Monday, May 19, 2014

[Rant] Where are the highend mini-ITX boards from Asus with Z97 chipset?

Sadly, these were Z87 boards.

So, in my road to Mini-ITX series of posts, I'm now going to show my disappoint in Asus and their motherboard choices. Where are the high-end mini-ITX boards?

As the motherboards with the new Z97 chipset are available - even though the chipset itself doesn't provide anything substantial over its predecessor other than future proofing - it doesn't take a rocket engineer to figure out why one would want to go with a motherboard with the new chipset. Well, sometimes it is not so black and white. You might get a great deal on the older models. But as it is the end of the road for Z87 chipset, there is no argument there. Z97 is the way to go.

With the old chipset, Asus had a couple of killer mini-ITX motherboards - the Z87I-PRO and the ROG Maximus VI Impact. The latter was pretty much the best mini-ITX motherboard released to date by any manufacturer. Asus went overboard with the feature-set it offered and it required them to add four daughter boards because the mini-ITX board's dimensions were too restrictive. The two most important daughter boards were the VRM circuit and the sound card. The Z87I-PRO was similar but didn't have the sound card and the "ROG oomph". Still, it was a very good board for the money. In fact, now you can get it for as cheap as JPY 12,000 if you know where to look.

Now we have Z97 chipset but we only have one mini-ITX board from Asus. Z97I-PLUS. It is a good board nevertheless, but not as feature rich as the Z87I-PRO. It lacks the newer Realtek ALC1150 audio codec. Since you cannot plug in a add-in audio card to a mini-ITX motherboard because there is only one PCI-E slot and you want it for your video card, you would want to have a nice audio solution built in. What they have is the ALC892 codec which is inferior to not only ALC1150, but ALC898 as well.

And there is no information about a ROG board to replace the M6I. I'm sure Asus will be bringing one out because the M6I was very popular among the enthusiast SFF builder community. And there isn't anything even remotely close to that from any other manufacturer either. However, Asus took their time with the M6I so maybe they are taking time with the M7I as well. I certainly hope that it will be released at least by the time the new Devil's Canyon chips starting rolling out.

So, sadly, if I manage to get rid of my Silverstone Raven RV03 case - which I listed up on Rakuten Auctions a few days ago -  soon, I will have to either go with the Asus Z97I-PLUS or the ASRock Z97E-ITX boards. The latter has the ALC1150 codec but everything else is just like the Asus board. The Asus has a great UEFI solution. All the boards from the rest of the manufacturers are crap. They lack features. I really want to have M.2 port in there, because that's something in my upgrade list.

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