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Asus Z97-A motherboard

Asus Z97-A puts Intel's 9 Series chipset through its paces

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Review Here we are again. Another Intel chipset series sees the light of day – but at least this time there isn’t a new socket to contend with... Well, at the very high end there is, but that’s for the X99 Express coming later.

Intel 9 Series chipset overview

At launch there are two 9 series chipsets: the Z97 Express and the H97 Express. As with the previous 8 series chipsets, the new incarnations support the LGA1150 socketed CPUs.

The X99 Express, which is due some time in the second half of 2014, brings support for the upcoming 8-core Haswell-E CPU with the new LGA2011-3 socket and chipset supporting DDR4 memory, amongst other things.

So what’s new? To be honest not a lot – but what there is gives the platform a good degree of future proofing in both the storage and security areas. First up, and probably most importantly, the chipset supports M.2 and SATA Express formats using a PCI-E 2.0 x2 interface with the potential of up to 1GB/s bandwidth.

Intel 9 series chipset Z97 overview

Intel 9 series chipset Z97 overview

Although the capability for much higher bandwidths with PCI-E-based drives exist, on the Z97 Intel has only released two of the PCI-E lanes for this purpose. The new chipset doesn’t offer any more lanes than the 24 featured on the previous Z87 chipset, and of these 24 lanes, 16 PCI-E 3.0 lanes are reserved for the graphics under the control of the CPU. Using just two lanes means you can either use M.2 or SATA Express, but not both at the same time.

To go with the new forms of storage available is the latest version of Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology. Version 13 of RST brings support for PCI-E-based drives, as well as SATA-based drives, enabling hybrid storage solutions using hard drives and an M.2 SSD.

There are security upgrades in the shape of Intel device protection and boot guard technology – two things normally associated with business platforms. The 9-series also accommodates the faster Devil Canyon versions of the Haswell range of CPUs, which should be coming soon.

Intel 9 Series chipset H97 overview

The H97 has some significant differences over the Z97 alternative

The Z97 supports overclocking and multi-graphics card setups using either one slot at x16 speed, two slots at x8/x8 or three slots at x8/x4/x4, so it should allow two card SLI or three card CrossFire setups. The H97 has no overclocking support and only provides for a single graphics card slot. The H97 also handles Intel’s Small Business Advantage platform.

The first motherboard I’ve got my mitts on which is built around the new chipset is from Asus in the shape of the Z97-A, the company’s entry level into the world of the Z97 and the successor to the popular Z87-A.

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