Just over two months since the launch of desktop Haswell, we run the rule over a pair of value-oriented Intel Z87 motherboards from ASRock and MSI competing in the same price bracket.

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Rear I/O panel

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At first glance, the two motherboards here have similar I/O options – with an identical number of USB 3.0 ports, legacy PS/2, Gigabit LAN, display headers for the integrated graphics and 7.1 channel audio jacks.

However, ASRock takes the win here with a the inclusion of an additional DisplayPort connector and a HDMI passthrough feature that allows another device (like a gaming console) to share the same monitor output.

 

Audio

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Both manufacturers have paid extra attention to the onboard audio implementation and use Realtek’s latest ALC1150 codec (purportedly rated at 115dB SNR) as the baseline.

ASRock’s “Purity Sound” audio solution features special PCB signal isolation and a pair of TI NE5532 opamps for headphone signal amplification and filtering, while MSI’s “Audio Boost” method goes one step further by using a higher grade OPA 1652 as the headphone amp, gold plating on the audio jacks and Sound Blaster Cinema software DSP enhancements.

 

LAN

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To the casual observer, MSI looks to have bagged this category by equipping their board with Qualcomm’s fancy Killer E2200 gigabit controller.

We prefer ASRock’s no-frills Intel I217V Gigabit PHY because the Killer E2200 used on the MSI board requires an inconvenient ~300MB installer for drivers.

Both NICs have advanced logic for heavy load interrupt handling and TCP/UDP offload functions, hence the perceptible difference here is almost negligible especially in the modern CPU era.