Today we will be looking at BIOSTAR’s first Z97 chipset based offering, their Hi-Fi Z97WE board. If you remember, last year we reviewed the Hi-Fi Z87X 3D. This board appears to fall into the same budget board category boasting a lot of audio features. Let’s take a look at see how this board shakes out!
Specifications & Features
Below is a list of the specifications. What I like about this list that some may not, is how thorough it is. I used the data from the BIOSTAR website.
At a high level, its based on the Z97 chipset supporting the Haswell refresh, including the “K” SKU Devil’s Canyon. It will also offer support for Intel’s next generation CPU, code named Broadwell. Like its predecessors, it will support Dual Channel memory up to 2800 MHz (OC) in speed and up to 32 GB in four slots.
Speaking of slots, the board has two PCIe 3.0 x16 Physical slots (x8/x8 Crossfire X ONLY, no SLI, compatibility), two PCIe x1 2.0, and believe it or not, two PCI slots for legacy support and that oddball card that still uses that type of slot. As far as storage goes, the board offers six native SATA 3 (6 GB/s) ports.
On the audio side of the house, the board is using the Realtek ALC892 codec. I have to admit I am a bit surprised BIOSTAR didn’t put on the newer, and likely better ALC1150 codec Realtek offers.
Read the table for (a lot) more details!
|BIOSTAR Hi-Fi Z97WE|
|Chipset||Intel Z97 Express Chipset|
|CPU Support||Intel® Core™ i7 LGA 1150 Processor
Intel® Core™ i5 LGA 1150 Processor
Intel® Core™ i3 LGA 1150 Processor
Intel® Pentium® LGA 1150 Processor
Ready for Intel 4th Gen. unclocked CPU (codename Devil’s Canyon)
Ready for Intel next enthusiast-class CPU(codename Broadwell)
Support CPU Bclk overclock
|Memory||Support Dual Channel DDR3 2800(OC)/ 2600(OC)/ 2400(OC)/ 2200(OC)/ 2133(OC)/ 1866(OC)/ 1800(OC)/ 1600/ 1333/ 1066 MHz
Support non-ECC memory modules
Support Extreme Memory Profile(XMP) memory modules
4 x DDR3 DIMM Memory Slot
Max. Supports up to 32GB Memory
|Expansion Slots||2 x PCI-E x16 3.0 Slot (x8 + x8, support CrosfireX)
2 x PCI-E x1 2.0 Slot
2 x PCI Slot
|Storage||6 x SATA3 Connector
Support SATA RAID: 0,1,5,10
Support both Legacy and AHCI Mode
Support Hot-Plug in AHCI mode
Support Intel Smart Response Technology
1 x M.2(N.G.F.F.) Connector up to 1000MB/s
Support both PCIE NAND for PCIE SSD and SATA NAND for SATA SSD
4 x USB 3.0 Port
Realtek RTL8111G – 10/100/1000 Controller
|Multi Graphics||AMD CrossFireX|
|Integrated Video||By CPU model
Supports DX11.1/ 11/ 10.1/ 10/ 9
Support DirectX Video Acceleration(DXVA) for accelerating video processing
—Full AVC/VC1/MPEG2 HW Decode
Support Advanced Scheduler 2.0, 1.0, XPDM
Support OpenGL 4.0
Support HDMI, 1.4a specification compliant with 3D
Support 3 Displays(HDMI + DVI + VGA)
|Codec||Realtek ALC892 8-Channel Blu-ray Audio
Support Blu-ray Audio
Support HD Audio
Support Biostar Hi-Fi
|Rear I/O||1 x PS/2 Keyboard
4 x USB 3.0 Port
2 x USB 2.0 Port
1 x HDMI Connector, resolution up to 4096×[email protected], 24bpp / 2560×[email protected], 24bpp / 1920×[email protected], 36bpp
1 x DVI Connector, resolution up to 1920×[email protected] @24bpp
1 x VGA Port, resolution up to 1920×[email protected] @24bpp
2 x RJ-45 Port
5 x Audio Connector
1 x S/PDIF Out Port
|Internal I/O||Realtek ALC892 8-Channel Blu-ray Audio
Support Blu-ray Audio
Support HD Audio
Support Biostar Hi-Fi
|HW Monitoring||CPU / System / PCH / DDR Temperature Monitoring
CPU / System Fan Monitoring
Smart / Manual CPU / System Fan Control
System Voltage Monitoring
|Overvoltage||CPU VCC_IN/ Vcore/ Vring/ VGT/ VSA/ VIOA/ VIOD/ DRAM/ DDR Ch-A CA Verf/ DDR Ch-B CA Verf/ DDR Ch-A/B DA Verf/ CPU DRAM Vref/ PCH/ PCH PLL|
|Dimension||ATX Form Factor Dimension: 30.5cm x 24.4cm ( W x L )|
|OS Support||Support Windows 7 / 8 / 8.1|
Smart Ear headphone Utility
Biostar MAGIX Multimedia Software Suite
Smart Speed LAN
Intel Rapid Start Technology
Intel Smart Connect Technology
Intel Rapid Storage Technology(include Intel Smart Response Techmology)
|Accessories||4 x SATA Cable
1 x I/O Shield
1 x DVD Driver
1 x User Manual
|Features||Windows 8 Ready
Supports PURO Hi-Fi
Supports 100% Solid capacitor
Supports Rapid Switch2
Supports Rapid Debug3
Supports Charger Booster
Supports BIOS Online Update
Listed below are some of the primary features the Hi-Fi Z97WE offers. I don’t think the Z97 chipset needs explanation at this time, so I will start with the Hi-Fi. Here BIOSTAR offers seemingly a lot for the audio enthusiast, including the now mostly standard isolation of the audio components from other parts of the board. What is relatively unique however, is the use of an integrated amplifier to drive your headphones to over 100dB supported by BIOSTAR’s Blu-Ray Audio DRM at a 24 bit/192Khz sampling rate. In audio, and frankly a lot of things, your sound quality is only is good as your worst component, so they used superior “Hi-Fi” caps (and Metal-Oxide film resistors) for each audio channel circuit, which aims to delivering low noise, distortion, and wide bandwidth to help achieve the best quality sound. The Realtek ALC892 codec used here sports a 100db S/N ratio.
On the video side things, we have all likely heard of 4K TVs and monitors I am sure, and this board supports that huge pixel count via the onboard HDMI output. Clearly you will not be playing any games with the CPUs iGPU, but it does support the resolution.
New to Z97 is the PCIe M.2 slot offering a whopping 10 GB/s throughput versus SATA 3 (6GB/s) at nearly half that value. Hopefully, now we can see some faster speed SSDs with the implementation of this interface.
The Hi-Fi Z97WE sports dual Intel NICs with load balancing and ‘teaming’ abilities, as well as providing up to a 2 GB connection speed.
BIOSTAR also has Windows-based monitoring and overclocking abilities with its T-Overclocker software. This allows one to monitor temperatures and voltages, adjust voltages/BCLK/fan speeds/memory timings, etc. Always a useful piece of software to have.
The last item worth mentioning is that the board supports memory of 2800 MHz+ (OC).
Even more features and details on these features can be found at their website.
Taking a look at the retail packaging, we can see the BIOSTAR Hi-Fi Z97WE sports red sides and a brown/black front with a picture of a speaker on it. Of course, we have the BIOSTAR name, the board name, and some of the features as listed above. Flipping the box over to the expose the bum, we see a much more thorough list of features and some awards from review sites.
On the side we see the red theme, while on the top edge its gold with the name prominently placed. As is typical with motherboard boxes these days, inside the box we are greeted with the accessory stack on top and the motherboard hiding underneath a thin cardboard partition.
There really isn’t much to see or discuss here. The included accessories are bare bones in nature. You get a driver disk, instruction manual, a couple of SATA cables, and a quick reference guide.
The BIOSTAR Hi-Fi Z97WE
Next up, we get to finally see the board inside! We see a very dark brown/black PCB as the base color along with black and yellow themed DIMM and PCIe x16 slots. The PCIe x1 and PCI sots are black, while the PCH and VRM heatsinks are a gold color with aluminum trim. I can’t say this thing is the prettiest board I have seen. To me, the colors don’t even seem to match.
Flipping the board around exposes the dark brown PCB, which at the bottom right you can clearly see the physical separation between the board and audio sections. About the only other thing worth noting is both slots are x16 electrical even though in CrossFireX x8/x8 is the limit since there is no PLX chip to add more lanes.
A Closer Look
Moving in closer, we start at the bottom left looking at the audio section. As you likely read in the specifications and features section, BIOSTAR has a built in amplifier to power your expensive set of headphones, which is a fairly unique feature. BIOSTAR has beefed up the audio section with their “Hi-Fi” themed Power, Ground, Amp, and 19KHz/24-bit sampling rate. Of course the audio chip is covered by a holy Faraday cage to again minimize any EMI and deliver the cleanest signal possible.
As far as the PCIe area, we see a couple x1 slots shoe-horned between the two x16 PCIe slots. Below the second x16 slot there are two legacy PCI connections as well. This board only supports CrossfireX configurations which means no-go on SLI… so, be aware of that when purchasing this board if you own an NVIDIA card and are considering two in the future.
Moving over to what I am calling the PCH area (bottom right of the board), we can’t really see much here outside of the debug LED (which doubles as a temperature readout after the POST is completed) and the onboard power/reset buttons.
Sliding up the right side of the board to the DIMM area, we see the typical Z97 dual channel DIMM slot configuration. This is where you can also see the 24-pin ATX power lead, a front panel USB3 port, as well as a few fan headers. Two fan header for the CPU fan(s), I like that option as a lot are now using two fans.
Taking a quick look around the socket area, we see a 10-phase power design that allows for plenty of clean power to get to the CPU, which should allow for you to hit the CPU (temperature/voltage) limit before the board steps in your way. You can see in the top-left side of the image the 8-pin AUX CPU power input.
Here is the rear I/O area which has connections as follows:
- 1 x PS/2 Keyboard
- 4 x USB 3.0 Port
- 2 x USB 2.0 Port
- 1 x HDMI Connector, resolution up to 4096×[email protected], 24bpp / 2560×[email protected], 24bpp / 1920×[email protected], 36bpp
- 1 x DVI Connector, resolution up to 1920×[email protected] @24bpp
- 1 x VGA Port, resolution up to 1920×[email protected] @24bpp
- 2 x RJ-45 Port
- 5 x Audio Connector
- 1 x S/PDIF Out Port
As far as the internal I/O on the bottom, we have (from L to R):
- Front Panel Audio
- System Fan Header
- COM ports
- Two Front USB ports
- Another System Fan Header
- Power and Reset buttons
- Front panel buttons
Last up is the SATA3 (6GB/s) ports on the board. As you can see from the shot below, there are six in total. All of these are native to the Intel controller.
UEFI BIOS and Overclocking Software
Moving on to the UEFI BIOS, you see below BIOSTAR goes with a black and red theme for this implementation. The wording is readable and the high level layout seems logical at first glance. I can’t say its the prettiest UEFI BIOS around, but it gets the job done with no real issues to speak of.
On the left side of any BIOS screen, you will always see the time displayed, CPU speed and voltage, ram speed and voltage, CPU fan speed monitoring (both one and two), and finally the CPU temperature.
The Main page shows some BIOS information such as the version and date of the BIOS (single BIOS, note), as well as the amount of installed ram.
The Advanced screen is where you would access anything from SATA, USB, Network, Intel RST, and Smart Fan configuration options, to hardware monitoring.
In the Chipset panel, you have options to to adjust the PCH-IO and System Agent (SA) configurations.
The Boot screen is just that. Here is where you prioritize your boot devices and boot up options, followed last by the Security panel.
As far as overclocking within the BIOS, that comes from the O.N.E section, which I have scrolling below this text. It has most anything one would need, including CPU configuration options to DRAM adjustments. You can adjust all the major voltages that go along with overclocking, such as the core, ram, ring, IOA and IOD, and SA voltages to help push your CPU likely to its thermal limits.
Overclocking was a breeze on here like it is with most “K” sku chips on the Intel side. My ram’s XMP profile of 2666 MHz was gladly accepted as well. Oddly enough though, I did run into a weird voltage limit on my sample. What happened was once I was over 1.375 V or so, I simply could not POST or boot. It didn’t matter if the multiplier was at 45 or default (Auto), it just simply would not boot the PC. I contacted BIOSTAR and they offered some settings for me to try, but it did not work. They assure me they have seen chips to 5GHz on this board though. I’m not sure if it is an issue with the board I have itself, or what. I can boot to 5GHz with the same CPU on every other board I have. So, with this specific sample, I was pretty limited with where my overclock ended up.
Software – T-Overclocker
BIOSTAR also has Windows-based software for monitoring and overclocking, called T-Overclocker. Looking at the slideshow below we see the dark grey and lighter green back ground with the editable fields having a + or – in red. Here you can control most items from the BIOS right in windows. The layout here made it easy to find what I was looking for.
Test Setup, Benchmarks, and Overclocking
Listed below is the test system used for benchmarking:
|CPU||Intel i7 4770K @ 3.5 GHz (Stock) and 4.9Ghz Overclocked|
|Motherboard||BIOSTAR Hi-Fi Z97WE|
|RAM||2×4 GB Kingston HyperX Predator DDR3-2666 11-13-13-32|
|Graphics Card||MSI R9 290x Lightning|
|Solid State Drive||256 GB OCZ Vertex 3|
|Power Supply||SeaSonic SS-1000XP (80+ Platinum)|
|Operating System||Windows 7 x64 SP1|
|Graphics Drivers||Catalyst 14.4|
Below are the stock and overclocked results for this setup. Like usual in my motherboard reviews, I have used AIDA64 (latest version), Maxmemm, SuperPi 1M/32M, Wprime 32M/1024M, Cinebench R10/R11.5, and Pifast. In most cases there are very few performance differences between motherboards, so we are going with simple screenshots of the results.
AIDA64 and MaxMemm2 – Memory Bandwidth and Throughput
Cinebench R10 and R15 – CPU Rendering benchmark
Super Pi 1M and 32M / Pifast – Single threaded CPU benchmark
WPrime 32M and 1024M – Multi threaded CPU benchmark
Overall Performance (Compared to other boards) and Pushing the Limits
Sadly, due to the problems with this board booting above a given voltage and being able to work stably even in the BIOS, these sections will not be making an appearance here. I was “only” able to get the board to work its magic around 4.5GHz which is plenty for 99% of people. I am hoping a BIOS update comes out (I have seen this behavior resolved before by an update) that will allow me to set the voltage higher, so I can push a bit farther. I am sure the board has it in it, that is for sure.
So, where do we stand with this board? Overall BIOSTAR has put together a pretty decent package again with its Hi-Fi Z97WE board. I’m personally not too keen on the color scheme… it seems a bit mismatched, but otherwise everything that should be there is there. On the Audio side of things, BIOSTAR offers a built in amplifier to drive some headphones, and upgraded hardware, but curiously uses the Realtek ALC892 codec instead of the newer ALC1150. Perhaps there is some audio functionality there that the ALC1150 can’t do? Cheaper? Not sure. On paper, to my untrained audio eye, that is the newer and again on paper, the better unit.
The board brings together all of the features Z97 holds, such as the M.2 slot and more bandwidth for flash based drives, as well as Broadwell support in 2015. Just be sure that if you are a NVIDIA fan, that you only want to run one card due to it listing support for only CrossfireX configurations.
The BIOS has all the features anyone needs and its functionality is there. The only problem I have with this board is the seeming voltage limit. Again, BIOSTAR has assured me they have had chips hit 5GHz on this board, so there may be some kind of compatibility issue on my end with my configuration or something. That said, if this issue shows up in other boards, you are limited to what your CPU can do at around 1.35 V. That’s plenty for 99% of people anyway.
As far as pricing goes, the board comes in at $124.99 from newegg.com. This puts it with the MSI Z97 G55 ($129) and the ASUS Z97-K. There is nothing in particular that stands out as outstanding outside of perhaps the integrated amplifier and slightly superior audio hardware. There is nothing terribly negative either. The pricing is right from what you can get out of this board. In the sub $130-range, one should consider taking a long look at the BIOSTAR Wi-Fi Z97WE, especially if you need a pair of headphones driven with an on-board amp.
– Joe Shields (Earthdog)