This will have engineers at Asus's competitors either headbutting their workbenches in frustration or pacing up and down their labs like neglected zoo animals, because it's going to really hurt. We're suckers for the new Sabertooth Z87 just as much as we were for its Z77 daddy.

In some ways, the Z87 Sabertooth is nothing special. For the cynical, the recipe goes something like this. Take a plain Jane motherboard. Cover it up with some bits of pointless plastic. And then flog it at a bit of a premium price point. Kerching, indeed.

And there's a lot of truth in that position. The board that underpins the Sabertooth isn't a fancy-pants high-end item, and it is clad in frankly fairly cheap plastic panels. Premium features like a debug LED readout, hardware power buttons, V-check points? You get none of that stuff, but here's the thing: the result is greater than the sum of its parts.

Practical concerns

Let's kick off with that cladding. It does actually serve a purpose: keeping dust off the board and out of unused ports and slots. Then there's the metal brace on the rear that keeps the board flat and trim. Both are genuine boons if you plan to keep and run a board for the long term, making it that little bit more likely to keep on trucking.

Asus claims it helps to keep components cooler by better managing airflow. The metal brace also has thermal pads so acts as a large heat sink. Want to know how effective all that is? As it happens, Asus bundles an app called Thermal Radar along with nine hardwire temp sensors and a further three probes for preferential positioning so you can find out.

Then there's the BIOS. Asus's UEFI BIOS is one of our favourites. It's clear, it's easy to navigate, and it's not excessively gimmicky. The labels and names Asus uses are familiar and make sense, and it offers all the options we realistically want.

It's hard to argue with the performance numbers that the Sabertooth cranks out, too. It's not the fastest board here in our stock-clocked performance tests, but it's close enough for that not to matter. Moreover, it's second only to the almost dubiously fast MSI G43 in-game.

The question is how much you care whether your board cranks out 8.3-something points in Cinebench or 8.5. More importantly, it's right on the pace for overclocking, knocking up an easy 4.7GHz with our Intel Core i7-4770K test chip.

Benchmarks

Multi-thread CPU performance
Cinebench 11.5: Index score: Higher is better

ASRock Z87 Extreme3: 8.03
Asus Sabertooth Z87: 8.34
Asus Z87-Pro: 8.05
Gigabyte Z87-D3HP: 8.06
Gigabyte Z87 G1.Sniper M5: 8.05
Intel DZ87KLT-75K: 8.11
MSI Z87-G43: 8.5
MSI Z87-GD65 Gaming: 8.48
MSI Z87 XPower: 8.5

Single-thread CPU performance
Cinebench 11.5: Index score: Higher is better

ASRock Z87 Extreme3: 1.75
Asus Sabertooth Z87: 1.75
Asus Z87-Pro: 1.76
Gigabyte Z87-D3HP: 1.75
Gigabyte Z87 G1.Sniper M5: 1.72
Intel DZ87KLT-75K: 1.77
MSI Z87-G43: 1.72
MSI Z87-GD65 Gaming: 1.71
MSI Z87 XPower: 1.72

Video encode performance
X264 4.0: Frames per second: Higher is better

ASRock Z87 Extreme3: 45.5
Asus Sabertooth Z87: 46.3
Asus Z87-Pro: 45.6
Gigabyte Z87-D3HP: 45.5
Gigabyte Z87 G1.Sniper M5: 45.5
Intel DZ87KLT-75K: 45.7
MSI Z87-G43: 45.7
MSI Z87-GD65 Gaming: 46.5
MSI Z87 XPower: 47.5

Memory bandwidth @ optimised defults
SiSoft Sandra: Gigabytes per second: Higher is better

ASRock Z87 Extreme3: 17.38
Asus Sabertooth Z87: 17.24
Asus Z87-Pro: 17.47
Gigabyte Z87-D3HP: 17.25
Gigabyte Z87 G1.Sniper M5: 17.45
Intel DZ87KLT-75K: 17.56
MSI Z87-G43: 17.32
MSI Z87-GD65 Gaming: 17.2
MSI Z87 XPower: 17.39

Gaming performance
Shogun: Total War 2: Frames per second: Higher is better

ASRock Z87 Extreme3: 38.4
Asus Sabertooth Z87: 39.4
Asus Z87-Pro: 38.1
Gigabyte Z87-D3HP: 34.5
Gigabyte Z87 G1.Sniper M5: 37.1
Intel DZ87KLT-75K: 37.9
MSI Z87-G43: 44.6
MSI Z87-GD65 Gaming: 38.9
MSI Z87 XPower: 39.5

Maximum overclock performance
4770K: Gigahertz: Higher is better

ASRock Z87 Extreme3: 4.7
Asus Sabertooth Z87: 4.7
Asus Z87-Pro: 4.7
Gigabyte Z87-D3HP: 4.0
Gigabyte Z87 G1.Sniper M5: 4.7
Intel DZ87KLT-75K: 4.5
MSI Z87-G43: 4.6
MSI Z87-GD65 Gaming: 4.6
MSI Z87 XPower: 4.7

Verdict

Would the likes of MSI's yield a slightly higher maximum frequency courtesy of extensive hand tuning by somebody who really knows their overclocking oats? Very likely. If that's you, the MSI is probably the better choice. But for everyone else, the Sabertooth offers quick, painless overclocking that anyone will be able to achieve.

All of which brings us to the one and only significant issue we have with the Sabertooth Z87: pricing. Sure, it's much cheaper than a true enthusiast-class mobo, but it still feels like a lot for what is, ultimately, a jazzed up mainstream board.