ASUS Sabertooth Z97 Mark S LGA 1150 Motherboard Review

The TUF series is one of our favorite product lines at HardOCP. The TUF series Sabertooth motherboards have never disappointed us and we couldn’t help but take ASUS’ Sabertooth Z97 Mark S for a test drive. This one is a bit special in that it is a special edition color, but all else is the same as other retail Sabertooth motherboards.

Introduction

ASUS currently stands as one of the largest motherboard manufacturers in the world. It is a multi-billion dollar a year international national corporation which currently employs over 21,000 employees. According to ASUS, the company name comes from the word "Pegasus," the mythical winged horse found in Greek mythology. The company has a diverse product line which includes monitors, motherboards, laptops, networking equipment, tablets and even smartphones. The company is still predominantly known for its motherboard product lines.

ASUS has three distinct motherboard product families. The standard motherboard product family is known as the "retail channel" motherboards. These use a simple naming convention which is generally easy to understand. Motherboards in the retail channel line have a number and naming convention which is easy to understand and decode with a little browsing on the ASUS website. Motherboards also come in the Republic of Gamers and The Ultimate Force lines. These are abbreviated as "ROG" and "TUF" respectively. Motherboards in these product lines use different design philosophies which target specific demographics. The philosophy of the ROG line is performance and technology regardless of cost. This line strives to push technological boundaries and offer bleeding edge performance for the overclocking enthusiast. The design philosophy behind the TUF series seems to be stability and durability above all else.

Motherboards in these families generally have names which are often retained over the course of several generations. The Maximus for example is currently on its seventh generation. This doesn’t necessarily mean there have been seven Maximus Formula motherboards as some specific motherboards may have "Extreme," "Formula," or "Gene" variants which may have been introduced at different times. So while there have been seven Maximus motherboards, variants of those may or may not be as old.

The "TUF" series is a different beast. All motherboards in this family are known as "Sabertooth" motherboards. Unlike the ROG series, TUF series motherboards have the same names regardless of the CPU platform these use. A Sabertooth X99 and Z97 exist, along with 990FX based Sabertooth motherboards for AMD processor based systems. Additional monikers or model numbers may denote the chipset. This generation additional "Mark 1" and "Mark 2" variants have been introduced. Both motherboards are similar, but the Mark 1 includes Thermal Armor and TUF Fortifier features that the Mark 2 lacks. ASUS has introduced a variant of the Sabertooth Z97 Mark 1 called the Sabertooth Z97 Mark S. This motherboard features a snow camo theme and an arctic white PCB. This is the variant we will be looking at in this article. The Sabertooth Z97 Mark S motherboard is virtually identical to the Sabertooth Z97 Mark 1. The Mark S is a limited edition variant with a digital snow camo theme, but otherwise these are the same motherboard.

Currently, we are also giving away an ASUS Sabertooth Z97 Mark S in our forums!

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The Sabertooth Z97 Mark S is based off the Z97 Express chipset and supports Intel’s LGA 1150 pin CPUs. The Sabertooth Z97 Mark S uses an 8+2 phase power design utilizing new alloy choke with Ti-Caps and MOSFETs. These are certified to meet MIL-STD-202G, MIL-STD-883G, MIL-STD-810F and MIL-STD-883G2002.4 standards. These tests are conducted using military standard testing procedures listed in the certification of stability as standards: 107G, 106G, 1009.8, 210F, 201A, 213B, 514, 501, 502, and 1011.9, 2007.2. ASUS is so confident of the design quality and specifications that the Sabertooth Z97 Mark S comes with a 5-year warranty instead of a 3-year warranty or less.

The Sabertooth Z97 Mark S supports many of ASUS’ standard features across its product lines and specifically the TUF series. These include Thermal Radar 2, TUF ICe. Memory OK, ESD guards, EZ XMP, USB 3.0 boost and more. The Sabertooth Z97 Mark S is a limited edition appearance package of sorts featuring a unique white camouflage color theme that includes a white PCB. One feature unique to TUF and ROG motherboards is the Thermal Armor system. While not all motherboards in the TUF series have this feature, the Sabertooth Z97 Mark S does. This is no surprise as the Mark S is identical to the Mark 1 version of the motherboard which also comes with the Thermal Armor system. This system covers the motherboard and is a dual purpose solution. The first is for cosmetic reasons. The second has to do with directing airflow over components. Unfortunately you have to use active fans to actually get air flowing over these components. In which case the system acts like the air ducts in a household or automotive HVAC system directing air to and over certain components. An airflow valve has been added to the Mark 1 and Mark S motherboards. Depending on the configuration of your case fans this valve will allow the system to perform best either open or closed.

Dust Defender covers are included in greater numbers than ever before. Previously Dust Defenders covered some of the expansion slots and that was roughly the extent of this feature. Now plugs are included to cover virtually all the motherboards headers preventing dust from settling nearly anywhere on the surface of the motherboard. In fact there is so much coverage of components you could probably stick a feather duster or Swiffer into the system to dust it. Although that’s not something we would actually recommend, but I think the statement illustrates my point. ASUS also includes the TUF Fortifier which consists of a back plate that prevents PCB warping and even prevents short circuits by elevating solder points away from the computer chassis making contact impossible. These features aren’t 100% unique to the TUF line but the TUF line is where the Fortifier and Thermal Armor originated.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

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The box is standard fare for ASUS and any other manufacturer. The box is rather plan lacking any flaps or windows displaying additional product information or showcasing the motherboard while it rests in the package. There are numerous included accessories which is one of the hallmarks of any high end motherboard. Inside the box you’ll find the following accessories: User's manual, Accessory Guide, ASUS Q-Shield, 4x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s), 1x SLI bridge(s), 1x Q-connector(s) (2 in 1), 2x Accessory Fan(s) ( 35 /40 mm ), 1x TUF Certification card(s), 1x TUF 5, Year Warranty manual(s) (by region), 1x TUF Inside sticker(s), 1x Accessory Package(s):, 3x PCIe x16 slot dust cover(s), 2x DRAM slot dust cover(s), 3x PCIe x1 slot dust cover(s), 2x Short fan screw(s), 4x Long fan screw(s), 3x Thermistor cable(s), 1x back I/O dust frame, 1x back I/O dust grid, 1x connector dust cover collection (On board USB 3.0, DVI, HDMI, DP, LAN), 2x On board USB 2.0 connector dust cover(s), 8x back I/O USB 2.0 connector dust cover(s), 7x On board SATA connector dust cover(s), 1x SATA Express conector dust cover(s), and 5x Audio connector dust cover(s).

Board Layout

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Aesthetically the Sabertooth Z97 Mark S is quite striking. I haven’t personally seen white PCBs in person on motherboards in 10 years or more. The Thermal Armor system gives a nice clean look to any motherboard equipped with it. In essence the Sabertooth Z97 Mark S looks like no other motherboard on the market despite being a white copy of the Sabertooth Z97 Mark 1. The layout of the motherboard itself is excellent with no major design oversights. All headers on the PCB are marked and easy to read. You do not want for fan or USB headers.

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The 8+2 phase power design used on the Sabertooth Z97 Mark S is completely hidden by the Thermal Armor system. This system has two flow control valves which are really air vents. These are located where the MOSFETs reside underneath the plastic shroud. Depending on your fan setup you can open or close these for optimal air flow. On my test bench it seemed prudent to open the air vents in front of the test bench fan and close the others without direct air flow. I did experiment with these a bit and the only thing that really made a big difference was opening the one in front of the fan. Of course running without the active fan above the primary PCIe slot impacts temperatures more than anything. This easily adds 10 degrees of heat to the motherboard and many of its components.

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There are four 240-pin DDR3 DIMM slots supporting up to 32GB of RAM at speeds up to DDR3 1866MHz and beyond through overclocking. There is a slight color difference between the memory sockets denoting proper dual channel memory mode operation. In the wrong lighting and at a quick glance the color difference can be hard to spot.

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If I had to pin down one issue with the layout of this motherboard it would be with regard to the SATA ports. I do not like the positioning and right angle connectors used for the tan SATA ports attached to the ASM1061 controller.

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The expansion slot area is well designed aside from one thing. The fan installed on the Thermal Armor system could interfere with longer PCI-Express x1 cards used in the slot above the primary PCI-Express x16 slot. The configuration of the expansion slots allows for 16x0x0 or 8x8x4 lane operation. Because all three expansion slots lack equilateral bandwidth 3-Way and 4-Way SLI or Crossfire multi-GPU configurations are not supported. Two way and quad-GPU operation is via the two PCI-Express x8 slots. There are also three total PCI-Express x1 slots.

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The I/O panel isn’t as cluttered as one might imagine. A space has been reserved to allow for air flow via the installed fan to exhaust air out of the Thermal Armor ducting. There are 4x USB 2.0 ports, 4x USB 3.0 ports, 2x RJ-45 ports, 1x HDMI port, 1x DisplayPort, 1x optical output and 5x mini-stereo jacks for analog audio output. A BIOS Flashback button can also be found here allowing for BIOS recovery should it become necessary.

Editor's note: It is worth noting here that I did install the fans into the cooling system before Dan got to run his testing. While these are not installed from the factory, the process is very simple.