Best Budget Z87 and Z97 PC Gaming Motherboards 2018

Updated on January 5, 2018
A Haswell Z87 or Z97 system is still a good way to get the most value out of your hard earned dollars.
A Haswell Z87 or Z97 system is still a good way to get the most value out of your hard earned dollars.

While Skylake and Kaby Lake Intel processors may now be on the market, there are still a lot of things to like about Haswell-based systems. This is especially true if you can find a good processor and motherboard on a budget.

I recently put together a Haswell-based system with a used i5-4690k and an inexpensive new Z97 motherboard from MSI (PC Mate). The total cost for the motherboard and CPU combo was under $250. For nearly that same price on a Skylake or Kaby Lake system, I could only get the processor.

For the graphics card, I went with a GTX 1070. The Haswell system stayed within 5% of the performance framerate in games when compared to my more modern PC. Overclocked, the performance differential was negligible.

Ultimately, this means that you can save quite a bit of money going with a Haswell-based system. If you're headed that direction, here are a few things you should know about motherboards for the platform along with my favorite picks.

Alternatively, you could go with a good AM4 motherboard if you prefer a Ryzen system.

Z87 vs Z97 - What's the Difference?

 
Z87
z97
Supports Haswell Refresh
Some, with a BIOS update
Yes
Supports 5th Gen Broadwell
No
Yes
SATA Express
No
Yes
M.2
No
1x2
Graphics Support
1x16 or 2x8 or 1x8+2x4
1x16 or 2x8 or 1x8+2x4
CPU Overclocking
Yes
Yes
Mem/DIMMS Per Channel
2/2
2/2
Intel RST12
Yes
Yes
Total SATA 6GB/s
6
6
Smart Response Tech.
Yes
Yes
Socket Type
1150
1150
Ram Speed
1600Mhz
1600Mhz

As you can see the Z87 and Z97 motherboards are largely the same except for SATA Express, M.2, and future 5th generation Broadwell support.

What is SATA Express?

SATA Express is basically just SATA 3.2. It gives you a way to utilize PCI Express over a cable to a separate drive for transferring data. This gives you lower latency and ultimately gives you a bit more snappiness for your data. As of right now, this is useful really to those who will need the most out of their solid state drives as it breaks the 6Gb/s data transfer barriers we had with SATA 3 and allows you to achieve 1GB/s to 4GB/s speeds (up to 8 times faster).

As of right now, this is useful really to those who will need the most out of their solid state drives as it breaks the 6Gb/s (600MB/s) data transfer barriers we had with SATA 3 and allows you to achieve 1GB/s to 4GB/s speeds (nearly 7 times faster than SATA 3).The only problem? SATA Express SSDs aren't readily available yet.

What is M.2?

M.2 is a new form factor of storage which can provide 40% or more increased bandwidth through m.2 solid state drives.

5 Top Rated Z87 and Z97 Haswell Motherboards

If you're going with an older Haswell board should you go with a new Z97 motherboard or Z87? Right now, that depends a lot upon inventory. In the past, Z87 boards were regularly available. Now, it seems difficult to find a new one without a huge markup in price.

Ultimately, you'll want to go with a decent motherboard that is still available for a reasonable price.

If I had my choice, I'd go with one of the Asus Z87 or Z97 pro models. These have great reliability and arejampacked with features. Unfortunately, they are difficult to find these days. As an alternative, you could also look at the Z97-PRO Gamer edition. It's still regularly available and compatible with Haswell or Haswell refresh processors.

Asus Motherboard Z97-PRO GAMER Ci7 i5 i3 S1150 Z97 PCIE DDR3 SATA ATX Retail
Asus Motherboard Z97-PRO GAMER Ci7 i5 i3 S1150 Z97 PCIE DDR3 SATA ATX Retail

If the Asus Z87 and Z97 Pro aren't available, take a look at the Z97 PRO Gamer. It's an inexpensive option at $150 and is a great overclocker.

 

If you're able to find a standard Asus Z87 or Z97 pro motherboard for a decent price here's a table that makes it easy to see the difference in features between the two.

Z87 PRO vs Z97 PRO Wi-Fi ac

 
Z87-Pro
Z97-PRO Wi-Fi ac
Memory Slots
4x240
4x240
DDR3
up to 32GB 3000 OC
up to 32GB 3200 OC
Expansion Slots
2(x16 or dual x8), 1(x4 mode), 4 x PCI Express x1
2 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (Single at x16, dual at x8/x8), 1 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (x4 mode), 4 x PCIe 2.0 x1 *2
Storage
6 x SATA 6Gb/s by Intel Z87, 2 x SATA 6Gb/s by ASMedia ASM1061
4 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), gray, by Intel Z97 chipset, 2 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), blackwith M key, 1 x SATA Express port, compatible with 2 x SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports, 1 x M.2 Socket 3, with M Key, type 2260/2280
Audio
8 Channel Realtek ALC1150
8 Channel Realtek ALC1150
Lan Chipset / Speed
Intel I217-V, 10/100/1000Mbps
Intel I218V, 10/100/1000Mbps
Wireless
WiFi IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n supports dual frequency band 2.4/5 GHz
Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth
Bluetooth 4.0
Bluetooth 4.0
Ports
1 x PS/2, D-Sub + DVI, 1 x HDMI, 1 DisplayPort, 6 x USB 3.0, 1 x optical, 6 audio
1 x PS/2, D-Sub, DVI-D, 1 x HDMI, 1 DisplayPort, 1X Lan RJ45, 2 x USB 3.1, 2 x usb 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0, 1 x optical, 6 audio
Features
Dual Intelligent Processors 4, 4-Way Optimization, Wi-Fi Go!, Fan Xpert2
USB 3.1, SATA Express, M.2, 5-Way Optimization Dual Intelligent Processors 5, Asus HomeCloud, AI Suite 3, AI Charger+
Warranty Parts and Labor
3 Years
3 Years

Z97 Sabertooth

If you're looking for a rugged option, I like the Asus Z97 Sabertooth. It's a great overclocker with just about all the features you'll need.

One of its key features is its extensive thermal management hardware software. Nine temperature sensors are integrated into the motherboard with three more probes.

Overall, if you're looking at this motherboard you're looking for something that's reliable and sturdy. All of the Tuf features, including Thermal Armor, Thermal Radar 2, Dust Defenders, and components, make for a product that should last you many years to come.

Picture: Z97 Sabertooth (Left) and Z87 Sabertooth (Right)
Picture: Z97 Sabertooth (Left) and Z87 Sabertooth (Right)
Motherboard
Z87 Sabertooth
Z97 Sabertooth
Memory
4x240, up to 32GB DDR3 1866
4x240, up to 32GB DDR3 1866
Expansion
2(x16 or dual x8), 1(running at x4), 3 x PCI Express x1
2 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (Single at x16, dual at x8/x8), 1 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (max at x4 mode, black), 3 x PCI Express x 1
Storage Devices
6 x SATA 6Gb/s support by Intel Z87, 2 x SATA 6Gb/s support by ASMedia ASM1061
6 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), brown
Audio
Realtek ALC 1150 8 Channel
Realtek ALC 1150 8 Channel
LAN Chipset
Intel I217-V
Intel I218V 10/100/1000Mbps
Ports
1 x HDMI, 1 x DisplayPort, 4 x USB 3.0, 4 x USB 2.0, 2 x eSATA 6Gb/s, 1 x Optical, 6 Audio Ports
1 x DisplayPort, 1 x HDMI, 1 x RJ45, 1 x Optical, 4 x USB 3.0, 4 x USB 2.0, 5 Audio Ports
USB
2 x USB 3.0 + 4 x USB 2.0
2 x USB 3.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 4 USB 3.0 port(s) (19-pin), 2 x USB 2.0 connector(s) support(s) additional 4 USB 2.0 port(s)
Features
Ultimate Cool! Thermal Solution, TUF Thermal Armor, TUF Thermal Radar 2, TUF Fortifier, TUF Engine!, MemOK!,
TUF Ice, Thermal Radar 2, TUF ATX, Server-grade Tests, ESD Anti Surge, Ultimate Cool!, MemOK!, AI Suite 3, AI Charger+
Warranty
5 Years
5 Years

Asus Hero VI and Hero VII

If you're wondering why I'm mentioning 3 straight Asus boards, it's mainly because Asus led the Z87 compatibility push for Devil's Canyon and makes it very easy to upgrade.

Like the motherboards above, the Asus Hero VI and Hero VII are in much of the same boat. I've seen the Hero VI go for cheap when it's available, but it can be hard to find. Right now, prices have stabilized a bit, but it's still available for some PC vendors on Amazon.

Why go with the Hero version of this motherboard? It's a lot cheaper than the top-of-the-line enthusiast boards but still offers nearly the same overclocking and features. So, why spend $400 when you can spend $150 to $200 for nearly the same thing.

Other Z97 Motherboards to Consider Under $150

In the under $150 there're a few other Z97 boards you should consider. Specifically I like the Gigabyte GA-ZX-UD3H, the MSI Z97 Gaming 7, and the Asus Z97-A.

MSI PC Mate

As this platform is now a few years old, you can save a lot of money by going with something like MSI's Z97 PC Mate. A budget motherboard, at around $90, it's still a reliable overclocker with plenty of features for most users.

Features include SLI or Crossfire compatibility, OC genie 4 for fast overclocking, click BIOS 4 for easy tuning, 4k UHD support, USB 3.1 superspeed, and fast book technology. Ports include a PS/2, VGA, DVI-D, HDMI, RJ45, 2x USB 3.0, 4 x USB 2.0, 1 x 3 in 1 audio jacks, and 8 channel Realtek 8111G audio.

Final Thoughts

Ok, that's all for my picks right now. Hopefully, I've helped you decide whether you want to stick with a budget Z87 board or go with a Z97 board that's compatible with a few new features.

Want to go with a newer board? Check out our review of the best Z270 Chipset gaming motherboards under $200.

Z87 or Z97 Chipset Interactive Poll

Which are you going with?

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Questions & Answers

    © 2013 Brandon Hart

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