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We’re still several months away from Intel’s next round of CPU/Chipset releases, but that’s not stopping ASUS from keeping the Z97 based motherboards an interesting lot. To that end, they recently released the Sabertooth Z97 Mark S Limited Edition motherboard. This niche product falls in ASUS’ TUF series motherboard line, and it features an arctic camouflage thermal cover resting on a white PCB. White PC components seem to be gaining in popularity, so it’s nice to have options if you like the white look. Specifications wise, the Sabertooth Z97 Mark S Limited Edition mirrors that of the Sabertooth Z97 Mark 1 we reviewed several months back. The Mark 1 had lots of great features and performed outstanding in all our tests, so let’s see if the Mark S can hold up its end of the bargain.
Specifications and Features
As we look at the specifications below (courtesy ASUS), we can see all the latest technologies are present and accounted for. There are lots of connectivity options via SATA, SATA-Express, USB, and at the rear I/O area. The motherboard conforms to the ATX form factor and comes with a 5-year warranty. Dual LAN ports and the Realtek ALC1150 CODEC are a couple other highlights here.
|ASUS Sabertooth Z97 Mark S Specifications
|Intel® Socket 1150 for the 5th/New 4th/4th Generation Core™ i7/Core™ i5/Core™ i3/Pentium®/Celeron® Processors
Supports Intel® 22 nm CPU
Supports Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0
|4 x DIMM, Max. 32GB, DDR3 1866*/1600/1333 MHz Non-ECC, Un-buffered Memory
Dual Channel Memory Architecture
Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)
|Integrated Graphics Processor- Intel® HD Graphics support
Multi-VGA output support : HDMI/DisplayPort ports
– Supports HDMI with max. resolution 4096 x 2160 @ 24 Hz / 2560 x 1600 @ 60 Hz
– Supports DisplayPort with max. resolution 4096 x 2160 @ 24 Hz / 3840 x 2160 @ 60 Hz
Maximum shared memory of 512 MB
Supports Intel® InTru™ 3D, Quick Sync Video, Clear Video HD Technology, Insider™
DP 1.2 Multi-Stream Transport compliant, supports DP 1.2 monitor daisy chain up to 3 displays
|Supports NVIDIA® Quad-GPU SLI™ Technology
Supports AMD Quad-GPU CrossFireX™ Technology
|2 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (Single at x16, dual at x8/x8)
1 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (max at x4 mode, black)
3 x PCIe x1
|Intel® Z97 chipset:
1 x SATA Express port, blackcompatible with 2 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports
4 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), black,
Support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10
Supports Intel® Smart Response Technology, Intel® Rapid Start Technology, Intel® Smart Connect Technology
ASMedia® ASM1061 controller:
2 x SATA 6Gb/s ports, beige
|Intel® I218V, 1 x Gigabit LAN Controller, Dual interconnect between the Integrated Media Access Controller (MAC) and Physical Layer (PHY)
Realtek® 8111GR, 1 x Gigabit LAN Controller
Dual Gigabit LAN controllers- 802.3az Energy Efficient Ethernet (EEE) appliance
|Realtek® ALC1150 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
– Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel Jack-retasking
– High quality 112 dB SNR stereo playback output (Line-out at rear) and 104 dB SNR recording input (Line-in)
Audio Feature :
– Absolute Pitch 192kHz/ 24-bit True BD Lossless Sound
– Optical S/PDIF out port(s) at back panel
– BD Audio Layer Content Protection
– Audio Shielding: Ensures precision analog/digital separation and greatly reduced multi-lateral interference
– Dedicated audio PCB layers: Separate layers for left and right channels to guard the quality of the sensitive audio signals
– Audio amplifier: Provides the highest-quality sound for headphone and speakers
– Unique de-pop circuit: Reduces start-up popping noise to audio outputs
|Intel® Z97 chipset :
6 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports (2 at back panel, blue, 4 at mid-board)
ASMedia® USB 3.0 controller :
2 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports (2 at back panel, blue)
Intel® Z97 chipset :
8 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports (4 at back panel, black, 4 at mid-board)
|Windows® 8.1 86×64
Windows® 8 86×64
Windows® 7 86×64
|Back I/O Ports
|1 x DisplayPort
1 x HDMI
2 x LAN (RJ45) ports
4 x USB 3.0 (blue)
4 x USB 2.0 (one port can be switched to USB BIOS Flashback)
1 x Optical S/PDIF out
5 x Audio jacks
1 x USB BIOS Flashback Button
|Internal I/O Ports
|2 x USB 3.0 connectors support additional 4 USB 3.0 ports (19-pin, moss green)
2 x USB 2.0 connectors support additional 4 USB 2.0 ports
1 x SATA Express connector: black, compatible with 2 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports
1 x TPM header
6 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
1 x CPU Fan connector (1 x 4 -pin)
1 x CPU OPT Fan connector (1 x 4 -pin)
4 x Chassis Fan connectors (4 x 4 -pin)
3 x Assistant Fan connectors (2 x 3 -pin, 1 x 4 -pin, [White])
1 x S/PDIF out header
1 x Thunderbolt header
1 x 24-pin EATX Power connector
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V Power connector
1 x Front panel audio connector (AAFP)
1 x System panel (Q-Connector)
1 x DRCT header
1 x MemOK! button
3 x Thermal sensor connectors
1 x Clear CMOS jumper
|ATX Form Factor
12 inch x 9.6 inch ( 30.5 cm x 24.4 cm )
Moving on to the features, we’ll start with a motherboard overview showing several of the high-level features. All below images and descriptions courtesy ASUS.
The Thermal Armor provides many functions other than its aesthetic value. The included fans offer reversible fan technology to help keep things dust free, and the Thermal Armor housing has air flow valves to optimize its cooling effect for water or air CPU coolers. The picture below also shows the included dust covers installed in the PCI-E expansion slots, DIMM slots, and rear I/O area. There are plenty of these dust covers included in the kit to seal off any unused areas from dust accumulation.
The TUF ICe processor built into the motherboard is said to provide precise temperature and fans speed monitoring, which makes any manual or software based cooling scheme you choose give the intended results.
The TUF Fortifier found on the back of the motherboard is a dual-purpose affair that provides motherboard rigidity and an additional layer of cooling.
Some of the high-end components found on the motherboard are the 10K Ti-Caps, TUF Alloy Chokes, and TUF MOSFETs. The components are said to ensure cooler operation, longer lifespan, and better power efficiency.
Extended lifespan is also enhanced with the TUF ESD Guards. The ESD guards are supposedly tested to a 30% higher level than the industry standard.
The onboard audio solution incorporates shielding, motherboard isolation, and a different PCB layer for the left and right tracks. An audio amplifier and a de-pop circuit round out the features here.
Another feature worth mentioning is the server-grading testing that’s performed on the TUF series motherboards. Obviously, that kind of testing is a big reason why these motherboards come with a full 5-year warranty.
Server-grade Tests – Systematically-tested stability
ASUS is proud to be a leading total solution provider. That means we test more than just the product itself — we examine system durability as a whole. Our motherboards undergo extreme temperature variations (thermal shock), extensive Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) tests and many whole-build server-grade stability tests — so you know that your TUF motherboard can be trusted in all conditions.
There are many more features to explore as we take a closer look at the motherboard itself; but for now, let’s get the box on the workbench and have a look around.
The retail box holds true to the white camouflage theme and does a great job of explaining what you’re buying into. The box top has a nice TUF logo and several icons describing a few of the features, At the bottom, you’ll find greater detail on the motherboard’s features and specifications. The box sides are reserved for additional marketing and product branding.
With the box top open, we find a hard plastic cover for some of the accessories to rest in. Below that, the motherboard is found nicely wrapped in an anti-static bag. Below the motherboard is the last group of accessories. The accessory stack is pretty impressive and includes everything needed to get the motherboard installed. ASUS provides a full set of dust covers for any slot, port, or connection that’s not in use. Here is the list of included accessories.
4 x SATA 6Gb/s Cables
1 x SLI Bridge
1 x Q-Connector (2 in 1)
2 x Accessory Fan (35 /40 mm)
1 x TUF Certification Card
1 x TUF 5 Year Warranty Manual
2 x TUF Stickers
|3 x PCIe x16 Slot Dust Covers
2 x DRAM Slot Dust Covers
3 x PCIe x1 Slot Dust Covers
2 x Short Fan Screws
4 x Long Fan Screws
3 x Thermistor Cables
1 x Back I/O Dust Frame
1 x Back I/O Dust Grid
1 x Connector Dust Cover Collection
1 x Case Badge
The following slideshow provides pictures of the Sabertooth Z97 Mark S from various angles, which gives you a good idea of the design and looks of the motherboard. ASUS first showed this design at Computex 2014, where they say it was enthusiastically received as something people wanted to take home with them. Based on that feedback, ASUS decided to offer it in limited quantities.
The ASUS Sabertooth Z97 Mark S Up Close
In order to have a close-up look at the motherboard, we needed to remove the Thermal Armor and TUF Fortifier. Both pieces attach to each other with the motherboard sandwiched between. The TUF Fortifier has a thermal pad that makes contact with the underside of the MOSFETs. As you can see, the PCB is completely white. The two included fans are not preinstalled, so the end user will need to install them if desired.
At the bottom edge of the motherboard, you’ll find a host of connection points. Starting from the left, you have headers for the TPM, front panel audio, SPDIF out, and three thermal sensors. Moving over a bit, we find the Thunderbolt header, two 4-pin fan headers, and the first of two USB 3.0 front panel headers. To the far right are the two USB 2.0 front panel headers, two SATA 6 GB/s ports (ASMedia), and the headers for the case wiring.
Turn the corner and head up the right side of the motherboard, you’ll come to six more SATA 6 GB/s ports that are all native to the Z97 chipset. There is a SATA-Express port within that block as well. Just next to the SATA ports are the second USB 3.0 front panel header and the 24-pin ATX power connector. Higher up the right side of the motherboard is where the MemOK! button and the four DIMM slots are located. The MemOK! button can be used to automatically find memory settings that may allow incompatible memory to work or at least allow the system to boot. Just next to the MemOK! button, you’ll see a small LED marked “DRAM LED.” This LED will stay illuminated if the memory is keeping the system from booting. In fact, there are similar LEDs scattered about the motherboard for VGA, CPU, and boot device. The DIMM slots support up to 32 GB of DDR3 memory. While the printed specifications for the motherboard only mention support for memory speeds up to 1866 MHz, the ASUS QVL list shows memory has been tested to work up to 3200 MHz.
At the top of the motherboard, there are four fan headers – two for the CPU and two for the fans that get installed in the Thermal Armor housing. There is also an 8-pin AUX CPU power connector placed exactly where we like to see it, which is the perfect location for optimal cable management.
Down the left side of the motherboard are all the I/O connections. Here we have four USB 2.0 ports, the BIOS Flashback button, and the HDMI and DisplayPort connectors. Further down the line are two LAN ports (1 x Intel & 1 x Realtek), four USB 3.0 ports, and the audio jacks. The block of audio jacks also has an optical out port as well.
At the bottom of the motherboard’s left side is everything related to the onboard audio. You can easily see the isolation line running through the area and the audio amplifier. As we mentioned before, the audio solution is based off the Realtek ALC1150 CODEC.
The PCI-E expansion slot area shows we have three PCI-E 2.0 x1 slots, two PCI-E 3.0 x16 slots, and one PCI-E 2.0 x16 slot. A single video card can operate at x16 speed, and a two card SLI/Crossfire setup will run at x8/x8 speeds.
The CPU socket area is pretty wide open for most air coolers on the market. With the TUF Armor in place, there could be potential issues with some AIO coolers if their hoses come into the CPU block from the side. Any custom water block where the hoses mount on top should easily fit.
The motherboard’s passive cooling solution includes a large heatsink over the PCH and a dual heatsink design covering the MOSFETs. Both the PCH and MOSFET heatsinks were found to be making excellent contact with their target points. To add additional air flow through the MOSFET heatsinks, it’s a good idea to install the two small fans included in the accessories. Once those are installed, you can utilize the adjustable air flow gates on the TUF Armor to better suit your needs.
With the board pretty much stripped at this point, we can see the 8+2 power phase design ASUS implemented here. The eight CPU power phases are handled by the all digital DIGI+ VRM controller. The DIGI+ VRM controller allows access to a host of power delivery options, as you’ll see when we tour the UEFI BIOS. The two power phases dedicated to the memory are handled by their own DIGI+ VRM as well. The 10K Ti capacitors, newly designed chokes, and MOSFETs are said to all be military grade components.
ASMedia is called upon to provide several functions of the motherboard and additional USB and SATA connectivity. Here we have the ASM1184E PCI-E extender, ASM1042AE USB 3.0 controller, ASM1442K for HDMI TMDS level shifting, and ASM061 for additional SATA 6 GB/s ports.
As previously mentioned, the Realtek ALC1150 handles the 8-channel HD audio duties. For LAN controllers, we have the Intel I218V and Realtek 8111GR.
A removable BIOS chip is something we still like to see, just in case disaster strikes and it needs replacing. The Winbond 25Q64FVAI16 is used in this case. For Super I/O functions, ASUS uses the popular nuvoTon NCT6791D controller. The TUF ICe processor we discussed earlier is located just next to the audio components.
You may have noticed the lack of onboard power/reset buttons and a post code LED display. Other than that, a nice motherboard layout. Now that we’ve taken a close look at what the Sabertooth Z97 Mark S has to offer, let’s fire this thing up and have a look at the UEFI BIOS.
ASUS UEFI BIOS
ASUS has done a nice job making their EZ Mode area of the UEFI BIOS very user friendly. For the novice user, it’s a quick and painless way to to check on system vitals and setup basic system parameters. You can select the EZ Tuning Wizard where you’ll be presented with a few questions. Once answered, the wizard will automatically tune the system based on the answers you gave. There is also a RAID option that will guide you through setting up RAID arrays.
Pressing F7 will get you into the Advanced Mode where the more seasoned users will want to be. The first section is the My Favorites area where you can setup shortcuts to favorite UEFI BIOS pages. Across the top of every page in the UEFI BIOS are shortcuts to the My Favorites area, the EZ Tuning Wizard, Q-Fan Control, and Quick Notes. The Q-Fan Control lets you set fan speeds based on temperature thresholds, or you can configure them manually. Quick Notes gives you the ability to takes notes for quick access later. Think of it as Notepad for the UEFI BIOS.
The next area is the Main section that’s mostly informational in nature, but the language, date and time, and security settings are located here.
The Ai Tweaker section is where all the overclocking magic happens. All the voltage control, memory settings, CPU multiplier options, and much more are located here. There are three sub-menus for fine tuning memory timings, power delivery to the CPU and memory, and CPU power management.
The Advanced section contains 10 sub-menus dealing with system configuration. Here you’ll find configuration settings for CPU, chipset, system agent, and the ability to enable/disable onboard devices. There are many other options here that can be viewed by perusing the thumbnail images below.
Moving over to the Monitor section, you find just what the name implies. Here you can keep an eye on real time readings for temperatures, voltages, and fan speeds. One of the industry’s best set of fan control options built into a UEFI BIOS can be found in this section. You can choose from pre-configured settings or manually set things based off any of the available target source temperatures. There are also settings for the Dust De-Fan feature where you can set the duration between initiation and how long the fans will run in reverse rotation.
Inside the Boot section, you’ll find everything related to system start-up behavior. You can set your boot device priorities and several other options that affect system post behavior from here.
The Tool section has a few useful utilities for updating the UEFI BIOS firmware, saving up to eight profiles, and glancing at the SPD table for the installed memory.
The last area of the UEFI BIOS is the Exit section. Most of this is pretty common stuff, except for when you select “save changes and reset.” When doing so, a pop-up window will appear showing you all the changes made during the current session.
Bundled Software – AI Suite 3
The AI Suite 3 software bundled with the TUF series motherboards is a little different than what we typically see included with ASUS’ ROG and Channel series. The big difference is that Thermal Radar 2 takes the place of 4/5-Way Optimization. This makes sense because the TUF line of motherboards are geared more towards product longevity, which can be enhanced by a good overall cooling scheme. What this means for the overclocking crowd is you’ll have to go “old school” and use the UEFI BIOS to get your overclocking done. We’ll assume the vast majority of our readers overclock through the UEFI BIOS anyway, so this obviously isn’t a big deal.
With the software launched, the home screen has icons you can click to enter any of the utilities included in AI Suite 3. Thermal Radar 2 is the headliner here and offers thermal tuning, fan control, thermal status, a recorder, and several DIGI+ power control options. Thermal tuning is designed to test all fans hooked to a motherboard header and then produce profiles that will produce the best cooling with the lowest noise. There are nine temperatures sensors on the motherboard that you can choose as the target source for any fan. Additionally, the accessory stack comes with three thermocouple cables you can use as a target source as well, once hooked up the the appropriate header on the motherboard.
Other features of Thermal Radar 2 include the ability to identify where each fan is located inside your case. The software has the Dust De-Fan controls and Fan Overtime parameters available. There is a CPU cooling assessment tool that provides a Celsius per watt score based on the CPU thermal qualities. In our case, the assessment result was 0.57 °C/W, which is considered very good. ASUS even includes the ability to control the fan on your video card, as long as it’s a compatible ASUS brand card. Looking at the slideshow images below will give you a good idea of what all this looks like and how it functions.
The rest of AI Suite 3 is loaded with familiar utilities we’ve covered many times in the past. USB utilities include a couple of charging utilities and USB boost 3.0. BIOS Flashback, EZ Update, Push Notice, and a couple informational utilities round out AI Suite 3.
For network management, an ASUS skinned version of cFOS software (Turbo LAN) can be found on the support DVD. The main page allows you to choose outgoing priority between VoIP, streaming, gaming, or file sharing. There is an additional advanced settings area that allows for a tremendous amount of network management options.
Another nifty utility found on the support DVD is ASUS Boot Setting. We typically use this when going through the overclocking process because it allows you to boot directly into the UEFI BIOS from the desktop. No need to keep beating on the delete key!
Benchmarks and Overclocking
|ASUS TUF Sabertooth Z97 Mark S Limited Edition
|Intel i7 4770K Haswell
|G.SKill TridentX DD3-2400 MHz 2x8GB
|Samsung EVO 500 GB SSD
|Corsair HX1050 Professional Series
|EVGA GTX 780 Ti Classified
|Swiftech Apogee HD CPU Waterblock – 360 mm Radiator – MCP35X Pump
Our usual set of benchmarks are on tap today to test compression, rendering, video conversion, and memory performance. Just for fun, we’ll toss in some 2d benchmarks as well. We usually don’t see a whole lot of difference when comparing motherboards, especially when the same CPU, chipset, memory, and GPU are used. To that end, we’ll simply provide screenshots of the stock and overclocked benchmark results. This basically tells us if there are any performance issues the motherboard exhibits during the benchmark runs. We’ll spot check these results with other Z97 motherboards we’ve reviewed in the past to make sure everything is in line. During the stock testing, the CPU was locked down at the Turbo Mode speed of 4.4 GHz because of the ASUS Multi-Core enhancement built into the UEFI BIOS. We typically like to do stock testing at the CPU’s Turbo speed anyway, so no worries there. The memory was set to its XMP profile setting of 2400 MHz.
Using the UEFI BIOS to overclock, getting the CPU to 4.7 GHz was a rather simple procedure. By adding some voltage to the CPU, setting the LLC to a mid-range option, and manipulating a few power delivery options, we got the system completely stable at that speed. The UEFI BIOS was easy to work with during the overclocking adventure, and everything worked extremely well. With our overclock in place, let’s get to the benchmarks!
Compression, Rendering, and Video Conversion Benchmarks
Cinebench R10 – R11.5 – R15
x264 Pass 1 and 2
PoV Ray R3.73
7zip Compression Benchmark
Wprime 32M and 1024M
SuperPi 1M and 32M
Aida64 Cache & Memory
Some very nice benchmarks results were obtained as you can see above. After checking these results against previous Z97 motherboards reviewed, the performance is right where is should be. Let’s see if we can squeeze a little more out of it!
Pushing the Limits
By manipulating the strap to 125 BCLK, adding 1.5 V to the CPU, and dropping the memory speed down to 1666 MHz, we managed a suicide run of wPrime 32M and SuperP1 1M at 4.875 GHz. Not a shabby result, and it definitely shows the Sabertooth Z97 Mark S is a very capable overclocking motherboard.
The ASUS TUF Sabertooth Z97 Mark S is a very unique offering that should appeal to anyone looking to build a white-themed system. Regardless of the color though, it proved to be a great performing motherboard that provides many of the features enthusiast level users look for. System longevity, an abundance of cooling options, and server-type testing backed by a 5-year warranty are a few features that separate this motherboard from others on the market. Of course, the white TUF Armor and PCB add an additional layer of uniqueness that’s hard to find elsewhere. Dual LAN ports, SATA Express, and a good onboard audio solution should appeal to those looking for the latest onboard technologies. The overclocking crowd wasn’t forgotten either, and you’ll find everything you need in the UEFI BIOS to get the most from your system.
If we were to nitpick a couple things, we would like the TUF Armor to allow just a little more room around the CPU socket area to accommodate a wider range of coolers. Adding a post code LED display and onboard power/reset buttons would be nice to see as well, but that might just be the reviewer in us talking.
As far as pricing goes, Newegg currently sells this limited edition motherboard for $289, which means there is a $50 premium to pay over the TUF Sabertooth Z97 Mark 1. Being a niche color and with only a small amount of these being produced, it’s understandable why the $50 premium is there… When they’re gone, they’re gone.
With white-themed system builds becoming more popular, the Sabertooth Z97 Mark S Limited Edition should definitely be on your radar if a build like this is on your road map. There is no need to sacrifice features and performance to get the looks you want… Overclockers Approved!