EVGA Z87 Stinger ITX Motherboard Review
Small form factor, mini-ITX based computer systems are certainly not a perfect fit for everyone but EVGA’s Z87 Stinger tries to offer something for nearly every scenario. It is supposed to feel at home within everything from a compact LAN party friendly gaming PC, a multimedia focused HTPC or any of the countless other classic builds that call for mITX motherboards. While it may strive for excellence, the Stinger has some high expectations riding on relatively narrow shoulders since the competition in this bracket is fierce and EVGA’s history with motherboards is anything but consistent. Consumers demand a lot from these 17 square centimeter boards so EVGA will need to being their A-game this time around if they have any hope of differentiating their offering.
Much like ASUS and their $180 Z87-I Deluxe and $220 Republic of Gamers Maximus VI Impact, EVGA has spared no expense in building their Z87 Stinger to satisfy the needs of this very demanding and very vocal consumer group. That should be obvious from the moment its steep $210 price tag comes into focus.
EVGA have the overclocking enthusiast firmly in their sites with this motherboard it comes as no surprise to see all the key components are laid out as far as possible from each other and the area around the CPU socket is clear of obstruction.
The CPU socket is also rather unique since it uses a gold plated socket which has 'up to 300%' more gold in it than most. This allows for cleaner data and power transfer between the CPU and the motherboard, helping (to some extent) overclocking headroom, though we all know that Haswell processors are typically held back by thermal boundaries rather than any CPU / motherboard interaction.
In typical EVGA fashion this classic looking mITX form factor motherboard has been designed with very non-typical mITX users in mind: gamers. On first blush combining the classical low power mITX form-factor with high performance overclocking may seem like a contradiction in terms but with the advent extremely capable SFF chassis. For example, the EVGA Hadron and BitFenix Prodigy feature loads of water cooling potential and room for relatively large GPUs which makes building a compact high performance gaming system possible. So there’s obviously a market for a capable motherboard like the Stinger.
From an aesthetics standpoint the Stinger is pretty straightforward with the usual all black PCB alongside black and red trim pieces. It makes for very bold and aggressive looking motherboard. The metal I/O shroud is another interesting addition, though one that serves very little functional purpose.
To help keep both the six MOSFETs and Z87 chipset cool EVGA has opted for two small passive heatsinks which have a combined total weight of 97 grams (37g for the Z87 heatsink and 60g for the power subsystem heatsink) and rely upon heatpads for the VRM and TIM for the Z87 chipset block. While relatively tall, the VRM cooler isn’t any higher than the rear I/O ports, cutting down on potential case compatibility issues.
At its core the Z87 Stinger relies upon a ten layer PCB with an all digital 6-phase power delivery subsystem which makes for a physically robust motherboard that can handle the unique stresses overclocking enthusiasts are going to place upon it.
Rounding out the overclocking enthusiast orientated features are hardwired power and reset switches, four 4-pin fan headers and a dual LED debug display that displays CPU temperatures after POST completion. Next to these essential hardware tools are the dual DDR3 slots which officially support speeds of up to DDR3-2666 speeds as well as Intel's Xtreme Memory Profile 1.3 standard. As an added bonus EVGA have also included a physical clear CMOS button on the rear I/O panel which will come in handy if an overclock becomes unstable.
To help attract as wide an audience as possible EVGA has included four SATA 6Gb/s ports, a single x16 PCI-E 3.0 slot, a single port Intel i217v Gigabit controller, and the very potent Creative Core3D, quad-core sound processor which has proven itself in many, many gaming orientated motherboards.
The rear I/O is also comparably equipped to most mITX boards and in addition to the Intel Ethernet port, includes four USB 3.0 ports, four USB 2.0 ports, a standard multi-channel audio IO ports as well as a HDMI and DisplayPort output.
Due to space being at such a premium on this tiny board, and the need to give certain hot running components ample space, EVGA has had to make a few interesting design decisions. Unlike some of the competition, the Z87 Stinger doesn’t come equipped with a wireless Ethernet controller.
EVGA may have included an mPCI-e port so it can be added, and even thoughtfully included two cutouts on the I/O shield for the antennas, but this omission is quite glaring given this board’s high price tag. Granted, there’s a built-in Bluetooth module and gamers typically prefer wired connections but with the benefits of Wireless AC, such concerns are mostly insubstantial.
EVGA has also made some downright odd choices regarding header location. The front panel headers may be perfectly located for smaller mITX cases, but the USB 3.0 header is placed near the rear I/O panel, making it quite difficult to access in some situations since many ITX chassis feature shorter-than-normal front USB cables. Meanwhile, the USB 2.0 header is even further away. Using an internal USB extension cable can mitigate these shortcomings but it will have to be purchased separately since we’ve yet to see an ITX or micro ATX chassis that includes one.
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