This isn’t the ASRock motherboard review I thought I’d be writing. We were intent on checking out one of the company’s ATX boards as part of our rolling coverage of Z87-based Haswell motherboards. Thus far, we’ve looked at trio of full-sized desktop offerings: Asus’ Z87-PRO, Gigabyte’s Z87X-UD3H, and MSI’s Z87-GD65 Gaming. Something comparable from ASRock was supposed to complete the set, but a Mini-ITX mobo arrived instead.
Normally, the imperfect match would upset my OCD tendency toward apples-to-apples comparisons. After reviewing three ATX boards in a row, though, I could use a change of pace. Yeah, I know—#FirstWorldHardwareReviewerProblems.
Besides, it’s not like the Z87E-ITX is outmatched. Despite fighting in a lighter weight class, it packs a heavy punch. The tiny circuit board boasts wicked-fast Wi-Fi, amplified audio, and extra expansion capacity. Overclocking options abound, and the firmware has the best fan speed controls we’ve ever seen. The question may not be whether this petite puppy can keep up with the big dogs, but why you’d ever want anything larger.
As its name implies, the Z87E-ITX is based on Intel’s flagship 8-series platform for Haswell CPUs. The Z87 platform controller hub chip handles all of the board’s I/O, along with the RAID and SSD caching support. It also unlocks the overclocking options available in K-series Haswell processors, including the CPU multiplier, base clock, and BCLK strap. Intel incorporates provisions for multi-card graphics configurations as part of the Z87 platform, as well, but the Z87E-ITX doesn’t have enough expansion slots to take advantage.
The single PCIe x16 slot is complemented by full-sized DIMM slots, allowing the Z87E-ITX to work with common desktop components. Getting desktop parts to cooperate with each other inside smaller Mini-ITX chassis can be trying, though. Since we can’t test every possible combination of parts, we’ve taken a handful of key measurements to give you a sense of where the socket sits relative to important landmarks.
Far too many Mini-ITX motherboards put the PCI Express slot right next to the CPU socket, making it difficult to combine expansion cards with larger, aftermarket coolers. That’s not an issue on the Z87E-ITX, whose socket is about as far away from the PCIe slot as possible.
The DIMM slots are relatively close to the socket, just like on every other Intel board we’ve seen over the past few years. Be careful when pairing taller memory modules with wider CPU coolers.
Clearance for memory modules and chassis scaffolding will probably be your biggest concerns when using larger CPU heatsinks. The only other onboard components around the socket are too short to get in the way.
Moving to Mini-ITX necessarily entails some sacrifices. There are only two DIMM slots rather than four, for example. PCI Express expansion is also limited to a single slot, at least on this side of the board. The Z87E-ITX hides a Mini-PCIe slot on the other side of the PCB. This secondary slot can be used for tiny PCIe devices or mSATA SSDs.
Six internal SATA ports add to the Z87E-ITX’s diverse array of storage options. There’s even an eSATA connector in the rear panel. The Z87 chipset only supports six 6Gbps SATA devices at a time, though.
On the USB front, the Z87 serves up six SuperSpeed connectors. Two of these are accessible via an internal header, while the remainder populates the I/O cluster.
The Z87E-ITX has a fairly standard array of peripheral connectors. Buried among them is something we don’t see all the time: a CMOS reset button. Hitting this external switch is much more convenient than popping open the system to access an internal jumper, especially within the shoebox-like confines of typical Mini-ITX cases.
Another nice touch is the S/PDIF audio output, which passes pristine digital bitstreams to compatible speakers and receivers. ASRock goes the extra mile by adding DTS Interactive support. The DTS tech encodes 5.1-channel audio in real time, allowing surround sound from games to be piped through the digital output. If you’re stuck with only two speakers, DTS Neo:PC software provides surround sound virtualization. You could also opt for the virtual surround algorithm embedded in the Realtek audio drivers.
The onboard codec is Realtek’s latest: the ALC1150. This chip boasts a higher SNR than Realtek’s 800-series codecs, and it’s paired with a Texas Instruments NE5532 amplifier powerful enough to drive headphones rated up to 600 O.
ASRock has loaded up on networking options, too. The Z87E-ITX’s wired Gigabit connection is handled by an Intel chip, while 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 are supplied by an AzureWave Mini PCIe card. Built-in support for the latest Wi-Fi standard is a nice bonus given the board’s limited expansion capacity—and given its suitability for home-theater PCs that may not have an RJ45 jack within reach. The antenna is reasonably discreet, and it has a long enough leash to be positioned for maximum signal strength.
Old-school firmware learns new tricks
With a brown circuit board and gold accents, the Z87E-ITX gives off a bit of a retro vibe. The firmware has an old-school feel, too. It’s arranged much like a traditional BIOS, just with slightly improved graphics and mouse support.
This may not be the prettiest firmware interface, but it gets the job done. The mouse tracking is smooth, the menu transitions are quick, and navigating is a breeze. The only break in fluidity appears in the background image, whose flickering star animation stutters visibly. A static backdrop would have been a better choice.
As on all the other Z87 boards we’ve tested, the firmware is bursting with overclocking and tweaking controls. You’ll probably only ever touch a small fraction of them. Everything is laid out logically, and most values can be entered directly using the keyboard. Mouse-centric UI elements are few and far between, though.
We can add ASRock to the list of motherboard makers sneakily increasing Turbo multipliers, but an asterisk is warranted. The Z87E-ITX shipped to us with firmware revision 1.21a, whose defaults effectively overclocked the CPU by 200MHz. Instead of observing the Core i7-4770K’s prescribed Turbo speeds, which call for 3.9GHz with one- and two-core loads, 3.8GHz with three-core loads, and 3.7GHz with all-core loads, the firmware kicked the CPU up to 3.9GHz regardless of the number of active cores. This configuration is out of spec, according to Intel, and it’ll void your CPU warranty.
Before putting the board through its paces, we discovered that a newer 1.4 firmware had been released online. That revision backs off on the illicit Turbo boosting, disabling the multi-core “enhancement” feature by default. We’re happy to see that ASRock has changed its tune, but we wish the board came that way in the first place.
I’ve been trumpeting the importance of firmware-based fan speed controls for what seems like an eternity, and perhaps someone at ASRock has been listening. The Z87E-ITX’s fan speed controls are the best I’ve seen incorporated into motherboard firmware.
The CPU and system fan each offer multiple presets in addition to a configurable profile—nothing we haven’t seen already. What’s new here is the degree of control over the custom profiles. Most motherboards let users adjust the high and low fan speed and temperature thresholds for custom profiles. On the Z87E-ITX, temperature and speed values can be set for four points along the fan profile. Make that 4.5 points; users also have control over the “critical” temperature at which the fan kicks up to full speed. The profile’s minimum speed can be dropped to 0%, too, allowing the fans to spin down completely if temperatures are sufficiently low. To my knowledge, this is the first time such granular fan controls have been available outside a Windows-based utility.
Unlike the Windows-based software we’ve used, the firmware’s fan profiles can’t be manipulated by dragging points with the mouse. The values for each point are entered manually, and the illustration in the sidebar doesn’t reflect your settings. At least the values available for each point change to ensure that the curve maintains an upward trajectory. The foundation is excellent, but the interface could use some work.
ASRock loads the firmware with a few other goodies, including a visual system browser that displays details on connected components. There’s a guided tour that steps users through various functions, as well. I couldn’t bring myself to sit through the whole thing, but the few minutes I watched conveyed valuable information for newbies. The interface isn’t the most intuitive overall, so it makes sense to provide a little hand-holding for the uninitiated.
The integrated BIOS flashing utility is something that both newbies and experts alike should appreciate. As with most modern motherboards, new firmware can be loaded from USB-attached storage. On the Z87E-ITX, it can also be downloaded directly from ASRock’s servers without even leaving the firmware. A working Internet connection is required, of course, but that’s it. Firmware flashing doesn’t get any easier.
The firmware’s Internet connection is also used by a tech-support function that allows users to send configuration details directly to ASRock. Amusingly, the firmware makes a Ghostbusters reference when describing the feature. ASRock is apparently not without a sense of humor.
Tweaking in Windows
If you’d rather not poke around in the firmware, the Z87E-ITX ships with tuning software for Windows. The A-Tuning app is new, as far as I can tell, and it could use a little polish.
The interface is nice and clean, but the overclocking options are a little limited. There’s no way to adjust Turbo multipliers for different loads, for example; only an all-core option is provided. The app doesn’t support changing the BCLK strap, either. Sliders are available for the base clock and integrated graphics frequencies, though, and there’s no shortage of voltage options.
The Z87E-ITX offers both adaptive and override voltages. We’d recommend that most folks use the former, which applies extra juice only when the CPU kicks into Turbo mode. That should reduce unnecessary power consumption under load.
When running in adaptive mode, the CPU can request additional voltage on top of what’s set in the firmware. Motherboard makers tell us this power grab occurs only with stress testing loads like those found in Prime95. The only way to set a hard limit on the CPU voltage is to use the override mode, which is recommended for extreme overclocking.
ASRock’s software fan controls are even better than those in the firmware. They provide the same degree of granular control but add mouse-friendly graphs to the equation. Points on the curve can be dragged and dropped with ease.
As has become fashionable for the latest round of mobo tweaking software, the A-Tuning app also includes a fan calibrator. This function maps out the actual rotational speed, providing insight on how different spinners behave.
The system monitor built into A-Tuning software is pretty basic. All the essential variables are tracked in real time, but you only get a current snapshot. We’d rather see values graphed over time, preferably with a logging function that outputs standard CSV files.
We’ve seen RAM disk software bundled with a few different motherboards lately, and the Z87E-ITX is the latest one to join the club. I guess that’s cool, but I just don’t get the appeal. You’ll pay about $60 for 8GB of decent DDR3 these days. That works out to $7.50 per gigabyte, which is about eight times the per-gig price of the fastest SSDs. A RAM disk will technically be faster, but it will also be a lot smaller. Besides, modern SSDs are pretty quick already.
If you go the RAM disk route, the A-Tuning app provides a few handy features. Simple switches control whether the RAM disk is used for various cache and temporary files. There’s also an integrated backup routine that can preserve the contents of the drive through a reboot.
The Z87E-ITX can be overclocked several different ways, and we tried a few of them. For newbies, the most tempting method is invoking the auto-OC feature built into the A-Tuning software. This iterative auto-tuner steps up the CPU clock speed and tests stability along the way. It didn’t get very far with our Core i7-4770K, though. The system hard-locked at 4.1GHz, requiring a manual reboot. After that, it locked at 4GHz and then again at 3.9GHz. In the end, the auto-tuner settled on a disappointing 3.8GHz all-core speed, just 100MHz above stock.
Next, we turned our attention to the firmware, which features a collection of pre-baked overclocking profiles in 200MHz increments. Our system booted into Windows with the 4.8GHz preset, but it immediately started throttling under load. Even with our dual-fan Corsair H80 water cooler drawing heat away from the CPU, temperatures still spiked up to 95°C, causing the CPU to reduce its clock speed.
The 4.8GHz profile called for a CPU voltage of 1.42V, which is quite high for Haswell. The 4.6GHz preset demanded only 1.32V, and it cut CPU temperatures by 11°C. That was enough to keep throttling at bay and give us our highest stable speed.
Manual overclocking proved more difficult. On the Z87 motherboards we’ve tested from Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI, the CPU can be overclocked by doing little more than changing the Turbo multiplier and adjusting a few voltages. All the other settings can be left at their “auto” defaults, allowing the firmware to make adjustments as it sees fit.
On the Z87E-ITX, the auto settings don’t react particularly well to overclocking. We couldn’t even get the board to boot at a lowly 4GHz without setting the CPU voltage manually. 4.2GHz required flipping a bunch of separate switches, some related to power management and the CPU’s integrated VRM. We basically copied the changes made by the auto-OC presets. Those tweaks got us up to 4.6GHz before things went sideways again.
Surprisingly, our manually tuned 4.6GHz config wasn’t as stable as the preset one. We played with everything from power limits to load-line calibration, but we couldn’t get the manual setup to survive our stress test without throttling or spitting out a BSOD. We must have missed one of changes made by the auto preset.
We’ve hit similar speeds on other Z87 boards with much less fiddling, making the experience on the Z87E-ITX somewhat frustrating. Unless you really enjoy tweaking obscure firmware settings, you’re better off sticking with the presets.
Comparative performance testing is a big part of what we do here at TR. However, it’s been a while since motherboards have had a substantial impact on system performance. These days, application and gaming performance tends to be bottlenecked by the CPU and GPU. Adding an SSD can improve overall system responsiveness, and faster memory can provide a boost in some scenarios, but that’s about it. Thanks to increased platform integration, even peripheral performance is largely consistent from one mobo model to the next—and between different form factors.
There are rare exceptions to this general rule, and the only way to find them is to test motherboards exhaustively. We did so with the Z87E-ITX and full-sized Z87 boards from Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI. We also threw an Ivy Bridge-based Z77 board into the mix. We didn’t encounter any big surprises, though. The highlights of our findings are summarized below.
The first test we ran was Stream memory bandwidth. Right off the bat, the Z87E-ITX stumbled. Despite using the same Corsair DIMMs, DRAM frequency, and memory timings as the competition, the ASRock board pulled up a few GB/s short here. This result persisted after multiple reboots and even after re-imaging the system. However, it didn’t seem to affect performance in our other tests.
Despite its bandwidth disadvantage, the Z87E-ITX had no trouble keeping up in our application and gaming tests. The biggest differences here are between the Haswell boards and our lone Ivy Bridge representative.
Our peripheral performance tests make frequent use of a PCIe SSD, which required some juggling on the Z87E-ITX. Since the board has only one full-sized expansion slot, we had to remove the graphics card to make room for our RevoDrive 3 X2 SSD. All the peripheral testing for the Z87E-ITX was conducted with the RevoDrive installed and the integrated graphics powering the display.
Switching to the integrated graphics didn’t slow down the board at all. The Z87E-ITX had no problem matching the peripheral performance of its peers, as this smattering of results nicely illustrates.
If you’re running Windows 8 and have UASP-compliant USB gear, don’t bother with ASRock’s XFast USB software. It didn’t improve the performance of our UASP-enabled BlacX drive dock. The XFast app is meant for Windows 7, which lacks native UASP support, and for older USB devices that don’t support the SCSI-like protocol.
We tend to see somewhat wider performance differences between motherboards in our boot tests. Here, we test boards with and without their fast-boot options enabled.
The Z87E-ITX booted into Windows 8 quicker than any other motherboard we’ve tested—and by a couple of seconds at that. Mini-ITX mobos typically have fewer devices to initiate than their ATX counterparts, and I suspect that’s worth a second or two. We’ll have to test some other Mini-ITX Haswell boards to get a better sense of where the ASRock sits versus more direct competitors.
There’s usually some variance in power consumption between different mobos, especially when you’re dealing with different form factors. We measured power draw at the wall socket with our test system at idle, playing a 1080p YouTube video, and under a full load combining Cinebench rendering with the Unigine Valley demo.
When idling and playing YouTube video, our Z87E-ITX config drew about 10W less than the Asus and Gigabyte Z87 systems. The Asus was slightly more power-efficient when crunching our full system load, however.
Compared to its larger rivals, the Z87E-ITX has relatively low-key power circuitry feeding the CPU. The efficiency of that power delivery system appears to suffer under heavy loads.
That’s it for our performance highlights. If you’ve seen enough test results, feel free to skip ahead to the conclusion for our final thoughts on the Z87E-ITX. Otherwise, flip to the next page for the full motherboard specs, details on our system configuration, and all of our benchmark data.
Most of the essentials have been covered already, but here’s a complete list of the Z87E-ITX’s hardware specifications and vital firmware options.
|Platform||Intel Z87 Express, socket LGA1150|
|DIMM slots||2 DDR3, 16GB max|
|Expansion slots||1 PCIe 3.0 x16 via CPU
1 Mini PCIe/mSATA via Z87
|Storage I/O||6 SATA RAID 6Gbps via Z87
|Audio|| 8-channel HD via Realtek ALC1150
Texas Instruments TI-NE5532 headphone amp
|Wireless||Dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi via AzureWave AW-CE123H
Bluetooth 4.0 viaAzureWave AW-CE123H
1 PS/2 keyboard
4 USB 3.0 via Z87
2 USB 2.0 via Z87
1 eSATA via Z87
1 Gigabit Ethernet via Intel I217-V
1 analog front out
1 analog center out
1 analog rear out
1 analog mic in
1 digital S/PDIF output
|Overclocking||All-core Turbo multiplier: 37-120X
Per-core Turbo multiplier: 8-120X
CPU cache multiplier: 1-120X
BCLK ratio: 1, 1.25, 1.67, 2.5
DRAM clock: 800-4000MHz
CPU voltage: 0.8-2.0V
CPU offset voltage: 0.1-1.0V
CPU cache offset voltage: 0.1-1.0V
System agent offset voltage: 0.1-1.0V
Analog I/O offset voltage: 0.1-1.0V
Digital I/O offset voltage: 0.1-1.0V
Vcore external offset voltage: 0-0.4V
DRAM voltage: 1.165-1.8V
PCH 1.05 voltage: 0.997-1.322V
|Fan control||CPU, SYS: Silent, standard, performance, full-speed profiles
CPU, SYS: Four-point speed/temp profile
CPU, SYS: Full-speed temp threshold
All that’s squeezed into a Mini-ITX motherboard. Not bad, eh?
As a little bonus for everyone who didn’t skip ahead to the conclusion, here’s a shot of our test system. The Z87E-ITX looks almost comically small next to the graphics card, PSU, and water cooler.
Our testing methods
We used the following system configurations for testing.
|Processor||Intel Core i7-3700K 3.5GHz||Intel Core i7-4770K 3.5GHz|
|CPU cooler||Corsair H80|
|Motherboard||Asus P8Z77-V||Asus Z87-PRO||ASRock Z87E-ITX||Gigabyte Z87X-UD3H||MSI Z87-GD65 Gaming|
|Platform hub||Intel Z77 Express||Intel Z87 Express||Intel Z87 Express||Intel Z87 Express||Intel Z87 Express|
|Chipset drivers|| Chipset: 188.8.131.527
| Chipset: 184.108.40.2067
| Chipset: 220.127.116.117
| Chipset: 18.104.22.1687
| Chipset: 22.214.171.1247
|Audio||Realtek ALC892||Realtek ALC1150||Realtek ALC1150||Realtek ALC898||Realtek ALC1150|
|Memory size||16GB (2 DIMMs)|
|Memory type||Corsair Vengeance Pro Series DDR3 SDRAM at 1600MHz|
|Graphics||Asus GeForce GTX 680 DirectCU II with 320.18 drivers|
|Hard drive||Corsair Force Series GT 120GB
Samsung 830 Series 256GB
OCZ RevoDrive 3 X2 240GB
|Power Supply||Corsair AX850 850W|
|OS||Microsoft Windows 8 Enterprise x64|
Thanks to Intel, Corsair, Samsung, OCZ, and Asus for providing the hardware used in our test systems. We should also thank the motherboard makers for providing their products for review.
We used the following versions of our test applications:
- 7-Zip 9.20 64-bit
- TrueCrypt 7.1a
- Chrome 27.0.1453.94
- x264 r2334
- DiRT Showdown demo
- CrystalDiskMark 3.0.2f
- FRAPS 3.5.9
- TR RoboBench 0.1
- RightMark Audio Analyzer 6.2.5
- Cinebench 11.529
- Unigine Valley 1.0
Some further notes on our test methods:
- All testing was conducted with motherboard power-saving options enabled. These features can sometimes lead to slightly slower performance, particularly in peripheral tests that don’t cause the CPU to kick into high gear. We’d rather get a sense of motherboard performance with real-world configurations, though; we’re not as interested in comparing contrived setups with popular features disabled.
- DiRT Showdown was tested with ultra detail settings, 4X MSAA, and a 1920×1200 display resolution. We used Fraps to log a 60-second snippet of gameplay from the demo’s first race. To offset the fact that our gameplay sequence can’t be repeated exactly, we ran this test five times on each system.
- Power consumption was measured at the wall socket for the complete system, sans monitor and speakers, using a Watts Up Pro power meter. Our video playback load used this 1080p YouTube trailer for the movie Looper. The full-load test combined AIDA64’s CPU stress test with the Unigine Valley DirectX 11 demo running in a 1280×720 window.
- The Force GT 120GB SSD was used as the system drive for all tests. The Samsung 830 Series 256GB was connected as secondary storage to test Serial ATA and USB performance, the latter through a UASP-compatible Thermaltake BlacX 5G docking station. With RoboBench, we used the Samsung SSD as the source drive and the OCZ RevoDrive 3 X2 240GB as the destination for the read speed tests. Those roles were reversed for RoboBench’s write speed tests.
The Samsung/OCZ tag team also powered our Ethernet transfer tests. The RevoDrive served as the source and destination on the host system, while the 830 Series SSD performed those duties on the remote machine. That remote rig was based on an Asus P8P67 Deluxe motherboard with an Intel 82579 Gigabit Ethernet controller. The two systems were connected via a single Cat 6 Ethernet cable.
The Samsung and OCZ SSDs were secure-erased before each test that involved them. The Corsair drive was also wiped before we loaded our system image.
- Analog audio signal quality was tested using RMAA’s “loopback” test, which pipes front-channel output through the board’s line input. We tested with the boards idling and with a combined load consisting of Cinebench’s multithreaded rendering test, the Unigine Valley demo, and a CrystalDiskMark 4KB random I/O test running on the Samsung SSD attached via USB 3.0.
The tests and methods we employ are usually publicly available and reproducible. All tests were run at least three times, and we reported the median of those results. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.
All our systems used Corsair DIMMs running at 1600MHz with identical timings.
We tested the latest Kraken release, version 1.1, in Chrome 27.
TrueCrypt disk encryption
TrueCrypt’s AES algorithm benefits from acceleration via Intel’s AES-NI instructions, which are supported by our Ivy Bridge and Haswell CPUs. We’ve also included results for another algorithm, Twofish, that isn’t accelerated via dedicated instructions.
7-Zip file compression and decompression
The figures below were extracted from 7-Zip’s built-in benchmark.
x264 video encoding
We’ve devised a new x264 test, which involves one of the latest builds of the encoder with AVX2 support. To test, we encoded a one-minute, 1080p .m2ts video using the following options:
–profile high –preset medium –crf 18 –video-filter resize:1280,720 –force-cfr
The source video was obtained from a repository of stock videos on this website. We used the Samsung Earth from Above clip.
We busted out our Inside the second methods to testing gaming performance. While we aren’t showing all of our fancy latency graphs, we have included results for FPS and the 99th percentile frame time.
Here, we measured the boot time after a full system shutdown. We used a stopwatch to time each test and stopped the clock when “Start” first appeared on the Windows 8 Start screen. Each board was tested with and without its fast-boot options enabled, and we took full advantage of Win8-specific features when in fast-boot mode.
Remember what I said about motherboards not really affecting system performance? Yeah. Their biggest impact is on boot time, and even then, you’re only going to save a few seconds.
Serial ATA performance
TR developer extraordinaire Bruno “morphine” Ferreira created RoboBench, a scripted file copy benchmark that relies on Windows’ built-in robocopy command to execute eight parallel file transfer threads. The movie file set contains eight similarly sized files totaling 5.6GB, while the mixed set has a diverse collection of 14,000 files that adds up to 10.6GB.
The Z87E-ITX doesn’t have enough real estate for an auxiliary SATA controller, and that doesn’t bother us one bit. Note how the ASMedia and Marvell chips on the other boards are all slower than the Z87’s native Serial ATA implementation.
Apart from a few outliers, all the USB 3.0 results are fairly close. The Z87E-ITX is just as fast as the ATX alternatives.
PCI Express performance
Nothing to see here. Move along.
The Z87E-ITX handled our networking tests with aplomb. We’d like to test wireless networking performance, but it’s difficult to get consistent results. We may have to look into setting up something special for future motherboard reviews. Wi-Fi is certainly appearing on more and more models.
Analog audio signal quality
RightMark Audio Analyzer grades analog signal quality on a scale between “very poor” and “excellent.” We’ve translated those values to a numerical scale that starts at low of one and peaks at six. Higher values are better.
Our first set of results was gathered with the systems idling (apart from the RMAA app, of course). The second batch is based on tests conducted with the system under a combined CPU, GPU, and USB load.
|RightMark Audio Analyzer audio quality at idle: 24-bit/192kHz|
|Frequency response||Noise level||Dynamic range||THD||THD + Noise||IMD + Noise||Stereo Crosstalk||IMD at 10kHz||Overall score|
|MSI Z87-GD65 Gaming||6||4||4||5||3||4||5||5||4|
|RightMark Audio Analyzer audio quality under load: 24-bit/192kHz|
|Frequency response||Noise level||Dynamic range||THD||THD + Noise||IMD + Noise||Stereo Crosstalk||IMD at 10kHz||Overall score|
|MSI Z87-GD65 Gaming||6||4||4||5||3||4||5||5||4|
The Z87E-ITX’s integrated audio has strong analog signal quality regardless of whether the system is idling or under load. Its performance in RMAA’s tests is comparable to that of ATX desktop boards, which is impressive given the cramped nature of the Mini-ITX form factor. The closer together everything is on the PCB, the greater the chance of interference.
If you’re really serious about audio quality, we’d recommend using the digital outputs or a USB audio device. You’ll probably want to run a graphics card in the Z87E-ITX’s only full-sized PCI Express slot, leaving no room for a discrete sound card.
The Z87E-ITX makes a pretty good case for ditching full-sized ATX motherboards in favor of smaller Mini-ITX models. You don’t give up any performance, and there’s plenty of expansion capacity onboard: six 6Gbps SATA ports and six USB 3.0 ports should be enough for just about anyone these days. Having only two memory slots won’t be a serious limitation for most folks, leaving PCIe connectivity as the only potential sticking point.
ASRock addresses that unavoidable limitation in two ways. First, it gives the Z87E-ITX an open Mini PCIe slot to accept smaller expansion cards and tiny SSDs. Second, it beefs up the integrated peripherals to make up for the fact that you’re pretty much stuck with them. The Gigabit Ethernet uses an Intel chip, the Wi-Fi is the latest 802.11ac revision, and the audio has an integrated headphone amp and a bunch of DTS tech.
You pay for those extras: the Z87E-ITX sells for $165, which is a good $25-30 more than Z87 Mini-ITX boards from Gigabyte and MSI. Those alternatives aren’t as well equipped, though. They can’t match the Z87E-ITX’s excellent firmware-based fan controls, either.
In addition to great fan options, the firmware has a slick auto-update feature and a snappy UI. That said, it has a few rough edges here and there. ASRock’s tweaking utility also feels unpolished next to the software bundled with rival boards.
The somewhat finicky nature of ASRock’s software and firmware make me hesitant to recommend the Z87E-ITX to newbies—the overall experience isn’t what I’d call user-friendly. However, the mix of hardware and features is spot-on for an enthusiast-grade Mini-ITX board. And, if you know what you’re doing, the firmware is powerful enough for serious system tuning. For discerning PC fans, this looks like the Mini-ITX Haswell board to beat.