Asus Z97i-Plus Review

Manufacturer: Asus
UK Price (As reviewed): £105.95 (inc VAT)
US Price (As reviewed): $159.99 (ex Tax)

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When Asus released its P8Z77-I Deluxe and finally entered the enthusiast mini-ITX scene a couple of years ago, small form factor fans needed to change their underpants. Here was a motherboard from the world's most popular manufacturer that finally catered for mini-ITX fans that weren't just content with building a small PC, but a powerful one too.

From there it made the move into ROG territory with the Impact and before you ask, yes we'll have a review of the Maximus VII Impact very soon. However, its Z77 and Z87 mainstream mini-ITX motherboards, aka the Z87i-Pro and aforementioned P8Z77-I Deluxe had one down side - they were expensive. The former retailed for around £150 although this did drop a little later in its life, but even so - this is a heck of a lot to pay for a non-ROG mini-ITX motherboard.

This is especially true when you consider the Impact usually retails for just a few notes more. Part of the reason was their exotic looking VRM daughterboards, which in the case of the P8Z77-I Deluxe helped it offer a 10-phase power design; it was a much better overclocker than many of its competitors, some of which even removed the ability to tweak the vcore.

With Z97 though, Asus has sought to fix the pricing in the face of stiffening competition below £120 and the result is that the latest motherboard in Asus's mainstream mini-ITX series costs just £106. This puts it in fairly favourable competition with the likes of Gigabyte's GA-Z97N-Gaming 5 along with MSI's offerings.

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So, it's good news for mini-ITX fans as below £120, there are now plenty of options. Despite its lower price tag, the Z97i-Plus doesn't skimp on features either. You may not be able to see an M.2 port on the top of the PCB but Asus has cleverly located it on the underside, and it supports the popular 80mm SSD standard too. There's also on-board 802.11ac WiFi, with an included magnetic antenna, although the digital power phases have reduced from 10 to six.

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An M.2 port poses something of an issue for mini-ITX motherboards as there's simply not space to include four SATA ports plus on-board WiFi too. As such, Gigabyte used a vertical riser for its WiFi card and while it had five SATA ports, it lacked M.2 as a result. It might be missing SATA Express, but the Z97i-Plus already boasts a handy set of features. Layout is reasonable, with the only issues being the 8-pin EPS12V connector being extremely close to the VRM heatsink and two of the SATA ports sitting inside the boundary of the two DIMM slots and 16x PCI-E slot, which could impact on cable tidying.

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Apart from this, we wouldn't change much although when it comes to other features, things are decidedly sparse. While there are three 3/4-pin fan headers, there's little else to aid you with cooling and overclocking. There are no on-board buttons - not even a CMOS clear button on the rear panel, although power and reset buttons are a rarity on most mini-ITX motherboards.

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You do, of course, get access to Asus's swathes of software features such as AI Suite 3 and Fan Xpert 3 and we can honestly say we can't remember the last time we saw a bad EFI (or BIOS) from Asus either. Of course, one final thing to be aware of is that with Z97 mini-ITX motherboards, you'll be limited to 16GB of RAM. This probably won't be an issue for the vast majority out there.

Specifications

  • Chipset Intel Z97
  • Form factor Mini-ITX
  • CPU support LGA1150 compatible (Haswell, Haswell Refresh, Broadwell)
  • Memory support Dual-channel, 2 slots, max 16GB
  • Sound 8-channel Realtek ALC892 Codec
  • Networking Intel I218V Gigabit LAN
  • Ports 4 x SATA 6Gbps via Intel Z97, 1 x M.2 (2260 & 2280 compatible), 6 x USB 3 (2 via header), 6 x USB 2 (2 via header), 1 x LAN, audio out, line in, mic, Optical S/PDIF out, HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI, VGA
  • Dimensions (mm) 170 x 170
  • Extras Desktop WiFi Dual Band Antenna

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