ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer LGA 1150 Motherboard Review

The ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer offers very little frills and boasts tons of performance at a very low cost. ASRock with us has been hit and miss in the past in terms of reviews. This $125 has all the features though that are needed to get you overclocking though. We put the ASRock Z97 Killer Fatal1ty to the test.

Introduction

ASRock has become a big name in the motherboard market. Despite very strong sales and market penetration ASRock still isn’t necessarily considered in the same vein as ASUS, MSI, and GIGABYTE. Unlike ASUS, GIGABYTE, and MSI, ASRock is typically known as more of a budget oriented motherboard manufacturer. It does offer higher end products but almost always at lower price points than its competition. Unbeknownst to some people the lower costs aren’t due to popularity or a desire to make motherboards cheaper for all. Rather the cost savings comes with a sacrifice on build quality. This doesn’t necessarily mean worse capacitors, chokes, or a bad power design. On some of ASRock’s least expensive designs more cut rate components may be used, but on other motherboards designed to target mid-range and higher end competitor’s motherboards this isn’t quite the case. Where ASRock really likes to cut costs is in its PCB layers. ASRock PCBs tend to be thin and fragile which is putting it nicely.

You don’t necessarily need a thick PCB in order to make a quality motherboard. Unfortunately a really thin PCB makes for a fragile motherboard which flexes and warps under stresses that a thicker motherboard would shrug off. These often look cheap and feel cheap because these are cheap. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve handled ASRock motherboards only to get stabbed by unequal length solder points with excessively rough edges, or PCB’s not cleanly cut with sharp parts. These issues are first and foremost the lion’s share of why I’ve always been super critical of ASRock offerings.

I can tell you that virtually none of this has changed with the motherboard we are looking at today. Oddly, I have to admit that the last several ASRock motherboards I’ve reviewed have worked surprisingly well despite being built about as well as a Ford Pinto.

Article Image

The ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer super thin PCB houses the Intel Z97 Express chipset and has little more in the way of features than what the chipset itself provides. This thing is stripped and lean. About the only feature added on top of what the chipset provides is the Killer NIC E2201. This of course replaces the Intel PHY which could have provided an Intel NIC. I’d have gladly traded the Killer NIC for a thicker PCB, but from a marketing standpoint I suppose "Killer NIC" sounds better than "A reasonably thick, high quality PCB." The ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer may be stripped as far as features go but still has enough integrated hardware to almost make a full system. You have 6x SATA ports, 1x SATA Express port, M.2 support, Integrated video via the CPU, a Realtek audio solution and Killer NIC E2201. All you really need to do is add some memory, drives, CPU, and PSU and your done.

Main Specifications Overview:

Article Image

Detailed Specifications Overview:

Article Image

Packaging

Article Image Article Image Article Image Article Image

The packaging for the Fatal1ty Z97 Killer is as lean as the motherboard itself is. There isn’t much to the included bundle either. You get manuals, a driver disc, XSplit broadcaster gift certificate for game streaming, SATA cables, and an I/O shield.

Board Layout

Article Image

The PCB of the Fatal1ty Z97 Killer is quite small. It’s pretty much the smallest full sized ATX motherboard I’ve seen in quite some time. The ASRock Z97 Killer Fatal1ty has an 8-phase power design using NexFET MOSFETs and all solid state electrolytic capacitors are used throughout the motherboard excluding the purpose built capacitors used in the audio subsystem. The PCB is virtually paper thin and I heard snapping noises installing memory modules. Fortunately the motherboard managed to hold together and remain functional despite the scary noises encountered while assembling the system on the test bench.

The layout of the Fatal1ty Z97 Killer is competently executed with no problem spots. This motherboard of course lacks onboard power and reset buttons or any of the features normally found on a motherboard meant for the overclocking enthusiast, but we do have to keep in mind that this motherboard is marketed to the "gamer."

Article Image Article Image

The CPU socket area is clear enough, but the MOSFET cooling is decidedly low rent in its finish. It is relatively well secured but there is a lot of slop in the mounting to the motherboard.

Article Image

The 4x 240-pin DDR3 slots support a total of 32GB of RAM. The slots are color coded red and black to denote proper dual channel memory mode operation. These are also clear of any unnecessary clutter. There is ample room between the memory slots and the main PCI-Express x16 slot ensuring that memory can be installed and removed easily with a larger graphics card installed.

Article Image Article Image

The chipset itself is covered in the same type of low rent looking heatsink that the MOSFETS are cooled with. Due to PCB warping contact with the chipset seems a little off, but it worked well enough in testing. This cooler covers a lot more space than it should need to either telling me that it doubles as a support brace for the weak PCB. The SATA ports are the cheap right angle ones I find most irritating. The only positive here is that the lack of PCI-Express x16 2.0 slots means a CrossFire setup won’t create clearance issues with the SATA ports.

Article Image

The expansion slot area is clean and well thought out. It does have far too many legacy PCI slots for my tastes though.

Article Image

The I/O panel has 4x USB 2.0 ports, 4x USB 3.0 ports, 1x PS/2 keyboard and mouse combination port, one HDMI port, 1x DVI port, a single DSub connector, 5x mini-stereo jacks, an optical out port, and a single RJ-45 LAN connector.