Up until the release of the Z97-Pro Gamer, ASUS didn’t have much to offer a budget-minded gamer looking to build a Z97 based system. That all changes with the release of this board, and ASUS now joins other manufacturers in this very competitive arena. What really spurred this market segment was the release of Intel’s G3258 Anniversary Edition processor and the potential to acquire a Z97 gaming motherboard and CPU for just over $200. That should leave most builders a substantial amount to invest in a high-end video card, which will ultimately result in a relatively low cost, but great performing gaming system. The Z97-Pro Gamer isn’t limited to the G3258 processor however, and it stands ready to accept top of the line Haswell processors too. A full out gaming motherboard that doesn’t bare the ROG emblem is something new for ASUS, so let’s get started and see how they did.
Specifications and Features
Below are the specifications as provided by the ASUS product page. Being a budget-minded motherboard, you’re not going to see storage and USB connectivity beyond what the Intel Z97 chipset offers. However, SATA Express and M.2 SSD support are available, and the amount of native SATA and USB connections should be adequate for the vast majority of users. Usually reserved for the ROG series motherboards, the SupremeFX audio solution finds its way to the Z97-Pro Gamer. For the best in LAN connectivity, the Intel i218V network controller has been incorporated as well.
|ASUS Z97-Pro Gamer Specifications|
|CPU||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
|Memory||4 x DIMM, Max. 32GB, DDR3 3200(O.C.) 3100(O.C.) 3000(O.C.) 2933(O.C.) 2800(O.C.) 2666(O.C.) 2500(O.C.) 2400(O.C.) 2200(O.C.) 2133(O.C.) 2000(O.C.) 1866(O.C.) 1600/1333 MHz Non-ECC, Un-buffered Memory
Dual Channel Memory Architecture
Supports Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)
|Graphic||Integrated Graphics Processor- Intel® HD Graphics support
Multi-VGA output support : HDMI/DVI-D/RGB ports
– Supports HDMI with max. resolution 4096 x 2160 @ 24 Hz / 2560 x 1600 @ 60 Hz
– Supports DVI-D with max. resolution 1920 x 1200 @ 60 Hz
– Supports RGB with max. resolution 1920 x 1200 @ 60 Hz
Maximum shared memory of 512 MB
Supports Intel® InTru™ 3D, Quick Sync Video, Clear Video HD Technology, Insider™
Supports up to 3 displays simultaneously
|Multi-GPU Support||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)
2 x PCIe x1
2 x PCI
Intel® Z97 chipset :
1 x SATA Express port, compatible with 2 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports
1 x M.2 Socket 3, , with M Key, type 2260/2280 storage devices support (both SATA & PCIE mode)
4 x SATA 6Gb/s ports, gray
Support RAID 0, 1, 5, 10
Supports Intel® Smart Response Technology, Intel® Rapid Start Technology, Intel® Smart Connect Technology
|LAN||Intel® I218V, 1 x Gigabit LAN Controller(s), featuring GAMEFIRST II|
|Audio||SupremeFX 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
– Supports : Jack-detection, Multi-streaming, Front Panel MIC Jack-retasking
– High quality 115 dB SNR stereo playback output
– High-fidelity audio OP AMP(s)
Audio Feature :
– SupremeFX Shielding™ Technology
– ELNA premium audio capacitors
– Optical S/PDIF out port(s) at back panel
– Sonic Radar II
||Intel® Z97 chipset :
6 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports (4 at back panel, blue, 2 at mid-board)
Intel® Z97 chipset :
8 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports (2 at back panel, black, 6 at mid-board)
|OS Suport||Windows® 8.1 86×64
Windows® 8 86×64
Windows® 7 86×64
|Back I/O Ports||1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port
1 x DVI-D
1 x D-Sub
1 x HDMI
1 x LAN (RJ45) port
4 x USB 3.0 (blue)
2 x USB 2.0
1 x Optical S/PDIF out
6 x Audio jacks
|Internal I/O Ports||1 x USB 3.0 connector supports additional 2 USB 3.0 ports (19-pin)
3 x USB 2.0 connectors supports additional 6 USB 2.0 ports
1 x SATA Express connector: gray, compatible with 2 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports
1 x M.2 Socket 3 for M Key, type 2260/2280 devices
1 x TPM header
1 x COM port(s) connector
4 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
1 x CPU Fan connector (1 x 4 -pin)
1 x CPU OPT Fan connector (1 x 4 -pin)
3 x Chassis Fan connectors (3 x 4 -pin)
1 x S/PDIF out 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
1 x Thermal sensor connector
1 x Clear CMOS jumper
|Form Factor||ATX Form Factor
12 inch x 9.6 inch ( 30.5 cm x 24.4 cm )
As is the case with most ASUS motherboards, the feature list is a long one. First, a motherboard overview provides a look at many attributes of the Z97-Pro Gamer.
The onboard Intel LAN controller is an important part of your online gaming endeavors. To that end, ASUS has added a few special features to enhance the gaming experience and ensure the longevity of the LAN port itself. All images and descriptions below courtesy ASUS.
The SupremeFX audio solution is the same as what’s found on the high-end ROG motherboards. The audio solution offers shielding, a headphone amplifier, an EMI cover, and premium ELNA audio capacitors.
Even though the usefulness of SATA Expres is in question given the lack of available components, the Z97-Pro Gamer will be ready when they become available. M.2 SSDs on the other hand are beginning to hit the market in force, so it’s nice to see ASUS include a M.2 socket on the motherboard.
To protect the motherboard from a variety of potential failure points, ASUS designed a series of ESD guards to protect critical components from accidental damage due to electrostatic discharge (ESD). There is also DRAM over current protection, a DIGI+ VRM, 10K black metallic capacitors, and a stainless steel back I/O area that should all help with good power delivery and system longevity.
We’ll have a lot more features to cover as the review progresses; but for now, let’s get a look at the Z97-Pro Gamer.
The retail box is almost ROG-esque looking with its red and black theme. On the top are several icons depicting several motherboard capabilities and the model number in bold lettering. At the bottom, you find detailed specifications and features much like what we covered above. The box sides have additional branding and a multilingual mention of a few high-level features.
With the box top opened, we can see the Z97-Pro Gamer is protected with an anti-static bag. Below the motherboard is a cardboard bed that keeps it securely in place, and below that are the accessories. The accessory stack includes the basics needed to get the system up and running. Included are four SATA cables, I/O Shield, flexible SLI Bridge, user guide, support DVD, and a small case badge.
The following images give you a good idea of the aesthetic value the Z97-Pro Gamer provides. Red and black themed motherboards are a very popular choice among gamers and enthusiasts, and this board fits that genre perfectly. Enjoy the pictures!
The ASUS Z97-Pro Gamer Up Close
At the bottom edge of the motherboard there are a host of connectors and headers. At the left, we have the front panel audio header, SPDIF out header, Clear CMOS jumper, T-Sensor header, and the TPM header. Farther to the right, we come to a COM port header, 4-pin fan header, three USB 2.0 headers, and the headers for the case wiring.
Moving over to the right side of the motherboard, we first land at the SATA 6 GB/s ports. All six of the SATA ports and the SATA Express port are native to the Intel Z97 chipset. Above the SATA ports is the USB 3.0 front panel header. Higher up the right side, we come to the 24-pin ATX power socket, another 4-pin fan header, and the four DIMM slots. The four DIMM slots support up to 32 GB of DDR3 memory at speeds up to 3200 MHz (OC).
The top of the motherboard has a pair of CPU fan headers and the 8-pin CPU AUX power connector. We’d like to see that power connector flipped 90 degrees and a bit closer to the edge of the motherboard for better cable management, but it should be workable where it’s at.
Turning the corner to the left side of the motherboard, we land at the I/O area. Of special note here is that all the blocks are constructed of stainless steel, which should keep them free from discoloration and add to the longevity. A PS/2 port and two USB 2.0 ports are at the top, followed by an optical out jack. Display connectivity consists of HDMI, VGA, and DVI if you want to use a CPU with an iGPU. Rounding out the I/O area are four native USB 3.0 ports, the LAN jack, and the 8-channel audio jacks. If you wish to bring USB 3.1 connectivity to the Z97-Pro Gamer, it’s compatible with the new ASUS USB 3.1 add-on cards. Be sure to update the UEFI BIOS firmware to the latest version 2102 first to ensure compatibility with the USB 3.1 add-on card.
The lower area is where all the SupremeFX audio bits are located. Looking at the second picture below, you can see the isolation line, ELNA audio capacitors, headphone amp, and the EMI shield over the Realtek ALC1150 CODEC.
The expansion slot area provides two PCI-E 2.0 x1, two PCI-E 3.0 x16, one PCI-E 2.0 x16, and a pair of old school PCI slots. A single GPU will run at x16 speed, and a pair of cards in SLI/Crossfire will run at x8/x8 speeds. Just above the expansion slot area is the last of three 4-pin system fan headers and the M.2 SSD port. The M.2 SSD port accepts type 2260/2280 devices in either SATA or PCI-E mode.
The CPU socket area is wide open and should be able to accept just about any air or water cooling the user might want. As always, pay attention to memory height if you plan on using one of those massive air coolers.
The onboard passive cooling scheme includes a pair of heatsinks covering the MOSFETs and another covering the Z97 PCH. All of the heatsinks were found to be making excellent contact with their intended target areas.
With the heatsinks removed, we can get a look at the 8-phase CPU power design. The power phases are controlled by the all digital DIGI+ VRM/EPU controller. Two more power phases are located just to the right of the DIMM slots, making for an overall 8+2 power phase design.
Even though there aren’t any 3rd party controllers for USB or SATA connectivity, ASMedia is used to provide a few other motherboard functions. The ASM1442K IC provides high speed TMDS level shifting for HDMI and DVI video. To bridge the PCI slots to the PCI-E interface, the ASM1083 IC is used. Finally, the ASM1480 ICs scattered about the expansion slot area provide PCI-E switching capabilities.
As mentioned earlier, the onboard LAN is provided by the popular Intel I218V controller, which is a favorite among the gaming crowd. The SupremeFX audio is built off the Realtek ALC1150 CODEC, which resides under the EMI shield.
The ASUS TPU chip is what provides the ability to perform automatic overclocking through the BIOS or through the AI Suite 3 software. For Super I/O functions, the nuvoTon NCT6791D is called upon. ASUS uses a Winbond 25Q64FVAIQ BIOS chip, which is removable and replaceable, should the need arise.
Being a budget-minded board, a few things like onboard power/reset buttons and a post code LED display are missing from the PCB. The Z97-Pro Gamer isn’t intended to be an extreme overclocking board that’s installed on a benching station, so the missing power/reset buttons are understandable. In lieu of the post code LED display, ASUS did provide the Q-LED feature, which is a series of LEDs that will indicate a boot issue with memory, CPU, boot device, or GPU. A couple other things to be aware of is that there is no Clear CMOS button at the rear I/O panel meaning you have to open your case to perform that function. Also, the BIOS Flashback feature is not available on this motherboard, so care needs to be taken when flashing the UEFI BIOS firmware. Luckily, the BIOS chip is replaceable if you ever run into a bad flash issue.
The ASUS UEFI BIOS
Upon entering the UEFI BIOS for the first time, you land at the EZ Mode page. EZ Mode provides quick access to basic setup options to quickly get you on your way. You can control boot order and fan speeds, set XMP profiles, and get basic real-time system monitoring information. You can also initiate the EZ Tuning wizard from here, which will guide you through automatic overclocking and RAID configuration.
Pressing the F7 key lands you in Advanced Mode, where you’ll find plenty of options for the more seasoned users. The My Favorites section allows creating shortcuts to any page within the UEFI BIOS making for quick access to your most visited areas. Always available at the top of the screen is quick access to My Favorites, Q-Fan Control, EZ Tuning, and Quick Notes.
The Main section is mostly comprised of system information; but the date, time, and security settings are located here.
Ai Tweaker provides a great deal of options for overclocking and power delivery. It doesn’t quite have the full set of options found on higher-end ASUS motherboards, but it’s still pretty detailed in its own right. There are plenty of voltage controls, memory timing options, and power phase controls to keep you entertained.
The Advanced section contains nine sub-menus related to system configuration. From here, you can configure CPU, PCH, System Agent, and onboard devices, just to name a few. The thumbnail images below will show you all the available options here.
The Monitor section provides real-time information on system vitals, such as voltages, temperatures, and fan speeds. Any fan hooked to a motherboard’s header can be controlled using one of the built-in profiles or by manually setting the values. Each fan can be tailored to a specific temperature source, such as CPU, VRM, etc. The good thing about these fan control options is that you can choose between PWM or DC mode, which means you can fully control 3-pin or 4-pin fans.
The Boot section has everything relates to system post behavior. For most users, the important thing here is the ability to set HDD and ROM drive boot priorities.
The Tool section has a few useful utilities for flashing the UEFI BIOS firmware, saving overclocking profiles, and checking the memory’s SPD table.
The Exit section is pretty standard stuff found on most ASUS UEFI BIOS. One good feature is when you choose to “save changes & reset”, a pop-up window appears listing everything you changed during the current session. This gives you a chance to double check everything before activating the changes.
Bundled Software/AI Suite 3
The shining star of AI Suite 3 is the Dual Intelligent Processors 5 (DIP5) utility. It offers everything you need for total system optimization right from the desktop. The 5-Way Optimization tool will automatically overclock your system based on a set of user selectable parameters. For instance, you can have the overclocking process stop once a certain CPU temp, CPU voltage, or CPU speed is reached. The stress test that’s performed during each step is also customizable and can be run for different lengths of time, with or without AVX, and with or without memory testing. Needless to say, 5-Way Optimization is a pretty unique piece of software that’s a lot of fun to play around with.
Manual overclocking can be accomplished by accessing the TPU area of DIP5. There are just about as many options here as you have inside the UEFI BIOS.
Fan Xpert 3 is widely regarded as the best in-OS fan control software there is. Before delving into all the options available, it’s best to run your fans through the fan tuning process. Once you’ve done that, all your fan settings can be based off of the high/low thresholds Fan Xpert 3 “learned” during the tuning process. For more simplified fan control, you can choose between four preset profiles – Silent, Standard, Turbo, or Full Speed. Each fan can also be assigned to a particular location inside your case for easy identification.
The DIGI+ VRM area of DIP5 provides power delivery options similar to what’s found in the UEFI BIOS.
Turbo App is a recent addition to AI Suite 3 and allows any applications to be matched with overclock, network priority, and audio settings of your choice.
If you’re the type that prefers power efficiency as your main goal, then you’ll want to get inside the EPU section of AI Suite 3. There are five different power schemes you can choose from ranging from automatic to performance modes.
There are a few other useful utilities included with AI Suite 3, which are self explanatory by looking through the pictures below.
For bandwidth prioritization, a Game First II branded version of cFOS software is included in the software bundle. For the vast majority of people, the EZ Mode screen will provide all the options you need. For a more detailed set of options, the Advanced area of the utility has no shortage of available settings.
ASUS includes Sonic Radar II in the software bundle to enhance your gaming experience. It’s designed for first-person shooter games and provides an in-game overlay that can give audible clues as to what opponents and teammates are up to. The overlay can give you the direction that in-game sounds are coming from, such as gunshots, footsteps, and call-outs. There are three customizable panels for display, controls, and GameEQ.
Benchmarks and Overclocking
|Motherboard||ASUS Z97-Pro Gamer|
|CPU||Intel i7 4790K 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|
We’ll perform our usual set of benchmarks, which test compression, rendering, video conversion, and memory performance. For 2D benchmarks, we’ll use Intel XTU, SuperPi, and wPrime. Because we don’t see any notable differences when comparing motherboards, especially when the same CPU, chipset, memory, and GPU are used, we’ll simply provide screenshots of the stock and overclocked benchmark results. What this amounts to is a search for any abnormalities during the benchmark runs. We’ll take a few minutes and spot check these results against other Z97 motherboards just to make sure everything is on the up and up. Stock testing is performed with the CPU locked down at the Turbo Mode speed of 4.4 GHz because of the ASUS Multi-Core enhancement built into the UEFI BIOS. The memory was set to its XMP profile setting of 2400 MHz.
Using the UEFI BIOS to overclock, we were able to get the CPU stabilized at 4.7 GHz, while still leaving the memory set to 2400 MHz. All this took was adding some voltage to the CPU, setting the LLC to a mid-level option, and playing with a few power delivery options. The UEFI BIOS was easy to work with, responsive, and had everything we needed to plow through our overclocking journey. With our overclock in place, we’re ready for 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
No problem at all on the performance front. In fact, as we went back and looked at other Z97 boards we’ve reviewed, this board performed slightly better than a lot of them on many of the benchmarks. Not by a whole lot mind you, but some.
Pushing the Limits
Interestingly enough, we usually have to drop the memory speed to 1600 MHz or so when performing the suicide runs of SuperPi 1M and wPrime 32M, but not this time around. We were able to keep the memory set to 2400 MHz and ramp the CPU speed to 4.9 GHz for the quick benchmarks. If nothing else, we learned the Z97-Pro Gamer can hold its own as an overclocking motherboard. Good stuff!
We started this review talking about budget-minded gaming systems. So, let’s get right to the price of the Z97-Pro gamer. It’s currently available at Newegg for $149, which lands it on the higher side of similarly outfitted motherboards. However, with the bundled software and a few ROG-like features, the small price difference is well justified in our opinion.
The Z97-Pro Gamer has everything you need as the basis for a very nice gaming rig. We like the fact a couple PCI slots are available for anyone having older equipment they want to carry over to a new system. Having the Intel LAN controller is a nice value add because a lot of motherboards in this class use a lesser solution. Couple that with the same SupremeFX audio found on high-end ROG motherboards, and you can see ASUS put as much as possible into this offering given the price point constraints. It’s a pretty easy call this time around… Overclockers approved!