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At $149.99 online, the Z97-A sits right in the sweet spot for enthusiast-oriented motherboards. It may not have all the bells and whistles found on pricier offerings, but it covers the essentials, and it does a good job of tapping into all of the goodness the Z97 chipset has to offer.

Like its 8-series predecessor, the Z97 unlocks overclocking support on K-series CPUs and the ability to split the processor's Gen3 PCIe lanes for CrossFire and SLI configs. The Z97-A takes advantage of both capabilities, and Asus' excellent firmware and software are particularly well-suited to overclocking. The board also exploits the Z97's support for M.2 PCIe SSDs and SATA Express devices. Drives built for those interfaces may be rare today, but more are on the way, and the Z97-A is ready for them.

Plenty of other motherboards use the same chipset, so the Z97-A's appeal largely rests on features that set it apart from the rest of the field. Firmware and software are high on that list. The UEFI includes a sensible mix of configuration wizards for newbies and advanced tweaking options for seasoned users. The whole interface feels polished, and the graphical fan controls are phenomenal. Those sentiments apply to Asus' AI Suite software, too. It has a slick UI, a good balance between automated and manual options, and even more extensive fan speed controls.

DTS Connect software isn't unique to the Z97-A or even to Asus motherboards, but it's still relatively rare, and it makes the digital audio output much more appealing for gamers. And then there are the little touches—the front-panel port blocks, the DirectKey boot-to-firmware feature, and the onboard temperature probe header—that make the Z97-A feel like a motherboard built by PC enthusiasts rather than just for them.

We're still in the early days of the 9-series generation, and I haven't spent enough time with the alternatives to have a definitive sense of how they stack up overall. But I have spent enough time with the Z97-A to know that it's a fantastic motherboard worthy of TR Recommended designation.TR

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