Friday, May 16, 2014

Mean Macho Machine? The ECS Intel Z97-MACHINE

After a few rounds of looking at the web photos of the Z97 motherboards pushed out recently, I think ECS has actually produced a real fine looking model with beautifully restrained aesthetics this round. It is a mainly flat black affair with relatively subtle gold trimmings on the heatsinks and with white lettering on the PCB, very tasteful.

It simply looks so much better than their previous Z87 efforts which imo, were just over the top.

You can check out the official specs on this page


With the kind help of the good guys, I managed to get hold of an early sample today as they rolled fresh out of the factory. As before, the retail box packaging is a very attractive glossy affair with high contrast printing

Printed Specs

Uses the Intel I218-V Gigabit Fast Ethernet Controller but strange enough, ECS humbly omits this detail

Unboxing & Bundle

A rather lightweight bundle inside

Z97 Machine - The Mobo

Flat black PCB featuring a sparsely equipped bottom of socket


Looks wise, it's definitely classier than those ostentatiously opulent gold affairs pushed out by some manufacturers

Also note the minimalist 4 x SATA3 ports onboard, there's no potentially confusing bandwidth sharing with the M.2 slot on this mobo.

Now compare the simple arrangement above to this actual attempt at explaining how to apportion bandwidth on another Z97 motherboard, talk about buying a big headache!

Competing Completing Confusion...
"So for example, if a user wants to use the dual Thunderbolt 2 card, it is suggested that the BIOS be adjusted such that the final PCIe slot uses x4 lanes from the chipset. This in turn disables the ASMedia SATA Express controller (one SATAe port) and the ASMedia USB 3.0 controller. If the final PCIe slot is set at x2, then only the SATA Express controller is disabled. In order to use the ASMedia SATAe port, the last PCIe slot must be disabled completely. On top of this, the M.2 slot and the other SATA Express slot share PCIe lanes. If we use one, the other is disabled.
 This means the user has a choice: if you use two SATAe drives, or SATA drives in the SATAe ports, then this disables M.2, two rear USB 3.0 ports and the final PCIe slot."

Well hello hello... I just want to use my PC and not mug for a degree in bandwidth sharing in the process, can? lol

CPU Socket

A closer look at the supplied chokes

Onboard Buttons

Again, a more practical and sensible approach with just 2 onboard buttons (Power and Reset) and a dual digit debug LCD - much toned down from their Z87 model.  imo, the location isn't the friendliest but at least, it is usable, being on of the left side of the mobo.

Note also the voltage measuring points located just above the buttons and debug LCD too.

M.2 NGFF Slot

Supports a good range of various M.2 card sizes

Front USB3 Header

ESS SABRE Premier Audio DAC

Latest Realtek ALC1150 with ESS SABRE32 ES9010K2M DAC

All in, this seems to be an attractive yet aesthetically subdued motherboard with a very practical approach,  sparing of many frills or unwarranted future proofing (and its attendant budget busting prices eg. Thunderbolt... what Thunderbolt?) 

Do check out the retail pricing on the Egg and be prepared to be lowballed. Then again at this price, it's not too surprising to see no apparent mention of niceties like SLI, for example.

Next to come, hands on testing...

Rig Theme Colour Matching

Rather easy peasy with this mobo... a quick glance through my RAM collection and this combo pops up

Seems quite matching, don't you think?

Night Lights

And that's the debug code displayed once fully booted into Windows

Stopwatch Time

First, you are greeted by the lovely POST screen of the L337 Gaming logo... nice!

Anyone else likes this simply neat POST screen logo?

Next, rushing to be fast!

Test Rig Setup

 ★ ECS Z97-Machine | i5-4670K@4.5GHz | NiCu HK 3.0-GTX360 | AMD R9 290 | Thermaltake Smart SE 630W ★

 Ambient local air non-a/c

 Vcore setting done in Adaptive Mode, RAM sticks used are 2 x 4GB KVR1333@1866 in line with the budget cost of the mobo

32M HyperPi

Video Transcoding
 x264 mp4 output using AVX instructions with xvid4PSP and Ripbot264

Wolfenstein: The New Order
Game specifically called for an i7 but it seems the i5@4.5GHz runs well enough to flatline the 60fps cap at default settings 1440p

UEFI Sample Screenshots

Seems ECS has quietly enabled the screen capture feature in their Z97 UEFI so here are a few sample screenshots

Initial Impressions
  • Lovely aesthetics - black theme, white print with subdued gold trim
  • Good components for a budget model - Intel LAN, Realtek ALC 1150, ESS DAC, full solid caps
  • M.2 support for all card sizes
  • Works great, no instability encountered over a week+ of testing
  • Good overclocking options - no issue with pushing value RAM or CPU
  • Beautiful splash screen of the golden L337 Gaming logo on a black backdrop

Can be improved...
  • No official mention of SLI nor SATA Express
  • Middling POST speed - brief initial power cycle followed by POST proper, not the fastest nor the slowest around
  • Functional UEFI but with mostly old world BIOS aesthetics