Articles: Mainboards

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PCB Design and Features

Our descriptions of different mainboards may often look the same as they are all based on the Intel Z87 chipset. So, talking about the ASUS Gryphon Z87, we should say the same things all over again. This mainboard supports all modern LGA1150 processors, powering them via a digital 8+2-phase power system. The components of the Gryphon Z87 are tested to comply with military- or server-grade standards. That’s why ASUS supplies its TUF series products with a 5-year warranty. The mainboard’s four memory slots can take in up to 32 gigabytes of DDR3 SDRAM, as usual, but the top frequency is specified at 1866 MHz instead of the typical 2933 or even 3000+ MHz. This formal restriction should not be feared, though. The BIOS lets you select any memory frequency multiplier, so our modules worked as smoothly at 2133 MHz as on any other mainboard.

Six SATA 6 Gbit/s ports is quite enough for a small mainboard, so the Gryphon Z87 doesn’t need additional disk controllers but its selection of expansion slots is not standard. The Intel Z87 chipset allowing to split up CPU-based PCI Express lanes, we might expect to see two PCIe 3.0 x16 slots (although quite a lot of micro-ATX mainboards have only one such slot). However, the Gryphon Z87 has as many as three and supports both AMD quad-GPU CrossFireX and Nvidia quad-GPU SLI. The first two graphics slots are PCIe 3.0 and use CPU-based PCIe lanes as 1x16 or 2x8. The third slot is based on the chipset’s PCIe 2.0 lanes, ensuring a max speed of x4. The Gryphon Z87 also has one PCI Express 2.0 x1 slot but has no place for a PCI slot.

The lack of legacy interfaces is a deliberate solution typical of many ASUS products. The Gryphon Z87 doesn’t offer a COM port or PS/2 ports for your keyboard and mouse. It doesn’t even have an analog video output (D-Sub). There’s actually quite a lot of free space on the mainboard’s back panel, yet we do find the basic set of necessary interfaces:

  • Four USB 2.0 ports (and four more can be connected to the two onboard headers)
  • DVI-D and HDMI video outputs
  • Four USB 3.0 ports (blue) thanks to the Intel Z87 chipset and one onboard header for two more USB 3.0 ports
  • LAN connector (based on a Gigabit Ethernet controller Intel WGI217V)
  • Optical S/PDIF and six analog audio connectors based on an 8-channel Realtek ALC892 codec

By the way, there are logotypes and the characteristic camouflage coloring that indicate the product’s affiliation with the TUF series, but what about the famous Thermal Armor which has come to be associated with TUF mainboards? It is still available but not installed by default. You can purchase it separately if you want to. The Gryphon Armor Kit includes shielding plates for both sides of the mainboard, a screwdriver and fasteners, dust protectors, and a small 35mm fan. So it turns out that the free space above the DVI-D connector has been left on purpose. The included I/O Shield also has openings there for ventilation because the optional fan is supposed to be mounted behind it.

Many mainboards come with special caps on infrequently used connectors to keep dust away. For example, nearly every modern mainboard has video outputs on its back panel but most users install discrete graphics cards. That’s why the video outputs are often protected with caps. Some mainboards also come with dust protectors for USB connectors. The TUF series additionally features Dust Defenders for empty expansion and memory slots but it is the first time that we see such protection for audio connectors.

Now let’s take a look at the mainboard’s schematic to see how user-friendly it is and what extra features it offers. It is generally acceptable for micro-ATX mainboards to have only three fan connectors but the Gryphon Z87 differs from the rule. It offers as many as seven! Two of them are for a CPU cooler’s fans whereas the single 3-pin connector is meant for the small additional fan.

As for buttons, we can see a USB BIOS Flashback button for updating firmware without assembling the whole computer (you only need to connect power). The MemOK! button lets you start your computer up in case of some problems with memory modules whereas DirectKey provides direct access to the BIOS interface.

The mainboard supports Q-Design technologies which are meant to simplify the process of building and running an ASUS-based computer. The Gryphon Z87 supports nearly all of them excepting a POST indicator. However, you can quickly and easily identify the source of any boot-related problems by looking at the Q-LED indicators (CPU, DRAM, VGA and Boot Device LEDs). Then, we have broad graphics slot latches (Q-Slot), single-sided memory slot latches (Q-DIMM - these are most helpful on a compact mainboard as you can add or replace memory modules without taking out your graphics card), a soft-padded I/O shield (Q-Shield), and a set of adapters for connecting the USB 2.0 header and the computer case’s buttons and indicators (Q-Connector).

You can see the specifications of the ASUS Gryphon Z87 in the summary table:

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