Articles: Mainboards

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Testbed Configuration

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

  • MSI Z87-G43, MS-7816 mainboard (LGA1150, Intel Z87, BIOS version V1.3);
  • 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 in Default and Overclocked Mode

The picture the MSI Z87-G43 shows you while starting up resembles the design of its product box. Some of the active hotkeys are mentioned at the bottom of the screen, although the Tab key, which removes the startup picture, is not listed among them.

The active hotkeys will still be mentioned even when the startup picture is turned off with Tab or with the related BIOS option. At the top of the screen the information is outputted about the mainboard’s model name and BIOS version, memory frequency and amount, and connected USB devices and drives. The installed CPU is named correctly but its frequency is not always reported accurately. It is based on the Adjust CPU Ratio option in the BIOS's OC section, but the actual CPU clock rate is going to be higher thanks to the Intel Turbo Boost technology. Moreover, the frequency multipliers of the CPU cores can be adjusted in the CPU Features subsection, and this is not counted in, either.

After the OS had been booted up, we found the CPU working in a nonstandard mode. At any load its frequency multiplier would be at the maximum which is normally used by Intel Turbo Boost for single-threaded loads only. For our CPU, it means a constant clock rate of 3.8 GHz instead of changing in a range of 3.6 to 3.8 GHz. If you want your CPU to work under standard conditions, you should just turn off the Enhanced Turbo option in the mainboard's BIOS. That feature works by default, being set at Auto.

As we noticed above, MSI mainboards have always been economical and the new model carries this tradition on, as we will see shortly in our power consumption tests. However, if you manually change all the power-saving options of the CPU Features section in the mainboard's BIOS from Auto to Enabled, the power draw will be significantly reduced. In other words, the Z87-G43 doesn’t use all of the power-saving techniques by default. This is typical of all LGA1150 mainboards we’ve tested so far. And the C1E Support option is even explicitly turned off by default on MSI mainboards.

Before experimenting with manual tuning and overclocking, we decided to check out the automatic overclocking feature OC Tuner. When you press the namesake button in the mainboard's BIOS or in MSI Command Center, your computer will be rebooted and automatically overclocked. The XMP profile was used in that case for our memory modules, so their clock rate was increased to 2133 MHz and their timings were adjusted accordingly. Some other technologies of this kind omit to give a boost to system memory, which is not right. You need to overclock every component to reach maximum performance. The CPU was overclocked to 4.0 MHz. That's not much but such modest overclocking is guaranteed to work with nearly any CPU and any cooler. The only downside we could see was that the frequency multiplier of the overclocked CPU wouldn't go down at low loads.

MSI mainboards used to have a My OC Genie page in their BIOS where you could specify some of the automatic overclocking options. You can’t do that anymore, so when you start up your mainboard with OC Tuner enabled, you are warned against changing any overclocking related settings.

Still, we risked and tried to correct the single downside of the OC Tuner technology, but to no effect. The EIST option that controls Enhanced Intel SpeedStep turned out to be blocked in the BIOS, so we just couldn't change it.

As we found out later, the EIST option becomes disabled and blocked even after your changing the Adjust CPU Ratio option. To avoid this, you have to change your CPU frequency multipliers in the CPU Features subsection.

Thus, the main downside of OC Tuner is that it disables power-saving CPU modes. Moreover, when you turn the overclocking feature off, the BIOS options do not return to their previous or default values. You have to change them manually (the EIST option appears again after your turning OC Tuner off, but it is disabled).

Then we wanted to check out if the MSI Z87-G43 could be overclocked without any volt-modding, so that Intel’s power-saving technologies were all up and running. In our tests of the Gigabyte GA-Z87X-D3H we found such overclocking possible and it is possible with the Z87-G43 as well. If you leave the CPU voltage option at Auto, it will not be increased by the mainboard, so the CPU-integrated voltage regulator won’t be increase it too much at high loads, either. The resulting voltage was somewhat different from what we had had with other mainboards at similar settings, though. We’ll explain this shortly.

Energy efficient overclocking is only possible if you don’t increase voltage. It will ensure higher performance and, despite the increased power consumption, you can expect long-term savings due to the reduced amount of energy spent for each computation. Energy efficient overclocking is going to be environment-friendly as we showed in our Power Consumption of Overclocked CPUs review. However, when we test mainboards, we want to check them out under different conditions and loads, so we choose what overclocking method ensures the highest results. Higher clock rates and voltages mean harsher test conditions and it is under such conditions that we can better see any flaws or problems in mainboard design. That’s why we overclock our CPU to 4.5 GHz in our mainboard reviews, fixing the voltage at 1.150 volts and using the XMP settings for our memory modules.

The MSI Z87-G43 could do that as well, but it was odd that the CPU voltage was about 1.140 volts instead of the expected 1.150 volts. The voltage regulator integrated into Haswell-based CPUs is highly precise, so we checked out everything and found that we hadn’t done anything wrong. The voltage was indeed set at 1.150. However, it was actually 1.140 volts after the OS had been booted. And the Current CPU Core Voltage option in the mainboard’s BIOS reported that it was 1.160 volts.

Despite this confusion, which is not typical of regular LGA1150 mainboard, we didn't change anything in these overclocking settings. After all, our testbed would pass all the tests successfully even though the CPU voltage was lower in the OS and higher in the BIOS than we had selected.

When we overclock by fixing the CPU voltage at a certain level, some of the power-saving technologies get disabled. The CPU's frequency multiplier is lowered at low loads but its voltage always remains high. Anyway, we stick to this overclocking for the duration of our tests, especially as it doesn't affect the computer's idle power draw much.

Now we want to devote the rest of this section to the new BIOS feature which is called OC Profile Preview. We got interested in it as soon as we heard about its existence. Of course, when you put much time and effort into fine-tuning your computer, you keep all the details in your head. So when you have a BIOS profiled named "def", it obviously contains default system settings whereas a profile named "x45" is for overclocking the CPU to 4.5 GHz. However, after a few weeks or months, you will hardly remember the difference between two profiles you’ve named “x45-1” and “x45-2”. It is in this case that the comparison feature comes in handy, helping you quickly see any discrepancies.

Unfortunately and somewhat paradoxically, OC Profile Preview cannot be used to compare BIOS profiles. We couldn't even find it at first. It is not mentioned in the user manual, so we had to contact MSI. It turned out that OC Profile Preview can only compare the current settings with a BIOS profile stored on a USB drive. That’s a downside as you have to load one profile into the BIOS and another to an external drive in order to compare them. The second downside is that the comparison is based on only six criteria: base clock rate, CPU frequency multiplier, CPU voltage, memory frequency, memory voltage, and frequency multiplier of the integrated graphics core. You won’t see any difference between the two profiles unless it affects these parameters. In fact, the CPU frequency multiplier is no use for the comparison because OC Profile Preview uses the Adjust CPU Ratio value in the BIOS's OC section whereas we change CPU frequency multipliers in the CPU Features subsection (to avoid turning off EIST). In this case, OC Profile Preview won’t spot any difference between profiles.

That’s not the only problem, though. Before updating the mainboard’s BIOS we saved the settings for overclocking the CPU (to 4.5 GHz) and memory to a USB drive into a profile named "x45". Then we decided to save the rest of the profiles, too. So we loaded the standard settings and saved them as a “def” profile. Then we manually enabled all power-saving technologies and saved this as an "eco" profile. Every profile works well and changes BIOS settings appropriately when loaded. However, OC Profile Preview cannot find any difference between the overclocked and default settings as in the example below. The same goes for the comparison with the eco profile – we don’t see any differences.

As a matter of fact, there is a correctly working feature for comparing BIOS profiles – but not in MSI mainboards. It has been quietly and successfully implemented by ASUS as you could learn from our ASUS Z87-K review. After loading a profile, you can easily see its differences from the current BIOS settings in the BIOS Setting Change window. As for MSI’s OC Profile Preview, it is too complex and imperfect to be truly useful. MSI should have hidden it until correction instead of touting as an advantage.

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