Biostar Z97W Gaming Review – What can we say about Biostar? As a company, some of us weren’t even aware it existed until recently. That was until it debuted a new range of rather interesting consumer Z170 boards at Computex, boards with a strange ability to swap between using two sticks of DDR3 or two sticks of DDR4, depending on your budget. The Taiwanese manufacturer, of course, has actually been around for decades, but has traditionally leaned more towards business-to-business sales, not the enthusiast end of the market. So, what can be said for its Z97 gaming motherboard?
It’s certainly a blast from the past. The general look and layout is reminiscent of the Sabertooth, but only to a small degree. The plastic covers feel anything but premium, and we’re definitely concerned about how this particular type of plastic will cope with high temperatures on the northbridge and southbridge.
The biggest problem we had with this board, by a country mile, was the plastic shroud covering the audio componentry and the rear I/O. To put it simply, our test bench consists of a reference GeForce GTX 980, and it simply wouldn’t fit. No matter what we tried, and however much force we used (and it was as painful as it sounds), we simply couldn’t get the GPU to make contact with all of the PCIe slot due to the plastic shroud coming into contact with the bottom of the card. That was that.
So okay, the board could stand to look a little better, and the design of the shroud could have been better handled, but what about the inner workings? GPU support is done through two PCIe 16 slots (for x8x8), and there’s Crossfire support, but no way of running SLI. There’s also an additional two USB 2.0 headers, six SATA 6Gb/s ports, one SATA Express port, one M.2 SATA connector and a grand total of five fan headers. There are some more useful features, including a right-angled USB 3.0 header and on-board XMP/Start/Reset buttons. An odder inclusion is an LN2 switch – we can’t imagine who would want to use this board to try and break worldrecord overclocks, but still, if you want it, the feature is there.
Bad, bad BIOS
Rear I/O consists of a PS/2 port, four USB 3.0 ports and two Gigabit Ethernet connectors (one provided by Killer, the other Intel). There’s also VGA, DVI, Displayport and HDMI connectors, plus six-channel audio (but no optical output). It’s an odd concoction and, granted, there isn’t a wide variety of optical supporting speakers out there, but it’s a good bonus to utilise them if you have a set.
For performance, the board was pretty mediocre. It failed to achieve our 4.8GHz overclock on our Core i7-4790K, and didn’t blow us away with numbers either. The plastic shrouds (which, on further inspection, covered the metallic heatsinks) also got quite toasty. The BIOS is less than desirable – it’s about as intuitive as a kick in the face and is possibly the worst-looking one we’ve seen. Overall then, not exactly impressive for a £90 board.
Ultimately, we can’t recommend this mobo to anyone. It’s not a good-looking component, and the potential drawbacks for those trying to plug in any card or GPU that you’re not entirely sure about is far from fantastic. Yes, it performs just fine, but it lacks a lot of the features you’d expect at this price. If you are, however, missing 2005 and fancy an ugly front bay device, with a motherboard to match, this may be the product for you.
- It is technically a motherboard
- Onboard power switches
- Right-angled USB 3
- USB 3.1 ports
- Awful rear I/O Shroud
- Poor overclocker
- Ugly BIOS
- Feels cheap
- Not easily accessible
Biostar Z97W Gaming Specifications
- CPU support Intel Z97 / 1150
- Form factor ATX
- USB 3.1 support 2x USB 3.1 Type A
- M.2 support 1x M.2 connector