ASUS Z97M-Plus BoardView | ASUS Z97M-Plus Schematic Circuit Diagram | ASUS Z97M-Plus Review
ASUS Z97M-Plus Motherboard Review
Without any flashy colors, the Z97M Plus looks a bit more pedestrian than the last few boards that come here. To describe the color of the motherboard, only the VRM and CPU heat sinks are colored gold, and another whole motherboard is colored black/gray. The board topology is quite straightforward, though Asus throws out some extra things. They're connected by an 8-pin EPS power jack, two 4-pin fan headers, and a three-position GPU boost switch that can overclock or release the CPU and GPU, CPU, and BCLK. Based on core usage with this board and CPU, position one sets a tiered CPU multiplier of 46, 45, and 44. Set a hard CPU multiplier of 36 and a 125 MHz BCLK in position two for a 4.5 GHz overclock. VCore was left on automatic in both places, reaching 1.328V and 1.298V, respectively. The GPU was impacted by either. However, today's dynamic GPU clocks and fan management technology are integrated into most of the current Asus motherboards.
The most useful feature is the MemOK button in the top right corner. The board performs a series of self-tests on the RAM to determine which settings are compatible when you push and hold the button. It's a useful function for recovering from excessive overclocking and determining the lower limits of your RAM. Along with the PCIe slots, the RAM slots have a fixed lock on the bottom side. This should be a must on any mATX board because it makes removing RAM modules considerably easier when a GPU is installed in the top slot. The RAM slots on ASRock boards are a little closer to the CPU socket. If you want to use the first RAM slot in this motherboard, be aware that it may come into contact with the CPU cooler fan.
The 24-pin ATX power connector, six SATA ports, and the USB 3.0 header are all found on the front side, immediately behind the SATA jacks. Although ports three through six are forward-facing, the first and second SATA ports are not. I don't see why Asus would do this, especially when ports 1 and 2 are the most frequently used. The bottom right corner has a socketed BIOS chip.
Above the first PCIe slot are a second 4-pin fan header and M.2 socket for expansion cards. This position is preferred because it keeps the SSD away from the GPU's waste heat. The Plus supports both SATA and PCIe modes, as well as 60mm and 80mm drives. The M.2 slot shares lanes with the bottom PCIe slot and SATA ports five and six, depending on the operation mode. In terms of PCIe, the Plus comes with two 16x slots. The top is grey to distinguish the 3.0 x16 from the 2.0 x4 on the bottom. Two legacy PCI slots are located between them. The normal variety of headers may be found around the board's bottom edge. From left to right, HD audio, parallel, TPM, and SP/PDIF requires an additional break-out card, three USB 2.0, clean CMOS, and the front panel.
In comparison to the OCF, the back I/O panel is a touch lacking. A PS/2 port for a keyboard is still available, but there are only two USB 2.0 ports for accessories. VGA, DVI-D, and HDMI all have the same video. There are four USB 3.0 connections on the Plus, but no eSATA port. Networking is handled by an Intel I218-V gigabit controller. You receive one extra 3.5mm jack instead of a TOSLINK jack, for a total of six, which isn't a bad thing. Real-time 5.1 encoding using Dolby Digital Live and DTS-Connect isn't possible because the Plus's audio is handled by an ALC887 chip. That means no 5.1 audio in the game. Only pre-encoded streams, such as movies, provide 5.1 audio over this board. While some older HTPCs may still use fiber optic audio cords, I have to believe that anyone designing one nowadays will use HDMI.
The package's contents are almost identical to those of the other mATX boards. The package includes a setup CD, two SATA cables, a backplate shield, and an instruction booklet. The SATA wires are on the shorter side at 16 inches (40.5 cm). My earlier gripe remains valid: a Z board should include four SATA cables. Like the OCF, it's partially excusable because an M.2 slot doesn't require any wires.