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GIGABYTE GA-Z97X-SOC Force LGA 1150 Intel Z97 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard
  • eggxpert iconEggXpert
  • Owned For: 1 week to 1 month

Pros: I reviewed the Gigabyte Model GA-Z97X-SOC Force motherboard with an Intel Socket 1150, Rev 1 configuration for NewEgg. Note SOC stands for Super Over-Clock. This model is primarily aimed at serious gamers who like to over-clock their hardware to obtain the best possible performance from their Intel processors and memory.

Since a motherboard is just foundation piece for a desktop system, the following additional parts were installed to complete the final system: Intel i7-4790S APU, rated 3.2-4.0 GHz (Turbo), with a TDP of 65 Watts and with built-in i4600 graphics. For the DRAM we used G. Skill Ripjaws X-series DDR3-2133, P/N F3-17000CL11D-8GBXL DRAM, rated CL11-11-11-30, at 1.5 to 1.6 Volts. The boot drive was a PNY 240 GB SATA-III 6GB/s SSD drive we got on sale from NewEgg. For power a new Rosewill Capstone 750 Watt, 80 Plus, Gold rated power supply, with a 7-year MFR warranty, was pressed into service. These are nice, quiet, and reliable power supplies. An LG Black 16X SATA Blu-ray Burner model WH16NS40 was our choice of optical drive. This drive can also burn archival quality M-Discs. I plan to use Blu-ray (BR) disks to backup our Centos Server OS.

Also feel free to copy the recipe of parts I used in this project to build your own Windows desktop or Centos Linux server system. Extreme gamers may wish to add a high-end graphics card and a water cooler.

Other than wading through hundreds of potential BIOS tweaks, setup under Windows 10 64-bit Enterprise Preview was a breeze. Why Win10? Well for one it’s currently available as a free download and I thought NewEgg's customers would like to see a review covering a bleeding edge MB, running a state-of-the-art operating system. The only setup snag encountered involved the driver disk supplied by Gigabyte refusing to run under Windows 10. It gave some script errors and then crashed. Since Win10 is still in beta, this was not an unexpected issue.

Builders tip: Skip this driver disk altogether and go to the MB manufacturer's website and download the latest drivers from there. Typically these driver disks are pressed months before the motherboards have even been finalized, so they can be ready when the boards ship. As a result these included driver disks are frequently out-of-date before they hit the retail shelves. The Gigabyte website Windows 8 drivers seemed to work fine under Windows 10.

As far as the special features on this MB, there are simply too many to list in the space allotted for this review. I would recommend that potential buyers watch NewEgg's excellent video on the overview page. The Gigabyte rep on that video does a great job of explaining the many MB features.

Cons: None that I could find during my two-week testing period. One weird problem I ran into during initial testing was when the system was shutdown, the Windows 10 would shut down, but all of the fans, including the CPU fan, would keep running. Flipping the rocker switch on the power supply then killed the fans and when powered back on, they stayed-off. As a test we threw in a Centos Linux live boot disk, it had the same issue. When all else fails, reading the supplied MB manual from Gigabyte quickly cleared-up the mystery. There is a configuration button on the motherboard with a lightening bolt on it. It’s intended for over-clockers to use to keep the fans running in between O. C. sessions, to cool off any hot components. Toggling this switch allowed the MB to shut down normally, sans fans, under both Centos and Windows 10.

There is another switch that also proved very handy. The Rosewill server case we were using had a key-locked front door that covered-up the front power switch. Gigabyte has conveniently placed a lighted power on/off switch right on the MB, where it can be easily reached by a builder during setup and testing.

There are many other specialized switches for O. C. experts to use, as well as some short test leads that can be plugged into the MB. These test leads accept a standard voltmeter probe tip. These short lead extenders allow direct reading of memory and bus voltages for precise over-clocking. Another builders tip: Do not trust the voltage/temperature readings provided by BIOS menus and utility programs running in Windows. The most accurate method is to measure the voltages at test points on the MB, or at the power supply plugs. For MB temperatures use a good quality laser temperature scanner.

Again this is not a con, but while this MB has four PCI-X16 slots, only one runs at the full X16 bus speed. This is a limitation of the Intel PCI-Express version 3.0 bus standard. So if you install a graphics card, make sure you install it into the X16 slot closest to the CPU. The third slot down is rated X8 and the two remaining X16 slots run at X4 speed.

One last oddity that still remains a mystery; The MB simulates two generic flash drives that show up as empty drive letters in the Windows drive manager and the Windows File Explorer. I have not been able to figure out what the purpose is for these two simulated flash drives. The downside is that they waste two drive letters I would have preferred to have assigned to other storage devices. One guess is since flash memory is used for modern UEFI BIOS, and this MB has a dual BIOS feature, perhaps Windows 10 incorrectly identified the two flash BIOS as flash storage devices. One drive was listed as a Compact Flash drive. The second was listed as a "generic" flash device. If anyone knows what these are, please enlighten me?

Other Thoughts: As far as the onboard graphics is concerned, the Intel 4600 graphics system built into the i7-4790S processor had no problems running Windows 10. I did not have a 4K monitor available to test the 4K output from the MB. For our eventual file server purposes, the onboard graphics was more than sufficient.

The Gigabyte MB has an assortment of video output jacks including: VGA, DVI, HDMI-4K and Displayport 4K. Most non-gamer, or moderate game users will be able to skip installing an add-on graphics card.

A special thanks goes out to a friend of mine named JP who stepped-up to supply some of the more expensive parts required to complete this review system. JP originally wanted to go with a water cooler, but the lack of any rear 120mm fan openings on the Rosewill RSV-4000 4U rack mount server case he supplied, killed that idea. So instead I used the supplied Intel heat sink fan. This Intel Haswell processor ran so cool that a water cooler is really not needed for normal desktop usage.

When the Centos OS Live disk was booted-up, all of the MB hardware, including the Atheros e2200 Killer Ethernet NIC, worked fine except for the Realtek audio system. Since this is going to be a file server, an audio system is not necessary. If you want to run a desktop version of Linux like Mint, it should not be that hard to find a suitable Realtek audio driver.

Even with the relatively brief two week test session with this Gigabyte Model GA-Z97X-SOC Force motherboard, its solid stability was very impressive. Not once did it cause a Blue Screen, even using a beta version of Windows 10. I would expect even better results under Windows 7 Pro 64-bit, where the drivers are more mature.

When you sum up all of the features this motherboard has to offer and with the retail price dropping, I would have no problem recommending this to someone looking to build a gaming desktop, video editing station, home theater PC, or even a file server.

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TP-LINK Archer C9 Wireless AC1900 Dual Band Gigabit Router
  • eggxpert iconEggXpert
  • Owned For: 1 week to 1 month

4 out of 5 eggs Update to Previous Review 01/21/2015

This review is from: TP-LINK Archer C9 Wireless AC1900 Dual Band Gigabit Router

Pros: Please see my original review of the Archer C9 router for the Pros.

Cons: An outdated firmware updating method dogs this otherwise fine router. See my previous review for other Cons.

I would still like to see Windows workgroup support added to the USB storage option.

Other Thoughts: My previous review ended on a sour note. As part of the review process I waited till near the end of the review test period to install a factory firmware update to the test router. The update seemed to go okay until it hit the 70% completed mark on the progress meter, then for no apparent reason an error message popped-up stating the connection had been lost to the router. After rebooting the router, it acted like it was bricked. It could logon to my ISP's server, but had no Internet connectivity. The 1.0 Gb/s LAN switch section worked okay, but none of my computers could access the Internet. I had to install an older backup router in order to submit my review.

I emailed TP-Link technical support the following day. They got back to me within a few hours. At the suggestion of TP-Link's technical support adviser, I did a factory reset on the router. This seemed to do the trick. I then had to go back and re-enter all of my previous customized router settings. I was unable to use the previously exported configuration file saved on my hard drive. Since factory reset was completed the router seems to be working fine.

The new firmware seems to have fixed the issue with the slow Android device connectivity mentioned under Cons in my previous review. As a result, I have updated my review from a 1-Egg rating to a 4-Egg rating due to this positive outcome.

I think that this router provides a lot of bang for the buck at its current discounted retail price. I can now recommend the router, but be very cautious about applying any firmware updates to this model.

TP-Link needs to follow the lead of other router brands that allow the user to click on an "update button" and the router automatically goes out to a server and downloads the latest firmware updates. After applying the new updates the router reboots itself. It should not be necessary to perform a factory reset every time an update is installed. Recommended for advanced users only.

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TP-LINK Archer C9 Wireless AC1900 Dual Band Gigabit Router
  • eggxpert iconEggXpert
  • Owned For: 1 week to 1 month

1 out of 5 eggs Nice Router, Except for the Firmware 01/11/2015

This review is from: TP-LINK Archer C9 Wireless AC1900 Dual Band Gigabit Router

Pros: I reviewed the TP-Link Archer C9, AC-1900 router. This is one of the best TP-Link routers that I have tested to date. Some of the outstanding features include:

1900 Mbps WIFI-AC Speed*
Beam Forming Technology
1.0 GHz Dual-Core Processor
Both USB 2.0 and 3.0 Peripheral Ports
4-Port Gigabit Ethernet Switch
Guest Network Access
Parental Controls
WPS Setup button
WIFI On/Off Switch
WDS Wireless Bridge Mode

*Note your receiving equipment will determine your actual WIFI connect speeds.

This is the first beam forming router that I have tested. I found the WIFI reception to be excellent all over my quad story home and attached garage. My house uses internal drywall with exterior brick construction. The many partitions and floors are a challenge for most routers. With the TP-Link Archer C9 my house seemed to be a walk in the park. It did an outstanding job throughout the brief two week test period.

I really liked the internal Network map that displays under the “Basic Tab” when you open the router’s built-in website menu. This gives you a nice over-view of your local network topology. You can immediately know for example, how many devices are connected to both your LAN and your wireless networks. A blue checkmark indicates whether your Internet connection is enabled, or disabled. If click on the “Advanced Tab” and you get a detailed list of all of the router’s critical functions in a nicely designed menu format. Based on the sheer number of settings and options, it’s clear that this is meant to be a Cadillac router. It has all of the latest bells and whistles.

My wife and I used the router for almost two weeks before this review came due and except for the NAT Boost issue, mentioned below under the Cons section, and the firmware disaster today, the Archer C9 had performed flawlessly.

One feature notice, if you test a lot of routers, that stood out right away was the snappy menu responses of this router. Router restarts were also completed in under 30 seconds! The dual-core processor makes a huge difference in the overall speed of this router. I expect that this performance would also improve the throughput of any flash storage devices connected to the USB 2.0, or 3.0 ports on the router. I had no problem streaming music and videos from the USB 2.0 key I installed into the router’s USB 2.0 port. I plan to order a USB 3.0 flash drive to test out the even faster USB 3.0 port.

The power rocker switch and WIFI on/Off switch are both nice features. If you go on vacation you can turn-off the WIFI for added security, while leaving the router and LAN accessible for remote file access. This router allows for remote FTP access from the Internet and has password protection to help keep hackers out. The external FTP and the password feature can both be disabled if you don’t use the external FTP feature. This eliminates the need to enter a password from locally attached LAN computers.

Cons: Firmware updating uses a rather out-dated method. You have to use your computer’s browser to first browse to TP-Link’s support website. Locate the latest firmware update and then save it to your hard drive. Then go into the router’s browser interface and click a browse button and browse for the firmware update on your hard drive, then click an “Upgrade” button. Its recommended to do this from a LAN based computer, versus a WIFI connected computer. This is done to limit the chance of corrupting the firmware due to a connection blip. Afterwards all of the user settings are erased and have to be re-imported. So be sure to export your configuration settings first, before you upgrade the router. You should be able to import them back in after the update is completed and the router has rebooted. You will need to search for the router at its original default factory IP address if you changed that.

This router cannot be mounted flat against a cabinet, or a wall, due to the tilted upright case design. No wall mount holes are provided. This did not present a problem for me. I just set it on top of my 16-port network switch, located in my den, and with the tilted/upright positioning, it actually improved the ventilation for both units.

My wife reported a slow connection issue with both her Nexus 7 tablet and her Smart phone. Both of these devices are Android based. The problem was slow Internet connectivity. She would open a popular search engine in her browsers and the busy indicator would keep spinning for 10 seconds or more. With our previous router, the search site would just blink on the screen. Turning off the NAT Boost feature in the router seemed to solve this issue. I don’t know if this is an Android issue, or a TP-Link firmware bug.

One other annoyance was the router’s inability to identify the LAN devices connected to it. In the status screen it would list all of the MAC addresses, but was unable to identify any of LAN devices by their network name. Part of the point of having a list of DHCP devices, is to know when a rogue device is connected to your network. None of the previous non-TP-Link routers I’ve used exhibited this issue. You should not have to catalog all of your device MAC addresses.

No Windows Workgroup support. Would be nice if TP-Link would allow you to assign the router to a Windows Workgroup for its file sharing app. My NAS server uses SAMBA and it can join a workgroup, which makes it much more easily accessible on a Windows peer to peer network. My previous WD AC-1300 router also supported this feature. I knocked an Egg off for this over-site. More on this under the “Other Thoughts” section below:

Other Thoughts: While the A-band provided faster throughput at close range, the nature of 5 GHz microwaves limits their ability to penetrate solid objects very well. So the reception in the A-band was not as good in my attached garage as it was with the 2.4 GHz WIFI-B/G/N low band. The antennas on this router can be unscrewed and replaced with standard high gain, or directional antennas, in the event you need better reception in a weak area of your home or business.

The lack of workgroup support in Windows was a huge inconvenience. Instead you have to type in the FTP (IP) address into Windows File Explorer every time you want to connect to a flash drive attached to one of the two USB ports on the router. Then navigate through the FTP tree structure. As such, the Archer C9 did not show up in the network neighborhood on any of our computers.

I upgraded the router firmware just before completing this review and it seemed to go okay at first. I upgraded from the October 2014 shipping firmware release to the November 2014 firmware update. The upgrade was loading, when it got to about 70% completed, a message popped-up saying the connection had been lost. I don’t know if this had anything to do with the fact that I had previously modified the DHCP range and the gateway address of the Archer C9, to make it emulate the settings on my previous Linksys and WD routers. I have five devices on my LAN that use fixed IP addresses. After the firmware upgrade crash I had to manually reboot the C9. Afterward the C9 had reset itself to its factory default settings, so I imported my previous configuration settings. A look through the various setup menus seemed to indicate all was as before.

The only problem was a total loss of Internet connectivity after the firmware upgrade and previous configuration import. The LAN side of the router works fine, just no Internet access. All of our WIFI devices report a network connection, but no Internet access. The router is able to obtain a lease from my ISP. I manually went through and tried releasing and renewing the Internet connection and rebooting the router all to no avail. My Windows 7 laptop also got stuck on treating the upgraded router as a public connection, versus a home connection and the link to change that setting in Win7 was gone. I never selected the box that says to treat all connections as public either. The only solution was to reinstall my previous router, at which point all Internet connectivity returned to normal.

Based on the many previous WIFI routers that I have tested, the Archer C9 had earned an “A” for its superb WIFI reception inside my home. It’s an excellent value given its specs as compared to its modest price. I was going to award the Archer C9 a 4-Egg rating overall, but now that it seems to be bricked. I have no choice, but to give it a poor rating. I plan to contact TP-Link's tech support to see if the C9 can be recovered, or replaced under warranty. I will update my review afterward.

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William W.'s Profile

Display Name: William W.

Date Joined: 01/09/05

Achievements:

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  • Reviews: 136
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  • First Review: 12/25/05
  • Last Review: 02/03/15
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