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Asus Z97 Sabertooth Mark 1

Packaging

The Sabertooth comes in a grey box with the brand and motherboard series clearly labeled. You get the standard fare of accessories that one expects from a modern motherboard such as SATA cables, a rear I/O plate, manuals and driver CD but in addition to these you also get 2 extra fans, a few thermal probes, dust filters and a few rubber and plastic plugs that you can use on the rear I/O ports, DRAM and PCIe slots that you aren’t going to use. These plugs are to prevent dust from building and seem like a good idea should you not clean your system for months or years even. The Sabertooth also comes with a certificate of reliability which states that this board has been tested under certain conditions and has passed said stress tests to ensure the board runs stable.

Layout

The new Z97 Sabertooth is part of Asus TUF series which emphasizes reliability and stability even when the system is under continuous load. The motherboard’s PCB is almost covered in a plastic shield which not only looks “TUF” but is also designed to reduce dust buildup and improve airflow within the board itself. Almost everything on the board is covered in this plastic shield apart from the top that has the 8 pin power connector as well as some fan headers, the area around the 24 pin power connector and the bottom where the front USB and SATA connectors are. The area around the CPU socket is of course exposed as well and even when installing the huge Noctua NH-U14S there weren’t any issues with the plastic shield getting in the way. Underneath the CPU area is a square cut out held on with 4 screws, this is where you can install one of those fans included in the accessories, the other can be installed in the rear I/O area.

In the rear I/O there’s 4 x USB 2.0, 4 x USB 3.0, 1 x HDMI, 1 x DisplayPort, 6 x Audio connectors, 2 x Gigabit LAN ports as well as a BIOS flashback button. In between the video and USB 2.0 ports is an empty space, this hole is where the other fan will divert the hot air from the system out through the I/O plate.

On the board you get 3 x PCIe x1 slots and 3 x PCIe x16 slots with the bottom one running at only 4x. On the side you get 6 x SATA ports as well as a single SATA Express port. SATA Express brings with it improved speed over regular SATA but with the slow adoption rate, Asus felt only one should be necessary for now.

What I noticed were missing were the onboard power and reset buttons as well as a diagnostic LED, something which you would expect to see in such a special motherboard. Asus must expect you won’t need to diagnose any issues with this board due to their prior testing of it.

BIOS and Software

The Sabertooth Mark 1 uses Asus own UEFI BIOS which is still one of the best out there. Easy to navigate and use the Sabertooth’s BIOS looks similar to the BIOS used in Asus own ROG series of boards except the predominant color scheme is grey. It lets you tweak and adjust almost every aspect of the board as well as monitor temperatures and fan speeds. Like the ROG BIOS, the TUF BIOS has the AI Tweaker that lets you tweak the system for the best possible performance and overclock. It even has the same preset overclocking profiles that give you an instant speed bump provided your CPU can handle it.

AI Suite 3 makes a comeback in the Z97 series of boards too however unlike the 5 way optimization we saw with the Z97 Deluxe reviewed earlier, the Sabertooth’s software focuses on thermals rather than performance. The system analyzes the temperature of your system and the fans attached and adjust them to suit the various loads on the system which may arise. Other than that the Sabertooth’s AI Suite is similar to other Asus boards that use this latest iteration of their AI software.

Overclocking

Using the BIOS EZ Tuning wizard the Core i7-4770k reached 4.4GHz at 1.3V. With further tweaks using Intel’s Xtreme Tuning Utility (XTU) the CPU reached 4.6GHz at 1.312. It did run at 84C under load which might not be the best speed to keep it at unless proper cooling is ensured.

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