EVGA Z97 Classified Motherboard Review

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Unlike previous platform releases where EVGA was a bit slow to market, they were quick on the trigger with their Z97 chipset based motherboard offerings. As we saw with EVGA’s Z87 motherboards, we again have the Classified, FTW, and Stinger models to fill out their Z97 lineup. Today, we’ll take a look at EVGA’s flagship Z97 Classified. When EVGA slaps the Classified name on one of their products, you can be sure it’s loaded with enthusiast level features that the overclocking and gaming crowds look for. So, let’s run the EVGA Z97 Classified through our review process and see if it performs at a level worthy of the Classified name!

Specifications and Features

Before we list the specifications, let’s give the EVGA marketing folks a chance to tell you a little about the Z97 Classified.

“Welcome to a new class of high performance motherboards with the EVGA Z97 lineup. These platforms offer a return to greatness with a new GUI BIOS interface, reimagined power VRM that focuses on efficiency, and are loaded with features such as lntel Gigabit LAN, Native SATA 6G/USB 3.0 and more.

Built from the ground up to give you all the essentials you need for overclocking, with a GUI BIOS that is focused on functionality, new software interface for overclocking in the O.S., ultra high quality components, robust PCI-E 3.0, and memory trace layout.

With these features and more, it is clear that the EVGA Z97 motherboards are engineered to exceed the best.”

Here are the specifications as provided by EVGA. Initial impressions are, well… impressive. It appears EVGA went to great lengths to incorporate all the latest technologies by including dual Intel NICs, a mPCIe/mSATA port, and a Creative Core3D audio processor. Support for Intel’s 4th, new 4th, and upcoming 5th generation processors finds its way on the Z97 Classified. Additionally, EVGA brings full support for 4-way SLI and CrossfireX, which will undoubtedly keep the gaming enthusiast happy.

EVGA Z97 Classified Specifications
Chipset Intel Z97
CPU Support Intel Core 4th and 5th Generation Processors for Socket 1150
Graphics Supports up to 4-Way SLI/CrossfireX
Memory 4 DIMM Slots up to 32GB (2666 MHz+ OC)
Display Connectivity 2 X DisplayPort
USB 2.0 6 (4 X Rear Panel / 2 X Onboard (Intel Z97 PCH)
USB 3.0 6 (4 X Rear Panel / 2 X Onboard (Intel Z97 PCH)
SATA 8 SATA III 6 Gb/s
LAN 2 X Intel Gigabit Ethernet Ports (I217 / I210)
Audio 6-Channel W/Creative Sound Core3D Quad-Core Audio Processor + Optical
RAID Support RAID 0, 1, 5, 10, JBOD
PCI-E Arrangement 1 x16, 2 x16, 3 x8, 4 x8
PCI-E Mechanical 5
PCI-E x1 1
mPCIe/mSATA 1
Fan Headers 6
BIOS Type AMI / UEFI
Form Factor E-ATX

It’s easy to see most of the features below are aimed squarely at the overclocking enthusiast. Here is a pictorial tour of the major features EVGA wants you to know about. We’ll get into more detail on these later in the review, but here is a quick overview.

z97_classified_feature (1) BRAND NEW GUI BIOS INTERFACE – Focused on functionality
z97_classified_feature (2) PCI-E DISABLE SWITCH – Quickly and easily troubleshoot!
z97_classified_feature (3) E-LEET X TUNING UTILITY – Adjust your overclocking in O.S.
z97_classified_feature (4) TRIPLE BIOS SUPPORT – Use 3 separate profiles!
z97_classified_feature (5) RIGHT ANGLED 24 PIN – Improved cable management
z97_classified_feature (6) HIGHER GOLD CONTENT – Lower inductance, better power delivery!
z97_classified_feature (7) EZ VOLTAGE READ POINTS – Easy read dedicated read points
z97_classified_feature (8) ONBOARD CPU TEMP MONITOR – Monitor CPU temps quickly & easily
z97_classified_feature (9) PASSIVE CHIPSET HEATSINK – No fans, lower noise, longer lifespan
z97_classified_feature (10) DUAL 8 PIN CPU POWER – Optional 8 pin provides up to 600w
z97_classified_feature (11) 8 PHASE PWM – Cleanest variable power switching
z97_classified_feature (12) 8 LAYER PCB – Improved overclock stability and PCB cooling

Packaging/Accessories/First Look

EVGA did a very nice job on the packaging for the Z97 Classified. You’ll find the black/red/silver box design both attractive and informative. As you rotate the box around, all the features and specifications we talked about above are present and accounted for. If you’re actually able to hold this product in your hands before purchasing, you’ll get a good feel for what you are buying into by just perusing the information printed on the box.

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Inside the outer carton is a solid black box that houses all that’s included in the kit. Sitting on top is a cardboard divider with all the accessories and documentation. Under all the accessories is where the motherboard itself rests, and it’s well-protected in an anti-static bag and wrapped in a bubble bag. The motherboard has protective film strips applied to the heatsinks and includes stick-on documentation over the CPU and DIMM slots.

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As you can see by looking at the pictures above, the accessory stack is quite extensive. Here is the list of what’s included.

  • Driver/Software Installation Disc
  • Rear Case I/O Panel
  • Rear Case I/O Cover
  • 1 X Probe It Cable
  • 4 X GPU Link Cables
  • 4 X 6 Gb/s SATA Cables
  • 2-Way SLI Bridge
  • 3-Way SLI Bridge
  • 4-Way SLI Bridge
  • 2 Port USB 3.0 Bracket
  • User/Installation Manual
  • Misc Accessory Mounting Hardware

Photo Op

Before we put the EVGA Z97 Classified under the microscope, here are some glamor shots taken from various angles. As you can see, the board is almost entirely black with just a spattering of contrasting colors provided by other components on the board. It also has one of the largest PCH heatsinks I’ve ever seen… it’s massive!

The EVGA Z97 Classified

The EVGA Z97 Classified

The EVGA Z97 Classified

The EVGA Z97 Classified

The EVGA Z97 Classified

The EVGA Z97 Classified

The EVGA Z97 Classified

The EVGA Z97 Classified

The EVGA Z97 Classified

The EVGA Z97 Classified

The EVGA Z97 Classified

The EVGA Z97 Classified

The EVGA Z97 Classified

The EVGA Z97 Classified

The EVGA Z97 Classified

The EVGA Z97 Classified

The EVGA Z97 Classified

The EVGA Z97 Classified

The EVGA Z97 Classified Up Close

Along the bottom of the Z97 classified, we first see a 6-pin PCI-E connector for providing additional power to multi-GPU setups. The front panel audio connector is next in line, which is followed by the EVGauge connector, an onboard speaker, and a USB 2.0 header. Further to the right, you’ll find a 90° 3-pin fan header, the chassis wiring connections, and the EVGA Control Panel header. The same EVGauge that’s been around since the P67 days will work on that header, but EVGA doesn’t currently offer a compatible device for the ECP header.

Bottom-Left Edge

Bottom-Left Edge

Bottom-Right Edge

Bottom-Right Edge

Along the board’s right side, there is a front panel USB 3.0 header with eight SATA 6 Gb/s ports. The lower six SATA ports are native to the Z97 PCH, while the top two are provided by the Marvell 88E9182 controller. Just above the SATA ports are two more 90° 3-pin fan headers, the PCI-E Disable Switches, and the BIOS Selector Switch. The PCI-E Disable Switches allow for quick and convenient trouble shooting of graphics cards without having to actually remove them from the motherboard. The BIOS Selector Switch allows you to toggle between three different BIOS versions, or it can be used as a recovery tool should one of the BIOS become corrupt. Further up the right side, we find the 24-pin power connector, the GPU Link connector, and the post code LED display. If you have a supporting EVGA graphics card that you don’t mind soldering on, you can use the cables included in the accessories to connect up to four video cards to the motherboard. Once done, you can monitor and adjust a few video card settings from within the motherboard’s BIOS. Rounding out the right side are the Probe It cable connector and the onboard power/reset buttons. The Probe It feature is handy for those extreme overclocking sessions when using a Digital Voltage Meter to keep an eye on critical voltages is necessary.

Right Side Lower Edge

Right Side Lower Edge

Right Side Upper Edge

Right Side Upper Edge

Along the top edge, we find a clear CMOS button, two 4-pin CPU fan headers, and dual 8-pin CPU AUX 12 V power connectors. Only one of the 8-pin CPU AUX 12 V connectors needs to be used for normal operation, but using both can provide up to 600 watts of power for those extreme overclocking sessions. There is another 4-pin fan header located at the very top left corner, and the last 4-pin fan header can be seen tucked under the PWM heatsink in the second picture below.

Top-Right Edge

Top-Right Edge

Top-Left Edge

Top-Left Edge

Moving around to the left side, we come to the I/O area. There are four each USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports, which are all native to the Z97 PCH. Both LAN ports are provided by Intel, but differ by controller chip used. The top LAN port uses the Intel I210 NIC and the bottom one uses the Intel I217 NIC. A convenient Clear CMOS button is located at the I/O area for easy access once the motherboard is installed in the case. For display connectivity, EVGA chose to use dual mini-DisplayPort connections, which is fine considering the vast majority of people who buy this motherboard won’t be using the CPU’s iGPU anyway. The audio connections allow for up to 6-channel (5.1) operation and an optical out port is available as well. The lower left side is where you’ll find the components that comprise the Creative Core3D Quad-Core Processor onboard audio. It’s nice to see something other than a Realtek CODEC for a change, and the Creative solution used here should be a step up in audio quality.

Left Side I/O Area

Left Side I/O Area

Left Side Lower Edge

Left Side Lower Edge

The Z97 Classified features five PCI-E x16 slots and one PCI-E x1 slot. They are numbered 1 through 6 as you count down from the top. PCI-E lane distribution can get a little confusing, but EVGA provides a nice breakdown in the manual. Here is how the lane distribution is configured.

  • Slot 1 – x16 (x8 if slot 2 is used)
  • Slot 2 – x16 (x8 if slot 3 is used)
  • Slot 3 – x8
  • Slot 4 – x16 (x8 if slot 6 is used)
  • Slot 5 – x1
  • Slot 6 – x8

Sandwiched between PCI-E slots four and six is the mPCIe/mSATA port. Additional storage can be added using a mSATA SSD; or any other mPCIe compatible device can be installed as well, such as a wireless card.

PCI-E Expansion Slots

PCI-E Expansion Slots

The four DIMM slots support up to 32 GB of DDR3 dual channel system memory at speeds up to 2666 MHz+ (OC). As we see on many motherboards as of late, a single release lever design is used to facilitate easy installation and removal of the modules. The CPU area is free of any major obstructions, which should allow the installation of most any air cooler out there. Any AIO cooler or custom water block should easily fit here as well.

DIMM Slots

DIMM Slots

CPU Socket Area

CPU Socket Area

Having a look at the cooling solution EVGA outfitted on the Z97 Classified, we find two heatsinks connected by a common heatpipe. The reason the PCH heatsink is so large is that it also covers the PLX chip to provide cooling for it. A thermal pad is used where the heatsink covers the MOSFET area, and a quality TIM is used over the PCH and PLX chips. Excellent contact between the heatsinks and their intended targets was noted… no issues here.

Heatsink Apparatus

Heatsink Apparatus

Heatsink Apparatus Contact Side

Heatsink Apparatus Contact Side

With the heatsink assembly removed, we can have a good look at the 8-phase CPU power design. There are two more power phases by the DIMM slots making the overall power delivery a 8+2 design. The eight CPU power phases are controlled by the International Rectifier 3563B VRM, while the memory power delivery is controlled by the CHiL CHL8325A VRM.

8-Phase CPU Power Delivery

8-Phase CPU Power Delivery

8-Phase CPU Power Delivery

8-Phase CPU Power Delivery

CPU VRM

CPU VRM

Memory VRM

Memory VRM

In order to bring the additional PCI-E lanes needed to support 4-way SLI/CrossfireX, a PLX PEX8747 is used. Scattered about the PCI-E expansion slot area, you’ll find ASMedia ASM1480 ICs to provide the switching capabilities for all the PCI-E lanes.

PLX PEX8747

PLX PEX8747

ASMedia ASM1480 Chips

ASMedia ASM1480 Chips

Marvell was called upon to provide the controllers for two additional SATA 6 Gb/s ports (88SE9182) and the mPCIe/mSATA port (88SE9172).

Marvell 88SE9182

Marvell 88SE9182

Marvell 88SE9172

Marvell 88SE9172

As mentioned before, EVGA opted for a Creative audio solution and dual Intel NICs. While there are quite a few enthusiast motherboards with dual LAN ports, we seldom see both using Intel NICs. The Creative audio solution is based off of their CA0132 quad core processor.

Intel I210 NIC

Intel I210 NIC

Intel I217 NIC

Intel I217 NIC

Creative CA0132 Audio Processor

Creative CA0132 Audio Processor

The Fintek F71889AD is used for Super I/O functions such as system monitoring, fan control, etc. Finally, the last picture below is a close-up of the Intel Z97 PCH.

Fintek Super I/O

Fintek Super I/O

Intel Z97 PCH

Intel Z97 PCH

The UEFI BIOS

EVGA’s new UEFI BIOS is good looking and extremely well laid out. It’s a snap to quickly find what you’re looking for, and you are constantly given critical system and monitoring information at the top of every screen. Upon entering the UEFI BIOS, you land at the Overclock tab where you can tweak the system’s performance to your liking. All the voltage settings are located here, along with frequency, BCLK, and CPU multiplier options.

Overclock Tab

Overclock Tab

Overclock Tab

Overclock Tab

Under the Memory tab, you’ll find a plethora of available memory tweaking options. You can either set the XMP profile from here or manually tweak the timings using basic, second, and third configuration options.

Memory Tab

Memory Tab

Memory Tab

Memory Tab

Memory Tab

Memory Tab

The Advanced tab has 10 sub menus dealing mostly with system configuration settings. The hardware monitoring feature is located here, and you’ll find the GPU Link options in this area too. Most of these option are common to most modern motherboards, but you can peruse the below thumbnail images if you feel so inclined.

Advanced Tab

Advanced Tab

z97_classified_bios (7) z97_classified_bios (8) z97_classified_bios (9) z97_classified_bios (10) z97_classified_bios (11) z97_classified_bios (12)
z97_classified_bios (13) z97_classified_bios (14) z97_classified_bios (15) z97_classified_bios (16) z97_classified_bios (17)

Under the Boot tab, we have the typical set of options for configuring boot up behavior. The date/time settings are located here, as well as the option to control the onboard speaker.

Boot Tab

Boot Tab

Boot Tab

Boot Tab

The final tab to explore is the Save and Exit tab. In addition to the ability to save or discard any changes you made during the current session, you have the ability to flash the UEFI BIOS from here. Just put your BIOS file on a USB device, choose Select BIOS File, and navigate to it. You also have the option to save up to eight BIOS profiles and assign unique names to them.

Save and Exit Tab

Save and Exit Tab

Bundled Software/EVGA E-LEET Tuning

EVGA’s E-LEET desktop utility continues to evolve into a full featured desktop solution for overclocking, monitoring, and getting system information at a glance. The first three tabs provide information on the CPU, motherboard, and system memory in a CPU-Z like interface. There are two monitoring tabs that are loaded with real time information on voltages, temperatures, and fan speeds.

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The next two tabs are designed for overclocking from the desktop. From here, you can set the CPU multiplier, adjust the BCLK, and control the most important voltage settings needed for overclocking. Under the Processes tab, you’ll find the ability to customize the processor’s affinity options and assign hotkeys to your customizations. Basically, this is a way to increase performance of a specific application on demand. The Options tab is where you can save or load profiles and choose to have them load at system start-up. Flashing the UEFI BIOS is possible from here too; but given the option to perform this task in BIOS, I would recommend doing it from there.

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One other piece of software worth mentioning here is the Sound Blaster Pro Studio utility. This application gives you a fair amount of control over the audio capabilities. It provides a mixer, equalizer, and tweaks for gamers via CrystalVoice and Scout Mode.

Sound Blaster Pro Studio

Sound Blaster Pro Studio

Benchmarks and Overclocking

Test System

System Components
Motherboard EVGA Z97 Classified
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 EK-Supreme LTX Water Block – 360 mm Radiator – MCP35X Pump

Before we dive into the suite of benchmarks I typically run on motherboards, I always like to test for stability at stock and our 24/7 overclock setting. As I’ve done on all other Z97 motherboard reviews, I set the memory to 2400 MHz for all stability and benchmark testing. First, a quick 15 minute run of AIDA64’s System Stability Test, which passed without any issues. The 4.6 GHz overclock proved to be stable with the CPU voltage set to 1.35 V, and it too passed without issue.

AIDA64 @ Stock / 2400 MHz Memory

AIDA64 Stable @ Stock / 2400 MHz Memory

AIDA64 Stable @ 4.6GHz / 2400 MHz Memory

AIDA64 Stable @ 4.6GHz / 2400 MHz Memory

Compression, Rendering, and Video Conversion Benchmarks

Cinebench R10 – R11.5 – R15

Cinebench R10 @ Stock / 2400 MHz Memory

Cinebench R10 @ Stock / 2400 MHz Memory

Cinebench R10 @ 4.6 GHz / 2400 MHz Memory

Cinebench R10 @ 4.6 GHz / 2400 MHz Memory

Cinebench R11.5 @ Stock / 2400 MHz Memory

Cinebench R11.5 @ Stock / 2400 MHz Memory

Cinebench R11.5 @ 4.6 GHz / 2400 MHz Memory

Cinebench R11.5 @ 4.6 GHz / 2400 MHz Memory

Cinebench R15 @ Stock / 2400 MHz Memory

Cinebench R15 @ Stock / 2400 MHz Memory

Cinebench R15 @ 4.6 GHz / 2400 MHz Memory

Cinebench R15 @ 4.6 GHz / 2400 MHz Memory

x264 Pass 1 and 2

x264 @ Stock / 2400 MHz Memory

x264 @ Stock / 2400 MHz Memory

x264 @ 4.6 GHz / 2400 MHz Memory

x264 @ 4.6 GHz / 2400 MHz Memory

PoV Ray R3.73

PoV Ray 3.73 @ Stock / 2400 MHz Memory

PoV Ray 3.73 @ Stock / 2400 MHz Memory

PoV Ray 3.73 @ 4.6 GHz / 2400 MHz Memory

PoV Ray 3.73 @ 4.6 GHz / 2400 MHz Memory

7-Zip Compression Benchmark

7Zip @ Stock / 2400 MHz Memory

7Zip @ Stock / 2400 MHz Memory

evga_z97_classified (77)

7Zip @ 4.6 GHz / 2400 MHz Memory

2D Benchmarks

Wprime 32M and 1024M

wPrime 32M/1024M @ Stock / 2400 MHz Memory

wPrime 32M/1024M @ Stock / 2400 MHz Memory

wPrime @ 4.6 GHz / 2400 MHz Memory

wPrime @ 4.6 GHz / 2400 MHz Memory

SuperPi 1M and 32M

SuperPi 1M @ Stock / 2400 MHz Memory

SuperPi 1M @ Stock / 2400 MHz Memory

SuperPi 1M @ 4.6 GHz / 2400 MHz Memory

SuperPi 1M @ 4.6 GHz / 2400 MHz Memory

SuperPi 32M @ Stock / 2400 Mhz Memory

SuperPi 32M @ Stock / 2400 Mhz Memory

SuperPi 32M @ 4.6 GHz / 2400 MHz Memory

SuperPi 32M @ 4.6 GHz / 2400 MHz Memory

Memory Benchmarks

Aida64 Cache & Memory

Cache & Memory @ Stock / 2400 MHz Memory

Cache & Mem @ Stock / 2400 MHz Memory

Cache & Memory @ 4.6 GHz / 2400 MHz Memory

Cache & Mem @ 4.6 GHz / 2400 MHz Memory

MaxxMEM

MaxxMEM @ Stock / 2400 MHz Memory

MaxxMEM @ Stock / 2400 MHz Memory

MaxxMEM @ 4.6 GHz / 2400 MHz Memory

MaxxMEM @ 4.6 GHz / 2400 MHz Memory

Intel XTU

Intel XTU @ Stock / 2400 MHz Memory

Intel XTU @ Stock / 2400 MHz Memory

Intel XTY @ 4.6 GHZ / 2400 MHz Memory

Intel XTY @ 4.6 GHZ / 2400 MHz Memory

Just as I expected, the difference between the Z97 Classified and the other Z87/Z97 motherboards I’ve reviewed was minimal at best. It was a little better at some benchmarks and a little behind in others, but certainly all were well within the margin of error. Something worth noting is that I never had to raise the voltage past 1.35 V in order to complete the entire run of benchmarks when overclocked to 4.6 GHz. While all the other motherboards passed the stability test at 1.35 V too, I usually had to bump the voltage a notch or two in order to complete some of the tougher benchmarks on the other boards I’ve reviewed. Excellent showing by the EVGA Z97 Classified in both the overclocking and performance arena.

Pushing the Limits

As is typical with the i7 4770K I have, 4.8 GHz is about all I can get from it and complete a run of wPrime 32M and SuperPi 1M. However, the Z97 Classified allowed me to keep the memory at 2400 MHz and get to 4.8 GHz… something only one other motherboard has been able to accomplish so far. Color me impressed with the overclocking ability of this motherboard.

SuperPi 1M @ 4.8 GHz / 2400 MHz Memory

SuperPi 1M @ 4.8 GHz / 2400 MHz Memory

wPrime 32M @ 4.8 GHz / 2400 MHz Memory

wPrime 32M @ 4.8 GHz / 2400 MHz Memory

 

Conclusion

EVGA has brought an attractive option to the increasingly crowded Z97 motherboard market with its release of the Z97 Classified. Being one of only a handful of Z97 motherboards supporting 4-way SLI/CrossfireX, it’s sure to please the enthusiast looking for unparallelled gaming performance. If you’re an overclocking enthusiast, you’ll find the Z97 Classified eager to please with its host of overclocking friendly features. The new-look UEFI BIOS provides all the options needed to get the most from your CPU and memory, all in an easy to navigate and well laid out interface. While I didn’t spend days on end dissecting every setting in the UEFI BIOS, I found it to work extremely well right out of the box.

EVGA chose to improve the class of onboard audio and LAN by using a Creative audio solution and dual Intel NICs. This should be a welcome sight to those who have grown tired of the Realtek and Marvell solutions so prevalent on other competing motherboards. In fact, EVGA used the bare minimum of third party controllers on this motherboard. Other than the Marvell controllers used for the two additional SATA ports and mPCIe/mSATA feature, everything else is native to the Z97 chipset.

The EVGA Z97 Classified is available at Newegg for $379, which is precisely where EVGA usually prices their Classified motherboards. Competing motherboards in this price range spend the money a little differently than EVGA by adding a few onboard goodies. EVGA, on the other hand, opted for a rich assortment of accessories like the Probe It belt, I/O cover, and several SLI bridges, just to name a few. Suffice to say, I think the price is about right for everything you get.

From aesthetics to performance, EVGA seems to have checked all the right boxes with the Z97 Classified. If you’re considering a jump into the Z97 platform, you’ll definitely want to keep this motherboard on your shortlist. It’s an easy call this time around, Overclockers approved!

Overclockers_clear_approvedClick the stamp for an explanation of what this means.

Dino DeCesari (Lvcoyote)

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Discussion
  1. Thanks for a excellent review Dino, so looking at the review would i be correct if you where to use PCI-E Lanes 2 + 4! To get the full x 16 + x 16 as i see it any other Combo gives just x 8 + x 8 even thou its not too much of a difference. :shrug:
    Also i like the idea of the PCI-E Lane switches, and having a black Mobo already that's a nice touch for a change as well. :thup:
    AJ.
    Depends on testing as to how that works out better... remember, there is a PLX chip in the middle of all that creating 'new' PCIe lanes which adds a bit of latency. Its not really noticeable though (2 cards). Here is something I just dug up that may clear the air...
    - In single GPU mode, if the GPU is put into a PLX managed slot, we lose <0.5% performance
    - In dual GPU mode, there is essentially no difference to PLX/non-PLX
    - In tri GPU mode, we see gains using the PLX – from 2-10% over non-PLX motherboards

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/7209/msi-z87-xpower-review-our-first-z87-with-plx8747/8
    Also i like the idea of the PCI-E Lane switches
    Why is that?
    Doesn't make a difference unless there are cards in those lanes that you want to disable.
    If nothing is plugged into them they aren't consuming any resources anyway.
    It can be useful benching multi-card though, or for people with SLI/CFX water cooling setups that want to bench one card.