ASUS Sabertooth Z87 LGA 1150 Motherboard Review

The motherboard we are examining today is part of the ASUS "TUF" series which is an acronym for "The Ultimate Force." The Sabertooth Z87 looks like a promising follow up to the Sabertooth Z77 and given the Sabertooth pedigree, our expectations are high for this entry into the series which sets itself apart in the ASUS product stack.

Introduction

ASUS ASUS is a manufacturer that needs little introduction. Since 1986 ASUS has been one of the go-to brands for PC enthusiasts. ASUS has a reputation for high quality motherboards. Naturally with today’s market ASUS has to maintain a large product portfolio in order to meet the demands of today’s varied consumer. To this end ASUS has multiple models and even product lines to accomplish this goal. ASUS has its mainstream, Republic of Gamers and even its TUF series. The motherboard we’re examining today is part of the "TUF" series which is an acronym for "The Ultimate Force." The Sabertooth Z87 looks like a promising follow up to the Sabertooth Z77 and given the Sabertooth pedigree expectations are high for this entry into the series.

Sabertooth models are an interesting bunch. These aren’t necessarily bristling with features found in the ROG line or even some of the more conventional mainstream models. These motherboards are built with a focus on durability in virtually all possible computing environments with stability and thermal considerations first and foremost. The price point of the Sabertooth boards typically makes these attractive options for individuals who demand absolute reliability at a reasonable price. Given ASUS’ design philosophy the TUF series motherboards typically have a no nonsense approach to features giving you minimal features compared to other offerings. In summary these sacrifice some features in order to build exceptionally durable boards and include the features which make these utterly reliable.

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The Sabertooth Z87 is a socket LGA1150 based motherboard which uses the Intel Z87 Express chipset. This was introduced as the leading platform for the "Haswell" CPUs which is the codename for Intel’s Core i5/i7 4xxx series CPUs. The chipset itself is quite similar to its predecessor the Z77 Express chipset. A couple of small improvements were introduced such as full native SATA 6Gb/s ports and 2 more USB 3.0 ports separate this chipset from the previous generation. The Sabertooth Z87 doesn’t have a lot of third party features and is a somewhat stripped down solution compared to some other boards in the product catalog. You will not find additional third party RAID controllers, NICs, wireless connectivity, or USB controllers. Instead most of the motherboard’s core features are part of the Z87 Express chipset. The motherboard supports 32GB of RAM, PCI-Express 3.0, 6 SATA 6Gb/s ports, 6 USB 3.0 ports and NVIDIA’s SLI and AMD’s CrossFire technologies. There are some added SATA and eSATA ports via ASM1061 controllers but that’s about it for third party features.

The Sabertooth Z87 is an interesting product in that it’s one of the few motherboards which utilizes the "Thermal Armor" system which made its debut on the original Sabertooth board a few years ago. This setup aside from the motherboard’s outstanding build quality are what separate this offering from most everything else in the product stack. The goal of the Thermal Armor system is twofold; to provide a ductwork for air to travel over components for reduced temps and longevity and to prevent dust from settling on the components. New for this generation is the TUF Fortifier which is a backplate designed to eliminate PCB flex which can cause issues in some extreme cases. Thus the Sabertooth Z87 is ideal for heavy graphics cards and CPU coolers as the extra support offered by the TUF Fortifier makes the physical motherboard considerably more durable. Small cooling fans direct air over (or away) from motherboard components which hopefully increases lifespan. ASUS also utilized black metallic capacitors, chokes and MOSFETS for added lifespan and durability.

Like many other ASUS boards, the DirectKey button makes an appearance. This feature allows you to enter the BIOS without the repeated "delete" key pressing often required to enter the BIOS / UEFI after restarting the machine. This button tells the motherboard you wish to enter the BIOS and flags the motherboard to enter it automatically during the next POST sequence. Like all other ASUS boards UASP support for USB 3.0 is included which replaces the outdated BOT protocol and improves USB 3.0 transfers considerably when using UASP capable devices.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

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The Sabertooth Z87 ships in a standard box which is designed to resemble something armored. The box is fairly plain and protected our board during shipment. Inside the box there are quite a few accessories; User's manual, Accessory Guide, ASUS Q-Shield, 4 x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s), 1 x SLI bridge(s), 1 x Q-connector(s) (2 in 1), 2 x Accessory Fan(s) ( 35 mm ), 1 x TUF Certification card(s), 1 x TUF 5 Year Warranty manual(s) (by region), 1 x TUF Inside sticker(s), 1 x 40mm I/O Cover fan lid(s), 3 x PCIe x16 slot dust cover(s), 2 x DRAM slot dust cover(s), 3 x PCIe x1 slot dust cover(s), 2 x Short fan screw(s), 4 x Long fan screw(s), 1 x Adhesive Sponge(s) for 35mm Fan, 3 x Thermistor cable(s), 1 x back I/O dust frame, 1 x back I/O dust grid, 1 x connector dust cover collection (On board USB 3.0, DVI, HDMI, DP, LAN), 2 x On board USB 2.0 connector dust cover(s), 8 x back I/O USB 2.0 connector dust cover(s), 7 x On board SATA connector dust cover(s), 2 x eSATA Connector dust cover(s), and 6 x Audio connector dust cover(s)

Board Layout

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The Sabertooth Z87 has a virtually flawless layout. I can’t think of anything that truly stood out as either a problem or something I would find personally annoying. Much of the motherboard’s actual components are covered by the Thermal Armor, but all ports and visible connectors are well places. The slot configuration is ideal for dual GPU configurations. Aesthetically speaking the board’s military themed colors are a nice change from black, black and blue, or black and red. Corsair even makes modules which are color matched to the DIMM slots on this board so you can keep the military theme going if desired. Naturally the Thermal Armor makes the board stand out compared to other offerings. Not just on the front but the back as well.

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The CPU socket area looks a little crowded due to the ducting around the MOSFETS. Large CPU coolers will still generally fit here without too much trouble but all in one liquid coolers like the Corsair H60 and others would probably make more sense and provide a cleaner look which doesn’t run into the RAM slots.

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The four DIMM slots are color coded for convenience and use ASUS’ single tab locking mechanism. The Sabertooth Z87 supports a total of 4x8GB DIMMs for a total of 32GB of RAM. The MemOK compatibility button is directly in front of the slots as is one of the many onboard fan headers.

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The Z87 Express Chipset is located in the southwest corner of the motherboard. It is cooled by a flat passive heat sink most of which is obscured to some extent by the Thermal Armor system. In front of the chipset are the motherboard’s 8 SATA 6Gb/s ports. The first 6 are brown in color and are serviced by the Z87 Express chipset. The other two lighter colored ones are handled by the ASM1061 controller. Just to the left of the chipset you’ll find the "DirectKey" button for entering the BIOS.

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The Sabertooth Z87 has 3 PCI-Express x16 slots. With multiple GPUs the allocation ends up being 8x8x4. This configuration supports 2-Way CrossfireX and SLI as well as Quad GPU configurations for both using dual GPU cards. Additionally 3 PCIe 2.0 x1 slots are provided as well.

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The Sabertooth Z87 features an interesting I/O panel design as there is a gap left open for an intake fan, which is included. A BIOS Flashback button is also provided. Among the standard ports you’ll find 4x USB 2.0 ports, 4x USB 3.0 ports, 2x eSATA ports, 1x RJ-45 port, 1x optical output, 1x HDMI port, 1x DisplayPort and 6 mini-stereo jacks. A dust filter is included for the intake fan that mounts on the IO panel.