Articles: Mainboards

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Testbed Configuration

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

  • ASUS Z87-Deluxe mainboard (LGA1150, Intel Z87, BIOS version 1205);
  • Intel Core i5-4670K CPU (3.6-3.8 GHz, 4 cores, Haswell, 22nm, 84 W, LGA 1150);
  • 2 x 8 GB DDR3 SDRAM G.Skill TridentX F3-2133C9Q-32GTX (2133 MHz, 9-11-11-31-2N timings, 1.6 V voltage);
  • Gigabyte GV-T797OC-3GD (AMD Radeon HD 7970, Tahiti, 28 nm, 1000/5500 MHz, 384-bit GDDR5 3072 MB);
  • Crucial m4 SSD (CT256M4SSD2, 256 GB, SATA 6 Gbps);
  • Scythe Mugen 3 Revision B (SCMG-3100) CPU cooler;
  • ARCTIC MX-2 thermal interface;
  • Enhance EPS-1280GA 800 W PSU;
  • Open testbed built using Antec Skeleton system case.

We used Microsoft Windows 8 Enterprise 64 bit (Microsoft Windows, Version 6.2, Build 9200) operating system, Intel Chipset Device Software driver package version, AMD Catalyst 13.4 graphics card driver.

Working at Default Settings

We assembled our testbed with the ASUS Z87-Deluxe using only one expansion card (the graphics card) and had no problems starting it up. Using the BIOS-integrated utility ASUS EZ Flash 2, we updated the firmware to the latest version 1205. 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 Tab to remove the picture whereas F8 will open a menu for choosing an out-of-order boot device.

If you disable the startup picture with the Tab key or in the BIOS, 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.

Well, today’s ASUS mainboards start up so fast that you have barely enough time to punch the button to enter their BIOS, let alone read anything from the screen. So, in order to load the BIOS interface automatically, you are supposed to use the special DirectKey, which would be indeed perfect if it were not for certain peculiarities in its implementation.

It was in our review of the MSI Z77 MPOWER that we first encountered a button with similar function. Pressing the GO2BIOS button on the MSI mainboard loaded the BIOS interface without any user’s intervention upon the next restart. You could press it whenever you liked – when the computer is turned on, when you’re in the BIOS interface or when you’re working in the OS.

ASUS’s DirectKey works differently. It duplicates the Power button but adds the option of entering the BIOS interface automatically. It is handy to turn your computer on with this button and go right to the BIOS, but restarting is more required when you’re setting your mainboard up for the first time. Supposing that you’ve changed some BIOS options, rebooted your computer and seen that your settings are not what you want. You want to correct them. On the MSI mainboard, you just press the GO2BIOS button, restart and find yourself in the BIOS interface. On the ASUS mainboard, you press the DirectKey, so the computer shuts down. Then you turn it on again and go to the BIOS. The step of turning the computer off and on seems to be unnecessary here. Moreover, the DirectKey is not handy when the mainboard is already inside a computer case. The Z87-Deluxe corrects this by duplicating the button with the 2-pin Direct Connector which you can connect to the computer case’s Reset button or output as a separate button.

Windows users will find the ASUS Boot Setting utility to be the easiest way to go right to the BIOS, though. As we explained in our ASUS P8Z77-V LK review, it allows to enter the BIOS interface right after restarting, without any user actions and without turning the computer off and on. The utility is not part of AI Suite III, but it’s small and can be downloaded separately. Well, when you set up your mainboard for the first time, you may want to temporarily disable the Fast Boot option (in the BIOS’s Boot section) to have no problems entering the BIOS interface.

It looks like ASUS has got itself into trouble by making its mainboards start faster. As a result, they had to introduce the ASUS Boot Setting utility and implement additional DirectKey buttons and connectors on their top-end mainboards. They even had to print an Exclusive Boot Features booklet to explain how ASUS mainboards start up. Ironically, these methods don’t solve the problem although it can be done easily. Like on mainboards from other brand, the Fast Boost option should just be turned off by default. The mainboard would still start up quickly enough in that case and the user would be able to accelerate the process when he likes.

Haswell-based LGA1150 CPUs are more economical at low loads than their LGA1155 counterparts but none of the mainboards we’ve tested provides this advantage by default. You have to manually enable all of Intel’s power-saving technologies, which is not so easy on the ASUS mainboard. You have to go to the Advanced section, then to the CPU Configuration subsection, and then to the CPU Power Management Configuration page. For additional savings by means of ASUS’s exclusive technologies, enable EPU Power Saving Mode. Moreover, top-end ASUS mainboards, including the Z87-Deluxe, offer a lot of CPU Power Management options that help lower the computer’s power draw in idle mode.

Many mainboards do not ensure the standard operation mode for the CPU by default. They drop the CPU frequency multiplier to the base level at high loads, although it should be higher thanks to Intel Turbo Boost. To correct this, you must increase the power consumption limits (in the CPU Power Management part of the Ai Tweaker section in ASUS’s BIOS).

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