ASRock Z97M Pro4

ASRock Z97M Pro4
The ASRock Z97M Pro4 is roughly half the cost of the more expensive boards in this roundup. As such, it’d be unfair to expect the wealth of features found on the premium boards, but ASRock has a reputation for delivering surprising value in its a‚ ordable products. Can the Z97M Pro4 live up to this tradition?
Opening the box reveals a distinct lack of extras – there’s a manual, backplate and a couple of SATA cables. Compared to the overflowing boxes of goodies delivered with higher price tags, it’s a rather stark presentation. The same can’t be said of the front of the motherboard though, as ASRock appears to have put every square centimetre to use. Most obvious are the expansion slots, with a single PCIe 3.0 x16, another PCIe 2.0 x16, and twin PCI slots sitting between these. This presents a couple of issues; firstly, the lack of twin PCI-E 3.0 slots means no SLI support, though CrossFire is. The biggest issue though is the placement of the first PCI slot, which will be impossible to use if a GPU resides in the first PCI-E slot. Despite this, the Z97M Pro4 is the only board in our roundup to still include legacy PCI slots, which could be reason enough to choose this product for those with old PC products that they don’t want to shelve.
The onboard chipset cooling is extremely simple compared to other boards, with a couple of very basic aluminium heatsinks, but this isn’t likely to be an issue unless you’re into extreme overclocking. It should be possible to do a spot of simple overclocking though, and the maximum supported memory frequency of 3100MHz is very surprising for such a cheap contender.
As expected for this price point, the range of features isn’t going to set the world on fire, but it’s also not a long way o‚ boards twice the price. Six SATA 3.0 ports are plenty for most users, but you can forget about any M.2 or SATA Express connections. Six USB 3.0 ports sit alongside another six USB 2.0 ports, though you’ll obviously need to use USB headers for several of these, the same as every other microATX motherboard.
The onboard audio is based around Realtek’s older ALC892 codec, the same component found in the ASUS TUF Gryphon Z97 Armour Edition. ASRock claims that it has been improved with the use of ELNA capacitors, but we did notice a level of hiss that wasn’t present on more entertainment focused boards. A surprising inclusion, which is found on many of ASRock’s boards, is the Thunderbolt 2 header. This dedicated set of pins allows the installation of a Thunderbolt 2 add-on card, and there’s no mention of it knocking out any of the PCI-E/PCI slots if used. Note that this add-on card costs extra though, and we couldn’t seem to find any Australian retailers selling it yet, which makes it a bit of a non-feature. Intel’s zippy I218V Gigabit LAN connection is included and, like Asus, we see ASRock o‚ ering its own packetprioritisation software, ensuring the lowest possible ping for gamers.
Despite this board’s low price, the performance result from the PCMark 8 Home benchmark shows that cost doesn’t necessarily have to impact speed. It might have posted the lowest score of the bunch, but it was still within a percent or two of the fastest boards.
The ASRock Z97M Pro4 is a simple, no-frills kind of product. Built to the lowest possible cost, it lacks many of the features that high-end, performance users need. But that’s the point, as this motherboard is aimed at those who want a simple desktop or HTPC machine on the tightest possible budget. Considering it’s around half the price of the more expensive microATX boards, ASRock has managed to retain a decent amount of features, making this an excellent proposition for those who don’t have money to spare.

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