Mini-ITX was a hot topic in 2013 and that trend looks set to continue into 2014. What's particularly encouraging is the great choice now available of low-cost but still excellent motherboards and cases - the £90 MSI Z87I Pro and £65 BitFenix Prodigy being two perfect examples.
But, just as in any sector of the market there are also some superb premium models to lust after and one such device is the EVGA Z87 Stinger, a seriously special mini-ITX motherboard.
The Asus Maximus VI Impact was the first supercharged offering for this dinky formfactor and it proved to be truly excellent. Can the Stinger steal that performance crown?
At £174, this is one truly premium mini-ITX motherboard, so what exactly do you get for not far short of the price of three BitFenix Prodigy's?
At first glance, there's a heck of a lot less going on with the PCB than the Maximius VI Impact. There's no VRM daughterboard or other fancy gubbins such as the latter's mini PCI-E Combo II card or its discrete sound card. Its half-height mini PCI-E slot is vacant too, so there's no WiFi out of the box either and no option to use a full-height mSATA SSD.
The rest of the specification is more than up to scratch, thankfully, and in addition to four SATA 6Gbps ports powered by the Z87 chipset, there are eight USB ports on the rear panel, four of which are USB 3.0, plus a handy three 3/4-pin fan headers too. The layout is probably what leaps out as being particularly good, though. The sparse PCB combined with a superb placing of components makes the Z87 Stinger one of the easiest mini-ITX boards we've used.
Both power connectors are located right on the edge of the PCB as are all the fan headers and there's a lot of room around the CPU socket too - unlike the Maximus VI Impact, there's no daughterboard to contend with here. The SATA ports and USB 3.0 header are fairly well located too, and will likely just need to stretch over the DIMM slots to find your case and storage.
The Z87 Stinger clearly has overclocking on its mind too, with the full compliment of PCB-mounted tools - power and reset switches, an LED POST code readout, which also acts as a thermometer, plus an I/O-located CMOS clear switch. Increased concentration of gold in the CPU socket plus a 10-layer PCB are other features that EVGA claims will aid overclocking and heat dissipation - we can't physically test this but, in short, a 4.6GHz overclock with our Core i7-4770K is an average result, with anything above this meaning the board is rather special - you can see how we got on here later.
While there's no discrete sound card, EVGA has opted for a 6 Channel Creative Core3D Quad Core Audio Processor, and combined with an Intel Gigabit LAN controller, we don't imagine many people will be left wanting here, except maybe when it comes to the lack of bundled accessories. The only thing on offer here is a little piece of added eye-candy, by way of a removable black aluminium cover for the VRMs, which sports an EVGA Z87 logo - the board certainly looks better with it.
Chipset Intel Z87
CPU support LGA1150 compatible
Memory support 2 slots: max 32GB
Sound 6 Channel Creative Core3D
Networking Intel Gigabit LAN, Bluetooth
Ports 4 x SATA 6Gbps via Intel Z87, 6 x USB 3.0 (2 x via header), 6 x USB 2.0 ( 2 x via header), 1 x LAN, audio out, line in, mic, Optical S/PDIF out, HDMI, DisplayPort, eSATA, half-height mini PCI-E