by Binh Phan Duc
A basic, affordable board that covers most bases with surprising performance
The ASRock Z97 Pro3 is the cheapest board to appear in this Labs, being less than a quarter of the price of this month’s top-end contender. The lower price means its feature set lacks the sparkle of some of this month’s more expensive models, of course. There’s no dual graphics support, for instance, because there’s only one 16x PCI-E slot, and you don’t get any enthusiast-friendly extra such as LCD POST displays or on-board power buttons either.
However, this budget board ticks most of the boxes when it comes to standard features. Like every other board on test, it handles up to 32GB of DDR3 memory, and it has six fan headers, three of which include PWM control – the same number as ASRock’s more expensive boards. It has three 1x PCI-E and two PCI slots too – not good for graphics, but perfect for other expansion cards and legacy hardware. We were surprised but pleased by the inclusion of an additional PCI-E power socket though – a feature absent from most of the other boards on test.
The ASRock Z97 Pro3 also has six SATA 6Gpbs ports, although not surprisingly, there’s no support for lOGb/sec M.2orSATA Express, and it has a Gigabit Ethernet port too, but without the Killer hardware found on gaming products; however, in our testing, the Killer hardware doesn’t make much of a difference these days anyway. There’s a modest, but respectable, count of four USB 3 ports too, but its count of two USB 2 ports is a little low, with many other boards on test including four of these slower connections. There’s no optical S/PDIF, clear-CMOS button or eSATA either.
On the plus side, the ASRock Z97 Pro3 has a surprising amount of prowess when it comes to overclocking. It successfully maxed out our test chip to 4.8GHz (with a 1.27V vcore) – an amazing feat that no other budget board has ever achieved in our tests. It has a decent EFI system with loads of tweaking options, although it notably lacks Internet Flash and Dual BIOS, both of which are great inclusions on the other two ASRock boards.
The Pro3 is just 190mm wide too. which makes it the slimmest board on test. That would cause layout issues on a packed PCB, but the Pro3’s relatively light feature set means it isn’t too cramped – there’s a reasonable amount of room around the memory slots, CPU socket and VRM heatsink.
The SATA slots aren’t perpendicular, though, and the CMOS battery is right beneath the main PCI-E slot, so it will be blocked by even a single-slot graphics card.
Despite its low price and modest feature set, though, the ASRock Z97 Pro3 performed well in our gaming tests. Its star result came in Skyrim, where its minimum and average results of 98fps and 161fps were the best on test, sharing honours with other ASRock hardware. The ASRock Z97 Pro3 sat towards the top of our result tables in both Shogun benchmarks too, and maintained its good performance when overclocked – in this second set of tests, the Pro3 remained among the best performers.
The Pro3 also performed well in storage benchmarks, where its respective sequential read and write scores of 544MB/sec and 522MB/sec made it the fastest board in the Labs, albeit by a smalt margin. The Pro3 wasn’t as impressive in application benchmarks though. When running at stock speeds, its overall Media Benchmarks result of 2,462 sat mid-table, where it remained after we overclocked it too.
It isn’t exactly frugal when it comes to power consumption, either. When running at stock speeds, our rig’s load power draw of 137W was the highest on test, and its overclocked load draw of 196 W wasn’t far off this Labs’ greediest parts either.
The ASRock Z97 Pro3 might tack high-end frills, but it’s a solid board with all the basics, not to mention great overclocking headroom, for a bargain price. If you’re not bothered about dualgraphics, or getting the very fastest overclocked benchmark results, then this is a great motherboard for the money.