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There are a lot of budget Z97-based boards out there. A quick look at Newegg reveals nine different models from four manufacturers all under the $100 mark. Stretch the budget up to $120, and you've suddenly got twenty models from six players. There's a lot of competition in this space, and the presence of a cheap 'n cheerful overclocker like the Pentium Anniversary Edition makes the environment perfect for budget builds with serious oomph.

At $110.99, the Z97-P is Asus' least expensive Z97 board—but not the cheapest option on the market. It's obviously built to a price, with fewer features and more limited functionality than more upscale boards. Only four SATA ports are available, analog audio is limited to three jacks, there's no provision for multi-GPU configs, and the automatic overclocking isn't as smart as on Asus' higher-end boards. There are other little things, too, but the omissions don't amount to much in the context of a budget build. Are you really going to put two graphics cards into a rig based on a low-end board? What sort of realistic storage configuration for this class of system requires more than an M.2 slot and four SATA ports?

Despite cutbacks in other departments, Asus' excellent firmware survives the transition to the budget ranks remarkably unscathed. The UEFI delivers virtually the same experience as on higher-end boards. The same goes for Asus' top-notch AI Suite software, helping to justify the Z97-P's price premium over the cheapest Z97 fare.

It's also worth mentioning that the Z97-P keeps an eye towards the future. The M.2 slot supports both PCIe and SATA SSDs, flexibility that isn't found on all 9-series boards. Asus has already released updated firmware to support socketed Broadwell chips, as well.

If you're willing to pay a little more for next-gen storage support and Asus' excellent firmware and software, the Z97-P makes a good foundation for budget builds, especially if you're going to overclock a Pentium Anniversary Edition.

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