If there is one type of component which has a saturated market it is motherboards. Thinking back a generation or two of Intel chipsets we can remember one manufacturer having over twenty different models just on that one socket…TWENTY. Of course that means a wide selection of price and feature options for consumers. A similar thing is happening on the Z97 platform and mixed in with some craziness from various manufacturers are others which are much more focused in their board releases. On our test bench today is the Biostar Hi-Fi Z97WE which looks to deliver many of the features of the competition such as enhanced audio and M.2. support but at a more aggressive price point.
The Hi-Fi Z97WE
Biostar package their board in a box which displays some of the key feature information and give focus to the audio portions of the product in both design and name. Inside the box we find some documentation, software CD, cables and I/O shield.
Biostar use a black PCB on this model and the board uses socket 1150, with support for all recent processors including Devils Canyon/i7-4790K. For their key design aspects Biostar use a moistureproof glass fabric PCB and Low RDSOn Mosfets (P-Pack) make an appearance. They run cooler than traditional designs and also present is a 10phase power design along with the use of solid capacitors. Biostar also include ESD protection and use fuses on the USB ports to protect the system/devices. Then added to that we also get over voltage, over current and over temperature protection built in.
At the bottom left corner of the board we find our Crossfire compatible PCIe slots which run through 1x, 16x, 1x, 8x and beneath them two older PCI slots. The 16x slot is PCIe 3.0 spec to maximize the performance from recent graphics cards and like many recent boards Biostar add enhanced audio features to theirs. Our audio chipset is the Realtek ALC892, 110dB SNR 7.1 audio processor and it is covered by gold shielding and alongside that are Non-Polarized Electrolysis audio capacitors and this area of the board uses multi-layer PCB to isolate the audio signals and reduce interference. Biostar also use metal oxide film resistors and include an audio amplifier to assist in powering high end headphones. (We can also adjust gain in a Windows based utility).
Turning round to the drive connectors we find 6 SATA 6GB/s ports and also worthy of note in that area is the Debug LED and onboard power/reset buttons.
Further up the board we find our main power connector (24pin) which combines with the 8pin socket in the top left corner. A USB 3.0 front panel header is also present as are four memory slots, Dual Channel, 32GB and 2800MHz compatible. We also find the M.2 slot up in this area and it supports 42, 60 and 80mm length SSDs with 10GB/s bandwidth.
At the back panel our connectors start with PS/2 and 2x USB 2.0. VGA, DVI and HDMI(4K) are next up and 4x USB 3.0 sit beneath dual Realtek GB LAN ports (Load Balanced/Teaming with config software). Then it’s the 3.5mm audio ports which sit beside an optical audio connector.
Biostar use a UEFI/GUI BIOS on this board and provide all of the functionality we need to configure our board. The left of the screen gives a summary of the key aspects, the bottom allows us to change between screens and our overclocking/tweaking options are found in the O.N.E screen.
Biostar also provide a suite of software applications which allow us to manage audio, LAN and overclocking.
As we noted in the introduction to this review the choice of motherboards available to consumers is massive, even on the new Z97 platform. How have Biostar done in this crowded market? Pretty well actually. They have delivered a board which has good build quality and while it isn’t quite as stylish as some competitor models (something which can also be said of the BIOS/Software) the overall features are decent too.
We get enhanced audio, dual LAN, plenty of PCIe slots in a good arrangement and the new M.2. slot which enhances the performance available on SSDs. Memory support was also good with our DDR3-2666 modules running without issue and the new Devils Canyon/ i7-4790K ran fine also.
When we look at overclocking the board was able to hit the limit of our CPU sample at 4.9GHz on liquid cooling and it compared well with a higher priced Z97 alternative too. We also note that the features and performance were noticeably better than the 990FX platform which is AMDs competitor part. (Full performance figures can be found on page 2 of this article.)
So that brings us to value where the board retails for £99/ $125 which is very impressive for a Z97 board with this feature set. Therefore the Z97WE wins our Value Award.
Price: Ebuyer.com – £99.99