chipset update. The design philosophy of this motherboard can be broken down into three main groups – Ultimate Cooling, Tested Reliability, and a Durable Design. So, let’s get started and see if the TUF Sabertooth Z97 Mark I can meet that criteria!

Specifications and Features

Below is a specification list provided by ASUS. As stated above, there have been several worthwhile additions/improvements made over the TUF Z87 Sabertooth version. Some of these improvements include the following.

  • Support for New 4th and 5th Gen CPUs
  • Dual LAN ports
  • Turbo LAN Network Shaping
  • UEFI BIOS EZ Mode and Wizards
  • Supports TurboV Core Overclocking
  • Additional Fan Headers
  • Forward/Reverse Dust Free Fan
  • New Alloy Choke Design
  • Native SATA Express
  • Raid Support Via IRST 13
  • Additional USB 3.0 Connectivity
  • DisplayPort 1.2 Connectivity
  • Audio Enhancements
  • Enhanced ESD Protection

And the specifications…

ASUS TUF Z97 Mark I Sabertooth Specifications
CPU LGA 1150 Socket for Intel 4th, New 4th & 5th Generation Core i7/Core, i5/Core, i3/Pentium/Celeron Processors
Chipset Intel Z97 Express Chipset
Memory 4 x DIMM, max. 32GB, DDR3 1866/1600/1333/1066 MHz, non-ECC, un-buffered memory, XMP 1.3
Expansion Slots 2X PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 Slots (Dual at x8/x8)
1X PCI Express 2.0 X16 Slot (Max at x4 Mode)
3X PCI Express 2.0 x1 Slots
VGA Integrated Graphics Processor – Intel HD Graphics Support
Multi-VGA Output Support – DisplayPort/HDMI Port
Supports NVIDIA Quad-GPU SLI Technology
Supports AMD Quad-GPU CrossFireX Technology
Storage 6X SATA 6 Gb/s Ports
1X SATA Express Port (Compatible With 2X SATA 6.0 Gb/s Ports)
LAN Intel I218-V Gigabit LAN Controller
Realtek 8111GR Gigabit Lan Controller
Audio Realtek ALC 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
USB 4X USB 3.0 Ports at Mid-Board for Front Panel Support
4X USB 3.0 Ports at Back Panel
8X USB 2.0/1.1 Ports (4 at Mid-Board/4 at Back Panel)
Form Factor ATX

If you’re wondering what exactly has changed from the Z87 chipset to the Z97 chipset, the short answer is not much really. The slide below is a Z97 chipset overview, which highlights the major changes (blue boxes). As you can see, the thrust is with added storage capabilities, the introduction of IRST 13, and boot block virus protection. The below overview also confirms that all current Haswell CPUs will work with Z97 motherboards.

asus_z97sabertooth (1)
Here are a few additional slides that further detail the major changes brought forward with the Z97 chipset.

asus_z97sabertooth (2) asus_z97sabertooth (4)
asus_z97sabertooth (3)

Moving on to the features related to the Sabertooth Z97 Mark I itself, it’s apparent ASUS took the opportunity the Z97 chipset release gave them to improve on the design of the Sabertooth. The motherboard boasts all Japan-made 10K capacitors and military-spec MOSFETs with lower RDS. The Alloy Chokes have undergone a makeover too and now feature a slightly larger size with heat dissipating fins on the top. ASUS claims this revamped design will result in the chokes operating over 9 °C cooler than the previous design. The TUF ESD Guard feature is incorporated into the connections for the mouse/keyboard, USB, audio, and LAN ports. The original “ASUS 5X Protection” offered +-6KV contact discharge and +-10KV air discharge protection. The protection level is said to have been increased to +-8KV and +-10KV respectively for the TUF Sabertooth Z97 Mark I, which is twice the industry standard.

asus_z97sabertooth (5) asus_z97sabertooth (7)
asus_z97sabertooth (6)

The TUF Fortifier and TUF Armor make their way onto the Sabertooth Z97 Mark I, but with a couple improvements from earlier versions. The VRM array temperatures are said to run up to 7 °C cooler with the TUF Fortifier installed on the back of the motherboard, thus essentially making it a large heatsink. In addition to the cooler VRM temperatures, the TUF Fortifier also provides board rigidity to eliminate board flexing. The TUF Armor features guided airflow by utilizing the two flow valves built into the TUF Armor. The Sabertooth Z97 Mark I also comes equipped with a TUF ICe microprocessor onboard. The microprocessor can independently control each fan, provide system monitoring, and provide thermal management all at the same time. ASUS claims this microprocessor offloads some of these functions from the CPU and works with no latency, even under heavy CPU loads. Controlling the thermal capabilities within the Windows environment is the TUF Thermal Radar 2 software, which we’ll explore later in the review.

asus_z97sabertooth (8) asus_z97sabertooth (9)
asus_z97sabertooth (10) asus_z97sabertooth (11)
asus_z97sabertooth (12) asus_z97sabertooth (13)
asus_z97sabertooth (19)

One of the things that separates the TUF series motherboards from other ASUS offerings is the extensive server-level testing and validation they go through. Reliability is the end game here; and with over 7000 hours of compatibility checks spanning over 1000 devices, it’s a safe bet the reliability factor is in place. In fact, ASUS is confident enough in the reliability of this motherboard that they offer a full five-year warranty… impressive.

asus_z97sabertooth (14) asus_z97sabertooth (15)

If you are picky about keeping your system as dust free as possible, you’re going to like the Dust Defenders supplied with the motherboard. They can be used to protect the memory slots, I/O ports, USB and SATA ports, and even the expansion slots. I probably don’t have to tell you how full of dust all these areas can get over the years, so being able to cover them with the Dust Defenders is a nice touch.

asus_z97sabertooth (20)
The last three slides provide us with a brief recap of what was discussed above. We have a board overview, some additional specifications, and a slide highlighting what’s new with this latest TUF Sabertooth offering.

asus_z97sabertooth (18) asus_z97sabertooth (17)
asus_z97sabertooth (16)

There are plenty more features to explore once we have an up-close look; but for now, let’s get the box up on a bench and have a look around.

Packaging, Accessories, First Look

The box displays the familiar TUF Sabertooth look and color scheme we’ve seen in the past. The front of the box is reserved for branding logos and some icons depicting a few high-level features. Around back, there is a more detailed discussion of the motherboard’s features and specifications. Three of the four box sides are almost identical in their layout, and the fourth side has a a multilingual description of the USB performance and TUF components.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Inside the box, you’ll find the contents neatly packaged and well-protected.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The accessory stack is quite extensive and includes the below items.

  • Dust Defender Caps/Covers
  • Rear I/O Filter
  • 3X Thermistor Cables
  • Q-Connector Kit
  • SLI Bridge Connector
  • Accessory Installation Guide
  • Certificate of Reliability
  • 35 mm Fan
  • 40 mm Fan
  • Fan Mounting Screws
  • I/O Q-Shield
  • User Manual
  • Warranty Notice
  • Driver/Software/Support DVD

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Before we move in for an up-close look at the TUF Sabertooth Z97 Mark I, here is a series of pictures taken from various angles. It certainly has a military theme, much like its predecessors. I also realized that Noctua’s tan and brown fan color would match quite well with this motherboard, so quit complaining there is nothing on the market that goes well with those fans! I’ve personally never been that big on military aesthetics applied to computer components, but the rugged looks of the Sabertooth Z97 Mark I are beginning to grow on me.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The TUF Sabertooth Z97 Mark I Up Close

Having a look at the outer edges of the motherboard, we first land at the bottom area. Along the left side is where you’ll find the connections for TPM, S/PDIF out, front panel audio, Thunderbolt, two 4-pin chassis fans, three thermal sensor cables, and the first of two onboard USB 3.0. Over to the bottom right area, we find connectors for two USB 2.0, two SATA 6 Gb/s (ASMedia), another 4-pin fan, and the front panel case wiring.

Lower-Left Corner

Lower-Left Corner

Lower-Right Corner

Lower-Right Corner

Moving to the right side of the motherboard, we come to the SATA port area. There are six SATA 6 Gb/s ports and one SATA Express port, all of which are native to the Z97 chipset. The top SATA Express port is not active and comes with a plug inserted to block access and keep dust out. The plug was removed when the below picture was taken. Above the SATA connectors is the second onboard USB 3.0 connector. Moving up the right side, we find the 24-pin power connector, another 4-pin fan header, and the MemOK! button. If you run into a situation where incompatible memory is keeping the system from booting, you can use the MemOK! button to automatically tune the memory to a bootable state.

Lower-Right Connections

Lower-Right Corner

Upper-Right Corner

Upper-Right Corner

The majority of the top edge of the motherboard is covered by the TUF Armor, but we can still see there are two 4-pin CPU fan headers and a 3-pin fan header. An additional fan header is located here that resembles what you see on a video card. It’s intended to be used for the included 40 mm fan that gets installed at the I/O area. Rounding out the top area is the 8-pin 12 V AUX CPU connector.

Top Side Area

Top Side Area

Just like the top of the motherboard, a large portion of the left side is covered by the TUF Armor. Having a look at the back panel’s I/O area gives us a good idea of the connectivity options included. Along the top are four USB 2.0 ports and the USB BIOS Flashback button. Just behind the Flashback button is where the 40 mm intake fan will get installed, which explains the large open area for unobstructed airflow to the fan. For display connectivity, there are HDMI and DisplayPort connections should you wish to utilize the iGPU built into your CPU. The Sabertooth Z97 Mark I features dual LAN ports, one of which is Intel’s I218-V controller, and the other is provided by Realtek’s 8111GR controller. Below the LAN ports, there are four USB 3.0 ports; two are native to the Z97 chipset; and the other two are supplied by ASMedia.

Rear Panel I/O Area

Rear Panel I/O Area

The Sabertooth Z97 Mark I has two PCI-E 3.0 x16 slots, one PCI-E 2.0 x16 slot (max at x4), and three PCI-E 2.0 x1 slots. A single graphics card installed in the top expansion slot will run at x16 speed. A dual graphics card setup will run at x8/x8 speed. The board supports up to 4-way SLI or CrossFireX configurations if you happen to own a pair of dual GPU video cards. If you look at the below picture, you’ll see a cover just above the top PCI-E x16 slot. This is where the included 35 mm fan would be installed, if desired. To the right of the expansion slot area is the heatsink for the PCH chip. It’s decked out with a military camouflage look to keep with the theme of the motherboard.

PCI-E Explansion Slots

PCI-E Expansion Slots

PCH Heatsink

PCH Heatsink

The DIMM slots are color coded for easy identification of the two channels. DDR3 memory of up to 32 GB is supported at officially supported speeds up 1866 MHz. I’m sure the option to run memory much higher than 1866 MHz will present itself once we get into the UEFI BIOS and have a look around.

The CPU socket area is relatively clear of any major obstructions, but you’ll want to pay attention to the surrounding TUF Armor and memory height when selecting a CPU heatsink/fan. Fitment of a water block or an All-in-One water cooling solution shouldn’t present any clearance issues at all.

Sitting atop the TUF Armor surrounding the CPU socket area are the two Flow Valve selector buttons. These can be used to emphasize air flow generated by the fan installed at the I/O area. Throwing the control button one way or the other will open or close the gates seen just below the buttons. With the gates opened, you get additional airflow around the CPU socket area. With the gates closed, airflow will concentrate more on keeping the MOSFET area cool, and the air will exhaust out each end of the TUF Armor.

DIMM Slots

DIMM Slots

CPU Socket Area

CPU Socket Area

CPU Socket Area

CPU Socket Area

Air Flow Control Buttons

Flow Valve Control Buttons

Under the Armor

Removing the TUF Armor and Fortifier is accomplished by extracting a series of screws from the back of the motherboard and a few from the top side. The Fortifier mounting screws pass through the motherboard and engage the TUF Armor. Unfortunately, this means you have to use both pieces, or neither of them. I seriously doubt anyone buying this motherboard would do so with the idea of removing the Armor or Fortifier, but worth a mention nonetheless. With the TUF Fortifier off, we can see the thermal pad that makes contact with the power circuitry on the back side of the motherboard, which provides an additional layer of cooling. The last few pictures below are of the TUF Armor after it was removed and a shot of the bare motherboard.

TUF Fortifier

TUF Fortifier

TUF Fortifier Removed

TUF Fortifier Removed

TUF Fortifier Thermal Pad

TUF Fortifier Thermal Pad

TUF Armor Removed

TUF Armor Removed

TUF Armor Under Side

TUF Armor Under Side

Naked TUF Sabertooth Z97 Mark I

Naked TUF Sabertooth Z97 Mark I

With the TUF Armor removed, we can hone in on the heatsinks used on the motherboard. The PCH heatsink was found to be making great contact with its target and uses the familiar pink TIM we find often used at this location. The MOSFET heatsinks are joined by a short heatpipe and use a thermal pad for the TIM. Here again, excellent contact is made with the target points. The multiple fin design of the MOSFET heatsinks should do an excellent job of keeping things cool.

MOSFET Heatsink

MOSFET Heatsink

MOSFET Heatsink Removed

MOSFET Heatsink Removed

PCH Heatsink Removed

PCH Heatsink Removed

Heatsinks - Contact Side

Heatsinks – Contact Side

Heatsinks Top SIde

Heatsink’s Top Side

Having a closer look at the CPU power delivery, we find an 8-phase CPU power design has been implemented. Two more phases can be found by the DIMM slots making the overall power delivery design an 8+2 affair. As we mentioned in the feature list above, the chokes feature a new, larger design with heat dissipating fins added to the top. Both the CPU and memory power phases are controlled by their own DIGI+ VRM controller. Also viewable in the pictures below are many of the 10K all Japan-made capacitors, which undoubtedly will add to the longevity of the motherboard.

CPU Power Phase Area

CPU Power Phase Area

CPU Power Phase Area

CPU Power Phase Area

CPU Power Delivery Area

CPU Power Phase Area

CPU Power Phase Area

CPU Power Phase Area

CPU DIGI+ VRM / EPU Controller

CPU DIGI+ VRM / EPU Controller

Memory DIGI+ VRM Controller

Memory DIGI+ VRM Controller

The next picture highlights the onboard audio area, which uses the Realtek ALC1150 CODEC as its basis. The onboard audio features the TUF Noise Guard design and left/right channel board separation, which are said to reduce the EMI noise that’s commonly found on other boards without these features.

TUF Audio Area

TUF Audio Area

Realtek ALC1150 Codec

Realtek ALC1150 Codec

You may have noticed the absence of an onboard post code LED display on this motherboard. ASUS hasn’t left you totally out in the cold here and provides a series of four LEDs to help diagnose a boot error. The LEDs are scattered about the board and offer one for the CPU, VGA, memory, and boot device. If any one of those areas are keeping the system from booting, the corresponding LED will stay illuminated. Personally, I think this is a much easier way of identifying a problem than trying to decipher the often misunderstood and confusing post code readout.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Diving in for a closer look at the ICs that provide many of the functions of the motherboard, we’ll start with the most prevalent third party IC provider… ASMedia. Below is a table listing the ASMedia ICs I found on the PCB and their primary function followed by a pictorial slide show of them.

ASMedia IC Function
ASM1480 PCI-E 3.0 Switching Capabilities
ASM1061 SATA 6 Gb/s Capabilities
ASM1440 PCI-E 2.0 Switching Capabilities
ASM1184E PCI-E Port Extender
ASM1042 USB 3.0 Controller
ASM1442 TMDS Leveling for HDMI

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The dual onboard LAN ports are split between Realtek and Intel controllers. The Realtek 8111GR Gigabit LAN controller and Intel I218V Gigabit controller are the specific ICs used here.

Realtek 8111GR Controller

Realtek 8111GR Controller

Intel I218V Controller

Intel I218V Controller

An item I really like seeing on motherboards is a removable BIOS chip. This motherboard didn’t disappoint and provides just that with a Winbond 25Q64 series BIOS chip. ASUS has done a splendid job of providing ways to recover from a failed BIOS flash (think BIOS Flashback), but it’s always nice to have the option of replacing the chip should that be your only recourse.

The system monitoring capabilities come courtesy of the nuvoTon NCT6791D. This includes the monitoring of things like temperatures and voltages, for example.

Winbond BIOS Chip

Winbond BIOS Chip

nuvoTon NCT6791D

nuvoTon NCT6791D

We’ll conclude our up-close look at the Sabertooth Z97 Mark I with a look at the TPU IC and the star of the show… the Z97 PCH. The TPU chip is responsible for the automatic overclocking features via software or in the UEFI BIOS. We already provided a chipset overview in the features section above, but below is a picture with its few markings scattered about the silicon.

ASUS TPU IC

ASUS TPU IC

The Z97 PCH

The Z97 PCH

Ok, at this point I think you have a pretty good idea what makes the TUF Sabertooth Z97 Mark I tick. So, let’s get this thing fired up and have a look around!

The UEFI BIOS

ASUS has updated the UEFI BIOS for the Sabertooth Z97 Mark I to include a more efficient and technical design style. When first entering the UEFI BIOS, you land at the EZ Mode page. EZ Mode has expanded its options from previous versions and now includes system tuning, along with an EZ Tuning Wizard for automatic overclocking and setting up a raid array without ever having to enter the Intel Raid Utility during boot. Right from the EZ Mode page, you can set your memory to its XMP profile, manually tune fans, view critical system monitoring information, and set your boot priorities.

UEFI - EZ Mode

UEFI – EZ Mode

By pressing F7, you enter the UEFI’s Advanced Mode. The My Favorites tab is where you can create shortcuts to any area of the UEFI BIOS you frequent often. By pressing F3, you are presented with a menu tree where you can navigate to any area of the UEFI BIOS and add it to your favorites.

My Favorites Tab

My Favorites Tab

My Favorites Menu Tree

My Favorites Menu Tree

Next in line is the Main tab, which presents you with system information and optons for setting the language, date, and time. You can set administrator and user passwords from here by entering the Security sub menu.

Main Tab

Main Tab

Main Tab

Main Tab

The Ai Tweaker tab is where all your overclocking takes place. In typical ASUS fashion, there is a plethora of options here to allow getting the most out of your system. You have total control over CPU ratios, memory settings, voltages… the list goes on and on. Three sub menus can be entered and provide finite control over memory timings, the DIGI+ power delivery, and CPU power management.

Ai Tweaker Tab

Ai Tweaker Tab

Ai Tweaker Tab

Ai Tweaker Tab

Ai Tweaker Tab

Ai Tweaker Tab

Ai Tweaker Tab

Ai Tweaker Tab

asus_z97sabertooth_bios (11) asus_z97sabertooth_bios (12) asus_z97sabertooth_bios (13) asus_z97sabertooth_bios (14) asus_z97sabertooth_bios (15)
asus_z97sabertooth_bios (16) asus_z97sabertooth_bios (17) asus_z97sabertooth_bios (18) asus_z97sabertooth_bios (19)

The Advanced tab contains nine sub menus dealing with system configuration settings. Most of what you see here is common to most newer Intel platform motherboards, but you’ll want to at least make sure your SATA configuration, graphics card speed, and CPU features are set to your liking. Peruse the thumbnail pictures below for a look at all the options available here.

Advanced Tab

Advanced Tab

asus_z97sabertooth_bios (21) asus_z97sabertooth_bios (22) asus_z97sabertooth_bios (23) asus_z97sabertooth_bios (24) asus_z97sabertooth_bios (25) asus_z97sabertooth_bios (26) asus_z97sabertooth_bios (27) asus_z97sabertooth_bios (28)
asus_z97sabertooth_bios (29) asus_z97sabertooth_bios (30) asus_z97sabertooth_bios (31) asus_z97sabertooth_bios (32) asus_z97sabertooth_bios (33) asus_z97sabertooth_bios (34) asus_z97sabertooth_bios (35) asus_z97sabertooth_bios (36)
asus_z97sabertooth_bios (37) asus_z97sabertooth_bios (38) asus_z97sabertooth_bios (39) asus_z97sabertooth_bios (40) asus_z97sabertooth_bios (41) asus_z97sabertooth_bios (42) asus_z97sabertooth_bios (43) asus_z97sabertooth_bios (44)

The Monitor tab features some new additions for precise fan control and tuning. By selecting the Qfan tuning option, a calibration process launches to determine the lowest speed and minimum duty circle of each fan connected to the motherboard. This process will work with any 4-pin PWM or 3-pin DC controlled fan. Another new feature is the ability to match any fan to any of 12 different temperature sources. This is accomplished by the addition of many temperature sensors to the PCB and by utilizing the temperature probe sensors included in the accessories. The last picture below shows the new temperature readings made possible with the added onboard sensors and temperature probes, which ASUS calls Thermal Radar.

There are three assist fan headers on the motherboard, two of which are used for the two fans included in the kit. These headers feature a dust free control option within the Monitor tab. You can set the fans connected to the assist headers to run in reverse for 15, 30, or 45 seconds after the system is shut down. You can even have the fans periodically run in reverse while you’re in OS at intervals of one, two, or four hours. Suffice to say, the fan control options are by far the most elaborate I have run across in any UEFI BIOS to date.

Monitor Tab

Monitor Tab

Monitor Tab

Monitor Tab

Monitor Tab

Monitor Tab

Monitor Tab

Monitor Tab

Monitor Tab

Monitor Tab

Monitor Tab - Thermal Radar Temperatures

Monitor Tab – Thermal Radar Temperatures

The boot tab has everything related to the system start-up behavior. Most of these options are pretty standard stuff, but one thing unique to ASUS is the DirectKey option. By connecting your case’s reset cable to the DirectKey header on the motherboard, you can automatically restart the system right into the UEFI BIOS when the reset button is pressed.

Boot Tab

Boot Tab

Boot Tab

Boot Tab

Under the Tools tab, you’ll find the ability to flash the UEFI BIOS, save up to eight profiles, and check the SPD information on the installed memory. The last picture below is of the EXIT tab, which needs no explanation!

Tools Tab

Tools Tab

Tools Tab - EZ Flash 2

Tools Tab – EZ Flash 2

Tools Tab - OC Profiles

Tools Tab – OC Profiles

Tools Tab OC Profiles

Tools Tab OC – Profiles

Tools Tab - Memory SPD Information

Tools Tab – Memory SPD Information

Exit Tab

Exit Tab

Bundled Software

In addition to containing the drivers and manuals, the support DVD also has several useful software utilities. Below is what’s available to install once the DVD is inserted.

Available Software

Available Software Utilities

Available Software Utilities

Available Software Utilities

The TUF version of AI Suite 3 doesn’t quite have all the features the ROG and Channel board versions do, but there are still plenty of useful tools at your disposal. Thermal Radar 2 is the star of the show here and is basically a GUI version of the fan control options found in the UEFI BIOS, but with a few additional goodies added to the mix. There are five areas of Thermal Radar 2, which offer up fan control, thermal tuning, thermal status and assessment, real time monitoring and recording of vital system information, and DIGI+ power controls for both the CPU and memory. It even has the ability to control with the fan on your graphics card, but we were told that function will only work with an ASUS card.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The rest of the utilities in AI Suite 3 are pretty self explanatory by looking at the pictures below. For USB charging, there is Ai Charger+ and USB Charger +. USB 3.0 Boost is said to dramatically boost USB 3.0 transfer rates, especially if your USB device is UASP compliant. The EZ Update utility will search the ASUS website for any driver, software, and firmware updates and install them automatically for you. You can also use this utility to add a custom boot logo to your UEFI BIOS file before flashing. USB BIOS Flashback is a convenient way to check for UEFI BIOS updates on a schedule of your choosing and have it saved to a USB storage device. The USB storage device can then be used to flash from within the UEFI BIOS or by using the BIOS Flashback option built into the motherboard. Push Notification can be used to alert you of system events through a URL of your choice. The System Information and Version utilities provide you with hardware details and AI Suite 3 software version information.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Internet traffic prioritization is handled by Turbo Lan, which is a stand-alone utility not integrated with AI Suite 3. This cFOS based utility is packed with enough options to keep you busy for quite awhile. Using the ASUS GUI simplifies matters down to four different areas that encompass VoIP, media streaming, games, and file sharing. Entering the advanced mode presents you with a vast array of additional traffic shaping opportunities.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You may have noticed the absence of a desktop overclocking utility at this point, and it’s true there isn’t one included with the AI Suite 3 software. However, if you browse the support DVD, you’ll find a copy of TurboV Core. This is a very effective desktop overclocking utility that carries a very light footprint. I’ve used this utility extensively since it was released, and I actually prefer it over any other ASUS desktop overclocking utility. TurboV Core doesn’t quite have all the overclocking options found in the UEFI BIOS, but it’s pretty darn close.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Benchmarks and Overclocking

Test System

System Components
Motherboard ASUS TUF Sabertooth Z97 Mark I
CPU Intel i7 4770K Haswell
Memory G.SKill TridentX DD3-2400 MHz 2x8GB
SSD Samsung EVO 500 GB SSD
Power Supply Corsair HX1050 Professional Series
Video Card EVGA GTX 780 Ti Classified
Cooling Swiftech Apogee HD CPU Waterblock – 360 mm Radiator – MCP35X Pump

The burning question on everyone’s mind is if there are any real performance gains between Z87 and Z97. Again, the short answer is not really. To test this, I used all the same components listed above with our Z87 based Maximus VI Formula and compared benchmark results. As you look through the results below, you’ll see some a tad higher, some a tad lower, and even some that are exactly the same. The end result being all results are within the margin of error, and it’s pretty much a wash between the two chipsets. This isn’t a big surprise as the Z97 is more of a chipset refresh with a few added features than it is a whole new platform. If I had to give the edge to one or the other, I’d say the Z97 performed just a tad better overall; but by the slightest of margins.

Each of the below benchmarks were run three times, and the scores you see in the graphs are the average of those three runs. The graphs are based on a percentage with the Sabertooth Z97 Mark I being the basis, and therefore always 100%. A list of the raw scores used to make the graphs is provided as well. The CPU was set to its stock speed for these benchmark comparisons.

Beginning with the AIDA64 suite of CPU/FPU/memory tests, the performance similarity between the two chipsets becomes apparent. The CPU AES and FPU VP8 tests did show a small advantage for the Sabertooth Z97 Mark I, but all the other tests were within a percentage point of each other.

AIDA64 CPU Tests

AIDA64 CPU Tests

asus_z97sabertooth (110)

AIDA64 FPU Tests

AIDA64 Memory Tests

AIDA64 Memory Tests

AIDA64 Raw Data Test Results
Test Sabertooth Mark I (Z97) Maximus VI Formula (Z87)
CPU Queen 49857 49889
CPU PhotoWorxx 22382 22363
CPU Zlib 334.6 335.9
CPU AES 17721 17720
CPU Hash 3999 3998
FPU VP8 6528 6310
FPU Julia 30933 30940
FPU Mandel 16563 16563
FPU SinJulia 4974 4974
Memory Read 36090 36093
Memory Write 37672 37667
Memory Copy 34887 34776
Memory Latency 43.8 44.1

Our compression, rendering, and video conversion testing shows less than a percentage point difference between the Z97 and Z87 chipsets; the only exception being the x264 Pass 1 test, which favored the Sabertooth Mark I by a few percentage points.

Cinebench and 7zip Testing

Cinebench and 7zip Tests

PoV Ray and x264 Tests

PoV Ray and x264 Tests

Rendering/Compression/Video Conversion Raw Data Test Results
Test Sabertooth Mark I (Z97) Maximus VI Formula (Z87)
7zip  24462  24439
Cinebench R10  30662  30667
Cinebench R11.5  8.64  8.61
Cinebench R15  806  804
x264 Pass 1  188.25  181.98
x264 Pass 2  49.06  49.01
PoV Ray 3.7  1625.86  1622.95

Our 2D benchmarks showed a very slight advantage going to the Sabertooth Z97 Mark I. The only discernible difference was noted in SuperPI where the Sabertooth Z97 Mark I performed just over one percent better. Other than that minor difference, all the other tests showed less than one percent difference.

2D Benchmark Tests

2D Benchmark Tests

2D Raw Data Test Results
Test Sabertooth Mark I (Z97) Maximus VI Formula (Z87)
SuperPi 1M 9.204 9.344
SuperPi 32M 477.845 483.834
wPrime 32M 5.976 6.004
wPrime 1024M 185.315 185.408
Intel XTU 1021 1017

We don’t typically perform graphics testing when reviewing motherboards, but I was curious if any performance gains were noticeable between the two chipsets. I spot checked several of the games we use in our graphics test suite, and there was basically no difference at all. I noticed pretty much identical FPS results across the board, so we’re not going to bore you with a bunch of charts that show what we already know. Just consider gaming performance a dead heat between the two chipsets.

Overclocking

I was able to get the CPU stable at 4.6 GHz easily enough after setting the CPU voltage to 1.35 V in BIOS. I had to spend a few moments adjusting the DIGI+ and LLC options, but overall the overclocking was easy to accomplish. I ran the AIDA64 System Stability Test for 30 minutes, and it passed with no problem at all.

4.6 GHz System Stability Test

4.6 GHz System Stability Test

I ran a few benchmarks once the overclock was achieved, so you can do a quick comparison against the earlier stock testing. Obviously, you’re going to see quite an improvement! At 4.6 GHz, the TUF Sabertooth Z97 Mark I proved to be rock solid.

wPrime 32M & 1024M @ 4.6 GHz

wPrime 32M & 1024M @ 4.6 GHz

SuperPi 1M @ 4.6 GHz

SuperPi 1M @ 4.6 GHz

SuperPi 32M @ 4.6 GHz

SuperPi 32M @ 4.6 GHz

Intel XTU @ 4.6 GHz

Intel XTU @ 4.6 GHz

Cinebench R10 @ 4.6 GHz

Cinebench R10 @ 4.6 GHz

Cinebench R11.5 @ 4.6 GHz

Cinebench R11.5 @ 4.6 GHz

Cinebench R15 @ 4.6 GHz

Cinebench R15 @ 4.6 GHz

7zip Benchmark  4.6 GHz

7zip Benchmark 4.6 GHz

Pushing the Limits

The place I can take my i7 4770K on the Z97 chipset didn’t change from where it would go on the Z87 chipset. Just as before, the max I can get and still complete a benchmark of any kind is 4.8 GHz. I also found the memory speed had to be lowered to 1600 MHz, which is exactly how it behaved on the Z87 chipset. Suffice to say, ASUS has produced another great overclocking motherboard in the Sabertooth Z97 Mark I. You’re more likely to reach the overclocking limit or thermal capacity of your CPU long before this motherboard gets in your way.

Below are the wPrime 32M and SuperPi 1M screenshots at 4.8 GHz.

Prime 32M @ 4.8 GHz

wPrime 32M @ 4.8 GHz

SuperPi 1M @ 4.8 GHz

SuperPi 1M @ 4.8 GHz

Conclusion

ASUS has taken full advantage of this chipset refresh to add some nifty features to the TUF Sabertooth Z97 Mark I. Although SATA Express is still in its infancy, by Q4 of this year we should begin to see hardware hit the market to take full advantage of it. When that day arrives, ASUS has made sure you’ll be ready by offering support across much of their Z97 lineup… this board included.

The newly designed Alloy Chokes with their cooling fins, military grade power bits, new Dust Free fan design, and the server type testing that goes into these boards are more examples where long term reliability was in focus. Being able to keep the system cool goes a long way towards long term reliability, and ASUS has added new features here as well. To further customize the cooling design, you have the option to direct the airflow through the TUF Armor to best suit your needs. The introduction of the TUF ICe microprocessor allows you to utilize up to 12 onboard sensors to monitor temperatures and match them with a fan profile. Good stuff there!

Overclocking proved to be quite an easy affair, and the Sabertooth Z97 Mark I proved to be as stable as a rock once we reached the CPU’s maximum frequency. The ASUS UEFI BIOS provides you with all the needed tools for getting the most out of your system whether that be overclocking, low power consumption, or thermal performance. The UEFI EZ Mode screen has been updated to include several more options than seen in the past, which should make life a lot easier for the novice user.

Motherboard aesthetics play a large part in the design of motherboards these days; and if you’re into a military looking theme, you’ll love the looks of the Sabertooth Z97 Mark 1. I think ASUS did a nice job by not overdoing the military appearance of the board. It has just the right amount of accents to get the point across without becoming gaudy looking.

As far as the bundled software goes, AI Suite 3 continues to impress with its many included utilities and useful tools. Thermal Radar 2 highlights this TUF version of AI Suite 3, and it’s a very capable thermal management solution made even better with the onboard ICe microprocessor.

We expected the MSRP on the TUF Sabertooth Z97 Mark I to come in at $249.95, which is exactly what they are selling for at Newegg. I think it’s perfectly priced at just $10 more than the previous TUF Sabertooth Z87 model. I think the new features added to the board more than justify the modest price increase, so nothing to complain about there. In the end, we have a solid offering from ASUS that lives up to its design concept of Ultimate Cooling, Tested Reliability, and a Durable Design.

Overclockers_clear_approvedClick the stamp for an explanation of what this means.

-Dino DeCesari (Lvcoyote)

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

2 Comments:

Theocnoob's Avatar
So the audio is integrated into the PCH now??

No standalone audio IC's on the motherboard? Won't that make for a worse SNR among other things since the PCH is doing so much other stuff at the same time?
Lvcoyote's Avatar
Not quite sure where you got that from..... the board uses the Realtek ALC1150 CODEC.
Leave a Comment