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[Review] Asus Sabertooth Z97 Mark 1 Motherboard

rajan1311

Padawan
Introduction :

Asus has been producing TUF series of boards for a while now and the latest in that series is the Sabertooth Z97 Mark 1 motherboard. Asus has done well in improving the reliability and bring unique features for cooling and monitoring with the TUF series and have take it a step further with the Sabertooth Z97 Mark 1. Like other boards in this series, the Mark 1 also comes with 5 years warranty.

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In this review, we will try to explore and understand all these new features and do a quantitative analysis of whatever possible. Here is a quick look at some of the features of this board :
  • Support for the new 4th and 5th gen Intel processors
  • TUF ICe
  • Asus Thermal Armour
  • Thermal Radar 2
  • TUF Fortifier
  • TUF MOSFETs, new Alloy Chokes and TUF 10k Ti Caps
  • DIGI+ Power control
  • Dual LAN
  • Native SATA Express
  • DisplayPort 1.2 Connectivity
  • TUF Audio design
  • 5 year warranty
These are just some of the features, you can have a look at them all along with the specifications on their website : Asus Sabertooth Z97 Mark1 motherboard specifications

Package and Unboxing :

The board is packed in a fairly large box with the typical sabertooth branding and the TUF logo. Inside, there are 3 sections. On top you have the accessories such as the various slot covers and temperature sensors.

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Below that, you actually got the board safely wrapped in an anti static bag. Under which, there is another section with thing like the back panel, 2 sata cables, the 2 fans for the thermal armor, an SLI bridge, a TUF branded sticker and the standard manual, driver disc, accessories installation guide and a certificate of reliability, which basically talks about all the high quality components. Unlike a lot of things I have reviewed, this board has a really high number of accessories included !

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Above we see the package, but notice all those unusual accessories ? They are Dust defenders, which are basically to be used in unused slots so as to prevent dust build up and improve part life and temperatures.

Board Layout and Features (Part 1) :

Just like the older Sabertooth series, the mark 1 retains the 'military' look. I feel the colors have slightly changed and it is somewhat darker now. I don't have another board to compare with, so cant say for sure. Its a look that I had initially hated, but it slowly grew on me and now I love it. Its a refreshing change from the other pure black boards we get today.

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The most distinctive feature of this board is the Thermal Armour. The thinking behind the armour is to create a distinction between the hotter parts of the system , generally the CPU and graphics card from the board. With the included fans (1 x 40 mm and 1 x 35 mm) , you can control the airflow for the motherboard. Not only does the armour keep the board cooler, it also prevents dust build up, which over time helps keeping components cooler and thus increasing the life of the components. Here is the rear 40 mm intake fan. Asus has given a provision for placing an air filter on the rear IO panel so that should prevent any dust from getting in from here.

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There is another feature called Dust de-fan, which spins the above fan in the reverse direction. It aims to dislodge any dust settled in the VRM area. It should also reduce dust build up in the air filters. They have also added a new feature called Flow valves, which are vents above the MOSFET heatsink. You can choose to open or close them based on how you want to control air flow.

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Another new feature that Asus has added is the Fortifier backplate, which basically provides structural support to the board and practically remove the possibility of the board from flexing.

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The fortifier also acts as a sort of a heat sink. The part shown in the image which is below the MOSFETs has thermal pads on the other side for better contact and helps improve heat dissipation. I got to admit, the fortifier back plate is really useful and the board feels so much sturdier. The backplate has a large enough cut out so that it does not come in the way of your cooler installation. Also, if you have doubts with respect to installation, there are no issues and the fortifier does take some extra space, but no issues with motherboard standoffs.

Board Layout and Features (Part 2) :

Now lets take a look under the hood and see what lies beneath the thermal armour. For removing the armour, you need to remove quite a lot of screws, but once that is done, both the fortifier and the armour come right off. Even without the armour, the board looks beautiful. The Mark 2 comes without the armour and would essentially look like this.

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Here we see the socket and the heatsinks that cover the MOSFETs. The chokes have a new design with increased surface area for better heat dissipation.

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Above the socket, we find 4 fan connectors and the 8 pin motherboard power connector. The right most fan connector (ASST FAN3) is for the 40 mm rear fan. The others can be used for CPU and Chassis fans. Since most of the air coolers these days provide the option of 2 fans, this is very convenient.

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Now moving to the edge towards the RAM slots, we find the main motherboard power connector and the MemOK! button, which basically helps you reset your memory profile in case then went wrong while you were overclocking or pretty much any memory compatibility issue which might cause the board to not POST. When this happens, the DRAM LED will glow and you need to press the MemOK! button for 3 seconds.

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Looking down the same edge, we see a lot of SATA ports here. There are 4 SATA 6GB/s ports, 1 SATA Express port and 2 more SATA 6GB/s using the ASMedia PCIe SATA controller (Beige). You also have a front USB 3.0 header.

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Here we find 2 more USB 2.0 connectors, 1 USB 3.0 connector, 3 4 pin fan headers, TPM connector, SPDIF header and thermal sensor headers.

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Moving on, we find the TUF 10K Ti Caps, which basically have higher tolerances and longer life. Next to it, we have the Realtek ALC 1150 chip and the proprietary TUF ICe chip, which is responsible for all the thermal monitoring and fan control.

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Finally, the rear IO panel. We have 4 USB 2.0 ports, 4 USB 3.0 ports, HDMI and DisplayPort video output, Dual LAN, 8 ch Audio and a clear/reset BIOS button.

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Software and BIOS :

Asus includes a fairly rich set of software tools along with the board such as Thermal Radar 2, EZUpdate, USB Charge+, USB Boost and a few other tools/Utilities. The main one being the Thermal Radar 2. The board has 9 temperature sensors and 3 external temperature senors, all of which can be monitored here. The first thing you can do is use the thermal tuning option, which will basically try to find a balance between fan speed and cooling. It will run your system at different loads and fan speeds and come up with a profile that is best suited for you.

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The fan control option basically gives you full control over all the fans connected to the motherboard. You can even have different load profiles so that you can maintain the right balance between temperature and fan noise.

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The BIOS that comes with the board is a UEFI bios. The look and feel is somewhat similar to that on other Asus boards. The BIOS has 2 modes, mainly the EZ Mode and the Advanced Mode. With the EZ Mode, you get the main information about the system on a single page and also some very simple tweaking options with EZ tuning.

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Switching to the Advanced Mode, you get a lot more options. The main menus are Ai Tweaker, which has most of the overclocking related options, Advanced, where you can control functions such as RAID , USB configuration, PCH configuration and so on. Since this is a TUF series board, you also get a monitoring tab, where you can monitor various temperatures and fan speeds. You can have a look at all of these by clicking on the tab images below.

Edit - Could not find a way to put thumbnail images, hence pointing to another site. Feel free to take the images from there and placing them here and remove the url.

BIOS screenshots and more

Overclocking and Performance :

So I generally don't see much point in running a lot of synthetic benchmark to test the motherboard, so for performance, I am just going to test the thermal performance be testing how effective the Asus Thermal Armour is. For overclocking, I went for maximum CPU frequency and maximum memory frequency. The system used was : Processor : Intel Core i7 4770k Motherboard : Asus Sabertooth Z97 Mark 1 RAM : 8GB Samsung 30nm Green RAM Graphics Card : ATI HD 4850 PSU : Corsair VX550 For overclocking, I first played around a bit with the LLC settings. Once that was fixed, I started overclocking. It was fairly easy to overclock on this board and I could manage 4847 MHz with a multiplier of 48 and BCLK clock at 101MHz. The system was very stable at these settings and I am sure I could have gone with a lower voltage to achieve this. Overall, I am very impressed with the overclocking of this board.

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Now coming to the memory, I used Samsung's 30nm LV green RAM, which has some pretty good overclocking potential. By default it runs at 1600MHz at 11CL at 1.35v. I increased the voltage to a safe 1.60v and started overclocking. I ended up with a pretty good overclock of 2400MHz at CL11. I tried reducing the timings but it would fail. Obviously, it is a limitation of the memory and not the motherboard, but we can see it is highly capable of it.

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Now coming to the performance of the thermal armour, I ran a quick stress test for 15 minutes and monitored the temperatures using the Thermal Radar 2 utility. I don't have controlled ambient temperatures so that might have affected the tests a little bit. The verdict is that the armour works, but I think a lot of it has to do with the fans. Also, since my tests were on an open bench, it is not an exact simulation of a general user environment and the armour would work better in a closed case.

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We see fairly good gains when it comes to the VCORE and the USB3.0 controller, all of which are near the rear of the board. Overall, worth having the armour given the multiple advantages.

The Verdict :

The Asus Sabertooth Z97 Mark 1 brings to the table a lot of innovative technologies which improve performance, reliability and durability. Over the last generation, there is not a lot that is new, but that is mainly the fault of the chipset, which does bring a lot of change. Overclocking on this board was just so easy, even though its not design to break world records, you will not be disappointed. I really liked the auto overclocking feature and how simple they made it for someone to overclock. High quality parts along with a 5 year warranty, this board has a lot going for it. As for pricing, it should retail for around Rs20,000, where it is slightly expensive but also has what it needs to demand that slightly higher price tag. Its a great board for someone who can afford it, I will give it a 9/10 for all the great features and the performance it provides.

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Jripper

Pro/An---tagonist xD
My word this is such a premium board. @_@ One day I shall have something like this. :3

Nice review btw. And great pictures.
 
OP
R

rajan1311

Padawan
Thanks guys, but sorry for the late reply, I had been busy.

Well I don't have any good headphones to really comment on it, not an audiophile for that matter, however I did find the find the volume to be much higher, so the amp is doing its job ;)
 
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