ECS Z97-Machine Review

Manufacturer: ECS
UK Price (as reviewed): £65.21 (inc VAT)
US Price (as reviewed): $101.99 (ex Tax)

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The four main motherboard manufacturers - Asus, ASRock, Gigabyte and MSI - do have a couple of smaller players snapping at their heels occasionally. Zotac, for example, has often dabbled with mini-ITX motherboards while Sapphire has also had its finger in the pie in recent years.

ECS is a longer-term motherboard manufacturer, but has traditionally been better known for budget offerings. The ECS Z97-Machine is a break from that norm, yet it still boasts a pretty tempting price tag for a Z97-based motherboard. At just £65, it's even a touch less expensive than ASRock's Z97 Pro 3, which until now is the cheapest Z97 board we've reviewed at £72.

Admitedly, ECS doesn't have much of a reputation in the enthusiast market, and a quick glance at the basic EFI, the product's web page and the fact that there's been no BIOS updates for the Z97-Machine at all since launch, does tend to raise a few eyebrows. However, at this price, you can't argue too much and elsewhere, the ECS Z97-Machine is very well-equipped indeed for its price tag.

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For starters, it has an M.2 port, which also supports up to 2280 (80mm) devices including most M.2 SSDs out there. This is something many of its larger, more expensive competitors have failed to offer. Sadly there's no SATA Express but there are also power and reset buttons and an LED POST code display - almost unheard of on a motherboard at this price.

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You also get an Intel I218-V Gigabit Ethernet port and while there's not much by way of isolated audio circuitry and your usual Realtek ALC1150 codec, there is at least an ESS SABRE32 ES9010K2M DAC, which ECS claims offers 116dB dynamic range. The rest of the specification is largely what you'd expect from a board at this price. There are only four SATA 6Gbps ports for example and this is actually two less than the Z97 chipset offers by default, and is fewer not only than the ASRock Z97 Pro 3, which offers 6, but also one less than Gigabyte's GA-Z97N-Gaming 5 mini-ITX motherboard, which offers five, although admittedly does cost a lot more.

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Layout is on the whole fairly good. Both the chipset and VRMs have decent enough heatsinks too, although the VRM heatsink in particular did get pretty toasty, even at stock speed, perhaps betraying a fairly basic power design of six phases and some pretty simple-looking circuitry and chokes too. However, even with no local airflow and using an all-in-one liquid cooler, the heatsink was only reported as being around 50°C using an IR temperature gun.

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A couple of strange issues did rear their heads though. We noticed that the PCB flexed quite a lot and on further inspection, it proved to be nearly half a millimeter thinner than your average 1.7mm PCB. The board would also only POST with the memory in the correct slots too, with two DIMMs needing slots two and four, while the DIMM slots themselves aren't spaced evenly, which is a little odd. There are three 1x PCI-E slots with one handily above the top graphics slot, as well as two 16x PCI-E slots that provide support for SLI and CrossFireX (at x8/x8 bandwdith).

Specifications

  • Chipset Intel Z97
  • Form factor ATX
  • CPU support LGA1150 compatible (Haswell, Haswell Refresh, Broadwell)
  • Memory support Dual-channel, 4 slots, max 32GB
  • Sound 8-channel Realtek ALC1150 Codec
  • Networking Intel I218V Gigabit Ethernet
  • Ports 4 x SATA 6Gbps via Intel Z97, 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, DVI, HDMI, VGA
  • Dimensions (mm) 305 x 220
  • Extras None

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