Round-Up of The Best and Top-Tier Overclocking Z97 Motherboards – Which One Pushes OC To The Limits?

Hassan Mujtaba
Posted 2 years ago

Intel launched their Z97 platform earlier this year which brought new motherboards in the performance platform, aiming support for Haswell, Haswell Refresh, Devil’s Canyon and the upcoming Broadwell CPUs. Intel’s Z97 platform is filled with a variety of boards and each board is targeted towards key segments.WCCFTech Z97 Motherboard Round-Up OC Top

Round-Up of The Best and Top-Tier Overclocking Z97 Motherboards

With such a large list of products that are currently offered in the Z97 chipset based product portfolio, it gets quite frustrating for consumers to find a board that suits their demands. To make it easier for consumers, the board manufacturing companies have separated their products into three categories; Gaming, Overclocking and Mainstream.  Although this helps a bit but even then, the products themselves offer similar specifications, naming schemes and priced equally.  For instance, the MSI Z97 Gaming 3 and Gigabyte GA-Z97X Gaming 3 are both gaming branded motherboards priced at $137.99 US and with “Gaming 3” in the title, it would more or less confuse the buyer into deciding which product should be bought. While reviews do give a better insight at the products comparing the little details, features and components of products, we couldn’t find a good article which compares these boards against their similar priced counterparts from other manufacturers.

To address this issue and to help ease the process for buyers to get the right product, today we will be doing a round-up of the Z97 “Overclocking” motherboards. We will obviously not be comparing performance based on benchmarks but design schemes, feature set and the components used on these Z97 motherboards which will tell us why they are better than the other similar priced option or why does a $399 US overclocking board is a better option for enthusiasts then a $249 US overclocking board. The products we will be comparing are strictly the flagship overclocking boards from each separate manufacturer so you might see us talk about a XPOWER board and not the MPOWER board so please excuse me but that doesn’t mean that I won’t ever do a similar comparison on the other segment based boards, so stay tuned for that. Regardless, let’s start off these round – up with the beastly, Z97 XPOWER AC from MSI:


The reason for which I am starting off with the XPOWER is clear, its the only overclocking oriented board which looks like an OC Tier board. The only board that comes close to it in terms of size and brutishness is the EVGA Z97 Classified which also adopts the E-ATX form factor and will be detailed in this article too. But with such a high-end design scheme comes a high cost and the MSI Z97 XPOWER AC retails at $399.99 US which will make buyers question why should I buy such an expensive board over the $249 solution which will provide overclock similar to XPOWER? Well the reasons are explained ahead.

MSI’s next-gen and massively feature packed XPOWER AC comes with the latest Delid Die Guard which will protect the CPU die and the PCB after the heatspreader has been removed from the processor. This feature will obviously help overclockers alot who want to break world records. The MSI XPOWER AC from features a yellow and black color theme just like its predecessor, the Z87 XPOWER which was a top of the line motherboard. MSI, starting with their Z77 and Z87 motherboard series have really upped their design scheme and are now one of the best motherboard offering companies with innovative features and styles on a chipset which offers a little over its predecessor.

Now the most interesting thing about the new board is that it will feature built-in water cooling support which is copper based and allows existing or non-existing users with water-cooled looped pipe setups to gain more cooling performance. This will help cool the MOSFETs and VRMs situated underneath the large XPOWER AC heatsink that is a neat new design which features a 16 Phase DIGITALL Power for unprecedented overclocking performance and stability. It is powered by an 8-Pin plus 4-Pin connector configuration. It features four DDR3 DIMMs which are able to support memory with frequencies of 3300 MHz (O.C) and maximum capacity of 32 GB. Several V-Check Points and OC tuning switches can be found near the DIMMs.

For storage, the board features 10 SATA 6 GB/s ports and a USB 3.0 header. Expansion slots include five PCI-e 3.0 x 16 (x16/x16/x8/x16/x8) and two PCI-e 3.0 x1 slots along with a single M.2 slot. Audio Boost and several other I/O ports can be found on the motherboard which makes it MSI’s top of the line 9-Series product. A 6-Pin power connector can also be found on top of the PCI-e 3.0 x16 slots which adds stability when running multiple cards. OC switches such as the OC Genie, Voltage Control, BCLCK adjustment, Direct OC, Discharge button, V-Check Points 2 can also be found on the board.


Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force MotherboardGigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force Z97 Motherboards

While the Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force is not the behemoth E-ATX sized monster which its predecessor, the GA-Z87X OC Force was but it still packs a punch and is considered one of the most desirable motherboards for overclocking. The Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force comes at a low cost of $209.79 US which is very reasonable for the flagship overclocking motherboard in Gigabyte’s stack aside from the Gaming and Black Edition variants and what makes this product so special are the high-quality components used on the PCB which not only translate into better stability but better overclocking. During our testing, the GA-Z97X SOC Force came out as the most stable board when overclocking the Haswell Core i7-4770K processor to 4.8 GHz. In fact, we have a Core i7-4790K review coming up shortly and we will be using the same motherboard for testing.

The Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force is the top of the line overclocking motherboard built with the Z97 chipset and features the new and improved design scheme powered with a 8 Phase VRM (40A ICs) powered by an 8-Pin plus 4-Pin connector configuration. The V-Check Point 2 and several OC switches can be found right next to the DDR3 DIMMs. Expansion slots include four PCI-e 3.0 x16 (x16/x8/x8/x8), a single PCI-e 3.0 x1 slot and two PCI slots. The board has 4 SATA 6 GB/s ports and two SATA Express ports. Another 6-Pin power connector located near the top most PCI-e slot provides additional power and stability to the PCIe expansion slots while using multiple graphics cards. The motherboard features a nice Orange and black color scheme which looks great. The Killer E2200 LAN chip is also featured on the board for seamless online experience.

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The SOC name is derived from Gigabyte’s Super Overclock series products which include their top of the line graphics cards powered by their WindForce coolers. The same DNA of the SOC products has been infused in Gigabyte’s Z97 OC series motherboards to deliver the best performance to enthusiasts. The best part of this board is its OC Panel, which rather than scattering all of these tools across the board, Gigabyte offers them on a single space of the PCB termed as the OC Panel. Following are all the features offered through the OC Panel:


  • OC PCIe Swtich (Manually turn on or off each installed PCIe lane of the motherboard).
  • OC DIMM Switch (Manually turn on or off each channel of installed memory DIMM)
  • OC Brace (It allows extreme overclockers and system testers to safely install upto four graphics cards in an open case or test bed without risking PCIe slot damage)
  • OC Ignition (Maintains power to your motherboard and connected components while the system is shut down. This means that the system fans will continue to provide airflow in cold bug situations, while i-ram drive users will not lose installed data. It allows users to also test water cooling setups and allows case mod demonstrations without having to turn on the PC).
  • OC Tag (Load your customized settings at the touch of a button)
  • OC Turbo (One touch overclocking button automatically loads the most optimized Gigabyte overclocking configuration for your processor and memory)
  • OC Connect (Positions two USB connectors on the near side of the motherboard facing the overclocker. This makes it easier to save date, flash the BIOS or install software in open bench testing platforms.)
  • OC PEG (Adds Auxiliary power to the PCIe slots of your motherboard, improving system stability in extreme configurations.)
  • OC Gear BCLK Steppings
  • Power Button
  • 80 Port Debug Display
  • CPU Ratio +/- Buttons
  • BCKL Ration +/- Buttons
  • Restart Switch
  • Gigabyte Memory Safe (Reduces DDR3 module timing to eliminate memory comparability issues)
  • Direct To BIOS Switch (Enter BIOS menu instantly after reboot without hitting the ‘DEL’ button)
  • Gigabyte Settings Lock (Automatically remember your last successful settings, even after clearing CMOS)
  • Single BIOS Mode Switch (User can select which BIOS they want to use.)
  • Dual BIOS Switch (Enable or Disable Gigabyte DualBIOS)
  • OC Trigger Switch (Jump between low and extremely high frequencies in an instant).
  • Onboard Voltage Measurement Module
  • Clear CMOS (Clear CMOS settings without losing your pre-configured profiles)

Gigabyte GA-Z97X SOC Force:

ASRock Z97 OC FormulaASRock Z97 OC Formula

ASRock really upped their aesthetic and design scheme back in 2012 with the launch of the first OC Formula motherboard. Since then, the company has added several innovative features such as Conformal Coating which protects the motherboards from any kind of liquid spillage. ASRock even demonstrated this technology with a live demo in which one of their motherboards was operating while water was being poured on it.

ASRock Z97 OC Formula is the spiritual successor of Z87C OC Formula, built and tested by ASRock’s in-house and legendary overclocker, Nick Shih. The motherboard has an impressive yellow and black color theme which show that it sticks loyal to the OC series design from ASRock. The motherboard features the Z97 Express chipset and the LGA1150 socket which will support the latest Haswell, Haswell Refresh, Devil’s Canyon and Broadwell CPUs. The only thing I miss on the Z97 OC Formula is the Debug OLED. As you might remember, the Z87 OC Formula came with a Debug OLED which offered a  fully visual interface that displays CPU temperature / voltage and more as seen in the picture. Only if they had featured it again on the Z97 OC Formula!


The ASRock Z97 OC Formula features 12 Phase Core and 4 Phase Memory supply featuring a Digi Power, Dual-Stack MOSFET (DSM), Multiple Filter Cap (MFC) (Filters different noises by 3 different capacitors: DIP solid cap, POSCAP and MLCC) and Premium Alloy Choke (Reduces 70% core loss compared to iron powder choke). The CPU socket is powered with Dual 8-Pin connectors while the PCH and VRM are cooled by large aluminum heatsinks featuring heatpipe tech. Four DDR3 DIMMs can be spotted and a large voltage check-point is located on their right. For storage, ASRock went with 7 SATA 6 GB/s ports and a USB 3.0 header that’s adjusted next to the 24-Pin ATX connector. A few OC and tuning switches are located below the SATA ports along with the Dual BIOS chips.

Expansion slots include four PCI-e 3.0 x16 and two PCI-e 3.0 x1 slots. A SATA M.2 slot can also be seen which will support Intel’s NGFF form factor SSDs. ASRock has loaded their Z97 OC Formula with features such as the Purity Sound 2 chip for high-quality audio output and the Killer E2200 chip for lag free online experience. I/O includes 6 USB 3.0, 4 USB 2.0, HDMI, PS/2, LAN, Clear CMOS and a 7.1 channel audio jack. At $219.99 US, the ASRock Z97 OC Formula is another great product which can be bought to support Haswell, Devil’s Canyon and Broadwell processors.

ASRock Z97 OC Formula:

EVGA Z97 Classified MotherboardEVGA Z97 Classified

While EVGA have always been late to the Intel chipset launch party, they were actually on-time with their Z97 products release. EVGA, currently has three products in their Z97 motherboard lineup which includes their bad-ass Z97 Classified motherboard which is a top of the line overclocking and enthusiast tier motherboard priced at $379.99 US and features the E-ATX Form Factor.

The EVGA Z97 Classified is the flagship motherboard from EVGA featuring the Intel Express chipset and LGA 1150 socket. The motherboard is built with high quality components which can be seen from the top view of the board. The EVGA Z97 Classified comes with an 8-Phase PWM supply while the LGA 1150 socket is powered through dual 8-Pin connectors for unprecedented overclocking support. EVGA has been known to include some neat tricks to allow madders with neater aesthetics and cable management hence we are looking at several right angled ports including the 24-Pin ATX connector for easier routing of the bulkywire. The motherboard in total provides maximum power of 600W to the CPU socket so make sure to have LN2 stocked in your apartment when overclocking this bad boy.

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Additional specifications include 8 SATA 6 GB/s ports and a USB 3.0 header. Expansion slots include five PCI-e 3.0 x16 slots and a single PCI-e 3.0 x1 slot including a M.2 SSD slot to support Intel’s NGFF form factor drives. EVGA’s classy board is an E-ATX form factor so it’ll require mid to full tower chassis to fit inside easily. The board features a massive heatsink with heatpipe design which spans the entire length of the board from the top PWM down to the PCH. Additional OC goodies include an on-board CPU temp monitor LED, Triple BIOS support, EZ Voltage read points and PCI-E disable switches.

EVGA as a company is a name which is centered around enthusiasts and EVGA is one of the brands which will actually hear to the community and design products per their demands. The right-angled connectors displays the little efforts EVGA puts into their motherboards for PC builders to allow easier cable management and the added EZ Voltage ports. EVGA has some decent motherboards but the heart of the company lies within their graphics products which have become a fan-favorite over the last couple of years.

EVGA Z97 Classified:

ASUS Z97 Deluxe MotherboardASUS Z97 Deluxe

ASUS has three tiers of motherboards in their Z97 motherboard line; ROG, TUF and Classic. The ROG series is primarily a gamer oriented brand while the TUF series comes with enhanced stability and cooling. The classic series is a mix of mainstream and performance motherboards and this is where we find ASUS’s best overclock motherboard.

While I would have added either the ROG Maximus VII Formula or the Z97-WS (Workstation) motherboard to this round-up, after a bit analysis, I found out that both motherboards are not aimed specifically towards the overclocking market. The Z97 WS has a good design but there’s no much to find in terms of overclocking tools and features and the dual 8-Pin connectors are there to add stability to the board under server and working conditions. The ROG Maximus VII Formula on the other hand comes with built-in water cooling support and a good design scheme adopting the thermal armor but even this board would eventually be succeeded by the better ROG Maximus VII Extreme in the coming months which is a true overclocking enthusiasts board.

So, the best OC oriented board I can find in ASUS’s lineup has to be the Z97 Deluxe. The ASUS’s Z97-Deluxe which is the flagship consumer product of the Legacy lineup which is also the most feature packed board we have seen yet in ASUS’s Z97 motherboards lineup (excluding the Z97-WS). Equipped with a large heatpipe heatsink design, the motherboard features a 16 Phase DIGI+ VRM and powered through a single 8-Pin connector. The CPU socket is powered by a 16 Phase DIGI+ VRM which features both TPU and EPU technology support. Storage options include 6 SATA 6 GB/s and a single SATA Express port which will enable faster transfer speeds for next generation SSDs.

Expansion slots include three PCI-e 3.0 x16, four PCI-e 3.0 x1 and a M.2 interface slot. ASUS has featured their Crystal Sound 2 chip on the board which enables high quality sound and audio output. Several connectors and switches can be found on the entire motherboard layout and the I/O panel. ASUS has featured a totally new heatsink design on their Z97 motherboards which include heatpipe cooling and a large aluminum heatsink for cooling.

ASUS Z97 Deluxe:

Motherboard MSI Z97 XPOWER AC Gigabyte GA-Z97X SOC Force EVGA Z97 Classified ASRock Z97 OC Formula ASUS Z97 Deluxe
Processor Support 4th Generation
Haswell / Haswell Refresh / Devil’s Canyon
5th Generation Broadwell/ Broadwell K-Series
4th Generation
Haswell / Haswell Refresh / Devil’s Canyon
5th Generation Broadwell/ Broadwell K-Series
4th Generation
Haswell / Haswell Refresh / Devil’s Canyon
5th Generation Broadwell/ Broadwell K-Series
4th Generation
Haswell / Haswell Refresh / Devil’s Canyon
5th Generation Broadwell/ Broadwell K-Series
4th Generation
Haswell / Haswell Refresh / Devil’s Canyon
5th Generation Broadwell/ Broadwell K-Series
Chipset Z97 Express Z97 Express Z97 Express Z97 Express Z97 Express
PWM Supply  16 Phase  8 Phase  8 Phase  12 Phase  16 Phase
Power Connectors 8+4 Pin 8+4 Pin 8+8 Pin 8+8 Pin 8 Pin
PCI-e Connector 6-Pin 6-Pin 6-Pin OC PEG N/A
PCI-e Slot Gen 3.0 / 2.0 Gen 3.0 / 2.0 Gen 3.0 / 2.0 Gen 3.0 / 2.0 Gen 3.0 / 2.0
Memory Slots 4 Slots 4 Slots 4 Slots 4 Slots 4 Slots
Max Memory Speed DDR3-3300 MHz+ DDR3-3000 MHz+ DDR3-
2666 MHz+
DDR3-3400 MHz+ DDR3-3300
USB 3.0 Headers 2 1 1 1 2
USB 3.0 Ports 12 6 10 10 10
USB 2.0 Ports 6 8 6 6 8
PCI-e 3.0 Slots 5 4 5 4 3
PCI-e 3.0 / 2.0 5 4 5 4 3
PCI-e 3.0 / 2.0 x1 Slots 2 1 1 2 4
PCI Slots N/A 2 N/A N/A N/A
Audio Chipset ALC 1150 ALC 1150  ALC 1150  ALC 1150 ALC 1150
Liquid Cooling Support  Yes  N/A N/A N/A N/A
I/O Ports  1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port
1 x Clear CMOS button
1 x Optical S/PDIF-out port
2 x USB 2.0 ports
8 x USB 3.0 ports
1 x RJ45 LAN jack
1 x 6 in 1 OFC audio jack
1 x DisplayPort
4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
4 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports
1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector
1 x D-Sub port
1 x DVI-D port
1 x HDMI port
1 x DisplayPort
1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse port
1 x RJ-45 port
6 x audio jacks
2 x LAN Ports
4 x USB 2.0 Ports
4 x USB 3.0 Ports
6 Channel Creative Sound Core 3D
1 x PS/2 Mouse/Keyboard Port
1 x HDMI Port
1 x Optical SPDIF Out Port
4 x USB 2.0 Ports
4 x USB 3.0 Ports
2 x USB 3.0 Ports
1 x RJ-45 LAN Port with LED
1 x Clear CMOS Switch
 1 x DisplayPort
1 x HDMI
2 x LAN (RJ45) port(s)
6 x USB 3.0 (blue)
4 x USB 2.0
1 x Optical S/PDIF out
6 x Audio jack(s)
1 x Mini DisplayPort(s)
1 x ASUS Wi-Fi GO! module (Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth v4.0
SATA Express Ports N/A  2  N/A  1  2
M.2 NGFF Slots  1  N/A  1  1 1
Color Scheme  Yellow/Black Orange/Black All Black Gold Yellow / Black  Silver / Black
OC Features  Military Class IV Ultra Durable Classified*  Super Alloy  DIGITALL
Form Factor  E-ATX ATX E-ATX  ATX  ATX
Price  $399.99 $209.79 $379.99  $219.99 $289.99

Note – Do let us know in the comments section below whether you like this kind of round-ups for current and released hardware or if you want another round-up on let’s say Gaming and ITX motherboards.

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