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.

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Overclocking

As usual I began with automated overclocking. Presets for specific speeds such as 4.8GHz or 4.6GHz were an absolute bust for me as those speeds weren’t stable for any length of time if the system reached the desktop at all. Through F-Stream I was able to hit a speed of 4.3GHz which is better than what I’d have gotten out of MSI's OC Genie, but far short of what ASUS is doing these days. Memory speeds in this configuration were equally uninspired at DDR3 1333MHz despite having XMP capable RAM that can do 2400MHz in the system.

4.3GHz (100x43) DDR3 1333MHz

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Under manual control the ASRock Z97 Killer Fatal1ty was more well behaved than I’d have imagined. ASRock must have done well with its auto rules as it took very little coaxing of UEFI BIOS settings to achieve a stable result of 4.7GHz and DDR3 1866MHz. This configuration was stable in both 2 and 4 DIMM configurations, but not at 2400MHz. To achieve these results I needed to only adjust the CPU load-line calibration to its highest setting and increase the CPU voltage to 1.285v in fixed mode. I tried and tried for 4.8GHz which is possible, although difficult to achieve on this CPU.

4.7GHz (100x47) DDR3 1866MHz

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You can’t really argue with solid results and minimal effort to do it.

Conclusions

Dan's Thoughts:

The first thing that struck me when I opened up the box for inspection was that the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer was the atrocious build quality. The heat sinks aren’t particularly well made, these are loose and don’t appear to make contact with everything these should. The color is a bit off from the rest of the red items on the motherboard. The top mounted SATA ports take me back to the days when ribbon cables were common and SATA was brand new and usually went unused.

Upon lifting the Fatal1ty Z97 Killer from the box the thing stabbed me. The solder joints are long, uneven, and roughly cut. The edges of the PCB have some sharp spots too. Many PCB’s do, but these are extreme. Speaking of the PCB as I mentioned before it’s about as straight as undercooked bacon and feels more prone to breakage than the crispiest strips of bacon. When I installed memory modules into the motherboard while setting up the test system I heard the most horrendous noises. I seriously thought I’d cracked the PCB and that the system wasn’t likely to work. Strangely enough it fired right up and that was it for the negative aspects of the user experience.

While dealing with the hardware was memorable in entirely the wrong way, the rest of my time with the Fatal1ty Z97 Killer was nothing but spectacular. At no point were there any problems, inconsistent behaviors, or irritations dealing with the operation and testing of the Z97 Killer Fatal1ty. It never ceases to amaze me that ASRock can build a motherboard so badly in a physical sense and have it work so damn well. I realize ASRock cut corners to get the costs to a certain level but I’m awestruck by where ASRock found its balance. It’s hard to argue with the results when it’s all said and done. This motherboard will require some significant care while installing it into your chassis, but past that it’s rock solid and pretty much bulletproof. Really, aside from the paper thin PCB there isn’t much to complain about. The overclocking was superb and the UEFI was fantastic and easy to use. I even liked the F-Stream utility despite one or two quirks with how some things are named. Fan control is a bit primitive in F-Stream as ASRock hasn’t gotten around to fully copying ASUS, MSI or GIGABYTE on that front.

While I am not going to tell anyone to buy this over a similarly equipped ASUS, MSI or GIGABYTE motherboard, if you're short on cash and need a motherboard the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer will definitely fit the bill. It’s cheap and about as solid as they come. Well not physically but you know what I mean. It is a good alternative to the other guys offerings if your strapped for cash. It isn’t pretty, but it is reliable. Just take some extra care when putting it into your system as this motherboard is definitely on the delicate side.

Kyle's Thoughts:

ASRock goes the extra mile when it comes to packaging the actual motherboard. It comes strapped in safely with a nice big closed cell foam frame. It is highly unlikely that the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer motherboard is going to get banged up in transit. Considering this is a budget $124.99 motherboard it is not packed like one. After you snip the zipties and lift the motherboard you will then realize why it is so well packed as it is not likely to have made a UPS or FedEx shipping journey on its own. My experience was much the same as Dan’s when it came to installing components on the motherboard. Installing the RAM and video card will show you just how flimsy the PCB is. It is sort of scary as you think you are about to break something important because of just how much it bends. And the DIMM slots were sort of "off" in size seemingly and these required that you put a lot of pressure to push the RAM into place. At the end of the day though, everything worked out of the box exactly like it should, although most of my motherboard installs do not come complete with a harrowing experience.

I know we have harped on this "quality," or lack thereof with this Fatal1ty Z97 Killer, but you truly will not understand why we have gone to lengths here to explain this until you have one in your own hands.

The Fatal1ty Z97 Killer gives me that "old school" motherboard vibe. It sort of made me think ABIT in a way, which is not a bad thing at all and interestingly enough where we saw our first "Fatal1ty" branded motherboard back 9 years ago. This Fatal1ty Z97 Killer has no buttons down on the PCB, a jumpered CMOS clear, SATA headers sticking up like old IDE connects, but it does have a dual BIOS which is can certainly be a saving grace should you need it, and it is jumpered as well. Dan went more into this than I will, but to be succinct, the Fatal1ty Z97 Killer looks and feels cheap.

The Fatal1ty Z97 Killer acted exactly as it should, and allowed me a perfect OS install experience and was quickly up and running at my 4.5GHz/1866MHz at 1.28v Core voltage. I do very much like the ASRock BIOS. It is easy to navigate, intuitive, and does this cool out-of-focus background effect when it presents you with a popup window. While describing this you might think it is just flash and no substance, I actually found that I liked it and it made it easier to navigate the menus and focus on what I needed to while using those. Keeping in mind that ASUS and ASRock do share some business history, ASRock’s BIOS is a full on rip of ASUS’ BIOS layout, which is not a bad thing.

Using ASRock’s Driver Install ALL package to get the drivers loaded worked great, but a bit too great. I selected the drivers I wanted to install then the application proceeded to install every driver and software utility in all the tabs and ones I know that I did not select. I would suggest installing each driver manually unless of course you want all the "value add" crap software on the disk.

Considering that I had little or no confidence in this motherboard, I went straight into torture testing. With airflow across the surface of the Fatal1ty Z97 Killer, and using our Koolance system and water block, I saw per core temperature jump quickly into the mid-80s C. This is a bit high for temperature loads with a cool radiator that has not yet heat loaded so I pulled the water block to check to make sure my mating was good with the CPU heatspreader; it was perfect. I had the same immediate per core temperature after my water block reinstall. I let the Fatal1ty Z97 Killer run for 15 hours with airflow across the motherboard and it was perfectly stable running Prime95. The heatsink surfaces were showing 125F and the choke surfaces were at 145F; again higher than we normally see. Pulling the airflow on the motherboard, it ran for another 15 hours perfectly stable with Prime95. Quite frankly, I did not expect it to be successful considering many of the new Z97 chipset motherboards find Prime95 to be a nemesis. At the end of our torture testing, the heatsinks showed 150F+ on the surface and 165F+ on the choke surfaces, which is again, is hotter than "normal."

Overclocking the Fatal1ty Z97 Killer using the presets in the BIOS was successful for me. I was able to get our retail Intel Core i7-4770K up to a stable 4.6GHz at 1.322v but with a meager 1333MHz memory clock. I then went for the 4.8GHz preset with a 1.42v Core voltage, and again the 1333MHz RAM, but the CPU was having none of that presenting me with a BSOD with Prime95 after about 5 minutes. For gaming though, I would suggest it would work fine at these clocks. I again went back and loaded the 4.6GHz preset, but I specified the Corsair Dominator XMP 2400MHz profile as well. I had an extremely stable system, but I was seeing per core temperatures touching the 94C mark. It was not throttling, but very close to doing so under full Prime95 loads.

I did find the F-Stream Tuning Utility easy to use, and simply did not see value in working with it, so I closed that and left it for Dan to toil through. My notes read, "WTF are the Lifestyle buttons? I need to look that up." I however did not find the software compelling enough to ever think about again. Your mileage may vary.

I found myself not wanting to like this Fatal1ty Z97 Killer motherboard when I first had it in my hands, but at the end of the day, it gave me every reason to like it. The proof is in the pudding and the ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer gave us a lot of pudding.

The Bottom Line

The ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer motherboard is cheap. It has a cheap build quality, it has a cheap look, and just all around feels cheap. "Cheap" is a word we use hardly ever in our reviews, because "inexpensive" or "economical" is usually a true better fit. That is not the case today. This motherboard is cheap. Actually it is $125 cheap today. Once you get past the cheap, things change.

The ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer motherboard was an excellent performer overall. In terms of overclocking it simply kicked ass for a budget motherboard solution. Its no-frills approach is something that is refreshing in this day and age. Ignore the glut of marketing on its spec page and look the other way at the inclusion of the Killer NIC, and the Fatal1ty Z97 Killer is near perfect for what it is. We wanted to hate it and ended up loving it. I am however not convinced that over the long term it is not going to self-ignite and burn the house down.

We did not want to give it a Gold [H], but we felt that it had earned it. Did we mention cheap?

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ASRock Fatal1ty Z97 Killer Motherboard

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