The second Asus board in this month’s test has a more palatable price of £106, bringing it within £4 of keen rivals from ASRock, Gigabyte and MSI. The lower price doesn’t mean an ugly board though. The black PCB contrasts well with the goldtinted heatsinks, and the circular spun-metal cooler that covers the chipset looks great. The Z97I’s layout is sensible. Three fan headers and the 8-pin power socket are clustered in the top-left corner, beside the modest heatsink, and two SATA 6Gbps ports are on the right edge, making them easy to access. Meanwhile, the single heatsink is tall but narrow, and keeps out of the way.
The right-hand side also houses the main power connector and most of the on-board headers, so the middle is surprisingly sparse – there are a couple more SATA ports, the Wi-Fi card and that’s it. It’s a great layout that makes PC building far easier than on rival boards such as the ASRock.
The price does mean high-end features are missing though. There are no on-board buttons, POST display or the game-friendly software features that define the Impact. There’s a 6+2 power phase design that can’t match the ten-phase designs available elsewhere too. Instead, Asus deploys a sensible, well-rounded specification. Connection options include dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and the quartet of SATA ports are complemented by a full-sized M.2 slot underneath, but there’s no SATA Express port.
Memory support extends to 16GB, and there are three fan headers – one more than the ASRock. There are no surprises on the rear I/O either, with four USB 3 and four USB 2 ports, a PS/2 port, an optical S/PDIF button and four display outputs that range from DVI and D-SUB to HDMI and DisplayPort.
Sadly, the Asus propped up our application benchmark results table in every test, and its overall score of 110,002 was more than 5,000 points behind this month’s fastest board, the Gigabyte Z97N-Gaming 5. The Z97I-Plus picked up the pace in gaming tests, but only just. Its Shogun 2 scores equalled the pace provided by two other products, and its minimum and average scores of 94fps and 157fps in Skyrim were fourth out of the five boards here.
Storage tests returned similarly modest results. The Asus’ SATA 6Gbps read speed of 546MB/sec was the slowest on test, and its M.2 read and write speeds of 667MB/sec and 548MB/sec were also the slowest of the three M.2-equipped boards. However, all these performance differences are marginal – coming last in a test of similarly performing boards isn’t the be-all and end-all. When overclocking, the Z97I-Plus managed to hit 4.8GHz, but it required a 1.33V vcore – the highest of any board that hit that frequency. However, the overclocked Asus’ improved application result of 120,618 was still beaten by three other boards, and it also came in fourth place in the Skyrim gaming tests. The Asus’ frugality remained in the middle of the group too. When running at stock speeds, its 129W draw was in third place, and it remained in bronze position when running overclocked.
Conclusion The Z97I-Plus’ comparatively mediocre speed and high overclocked voltage demands mean it isn’t the best board for enthusiasts, but the performance differences are marginal, and it really impressed in other areas. Its layout is sensible, and its feature set covers all of the essentials while including extras, such as a full-sized M.2 slot, that its rivals don’t offer. Gamers and overclockers would be better off buying the feature-rich Republic of Gamers board, but its cracking layout and feature set make the Z97I-Plus the best mid-range option on test, making it a worthy winner of an award.