Articles: Mainboards

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Testbed and Methods

We performed all our tests on a testbed built out of the following components:

  • Mainboard: ASUS Gryphon Z87 rev. 1.03 (LGA1150, Intel Z87, BIOS 1603)
  • CPU: Intel Core i5-4670K CPU (3.6-3.8 GHz, 4 cores, Haswell, 22nm, 84 W, LGA1150)
  • DDR3 SDRAM: 4x8GB G.SKILL TridentX F3-2133C9Q-32GTX (2133 MHz, 9-11-11-31-2N, 1.6 volts)
  • Graphics card: Gigabyte GV-R797OC-3GD (AMD Radeon HD 7970, Tahiti, 28 nm, 1000/5500 MHz, 3072 MB of GDDR5 memory with 384-bit bus)
  • Disk subsystem: Crucial m4 SSD (CT256M4SSD2, 256 GB, SATA 6 Gbit/s)
  • CPU cooler: Scythe Mugen 3 Revision B (SCMG-3100)
  • Thermal interface: ARCTIC MX-2
  • PSU: Enhance EPS-1280GA (800 W)
  • Computer case: an open testbed based on the Antec Skeleton case

We used Microsoft Windows 8.1 Enterprise 64-bit (Microsoft Windows version 6.3 build 9600), Intel Chipset Device Software version, and the AMD Catalyst 13.9 graphics card driver.

Operational Specifics

We had some apprehensions about building our testbed with the microATX Gryphon Z87 because our Scythe Mugen 3 cooler is quite large. It is a tower-design cooler for a 120mm fan. We didn’t want to replace it as we wanted to be able to compare our test results with full-size ATX mainboards. Fortunately, we encountered no problems building and starting up our testbed. Using the integrated update tool, we loaded the latest BIOS version. Everything went as smoothly as with any other ASUS product.

As is typical of ASUS mainboards, the startup picture only mentions that you can press Del or F2 to enter the BIOS interface. ASUS persists in not telling us anything about the other active hotkeys. For example, you can press F8 to open a menu for choosing an out-of-order boot device but you can only learn about that from the user manual.

You can disable the startup picture with the Tab key (temporarily) or in the BIOS (permanently), but you won’t see any prompts, either. What you will see is information about the mainboard’s model name, BIOS version, CPU model, the amount and frequency of system memory, the number and type of USB devices, and about the connected disks. The real CPU clock rate is not reported, though. The mainboard doesn’t count in any CPU overclocking you've done or any changes to the CPU frequency multiplier due to the Intel Turbo Boost technology. This downside is especially annoying as we know that ASUS’s ROG series products can correctly report both standard and actual CPU clock rates.

There are a number of advantages about ASUS mainboards, some of which are really important. We also know about their downsides. Although they are free from critical defects, their minor flaws can really spoil the fun from using them. To make ourselves clear, we'd like to write down the steps you need to go through in order to make the mainboard work effectively in its standard, i.e. non-overclocked, state.

So you enter the BIOS interface, load the default settings, type in the current date and time, and define the boot device order. You may also want to set up your expansion slots, enable specific technologies and do something else as you always do with a new mainboard. But when you enter ASUS's BIOS, you find yourself in the so-called EZ Mode, which means you have to switch to the Advanced Mode first. Second, you may want to use Advanced Mode as the default one by choosing the appropriate setting in the Boot section. And third, you should disable the Fast Boot option to make it easier to enter the BIOS interface later on.

It is good that the mainboard can automatically regulate fans depending on temperature. However, the CPU fan speed is colored red in the BIOS screenshots, which means the mainboard has lowered the speed but now thinks that it might be too low. So when you start up your computer, you will be shown a warning about the speed being too low. To avoid this warning, you can reduce the permissible minimum of fan speed in the Monitor section (that's step 4 already).

There’s no need to adjust anything in the Ai Tweaker section but you should set up CPU Power Phase Control and DRAM Power Phase Control properly in the DIGI+ Power Control section, which is step 5. ASUS mainboards disable Intel Turbo Boost at high CPU loads, dropping the clock rate to the base level. Such frequency drops are brief at typical loads and do not affect the resulting performance. At high continuous loads, however, the CPU clock rate will always remain low, so you may want to correct this by manually increasing the power limits in the CPU Power Management section. You can also read the context-sensitive tips about the rest of the options here. Some of them refer to the Haswell’s integrated voltage regulator and may help reduce the computer’s idle power draw. That’s step 6 in our setup procedure.

It is hard to reach the power-saving parameters of ASUS mainboards as if they were hidden deliberately. You have to open the Advanced section, move to CPU Configuration, and then switch to the CPU Power Management Configuration page. You can only see the first three options because CPU C States is set at Auto and the rest of the options are hidden. When you change it to Enabled, you will reveal them. Most of the power-saving technologies are already turned on, so you only have to switch Package C State Support to Enabled. That’s step 7. And finally you enable the ErP Ready option (in the APM subsection of the Advanced section) to save power when the computer's turned off.

Thus, setting up the computer optimally takes as many as eight steps with the Gryphon Z87. It would be far easier if the required parameters were selected by the mainboard automatically when you choose Load Optimized Defaults.

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