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ASRock Fatal1ty Z87 Professional Review

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ASRock may have started out from humble beginnings by offering some oddball, relatively low quality motherboards but that ship has since been turned around. Over the last three years to so, they have quickly gained the respect of PC enthusiasts by offering a blend of features and performance at a price that is usually more palatable than the competition. The latest Fatal1ty Z87 Professional exemplifies many of these characteristics and while it is priced at $250, it is still a relatively good deal compared many other ‘gaming’ orientated motherboards.

While the Fatal1ty brand has seen its share of ups and –mainly- downs the ASRock / Fatal1ty business relationship has proven to be rather successful for everyone. Every generation ASRock releases a Fatal1ty motherboard and every generation they get better, more feature rich and as a result have become quite successful. This success is largely based on the fact that ASRock knows precisely what this particular corner of the market is looking for: stability, performance, ease of overclocking, aesthetics, and built in features which can give gamers an edge over the competition. Most importantly, price may only be of secondary concern, but value is very important to anyone looking for this particular class of motherboard. Consumers have no qualms with paying more upfront as long it proves to be a better long-term investment.

Overall value is a very intangible term which is hard for any manufacturer to consistently get right. However, ASRock’s ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach has historically proven to be a rather good way to do just that. The latest Z87 based Fatal1ty board has been loaded with features to give PC gaming enthusiasts not only what they want, but actually offer up what they don’t even know they need - yet. It has all the usual high end features – built in OC software, Japanese capacitors, robust cooling, 2oz copper PCB layers, and so on- as well as ASRock's XFast features, but also includes a few subtle touches that only Fatal1ty and ASRock could think to include. From his input ASRock have not only included a good onboard, gaming orientated Audio solution – Creative Sound Core3D - and dual Intel NICs but also a little feature they call the Fatal1ty USB port. When combined with the included software, this USB port transforms even the most mundane of mice into a high performance, gaming peripheral replete with ‘sniper’ and macro abilities.

While the Fatal1ty Z87 Professional’s main priority is PC Gaming enthusiasts, many of those special features should also make the typical, high end motherboard buying consumer take note. Special touches like ten SATA ports, internal headers for four front USB 3.0 ports, 12 phase digital power and a color scheme that was not designed by a fan of the Jersey Shore TV series will make even average buyers pause and take a second look. This flexibility is what ASRock are hoping will drive sales in a wide array of markets and allow ASRock to further cement their reputation as a serious manufacture of serious grade motherboards.

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AkG

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Specifications & Features

ASRock Fatal1ty Z87 Professional Specifications and Features


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AkG

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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories


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Much like the motherboard hidden inside this rather eye catching case, ASRock has opted to not change the color scheme from the previous Fatal1ty Z77. Instead they designed an iconoclastic shipping container which – thanks to the rather old glamour shot of Mr. Fatal1ty himself on the front - is instantly recognizable. Unfortunately, on just a quick glance many consumers will have a tough time telling this new model form the past and only on closer examination will they be able to tell them apart.

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Inside, the Fatal1ty Z87 Professional is packaged much like any high end motherboard. It is nestled into a foam protector and both are encased in an anti-static bag. Over this, ASRock has included a cardboard divider where the accessories and various manuals are housed. The foam protector is a nice touch and should keep this motherboard from becoming a shipping ‘fatality’.

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The included accessory bundle is also fairly standard with very few notable standout inclusions. In total you get a IO Shield, two Molex to SATA power adapters, eight black SATA 6Gb/s cables, a user manual, a DVD with software and drives, an SLI bridge, a dual USB 3.0 front port adapter with PCI bracket adapter rear instead of the front installation and a redeemable coupon for a three month trial of XSplit broadcasting software.

It is odd that ASRock only included eight SATA cables since their motherboard houses ten ports, though eight should satisfy most PC gaming enthusiasts. More noticeable by its absence was wireless abilities or any additional hardware features to help this rather expensive model stand out in the mid two hundred dollar range. Also on the puzzling side our particular sample shipped with seven SATA cables instead of eight, but came with three Molex to SATA power adapters. This does cast some doubts on ASRocks quality control, but we doubt many will complain about being down a single cable.

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This is nearly the exact same – with the exception of the 3 month trial – accessory bundle which ships with the $75 less expensive Extreme 6 model. However, ASRock did included accessories which the Extreme 6 does not have, but instead of being bundled separately they are attached directly to the motherboard itself.
 
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AkG

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5,270
Included Software

Included Software


As with any enthusiast grade, the Fatal1ty Z87 Professional comes with a diverse group of tools and utilities on the included DVD. These included programs can be broken down into two main groups: free fully functional applications and trial based programs. On the trial-ware side of the equation, ASRock thankfully does not auto-install any of them and it is up to the individual on whether or not any of these programs fall into the ‘bloat-ware’ or ‘value added’ ends of the spectrum. Of the included time limited / trial-ware programs two stand out as being worthy of at least installation.

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The first is Stardock’s Start8 program. Without getting into a debate over whether or not this program is ‘better’ than free open source versions such as Classic Shell, one issue is worth talking about: the missed opportunity this program represents. While ASRock should be lauded for including the trial version, Start8 only costs $5 for the full version and in all likelihood would have cost ASRock even less. This minor investment would have added tangible value, which could ultimately help consumers justify this motherboard’s asking price. If margins are so slim as to make $5 beyond their budget, ASRock should have included Classic Shell instead.

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ASRock has also included XSplit, a game streaming and recording application. On the one hand this is certainly is a great value, but even a free three month trail is rather short and the service thereafter isn’t exactly inexpensive. This was another missed opportunity by ASRock as XSplit does make broadcasting downright simple. Including a full no time limit version would have greatly appealed to the Fatal1ty Z87 Professional’s core consumers.

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Before we get to the real heart of the included fully functional software, there is a few which need to be mentioned, many of which fall into ASRock’s XFast category. The first is the aptly labeled ‘Restart to UEFI’ and much like other manufacturers’ versions it allows you to immediately reboot and enter the UEFI BIOS without having to push any buttons on start-up. If you are like us and do a lot of overclocking and testing, this handy little program will be a godsend!

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The next is 'XFast Lan' which is program that allows you to customize the network priority of any given program. In some cases this can help reduce ping time in online gaming, but as with most things Internet related, the improvements will vary greatly from one connection to another.

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The last program is 'XFast USB' which works by tweaking the storage driver stack, allowing for increased sequential performance to and from USB flash drives devices. The amount of improvement can vary from negative amounts - when dealing with mainly small files - to moderate, but the differences will only be noticed with high performance USB 3.0 storage devices.

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Moving on the actual suite of fully functional programs, ASRock has included their excellent A-Tuning program. However, unlike their standard A-Tuning software which ships with most of their other motherboards – such as the Extreme 6 – this version has been given a superficial “Fatal1ty” red skin, a new name – F-Stream – and a few features which do not come standard with the standard iteration. It is obvious that this was a re-skin; ASRock changed the color scheme from their standard green & black to red & black but they didn’t take the time to spellcheck it!

For those who have never used ASRock tuning software, F-Stream consists of multiple programs all wrapped up into a single software solution. Each ‘program’ is dedicated to a different aspect of enhancing your computing experience and each is easy and intuitive to use. Some of this ease of use does unfortunately come at the expense of advanced features. But now we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

The first tab – aptly label Operation Mode – mainly deals with the power mode your OS uses. However in addition to Power Saving, ‘Sandared’ (sic) Mode and Performance mode, F-Stream also included a fourth option: Auto Tuning. With this simple push of a button the software will safely overclock your system.

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Skipping over the second tab for a moment, for consumers interested in a bit more hands on overclocking – but still accessible to novices – the OC Tweaker page will be of a better fit than the ‘auto-tuning’ option. This page includes many of the key features needed to overclock K-series processors, but once again lacks the more advanced features many consumers of $250 motherboards have come to expect. For example, while you can adjust RAM voltages you cannot adjust the RAM speed or timings. Worse still, while you can –(technically) adjust ‘ BCLK/PCIE frequency’ above/below 100MHz alongside the CPU multiplier, the BCLK ratio (aka CPU strap) remains inaccessible, making such adjustments contraindicated.

Luckily, not all is lost since F-Stream does allow for multiplier and voltage overclocking by simply moving a few sliders. ASRock doesn’t include any stability testing features though so you’ll have to go hunting for those. This however is neither here nor there as nothing beats a few hours of intensive testing via Linpack or Prime95 before considering an overclock ‘stable’.

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The system info page is very similar to most manufactures’ information page and shows in real time CPU temperature, CPU voltage and other pieces of vital information you will need before considering an overclock stable and safe. If you hit the System Browser tab, an interactive picture of the Fatal1ty Z87 Professional motherboard will appear with the options currently being used. When you hold the mouse over any of the yellow highlighted areas, detailed information will appear at the bottom of the screen.

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The Tools tab is a grab-bag list of programs which are not concerned with overclocking. Rather, they focus upon enhancing the overall computingexperience. As with A-Tune, F-Stream’s ‘Tool’ tab includes all the typical ASRock Z87 ‘A-Style’ features. These features include: XFast Ram which creates a RAMDrive, Good Night LED for disabling the HDD activity and power LEDs, Dehumidifier which supposedly ‘dehumidifies’ a motherboard via enhanced fan speed profiles which quickly removes hot air and HDMI-In for setting a hotkey to switch between primary and secondary screens without having to touch the HDMI connector.

The F-Stream ‘Tool’ tab deserves more than a passing mention since it includes A-Stream’s FAN-Tastic Tuning which allows you to precisely adjust the profiles of any fans attached to the motherboard. As with Asus’ Fan Xpert 2, each fan can be given its own unique fan profile and this can be accomplished via either manual adjustment or the automated FAN test which is a great starting point for more advanced profiles.

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There is an additional two features which are distinctive to the Fatal1ty Z87 Professional’s F-Stream program: Key Master, and Mouse Polling. When a mouse is attached to the rear Fatal1ty USB port, users can adjust the mouse’s polling rate even if the mouse does not have such abilities. In testing, this feature did not always work as promised and much like CPU overclocking, it will come down to your particular mouse and what its maximum non-native polling rate is. With some effort though, you can turn an ordinary mouse into a more gaming orientated device, just don’t expect it to be able to turn a twelve dollar standard polling rate mouse into a hundred dollar version.

Another feature which will actually be of more interest to PC gaming enthusiast is Key Master since it allows for the creation of macros on keyboards and mice which lack such abilities. Basically, it replaces the software that comes with higher-end gaming peripherals.

By itself this feature is not all that noteworthy but the Sniper Key did make it worthy of PC gaming enthusiasts. What this key allows you to do is to temporarily change the DPI settings, enhancing precision. Release the assigned key and your mouse goes back to its normal high DPI setting. A few high end gaming orientated mice include this feature, but not many do.

In testing, Sniper Key works as promised and really can turn even the most basic mouse into a headhunting, zombie killing beast. Simply put, for its intended audience this little option will help justify the Fatal1ty Z87 Professional’s asking price as it will give PC gaming enthusiasts a tangible advantage in gaming scenarios, provided they don’t already own one of those high-end mice.
 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the Fatal1ty Z87 Professional

A Closer Look at the Fatal1ty Z87 Professional


parts.jpg

Above is a general layout of the standard ATX form factored (30.5 cm x 24.4 cm / 12.0-in x 9.6-in) Fatal1ty Z87 Professional with short descriptions of the key parts. As we have come to expect from ASRock’s premium ‘Fatal1ty’ line the overall layout is fairly well thought out with only a few things which stand out. Most LGA 1150 motherboards have very little space between the CPU socket and RAM slots, but even by 1150 standards the clearance here is rather tight and about ¼” less than you get with other boards. With larger CPU heatsinks this may become a hindrance but is the only issue which is blatantly obvious.

On the positive side, all the various buttons, connectors, and ports are very easily accessible and free from possible obstruction. The three 16X PCI-E 3.0 slots are well spaced out so making use of all three for triple GPU configurations shouldn’t pose any problems.

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The Fatal1ty Z87’s cooling system consists of a two piece setup: a heatpipe cooler for the VRMs and a separate passive heatsink for the chipset. The combined weight of these two coolers is a hefty 13.8oz with the lion’s share coming from the robust – if blocky and lacking in number of cooling fins – VRM cooler. ASRock uses soft thermal pads for both the VRM and chipset heatsinks. As with most comparable designs, the VRM cooler is a large L shape design that fits between the I/O panel and CPU socket as well as above the CPU socket. It is in the same shape as VRM layout so it can cool the chokes and MOSFETs.


This motherboard features a 12-phase power design consisting of Dual-Stack MOSFETs, ferrite core chokes, and ‘Gold Cap’ Japan-made high quality Conductive Polymer Capacitors. More precisely, ASRock has made use of a six phase Intersil ISL6379 voltage regulator chip, with each phase being further connected to two MOSFETS and a Intersil ISL6611ACRZ phase doubler to boost the phase count from six to twelve.

While this may not sound like much compared to the huge phase numbers that we have seen in on some competing motherboards, it is still more than sufficient for all but the most extreme overclocking scenarios.

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The four DDR3 memory slots use only a single locking latch instead of the standard two and support overclocked memory frequencies of DDR3-2933 or greater. Specifically, the BIOS lists speeds all the way to 2000MHz or DDR3-4000, though it will take a ‘special’ set of ‘golden’ sticks to reach such lofty over-clocking levels. As with most Z87 motherboards, the Fatal1ty Z87 supports Intel Extreme Memory Profile ‘XMP’ 1.3 standards.

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On the underside of the board there is a backplate which holds the socket in place. The VRM and chipset coolers are held by screws with springs that give appropriate tension but there is no additional support. This is actually one step better than the push-pins some others use and allows for a more secure, pressure-focused mount.

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Along the top edge, in-between the RAM slots and the CPU socket area, ASRock has included two CPU fan headers; one 4 pin PWM and one 3 pin voltage-only header. The additional fan header will be of great interest to consumers running either dual fan air based CPU heatsinks or dual fan water based CPU coolers as both fans can be precisely controlled via the BIOS without the need of fan splitter cables. We do wish ASRock had made the effort to make both PWM capable.

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Since the Fatal1ty brand focuses less on extreme overclocking and more towards the PC gaming crowd, it is not surprising that ASRock opted for a single 8 pin ATX 12V power connector rather than the outrageous dual layouts we’ve seen on some products. While a touch close to the VRM cooler’s heatpipe, spacing should still be adequate for easy installation.

The 24-pin ATX power connector is in its usual spot near the RAM slots but unlike the 8-pin connector, it is far enough away from obstructions that even the largest of fingers will have no problems connecting and disconnecting it. Alongside the ATX power connector is the first of two USB 3.0 internal headers but the second header – for a total of four front USB 3.0 ports – has been moved so it doesn’t interfere with larger video cards.
 
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A Closer Look at the Fatal1ty Z87 Professional Cont'd

A Closer Look at the Fatal1ty Z87 Professional Cont'd


sata.jpg

There are ten SATA ports perched on the board’s right edge. Unfortunately, ASRock color coded them so there’s no quick way to tell which are controlled via the Intel PCH and which are controller by the pair of discreet ASMedia 1061 SATA controllers. This makes RAID to caching setup a frustrating process if you don’t have the manual handy. Rather than the usual gray, black, green or white to distinguish them all ten are red and this, to us is taking the red motif a touch too far.

Luckily, ASRock has kept to standard conventions and the six closest to the power and reset buttons are the Intel SATA 6Gb/s ports while the four nearest the RAM slots are the ASMedia controlled SATA 6Gb/s ports.

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Located in the bottom right hand corner of the Fatal1ty Z87 Professional are the onboard power and reset buttons as well as the ‘DR. Debug’ LED diagnostic display which displays POST codes. For consumers worried about bricking their motherboard via either a bad BIOS update or ill-conceived overclocking settings the two – removable - 64Mb AMI UEFI BIOS eeprom ICs will of be great interest. If worse comes to worse and both become corrupted they can be pulled and replaced by new units from ASRock.

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Next to the power and reset buttons are the various connectors that come standard on all systems. Of special note are the second USB 3.0 internal port and the Molex power connector port. With USB 3.0 becoming more prevalent every day, having access to an additional pair of USB 3.0 ports for front panel use will provide additional value in the coming years.

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The Molex port on the other hand ensures that the PCI-E slots get all the power that they require for particularly power hungry CrossFire or SLI configurations. Some users may not like the fact that ASRock used an outdated Molex input rather than a SATA power port but the actual use of this addition is dubious to begin with.

Continuing across the Fatal1ty’s bottommost section we come across a large Nuvoton NCT6791D chip which monitors several critical parameters on the board, including power supply voltages, fan speeds, and temperatures.

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The PCI/PCI-E slot configuration is rather interesting and quite unique. ASRock has included only one PCI-E x1 slot alongside two legacy PCI slots. Since the Z87 chipset no longer supports this older standard, ASRock has included an ASMedia ASM1083 bridge which allows the PCI slots to connect to a single PCI-E x1 lane.

While there are technically three PCI-E 3.0 X16 slots, in multiple card scenarios only one will run in X16 mode. In dual usage scenarios both will run in x8 speeds and in triple configurations setups it will be 8+4+4 mode. Of special interest is the second X16 slot has 15μ gold prongs for ‘improved’ power and electrical transmission.

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Of less dubious note, ASRock has included a mini-PCIe slot so that if you do need wireless networking abilities you can install one here. It is unfortunate that many buyers will have to opt for such aftermarket purchases as this motherboard has zero wireless abilities despite its price. Please be aware that while this slot does look like an m-SATA slot, m-SATA drives will not fit.

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The I/O panel layout is fairly straightforward but does have a few features of note. Unlike some motherboards, the Fatal1ty Z87 Professional has dual Intel RJ45 Gigabit ports instead of the more common Intel + somebody else.

The panel also has HDMI In capabilities as well as an HDMI Out port. HDMI In grants tablet owners the ability to connect their tablet directly to the motherboard and have it output directly to an attached monitor. That’s a handy feature considering most monitors only have a single HDMI input.

Next to the HDMI In port is a special USB 2.0 port: the Fatal1ty USB mouse port. This is designed to work in combination with the included F-Stream software and grant even mundane mice additional gaming-orientated features including sniper mode, adjustable polling rates and even macro execution.

Also of note is the e-SATA port. However, when the e-SATA port is in use the internal SATA3_A4 port will be deactivated. This is unfortunate but very common with onboard e-SATA options on today’s motherboards. To do otherwise would have necessitated an additional discreet SATA 6Gb/s controller chip and considering how many are already on this motherboard, it is understandable why ASRock opted to forgo such measures.

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For audio, the Fatal1ty Z87 uses a Creative Sound Core3D chip which supports 7.1 audio as well as SBX Pro Studio and is among the better options available for gaming centric onboard audio solutions. This Core3D chip also supports a dedicated headphone amplifier and in this case ASRock has opted for a Texas Instruments NE5532 OPAMP. Unfortunately, this OPAMP is not easily replaceable so changing it out for a higher end solution will be quite difficult.

board2.jpg
 
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Hardware Installation

Hardware Installation


In order to test how different hardware combinations will fit onto the Fatal1ty Z87 Professional, we installed a Noctua NH-U12S, a 16GB dual channel kit of G.Skill Trident X memory, and a GTX 580 video card. The NH-U12 is an moderate sized aftermarket CPU cooler so it should provide a good reference for other coolers so we can see if there any clearance issues.

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We installed the memory in the sockets 2A and 2B - channel closest to the CPU - to ensure clearance with 4 DIMMs. While ASRock did cut things close with their memory slot positioning, there should be no clearance issues even with all slots populated with standard height RAM. Deeper CPU cooling solutions will overhang the first and possible second slots, so high heatsink equipped ram may cause potential issues. This goes double for anyone intent on using a memory cooler so proper heatsink selection will be of great importance here. We recommend as thin a profile CPU cooling solution as possible, or opting for water instead of air if you have to run actively cooled memory.

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Switching from air to water cooling also didn’t create any clearance issues. While tight, there is enough room between the waterblock and the RAM slot for easy installation. However, once again, memory cooler installation may be tricky and it will most likely come down to the particular memory cooler you choose. Any cooler which is overly wide may cause waterblock installation problems, but longer style memory coolers will never be so long as to cause GPU installation issues.

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Thanks to the PCI-E slot layout there will be plenty of room between the CPU cooling solution and GPU. By moving the first 16X slot down one space – and making the first PCIe slot an 1x slot – ASRock has neatly sidestepped any potential problems, albeit at the cost of making the single 1X PCIe slot less than optimally placed.

Overall, the quirky design of the Fatal1ty Z87 Professional does allow for a fairly hassle-free installation; though one that is not completely issue free. As long as you are aware of the potential problems – the largest of which is the tight RAM slot positioning – you should not run into any major problems.
 
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BIOS Rundown

BIOS Rundown


Bios.jpg

Anyone familiar with ASRock’s previous UEFI Bios will instantly recognize the Fatal1ty Z87 Professional’s layout; using it will will be like slipping on a pair of your favourite shoes. Much like the software which accompanies this motherboard, this instant familiarity is due to the UEFI’s connection to ASRock’s more mainstream options, albeit with a few minor additions and a new skin. This is not a bad thing as this BIOS is both inviting and user-friendly for novices while still providing a good number of options geared towards seasoned over-clocking enthusiasts.

ASRock has been able to pull this delicate balancing act off by following the KISS principle and Keeping It Simple. While you can set which screen the BIOS should load to, no matter which page it is set to, you will be greeted with a simple and clean design. More importantly, all the various features have been grouped into intuitive ‘pages’ and there is no need to exit the ‘main’ BIOS and load an ‘advanced’ version to get access to additional options. All the various features are contained within the 8 main pages, everything is clearly labeled and almost every feature has a short blurb accompanying it.

To access these pages all you need do is click on one of the large and clearly labeled icons at the top of the screen. Some confusion may arise over where a certain function is located between the Advanced and OC Tweaker pages but that should be sorted out in short order. The Advanced page deals with the more mundane configuration of various hardware components such as Chipset, Storage, USB and the like while OC Tweaker is geared towards overclockers.

To help novices get a quick understanding of which page actually contains the features they are looking for, the Main page not only includes a basic overview of the system but also a nifty UEFI guide. When pressed, a short video presentation walks you through the underlying design philosophy of the BIOS and the basics on where to find most features.

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The OC Tweaker page on the other hand deals with overclocking your CPU and RAM. Whether you intend to go for basic or moderate overclocking levels this is the page you will spend most of your time on. The sheer number of options available may be a touch daunting to novices, especially those not interested in the minutia of OC’ing and just want a quick and ‘painless’ overclocking experience.

To help novices the very first option at the top of this page contains the 5 pre-configured ‘Optimized CPU OC Settings’. Simply selecting one should – in theory – allow for quick and painless overclocking. These five options have been further broken down into ‘safe’ and not so safe levels and are color coded. In theory all you need do is select one of them, save your changes and reboot. The reality is a touch more nuanced and consumers will have varying levels of success with these not so ‘optimized’ options. It really will come down to your particular chip and how much voltage it requires to attain a given overclock.

More advanced users need to scroll down past this option to find most of the various settings they require. Everything is laid out in a simple, intuitive manner and the only sub-section is for advanced DRAM configuration which is a full page all unto itself. Memory over-clockers will love that every memory timing and setting imaginable is on tap, but novices may find the long list rather intimidating.

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On the main OC Tweaker page, adjusting the various voltage, BLCK, BCLK Ratio, or CPU multiplier options is once again as simple as pressing a button and then carrying out one action. In some instances either a popup menu will appear with a slider for adjustment or a drop down list to choose from, but in most cases you can just type in the level you wish to use.

Moving on to the Advanced page, the layout is radically different than the OC Tweaker. Instead of a rather large – but sensibly grouped – list of options, it consists of nothing more than subpages which have to be individually selected before being able to see – let alone – adjust the various features. Luckily, they are all properly labeled and even novices will have very little difficulty in understanding what each subpage deals with. We were pleased to see that Intel Rapid Start configuration was split off from the storage configuration page and is thus easier to find and use.

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The Chipset Configuration section is fairly standard with the usual chipset adjustment features laid out into intuitive groups. One additional feature is worth pointing out: Good Night LED. This option allows you to turn on and off the various LEDs to reduce nocturnal emanations from your system if it’s left on.

The CPU Configuration page contains detailed information about the CPU installed as well as settings for HyperThreading, active cores, thermal management and C-State settings.
 
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BIOS Rundown Cont'd

BIOS Rundown Cont'd


Bios10_sm.jpg

As the name suggests, the Storage configurations page deals with storage related tasks. All the standard features –including the Aggressive Link Power Management option – are present but actually enabling ALPM is not something we would recommended for novices. Not all storage devices support it and fewer still have implemented it in a problem-free manner.

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Besides ALPM options there is an additional feature hidden in a subpage: Storage Device Type. By first selecting one of the listed attached storage devices a new page will appear listing its details, giving hot plug options and even giving the user control over individual device’s location (be it internal or external SATA storage).

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The other pages deal with Intel RST, Intel Smart Connect, USB, and Serial & IR port configuration. All of these are fairly standard but implemented in a straightforward and easy to navigate manner.

The Tool page on the other hand has some very nice features. In addition to being able to download and flash firmware via the Internet Flash option, ASRock has also included the ability to download – via the BIOS – the necessary drivers and install them to a USB drive. You can also ‘dehumidify’ you motherboard via this page. At the very bottom ASRock has included the ability to store up to three BIOS profiles.

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Gamers with small children the ASRock OMG - or Online Management Guard – which allows them to set up custom internet access schedules. In theory this means you can set a window of time in which the motherboards online NIC will allow access to the Internet - for example 8am to 8pm. In practice it is not as simple as this and you will have to combine OMG with a rights restricted account in the Operating System as it circumventing this OMG timer is as easy as changing the time! On the positive side, it is an additional tool and a good place to start, just don't expect it to be a magic solution.

For anyone running into issues that require contacting ASRock directly, "UEFI Tech Service" will allow them to email systems settings - sans any personal details - so that a technician can help with troubleshooting. In practice the one major caveat to this is that you will need working internet connection so if your issue is network related this option will be of very little value.

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The Boot and Security pages deal with boot priority, configuration and the standard password configuration options found in any modern BIOS. The real standout features here are the Fast Boot and Boot to UEFI options. When enabled, Fast Boot will take a cold system from POST to Windows 8 in 1.5 seconds. In testing it certainly was fast, but it does come with some major caveats. Firstly, this turns off basically all Power On Self Tests so hardware errors which would otherwise be caught are allowed to become bigger problems. It also makes entering the UEFI on start-up pretty much impossible. However, when you turn on Boot to UEFI - which automatically enters the BIOS upon start- up the latter issue becomes rather moot. We would recommend using both features with caution and they are not meant for everyone.

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The H/W Monitor section contains the system temperature/power status, and adjustable fan settings with profiles. Much like with ASUS and their Fan Xpert 2, each fan’s profile is completely adjustable with fine grain control over how fast and when a certain fan spins up. Of course, ASRock has included fairly decent pre-set options, but for anyone interested in making –for example – a Corsair H110 into a ‘smart’ AIO cooling system like the NZXT Kraken X60 need look no further!
 
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Testing Methodology

Test Setup and Testing Methodology

To full test the built in over-clocking abilities of a given motherboard, we have broken down testing into four categories:


  • Stock Turbo Boost - To represent a Z87 at stock with turbo enabled.
  • Software Auto-Tune - To represent a Z87 at best proven stable overclock acheived via included software based overclocking software.
  • BIOS Auto-Tune - To represent a Z87 at best proven stable overclock acheived via BIOS based overclocking presets.
  • Manual OC –To represent an experienced overclocker that is looking for the optimal long term overclock to maximize system performance while keeping voltage and temperatures in check.

We chose benchmark suites that included 2D benchmarks, 3D benchmarks, and games; and then tested each overclocking method individually to see how the performance would compare.

<!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> <o:OfficeDocumentSettings> <o:AllowPNG/> </o:OfficeDocumentSettings> </xml><![endif]--> The full list of the applications that we utilized in our benchmarking suite:

3DMark 8
3DMark 2013 Professional Edition
AIDA64 Extreme Edition
Cinebench R11.5 64-bit
SiSoft Sandra 2013.SP4
SuperPI Mod 1.5mod
RightMark Audio Analyzer 6.2.5
Sleeping Dogs Gaming Benchmark
Metro: Last Light Gaming Benchmark
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Instead of LinX or P95, the main stability test used was the AIDA64 stability. AIDA64 has an advantage as it has been updated for the Haswell architecture and tests specific functions like AES, AVX, and other instruction sets that some other stress tests do not touch. After the AIDA64 stability test was stable, we ran 2 runs of SuperPI and 2 runs of 3DMark to test memory and 3D stability. Once an overclock passed these tests, we ran the full benchmark suite and then this is the point deemed as “stable” for the purposes of this review.

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Name="Medium Shading 2 Accent 5"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="65" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Medium List 1 Accent 5"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="66" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Medium List 2 Accent 5"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="67" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Medium Grid 1 Accent 5"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="68" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Medium Grid 2 Accent 5"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="69" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Medium Grid 3 Accent 5"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="70" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Dark List Accent 5"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="71" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Colorful Shading Accent 5"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="72" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Colorful List Accent 5"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="73" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Colorful Grid Accent 5"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="60" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Light Shading Accent 6"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="61" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Light List Accent 6"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="62" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Light Grid Accent 6"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="63" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Medium Shading 1 Accent 6"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="64" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Medium Shading 2 Accent 6"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="65" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Medium List 1 Accent 6"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="66" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Medium List 2 Accent 6"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="67" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Medium Grid 1 Accent 6"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="68" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Medium Grid 2 Accent 6"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="69" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Medium Grid 3 Accent 6"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="70" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Dark List Accent 6"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="71" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Colorful Shading Accent 6"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="72" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Colorful List Accent 6"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="73" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Colorful Grid Accent 6"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="19" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" QFormat="true" Name="Subtle Emphasis"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="21" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" QFormat="true" Name="Intense Emphasis"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="31" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" QFormat="true" Name="Subtle Reference"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="32" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" QFormat="true" Name="Intense Reference"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="33" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" QFormat="true" Name="Book Title"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="37" Name="Bibliography"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="39" QFormat="true" Name="TOC Heading"/> </w:LatentStyles> </xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 10]> <style> /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman","serif";} </style> <![endif]-->To ensure consistent results, a fresh installation of Windows 8 was installed with latest chipset drivers and accessory hardware drivers (audio, network, GPU) from the manufactures website. The BIOS used for overclocking and benchmarking was version 1.50 and the Nvidia drivers used were version 320.18.

test_parts_sm.jpg
sticks_sm.jpg

Our test setup consists of an Intel Haswell 4770K, a 4670K, ASRock Fatal1ty Z87 Professional motherboard, a NVIDIA GTX 690, 16GB of G.Skill Trident X 2133 9-11-11-31 1.6v memory, a Intel 335 180GB SSD, and a WD Black 1TB. All this is powered by an Corsair AX860i 860W PSU.

For cooling we used a Corsair H100i AIO w/ four 120mm fans attached. For hardware installation testing we also used a Noctua NH-U12S and a XSPC Raystorm waterblock.

Complete Test System:

Processor: Intel i7 4770K Retail Lot# L310B506 & Intel i5 4660K Retail Lot #L315B336
Memory: 16GB GSkill 2166 Trident X 9-11-11-31 1.6v
Graphics card: NIVIDIA GTX 690
Hard Drive: 1x 180GB Intel 335 SSD. Western Digial Black 1TB.
Power Supply: Corsair AX860i
CPU Cooler: Corsair H100i AIO

Special thanks to Corsair for their support and supplying the AX860i.
Special thanks to G.Skill for their support and supplying the Trident X RAM.
 
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