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ASUS Z87 Deluxe Motherboard Review

Eldonko

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Intel’s launch of the much anticipated Haswell microarchitecture and Lynx Point Z-series chipsets has finally come and gone. When the embargo lifted in at the beginning of June, we brought you a performance review of the i7-4770K & i5-4670K processors that included a comprehensive bundle of tests and comparisons. As always, along with new microarchitecture and chipsets comes a wide range of motherboards. The board we will be looking at in this review is the feature-packed ASUS Z87 Deluxe.

The tock of Intel’s current generation equation and built for a new socket (LGA1150), the Lynx Point Z87 chipset alone brings a host of exciting features to the Z87 Deluxe. There are six native USB 3.0 ports, six SATA 6G ports, full support for PCI-E 3.0 including 16 PCI-E lanes, SLI / Crossfire compatibility and new instruction set support. Add all the ASUS-specific features and we have a board that should appeal to everyone from a mainstream user, to overclockers, to gamers.

Wondering where the P8 at the beginning of the model number from previous generations went? ASUS decided to ditch it altogether in favour of simplicity (was there a point to it anyway?). Not only is the P8 gone, the board color scheme has changed from the usual blue and black to an all new black and gold color.

For novice overclockers there are a ton of auto overclocking options here as well, with the most robust being what ASUS calls 4-Way Optimization. With this clever utility your board will overclock itself as well as optimize fans and power saving with the click of a button. Fan Xpert II brings a new level of control and optimization for system fans and the UEFI has over 15 new features over previous gen boards. Also noteworthy with the Deluxe is Wi-Fi GO, a 16 phase DIGI+ power design, USB Charger+, and a DTS Ultra II PC advanced audio software suite.

Priced at the top of the mainstream board segment at about $300, the Z87 Deluxe comes with the ASUS standard 3 year parts and labour warranty and is available now at most retailers. However, for the time being, the Deluxe is nearly alone in its price segment. Gigabyte's UD5H comes in at $50 less while MSI's MPower Max is $40 less and the higher end overclocker boards tend to be significant more. So is the Deluxe's positioning a perfect move by ASUS or are lower priced alternatives the way to go? We're about to find out.

 
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Eldonko

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ASUS Z87 Deluxe Specifications and Features

ASUS Z87 Deluxe Specifications and Features



Before jumping right into photos and testing, let’s take a look at the specifications and features for the Z87 Deluxe:





 

Eldonko

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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories

Similar to the board inside, ASUS has totally changed their box's color scheme for mainstream Z87 boards. Instead of the blue we were used to seeing, ASUS went with a black and gold look this time around. On the front the most prominently displayed feature is DIP4 and 4-Way Optimization. On the rear, Wi-Fi GO gets the largest share of the real estate.


Inside, the Deluxe has a smaller white box that includes a clear anti-static bag containing the motherboard and beneath the board the accessories sit in a divided white cardboard compartment.


Having a look at the accessory bundle for the Z87 Deluxe you can see it is fairly standard with the exception of the Wi-Fi GO 2T2R module. The module uses the latest standard (802.11ac) with up to 867Mbps data throughput and a 2.4GHz/5GHz frequency band. The antenna is collapsible and you twist it so it sits upright. It also uses a standard SMA connection so users can upgrade to a larger antenna if desired.
 
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Eldonko

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Included Software

Included Software

Click to enlarge

The first item in the Z87 Deluxe software suite is the utility will be most used: the brand new AI Suite III. This is a very powerful tool and allows tweaking and monitoring of just about anything you could possibly want.

The first section of AI Suite III is under the 4-Way Optimization tab and contains a function which automatically overclocks the system and optimizes fan speed and power savings. Other items on this page are mainly display items for TPU and EPU. The adjustable settings are found on the next page under TPU.

The TPU page is where you will do the majority of overclocking and tweaking. This page has adjustable settings for BCLK, CPU ratio, CPU cache ratio, as well as adjustable voltages for CPU core and CPU cache. The Group Tuning checkbox allows for adjusting ratio by core or locking so all cores adjust at once. At the bottom are sensors for voltages, temperatures and fan speeds.

As is usual of ASUS' software, all of these options are well arranged and the software is extremely easy to use. Even first time tweakers will appreciate the straightforward explanations and numerous presets.


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Also under the TPU tab is a subsection marked CPU Strap. Here users can change the CPU strap to 100, 125, 167, and 250, however 250 is not usable so don’t bother trying that one.

Moving over to the EPU section we have all of the power saving options. There are subpages titled High Performance, Max Power Saving, and Away Mode which allow for customization of things like monitor sleep time, computer sleep, how much CPU voltage will drop in certain instances, fan profiles, and even if USB controller power will be active when a device is not attached.


Click to enlarge

The tab after EPU is DIGI+ Power Control. This section of AI Suite III has two subpages for power settings: one for CPU and one for RAM. Specifically, the CPU section contains adjustable settings for load-line calibration, CPU power phase control, current capability, CPU power thermal control, voltage frequency, CPU power duty control, and active frequency mode.

For memory there are adjustable settings for DRAM current capability, DRAM voltage frequency, and DRAM power phase control.

Moving over to the last tab we have Fan Xpert 2 which happens to be the most customizable fan setting application we have ever seen on a motherboard. It comes with several profiles profiles (silent, standard, turbo, full speed), a fan tuning utility, and fully adjustable settings for every fan attached to the board.


As shown above, there is full fan curve customization for the CPU fan and 4 chassis fan headers.


ASUS Boot Setting allows users to boot directly into the BIOS without having to mash delete on the POST screen. This is invaluable when you reboot 100 times a day when overclocking and tweaking a system. Why no one has though of this before is beyond us.


Bluetooth Device Control is another handy utility but it is geared towards smartphone users. With it, the motherboard can be paired up to a smartphone to transfer files, use the PC as a speakerphone, play music from the phone, and send and receive SMS messages.


Lastly, before we move onto WiFi-GO, we have the ASUS Webstorage Agent. This is a utility used for cloud storage, similar to something like DropBox.
 
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Eldonko

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Feature Test: ASUS Wi-Fi GO!

ASUS Wi-Fi GO!

ASUS’ Wi-Fi GO! Is an interesting concept, one which is brilliantly executed and integrated. Its primary goal is to act as a one-stop hub for media streaming, remote desktop access and wireless file transfers. To accomplish this Wi-Fi GO uses a straightforward software interface and a simple application that interacts with your mobile phone. Ironically, it is features like this which get overlooked by many enthusiasts.


The main screen of the Wi-Fi GO utility is divided into seven sections: Cloud Go, Remote Desktop, DLNA Media Hub, File Transfer, Smart Sensor Control, Remote Keyboard & Mouse, and Capture & Send. Most of these are self-explanatory but we’ll still go into detail about them below.


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The first feature Wi-Fi GO has to offer is Cloud GO. This allows users to connect all of their cloud storage applications like Dropbox, Google Drive, and ASUS Webstorage into a single unified space without the need for endless application switching. In the picture above the UI is connected to a Dropbox account.


Click to enlarge

Next up we have Remote Desktop which allows for the use of a mobile device such as a tablet or smartphone to run a PC remotely. This interface is quite well done and worked flawlessly in out testing, just don’t expect to accomplish any miracles like playing a game since wireless bandwidth and a lack of controller functionality will make the experience impossible. This can be accomplished locally or over a mobile 3G/4G network connection.

DLNA Media Hub allows for streaming multimedia files from PC to DLNA-supported devices such as HDTV, projector or set top box. In this mode, the Z87 Deluxe and the system it is attached to can act as a media server to stream music and movies towards other components. The Media Hub also incorporates cell phone support so your iOS or Android-based device can act as a home theater controller.


Click to enlarge

As its name suggests, File Transfer allows users to wirelessly transfer files to and from smart devices (cell phones, tablets and e-readers) and their PC. Simply enable it on ASUS’ handy Wi-Fi GO app and you’re all set.

Smart Sensor Control sets up custom motions to trigger certain actions on a PC. For example, you can navigate your Windows PC with pan and tilt gestures using the mobile device’s gyroscope. In many ways this feature is a bit of a novelty which likely won’t be used all that much but it get some envious stares when in use.


Click to enlarge

Remote Keyboard & Mouse incorporates tablet-based keyboard or mouse controls for the connected PC. In our opinion this feature doesn’t have a ton of practical uses but it can be handy when using a TV to avoid a wired keyboard or mouse. Capture & Send allows you to take screenshots and send them to another Wi-Fi device.


As you can see above, like the PC-centric software stack, Wi-Fi GO!’s mobile app is streamlined and quick straightforward and can be downloaded for free from Google Play or iTunes. Setup is easy too: just select a device, hit ok and you’ll be controlling the systems in no time at all.


The index page is similar to what you see on the primary Wi-FI GO utility and includes subpages for all of the main features. Each feature must be enabled from the mobile device before it is usable.


Feel like running some PI when you are out? No problem, remote desktop access gives the desktop on your mobile device and the UI is actually quite user friendly. We had no problem clicking on different shortcuts, applications and folders with a smartphone. This is the best feature of the bunch and in our opinion, quite cool! For anyone using [email protected], this will also allow you to monitor your workers while away.


Above is what Smart Sensor Control looks like on a mobile device. You set up customizations that are activated by movement but once again, its usefulness is limited.


The last screenshot we have is Keyboard & Mouse control. The smartphone is essentially transformed into a touch pad mouse or full QWERTY keyboard.

All in all ASUS has come up with some pretty amazing stuff and is moving in the right direction for cloud computing alongside PC and mobile integration. Although not every feature here is for everyone, we loved the remote desktop access, cloud integration, and media hub capabilities of Wi-Fi GO. If you buy the Deluxe, try it out and be prepared for it to become an integral part of your computing experience.
 
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Eldonko

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A Closer Look at the Z87 Deluxe p.1

A Closer Look at the Z87 Deluxe


Above is a general overview of the Z87 Deluxe’s layout with descriptions of the various parts. Throughout this section we will travel around the board but from a top level view, it does look extremely well laid out with well-spaced expansion slots and great clearance around the CPU socket for large heatsinks.



The cooling system on the Z87 Deluxe consists of a three piece system: a heatpipe cooler for the VRM, a standalone cooler for the VRM, and a separate passive heatsink for the chipset. ASUS used a hard pink TIM for the chipset and soft sticky pads for the VRM coolers in order to provide adequate heat transfer.


The Z87 chipset heatsink is passive so ASUS went with a larger low profile design to dissipate heat properly. The chipset is located beneath the cooler and looks similar to its predecessor, the Z77.



The VRM on the Z87 Deluxe is run by the digital DIGI+ Power Control system (DIGI+ ASP1251 chip) through dedicated VRM, DRAM, and CPU voltage controllers. It uses a Dual Driver 16 phase power design which is why you see 16 chokes lined up along the CPU socket area or one choke per phase. System DRAM also has 2 phases of its own which are situated near the memory. As usual, the 8-pin 12V CPU power connector is situated at the corner of the VRM area but is still readily accessible .

This may look like a typical VRM, but with the new Haswell CPU architecture came new motherboard VRM designs. Intel added a Fully Integrated Voltage Regulator (FIVR) to Haswell CPUs so now the CPU’s primary VRM is now on-die. Intel says this lowers voltage ripple and improves response times but as we will see in the overclocking section, FIVR also increases heat by massive amounts. Now, the 16 phases no longer have to run the iGPU separately but they do provide power to the voltage regulators inside the CPU which does all of the allocation work.


The two power MOSFETs for each phase (NTMFS4937N and NTMFS4955N) are made by ON Semiconductor. ASUS engineers feel that multiple Low RDS_On MOSFETs provide much higher current delivery, stability, and durability in comparison to a power driver combined with two MOSFETs (DrMOS) so this design is consistent across ASUS motherboards. The chokes on the board are fully-sealed molded inductors which helps to minimize EMI.

ASUS used only 5k-hour solid caps on the Z87 Deluxe which they claim have a 2.5x longer lifespan, lower Equivalent Series Resistance, and will last 5,000 hours at 105C or 50,000 hours at 65C.



Although the CPU socket may look very similar to LGA1155, Haswell actually has a new socket, LGA1150. LGA1150 has 1150 protruding pins to make contact with the pads on the processor. On the underside of the board there is a backplate that holds the socket in place and two more backplates to hold the VRM coolers in position. This chipset cooler is held by screws with springs that give appropriate tension but there is no additional support.
 
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Eldonko

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A Closer Look at the Z87 Deluxe p.2

A Closer Look at the Z87 Deluxe


Back in 2012 when Z77 was launched, ASUS began using their T-Topology architecture for the link between the memory and the processor. This innovation helped run higher clocks on 4 DIMMs by ensuring both channels of memory were an equal distance from the CPU instead of having one channel closer than the other. An equal trace length gives equal data travel time and ASUS claims this allows for the most balanced control over DRAM modules under a dual channel configuration and can give up to an additional 15% DRAM OC headroom (as long as the CPU IMC does not limit the OC).

T-Topology is back for Z87. In addition to it and dedicated phases for DRAM power, the Z87 Deluxe supports XMP 1.3 and memory speeds up to 2800MHz. This is an improvement over the previous Z77 which supported 2666Mhz and Z68 which supported XMP 1.2 and only up to 2200Mhz.


The memory has its own VRM run by a separate DIGI+ chip marked ASP1103, two chokes, and two MOSFETs for each choke. On the Z87 Deluxe, DRAM is also equipped with an onboard polyswitch (resettable fuse) which prevents overcurrent and short-circuit damage.

On the corner of the board near the memory is a button marked MemOK and a DRAM LED. Installing DIMMs that are not compatible with the board may cause system boot failure and the DRAM LED will light up in red. Press and hold the MemOK button until the LED starts blinking and the Deluxe will begin automatic memory compatibility tuning for a successful boot.

Moving down the right edge of the Deluxe we come to the 24-pin power connector and 2 chassis fan headers. All fan headers on the board are 4 pin and can be controlled through ASUS’ BIOS, though 3 pin connectors will work as well.


Next to the 24-pin power connector is a black USB 3.0 header which is run by the Z87 chipset.


The bottom right side of the Z87 Deluxe has 10 SATA ports colored yellow and black. The six yellow ports are run directly off of the PCH at a speed of 6GB/s. The remaining four black ports also run at 6GB/s but are controlled by two ASMedia ASM1061 chips at a rate of two ports per chip.


The two ASMedia ASM1061 chips are located beneath the chipset cooler and nearby is the TPU processing unit.


There are also two switches marked TPU and EPU as well as LED for each. The TPU switch is for auto overclocking and there are two levels: TPU I for a modest OC and TPU II for a more aggressive overclock. The EPU switch is used to activate the EPU power saving mode. Naturally, BIOS options are also available to activate TPU and EPU so if these switches are in an awkward spot the BIOS can be used instead.

Also on the bottom corner is the front panel connector, a chassis fan header, a DRCT header, and a DirectKey button. The DRCT header is alternative place to connect your reset switch to. When the reset switch is connected to DRCT, the board will boot to BIOS when being reset. The DirectKey bottom has a similar function to DRCT in which the system will boot and enter the BIOS without having to press the delete key.
 
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Eldonko

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A Closer Look at the Z87 Deluxe p.3

A Closer Look at the Z87 Deluxe



Continuing across the bottom of the Deluxe is a large Nuvoton NCT6791D chip which monitors several critical parameters on the board, including power supply voltages, fan speeds, and temperatures. Two Q-Code LEDs as well as a red clear CMOS button are found here as well.


Next to the Q-Code LEDs is a TPM connector, power button, reset button, AAFP connector, and a TB header. The Trusted Platform Module (TPM) port is for connecting a TPM device to the board which can be used to store keys, digital certificates, and passwords. The AAFP is for front panel audio while the 4-pin header allows for digital audio (SPDIF) out. Finally, the header marked TB can be utilized by a Thunderbolt module.


For expansion slots, the Z87 Deluxe comes equipped with two PCI-E 3.0 x16 slots (one yellow, one brown) and one PCI-E 2.0 x16 slot (bottom brown slot) usable for 8x/8x SLI or Crossfire. The Deluxe supports quad-GPU SLI with two graphics cards or 3-way/quad-GPU CrossfireX. 3-way support is handled by modifying the lanes to run a 8x/4x/4x speeds. Additionally, there are four PCI-E x1 slots (yellow) which can be used for usb cards, firewire cards, SATA cards, ethernet cards, and so on. As we’ve already mentioned, these are perfectly spaced and will easily accommodate triple slot graphics cards.


Between the PCI-E slots you will see a large square PLX Technology chip marked PEX8608. It uses PCI-E 2.0 lane multplexing to double PCI-E lanes to ensure all PCI-E 2.0 devices (SATA, USB, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc.) can run simultaneously. You may also see a few chips marked ASM 1480 around the board; these are 16 to 8 channel multiplexer / demultiplexer switches for PCI-E 3.0.


The BIOS chip on the Z87 Deluxe is removable so if a user corrupts the BIOS and it cannot be recovered, it is easier to swap out the BIOS chip than the entire board. For audio, the Deluxe uses a Realtek ALC1150 codec which supports 7.1+2 audio and is among the best you can find for an onboard audio solution.


The I/O panel on the Deluxe is fairly straightforward but it does have a few items worth explaining. The button marked BIOS with the curved arrow is the BIOS Flashback button used for updating the BIOS directly from a flash drive without ever entering the BIOS. The flash drive must be in the bottom left of the 4 blue USB ports on the I/O panel.

The Wi-Fi / Bluetooth SMB connectors are used by the Wi-Fi GO module or a larger antenna if you would like to upgrade. For iGPU use the board also has an HDMI port with a maximum output of 1080P, a single DisplayPort header, and a Mini DisplayPort header to allow for three monitors if desired.
 
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Eldonko

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Hardware Installation

Hardware Installation


In order to test how different hardware combinations will fit onto the Z87 Deluxe, we installed a Zalman CNPS10x Flex, an 16GB dual channel kit of G.Skill memory, and a GTX 670 video card. The Zalman is an average-sized aftermarket CPU cooler so it should provide a good reference for other coolers so we can see if there any clearance issues.

We installed the memory in the sockets closest to the CPU to ensure clearance with 4 DIMMs. There should be no clearance issues even with all slots populated, plus the new Trident by G.Skill also has removable fins in case users run into any clearance trouble.


An aftermarket CPU will fit without issue as well and there is close to an inch of breathing room between the CNPS10x Flex and the GTX 670.


Switching the cooling to a water block and adding the Trident RAM cooler also didn’t create any clearance issues. We have seen this memory cooler have issues on some boards due to the video card being in the way but it fits on the Deluxe with some room to spare.

All in all, the Deluxe allows for a flawless, hassle-free installation. This is particularly impressive since ASUS has packed in a ton of features.
 
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Eldonko

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BIOS Rundown p.1

BIOS Rundown


ASUS’ BIOS is one of the most fully-featured ones around and includes a countless number of options. More importantly, it is clearly labeled and nearly every function has a short but precise explanation attached to it. Novices may find it daunting at first but ASUS’ easy overclocking tools and EZ Mode still provide basic tweaking options for first-time users.

Other than the first screenshot below, the BIOS pictures in this section show the Advanced section which naturally provides more advanced options for experienced users. You can set Advanced Mode to load by default under the Boot menu. The BIOS version we will look at is version 1007, dated May 17, 2013. This was the latest official BIOS at the time of this review.


Before jumping right into Advanced Mode, let’s have a quick look at EZ Mode. EZ Mode is designed for beginners who may be intimidated by Advanced Mode. EZ Mode is one page that has most of the key information a user will need such as system stats, CPU temperature and voltage, fan speeds, boot priority, and three levels of system performance presets (power saving, normal, ASUS optimal). Advanced mode can be accessed by pressing F7 or selecting it under the Exit/Advanced Mode menu.

Starting with the Main tab in the Advanced Mode, we have system information on the BIOS version, CPU and memory as well as the system time and date.


If you plan on overclocking your system at all, the page that you will spend the majority of your time is the Ai Tweaker section. The Ai Tweaker menu items allow you to configure overclocking-related items such as clock speeds, voltages, and strap. The top of the page shows the target CPU, memory, cache, DMI/PEG, and iGPU speeds in yellow. Below that are some of the items you will use most such as BCLK Frequency, CPU Core Ratio, CPU Cache Ratio, and DRAM Frequency. All of these can be accessed by setting Ai Tuner to Manual.

OC Tuner is for auto overclocking and there are two modes available: Ratio, and BCLK. We will go over these in detail within the overclocking section. Fully Manul Mode can be enabled to open all voltage settings for the Deluxe or alternatively you can use Offset and Adaptive voltage modes for voltage adjustments. These modes were described in our Haswell review.

Useful voltages for overclocking are CPU Core, CPU Cache, System Agent (helps with memory), I/O voltages (can help stabilize IMC at high CPU clocks), and DRAM.


Subpages for DRAM Timings, DIGI+ Power Control, and CPU Power Management, and are all found within the first half of Ai Tweaker. Starting with DRAM Timings, there are three groups of memory timings over three pages and a so-called “Misc” section at the bottom which contains MRC Fast Boot, DRAM CLK Period, and DIMM controls. Memory tweakers will love that ASUS has made every memory timing and setting imaginable available in the Z87 Deluxe BIOS.


The next subpage under Ai Tweaker is DIGI+ Power Control. DIGI+ Power Control contains all voltage tweaks and every overclocker will spend some time in this section. Voltage Frequency, Power Phase Control, Power Duty Control, Current Capability, and Power Thermal Control settings are available for CPU and DRAM, Load Line Calibration is found here as well however this is less important than with previous platforms since the VRM is on-die.

CPU Power Management contains Intel’s EIST (Speedstep), Turbo Mode, Turbo Mode Parameters, and some other power-related settings such as CPU Internal Power Switching Frequency, Configuration, and Fault Control.
 
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